North Island Road Trip Day 1 – Wellington – Dannevirke

Friday morning I started with a farewell morning tea with the staff at Fulbright New Zealand, then went to pick up my rental car for my adventure. After navigating through some fun Wellington traffic (people were arriving in town for the Lions/All Blacks Rugby match tomorrow), I found a parking spot RELATIVELY close to my flat, and made several trips to get all my stuff loaded in the car, then I set off on my trip.

Leg one was a short journey – but I had planned a side trip to Castlepoint, which did add some time to the trip.

Here is the map of the journey:

Once out of Wellington, I wound my way through the Rimutakas, stopping for a few scenic points.


I had debated about whether or not I really had time to make it to Castlepoint before dark, but decided to go on, and I am SO very thankful I did – it was worth every minute.

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I left Castlepoint as the sun was setting, and made the rest of my journey in the dark to my stop for the night, Dannevirke. Today was a short post for a long day – but it is definitely the beginning of a fantastic adventure – my last hurrah in New Zealand before heading back to the US.



Matiu / Somes Island

Taking advantage of a sunny day, I finally made it out to Matui/Somes Island – which is the island that sits in the middle of Wellington Harbor. It was one of my Wellington must dos, and I had not made it out, and with my time winding down, knew this might be the last nice day for it, so I paused my writing flow, packed a picnic and set out to catch the ferry to the island.

You can learn more about the island here:

The island has a fascinating history, as it has served as a quarantine station, military outpost, interment camp and now wildlife refuge. The island gives the opportunity to discover nature by traveling along various tracks, and I ended up walking on each track on the island and extending my stay there because it was such a lovely day, and I was enjoying my tramp so much.

When you arrive on the island your first stop is the quarantine station, where you check your bag and shoes for bio-security risks. Once cleared, you are able to start exploring.

As I walked, I was immediatly greeting with stunning views of the harbor, Eastborne and Petone.

My first stop was the cemetery monument.

Between 1918 and 1920, Somes Island was used as a human quarantine station during the influenza pandemic, and many died on the island.

I trekked along from the Monument along Cable Bay to the lookout over Shag Rock. Birds, flowers, skinks and Tuataras were plentiful. I felt like I had the island to myself, as everyone else had headed to the visitors center first.

From the overlook I headed to the lighthouse, stopping to check out the Weta Hotel.

Those are some gargantuan insects!

Then I enjoyed the lighthouse, before beginning my trek to the Southern Lookout – I am pretty certain I took a million pictures – it was so pretty!

Here at the southern lookout, I realized that I was not going to have time to see everything I wanted unless I booked the later ferry back, so I called the company to secure my seat on the later boat, giving me more time to enjoy this peaceful oasis.

My next stop was the old WW2 gun emplacements, so I went up the “steep track”. Along the way I got the opportunity to observe the amazing fantail, which may be one of my favorite NZ birds.

Then, at the gate, I made an interesting observation about the weathering of the gate.

I wonder how many times those pieces of wood have been slammed together?

At the top, I explored the gun casings, and just genuinely enjoyed the views, pulling out my lunch for a stop at the picnic table.

I headed back down to the visitor area, where I explored the animal quarantine station, which felt an awful lot like animal prison – which, I guess, it was, in a way.

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After that it was down to the visitor center, where I learned about the other uses of the island, particularly its use as an internment camp during WW2 and the attempted escapes.

Next, I wandered back to the wharf, and with time to spare, checked out the old degaussing station, and listened to the stories of Meg Pilcher, (a fascinating lady!)then to the North Wharf before leaving the island and heading home.

I am so glad I had this beautiful weather to enjoy this amazing sanctuary!

My Last Few Weeks in Wellington

So, my last few weeks in Wellington were quite exciting, but I was also super busy wrapping up my official Fulbright work. I spent so much time writing I just couldn’t bring myself to blog – so I am behind – but I have lots of fun stuff to share with you all – so this post will be pretty long. (and has lots of “different” stuff in it!)

Matariki Celebrations: 

I know I mentioned Matariki in my last post, as I was making the stars as a part of that celebration, and the festivities continued.

I went to a lovely event hosted by Te Papa focused on Matariki. It was the first time they had done this event, but they were laying down the tradition for years to come. You can see more here:

I really encourage you to watch the video – such a cool celebration of a new year and renewal.

Another really interesting cultural event I attended was Te Oro o ngā Whetū: The Echo of the Stars – a performance sponsored by the Chamber Orchestra of New Zealand, and featuring New Zealand String Quartet, ngātaonga puoro artist Alistair Fraser, Te Reo Māori performer and composer Ariana Tikao, and students from Virtuoso Strings Orchestra.

The music was hauntingly beautiful, and thanks to the use of taonga puoro (Traditional Maori Musical practices) was just a fascinating experience.

Here is a small snippet of what I was able to experience:

They also had some really neat Maori culture as TePapa played host to the Kaumātua Kapa Haka – an event featuring over 500 Maori Elders. It was beautiful – and if you want to really be moved, check it out – the diversity of the performers and the passion they have for this beautiful art is a experience to be had!


Fulbright Work and Celebrations

As I mentioned, I have done lots of writing the past few weeks, and my Fulbright work is complete, with just a few logistics before I can share it on a broader scale, which is super exciting.

I did my final presentation on June 16th at Victoria University, and we had a Fulbright NZ Awards ceremony at Parliament on June 19th. It was a great celebration!

You can see more pictures here: 

General Wellington Fun

I did lots of exploring Wellington as well – nice breaks to clear my head and walk around were much needed! Some of these are quite random pictures, but they all tell the story of my Wellington experience, so check out the captions for more info!

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Gallipoli Exhibit

I have made several trips to TePapa, and love the museum, but had not been in the right place to do the Gallipoli exhibit justice on previous visits, so on a rainy afternoon I went across the street to experience this powerful exhibition, which was done by the team at Weta, and is called the “Scale of our War”. The exhibit features larger than life images of the war – made with stunning accuracy and detail. My pictures do not do the exhibit justice, fortunately they do have great images on their website. You can also learn more about the creation of the exhibit and the stories behind those rendered.

Images are below, but please be warned they are a bit graphic.

I also visited the “Quake Breaker” exhibit – which was fascinating to see how they stabilize a huge building like TePapa in an earthquake prone area.

There will be another blog post dedicated to Matui/Somes Island – I just couldn’t bring myself to crowd this one anymore.


Wanderings in Wellington

I know, I know, I know – I am not so great at keeping this updated daily like I was doing before. . . but, in all honesty – so much of my time now is school visits – which are fantastic – but for confidentiality sake, I have to blog about them more in a batch than individually, so I am waiting until I have a few more to share some of my reflections and thoughts – look for a big blog post on that in the next few weeks for sure. That being said – next week I will have some exciting posts for you from Australia, so I don’t want to stay behind. This post will cover my fun exploring Wellington from when I left Nelson on March 23rd, to when I come up north to Auckland on April 5th. Wellington is a city full of fun and surprises.  (I swear, even though it is my current home, I am always finding new stuff to do here – it really is the “coolest little capital” in the world.

Weather in Wellington is truly unpredictable, and I have found that my Wellington survival kit always contains sunscreen – (this girl burns!), a rain coat (My Columbia Jacket may be the best thing I brought with me), a sweat shirt, a hairband (the wind!) and a hat. It has become second nature to have that all on me (where in the past, it would have just lived in my car) – No car here though!

This time period is no different – we have had rain, sunshine and my first real feel of an earthquake.

So I flew home from Nelson on the 23rd – a short – less than an hour flight across the Cook Strait,  and then I ubered back to the house (buses, luggage, hills and stairs just had no appeal), and started on the fun that was unpacking and laundry after being gone. I also did some administrative work, planning my upcoming travels and blogs, and worked through some lessons for the class I am sitting in (Science for NZ teachers). The Ludbrooks were out for the evening enjoying the ballet, so I wandered down to the House of Dumplings for dinner (YUM!) and then came back to the house, where I was working on planning my South Island trip details – when I heard a sound like a train whooshing through Aro Valley – I thought it was a truck, until, about 5 (or so) minutes later the house began to shake -it shook for a few minutes and stopped – my reaction was -oh that is an earthquake! No damage was done that I have heard of and while unnerving, it wasn’t horrible.

Friday was a big back to Uni day for me. I had several meetings lined up with professors and we had a Cohort Catch-up with the other Fulbright Teachers, so my Friday was quite productive.


Friday night I decided to finally go up to Space Place, even though I knew the sky was going to be too cloudy to look through the telescope, I felt like some Space geekery was in order. I loved it! The guide to the Southern Skies, the Maori legends surrounding the Pleiades, or Matariki, as they call them, the planetarium show focused on the Southern Hemisphere – (That uses the same software I use in the Star Lab with kids, by the way), and even the telescope that wasn’t open for viewing were all fascinating and did my heart good.

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I stayed there pretty late (hoping the clouds would clear, but they didn’t (so I will be back on a clear night).

Cuba Dupa

Saturday was Cuba Dupa – one of the many festivals in Wellington – seriously – there is always something going on! Cuba Dupa is this cool festival with all sorts of performers, and an added bonus was that Lavie, one of our Fulbright teachers was performing as well so some of us went out to support him – and he did a great job!

After Lavie’s performance, I wandered around the festival taking in the music, the fun, and a lovely peanut butter gelato (Yum!)!

Wellington Museum

Midweek – between school visits, Reinhardt work and mundane things like cleaning, paying bills and the like, I took a wander to the Waterfront and the Wellington Museum – It was really quite cool to learn more of Wellington’s history. The museum focused a lot on the Maritime history of Wellington, which of course makes sense, but also had the Bond Store – a replica of the buildings original purpose, to collect taxes on shipped items for the crown.

What you will not see in the pictures is the portion that was the most impactful for me, the section dealing with the Wahine disaster, a great tragedy that occurred in 1967 when a passenger ferry sank in Wellington Harbor.

Days Bay Kayaking – and a bonus Festival to boot!

Saturday I headed out to Days Bay to enjoy the sunshine, and use my Groupon Voucher for my Kayak rental. I was excited to finally use the rental, and to get in a kayak! The sea wasn’t exactly calm, but it wasn’t terribly turbulent either, so I spent a nice hour in the bay enjoying the views.

After Kayaking I wandered across to the pavilion where there was a festival going on – the Local Wild Food Challenge – a cooking competition, tasting and festival – it was very interesting, and I enjoyed the  Maori chef who talked about how he prepared a Hangi (a traditional meal cooked over hot rocks underground), then let us taste the food!

Southeast Asian Night Market

Keeping with the tradition that there is always something going on in Wellington, I ventured out to the Southeast Asian Night Market.

Here I watched some cool cultural shows and tasted different foods from across Southeast Asia – I tolerated the cold rain as long as I could, then I headed home and worked on the final touches of my Mid-Point presentation for the following day, April 3rd.

Midpoint Presentations

We (the Fulbright Teachers) gathered on April 3rd at Victoria to give our midpoint presentations. It was great to hear what everyone was up to, what their reflections were, and how their projects were progressing.

Thanks to Sue – who came to NZ for spring break from ATL – I have some pictures from my presentation, and some other pictures too:

Next I am off to Auckland!


Tuesday at TePapa

So, I knew I felt icky when I did the Parking Day adventure, but I tried to blame it on being tired from the bus. On Saturday, when I woke up with a fever, I couldn’t blame it on the bus anymore (well, maybe I caught it on the bus, but you know what I mean).

Looking out the window at the gross rainy Wellington day, it was not hard to determine what I would be doing for the day – I stayed in my PJs and pulled up Netflix – which thankfully worked in New Zealand – I wasn’t certain it was going to, and was so thankful when it pulled right up. I watched The Crown, which I had seen a few episodes of before I left the States, and really just spent the day relaxing, drinking hot tea and water and napping. I had a very sore throat, but nothing else – so I was pretty sure it was just a virus. Sunday I got up and while I had no fever, I still felt a bit icky – and the weather was still gross, so I decided that another day of relaxing was probably a good choice.

By Sunday night I was feeling much better, although I had lost my voice a bit.

Monday I worked at the Uni – emailing professors, teachers and other folks I wanted to make it out to visit, as well as doing some research in the library. It was a good, productive day after a lazy weekend.

Tuesday morning I spoke to my Reinhardt Session 2 class for the first time – I am excited about working with them this session. After my RU class I headed to the Wellington Library to meet with a secondary school design teacher who I am so excited to visit at her college in a few weeks.

After an exhilarating meeting and sharing of ideas, I headed over to Te Papa so that iI could see the Whiti Te Rā! The story of Ngāti Toa Rangatira exhibit before it closed on Friday. This exhibit told all about the history of Ngāti Toa Rangatira, the local iwi (tribe) in the Wellington region and the top of the South Island – it was fascinating. No pictures are allowed, but you can read more about it here on Te Papa’s website.

Most interestingly was the part talking about the Kapa Haka and the development of this, which has become a popular symbol of Maori culture, made famous by the NZ Rugby team, the All Blacks. Ka Mate is the traditional Haka, and recently the All Blacks have written their own. You can hear and see them both here, and read a little about the change here.

After I finished exploring the history of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira iwi, I ventured to teh very cool Te Papa Meeting house – Te Hono ki Hawaiki, called a modern Marae – it was stunning, artsy and beautiful. Check out the link above to learn more about the process.

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I still had about an hour before Te Papa closed, and decided that I would do the Bug Lab exhibit, which is one of the paid special exhibits. As luck would have it, I picked the perfect time to go, because after 5:00 in March they are offering $5 off of admission. I explored the world of bugs, checked out the handiwork of Weta Workshop and played a bit. Totally fun!

One of my favorite parts was this interactive exhibit that showed a pūtōrino and talked about how the different voices (child, male and female) are created depending on how it is played. It was fascinating. The picture of the pūtōrino is below, and below that, is a video of me pushing each button for you to hear the sound.


If you are still interested in more, check out

TePapa is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Wellington.

Tomorrow I head to a primary school for what promises to be a fun and exciting day.

Hīnātore, PARKing Day and Skyping with Schools

After I had recovered from my night bus ride, it was back to work for me, scheduling schools, booking ferry rides, buses, hostels and flights for school visits and responding to emails. I finished my work, then headed out to attend a neat event that my awesome landlord shared with me, The City as a School Learning Event at the Hīnātore Learning Lab at the Te Papa Museum. The event was sponsored by the Learning Environment Australasia NZ Chapter. Hīnātore staff shared the space with us, and talked about their lesson development and what they were doing to encourage learning for all in this space. I was fascinated, and excitedly had conversations with staff, and have since scheduled a visit to spend the day with them, so you will hear more then. I have decided that in my next life I would love to work in a science center or museum and curate exhibits and design cool learning experiences for a non-traditional learning environment. How fun would that be?

I made some great connections, exchanged business cards and then went back to the house for dinner and to catch-up with the Ludbrooks.

Not fully recovered from my night bus experience, it was definitely an early to bed night.

Friday morning I woke up early, because I had a Skype date with some of my awesome Carmel Colts – and the time difference is not friendly for that.

I enjoyed chatting with some of my 4th graders, and hope to get a chance to catch up with more students soon.

After that, I sent some emails, wrote up some school observation notes, and had lunch, before it was time to Skype with Sixes Elementary at their STEAM Parent and Student night. It was fun chatting with the parents and students, as well as the staff, my former students who were volunteering at the event, and even Dr. Hightower (our Superintendent of Schools in Cherokee). Skype truly is amazing and I am so thankful for it making these 8,000 – plus miles seem a little less distant when I can talk to people and feel like that are sitting at the same table as I am – almost.

All of that done, I set out to explore PARKing Day. Parking Day as you will see in the link, is typically an annual event that takes place on the 3rd Friday in September – which is great for the northern hemisphere people, but in Wellington, no one really wants to spend the day outside at that time. Parking Day is a day where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

Julian, one of my hosts, has played a vital role in the organization of the Wellington PARKing Day as a member of the Wellington Sculpture Trust, so I was excited to see his work come to fruition, and I was not disappointed. I spent several hours walking up and down Cuba Street, checking out the spaces and talking to the artists. To read more about the day:

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A weekend of short road trips – The Wairarapa and Paekākāriki

This weekend was one of unexpected excitement. The Ludbrooks, as I have mentioned before have a farm in the Wairarapa, a scenic area about an hour outside of Central Wellington. They spend many weekends on the farm, as they have tasks to care for their vineyard and olive grove, but they were not planning to go this weekend. A friend was to go, and they had something come up, so their were a few tasks that someone now had to go and take care of that the friend was going to do. It was decided that we would take a picnic, (with a friend of theirs) and make a day trip of it on Saturday. Adding to the fun, a quaint neighboring town, Martinborough, was hosting their Country Fair . Martinborough is a lovely colonial town famous for their vineyards and wineries. Pinot Noir is the regional specialty. I was excited to journey to the Wairarapa, and it did not disappoint. The drive itself was just gorgeous, with stunning landscapes all around. We started in Martinborough, and had a coffee at the OMG Cafe (on Ohio Street), before all going our own way to wander the massive fair for a bit. There were foods, crafts, clothes, games and everything you would expect at a fair, as well as about a bajillion people.

I wandered through the fair – reminding myself that shipping cool items home would be crazy expensive, and the stumbled upon the Martinborough Brewery – where I treated myself to a flight of Stouts and Porters for not buying any of the cool things I wanted in the craft fair – makes sense, right?

At the appointed meeting time I ventured back to meet the Ludbrooks, and we continued to the Farm. Y’all – what a gorgeous retreat. Minimal solar power, no cell phone service, rain water collection. We had a yummy picnic, then I got to explore the vineyards with Julian, and even got the chance to help him repair some of the bird netting to protect the grapes.

There wasn’t much to do with the olive grove at this point, but I have a confession. . . for over 30 years I have adamantly said that I dislike olives – like will pick them off of stuff – and I am a pretty adventurous eater, so that is not something I do often. I don’t know if it is New Zealand, or the Ludbrook’s farm, or just some interesting change in my taste buds – but I have ate olives in things and even found myself snacking on them at a gathering recently. . . so yeah – confession over.

But guys – seriously – just look at these pictures. . .

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After picnicking, working and relaxing a bit, we headed back to Wellington.

On Sunday we had planned to go to Paekākāriki for lunch with the Clark’s (my other landlords, the owners of the beautiful earthquake damaged flat) at their bach . They had also invited Sherry (another Fulbrighter) and her landlord as well, so I was excited to venture to the Kāpiti Coast, enjoy a good meal and good company. We arrived and were welcomed so warmly by Ian and Jenny, and they gave us a tour of their lovely beachfront home. It started as a proper, small bach, and they have added a dining room, done amazing landscaping in the back, and even added a detached master suite to create such a nice home.

Just look at this garden and the views! They even painted a Hobbit Hole on the shed door! After lunch we took a walk along the shore, then it was time to head back to Wellington, so I could pack for my next adventure, a trip to Rotorua (including Matamata and Hobbiton).

However, there was a bit of bad news to come out of this journey – we had hoped that by Mid-March I would be in the flat, but it seems that is not to be. Construction is delayed and there is no clear timeline in sight. However, I am so so so so (and that may not be enough repetition) very lucky and blessed by the Ludbrooks – they are more than happy to make this work and let me continue to stay here – which is such a godsend for many reasons. There is quite the housing crisis in Wellington right now (this article shares a bit, mostly from the student perspective, but it is the same situation for short term rentals as well) following the earthquake and the number of residences that are not available – this is especially true for the short term and furnished markets, so to say that I am thankful for their kindness and generosity is an understatement. What could be inconvenient, troublesome and a negative blotch on this experience has been just a bump in the road with a positive outcome – they are like my NZ family – and I am so blessed.

Ferry to Days Bay, Walk to Eastbourne and a combined Ash Wednesday service

Free from the weight of the ethics proposal, and the temptation to “review it one more time” – I decided today to sleep in, then take the Ferry across the harbor, from Queen’s Warf to Days Bay – my first boat on the harbor.

(Credit East by West Ferry Website)

This East by West Ferry also stops at Matiu / Somes Island (a predator free scientific reserve) which will be a hike and a post on another day when I have the whole day to explore- so you can look forward to that!

I bought my ferry ticket, and had some time to kill before catching the ferry, so I explored more of the waterfront area (my favorite part of Wellington on a pretty day!)

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It was a glorious day for a ferry – and a day for a hat and sunscreen as well!

The ferry ride was gorgeous – I sat on the top deck and probably took 5000 pictures – I have culled them down a bit for you. I also made a new friend on the Ferry – 3 year old Alice, who  had all sorts of questions – and was especially intrigued by my southern accent. She was on the Ferry with her grandparents, and I loved the tips and pointers from them of things I should look forward to exploring in  my time in New Zealand.

I disembarked the ferry, said goodbye to my new friends, and then just set out to explore. I decided to wander to Eastbourne along the shore, and just enjoy the day, the sounds of the sea and the sunshine.

It was a beautiful walk – and if you look at the pictures, I have added to the list of possible homes for Merry (in my dreams – I can’t even imagine the cost of a waterfront home here!) (Actually they are usually just cool architecture I notice – I am coming home, on July 19th)!

After walking to Eastbourne and finding a little cafe for a coffee, I headed back to catch the Ferry and then went to to the Ash Wednesday service at St. John’s in the City – which was a neat service, combined with St. Mary of the Angels, the Catholic church in Wellington which has been sharing the church space due to a massive seismic strengthening following an earthquake in July of 2013. The two churches have been “sister congregations” in every sense of the word since that time (and maybe before, I am not completely certain). It was a lovely service, and I enjoyed seeing how the music, ministers and congregations came together physically and theologically for this service to kick off lent, and was quite glad I made it to the service. I could get all church geek about the service, but I won’t – however, it made me happy to see such ecumenical cooperation.

(Credit St. John’s in the City website)

The Great War Exhibition and Pukeahu National War Memorial Park

Monday was my first actual school visit, and we visited a lovely high school and had some great conversations with the staff – while most of my project is focused on younger students, I found that it was very beneficial to have the opportunity to see “where the students are headed” and talk about the options for secondary schooling in NZ.

After we finished at the school, I decided I would visit the Great War Exhibition, which was put together by none other than the famous Peter Jackson (it often feels like I am a little bit of a Peter Jackson groupie here in New Zealand, but I will take it – I might totally pull a fan girl moment if I run into him on the street, by the way, #justsaying).

All silliness aside, this exhibition was well done, moving and seriously though provoking. In the US WWI is discussed, but in many cases, education, knowledge and information of WWI is much more overshadowed by WWII – I think owing to the length of our involvement in WWII the US, as well as the fact that, for me (and many of my peers as well), I had a grandfather who fought in WWII, so I was “invested” I guess?

For New Zealanders, the Great War was one of devastating loss. As an isolated island nation, it was also the first glimpse many Kiwis had, post colonization, of the world outside of New Zealand. This journey was well done, and really opened my eyes to the historical roll that NZ forces played in the War. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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For more information, and much better images than I could hope to capture, visit the Exhibition website:

Just down from the exhibition is the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park and the Hall of Memories. These touching memorials serve to commemorate the losses New Zealand has had in War.

I have a few pictures below, but you can also learn more at the websites: and

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One really cool thing on display was from a school project at one of the local Girl’s High School.

The assignment was to design a gown with the position of being pro or anti conscription in mind.  I loved the gowns, as well as the thoughtful explanations (what a cool design project idea as well!).