Thursday, February 28, 2013

Intro to New Zealand

Tēnā koutou! G'day! After my first week in New Zealand, I realized that I wanted to have something to look back on; something to remind me of this epic adventure about to unfold. So I'm giving this blog stuff a shot. Best part is: you can read along! I'd be honored to know someone wants to keep up with my adventures.

I arrived in Auckland last Thursday, around 8AM, after one hour of sleep on the last leg of my journey: an exhausting 13-hour plane ride from Los Angeles. As I emerged from New Zealand customs, I found the bright, energetic faces of my Arcadia representatives, Kate, Jane, and Alex. They quickly rounded up all of us foreigners on to the bus, and we headed to the heart of Auckland. Our three-day orientation had officially started.

If someone were to ask me how to describe Auckland, the first word I would say is "lumpy." The landscape is quite hilly, due to the numerous, now-dormant volcanoes in the area. The next word I would use is "spectacular." I really enjoy when urban planners allocate space for environmental conservation  and the sheer amount of biomass distributed through the city is an incredible sight. Auckland is also incredibly clean, which is a pleasant change from my past city visits in the U.S..

We had a little bit of free time to explore Queen St. (the large shopping and restaurant area) and eat lunch before we headed out to our first stop: North Head, Auckland (Sort of a volcanic hilly fortress, bunkers intact). This is when I started taking pictures like  mad; as we climbed the hill, the shots were getting better and better. After the climb, I went swimming in the ocean! In the summer! In February! It was magnificent. (The weather so far has been incredible; in between 70-80 degrees, a little humid, and a gentle breeze at all times.) The short hike was a great warm up for what was to come later in the weekend.

After a 2 hour bus ride we arrived in Hobbiton, site of the Lord of the Rings' Shire scenery. We only stopped in the town for lunch, so I plan on going back. It was there that I discovered the incredible delight that is the New Zealand pie. I had a chicken pot pie for lunch, and washed it down with a steak and cheese pie, both of which were delicious. I also met a local of Māori descent, who taught me some Māori/Kiwi slang. I later found out that he was skipping school that day to hang out at the local skate park.

Rotorua was a blast. The first night I had this giant burger; the Dog's Bullocks Burger, and it was once again, the greatest thing I have ever eaten, like all of my other meals here so far. (If you haven't noticed, I get really excited about food. Every meal I've eaten has been fantastic. And the fruit I've been eating is to die for, nothing in the States comes close.)

We went to a small animal sanctuary earlier in the day, which was home to the endangered Kiwi, a small, brown, flightless bird. We couldn't take pictures, and we had to be super-quiet, as the bird was nocturnal and easily frightened. The sanctuary also contained numerous rainbow trout hatcheries used for sport fishing and California Redwoods for lumber. The trees grow twice as fast (compared to the U.S.) in the fertile New Zealand soil and favorable climate (while providing protection for other local flora), and the fish grow to ridiculous sizes due to nutrient-rich diets. The whole area felt like a mini-jungle out of Jurassic Park. Two other notable animals from the sanctuary were the Kea, an endangered parrot with an attitude, and the Tuatara, a living reptilian fossil that can slow its breathing to one breath an hour.

Even before the animal sanctuary, I attended a "farm show," where I was introduced to 19 different breeds of sheep. They were very friendly, and photogenic! I witnessed a sheep shearing and a cow milking (by my fellow Americans). AND I got to feed a baby lamb! It was a grand ol' time. Later that night, I went to a hot springs, and soaked in the geothermal goodness under the stars with my new friends. You should've seen the wrinkles.

One thing that was really awesome about Rotorua was the hostel we stayed in: the Crash Palace. I've never stayed in a hostel, or a backpackers as they call them here, and the experience was quite enlightening. I absolutely loved it. The communal mindset was really cool; I definitely want to do that again.

Our second day in Rotorua started with a light tramp (hike) through a geothermal park. It was very hot and stinky, just like Yellowstone if you've been there before. My knowledge of geology was severely lacking before that tour. The closest I got to a scientific thought of my own was that I thought the rocks were pretty colors. I think I learned a sufficient amount to be ready for my first geology class next week.

After the walk, we went Zorbing. Zorbing is fun. Like really fun. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, you pile into a large hamster ball filled with water with a bunch of other people. And then you roll down a hill with a GoPro in your hand. We got going really fast, and even though there was a track to control where the ball went, it was absolutely chaotic inside of that thing. I would gladly do it again.

That night, we traveled to a Māori village to immerse ourselves in the culture and eat a traditional meal, the Hāngi (earth oven), where all of our delicious was cooked in the ground. This is not to be confused with the Hongi, the traditional Māori greeting that involves the pressing of the noses and a deep inhale (which exchanges the breath of life between two people). I was taught the Haka (a Haka crash-course, of course, as I only had 3 minutes to learn it), the Māori war dance, and then told to perform it in front of a bunch of strangers. This was probably the highlight of the night for me, as I love the dance and I've always wanted to learn it. According to my peers, I really got into it. I plan on auditing the Māori dance class during my time here. There were some other short classes on spinning poi and using a spear. Right before dinner, there was an awesome performance done by the tribe, singing and dancing, that sort of thing. I can't even begin to describe the emotion that brought forth in me. I was finally a victim of sensory overload; I was experiencing pure bliss.

I've been exploring the small section of the city around me for a little while now, and I have to say I absolutely love where I live. The last two days have brought numerous discoveries, one of the most notable being this little takeaway called Corner Kebab, which is located on a side-street behind a Burger King. On Monday (and Tuesday), I had the most amazing lamb burger with hummus and some middle eastern spicy stuff, and I told everyone about it. When I went back, the guy recognized me and I got a discount. We're gonna be good friends, I can already tell. (I might as well turn this into a food blog.)

I went on a bike ride to Mission Bay yesterday, and it felt so natural getting on a bike again. After a brief swim and a game of pictionary (using the beach as a sketchpad!), everyone huddled around an incredibly large box of hot chips (fries) and went to town. On the way back to Auckland, the sun came out in full-force, and successfully burned me to a crisp. I honestly hope it fades soon, I've been red as a beet for two days. After the ride, I went to a picnic in Auckland Domain, a large park with a giant Māori museum at the top. I met a ton of super-interesting international students studying at the University of Auckland with me, and a few Kiwi's as well. They attempted to teach me how to play rugby. I think it's gonna grow on me.

This morning, I hiked up Mt. Eden, the highest natural point in Auckland. It was a great time, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I had been waiting for this since August, when I was accepted here. It was the view (that I saw on Google maps street view) from here that really sold the city.

I just got back from Globe Bar, and it was a great time dancing with everyone. I hosted a party before everyone went out, and now I know heaps more of my neighbors in Unilodge, the apartment building I'm living in for the next few months. I guess a New Zealander (Kiwi) would say my night was "Sweet as." Now it's time to recharge my batteries; I'm going to get my bearings around campus tomorrow, and then go to my first rugby game!

The people studying abroad with me are among the most interesting people I've ever met. Arcadia's study abroad program in New Zealand definitely attracts some great people. We all just want to make this trip the best experience ever. Not only have we had a blast together so far, but we've already planned three future trips for the weekends to come. I've been getting to know some of the other international students as well; I find their cultural differences fascinating (and a lot of these foreign ladies are absolutely gorgeous!).

I realize that I have written a lot today, and I plan on writing shorter posts in the future. This was fun to write, so I didn't leave that much out. It's really hard to condense such an awesome experience into a few hundred words.

I'll work on posting some more stories of this week's orientation on Monday, stay tuned!

Cheers,

Pierce

A Māori woman

Queen Street

The Ancient Tuatara

Sunrise at Rotorua

California Redwood at the reserve

Waterfall near the Redwood

New Zealand's old Faithful: Pohutu

The Crash Palace!

A sign warning me not to walk into a volcano

One of the craters of Mt. Eden

Photogenic Child

Another sign telling me not to touch hot stuff

Happy Sheep

Sulfurous water at the geothermal park