Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

New Zealand Summary

Posted: May 16, 2018 in 2018, Adventures, New Zealand

Aloha from Hawaii. Right now I am staying with Gabriela, a super nice student who is such a generous couchsurfing host; two nights ago she let me borrow her tent to camp at a beautiful beachside campground, yesterday she was nice enough to pick me up from the campground and later drop me off at the Polynesian Cultural Center for a day of learning about various Polynesian cultures, and tonight, if the weather agrees, we are going surfing!


Malakahana Beach Campground

I’m in Hawaii, but I keep having this feeling of “This is nice, but…” Who goes to Hawaii and does that?!?! Me, apparently. I like Hawaii but I keep comparing it to New Zealand, which I should not do. There’s just…so much I miss. The culture, the general attitude, the accent, the environment, the scenery, the sky, the water, the people, the quirks, the balance of industrialism/nature, the distribution of wealth (still room for improvement, but there isn’t as much abject poverty as we see in the US), the acknowledgement of indigenous heritage…I have left New Zealand but New Zealand has not left me.

So…I’m writing one last post about New Zealand to sum up my experience there (as if I even can). What is it about that country that makes it stay with me? I first went there two years ago as a brief four-day add-on to my trip with friends to Australia, and afterward I promised myself I would return; I liked Australia but would be fine if I didn’t go back, but New Zealand…I needed to go back there. Now, after spending a full seven weeks there this time…goshdarnit I miss that place.

On this trip there were so many things I enjoyed, and so many experiences I benefited from. Here are some of what I consider the highlights of this trip and more broadly of this country, in no particular order of importance:

  • Couchsurfing: The people I met through couchsurfing in NZ were all interesting and inspiring. Bif with her fascinating career teaching in nine different countries and her cycling/dragonboat stories, plus the cyclists I met while staying with her: Lena and Oli on their multi-month cycling adventure, and the Australian tandem couple at the end of their journey. Then Andrew, the “traveling volunteer” who quit the corporate world in exchange for what has become a year-and-a-half of voluntourism, and his hosts (later my hosts) Carl and Renee, who were so kind and cool to talk to/hang out with, and whom I look forward to seeing again when they take their own multi-month road trip in the US next spring. Then Kat, who I will remember for recommending I skip Dunedin, P, with whom I had an odd but not unhappy couple of days somewhat off the grid, and Paras, whose outgoing party-hardy spirit matched Wellington. Plus all the unofficial couchsurfing with Claire and Leonard, Kristen and Chris, at St. Martin’s Lodge and the Cottage, all the nights camping with Flying Kiwi, and even the friendly and welcoming staff at the Kiwi’s Nest and the Albatross, two hostels that were charming and inviting. All different experiences, all memorable and worthwhile. I appreciate everyone’s hospitality, friendly spirit, stories, and inspiration. 
  • Cycling: New Zealand is a beautiful country to cycle through. Being on a bicycle with the mountains, the farms, the sheep, the harbour, the hills, and the beautiful skies setting the scenery made every pedal stroke worthwhile. I would ride every km over again – and more!
  • Information: This is dorky, but I love all the informational signs all over New Zealand. Signs about the European and Maori histories of the area, walks and other hidden attractions nearby, about conservation projects, about an area’s significance, etc. Even better, many signs were written in both Maori and English. In addition to signs, the information given by the bus drivers was equally awesome.
  • Recognition of Maori culture: Seriously. There is still a long way to go, but I don’t think any country is making as much of an effort to recognize indigenous culture (and acknowledging the negatives of past colonization) as Aotearoa/New Zealand. Kia ora (this is also used as a sign of thanks). 
  • Commitment to conservation: Again, I don’t know a country as dedicated to conservation of native flora and fauna as New Zealand. The fact that there are actually places that are predator-free right now is so admirable.
  • ”Having a walk:” All the tramping was awesome, but more generally I enjoyed almost anything I did on two feet, especially on dirt paths. Sometimes the paths were short and I won’t count those as legitimate tramping, but even the most casual stroll made me calm and relaxed. 
  • Volunteering: The fact that the work I enjoyed most was so conservation-based makes me feel like I should try to find more to do like that in New York. Maybe I can join a trail crew or something…
  • Alternative Teaching: I very much enjoyed interacting and exchanging knowledge with all the groups that came to Quarantine while I was there. This makes me feel like I will keep my passion for teaching alive no matter what I do in life, and I don’t need to worry about the future so much. That’s a huge lesson.
  • Music: Always important. I didn’t always seek it out, but it always found me.
  • Kiwi accent: It’s such a fun one! I miss hearing it already (yesterday at the Polynesian Cultural Center I went to New Zealand’s show twice just to hear the accent more).
  • Friendly, generous people: Everyone has such a cool attitude in New Zealand. Even when I got told off once while cycling (like anywhere, some people just don’t like cyclists on the road), it was in such a friendlier manner than I would have experienced in the States.
  • Hot water bottles: New Zealand houses get cold. Hot water bottles keep you warm at night.
  • Weather: Beautiful, warm, sunny…even late fall was great.
  • Campervans: They are everywhere, and they are each a different work of art. Part of NZ’s quirks.
  • All those incredible views: Not sure anything beats the New Zealand skyline.
  • Well-marked trails: New Zealand has so many trails for walking and biking, and the signage is great. They really encourage people to get outdoors!
  • Birds: The native birds are so cool.
  • Industrialism-nature: I love the way you can be in a small city one minute, then d be in a beautiful natural environment a couple minutes later. This is so much more appealing than endless suburbs and shopping malls.
  • Language: Particular to this trip, I had the unexpected benefit of language immersion. I’ve downloaded an app and am continuing to study Flemish because I feel like I’ve learned enough that it would be a waste to forget it!

…I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there. Obviously I really like New Zealand. Obviously I didn’t want to leave. Obviously I met amazing people and had amazing experiences and am grateful for every minute spent in that country. The Otago region was my favourite, but from Lyttelton, to Te Anau, Punakaiki, Abel Tasman, Nelson, the West Coast Wilderness trail…there are so many beautiful places I’d like to return to and explore more. Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. I hope I will return again.


Just an average campervan


It’s only right to end with a photo from my favorite island…and some sheep 😉

Aloha from Hawaii! Today I sort-of learned to surf for the first time ever! Sweeeeeeet! But man, I miss New Zealand; I like the culture and attitude there so much more than Hawaii so far (not that I’m complaining about being in Hawaii). Anyway, here is my second-to-last NZ blog post:

Throughout my time in New Zealand I’d been hearing that I should visit Wellington. Given the fact that other advice offered to me tended to be more opinion than truth (my personal favorite: “Don’t go to Dunedin, it’s not worth it.” Glad I ignored that one!), I’d been taking the Wellington suggestions with a grain of salt, but so many people suggested it, with no one talking poorly about the city – that I figured it was worth checking out before departing the country.


One of the original proposed names for Wellington was “Wellywood,” and there is definitely a bit of an LA-inspired feel to parts of this place.


Located at the southernmost point of the North Island, Wellington replaced Auckland as New Zealand’s capital city in 1865 (and thus became the southernmost capital city in the world). It is a hub for arts and culture in a way that many other New Zealand cities are not (with exceptions, of course) and has been called “The Coolest Capital In The World.” It is also the site of Electoral Act 1893, which made New Zealand the world’s first country to give women the right to vote. The city has over 400 cafes and restaurants, challenging New York City for person to restaurant ratio, and the city is also called “Windy Wellington” because of strong gusty winds that almost constantly blow over the city from the Cook Strait. Film director Peter Jackson also lives nearby, so naturally, Wellington was an important site for producing the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series.


Welcome to Wellington, the “middle of Middle Earth.”

My flight from Dunedin to Wellington arrived mid-morning, giving me plenty of time to check out the city before meeting my couchsurfing host, Paras, after he got out of work. I decided to spend my day at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, opened in 1998. Te papa tongarewa means “container of treasures” in Maori, or, more precisely, “our container of treasured things and people that spring from mother earth in New Zealand.” It was immediately clear that both Wellington and New Zealand as a whole value this museum; even considering all the incredible museums I’ve visited in New York and elsewhere, I found Te Papa to be immensely fascinating and worthwhile. Te Papa is rated as the most visited museum in Oceania, with over 1.5 million visitors each year, and is ranked number one on TripAdvisor for museums in the South Pacific, and 24th in the world. It is one of nine (and the only man-made) locations in New Zealand that Lonely Planet has ranked as the top 500 places on the planet and is featured in the book Ultimate Travelist. In addition to a number of incredible permanent exhibits, the museum also has a number of special exhibits that make each new trip worthwhile; when I return to New Zealand, I will surely visit this place again. Plus, museum entry is completely free (with the option of giving a donation). If you go to New Zealand, you won’t want to miss this place.


Te Papa entrance

When I walked into Te Papa, the first exhibit I found was a limited time partnership with Weta Workshop (responsible for many incredible movie productions…more on them later). Called Gallipoli: The scale of our war, the exhibit told the stories – in chronological order – of soldiers from New Zealand’s first campaign from World War I. The stories of eight New Zealanders involved in the war are featured in the museum, each frozen in time through extremely powerful and lifelike sculptures, which took 24,000 hours to create (not to mention the countless pre-sculpture hours of research to get each one to really honor the person it is created after).


This collage hardly does justice to these incredible sculptures.

This exhibit was powerful, to say the least. Normally I find that if an exhibit features something flashy and perhaps unnecessary (as I thought these sculptures might be), the effect falls flat; I’d rather learn about the content than see something unnecessary to the overall topic. However, this exhibit was put together so well that seeing the lifelike sculptures, each of week is created to be three times the size of a normal human in every proportion, and hearing the voice actors reading their letters, etc. before continuing into each section of the exhibit made me connect with each person on a deeper level. Everything about this exhibit was well done, from the layout, to the colors, to the music, to the photos, and I appreciated the chance to get to visit it and learn a bit about WWI that I knew nothing about.


Photos of the exhibit, including a bible with a bullet in it – that book saved a soldier’s life.

After Gallipoli, I wondered how the rest of the exhibits would compare. Surely the regular exhibits could not be as impressive as this limited one? Luckily, I was wrong. Maori legends, culture, and history; European settler impacts/contributions; refugee stories; New Zealand plants and animals; stories of New Zealand’s changing landscape/conservation impacts…this museum had it all. Sadly, two of the exhibits I’d heard were the best – one on New Zealand earthquakes and one featuring the only colossal squid on display anywhere in the world – were closed for construction/redevelopment, but even missing those I was quite satisfied with my day at Te Papa. Definitely worthwhile.

(unfortunately I didn’t take any more photos – I was too immersed in the exhibits)

Outside of Te Papa I met Paras, my couchsurfing host for the next two nights. Paras is originally from India but came to New Zealand a year ago (after five years in Singapore) to live somewhere new working as a software engineer. He has the good fortune of living right in the heart of the city, very close to the harbour, his office, and Cuba Street, the most “happening” street in the city, and he considers Wellington to be the best place he has ever lived. That night, Paras made traditional Indian chai and cooked a delicious Indian meal, then drove around to show me some of the city sights. First stop: Oriental Bay, a nice area right on the water where many people walk or run. From there we drove to the lookout point at Mount Victoria, where you have a great 360 view of the city from all angles as well as the distant South Island across the Cook Strait. I was hoping I’d be able to also find the spot at Mt. Vic where the Hobbits hid while being chased by the Ringwraiths (“Get off the road!”), but sadly I didn’t get to see it (apparently it’s somewhat unremarkable aside from being used for that scene, but still…).


Adventures with Paras

That night I slept on Paras’ extremely comfy rug (there was a couch, but I found the rug to be even better), then joined him for his walk to work in the morning, which happened to be on the way to my destination: the East/West Ferry. “But Carolyn, aren’t you planning to explore Wellington?” You may be wondering. “Why in the world do you need the ferry?” Well, let me explain! 🙂

Matiu/Somes Island

In addition to Kamau Taurua/Quarantine Island, New Zealand has three other islands that were used as quarantine stations in the late 1800s/early 1900s. One of these is Matiu/Somes Island, located just off the Wellington coast. I could imagine no better or more fitting way to spend my last full day in New Zealand than to take advantage of the opportunity to visit yet another island of quarantine so I walked along the wharf, booked my ferry ticket, and headed over.


Cool boat in the harbour (not the ferry)

Somes Island is different than Quarantine Island in so many ways. Before visiting, I’d gone online to do a bit of sleuthing and discovered that even housing was different; on Quarantine anyone can stay in the lodge for $15/person per night, while on Somes you pay $200 for use of an 8-person establishment regardless of how many people are staying there (though there is also a camping option), and I couldn’t find any information about how to volunteer as an individual (they seem to focus on group volunteering; I spoke to a ranger when I was there and I don’t think they even have any WWOOFers!). The Department of Conservation seems to have more of a commitment to Somes than to Quarantine, with much more information about that island and its history on the DOC website and less on its Facebook page (clue number one that Somes is more DOC- and less community-driven than Quarantine).

The ferry ride to Somes was another clue that perhaps this place was open to visitors (or had the capacity to advertise for them) in a way that was also different than Quarantine. For one, there were eight other people on the ferry with me who were planning to spend a couple hours at Somes (there is no ferry that can takes visitors to Quarantine on a regular schedule; anyone interested has to make arrangements in advance). The 20-minute ride to the island was nice though!

Upon arrival at the island everyone was ushered into the Whare Kiore (“rat house”) for an introductory briefing and to check that we weren’t carrying any invasive seeds, plants, or animals. We all thoroughly brushed our boots and vacuumed our bags as the DOC ranger told us about the island, its history, and health and safety protocols. I learned that rather than have a keeper, Somes has three DOC rangers (with official DOC uniforms) who take turns staying on the island. The island has an interesting history (the DOC website has more information on its quarantine years than on its Maori history, so I will focus on that here). In 1853 it was briefly used to quarantine sheep, then was designated as New Zealand’s first animal quarantine station in 1889, with permanent facilities built by internment camp prisoners of war in 1893. By 1908 it was considered the country’s primary quarantine station, with animals in quarantine for periods of 30-60 days. It remained an animal quarantine station until 1995 – over one hundred years! Somes Island was also a quarantine station for humans, with its most active period being 1872-76; it has not been used for human quarantine since the end of WWI. 

After the briefing I mentioned to the DOC ranger that I’d just come from volunteering on Quarantine Island, but he didn’t seem overly familiar with it, even when I used its Maori name and explained its purpose. Weird…


Clockwise from top left: Lighthouse, marae, monument, gravestone, Te Papa o Tara (small island commonly referred to as “Shag Rock” because of a small breeding colony of spotted shags located there, many of the old animal quarantine buildings.

Like KT/QI, M/SI is now a site of eco-preservation. Incredibly, the island has been predator-free since 1989 and intends to stay that way (M/SI has the luxury of being more than 3 km from mainland, making it nearly impossible for any rats to swim over). I saw quite a number of rare birds and plants during my time there, including the New Zealand parakeet, kakariki.


As I walked around the island, I got the feeling that DOC is way more invested in Somes Island than Quarantine. There were informational signs all over the place (which were interesting to read), a memorial to everyone who died there, and a visitor center. I enjoyed visiting Somes and am glad I went, but it also didn’t feel like it was as community-driven as Quarantine Island is. Plus…I didn’t find a book on the island’s history at that visitor center, so I guess they don’t have a Lyndall Hancock over there!


Some of the more informational/historical aspects of the island. Clockwise from top left: Remains of WWII Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery (HAA) position, the Visitor Center, info. on the lighthouse, info. on the escape attempts of a couple prisoners and the sextant they built, part of the flush toilet on the island.

All biases aside, I liked Somes Island and it made for a relaxing late morning adventure. Somes Island has the first lighthouse of New Zealand, which is still in operation today, and a number of paths to explore. And, of course, I found some sheep. If I had the opportunity I would volunteer on Somes and I would probably enjoy it, but it didn’t have that magical, serene, peaceful feeling I got as soon as I stepped onto Quarantine. It’ll probably be difficult to find a place I enjoy quite as much as Quarantine – that is the best place in all of New Zealand!


One interesting aspect of Somes was the “weta motels” they have to encourage the Wellington tree weta. Prior to 1996 it was thought that rats had eradicated wetas from Matiu/Somes Island, but now thousands of the native insect thrive on the island. Very cool!

After Somes I made an impromptu stop along the wharf to play a very colorful outdoor, at City Gallery Wellington, one of the local art museums to see the “This Is New Zealand” exhibit, and then at a very cool store called Colony that specialized in local honey to impulsively bought a honey-ginger-soymilk smoothie (an excellent decision). Then I waited for a bus to get to my next important destination: Weta Cave.


Found a weta hotel on my way to Weta Cave 🙂

Weta Cave/Weta Workshop

Once upon a time in 1987, Richard Taylor and Tania Rogers, two young film producers, founded a company called RT Effects, dreaming of making models, props, and puppets for films. Their first big break came a year later with Public Eye, a satirical puppet TV show, and then Meet the Feebles with Peter Jackson, another Kiwi local who was doing essentially the same thing they were. The three teamed up and began working on films together, having early success with titles such as Braindead, Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, and some TV shows including Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. Then in 1997, Peter Jackson had some exciting news: He was being offered the opportunity to create a series of films for J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel, Lord of the Rings, and Weta Workshop would be making the props, effects, makeup, etc. Needless to say, Weta Workshop and Weta Digital really took off after that, becoming involved with blockbuster hits including The Avengers, Kong, Mad Max: Fury Road, Ghost in the Shell, Thor: Ragnarok, Pacific Rim: Uprising, etc. 


Today, Weta Cave (the location of the Weta Workshop company) offers visitors the chance to go behind the scenes to see how some of their movies – and props – are created. I took the general workshop tour, which was honestly one of the best guided tours I’ve ever been on. The guide, who is a props artist at Weta, treated the tour as more of a conversation than a guided experience, responding to everyone’s questions and comments and making our hour together more like a hangout than a formal tour, except for the fact that photos were prohibited throughout.

Seeing all the props from LOTR and other films and hearing about how they were made (and how they used to be made) was incredible. We even saw some props from the Halo film that Peter Jackson was working on but which, unfortunately, was cancelled (our guide predicts that it will still happen…I hope he’s right!). Our guide also told us some cool facts about various stars he has gotten to work with through his position at Weta, and about his respect for Tom Cruise, one of only two actors who he thinks can really say they do their own stunts (the other being Jacky Chan…and then Chuck Norris, who is of course another planet). He told us a story of Tom Cruise once performing a stunt for one of his films in which he had to jump from building to another, then continue running. As he landed, he snapped his ankle, but knew that stopping would mean having to reshoot the scene months later, so he ignored the pain and ran through it. Hardcore!

At the end of the tour we met Kim Beaton, a sculptor at Weta Workshop who was currently working on one of their private client projects, a series of intricate guinea pig houses. After talking about her work, Kim shared some of her favorite tips for creating sculptures using tinfoil and paper mache. Check out this sculpture she made with her kids, just for fun, out of nothing but tinfoil and a particular paper mache technique called moulange paper.


After my satisfying day, I took the bus back to central Wellington and ate leftover Indian food with Paras. Then, time to hit the streets! Walking down Cuba St. at night was a trip; it occurred to me that I haven’t had a city-centric “night on the town” since being in Canada in January, and being in a busy city street felt weird. We wound up at a place called …? Where there was a live blues band playing (they were awesome) and a language exchange meetup group that Pascal is part of. I enjoyed the music while he enjoyed the meetup, and then we went back so I could pack up and prepare for an early morning departure.


More photos of Wellington

Giant bus ride

I wish I could say Thursday was my last official day in New Zealand, but I guess I have to count Friday. What a crazy day…I spent 13 hours on a bus to get to Auckland for my flight. WHY did I think this was a good idea? The bus left Wellington ten minutes behind schedule, and the craziness continued from there. There were a large amount of foreigners on the bus who didn’t speak English and kept walking around when we were supposed to be sitting, or trying to get off the bus to use the bathroom when we made quick stops to pick up new passengers. I’m pretty sure we left one passenger behind at one such stop, and then later five passengers didn’t get off where they were supposed to and the bus became overcrowded. Another woman got bus sick, which caused us more delays, and then wound up getting off the bus with another woman’s bag. It was also raining and grey the whole way, so I just put my head into my laptop and wrote many of these last couple of New Zealand blog entries.

Eventually I got to Auckland, paid my bus fare to get to the airport (do NOT do this if you take an InterCity bus – apparently you get a free transfer, but the driver failed to mention this). The Auckland airport is undergoing construction in an effort to become “the airport of the future,” which means it is currently an underwhelming place to be, with no food court and limited places to hang out for four hours while waiting for a fight. Ai yai yai!

So…that was my last official day in New Zealand. I then boarded the plane, fell asleep pretty quickly, and woke up an hour before landing in Hawaii. Stay tuned for a final wrap-up post about New Zealand, then more about Hawaii adventures, which, at the time of this writing, have just begun!

Aloha! I can’t believe I am posting this from Oahu, Hawaii! I just arrived earlier today and met up with Dr. Eppink, one of my music professors from Saint Rose. Great to reconnect and know he and his partner are here in case of emergency during my adventures here. Today we went out for lunch, and then Sunday they’re going to show me some of their favorite places. Cool! Not gonna lie…I really miss New Zealand right now, but I’m going to enjoy this state while I’m here.

But anyway, still need to update this blog. Last we left off, I’d just sort-of said goodbye to Dries, Noah, and Lucia.

After the “goodbye” I walked down the block to meet Chris at his university office, who had offered to drive me back to his and Kristen’s house where I’d be staying for three nights. I’m grateful to them for taking me in once again and giving me a chance to transition from Quarantine Island before leaving Dunedin entirely; I think I needed that. After sharing the story of my day, I spent the rest of the afternoon at a table with Kristen, working on grading and writing my blog while she worked on her own tasks on her laptop. Then, after dinner that evening, the two of us headed to 50 Dundas St., where the Dunedin Folk Club meets every Sunday for a folk music event. That Sunday the theme was songs of transportation, and I sang two sea chanteys and shared some of their history. Every performer that evening was really incredible, and some of the songs struck a chord with me, as many of them were about transitioning from one place to another, often by boat or plane (for those reading this who know Old Songs, the night felt like a mini Old Songs event). The evening ended with everyone singing “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” and, needless to say, I sang every word.

Next, I had two full days to explore more of Dunedin. After Skyping with Tir and Genai, I began Monday by walking to the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, the first botanic garden in all of New Zealand. It wasn’t my favorite garden in NZ (I liked the one in Christchurch quite a bit, and of course the Kaikoura lavender farm was awesome), but nonetheless it was a nice way to start my day. From there, I spent twenty minutes following the distant sound of Taiko drumming, which eventually led me to the University of Otago. I only managed to catch the last couple minutes of the performance, but I was overjoyed that my wandering had brought me to drums! From there, something really cool happened.


Looking like autumn at the Botanic Gardens


Taiko drumming at the University of Otago

Since I was already on the university campus and had planned to visit the music building anyway, after the Taiko drumming I walked another couple of blocks to Albany St. (yes, the music building is on a street with the same name as the city I went to music school in. Fate? 😉 ). When I got there, I was dismayed to discover that my building access card didn’t work. Oh no! I waited around a couple minutes to see if anyone would happen to walk by to let me in and was literally just turning around to give up and walk away when someone opened the door! Further conversation revealed that his name was Robbie and he was the drum set/percussion ensemble instructor at the university. Well, isn’t that convenient! He was overjoyed to learn that I too was a percussionist, and invited me to perform in a percussion concert that Friday (today is Friday as I write this from the bus to Auckland, so obviously I had to turn down the offer, sadly). Nonetheless, Robbie was extremely helpful in tracking down the vibraphone. Once again, the room where I’d been told it would be was vibe-less, so Robbie took me on a trip to the music office down the street to pick up a skeleton room key and find the vibes.

As we walked I learned more of Robbie’s story; he works at the university two days a week teaching drum lessons and running the percussion ensemble (currently all the “percussion” students at the university are primarily drum set players) and works with special education students doing a sort of music therapy program the rest of the week. He also plays gigs every week and enjoys getting to have a balance between working with college students, playing gigs, and working with special needs students. He also told me about the university’s music program, which is in an extreme state of rebranding/rebuilding right now as they prepare to transition from a very small building with asbestos in the ceiling to a new, larger building down the street within the next year (this was a familiar story; the Saint Rose music program did the same thing while I was a student there). Likewise, they are building up the program to expand to include more than just drum set players and to expand the genres of music being taught.


Current music building. Reminds me a bit of the old Saint Rose building

Through Robbie I met two other music department staff members: Another percussion professor and Stephen, the music tech staff member who helped found Flying Nun, the recording company that was largely responsible for the lasting effect of the “Dunedin sound” movement of the 1990s (to my knowledge, Dunedin is the only city in New Zealand that has had such a distinctive music culture; there is a whole exhibit about it at the Otago Settlers Museum). Stephen does the sound for university performances and runs the recording studio at the university, but he also has an interesting additional responsibility; he helps to save old tape and similar material from being thrown out. As he happily showed me, Stephen has quite a collection of old tape players of all kinds that played all different kinds of tape reels. For instance, he has two machines from Canada that were part of an extremely large collection used for the Olympic Games. Apparently, there was an entire room at the Olympics full of these machines, each ready to play the national anthem of a particular country if an athlete from that nation won gold. The ones he has are both labeled two hundred-something, to give you an idea of how many of these machines would have been set up at the Games!

Anyway, eventually I got access to the vibraphone, exchanged contact info. with Robbie in case I’m ever back in town to play some percussion, and spent a happy two hours jamming for the first time in five months. Oh! Other cool facts: The vibraphone at the university was rescued from the dump! Funny enough, a friend of Kristen’s found it, didn’t know anything about it but knew it was an instrument, and sold it to the university. Incredible what people throw out. The university also has quite a unique marimba, with the bars all on one level rather than the accidentals tiered above the naturals, as most marimbas are set up.

After practicing, I walked back to Kristen and Chris’ house and helped make dinner, then took their electric car out for a practice drive with Chris. They were going to let me borrow it the following day, so Chris figured we might as well get a run in that evening. We drove to town, where I attended a contra dance and he went back to work before meeting up again to head back to their place. Funny enough, the people who attended the contra dance (also at 50 Dundas St.) were largely the same ones who’d attended the folk singing event, and they recognized me as “the sea chantey girl.” Funny how quickly an identity can form! Dunedin contra is a MUCH smaller scene than Brooklyn or even Albany contra, but I had fun nonetheless.


Walking through a graveyard on my way back to Kristen and Chris’ house


On Tuesday, my last full day in Dunedin, I decided I would visit Orokunui, a bird sanctuary Claire had recommended, where the Quarantine bird survey group also goes to conduct surveys. Unlike Quarantine, Orokunui is entirely predator-free, so the survey  group goes there to compare bird populations there vs. at Quarantine. Orokunui is in Dunedin but difficult to reach without a car, so I was thankful to Kristen and Chris for letting me use their electric one. In addition to seeing a large number of native birds at Orokunui (bellbird, fantail, kaka, kakapo, kakariki, kea, takahe, tui, etc.), I also went on a two-hour hike to what is supposedly New Zealand’s tallest tree (a non-native sequoia) and visited an area that houses skinks. I was surprised to see how large the skinks can get; the ones here were three times the size of the largest I saw on Quarantine Island!


After wrapping up my four hours at Orokunui I drove to the university for one last day of vibes practice. Afterward, talking with Stephen again, I was surprised to learn that he knows Leonard and Claire. Small world!

After dinner that night, Kristen decided we should go on a nighttime adventure in Dunedin to end my trip. To my surprise, our first stop was a little stream and a short hike to an area known for glowworms! I had no idea Dunedin had glowworms, and I was not disappointed. Although I’d hiked to glowworms twice on the West Coast, the amount I saw there was nothing compared to the amount here in Dunedin and, as Kristen said, there were less than usual because of the coming winter. I can’t even imagine how many there must be during the summer months; there were SO MANY to see on that night! They were also extremely close-by, so for the first time ever I was able to see a glowworm up close and personal by dimly shining a light near their glow. I even got a photo of their little hanging webs! Unlike the fireflies we know for their lights in the US, glowworms shine not to find a mate but to attract food, smaller insects which they hope to capture in their little webs. Very cool to see up close!


Those beady-looking strands are the glowworms webs (with water droplets)

After the glowworms, we went on a little nighttime tour of the Octagon (where much of the Scottish architecture is in Dunedin), walked around the university campus (it looks pretty awesome at night, see below), and stopped at a popular ice cream joint. Finally, we drove to a community arts center that Kristen has helped organize. Lots of innovative projects happening at that center, which was converted from an old paint shop.

The next morning, Kristen and Chris waited with me for my shuttle to the airport, and then I was off. I have to give them both a huge shoutout for being such wonderful hosts over those couple of days. I enjoyed our conversations, our adventures, and their generous hospitality (not to mention their commitment to the Island!). I am glad to have gotten to know you both and I hope to come back and see you again. A bien tot!


Aaaaah I’m writing this from the bus to Auckland…meaning I am heading to the airport. New Zealand, why must I leave you so soon?? Let’s see how much I can get caught up before I leave. Last we left off, I’d left Quarantine Island with Leonard and Claire to explore Port Chalmers for the weekend.

Port Chalmers

On Monday morning I started the day by visiting the Port Chalmers Maritime Museum, a small museum just a short walk from Claire and Leonard’s apartment. I explained to the staff that I have an interest in sea chanteys and enjoy visiting maritime museums, and they were nice enough to find information on New Zealand sea chantey groups and allow me access to their maritime library (which I hadn’t even asked for nor needed, New Zealanders are just that kind!). Port Chalmers was once the most active port in all of New Zealand, especially because of the gold rush in Otago in the 1860s (Port Chalmers is part of Otago).


Found a painting of Quarantine in the museum! Strangely, I found nothing about this island in either the Otago Museum or the Otago Settlers Museum, so it was exciting to find this painting at the tiny maritime museum. 🙂

Afterward, I took a bus to central Dunedin to complete a couple missions: Take advantage of Dunedin’s cheap student deals for Monday haircuts, buy groceries, buy guitar strings for a birthday present, and do one cheap touristy thing. I opted to visit the Cadbury Chocolate Factory (which is permanently closing) and explore their museum. It’s informative, but also a little creepy in a way, with all these puppets. There’s a more in-depth tour but I didn’t really have the time nor the motivation to take it. Instead, I bought fancy a hot chocolate in the Cadbury cafe. 🙂


Quarantine Again

Next, I took the bus to Portobello and met up with the gang to head back to Quarantine. We had to row the boat back to the island because of a finicky motor, which proved to be quite challenging (I say “we” because Dries let us each have a turn, but really it was mostly him doing the hard work). The kids kept asking why he was going so slow; couldn’t he row any faster?? When we got to the jetty we saw an octopus under the dock – awesome! Really cool to see one so close!

As soon as we got back to the island, Noah was excited to see the guitar strings and work on a secret birthday present for dad; we were going to restring the guitar he’d been learning (which was missing two strings) and make a diddley bow with one of the old strings. Noah and Lucia both enjoyed learning how to take the strings off the guitar, and Noah was especially enthusiastic about the diddley bow. Of course, keeping this mission “secret” from dad was quite difficult for the kids, so needless to say the surprise was not much of a surprise by his birthday the next day.


The guitar, minus two strings. It’s a small one, but good for learning at least! 🙂

Over the week I made the most of my quickly depleting days left in paradise…why was time flying so quickly?! On Tuesday I spent the morning checking snappy traps and A24s (caught four mice that day), cleaning the chicken coop, and weeding with Dries in the garden. After lunch I went for a walk, then spent the late afternoon/evening grading student work. After school, a large amount of rain and wind meant that Dries and the kids got stuck on the mainland for over an hour – that boat really needs a new motor ASAP! After they finally got back (and I heard enthusiastic stories about being stuck), we all enjoyed pancakes for dinner, apparently a birthday tradition complete with a family invention of “shaving foam,” a delicious combination of butter and sugar that is perfect on pancakes. Then we sang happy birthday to Dries in four or five languages – hooray for multilingualism!

Otago Museum group

On Wednesday I began the day by scrubbing the jetty, which was a surprisingly relaxing task  in the early morning, post-rain calm. As I was scrubbing and singing, enjoying the early sun rays, the calls of the seagulls, the sound of the water, etc., I couldn’t help but think that this was the absolute best thing to be doing in that moment. It sounds silly, but as I gazed out over the harbour I felt a rush of gratitude for the opportunity to scrub bird poop off the jetty on such a beautiful island on a lovely calm morning; there is no place I’d rather be.


Good ol’ jetty 🙂

Later that morning I had the important job of helping to welcome and supervise a group of staff members from the Otago Museum’s science center who were coming to the island for a morning of volunteering followed by an afternoon of museum planning/professional development. I appreciate that Quarantine Island offers such opportunities; groups can come to the island for staff bonding through volunteerism and also spend time being productive in their various fields (with extra time for exploring the beautiful island). I enjoyed speaking with the staff on my shredder team (who were rightfully enthusiastic about the job – shredding eucalyptus branches smells amazing and is strangely satisfying) about the island, their work, how we all wound up in Dunedin and our shared enthusiasm for the area, etc. Their passion for alternative education in a museum setting was great to hear; we exchanged many ideas about education and learning, and they reminded me that museum work is an exciting field (I’ve always been curious about this field, since “museum curator” is the profession that came up as best-suited for me when I took the career aptitude test in high school). At lunchtime the group invited us to partake in their incredible potluck meal, which Dries confirmed was highly impressive and unusual for a volunteer group. Each member of the team had contributed a dsh – many of which were vegetarian – and goodness, those people can cook! We had quite a feast and were both flabbergasted and pleasantly surprised by the amazing amount of delicious food shared that afternoon. Thank you Otago Museum science staff!

(if I find a photo of that amazing spread of food I’ll add it here)

After the group left I happily continued shredding and got through every branch! It somehow seemed fitting that Dries and the kids returned from school when I was near the end of the task, so all four of us got to finish the shredding together. Then I went for a walk around the island, which had been a regular routine but was suddenly much more meaningful that week; each walk felt valuable since I had so few opportunities remaining to enjoy that sense of serenity the island brings.


Collage from my walk. See that island I’m pointing at? That’s Goat Island, which I still want to visit. See that large mountainous thing in the bottom photo? That’s the Harbour Cone, which I also still want to visit. And see that big smile and relaxed look on my face? That’s called “Carolyn Is Happy and Loving Life.”

The next day I kayaked away from the island to enjoy one final day cycling around the Otago Peninsula. Ohhhh, if only I had more time to explore that area! The ride around the peninsula is gorgeous, even with construction currently being done to extend the cycling path along the waterfront. I cycled all the way to the city centre (around 20 km) to complete a series of missions. First, after enjoying lunch on a bench by the water, I biked to the University of Otago to pick up the access key card the music department was loaning me so I could use the school’s vibraphone. Amazing! At the university I couldn’t find the vibraphone (later I learned it was in a different room), but I found a nice piano to play, so all was well!


Photos from my adventure. Finding the piano, a map of the peninsula, a sign for Portobello, a beautiful view, and another reason this is best area in all of New Zealand…a TARDIS/Dalek mailbox! 😀

Next I cycled to a liquor store called Henry’s to pick up a particular local beer, then to the grocery store to buy ingredients for lasagna; I’d learned that this was Dries’ favorite food so, since I have my grandma’s recipe, I decided I’d take up the challenge to make a thank you meal on my last night. Challenge accepted! Cycling back to Portobello and kayaking to the island with all those groceries was, luckily, not as harrowing as I’d imagined it might be.


Beautiful photo I took of Quarantine as I was biking back, singing a song about how I wanted to get back to “my island.” 😉

That night, a huge group of 33 high school students arrived at the island. They were part of a three-day program at the Marine Studies Centre and would be staying on the island for two nights. My goodness…I’m very glad I could escape to the Cottage to hang out that evening  because that group was loud (I’m sure they were nice, but being in the Lodge with so many 14-year-olds was not appealing).

On Friday, Kristen came to the island and I joined her and Dries for an island-wide adventure checking the A24s and doing some plant releasing (releasing is when you cut away the tall grass around a plant so that it isn’t choked). Kristen is learning French, so the three of us got to speak en francais as we went. Hooray! After lunch I went back out with Kristen for more releasing and to combat the gorse, a terribly invasive plant that we want to get rid of on the island. This is no easy task!

Last Day of Quarantine…

Saturday, my last full day on the island. I woke up early (impossible not to when the marine studies group has a 6:40 AM wakeup) and got into the kitchen as soon as the group was out to begin making homemade sauce for the lasagna (to make it legitimate, you need to let it cook for many hours). Kristen and Chris both came to the island that day and, after a short morning tea, got right to work on various tasks; their commitment to that island is so impressive. I, meanwhile, set out to mow the grass. With Noah helping (with dad’s permission) and needing to recharge the mower’s battery every half an hour the task took longer than intended, but eventually it got done, with lots of time in between each charge to check the sauce and hang out with Noah and Lucia. They were both interested in helping to stir the sauce and made sure to tell their dad an important lesson of cooking: Never leave the spoon in the pot (he already knew this, but now they are insistent on reminding him whenever he’s cooking, it seems). Afterward I went for one final walk around the island, then finished preparing my big thank you dinner for Dries, Noah, and Lucia; a vegan-friendly twist on a family lasagne recipe, with a side of homemade bread Dries contributed. Noah rated the lasagna 10.5/10 and ate three big helpings, and Lucia and Dries were both happy with it too. Success!

Then, to my surprise, they presented a little gift they’d made for me: Homemade rhubarb jam! That jam is quite delicious; they really know how to make a good jam! The night concluded with me reading one last book to both kids (the best part is it wasn’t planned, just sort of happened, and it happened to be about a musical giraffe) then playing Hangman with Noah before his bedtime (on his final turn the word he chose was “Carolyn”), and then popcorn, a movie, and some New Zealand beers to end the night. Later, back in the Lodge, I made sure to reread parts of Lyndall’s book about the island right before bed so it would stick in my head. Here are some of my favorite lines from the afterward of the book, called “Walking the Island in 2008” and written by Dr. Peter Matheson:

The Island straddles the harbour today as it has for tens of thousands of years…stand on its high hill and you look right out to Aramoana, the gateway to the ocean, on one side, but also back to the head of the harbour, where Dunedin now sits, on the other. With Goat Island it forms a broken land bridge between Port Chalmers, that bustling hub of commerce, and Portobello on the Peninsula. At night it is simply magical to walk the paddocks, the lights of the channel winking green and red, the stars above, a myriad of house lights on both sides of the harbour. One is alone and one is never alone. 

‘Every city needs an island.’ James Matheson, founder of the Community, loved to say this There is certainly a magic about arriving…you slough off the skin of normal life, the tyranny of the diary, the phone, the day-to-day obligations of work and family and – fair weather or foul – you smell the salt and feel the wind and sun and rain in a new way. You know you’re in for something different.


Such a great and meaningful book; thank you Lyndall!

Saying Goodbye?

The next day, it was time to prepare to leave. I packed my things, cleaned the Lodge, and then joined Dries, Noah, and Lucia for one final off-island adventure to the Otago Museum science center. I love going to science museums with kids; it’s way more fun that way (Amber, if you’re reading this, Science City was definitely the winner over this science exhibit and I was thinking about how much fun we had with Teo and Mari while there. Say hi to them for me!). We saw some of the staff members who’d been on the island, so it was cool to be able to say hi once again.


At the museum: Autahi the Leopard seal contains 159 bones and took 930 hours to assemble; some tiny quails, and a butterfly enjoying some fruit in the butterfly garden.

As the adage goes, all good things must come to an end and, alas, eventually it came time to say goodbye to Dries, Noah, and Lucia. Noah was particularly cranky about this and wouldn’t even look at me, yet alone say goodbye, and Lucia followed his lead. Dries tried to convince them to at least do a silly high five with me, so he made one up to demonstrate, and Lucia eventually decided that would be okay to do. Neither Lucia nor Noah actually said goodbye, and, I understand. I think that was a hard goodbye for them – it certainly was for me – and maybe by not saying goodbye, it would not be a true goodbye. I hope not; I’d love to reunite with them again sometime. Earlier that weekend Noah and Lucia both asked me multiple times why I was leaving, and that morning as we were preparing to board  the boat they’d suggested I could live on the island instead of flying away. Ohhhhh kid logic…I know I sound like a broken record but I’m really going to miss those wonderful people and their incredible island.


Eternal thank you Dries, Noah, and Lucia for being such an unexpected, integral part of my trip. Enjoy living on your piece of paradise and I hope we meet again. Tot ziens! 

On the drive back to Dunedin from central Otago we stopped in Port Chalmers for lunch and to visit a very cool lookout point. Check it out:


Then, return to the island. With the kids still on break it was difficult to get into a groove of volunteering/not being in their life too much (we had to have a talk about how Island Carolyn would be a little less available than Vacation Carolyn). Two groups were coming over to the island almost immediately upon return, so there was a ton to do to get ready for their arrival. For instance, there was a week’s worth of bird poop to scrub off of the jetty! Then, on a day off, I went on a solo adventure kayaking/biking around the peninsula while the kids and dad had an ice skating excursion in town. I was grateful to have unlimited access to a bicycle Dries let me use during my stay (if you’re reading this, thank you too, Nadjejda!) and I planned to cycle around as much of the peninsula as I could during these next two weeks (the Otago Peninsula has twice been rated by Lonely Planet as one of the top ten best areas for cycling in the whole world, so it’s definitely cycle-worthy). That day I cycled up Highcliff Road which, as I found out, was aptly named. Talk about steep cycling – I had to get off and walk the bike at least six times! The views were incredible though, so it was a worthwhile adventure. Along the way I explored some old lime kilns built in 1874 as well as a random couch offering one of many incredible views of the peninsula. Here are some photos from the ride:



Then came another Kamau Taurua Open Day, during which Claire, Leonard, Lyndall, and three other community members came over. I was surprised when I didn’t have to introduce myself to the new three – they’d all read my blog entry about Quarantine Island, which I’d given Kristen permission to share in the island’s newsletter. Awesome!

Open Day was a bit dreary and rainy, but nonetheless everyone seemed to have a good time, and it was cool to interact with more community members. Jimmy is particularly interesting; he works for the Department of Conservation on a sea lion project and told me where I should go to see the rare New Zealand sea lion (that’s the name of its breed) on the peninsula. Along with Leonard and Dries, we did some work using the island’s new “silent shredder” to collect gum tree branches and shred them to spread wood chips and leaves around the island playground. A surprisingly satisfying task that I quite enjoyed!

After Open Day I left the island with Claire and Leonard to spend two nights in Port Chalmers (another part of the peninsula). We enjoyed local Dunedin beers on the first night and they introduced me to New Zealand ice cream (I had no idea New Zealand is known for its ice cream!). It’s quite creamy and delicious. “Hokey Pokey” is a New Zealand standard flavor consisting of vanilla ice cream and lumps of honeycomb toffee. Yum!

The Sinclair Wetlands

On Sunday, Claire and I braved the rain to head to the Sinclair Wetlands, where I would have volunteered if Dries had not responded to my inquiry first. The wetlands are part of a trust, so unlike Quarantine, they are not affiliated with the Department of Conservation. After walking around for a bit we stumbled across Nathaniel, who has been volunteering at the wetlands in exchange for accommodation for three years (yes, volunteering for accommodation for three years). To our surprise, Nathaniel explained that this happened to be the annual Paddle and Plant event, during which anyone can kayak around the wetlands in exchange for helping to plant some native flora. Claire and I decided we might as well volunteer, so we donned some gloves and spent a rainy hour or two planting saplings alongside four other Dunedin community members (yes mom, I spent a day planting things and enjoyed it). We were wet and muddy, but it was still fun!


Scenes from the Wetlands. All of those little blue/brown plastic sleeves you see are to protect the plants from invasive rabbits.

So, thoughts on the Wetlands…would I have enjoyed volunteering there as much as I’ve enjoyed Kamau Taurua? I am certain I would not. While I think being at the Wetlands would have been a worthwhile experience, I think I would’ve done my initial week of volunteering and moved on. The Wetlands just don’t seem to have quite the same sense of history, community, serenity, and even the sounds of Quarantine Island. Quarantine feels like a home – it takes only 30-60 minutes to walk around the entire island (or…two hours if you’re me and like to stop and sit on benches and reflect along the way) and it has incredible sights and sounds; you can look out towards Portobello or towards Port Chalmers depending where you’re standing and hear the sounds of the peninsula, the water, the birds, the ships, etc. The Sinclair Wetlands felt much more isolated and vast; at Quarantine I felt some ownership over each project I helped with and could see progress; I don’t think I would have felt that at the Wetlands. Plus, it’s a bit of a drive out of Dunedin to get there, so I’m not even sure how I would’ve gotten there! Still glad Claire and I spent a day there, but I definitely think I made the right decision choosing Quarantine. 🙂
After the Wetlands, Claire and I agreed that rather than head into town for lunch, we’d head back to the apartment for tea and sandwiches. I spent the rest of that day snuggled up with a book, which was quite satisfying after planting in the rain. We watched Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos later that night, and then I said goodbye, since they’d be leaving early in the morning for work. Leonard is convinced I’ll be moving to the Otago Peninsula eventually, so it wasn’t a real goodbye. Who knows, anything could happen! Thanks again for hosting me, Claire and Leonard, and please keep in touch. You are certainly welcome at my place in New York! 🙂

If parts of my trip have seemed a bit untouristy (which is intentional, mind you), here is where the trip really takes a unique turn. Initially after cancelling my flight, I’d planned to return to Quarantine Island on May 18th (a day before I was originally flying out of the country). However, that time period was when New Zealand public schools were on break, and Dries, Noah, and Lucia were planning a family vacation to a holiday home (called a bach or a crib by the local Kiwis, of course) in Central Otago. Dries said I could still go to the island if I wanted…or I could join them on their vacation! Whoa…alright?

At first I wasn’t sure whether I should go; wouldn’t I be intruding on family time? After confirming that this was a genuine invitation and I really would not be intruding, I decided to come along. I hadn’t seen Central Otago and that area is supposed to be beautiful in the fall, plus these three had already become such a memorable and meaningful part of my New Zealand experience, so why not go? I booked a bus to Dunedin, met up for one night on the island, and then we were off on a real roadtrip!


Hello Central Otago!

I have to say, driving around New Zealand with this family was far superior to my three days of driving solo; roadtripping is always better with friends. We drove 2 ½ hours to Patearoa, a tiny, remote town in New Zealand that was significant after the goldrush of the 1860s. The holiday home, which belonged to a family friend, was quaint and charming with a walnut tree outside (we collected dozens of yummy nuts), a nice yard to play in, a little sleep-out area, and a flush toilet outside the house. As we discovered, the place also had some negative aspects: as a mud brick house it was a bit like an ice box if the fireplace wasn’t lit (and even then, the fire only warmed up half of the living room) and…there were mice living in the walls. Great. Day 1 consisted of much cleaning, vacuuming, and setting snappy traps, and luckily our efforts paid off – no more mice by Day 3!


Home sweet home for the week 🙂

The cool thing about being on a vacation in a rural, remote area with two young kids is that you get to find lots of ways to use your imagination and make your own fun. Each day we chose a direction to either walk or drive, then found a path and began to explore. One day we stayed in Patearoa to explore a former gold mining trail along a river near the house, played hide and seek, sang songs, played Follow the Leader, had lots of silly moments, etc. Another day we drove to the beautiful town of Naseby (everyone’s favorite) to walk the mountain bike tracks, visit a dam, visit the local museum, play on a playground, etc. Exploring Waipiata (part of the Otago Rail Trail) resulted in finding our way through a reserve to locate a river we heard, then having a boat-building contest out of materials we found in the woods. Another day we saw a Department of Conservation forest I have completely forgotten the name of on a map (somewhere near Oturehua and Wedderburn…I will update this if I remember), drove in its general direction, bushwhacked our way to a large stream, created a path out of rocks to cross the stream, made our way down to the other side of the river, built a dam/waterfall, and had a castle-building contest out of rocks. We had lots of picnic lunches, played on many playgrounds, played soccer and rugby and make-believe games in the yard, read books, sang songs, cooked meals at the house, built shadow puppets, collected walnuts, etc. etc. etc. Some mornings I started the day with a short jog, which Noah was excited to join me for. I also learned lots of Flemish, to the point that I began understanding some of the things Dries was saying to Noah and Lucia and could respond. No Noah, you can’t have another banana until you finish your cereal, your dad just said that. Lucia, you can’t reach that orange? I can pass it to you because your dad is driving and can’t get it. Here’s my most impressive sentence: Ik ben Carolyn. Ik woon en Nu York, mar nu ben ik op res en Nu Zeland.

We also found parts of the Otago Rail Trail, which I’d like to come back and ride sometime, and the views everywhere we went were absolutely stunning. In central Otago it was very apparent that this is New Zealand’s autumn in a way that hasn’t been so apparent elsewhere; the leaves were changing colors, the air felt crisp, etc. And getting to be out in nature every day exploring with these awesome people was a great way to experience autumn. Maybe it’s silly, but this weeklong adventure with this amazing family was definitely a special part of this trip, and now that I’m near the end of my NZ time as I’m writing this, I can honestly say it was one of my favorite weeks here. Dank u Dries, Noah, and Lucia. I will really miss you guys…

Here are a bunch of photos from the trip. As always, these do no justice to the incredible views we saw in person.


Exploring Patearoa


The colors of Naseby (including painted on an old bass drum)


Candid shot of my buddies walking around this beautiful Naseby lake and mountain bike trails


Staring up at this giant (non-native) sequoia makes one feel very small…


Very serious boat-building competition along the Otago Rail Trail


The dam-building team, the finished dam, the bridge that turned out not to be a bridge at all, and some of the terrain we crossed to get there.

After parting ways with P, I spent a couple hours in a little Picton cafe marathoning my students’ work (this seems to be the way I’m grading this online course: a couple days of no grading, a marathon, a couple days of nothing, a marathon, etc.). I got a huge amount completed before boarding the bus to Kaikoura, my next destination.


Sooo many people in New Zealand have recommended that I visit Kaikoura. The name Kaikoura is made up of two Maori words: kai means to eat and koura means crayfish, so you can guess what kind of food Kaikoura is known for. Kaikoura is also a good place to see dolphins, seals, sea lions, and other kinds of marine wildlife and is a popular spot for travelers who enjoy beaches, seafood, oceanside walks, etc. Despite being the smallest district in New Zealand with just 3500 inhabitants, Kaikoura used to get close to a million visitors each year, but in 2016 an earthquake devastated the area, and the main road into town has only recently opened. I’m sure those numbers will increase as the area continues to recover. I decided I’d only stay in Kaikoura one night since the hostels there were kind of expensive and I couldn’t find a couchsurfing host, and I have to say, the hostel I found in Kaikoura is my favorite of all time!


Beautiful Kaikoura 🙂

The Albatross Backpacker, which is housed in an old post office building, is an eco-friendly hostel with a huge commitment to environmentalism (they make laundry detergent out of soap nuts and the guitar picks and toilet paper are made from recycled materials, for instance), cycling (if you are biking through NZ you get a discount on accommodation), music, quirky themed rooms, and getting guests to get off their screens and interact with one another, which they encourage by only providing internet access for a fee and having tons of cool stuff in their common area. In addition to offering free tea, coffee, hot cocoa, and various herbs and veggies from the garden, the Albatross has a bunch of bikes built of old parts that travelers can borrow, an art corner for painting, crafts, etc. (with a wall of travelers’ art very similar to yours, Genai and Jacob) and – best of all – a huge amount of musical instruments! As I walked into the common area with its tasteful jazz soundtrack playing in the background, I was overjoyed to find two djembes, a handful of guitars, three ukuleles, a banjo, many songbooks, a piano, and “The Legend of the TV…” which made me so happy to read that I’ll have to share the whole thing here:


img_20180502_21183132633.jpgNeedless to say, I spent quite a bit of my free time in Kaikoura in the Albatross’ common area playing a ukulele and the piano. A couple guests encouraged me to keep playing, so I guess my music was alright 😉


So…Kaikoura was cool. I didn’t have much time to do anything on the evening I arrived, so I simply went into the main part of the small town (which is still recovering from a recent earthquake), ordered a bowl of seafood chowder, used the cafe’s internet to get some work done, and then jammed on the Albatross instruments for a couple hours.

The next morning, I made an ambitious plan. I’d booked a ticket on a bus leaving at 4:40 PM, and there was quite a bit I wanted to accomplish before heading out. The Albatross was having a free pancake breakfast at 11 AM, so I woke up at 7 and headed out to do the Peninsula Walk, one of the attractions of Kaikoura. The 3.5-hour walk took me around the entire peninsula, passing through sea lion colony area, passing a very old house built on whale bones, and providing gorgeous views of the ocean, the walking tracks, the sky, the mountains, etc. The changing landscape on the walk was incredible; sometimes I felt like I was seeing something out of The Sound of Music, sometimes a Greek coastal view, etc. It’s difficult to explain the beauty of the peninsula walk, but I highly recommend it; it was a great way to start my day.


Scenes from the Peninsula Walk


Kia ora Kaikoura!

I returned to the Albatross with enough time to shower before enjoying the pancake breakfast, meeting some fellow travelers, and then grabbing one of the hostel’s bikes to ride 8 km to a place called Lavendyl Farms, a lavender farm that grows twenty kinds of lavender. I have to say…I was completely blown away by how much I enjoyed this place; it was legitimately one of my favorite places on this entire trip, and I made sure to tell the owner. The place reminded me quite a bit of the Peconic River Herb Garden, a lovely paradise out east on Long Island that my mom liked to take my brother and I to when we were younger (and which I still enjoy visiting today). Not to mention, being able to bike to the farm on wide, open roads with farmland all around and beautiful mountain skylines the whole way was awesome.


Scenes from the lavender farm

After spending quite a bit of time at the lavender farm I decided on a whim to stop at the only other establishment other than farmland that I’d seen for most of my ride. The Donegal House is a restaurant, bar, and bed and breakfast run by a family of Irish immigrants. If my mom was living my New Zealand trip, this would have been her favorite day of the journey, especially since the Donegal House has an incredible garden. Ironically everyone in the restaurant area was watching a boxing match, which seemed fitting, so I took my lunch outside and gazed at the garden and mountainous skyline with both the boxing match and a herd of cows mooing in the background, feeling grateful for the experience as I ate my incredibly delicious Ballyshannon panini (seriously one of the most satisfying things I’ve eaten in New Zealand).


After lunch I biked back to the Albatross and spent another happy hour playig a ukulele outside before thanking my hosts and heading off to catch the bus to Christchurch.


Return to Lyttelton

As the bus pulled into Christchurch, I found a deep level of satisfaction knowing that my journey had taken me full circle; I had now traveled the entire perimeter of the South Island! I’m grateful to Carl and Renee, who you may remember from my first Christchurch/Lyttelton entries, for once again welcoming me into their home (looking forward to repaying the favor when you guys are in NYC next year!). It was cool to backtrack through my trip and share my adventures with them over dinner that first evening, which really drove home how much I’d done in the weeks since I’d first met them. Now, I was spending three nights at their place, with not much of a plan other than to do some laundry, grade student work, and walk the Bridle Track again (I am happy to report that I was significantly less out-of-breath from the steep hike this time and even ran part of it!). I don’t have much to say about those four days; I really just marathoned my work, enjoyed dinners with Carl and Renee each night, and got ready for the next adventure, which was essentially a vacation from my vacation.


It was windy and sunny, but I conquered the Bridle Path! Second time’s the charm! 🙂

I must sound like a broken record, but I really wish I could stay on Quarantine Island longer. I’m writing this less than a week before I have to leave (for real this time) and I’m still not ready. There was an incredible volunteer group out here today and I got to introduce them to this awesome place, which made me appreciate being here even more. Plus the weather has been gorgeous and I’ve been able to borrow a bike to explore the Otago Peninsula, which was twice rated by Lonely Planet as one of the top ten areas to cycle in the world. Do I really have to leave so soon???

Anyway, let’s see how much I can catch up with this blog…I am way behind still! Last we left off, I’d just gotten to Picton and was about to quickly saying goodbye to the Flying Kiwi crew before meeting up with my next couchsurfing host.

Lochmara Bay

When the Flying Kiwi bus pulled into the ferry parking lot of smalltown Picton, one of the sunniest spots in New Zealand, we all gathered our gear and decided to head to an Irish pub. The ferry everyone would be taking to the North Island wasn’t leaving for quite a number of hours, so why not? I’d sent a message to my next couchsurfing host and assumed I had time to kill with the group before heading out, so I was surprised when I happened to pass my new host as I was walking to the pub. He hadn’t seen my message and explained that we’d need to leave on his boat in the next fifteen minutes because of incoming weather/darkness.Whoa…okay. Not really seeing another option, I said some rushed goodbyes to the Flying Kiwi crew, ordered some quick takeway fish and chips, and then went to the dock to meet my host (let’s call him “P,” since he didn’t want to be named in this blog) and his boat.

At the dock, I found P and hopped on board the boat, which looked like something out of a movie. Turns out, it was! P had gotten the boat a decade earlier from a woman who had bought the boat to film for a movie. She needed someone to keep the boat active, and since P lives in a little area that’s only accessible by boat, he was a good candidate. So, he has his own boat and this movie-esque one, which he takes into town every now and then to pick up couchsurfers, groceries, etc. He let me steer the boat for part of the journey, which was awesome!

As we rode, I gazed out at the surrounding scenery which, like of most of New Zealand, was green, picturesque, and vast. P explained that the place he lives, Lochmara Bay, is a popular holiday home area, and only around six people live there year-round. He has two houses there, one which he rents out and a smaller, more rustic place he lives in. He often hosts couchsurfers in the tiny bedroom below his level of the…I guess we could call it a cottage…so that he has some company on the island. Alright, not so sketchy. Here are some photos:

We pulled up to the jetty and I followed P up to a wooden skilift-esque contraption. P lives atop quite a steep hill, so he built a lift to ride up and down. It was impressive, and fun to ride! At the top we disembarked, P showed me my space and then he suggested I get settled and come hang out in his space, which has a woodburning stove (the nights have been getting colder here in New Zealand as winter approaches, so I appreciate a fire!). It’s always good to be sociable and get to know one’s couchsurfing host, so this was a reasonable request. P very nicely prepared some homegrown tomatoes, local cheese, crackers, and local Marlborough wine, which he gets for free from a friend. P’s cottage has an incredible view of the water, the night sky (with soo many stars, since there’s so little light pollution), and the trees. It was nice to chat while looking out at such a cool view, and once again I appreciated couchsurfing for opportunities to have unique experiences such as this one.


The lift. Going up!

If I hadn’t seen how many positive reviews P had on the couchsurfing website (over a hundred, and no negatives!) this situation could have been extremely creepy. Here I was sitting in a middle-aged man’s tiny, intimate living quarters, being offered a seemingly endless supply of wine (which I politely refused when the glass kept getting refilled), with no one else around and no way to get out except by boat. However, I’ve come to trust the couchsurfing system; if someone has many positive reviews and no negatives, the experience might be unique but harmless. Sure enough, P was respective of boundaries, not even trying to sit on the same couch as me, and simply seemed to enjoy conversation and company of travelers. I learned of how he came to live in such an isolated place (got sick of the corporate world a couple decades ago, bought a boat, bought a tiny shack, and learned the skills necessary to live in a somewhat off-the-grid manner) and how satisfied he is with his life now. He lives simply, fishes for his dinner, maintains a garden, and makes some extra money renting his home or doing odd jobs for people in the area. He is quite happy just spending a night by the fire staring out at the stars, stays in touch with the world and his grown children through internet/TV/phone, and doesn’t feel like anything is missing in his life.

Due to timing with the boat, I spent three nights in Lochmara Bay. P kept telling me this would be the highlight of my trip, but man, I sure have been spoiled at Quarantine Island. P is originally from Dunedin and was interested to hear about my experience at Quarantine, a place he knew of but has never visited.

Over four days at Lochmara Bay, life was simple and a little weird. P decided we should go fishing for snapper on two occasions, which we did on his boat with much success (and I also got to steer the boat, which I am now pretty adept at). He insisted on cooking all meals for me and supplying wine with every lunch and dinner, which I sometimes declined. I was not so comfortable with all the cooking either, especially when he made lamb after learning that I don’t enjoy eating lamb. He showed me one of the cool treks around his area, which leads to the Queen Charlotte Track, a popular tramping path, but I never got to explore it on my own, which I would’ve liked. He let me take a kayak out to explore the other bays near the area, which was cool, and I spent time reading in a hammock and grading my students’ work, but the meals, walks, and fishing with P were a bit more than I was hoping for from this couchsurfing host. Further, I’m not so great at relaxing without having things to do, so the lazy days were not amazing for me. As previously stayed he was respectful of boundaries, but Lochmara Bay was not a magical world for me that some of the couchsurfing reviewers described it as, I did not appreciate that the only warm place to hang out before going to sleep at night was in his tiny quarters, and I was a bit relieved when it was time to move on. Thanks for your generosity P, but I’m happy to have moved on. 


Scenes from Lochmara Bay


Okarito → Punakaiki

This was my favorite day of the Flying Kiwi trip! I woke up later than planned and shoved a peanut butter sandwich on my mouth as I raced toward the Okarito hiking path, hoping to spot a kiwi in the twenty minutes I had before the bus would leave. Unfortunately I had no luck. Then! The first cycle option of the day was on the West Coast Wilderness trail, which my couchsurfing host Biff had said was one of her favorite trails. Now I know why! I loved this ride, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.




That 20 km ride brought us to Hokitika, where I had an hour to explore and grab lunch before meeting the bus. Hokitika is known for its greenstone factories, but I chose to spend my time at the kiwi sanctuary. I was lucky enough to be the only person in the room for quite awhile, so I sat in the darkness until my eyes adjusted and watched a kiwi bird for a long time. What an amazing bird to watch….it seems like a creature from the past, live in front of your eyes.



Back on the bus, Bente announced that there would be another cycling option that afternoon. I guess everyone was tired, but I was keen to do the 27 km ride to Punakaiki solo, and this proved to be my favorite ride of all. Huge, rolling hills allowed me to crest from one summit to another with just the right level of momentum, with each hill framed by scenic views of the sea, the mountains, and farmland. Such a beautiful, peaceful, relaxing ride; I’m glad I got to do this one solo because I was able to enter my own little world and enjoy every minute of it (Genai: I wish you could’ve come as well – you would’ve enjoyed this one!).


Before getting to camp I stopped at the Pancake Rocks, one of the natural wonders of New Zealand. According to the DOC website, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes “were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed. Mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes.”


The Punakaiki camp was one of my favorite camps, with lots of cool options for exploration, walks along the beach, etc. Our tents were close enough to the beach to hear the waves crashing and receding all night long, an excellent soundtrack. That evening we all visited a glow worm cave and then the local tavern before retiring to our tents.



Punakaiki → Marahau

The next day was full of driving, not a bad thing considering how much hiking and biking I’d been doing each day. Our destination was Abel Tasman, New Zealand’s smallest but supposedly best national park, named after the Dutch explorer of the same name. There was a 17 km, mostly off-road cycle option into Abel Tasman that included parts of the Great Taste Trail and the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park. I have to say…I am in pretty good road cycling shape, but 17 km mostly off-road was a whole other beast. I was definitely not the strongest rider in the group on this day, especially when we got to the mountain biking portion at Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park. Mountain biking is certainly different than road riding, or even trail riding on Long Island…way more tiring! Nonetheless I enjoyed the ride and was glad to be able to bike to camp once again.


I appreciate Flying Kiwi for the fact that they seem to be the only tour bus company that allows for a bit of “slow travel.” Rather than visiting a location, taking some photos, and moving on, we tended to spend quite a bit of time at each of our stops. The best example of this is Abel Tasman, where we spent three nights. Our primary campsite was called Old MacDonald’s Farm Holiday Park and was full of animals: cows, llamas, pigs, and of course the many chickens, fantails, and little dog that all came to our campsite every day and night. Quite a collection of visitors!


At Abel Tasman there were many options for outdoor exploration. I opted for a multi-day adventure that would allow me a night of solitary camping at Anchorage, a beautiful beachside campsite in the heart of the park (Old MacDonald’s is in Marahau, right outside the park), before walking a 4.5-hour track back to Marahau the next day (one cool thing about Flying Kiwi: I could do a multi-day adventure through multiple campsites without having to carry a tent, heavy pack, etc.) So…after the first night in Marahau, I caught a morning water taxi up to Onetahuti where I began a six-hour sea kayaking adventure down to Anchorage. I was paired with Xander, a white water rafting guide originally from Virginia who splits his time working the outdoor seasons in New Zealand and Colorado. Cool life!

On the trip we got to see many cool sites, but perhaps the best was getting to see the seal colonies, particularly at Tonga Island Marine Reserve, where baby seals stay in a cove learning to swim. The Department of Conservation has strict rules about how close kayakers can get to the seals, so we got to the twenty feet mark and hung out for awhile watching the seals playing. Definitely cool to see! Other highlights of the day included visiting a couple beautiful bays, including my favorite, Sandfly Bay, which looked like something out of Jurassic Park. We also stopped for lunch at Bark Bay, a beautiful beach and a good spot to stop and eat.



At the end of the kayaking adventure I said goodbye to the other kayakers I’d been riding with all day and collected my camping gear. Unfortunately a big storm was coming into the area that night, so I hunted around until I found a nice, high, flat spot under some tree cover that seemed suitable for a rainy night. I set up the tent, ate some snacks, and enjoyed watching the curious wekas and pukekos who kept trying to get into my tent and steal my food. They were quite bold!


Later Elizabeth, another member of the Flying Kiwi group, arrived from her 6-hour hike down to Anchorage. We ate dinner together and had quite a nice conversation about our lives. Like me, she is around 30 years old and lives in the US. She works as an astrophysicist but just got laid off from her job, so we are in similar places in the sense that we both chose to come to New Zealand to reexamine our life paths, decide wheher our respective career paths are worth pursuin, and to jump into a bit of the unknown when we return to the US. It was cool talking to Elizabeth and getting the perspective of someone who recently earned a PhD; she said that from all of my interests I do not seem like someone who belongs behind a desk in academia for all my life…she might be right…

That night, I was happy that the rain fly on my tent worked exceptionally well, and I woke up dry and well-rested, ready for my rainy morning hike to Marahau. 4.5 hours in the rain might seem like a terrible experience, but when you are walking in a beautiful national park with trees blocking some of the rain, it’s actually sort of magical. I hardly passed anyone for most of the walk, which allowed me to once again enjoy silence, solitude, and the opportunities for quiet reflection and appreciation of the nature around me.


Back at Marahau, I found the rest of the Flying Kiwi group huddled around a heat lamp, hot chocolate, tea, and other warm foods and drinks in hand. My hands were so numb that I could hardly untie my boots, but after a hot shower I was happy to spend the afternoon relaxing at the campsite. Flying Kiwi also has a guitar that I’d been teaching myself to play on the bus rides, so I got to serenade everyone with some songs later that evening. Now I can finally actually say I can sort-of play the guitar!

That night at Marahau was really nice, perfect weather, in fact. It was our last night camping with the group, and it was a good way to end. The next morning we packed up the bus and drove to Nelson, with a little option to ride into town on another section of the Great Taste Trail – the last ride of the trip! Eric and I opted to do this one and decided we’d take slightly different routes, starting out together and splitting off halfway through for a coastal track (me) and a railroad route (Eric) to end our journeys. We arrived in Nelson at almost the exact same time, and both of us reported that our routes had been beautiful. We grabbed some snacks and then met up with the bus for the last leg of our journey, to visit Pelorus Bridge and then enjoy wine tasting before ending in Picton.


Scenes from the final bike ride. Dad, I took a lesson from you and captured a photo of Abel Tasman with a bird on his head 😉

Pelorus Bridge is really cool. It happens to be the spot where the hobbits escaped from the elves by jumping into a river in barrels in The Hobbit, and it also has some nice little tracks to walk around in the area. Definitely worth a stop if you’re nearby! Wine tasting was okay…the Marlborough region of New Zealand is known for its wines, so it was cool to taste some local varieties, but I think I’ve been a bit spoiled with Long Island wines 😉


Scenes from Pelorus Bridge and surrounding area

Finally, we arrived at Picton and prepared to say goodbye. Most of the group would be heading to the North Island via the Picton ferry to Wellington, but their ferry was delayed many hours because of cancellations from the storms over the last couple of days, so we all decided we’d hang out in an Irish bar in town before they had to leave. I was not heading north, but rather would be meeting up with a couchsurfing host who lived in Lochmara Bay, a fairly secluded area close to Picton, only accessible by boat. I thought I had a bit of time before I’d have to meet him, but when I coincidentally passed by him on the street I learned that we had to leave on the boat very soon because of the weather. Drat! I ran to the bar to say goodbye to all the Flying Kiwi group, and then I boarded the boat to head to a very unique couple of days at Lochmara Bay. Stay tuned…


Farewell Flying Kiwi friends, thanks for a fun week! 

Alright! Back online, finally catching up on my week with Flying Kiwi exploring the South Island’s West Coast. Even though it’s now midway through fall here in New Zealand, the weather is still gorgeous most days. Lots of sunny adventures by day, catching up on grading and the blog by night. Huzzah! Anyway…

The bus arrived in Queenstown way ahead of schedule, giving me an hour and a half until I was due to meet up with the Flying Kiwi crew. What to do?! The Flying Kiwi meetup point was very close to Fergburger, which supposedly has the best burger in the world, and there didn’t seem like I could do an activity in the time I had…should I go to Fergburger? I walked back and forth past the place three times, very much on the fence; I’m not a huge burger fan (I never order burgers when eating out and hardly eat them in regular life), I’d been eating vegetarian throughout my New Zealand trip…but then again the burgers were affordable, the wait time was 40 minutes, and I’d probably never be near this place again…should I do it? Ultimately I decided to wait in line, but even as I stood there I continued to question this decision; I’m not a great judge of burger quality since I so rarely eat them…would I even like it? 45 minutes later I had my answer: The burger seemed alright, but it was huge and heavy, and I wasn’t super enthusiastic about eating it. I ate almost half the burger, then walked around with it in my backpack, attempting to convince myself not to waste it, ate a couple more bites, and then…I threw the other half in the trash. Sorry Fergburger, you’re just not for me.


Sorry Fergburger…

Afterward I met Bente (pronounced Benta) and Robbie-John of Flying Kiwi, the trip leaders for the week. Let the Flying Kiwi adventure begin!


This is such a cool bus. Aside from the seats, there is a back area where the bikes are stored, a compartment for the tents, another for luggage, a full kitchen with sink, food bins, etc., plus a pullout table for us to eat at. Sweet as!

Writing all the details of this Flying Kiwi experience might get a bit monotonous (everything has been cool, but it’s a lot), so I’ll attempt to focus on the daily highlights. One long post about the West Coast, here we go! 

Queenstown → Makaroa

On the first day of my Flying Kiwi journey, I traveled west on the bus from Queenstown, stopping for homemade, fruit-based ice cream at a farmstand on the way. As we traveled I got to know the 13 other participants, four of whom had hopped on the bus with me, while nine had been traveling with Flying Kiwi for 1-2 weeks. One of the newbies, Debi, was celebrating her birthday that day, and Bente and Robbie-John welcomed her on board with a birthday banner, desserts for everyone, and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” What a welcome!

Although I was happy to start this biking/hiking/camping adventure, I was still a little annoyed at myself for choosing this somewhat-touristy way to travel for a week, especially coming off such an awesome week of volunteering. I spent a lot of that first bus ride staring out the window and wondering if I should’ve found another volunteer project for the week instead of a tour bus, even if this one’s motto was “Off the Tourist Track.” Hmmph.


Flying Kiwi photo stop #1, Lake Hawea with Mt. Aspiring National Park in the distance.

Midway through the ride, Bente announced that there would be an option to cycle into camp that evening, which of course caught my attention. Soon myself and three other riders hopped off the bus, grabbed bikes, and cycled an easy 13 km to camp, with gorgeous seaside/cliffside views the whole way. I was both happy and disappointed to find that I was the strongest rider of the group; did that mean not many people on this tour bus joined for the cycling? Either way, being on a bicycle automatically put me in a better mood for the trip. Cycling is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world!


On a bike, loving life!

When we arrived at camp Robbie-John gave us newbies a quick presentation on how to set up our tents. Due to the fact that we had an odd number of females on the trip, I wound up with a tent to myself. No complaints about that! We enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared by our peers (we were split into nightly cook groups) and each of us formally introduced ourselves. In total there were three of us from the US (Seattle, DC, and NY), two Canadians (from Toronto!) living in Australia, two Germans (three counting Bente), one Norwegian, one Russian-Brit, and five Brits, plus our token New Zealander guide, Robbie-John. One thing I like about Flying Kiwi is the average age; the youngest member of the group was 23, the oldest was 40, and the majority were in their mid-late 20s. There was also a cool attitude about travel throughout the group; no one was there to party (in fact, everyone was typically in bed by 10 PM) and everyone wanted to hike, camp, and experience non-touristy, outdoorsy parts of New Zealand. Cool.


Makaroa → Fox Glacier

The next morning we woke up, had breakfast, and hit the road. Our first stop was the blue pools, small bodies of water known for being particularly blue. I found the trees in this area to also be extremely picturesque, as you can see here. 





Later, we stopped for another short hike through a cool swampy area, right along a coast where the famous greenstone and jade stones New Zealand is known for could be found. I spent most of that time hiking around a forested swamp called Ship Creek, appreciating the giant kahikatea trees and watching the birds, particularly a little native New Zealand fernbird. The water in the swampland could be described as “tea-stained;” tannin and humic acid leach into the water from decaying vegetation, a process which is hastened by high rainfall. Hard to capture in a photo, but the dark waters were quite a sight after so many clear blue waters in this country.



From there, myself and Eric, one of the other stronger riders, opted to cycle 40 km into our camp at Fox Glacier. That ride was difficult but rewarding, as the scenery changed from mountains to snow-capped glaciers right in front of our eyes. We arrived in camp just a little after dark to the cheers of our peers who had just sat down for dinner.

After dinner, I joined three other girls to walk to a trail that was supposedly dotted with glow worms, one of the fascinating insects of New Zealand. Like fireflies in North America, glowworms produce a light to attract other insects (in this case, food rather than mates). Looking at glowworms is like staring at a starry night sky, but on a forest path or up in a cave rather than up in outer space. The trail we were on was FULL of glowworms and we spent quite a bit of time stopping to look at each bunch. We also ran into a New Zealand possum, which completely freaked out myself and Debi, another American. We were used to North American possums and had no idea what this brown, furry creature was that was heading our way! North American possums and New Zealand possums have no relation, hence looking so completely different!


Fox Glacier → Okarito

Despite being at the doorstep of Fox Glacier I almost didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to actually visit a glacier. I’d been very much on the fence about paying to take a helicopter to the top of the glacier for a four-hour heli-hike, but my friend Kelly convinced me that walking on a glacier was a once-in-lifetime kind of experience that I should take advantage of. The views from the copter were pretty awesome, and our guide for the glacier hike was full of useful information about the glacier’s history, composition, etc. Here are a couple fun glacier facts:

  • There are four glaciers in the Fox Glacier area, each of which is named after a different, wealthy famous person. Fox Glacier was initially called the Prince Philip Glacier, but when Queen Victoria – who also had a glacier named after her, but which was significantly smaller – learned this, she said she would not donate to the glacier fund unless the name was changed. Edwin Fox was a Kiwi explorer, so he seemed like a good candidate for the renaming.
  • In total, there are 3,155 glaciers on New Zealand’s South Island, and just 18 on the North Island.
  • In Maori culture, the story of Fox Glacier states that a young man was on the glacier and saw a beautiful woman at the top. He fell in love and follwed her up to the top of the glacier. However, reaching the summit of a mountain is considered insulting because it is like standing on an ancestor’s head, so the gods punished him by causing him to fall off the glacier and die. The beautiful woman began to cry because of the loss of her love, and the waterfalls on the glacier are caused by her endless tears.
  • There are two kinds of mud flour that exist on glaciers, one which is extremely soft and used for face cleansing products, and another that is much courser.

So…being on the glacier was pretty cool. I probably won’t go on a glacier again, so I appreciate getting to have had this experience. We also got pretty lucky with our timing; the beautiful morning for our hike turned into a cloudy, rainy afternoon, so the later helicopter trips had to be cancelled.


Helicopter ride to the glacier!


Some shots from atop the glacier. The waterfall is the Queen Victoria waterfall, and the top left photo is our group looking at the mud flour and the incredibly blue ice beneath it. Check out the patterns of the mud/ice in the photo to the right of that one as well.


Clockwise from top left: Exploring a glacier “cave,” our group, another “cave,” and the crampons we wore on our shoes.

After the heli-hike we drove to Okarito, one of the only areas of New Zealand where you can still spot the rare kiwi bird in the wild. It was cool to see kiwi crossing signs as we headed toward camp. This was the only day that I opted not to participate in the biking option, since it was raining (in fact, no one did). I spent most of that evening sitting on the bus updating my blog, since there was wi-fi at the camp and it was raining pretty hard.

Flying Kiwi Part II – which includes many of my favorite experiences of the week – coming soon!