I tired to use the last few days before school begun as wisely as possible. First, I (and many other international students) took a ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway, a historic tourist train run completely by volunteers. It took us from Dunedin to a tiny little town called Middlemarch, with the Taieri River Gorge in between. It was my first trip out of Dunedin, and I finally got to see some scenery that brought hobbits and elves to mind.
[Dunedin Railway Station]
[Countryside right outside of Dunedin - complete with sheep]
[Bar @ Middlemarch - note the year-round Santa]
[A cute little bank that doesn’t seem to quite live up to its name]
[Grocott’s Community Organic Garden @ Middlemarch]
[A new friend asked me to snap a picture of her, so I asked for one in return. Everyone else was already on the train, gawking at the goofy Americans who were completely ignoring the urgent train whistle and calls of the conductor...]
[Taieri River Gorge]
The next few days involved some exploring around the Dunedin area. I went back to the Botanic Gardens with some flatmates (a quick two minute walk from our house), and we walked a few of the many trails, visited the Aviary, and then stopped for tea at the Croque-O-Dile Cafe located in the center of the Gardens.
[Leith River trickling through the Gardens]
[My first Sequoia trees!]
[View of Dunedin from behind the South African gardens]
[Eucalyptus Tree and my flatmate Elizabeth]
[Beautiful flower (maybe an orchid??) found along the trails]
[The Kaka Bird - one of the many species found in the Garden’s Aviary. We saw anything from hummingbird-sized finches to giant talking parrots to fat, cooing doves.]
On Friday night I joined a couple of friends at my very first rugby game ever, the Otago Highlanders vs. the Hamilton Chiefs. While very fast-paced and violent, the players were very cordial and often helped their opponents up off of the ground. It was amazing to watch players being thrown up in the air or being smashed into the ground, and when a player was hurt too badly to get up (which astoundingly did not happen too often), the medics would jump right into the playing field, no time-out necessary. Afterwards, we got to share high-fives with the team members, an opportunity hard to turn down no matter how smelly they were.
[Streaker being escorted off field - sorry for the lack of censorship, but he didn’t really seem to mind sharing...]
[Blue = Highlanders, Black = Chiefs]
[Student crowed - many sporting their flashy Speights beer jumpsuits]
Saturday was spent walking around town, and on Sunday I joined the Otago University Tramping Club for their first hike of the school year. We hiked up to the Organ Pipes, a beautiful volcanic formation on Mt. Holmes right outside of Dunedin, trekked up Mount Cargill, and then enjoyed a BBQ in the Bethunes Gully. The hike description had been a bit misleading; not only did we start off at a near-running pace up a very steep, muddy slope, but we also had to pull ourselves up the rock faces of the Organ Pipes, forcing ourselves not to look down the entire time. The view was definitely worth it - even when I had to slide back down the Organ Pipes on my backside.
[View from top of Organ Pipes]
[Example of Organ Pipe structure. Apparently the lava flowed and cooled so slowly that it was able to form perfect, vertical rectangles.]
[Organ Pipes that are no longer standing... made for great walking]
[Despite all odds, I was able to make it both up AND down those rocks with minimal scrapes and bruises]
[View of Dunedin from Mt. Cargill]
[Walk to Bethunes Gully]
Now the vacation time is over, and today I sat through my first lectures. It was a little weird being in a classroom again (especially ones so unfamiliar), but at the same time it was comforting. As much as I have enjoyed my lazy time, today was a reminder of the real reason I came - to be a student. I am only taking four classes (as opposed to my usual seven), including an Introduction to Food Science (complete with cooking lab!), The Environmental History of New Zealand, Transformations in Developing Nations, and Understanding Environmental Issues. The three I sat through today were pretty exciting (or as exciting as syllabus day can be) and I look forward to my fourth class tomorrow. The courses are structured much differently here than at home, with less assigned readings and a lot more weight placed on final exams, so it will take some adjusting. But even though I’m at a much bigger university than I’m used to, the classes were not too large, and the professors reached out to us, offering any kind of help we may need as we settle in. First day nerves were gone quickly and were replaced instead by jitters of anticipation. School will just become part of the adventure :)