Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Life of a Tree Hugger

This past Sunday morning, I boarded a 9:00am ferry that departed from Auckland for the island of Motutapu. Located only 40 minutes from the city, Motutapu (in Maori, meaning "sacred island") has a history dating back to the Jurassic period and is one of the oldest islands in the Hauraki Gulf. The beautiful island is home to rolling hills and farmland, scenic walking tracks, World War II gun emplacements and countless views of the gulf.

But I was not on my way to the island for a scenic tour or a day's worth of tramping (hiking). Weeks before my trip, while searching online for a service learning opportunity that would fulfill part of my overseas program requirements, I stumbled upon the Motutapu Restoration Trust website. Immediately intrigued by, admittedly, the website's slogan "breathing new life into an ancient land form," I investigating the trust's purpose a bit more, and found a link dedicated to volunteer opportunities. After a quick scan of the different activities volunteers and trust members could become involved with, I was hooked. From nursery care, to beach clean up, "weed busting," and...you guessed it, tree planting, the trust commits its 1-3 monthly visits to restoring and protecting the flora and fauna of the island.
So, I signed up! And soon, after having the bottom of my boots brushed as a precaution of bio-security and securely fixing my walking shelter/bird dropping protector/sun ray reducer/sweat absorber (hat) on my head, I stepped onto Motutapu's Home Bay wharf, and began my day of service in the community.

The day began with a 20 minute walk to the island's nursery, where various trust leaders informed us of the island's history, habitat, and procedures. After the brief introduction, we began our journey to the tree planting site. Our minute 20 accent towards the summit of the island brought us to an area of Motutapu in which we would be working. The site greeted us with 50+ spades, bins of mismatched and well loved gardening gloves, and 1500 trees. From there, we were given quick "do" and "do not" directions for those (like myself) who had never planted in volcanic soil, and then sent on our way. As I walked towards the spades, Laura, a fellow stag volunteer, introduced herself, and recommend that we work together. Thank. Goodness. So we got our spade, our gloves, and our trees, and started to dig.

As a group, we completed our goal of planting 1500 trees, and were rewarded with a guided walk of the island and concluding "sausage sizzle" (yes, it was as good as it sounds). As we took the long way back to the nursery we were guided past New Zealand's largest military site (PLEASE see picture below for further explanation of what this country considered large during WWII...), the outdoor education camp where students spend days worth of learning during their first term, and down a path surrounded by trees that volunteers, like ourselves, planted only 15 years earlier.
Tea, coffee, and biscuits greeted us at the bottom of the tramping path. As we waited for the sausages to be taken off the grill, volunteers sat inside a nearby historic home or along the water's edge watching the ways from the gulf move towards us. During our last minutes on the island, the group discussed our accomplishments and the wonderful progress that the island would make in result of our efforts.

As the evening ferry departed from Motutapu's wharf, I felt truly satisfied; I can now say I have contributed to advancement and success of New Zealand.

What to look forward to next:
Queen's Birthday weekend! Overnight trip to Rotorua (yes, Dad, this means I will be rolling down the hill via hamsterball!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lost on Waiheke Island

A little over-confident in my weekend-planning abilities after last Saturday's escapade to Auckland City, I thought a little bit "bigger and better" while consider this weekend's adventure. Little did I know that this confidence would lead to driving around in circles and swerving into ditches...

As the 10:00 am ferry departed from Auckland City, I watched as the skyline slowly disappeared from the horizon. Within 40 minutes, we approached Waiheke's Matiatia Bay. Slowly approaching the ferry depot, anchored sailboats and houses resting upon the rocky cliffs encircling the bay let us know that we had arrived to the most visited island of the gulf.

I walked into the depot Welcome Center with one intention: to find my scooter. I spent days before my departure researching Waiheke travel. I bookmarked pages in magazines and tour guides, I read company reviews and previous visitors' recommendations... after all of the searching, I knew I only had one option: renting a scooter. Sure, there were endless opportunities for informational and tasting tours, but they all had an agenda. And after hearing rumors of the island's beauty, the last thing I wanted while there was an agenda. I wanted to be able to stop when I wanted to stop, eat when I wanted to eat, and go down gravel paths that buses could not drive down.

So I rented a scooter. $60 NZ for the day. "Piece of cake," I thought. "I saw students steer them through Bloomington all the time!


Brief disclaimer: I would like to thank my dad for inspiring, nay, encouraging the adventures that that follow. After years of standing besides a man who I so innocently considered the coolest guy on earth as he organized rental cars for our family vacations throughout the years, I learned two things:
1. When given the option of one cooler or faster vehicle over "another," take the cooler one.
2. In order to dodge unnecessary insurance or rental fees, speak with confidence and assurance in both driving ability and experience.
Thanks a lot, Dad...

With all that being said-
After finding the rental agency and discussing safety guidelines, I signed the insurance forms, chose a helmet, securely strapped my backpack, and went on my way. But I didn't get very far. It only took seconds after sitting on my scooter seat to realize what I had gotten myself into. You see, I chose the black scooter over the yellow scooter. Translation: the cooler, faster scooter over the "other." Did I have any experience driving a scooter? No. But I wanted the one that got me from A to B most quickly, and with as little hassle as possible.

Wrong move. Turning the throttle as slowly as possible, I quickly jolted as the scooter jerked forward. WOOPS! Let's try that again...a little better. Once more...good enough.

So I was off. First stop: Ostend's Saturday market. That's when I realized that my scooter wouldn't be the only challenge of my day. To get to the market, I had to do two things: stay on the left side of the road, and make my safely around the roundabouts. Attempting to do both of those at once, I quickly overshot the market, and had to make my first correction in travel. But I made it. And the market was wonderful! All of the Waiheke residents (and Auckland travelers) manning their tables, offering their previous belongings, homemade foods, and independently-manufactured products.

Next on my list: Te Wahu Vineyard. But, needing a bit more time to acquire a sense of direction, I "took a detour" and...purposely of course...drove through the Whakandeha Regional Park instead. There, I found a safe place to park my scooter and found a return-tramping path leading to the Cascades of the park. After the two hour tramp, I returned to my scooter and quickly enjoyed a peanut butter and hazelnut sandwich before continuing on my way.

Re-establishing my location, I soon found my way to the Te Whau (pronounced Te FOW, not Te Wahoo, as explained by a local resident in the midst of my asking for directions...so much for blending in), a vineyard and restaurant known for its 36o degree view of the Hauraki Gulf and Auckland City. After that, Stonyridge restaurant and vineyard (only after a visit to a nearby neighbor's driveway for a quick turnaround). Stonyridge's property was my favorite visit of the day; the gravel drive leading up to the Tuscan-inspired restaurant, hillside vineyard, and canopy patio makes leaving seem impossible.

After visiting the two intended vineyards (along with another, just for the fun of it...) I headed to North side of the island for a tour of the beaches/bays of the area. Beginning with a drive down "The Strand," I enjoyed Onetangi Beach's coastline. From there, Palm Beach. Now, I'm not one to compare... but Waiheke's Palm Beach was...different (see picture below for details). Next on the list: Sandy Bay. Here, I unpacked my lunch box and watched two kayakers begin their journey along the rocky coastline. After a small snack, Oneroa Beach was next. As sunset grew near, I watched as families and couples packed their belongings and headed home for the evening. With my adventure coming to an end, I found my way to the Cable Bay Vineyard, where I watched the sunset behind the olive trees and rolling hills before returning my scooter and departing on the evening ferry back to Devonport.

Now, mind you, my tour-de-Waiheke sounds, and was, quite wonderful, but please keep in mind that while I was making my way from one destination to another, I continued to struggled while attempting to turn right from the left lane, make it around corners without swerving into ditches, and turn off my turn signal well after establishing myself on a new road. The planned "loop" that I had intended on following throughout the day...the one that has been clocked at as an hour return trip, took me 6. It was...humorous...to say the least.

I just don't know what was more terrifying: Fighting every instinct in my body and mind while stepping 192 m off a platform and falling toward to pavement, or driving a scooter through Waiheke...

Looking forward to next week:
Saturday: Oceanside tramp to Waiake
Sunday: Tree planting on Motutapu

Play on!

Years of arena seating, channel changing, and couch spectating - down the drain. All these years, I thought I knew what it meant to be an athlete. It took only one night of rugby to prove every sport expectation I have as pathetic.

This past Friday evening I attended my first mens rugby match. Within moments of entering Eden Park (New Zealand's largest stadium, and host of the 2o11 Rugby World cup), I knew I was in for it. The Blues (Auckland's Super Rugby team) were scheduled to play the Stormers (South Africa). Now, for those of you who know as much about the New Zealand population as I did before I arrived to the country in May... this is a big deal. Believe it or not, many South Africans (or, and New Zealanders would call them, "S-afers") reside in the Auckland area. With that being said, all hooligans were in attendance. Languages of all sorts were thrown around the stadium throughout the night. But it wasn't the conversation that kept my attention for the two 40 minute halves - it was the game.

The game of rugby is like nothing I've ever seen before. It's a mix between football, soccer, hockey, and hot potato. If the ball (which seems to be a unsuccessful product of combining the shape of a football with the material and size of a soccer ball) isn't being thrown (only backwards, by the way), it's being rolled. Or dropped. Or kicked. Or dropped and kicked at the same time.

And restarts?

Any pause in the game seems to be resumed by either an Ali-oop, group huddle, or free range kicking. Either a man is being lofted upward by two team mates to catch and pass on a ball mid-air, two teams compete in a "scrum" for the ball when it is rolled into the middle of their circular huddle, or a kicker attempts (what American football fans would consider) outrageous kicks from any given point within close proximity of the goal post.

This new favorite spectating sport of mine has eliminated any sympathy I have for complaining athletes (especially those European futbol players...). The rugby players (who wear no shin guards or shoulder pads) tolerate everything an anything. Jersey are pulled. Dog piles are formed. Injuries (including head wounds) are bandaged on the field before the continuation of play. And blood is ignored. They waste no time.

...If only my trip would have aligned with the World cup in September.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I survived the Sky Jump!

It may not be bungy jumping, but it sure is close! Auckland's Sky Tower sky jump is a base jump by wire - assisting your fall from the tallest building in the southern hemisphere (192 meters (630 feet)) at 85 km (137 mph)!!!!

Look for me at the very top! When I first jump from the walkway, the wire stops me from the free fall to take a picture before I drop. Once the picture's taken, the wire lets go and I fall at a rate of 137 mph! It may look slow, but remember that you're watching me fall from a VERY high height (so what looks like very slow is in fact very fast!)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Notes to self:

I would like to dedicate this week's post to all world travelers. Hopefully, through my mistakes and discoveries, your time exploring this wonderful country of New Zealand will be a little less embarrassing and much more predictable.

Notes to self:

1. While attempting to hang clothes on an outdoor line for the first time in one's life, begin by hanging clothes on the back line working towards the front. Beginning in the front only creates an obstacle course to duck underneath and around, and causes injuries due to wind-blown articles.

2. While grocery shopping for cooking ingredients, ask the kind employee to assist you in finding the "shall-oats" are. Not "shall-ots."

3. Be prepared to request one mayonnaise (American), over the other... (?) (differentiation, yet to be determined).

4. When considering car rental as a means of transportation, remember that on May 9, 2011 it cost $124.82 NZ to fill 57.81 L of petrol.

5. Become familiar, and fluent, with the phrase "top up." For internet, you must "top up." For cell phone use, you must "top up..."

6. "Hockey" does not equal ice hockey.

7. Although poor language is frowned upon within the classroom, be prepared to chose your battles when 10 and 11 year old students use the words "damn" and "hell."

8. If traveling to NZ to teach: Do not fear the idea of either substituting for a class, or having a "relief teacher" cover for you. These teachers receive just as much respect from students as long term teachers do... if not more.

9. Clarify adults' expectations of children when contradictions are observed. E.g. While wearing shoes in school may not be required, playing in the rain is absolutely unacceptable.

10. Public school teachers, please note: it is a common thought that "New Zealand's curriculum is so broad you could drive a bus through it."

11. With minimal, yet timely effort, it is highly possible that you will be considered "brilliant."

12. "Past-tolls" = "pastels"

13. New Zealand children have the same stereotype of Australians as Americans due, as proven by mockery and impersonations including "G'day mate" and "put another shrimp on the barbie."

14. A jumper does not reference a thrill seeker, but instead, simply a sweatshirt.

15. "Plaster" = Band-aid

16. Study or download a reliable conversion application. Pounds, fahrenheit, miles, MPH, and gallons do not exist in this country. Not when referencing weight. Or temperature. Or liquid measurement. Or speed. Never.

17. Prepare to experience all seasons of the year within a three hour time frame. Always have a sweater. And ALWAYS have an umbrella.

Please. Please, please, please. Consider these notes if planning to travel to New Zealand. My mistakes can only result in your increased expertise.

Friday, May 6, 2011

School days

Thus far, I've spent a total of three school days in my year 6 classroom. During these three days I've collected three pages of notes - "must tell" notes for my fellow teachers, friends, and family back home. Do what you will with the following information, but please realize that I am currently in debate of whether or not to ever return home based on what I've witnessed...

1. NZ students purposely arrive to school early, to join with friends and play outside for 30-45 minutes before the school day begins.

2. Although the NZ students are required to wear uniforms, shoes are optional. Before arriving to my placement school I was led to believe that this practice was an illustration of respect towards their culture and their environment. Now, I'm almost positive that at least 94% who participate in the option of the kids do it because they can.

3. Morning weather at Murrays Bay School is often unpredictable. This, of course, is always either due to the ocean shore located only meters away from the school grounds, or the mountain ranges to the North, East, South, and West.

4. For those needing an ounce of light-heartedness in their day: Each minute in the classroom, at least one child is turning to a classmate to either ask for a "rubber" or call him/her "naughty" (please excuse me if you find it unnecessary to still find this amusing after three days of attempted training).

5. Finding work unenjoyable, too fast paced, or draining? Come on over to NZ! If you get here by 10:30 AM, you'll be just in time for morning tea (a time dedicated to children's minimally supervised play so that teachers may escape away to the staff room and enjoy tea and biscuits)

6. Why have one scheduled time for physical activity when you can have 7? Not only do the kids arrive 45 minutes early to play with friends, but they have 15 minutes outside during morning tea, another 30 minutes during each day's "fitness" class, 55 minutes after lunch, 2 hours every Thursday afternoon for sport training, 25 minutes on Friday for outdoor "Jump Jam" (a school's version of self guided flash mob), and, of course, NZ's version of a reinforced token economy, resulting in...you guessed it, outdoor activity.

7. No need to waste time waiting until your arrival home for that after-school glass of wine. Every other Friday, schools' social clubs organize a cash bar in the faculty lounge for teachers to choose a drink, enjoy some snacks, and gossip about the week's work and the weekend to come.

8. In no way is a kiwi referencing "zip" or "none" while saying the term "zed." NZ has simply complicated our US understanding of the alphabet by assigning a word to the letter "Z." How do you spell zoo? "zed" o o. The initials for New Zealand? N."Zed."

9. NZ's choice of refraining from cafeteria food has only resulted in packed lunches including one or more of the following: whole wheat sandwiches, all natural fruit drinks, fruits, vegetables, all natural snacks (please see picture below for example witnessed Wednesday)...

If you find any of these concepts outrageous, don't worry, my jaw has been dropping all week. But these three days have only increased my excitement for the weeks to come.

What to look forward to next week:
Tuesday: First substitute experience with a NZ classroom (send your positive thoughts!)
Wednesday: My first whole-class lesson
Saturday: Day trip to Auckland's inner city (with plans to visit the NZ war memorial museum, Queen Street, Quay Street, and the Sky Tower's Sky Jump! 192 m (630 ft.) controlled free fall from the Southern hemisphere's tallest tower!!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

My first days

Well, as any day and a half-long travel would go, mine went. Traveling internationally, of course, is always a pleasure... after spending the morning strategically packing my large duffle and supposed carry-on, I was told my checked bag was 13 pounds overweight and I would have to get its weight down to at least 52 lbs. So much for the organization of my bags - by the end of my check in I had checked two bags (instead of one) and carried a backpack and messenger bag rather than the a personal item and convenient roller bag that I had previously prepared. Yet, I continued onward. At least until I was told I couldn't check in for my connecting flight in San Francisco...
But nothing would stop me from getting to Auckland. Five hours and two apple juices later, we touched down at SFO, and after the purchase of Advil and decongestant medicines, I boarded the largest plane I have ever flown in. Air New Zealand sure has it down... everything from the Richard Simons informational video reviewing airline safety procedures to the constant flow of wine with dinner helped to make the 12 1/2 hour flight seem like...11 1/2 hours. The flight was long, but with the help of Sudafed and hot tea, I slept for a few hours and made it.
Mr. Pemberton, Murrays Bay School's principal, was there to greet me at the NZ arrival gate. He escorted me to his car, where I quickly learned not to try sitting in what I consider the passenger's side. Everything about the car was wrong. The passenger's seat was on the driver's side, the driver's seat was on the passenger's side, the speedometer measured kilometers, we drove on the opposite side of the road... at 7:00 in the morning NZ time, the ride to my host family was not easy.
But when we arrived to what would be my home for the next eight weeks, I was greeted at the door by my host mom, Kylie, and her 7 1/2 month old baby girl, Esme. I was immediately given a tour of the house, and then shown to my room. My first impression? Not. Too. Bad. My bedroom window? It faces a backyard of palm trees and the bay. So much for missing my studio apartment in Bloomington, with a window facing an abandoned house.
Kylie's parents, who are visiting from Queenstown, made a wonderful welcome breakfast of tea with a poached egg and tomato on toast. After the family left to visit relatives for the day, I got down to business and began unpacking. Four unorganized bags later, I was established in my new room (the room with the window facing the bay). Having the house to myself until 5 PM, I found the DVDs, got my nail polish, and began my afternoon of "catching up" with my jet lag.
Tomorrow, school begins. The principal has arranged for my carpool, which will require me to walk 4 blocks each morning to the to the town's center, where I will meet another teacher who will drive me to Murrays Bay. I look forward to beginning my school days. I have a feeling that a full night's rest and introduction to the school will allow the reality of this surreal opportunity to set in.
Until next time, I send all of my love to family and friends! Remember to keep checking in!