Reasons Why I Should Not Be Sad About Going Home

There is obviously no arguing the insanely memorable and fantastic time I have had in New Zealand, but as the date of my departure approaches, there is no denying my excitement about returning home. So many little, somewhat insignificant things that I have had no trouble living without, but that I miss about home and am excited about, keep popping into my head, so for fun, I’ve attached a little list:

Toilet seat covers, full-length mirrors, my own bathroom, my own bedroom for that matter, cell phones, painted toes and fingers, my practically unlimited wardrobe, not having to use an adapter whenever I want to plug something in, my surfboard, my bike, my car, salad bars, 100% whole wheat bread, redwoods, Pandora!! And Netflix! SUMMER all over again, and of course, friends, family and a whole lifetime of opportunities and decisions.

My final papers have been submitted and my final exams completed. I guess that means I’m done with college?!!?!?! We have been living it up for the last 36 hours since our last final exam, enjoying every last moment, and making some final memories to add to the books.

Only one more full day in this incredible country before I hit the skies!

I love you little Windy Welly

Walking back from the campus computer lounge at some wee hour last night, my friend and I were reflecting on how much of a home Wellington has become. We have learned our way around and have grown a true connection with this charming little city.

Then, ironically, this morning on my way up to campus, a first year came up to me and asked me directions to a specific place downtown and I had no trouble telling her exactly how to get there! I knew all the street names and which set of stairs to take to get off the hill! It was brilliant (as they say here)! I may sound like a tourist (everyone obviously knows I’m American when I open my mouth) but I know my way around better than that Kiwi!! Whoohoo!

The Last Hurrah

With the end of our trip looming, we spent the last day of our north island tour on Mt. Ruapehu, reminiscing the numerous forests and alpine zones we visited throughout our time in New Zealand.  We ascended the mountain from the human-disturbed tussock grasslands to the dense broad-leafed forests to the untouched alpine zones where plants were living on the edge, toughing the ruthless winters and strong desiccating winds. We compared, contrasted, and enjoyed the unique flora that makes New Zealand extraordinary.

Those are the days I will always remember when I reflect back on my three months here. The days where everything was quiet. All I could hear were the slight gusts of wind and rustling of small shrubs.

Now, back at our home base, Wellington, I sit, procrastinating the completion of the final essays of my undergraduate college career, and thinking about what the future will bring.

I’m sure those Lord of the Rings fans already know this, but for those of you who aren’t sure, yes, that’s Mt. DOOM!

Black Water, Jumping Off Waterfalls, and Glowing Worms

Have you ever gone white water rafting? If you have, you can understand my excitement! How about spelunking? Have you ever spent hours, deep underground, exploring the complete darkness?

Waitamo is famous for its black water rafting, which is a combination of these two activities. In little inner tubes, we soared down black rapids, jumping backwards off waterfalls, through caves lit up like the night sky by glowworms (the larval stage of a diptera whose poop glows to attract its prey).

BUMS

Goodbye daylight, hello deep, dark caves!

Glowworm threads

More threads

GLOWORMS! (If you have good eyes)

So many stalactites

OOoOOOooOoOOoo!!! Cave Wetas!!!

MOA TOE!!!

We climbed out of the darkness of the cave to yet another stunning sunset

Wonderful Wildlife

New Zealand’s quirky native wildlife never fails to amuse and fascinate me. With so many of these species in extreme danger of extinction because of introduced pests, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and many independent trusts have set up pest-free sanctuaries where successful breeding can safely occur and these unique species can thrive. We have visited numerous wildlife sanctuaries, but it is always such a treat to be able to closely interact with the endemic, native fauna.

This particular photo is of one of my professors helping an ecologist by holding a juvenile Kiwi while he takes measurements. I may not have been able to hold the baby Kiwi, but my green arm did make it in the picture, and I did get to pet the Kiwi!

This funky looking bird is called a Takahe. He is flightless, like many other native birds, and was very near-extinction, but as a result of DOC’s efforts, the population is building itself back up. Another really cool bird: the Kaka, a pretty large sized parrot, also endemic to NZ.

And lastly, here are a couple images of the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust – the magical sanctuary where these special species reside.

White Island

I think the pictures can tell a story on their own, but to reiterate, we spent the day on a volcanic island which we all agreed would be illegal to go on in the US because of its likelihood of erupting. See for yourself the steam, bubbling mud, and boiling hot geothermal pools. Oh yeah, and on our way there from Whakatane, we saw dolphins!

We’ve Got the Hots for Hot Springs!

Yes, we dedicated yet another day to the land of the geothermal hot springs, and it may have been even more fantastic than the previous. We spent the morning at the Rotorua thermal area learning about and admiring more shockingly cool geothermal systems, and we spent the afternoon bathing in them.

Taking samples in the Champagne Pool

Silica terraces

So much sulfur everywhere!

More sulfur! Plus arsenic!

Awesome geology!

So I thought someone came and dumped loads of highlighter ink into this pool… But apparently all it takes is a little sulfur and ferrous (iron) salts and a pH 2!

Bubbling muddddd

More bubbling mud… Yummmmmyyyyy… don’t you want to jump in!!?!??!

And then we got to where we could actually swim (where the water was of a neutral pH and was a perfect 39 degrees C)

THE SOURCE

On its way to the pools

Epic relaxation. Achieved.

Steaming Bubbling Delicious Hot Pools

We arose this morning to a beautiful sunrise! Finally! And spent the entire day in the Waimangu Volcanic Valley Geothermal System admiring the shockingly picturesque and diverse volcanic pools and analyzing the bacteria we collected from their shores.

The Inferno Crater – ranges from 35 degrees C to 75 degrees C, fluctuates by 18 meters, and is incredibly acidic with a pH of 2.8. Current research is asking questions about the bacteria that live in these extreme conditions and how they are able to adapt to these enormous fluctuations. COOL STUFF!

Goodbye Wellington! We’re back on the road!

Sooo maybe we’re a little spoiled… The north island is known for its great weather, so naturally, since we got to NZ, we’ve been anticipating our travels around the north island to be filled with scenic, sunny days, but unfortunately, we haven’t been so lucky. We left Wellington on Monday, and since we hit the road, we haven’t had much of a break from the incessant down pouring. We have been trying to make the most of it though! Even though a couple of our activities have been canceled, (hanging out on a beach learning about the local gannet colony proves difficult when there are enormous swells, strong winds, and it’s raining buckets) we have gone on a couple fantastic runs alongside apple and corn orchards, and lake Taupo. We also visited an unbelievably cool honey factory (where we sampled and purchased wayyyy too much honey) and a cute little aquarium. And most excitingly, on the way to lake Taupo, we all piled out of the bus to eat lunch near the Waikato River and very special Huka Falls. Huka is the Maori word for ‘foam’, and rightly so… Every second, 200,000 liters of water plunge over the falls, and to put this in perspective, this massive amount of water would fill five Olympic swimming pools per minute. Pictures fail to do it justice.

A Day of Tasting Wines

This post is dedicated to all those wine snobs out there (cough – my mom) sorry if I make you incredibly jealous!

What a perfect way to spend a Sunday. On this perfectly sunny day, we drove through the picturesque and well renowned wine country of Martinborough, visiting wineries and tasting the most delectable sauvignon bancs, chardonnays, pinots, and the list goes on…

Mind you, not all of us were feeling so hot after spending a long night enjoying the thrills of St. Patties day in a crazy college town. In fact, drinking more wine was the last thing on our minds, but we knew we were in good hands when we got on the bus and our professor said he had plenty of Advil and extra water to go around.

The day turned out splendidly, and despite the incredibly questionable 1.5 hour drives on a very windy road, we made it without a single casualty. We visited two of the largest, most famous wineries in Martinborough, namely, Te Kairanga and Palliser Estate and enjoyed a day under the sun, sipping on wine and snacking on delicious cheese and crackers.