Saturday, July 9, 2011

Kia Ora

Two years ago,when I was initially asked to start thinking about where I would want to student teach overseas, I made a pact with myself. I promised myself that I would not go someplace that I've already gone, and I promised myself that I wouldn't go someplace where I could see myself visiting in two or three years. After spending days narrowing my list, my decision came down to two countries: beautiful New Zealand or its wonderful neighbor, Australia.

Now, being the American I am, I had very little knowledge of either country. I knew that you could put shrimps on barbies in Australia, and could have the opportunity to meet Gandolf while wandering the countryside of New Zealand. With this little background knowledge, I chose to travel to the "rare jem" of the two - New Zealand.

From there, I began my research. I started reading texts discussing the curriculum, politics, culture, values, environment... None of my research could have ever prepared me for what I would experience while overseas. My readings and, what seemed like endless, assignments in no way prepared me for how welcoming and encouraging Aoteroa would be, how kind and accepting its students, faculty, and parents were, and how breathtaking each day is.

As you read this final entry, it is from the bottom of my heart that I thank you for helping me to grow, not only as a teacher, but as an individual. By following my blog, encouraging my success, and contributing positive thoughts, you have supported me throughout each adventure, been by my side during each moment, and have illustrated an inspiring amount of unspoken love. This overseas experience has changed my life, and for that, I am forever thankful.

So (with all of that said), if I have anything to do with it, I will be returning to New Zealand in another year to once again visit the friends and memories that I made, and showing my parents "why in my right mind" I would choose to travel to the other side of the world for eight weeks. But until then, this is Courtney Dressler, signing off.

Kia Ora. Be well. And thank you.


Some believe in fate. Others believe in a higher being or spirit. I like to consider it... timing timing that brought the ever so inconvenient ash cloud to New Zealand, cancelled my Jet Star flight that would bring me to my Kiwi Experience bus trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound during my last weekend overseas, and rerouted me to the 144 beautiful Bay of Islands.

My final weekend adventure began on Friday morning at 6:45AM (go figure), when I boarded a lime green Kiwi Experience bus departing Auckland for the Northland of New Zealand. Traveling throughout the rolling hills of the countryside, past countless cows and sheep, and down the gracefully meandering highway, we progressively made our way towards our weekend destination. The bus tour introduced its passengers to the sites and history of places viewed during the drive, such as Wellsford (a town, named after the surnames of the first two harvesting families, that milks its cows twice a day, producing 20-40 L of milk per cow, per day), deer farms (retaining the considered animal pests and encouraging the meat and antlers market), fields housing "sherafes" (a product of the 1960 NZ attempt to fix the shortage of sheep by crossing the sheep with giraffe), and beyond. Still not understanding the mile to kilometer conversion rate after eight weeks of solid attempt, I was encouraged to relax as enjoyable sites passed and the distance between myself and my destination lessened.

Soon, our bus arrived to Paihia (in Maori, "good place"). Known as an "ultimate holiday destination" of New Zealand, Paihia offers many activities to choose from, ranging such as scenic tramping and fishing trips to the highest sky diving experience on the North Island, parasailing and trapeze swinging. It was here that myself and the other backpackers venturing through the country would be staying for the next two evenings. Now, seeing that this trip concluded eight wonderful weeks in New Zealand, I did not quite have the $500NZD needed to skydive. So instead, I walked!

I first found my way to historic Waitangi ("noisy/weeping river"). It was here on February 6, 1840 that the historic treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maori and British crown, establishing British control over New Zealand governance. After attempting to read the monument's plaque (written in Maori...unsuccessful), I walked along Ti beach toward the town center, greeting the locals that were sitting on buckets with their fishing poles in the sand,
waiting for a pull from the fish that would become their week's worth of dinner. I soon found the city shops, walking in and out of each store, tasting the fudge, sipping hot chocolate, and glimpsing through the Kiwiana goods that I had not yet come into contact with. Once realizing that the temptation to buy unnecessary souvenirs was growing to a consuming level I quickly evacuated the town's center and made my way to the Opua bush walk. The hour return hike led me through the canopy of dense Paihia bush to a summit presenting the Bay of Islands (conveniently, during sunset). After returning to the entrance of the hike, I began heading to what I would call "home" for the next two nights: The "Pippi Patch." This would be my first backpacker lodge experience, and boy was it... well, it was what it was. Simply put, I was given one bed in a co-ed dorm of 4 bunks, with a small bathroom and kitchen area. After introducing myself to the four others in my bunk, my new friend Louise and I walked down to the barbeque dinner that the base was hosting. Absolutely famished from the day's walking, I ate my hearty meal and drank my free beer with ease and soon found my way to "bed." Now, pay attention, because this is where I really sell the idea of staying in a backpackers base. I was in bed by about 9:30. The rambunctious (or, to generalize, UK) backpackers were drinking on the other side of the paper thin dormitory walls until 12:30. Once finally able to fall asleep on the also-paper thin mattress with paper thin pillow and paper thin blanket, the base was awoken at 3:30 by base sirens directing us to evacuate the building. After standing outside in the dark and pouring rain for 15 minutes and listening to rumors of tsunamis (mind you, we were in a bay...) we were told that within the paper thin walls there was a smoker, who ingeniously decided to indulge within his non-smoking dorm before bed. If you do the math, I got about, oh, 5 hours of sleep before needing to wake up and prepare for my Northland day trip. But, as I have learned with every other New Zealand challenge, my efforts would be rewarded by the experiences that the day held.

Before I describe my second day in the Bay of Islands, I would like to apologize for my lack of detail that follows. You see, during all the hustle and bustle of the trip, I seem to map and associated annotations. So, we're going to have to do this from memory (sorry...).With that said! The day's journey began with a visit to the Puketi Kauri Forest, where we were given time to walk amongst Kauri trees, the second largest type of tree in the world (after the California Redwood, woot!). The forest is so well preserved that trees as old as 2,000 years old still live within the area! After our walk, we headed towards Cape Rienga (or, Te Rerengawairua, "departing place of spirits"). Along our way, we passed Whangaroa Harbour ("long harbour," known as the Marlin capital of New Zealand), Doubtless Bay (ever so creatively named by Captain James Cook during his exploration of the Bay of Islands), Coopers Beach, lined by pohutukawa trees, and Cable Bay, covered in pinkish-colored sand. During the final stretch of our journey to the cape we drove on 90 Mile Beach. You heard me, beach. 90 mile beach is a registered highway of New Zealand, providing visitors with a true "scenic route," not alongside the coast, but on it. Unfortunately, the beach is not true to its name; given its title during the days of wagon wheeling when it took travelers 3 days to complete the journey, it was presumed that if it took one day to travel 30 miles, 3 days of work must have meant 90 miles. Although I am a little disappointed in the misleading name (seeing that the beach is really on 64 miles...way off, pioneers), I'm more concerned with why after all my attempts to master the metric system the country is throwing my back into empirical measurements.
Nevertheless, our bus veered to the right at the end of the "90 miles," and stopped at the bottom of a very large, steep sand dune. Here, we would become acquainted with the environment via sand board. After a strenuous hike the the top (keeping close to the gentleman in front of me so that I could use his footsteps as a staircase) we got to the top, and within seconds zoomed down. I must say, I'm awfully proud of myself - after studying the many people that literally "ate it" mid-travel at speeds up to 80 kph (50 mph), I managed to make it down not once, but twice, with an impressively clean finish (and newly exfoliating feet) :) For some reason, I'd like to thank snowboarding for my success...
Once cleaning ourselves of the unavoidable sand and dirt that covered us from head to toe, we once again took our seats and completed our trip north. Arriving to the cape within the hour, we were given time to slowly venture along the provided pathway towards the meeting of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. It is here where the Maori believe their spirits leave our living world and move on to the homeland. The site, 290 meters above sea level, is indescribable - to the left of the large white lighthouse standing on the edge of the cliff is the aggressive, turquoise-colored Tasman Sea, and on the right, the calm, deep blue Pacific Ocean. Where the two meet, there is a blending of the two colors and a creation of disorderly waves and tides. Now, as exemplified in the beginning of this entry, I don't consider myself a highly religious individual. But the elements and feeling of this site were extremely convincing of its spiritual purpose. Watching the two oceans meet on the northern-most point of New Zealand, one cannot help but feel confident in the purpose of life, and inspired by the beauty of the world.

Ending my day with an order of world famous Mangonui fish n' chips, I arrived back to the Pippi Patch for a much needed good night's sleep before my final day of the trip.

After a full night of rest, I woke at 7:00AM and prepared for my day. Once checking out of the base, I walked along the beach in search for breakfast. This task, of course, was much more difficult than necessary seeing that it was a Monday and the town was on New Zealand time. But after window shopping for about 45 minutes I found Hansen's, where I enjoyed a toasted "brekky" sandwich and watched as the fog rose from the islands and sailors awoke from their cabins, before departing to the nearby wharf for my half-day boat tour. While on the tour, we journeyed through many of the 144 islands within the Bay of Islands, learning about Captain James Cook's discoveries and Maori myths and legends of the different land masses. During the day we visited islands such as Motuarohia (Motu meaning island, Arohia meaning of a desire), Moturua island (one of the few homes to the endangered kiwi) and Assassination cove. Due to the low tide and calm weather, we were even able to go through the hole in the rock (something that the boat company can only do 30% of the time due to dangerous conditions)! Legend says that if you catch a drop of water that falls from the ceiling of the hole you will be rewarded eternal youth. Read into this as you may, but I had a drop of water fall onto the top of my head... I'm still waiting for results. Towards the end of the cruise, my friend Louise and I spent time on Russell (or Kororareki, "how sweet is the penguin"). Please do not be fooled by the penguin reference as I was - Russell, where we had lunch before departing for home, was referred to as the "hell hole of the south Pacific" in the 1800s, harboring whalers and sealers needing a little R&R (or lack there of) while interacting with an immense amount of alcohol and just as many brothels.

As our Kiwi Experience bus departed from the Bay of Islands, I couldn't help but consider the sites outside of my window the last New Zealand memories I would have until my return. While thinking of all of the wonderful memories, my eyes began to tear, and I could do nothing but silently thank all of the people I've met, the places I've seen, and everything I have learned for providing such an unforgettable overseas experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bloody Sky

After staring at Rangitoto, or in Maori "bloody sky," for the past eight weeks while at home, in school, and out on the town, I was finally able to travel to the volcanic island to explore its lava crops and native "bush" this past Saturday afternoon.

The island, a public reserve managed by the NZ Department of Conservation, erupted from the sea around 600 years ago. It is the youngest island on the Hauraki Gulf, and the last and largest volcano to be formed in the Auckland volcanic field.

Upon our ferry arrival to the island, my host mom and I made our way up the summit trail, stopping to visit the various lookouts and lava caves along the way. Now, scientists say that it is beneficial to walk on unpredictable surfaces, as it activates both sides of the brain. If this is true, I may have had the most intellectual day of my life on this island. Because of the volcanic lava rubble, the unpaved pathways with lava rocks jetting outward from the ground cause quite an interesting day walk, occasionally testing our attentiveness by creating a small slips or trips. Nevertheless, once we reached the summit, we could see Motutapu Island on one side, Auckland city on the other, Waheike in between, and the Hauraki Gulf all the way around.

After all of the confusion that this inconvenient ash cloud has created over the past few weeks, I am a bit upset that I will not be able to travel to the South Island this time around. Fortunately, Rangitoto surrounded me with New Zealand's largest Pohutakawa forest and over 200 native species of plants (including 40 species of ferns!). Close enough to Lord of the Rings...

What to look forward during my last weekend in New Zealand :(
3 Day bus trip to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga

Monday, June 20, 2011

God defend New Zealand

Every Friday afternoon, I look forward to guiding my students down to the school hall where administration, classes, teachers, and parents meet to celebrate the children's successes, stars of the week, and the week's winning "house." My favorite part of each assembly is without question the students' choral singing of their countries national anthem. I'm still not sure if it's because the anthem expresses such unity and hope for the small nation, or because it reminds me of the who's in Whoville holding hands in the town center - Whatever it is, it brings tears to my eyes every time.

The anthem is sung first in Maori, and then New Zealand English.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thanks for flying!

Two weeks ago, while socializing over drinks, I found out that my host sister's boyfriend is a pilot.

"So, when do we fly?" I asked, with much sarcasm but a bit of sincerity...

A week later, we were booked for a Saturday afternoon flight.

Our flight was out of Ardmore Aero Club. After stripping our 4-seat aircraft of its cover, we (as in, Ben) prepared for our departure, checking the wings, oil, lights, propeller, and all sorts of other things that I knew would ensure a safe flight.

Soon, we were off! Thinking well ahead, Ben told me to keep my feet away from the pedals and hands off the steering wheel (please note the advanced flying vocabulary), and we began our acceleration down the runway and ascent into the sky! We had an hour to explore about New Zealand, following the coastline to Auckland City, circling the sky tower, and ending our flight with a quick visit to Waiheke Island. I even got to fly! I learned how to keep the plane at a steady elevation using the horizon, and steer left, right, up and down. Just like riding a bike... :)

Thank you, Ben and Kimberly!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Ahhh, Rotorua. The thermal pools. The Maori culture. The smell of...eggs.

Our journey began with a 3 1/2 hour car ride down the desolate motorways of New Zealand. And I must say, out of all the wonderful family car trips I have taken, this one. was. tops. Of course I missed my wonderful father singing along to the Eagles and Led Zepplin in the front seat (love you dad), and my mom asking to stop every 40 miles for a bathroom and back break (miss you mom), and even my wonderful hormone-stricken teenage sister texting with her ipod on full blast... but this car ride. I'm still not sure if it was the absence of radio music and commercials or the endless starry sky that I have to thank, but whatever it was...

With about 15 minutes left until we reached our accommodation, I knew we had hit the Rotorua city limit. Sure, the attraction signs and bright lights helped, but it was the refreshing smell of sulfur that told me we had arrived. This "geothermal paradise," although beautiful by day, was extremely uninviting by night - the stench of rotten eggs seeped through the car doors and windows from angle telling us "yes, you have arrived to New Zealand's thermal energy center."

After ending our evening with a wonderful, yet culturally inaccurate, curry feast at the Amazing Thai restaurant and settling into our 1-6 (or, as I evaluated, 12-20) persons "Heavenly Heights" unit in Pohutu Lodge, we quickly fell asleep, with hopes of waking up early and beginning our day with the sun.

As planned, we woke around 7, beginning showers and packing our bags for early check out. With time to spare, my host dad unpacked the grocery items he had brought along for the trip and began the fascinating process of preparing a New Zealand "brekky." Now, if you haven't had the life-changing opportunity to experience such a breakfast, I'd like to explain. A proper New Zealand breakfast is in no way comparable to Bob Evan's. Or Waffle House. Or even an American family's "Sunday pancake tradition." New Zealand breakfasts are indescribable to any breakfast lover throughout the world. So, rather than attempting to convince you of its mouthwatering abilities, I'll instead share the menu (per plate): 1-2 poached eggs on wheat toast, 2-3 halves of grilled tomatoes, strips of bacon (or, in our case, the healthy alternative of chicken (with 90-something% less fat), and a scoop of baked beans (New Zealand's pride a joy).

With our stomachs full, we piled into the car and made our way to my #1 priority of the day: Te Puia. This "premier Maori cultural center and home of the world famous Pohutu geyser" was given top priority due to my craving to experience the country's indigenous culture. In Auckland, I've been greeted with the Maori "Kia Ora" each evening on Channel 3's news, and informed of cultural values by my host family and faculty members, but Te Puia's site and interactive opportunities would help me to truly understand the large pillar of Maori culture in relation to New Zealand's history.

We began our visit in the site's museum, learning about Maori history, traditions, beliefs, and values. From weaving to wood carvings, the people of Whakarewareua and the gaurdians of elements, my host family and I explored various aspects of the Maori before arriving to our 10:15 cultural performance (in my opinion, the best part of the day). Since my arrival to New Zealand I have been patiently waiting to witness a traditional Haka performance by Maori descendants - now I could finally see one!

After watching the Haka and very unsuccessfully attempting to complete a poi performance on stage, we moved on to the geothermal park where we explored the various hot pools, mud pools, and geysers. Home to the "world famous" Pohutu geyser, we sat and watched as water erupted from the ground into the air and reached 30 meters high (100 feet!).

Once completing the 2 1/2 hour trail around the park, we moved on (through the gift shop) to Whakarewarewa Forest (remeber, wh="f"). The forest is known for its towering Redwood trees that reach heights to 60 meters!
Ready for lunch we made a quick stop to the unique, one of a kind, New Zealand owned...Subway shop...before traveling with our $11.50 foot long sandwiches to the lakefront of Lake Rotorua. After our lunch with the swans, we drove to (and quickly passed) the Rotorua Museum in a hurry to the Zorb! site. For those unfamiliar with this extreme sport, zorbing encompasses crawling into a human-sized, blown up plastic ball (or, as my dad would call it, a hamster ball), and rolling down a grassy hill. With options of either being strapped in at the wrists, hips, and ankles, or sitting inside with buckets worth of water soaking you throughout your journey, this New-Zealand invented activity is very popular amongst tourists, and as I disappointingly found out, young children. Arriving to the Agrodome area where the Zorb was located, we approached what looked like a sledding hill (rather than what I expected would be a New Zealand hillside of terrain and unpredictable rolling patterns). After watching two 7 year olds complete the water Zorb and get out laughing and asking for another round, I decided to save my money for another, more thrilling, New Zealand experience.

With my head hanging low, we departed the Agrodome and moved onto the Off Road New Zealand site where my host dad and brother go karted before heading home. Although the end of our Rotorua trip was a bit of a disappointment, the car ride home helped me to regain enthusiasm for New Zealand. Unlike the starry night journey to Rotorua, our ride home took place during sunset. And what a sunset it was. As the sun set behind the rolling hills of Rotorua, I watching as we passed bulls, cows, llamas, horses, goats, ostriches and, of course, sheep!

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