Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rotorua 2.0

Kia Ora!

Well, last week was exhausting. As I said in my last post, I had a lot of work to do. This week, however, has been quite the opposite. I've just been attending class and doing regular readings, but no big projects this week. I even had time to apply for a scholarship back home and catch up on the last season of Top Gear! I've also been eating out a lot this week, and trying new foods has quickly become my favorite pastime. And the gym has been seeing me regularly too! It feels like I might have this time management thing down now. Anyway, it's time for Easter break, and I promise next week there will be plenty of pictures of hiking Mt. Taranaki and the city of Wellington. I'm really excited to already have 6 consecutive days off this early in the semester.

Going back to the weekend, I had a great trip with three of my mates in Rotorua. We left late Friday night, arriving at our campsite at 10:30pm, which wasn't too bad, because we went to sleep reasonably early. The night was cold, and the ground was hard. I feel like I learn so much every time I go camping, each additional time I remember to bring something new to help cope with the elements. The big improvement for this weekend, was a pillow (it seriously made all the difference). After an early wake up and half a bag of cereal later, we were ready to go to the Kaituna river, a Grade 5 whitewater masterpiece. We were with Uni's Canoe Club; despite the name, we opted for the raft, being that we can hardly roll our kayaks in a swimming pool.

The rafting was amazing; apart from the tiring rapids, the scenery was out of this world. I felt like I wasn't in New Zealand for a while. When I looked up, I just saw an endless canopy like that of a tropical rainforest. That's actually how I described it later that day, a rainforest without all of the bad stuff, like millions of mosquitoes. The rapids really were intense, although our raft never flipped. We managed to stay afloat even during the massive Okere Falls, the 7-meter terror most of our boat was anxious about for most of the ride. In short, the ride was awesome. It was nice bonding with some new friends and meeting heaps of kiwis in the club.

We spent the late afternoon puttering about town looking at place to eat and ended up on Tunisian, which was very good, but small-portioned like everything else in this country. When we got back to the campsite, the four of us just relaxed by Lake Okareka, talked about nothing, and tried our hand at picking up the ducks bothering us for food. It was a simple day, and a very good one; a stark contrast to my early weekends with Arcadia, where everything was planned down to the minute.

The next day was quite the adventure. We arrived at Planet Bike in the early morning, which was just a warehouse on a dirt road with mountain bikes for hire (or rent, for Americans). The place had character. To give you an idea, the woman there, Lenore, had incense lit everywhere and tried to guess my sign (and was not even close).

So biking in Whakarewarewa forest was incredibly difficult. It was a fair mix of downhill and simple trial (not trail, that's given) riding, and the forest kicked all of our butts in under 4 hours. With all of the slopes, there were some monstrous hills we had to dominate first, and they took a lot out of us. Before every run, we were sure to have some long rests. Now, I thought I had done some pretty tough mountain biking, but nothing I've ever done could have prepared me for this. After hundreds of banked turns and jumps, washed-out terrain, and a few wipeouts, I was looking pretty beat up. Some of the views were fantastic, though it was difficult to take everything in while flying down a mountain. At the very top, you could see all of Rotorua, the lake, and the local farms beyond. The landscape here ceases to amaze me.

After the excursion, I talked with Lenore, Sam (her son), and Gordon (a local friend of Lenore's). These were real kiwis; they had explored their country (sometimes the people I meet in Auckland say they haven't been anywhere but the city, which is just shocking to me). We had some nice conversations about the south island, pies (of course), and Burt Munro (See the movie: The World's Fastest Indian). I entertained them a bit with some American/New Zealand comparisons, and in return I was presented with some pretty awesome chocolate.

That afternoon, we got some award-winning fish and chips, and headed home to Auckland. We got back reasonable early, which was good because I had just one last project to finish up. This weekend was cool because we took it so slow. The difference was dramatic; hopefully my south island trip goes something like that. Well, I won't keep rambling on tonight, since there isn't much more to talk about. Sorry for the lack of pictures this week; due to the nature of the activities I was doing, it would've been quite dangerous to bring the camera along. I'll make up for it with some street photography in a few weeks.

Cheers!

Pierce

Our raft going over Okere Falls

The victorious rafters

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Surfing, Spelunking, and Sleeping, Oh My!

Yo,

I was aiming to get this out a little earlier in the week, but I've been really busy with schoolwork that I had to get sorted before my next weekend away, which involves rafting a 7 meter falls and mountain biking in an immense forest. And camping, of course. Should be fun. I'm certainly looking forward to it! Now that I'm a little ahead in my classes I can really enjoy myself next week as well.

On to housekeeping: I've been doing my usual surveying of the local cuisine, and I've found a couple more gems; the shiniest being a $6 Thai place really close to my flat, a pancake that tastes like a pierogi, a kiwi donut shop (the cookies and cream one is epic), and some Japanese udon noodles for when I feel like sitting down. I also tried some ridiculously hard outdoor climbing today and continued with my kayak rolling lessons (got the solo roll a few times last night) and yoga classes (makes my back feel really good). I also went to a hilarious comedy night tonight featuring some Auckland comedians and a student competition. All in all, good week, even though I haven't been sleeping a ton. Gotta work on that time management.

On to last weekend, I had the time of my life once again with a trip of firsts with my Arcadia buddies. After waking up in Waitomo Saturday morning, we traveled to the Blackwater Rafting Company, who took us into the famous Ruakuri cave for some friendly blackwater rafting and caving. It was cold, it was wet, it was dark, and I got to wear a wetsuit. The experience was very unique, I can't compare it to anything I've ever done before. As I was drifting through the water, looking at the ceiling illuminated by glow worms, I kinda stopped thinking about school, what I needed to get done, what I wanted to do in the future. I was completely focused on the present, which doesn't happen all that often. It takes something really phenomenal to distract me like that. I hope I can travel the world one day, finding more experiences like my time in the caves last Saturday.

That night, we traveled to Raglan, New Zealand's premiere surf spot. No surfing took place that night, we just hung out with some Swedes in our very secluded hostel in the nearby forest. Lots of ping-pong ensued. I'm really enjoying staying in all of these hostels, because you get to meet so many awesome people from all over the world. It's interesting to hear about everyone's stories.

On Sunday morning, I couldn't say I was looking forward to my time in the ocean. It was switching between heavy rain and a drizzle, and the air was kinda chilly. This was short-lived, because as soon as the wetsuit went on again I was super warm (this one was much better than the one I went spelunking in). I had never been surfing prior to this, so I wasn't expecting to do so hot, but I was able to stand up multiple times and ride waves all the way to the shore multiple times (granted, these were oversized, floaty surfboards that stayed on the surface of the water pretty easily). I'm not sure if I'll get in to surfing back home like I will with kayaking, but I would like to do it again, preferably on a real surfboard. Once again, the new experience was one I'll never forget.

I guess the takeaway from all of this is that my weekends are always really fun. It gets tiring, working on plans every week, but it makes the trips all the more sweeter. Speaking of sweets, I ate three bags of pineapple lumps this weekend. I'm not even going to bother explaining what they are, the mere description will start salivation in the driest of mouths. Speaking of mouths, I put three savory pies down (Steak and Cheese, Chicken and Veges, Mince and Cheese) after surfing Sunday, and the woman at the bakery gave me a discount because she didn't think I could finish it (I then fell asleep in the car in minutes for the whole ride home, and when I got home, I took yet another nap. I really needed some serious sleep after that trip). Speaking of finishing things, that's the end of this post. :)

See you next week!

Pierce

Neat waterfall we stopped by on the way to Raglan

I like taking photos of flowers

One of my favorite pictures I've ever taken; just after the illegal trampolining

RITchie's always with me, looking for the perfect photo-op

My 'sister' Jess!

Our group, excited to get in a dark hole

Our group, excited to be out of the dark hole

Our group, before realizing what we got ourselves into

The entrance to Ruakuri Cave (Den of Dogs)

Making sure our butts worked

The light at the end of the tunnel!

Standing up! (Bianca D'Alessio)

Riding out the wave (Bianca)

Pure bliss at the hostel (Bianca)

Lookin' Fierce and Hangin' Loose (Bianca)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Coromandel!

Kia Ora!

I'm still reeling from the absolutely perfect weekend I just had. To start things off, I independently came up with the recipe for beef bolognese at 2am Saturday morning. (Found out what it was after, if you were wondering. Also if you were wondering, I have perfected my recipe, and it makes a very hearty meal.)

Anyway, this weekend was big because I went on my first camping trip of the year with 18 of my mates in the Coromandel Peninsula, only an hour and a half south of Auckland. Honestly, one of the best parts was driving on the left for me. It felt completely natural, I almost kind of prefer it. The actual roads were really fun too, when driving through the mountains, I really had to handle the car (so many hairpin turns!).

The first stop was Hot Water Beach, which was pretty cold. The air, I mean. It was kind of cloudy (still needed loads of sunscreen) and the wind was pretty intense. But the ground was boiling! In certain parts of the sand, you could see little bubbles coming through where the waves receded. If you dug your feet in just a little bit, it got incredibly hot, incredibly quickly. It's like wetting your hand and then touching a pan on a hot stove for as long as you can. You don't last long.

Next was Cathedral Cove, a pair of beaches that required a 45 minute trek to view its greatness. I think all beaches should be like that. I should have to work a little bit to have an excuse to lay on the beach all day. Except I really didn't lay down too much, I was too busy getting crushed by epic riptides and climbing some of the local rock structures. The rocks were so soft! On top of every ledge was a pile of chalk-like dust! It worked perfectly for my hands. In short, these beaches were exactly what I expected them to be. The first day of our trip was very relaxing.

That night, we drove to the base of the Pinnacles mountain range, and camped under the absolutely beautiful stars. Everyone really bonded that night, it was quite the social gathering. Jess and I took pictures of everyone in front of the stars using a long exposure for the stars and a flashlight to expose the person in the foreground for a short amount of time. They came out awesome! I don't have any to put up here, but I'm sure they'll make their way to Facebook.

I digress. Sometimes I spend a lot of time here talking about things for which I have no visual aid. I have this idea that sometimes it's ok to put the camera down and just enjoy everything for yourself. Sometimes the moments in your life are more intimate than expected. A mental picture is sometimes all you need. For example, during our hike in the Pinnacles, I climbed some boulders off the beaten path to get some different views than the usual. These moments were just for me, I climbed ahead on my own, to be on my own for what was only a few minutes, but felt like an eternity.

The next morning was a slow start for most. The last night was most certainly a late night, and the cold weather definitely kept me from springing up at 8am. After a water run, we started our 7 hour tramp to the top of the Pinnacles, a 759 meter ascent over a distance of 12 km. The whole way up I was an adrenaline-filled machine that only sped up as the summit became closer and closer. All I can say is, holy stairs! The way up probably contained around 1,200 stairs throughout, as estimated by another fellow hiker. The higher we got, the steeper the terrain was as well. At one point, you can tell the rangers just gave up and made everything out of ladders. This hike isn't really for the faint of heart once you get near the top, 'cause it was a long way down. The hike itself was very peaceful, a lot like a Pennsylvania hike. There's lots of flora to look at, mountains to ogle, and birds to listen to, but I can't say it's a hike for seeing any animals. New Zealand seems to be the place for marveling at the amazing geographic features, rather than the wildlife (seeing as all of the pretty flightless birds and marsupials were hunted to extinction; I'm a little bitter that I can't see the 12 foot tall Moa or the Kakapo, the world's biggest parrot and my favorite bird). After relaxing (and eating) for an hour at the summit, we made our way down. This was incredibly painful for my knees, and near the end, I was short of breath after every hit they took. My body, however, held up really well and I wasn't sore at all the next day.

The ride back consisted of me and the rest of my awesome car eating Pineapple Lumps and various other treats. I wasn't driving home, so I really got to relax and hang out with my new friends. I like to think that our car really bonded. For some reason I haven't been putting in names in this blog very often, but I think these guys deserve a mention. I was in the international car; we had two Americans (Chester and I), a world-travelling Canadian (Tony), Wales' very own Rachel [McAdams] (no really, she looks just like her), and Gemma, our resident Londoner. I really enjoyed my time with these guys, they made our rides together very fun (mostly because of the accents).

The upcoming weekend should be fun as well, as I'm exploring a glow-worm cave and learning how to surf (at NZ's best surfing beach, of course)! There's honestly no end to the excitement here. I love New Zealand.

Also, something that I've seemed to pick up is Ashram Yoga. I've become a fan because I can really push myself as hard as I want in an injury-free setting, and it makes my back feel really good. So I've been doing that once or twice a week now. I also had my first Kayak rolling (drowning) class last night. I learned the rescue roll, so if I flip, someone can come over to me, and I can use their kayak to flip myself topside. It really is unnerving, the first couple of times your stuck underwater with no idea what to do. I'll be going back next week to work on the solo roll (so I don't have to get people beers as payment for saving my butt all the time).

See you next week!

Pierce

A tree on a cliff on the way to Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove!

The average bit of path on our Pinnacles tramp

A flattering picture of Caroline eating a sandwitch

Tony pointing at stuff

The girls walking across a very unstable bridge

Our minor setback! One of the car batteries died early in the trip

Some cool looking plant

The town and beach near the beginning of the hike to Cathedral Cove

The usual view on the way to the cove

Some beautifully eroded rock, courtesy of the Pacific's powerful waves

Even the seagulls are pretty


 The top, as seen from the not-so-top

The mountains, being majestic and stuff

The valley was surprisingly green, despite the terrible drought the country is dealing with

The views never really get old

Part of the group picnicking at the summit

RITchie chilling in a shrubbery

Sitting on the top of the world

The first ascenters of our group, eating sardines out of cans on top of a boulder

Friday, March 8, 2013

Week 1

Two weeks off was not enough time to be going back to classes already. I knew this break wouldn't last, but I sure wish it was a little longer.

After my first week of papers (courses), I think it's safe to say that teaching here is much different than back home at RIT. Professors here are a lot more "hands off," and seem distant due to large class sizes and short lecture times. There is a lot less class time here, and a lot more independent reading. The papers I'm taking are a lot different than normal: Geology, Marine Science, Pacific Studies, and Development of the International Economy. I kind of miss the math.

All of my papers look very promising. I'm very interested in the course material, and for once I feel like I'm retaining information at levels I haven't recognized since high school. I'm gonna learn sooooooo much this semester. My travel schedule is totally going to start conflicting with my study schedule in weeks to come, but I'll just have to get my priorities straight. The out of class work gets really serious around the end of March.

I joined a bunch of clubs this week, the two most notable being Meat Club (big bbq's every fortnight), and Canoe Club (super-excited for this one; after my first meeting last night, I can't wait to learn how to roll a Kayak next week). I also may have a show at New Zealand's oldest (and most obnoxious) radio station soon enough.

I'm finally meeting some Kiwi's, most of which are very friendly and happy to see Americans joining their clubs. Some of these guys shy away from the camera while I'm trying to get some experience with street photography, but maybe they'll get used to me. In the meantime, I have to be really sneaky.

I'm gonna keep this post short, as I've been up late every day this week playing poker, going to pubs, or attending indie rock/dubstep concerts (weird combo, I know. Ladi6 killed it tonight, by the way, while Mt. Eden fell short of my expectations). Tomorrow is going to be incredible though. My friends and I are travelling to Whangamata for some awesome beaches and waterfalls, and Sunday we're going for an 8-hour tramp in the Pinnacles! Hundreds of pictures to come, I'm sure. It's our first camping trip too so we'll get to work the kinks out. Added bonus for this week: I get to drive on the left side of the road! Wish me luck!

Pierce

Bros on a bench

The clock tower behind some palms

I do not know the name of this man

Ridiculously photogenic college student

Happy family with ridiculously photogenic mom

Ridiculously photogenic group of friends

They were talking about their favorite Ke$ha song

Student in deep thought

I have no idea what these guys do, but they bring out couches to the quad every morning

There's heaps of flowers on campus

I love when universities do this

Local Māori sculpture

Pies!

High school students on a lunch break

The UofA Marae (Māori religious area)

Additional photo enthusiasts