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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Saturday, June 4, 2011

10 reasons why...

10 reasons why an American citizen growing up with the game of Baseball will not understand the sport of cricket:

  1. The field is in the shape of an oval (not a diamond)
  2. The pitching are is in the shape of a 22 yard long rectangle (not a circle)
  3. Runs are scored by running back and forth between two "wickets" (not around 4 bases)
  4. Pitchers do not "throw" the ball, they "bowl" it
  5. Only the "wicket keepers" (no, this is not a reference to Harry Potter) are allowed to wear gloves
  6. Pitchers are encouraged to make a running start towards the pitch area
  7. A ball is often bounces before it is hit
  8. A bowled ball must be thrown with a fully extended arm (no bend in the elbow allowed)
  9. Rather that swinging the bat around the body, a player keeps the bat close to him and instead moves towards the line of throw
  10. A traditional game of cricket is played over a 5 day period (not 7 to 9 inning stretch)

...5 days!