Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don’t Worry, I’m Still Here!

I warned you that my life was about to fill up with school - and, boy, did it.  After frantically researching and writing many essays (about one a week), the idea of sitting down to write another blogpost just felt like extra homework.  But here I am!  There really is not too much to tell.  I haven’t gone anywhere new since I got back from our Easter Break extravaganza - too much schoolwork.  Plus, I wanted to save the last of my funds for when my boyfriend Chris arrived - which is in about... an hour!

Over the past couple weeks I’ve managed to fit a few things into my essay-laden schedule, mostly great times spent with good friends.  I can’t believe that in just over three weeks we all will be returning to our homes, far and wide, maybe to never see each other again.  We’ve all made promises to keep in touch and to visit when we can, and I sincerely hope we do.  The people I’ve met here, especially my flatmates, have been one of the things that gets me through when I go on one of my homesickness binges or when I’m feeling way too overwhelmed by Otago’s demands.  Though I will return to my wonderful family and friends waiting at home, I will definitely leave little pieces of me with the great people I’ve met here.  The experiences I’ve shared with them are irreplaceable... and will most likely feel like dreams after I’ve been home for more than a couple weeks.  Our study abroad programs have begun to warn us about the effects reverse culture shock upon returning home, and they’ve recommended that the best coping strategy is to keep contact with those we’ve met here.  I believed them when they said it before I left, but now I can see just how essential that contact is going to be.

But anywayyyy - I still have 23ish days here in New Zealand!  It’s not time to get too sappy just yet.  Since I still have some things to do before Chris arrives (like, study for the two-hour final I have tonight - eeek!), I will leave you with a few quick pictures and links that will hopefully entertain you until I find time to post again.

My flatmate Elizabeth and I attended Otago’s capping show a few weeks ago.  It was a three-hour long comedy show intended to offend, and while it did, it was completely worth the laughs.  Here’s a link to the show’s annual Selwyn College Ballet, a dance put on by the boys from the Selwyn dorm.  This video is from 2009 because 2011’s wasn’t great quality...  Spoiler: the boys’ outfits are a litttttle revealing.  And please excuse the commentary.


Elizabeth and I have also been putting together a songlist for NZ memories.  Here are some of my favorites...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QDidEchiNI - A NZ band
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSPK_5tkRN4 - A NZ artist
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK42LZqO0wA - Not a NZ band, but one of our favorite dancing songs

[My spot in the library.  It’s starting to feel like a second flat.]

[Elizabeth and I’s ‘duck faces.’  It’s a long story...]

[The exotic/gourmet aisle at one of our grocery stores.  Look - Hershey chocolate bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups!!]

[And when all else fails, at least I have my stray cats on the back patio.]

And that’s it for now!  Chris will be here in about twenty minutes (I hope), so I must run to make him breakfast.  I will do my best to check in before finals and update you on the many adventures we have planned for the next two weeks!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Easter Break Roadtrip: A Photo Adventure

Oh, man.  Whaaat a trip!  After nine very full days on the road, I can now check a large majority of New Zealand’s South Island off of my list.  This post has taken me so long to get to, one, because of the massive amount of homework I came home to, and two, because I knew it was going to be a big one.  I’ve decided to spare you all from paragraph after paragraph of trip recounting (so much of it was spent in the car anyway), and instead retell it all through mostly pictures.  There are a million more where these came from (it took me an hour to upload these alone), and I promise to share them upon my return to the States.

Here we go...

Day 1 - Christchurch

We all piled into our rented car, Momo, at 8:30 am the morning after my birthday (Good Friday) and hit the road!  We stayed just one night in Christchurch.  With the combination of the holiday and the aftermath of the 6.3 earthquake that struck the city on February 22nd, it was all pretty quiet.  We couldn’t find a single open shop or café.  We went for a walk around the parts of town that were still accessible, and a somber walk it was.  Much of the destruction was fenced off from the public, but everywhere there were houses and shops knocked askew, sidewalks and streets uprooted, trees toppled.  The serious atmosphere we found ourselves in was very fitting as we paid homage to the remains.

An example of a makeshift shelter leftover from the earthquake relief teams.  All exposed wood was covered with well wishes and promises to help all they could.

The Christchurch City Centre, completely deserted and behind chain-link fencing.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, yet another reminder of the earthquake’s intensity.

Day 2 - Hanmer Springs

The next morning we made the drive over to Hanmer Springs, a small town containing a large hot water springs complex.  We spent a few hours soaking in the pools, letting the stress of school, driving, and just plain being abroad wash away, and then treated ourselves to a lovely dinner of appetizers at a local restaurant.

Water slides!  I went down both single slides, and then my flatmate Elizabeth and I went down the giant bowl slide (the yellow and blue thing to the left) twice.  Very much so worth the extra entry fee, despite the long, freezing wait in line.

An example of the hot pools.  There were several, including some for adults only (above), sulfur pools, some reaching 42 degrees Celsius, etc.  We switched around a bit, but my favorite were the extra hot octagonal pools.  Comfy enough for me to even fall asleep...

Day 3 - Kaikoura

After we were down soaking in Hanmer Springs, we drove to Kaikoura, where we stayed for two nights.  It was a cute little coastal towns, full of sweet gift shops and aromatic cafés.  This town is most famous for its year-long seal colonies, whales, and dolphins.

The morning view of the Kaikoura Peninsula coastline.  The mountains go right up to the sea... A common theme for our travels around the edge of the South Island.

Swimming with dolphins!  The four of us decided to go ahead and make the big (monetary) commitment so we could all experience one of lifetime dreams.  It was amazing!!  We went through the Dolphin Encounters company, who took us out into the ocean on a catamaran.  Despite the wetsuits, the water was freezing! (Fourteen degrees Celsius the tour guide told us later.)  We were dropped into the pod of dolphins three different times.  My first dip in the water, I freaked out a little bit - I couldn’t breathe thanks to the cold, and it was scary being out in the big wide ocean.  But by the third time, I was floating face-down with no problems, squeaking every time the dolphins zoomed by.

The dolphins were completely wild, so our guides encouraged us to do anything that would keep them interested in us.  This included singing, spinning in circles, and diving down into the water.  I did what I could and had awesome results!  If I had been allowed to touch them, I could have easily.  They would come swooping right up from underneath me, teasing as I tried to keep up with them.  Afterwards, the guides collected our wetsuits and handed our ginger cookies and hot chocolate.  We followed the dolphin pods for a little while, watching them jump and play.
(Dolphin photos complements of Elizabeth U.)

Seal colony on the way out of town.  They were EVERYWHERE!  This is right along the road - there was even a seal-crossing sign, warning us to slow down.

Seal pups playing in the small pool.

Day 4 - Picton

Next we drove through the Marlborough wine country, field after field of grape vines.  We stopped in Picton for the evening, the town that connects the South Island to Wellington on the North Island via ferry rides.  Just about everything in the town was closed due to the ANZAC Day holiday (kind of like our Veterans’ Day at home), so we just wandered around the town - except for our visit to the tiny aquarium!  There wasn’t too much to see there, just a few tanks of big fish and some reptiles, but we arrived in town just in time for the penguins’ exercise swim!  The aquarium had two rescued Little Blue Penguins: Flipper, a three-year-old who was attacked by a dog and only had one a half fins to show for it, and Ham, a four-month-old orphan who had never been taught to swim properly.  They came out for about twenty minutes - soooo cute!  (I tried uploading the video on here, but the file was too large.  I made it available on my Facebook page, so check it out there if you can.)

A Tuatara, famous lizard of NZ.  One of the most primitive lizards left on earth.  It can’t even be handled by bare human hands - its body temperature would rise too much.  I don’t think we saw one move the entire time we were there...

Though Picton was a little dead, we did stay at one of the best hostels ever - free hot chocolate pudding and ice cream every night!  It was soooo good... and so filling.  I almost couldn’t move after eating way past my fill.

Day 5 - Nelson to Takaka

Next we drove to Nelson (via the Queen Charlotte Sound road - one of the scariest, windiest drives on the South Island - driven by yours truly!) and stayed there for the afternoon.  Finally, the shops were open again after the holidays and we were able to start our search for souvenirs. On our way out to Takaka, we stopped quickly at the beach... 


From Left to Right: Elizabeth, Ida, Silje and me.

We did the drive to Takaka in the dark, during which we encountered the Takaka Hill, something my food lab partner had warned me about.  But this was not a ‘hill’ as I know it... this was a MOUNTAIN with 15 km/hr hairpin turns all over the place.  Phew - NOT a hill.  We have 'mountains' back in PA about 1/8 the size of that.

Day 6 - Takaka and Golden Bay

We had all of the next day to explore Takaka and the area around it.  First thing in the morning, we drove up to see Farewell Spit, the most northern part of the South Island.  We also wanted to visit some beaches, and we did, but the day was soooo windy that we weren’t able to explore as much as we would have liked.  But, as you can see from the following photos, we still got in quite a bit...

Farewell Spit off in the distance.  You can see it curve around from the left to the right.

Fossil Point.  We had to cross many sheep fields and climb over many fences to get here.  As you can see from the spinning sand, the winds were horrendous.  The sand stung my face and exposed ankles while the wind made my ears and head throb.  But this beach was still really pretty!  So bright and white - if only the sun had cooperated.

Fossil Point

Me at Fossil Point
(Photo by Elizabeth U.)

Next, we visited the Te Waikoropupu Springs (nickname Pupu Springs), one of the largest freshwater springs in the world and the clearest in the Southern Hemisphere.  It was so beautiful!  People used to be allowed to swim in them in until the introduction of Didymo, an invasive alga wreaking havoc in New Zealand.  Jealous I missed out...

Can you see the ripples in the water?  That the freshwater gushing up from the vents below.

Left to Right: Me, Silje and Elizabeth

Pupu Springs

After exploring town (and buying wayyyy too much stuff), Elizabeth and I went cave exploring.  We heard there were a couple around the area, and went for the closest one, Rawhiti Cave.  We ended up on some back road (that wasn’t really a road) that cut through some farmland, and by the time we parked at the trail entrance, it was already getting dark.  We decided to risk the one-hour return, and made our way into the forest.  Though it gave us a time estimate, the sign at the trailhead definitely did NOT warn us about the steep climb we were about to make on the skinny, muddy, root-ridden path.  We almost turned back several times, but the final view made us very glad that we didn’t.  The cave was HUGE - some of the stalactites were longer than we were tall.  We would have liked to go down into it, but the path was currently under construction, as you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the page.

Day 7 - Drive Down West Coast

The next day was spent almost completely in the car while we made our way down to the glaciers.  I drove the first six hours - and only one speeding ticket the whole time!  The outstanding views made up for it, and we made sure to stop and appreciate the pretty views...

Beach along the way.

Didn’t think to put on real shoes before climbing out onto the rocks.  Flip flops made the journey a little less comfortable - but still totally worth it.
(Photo by Elizabeth U.)

Next, we made a stop at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, which were thousands of years old layers of limestone, sandstone and small marine creatures.  We were lucky to be there on such a nice day.  The formations were a lot bigger than I had been expecting - they had a whole track set up for walking and viewing.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Was I allowed to climb on the rocks?  Who knows...
(Photo by Elizabeth U.)

Day 8 - Glaciers

We woke up to another beautiful day at Franz Josef Glacier.  We walked around the little tourist town for a bit (yes, buying more presents) and then made our way out to see the glacier.

Some new friends I found in town.
(Photo by Elizabeth U.)

Franz Josef Glacier.  We walked through a little forest path, and then across this glacial valley to get a closer look.

Waterfalls along the way...

Me and my friend the glacier.

Touching the glacier!  Yes, we went beyond all of the warning signs and climbed up the dangerous rocky slopes so we could do this - but worth it in all ways.  See the people to the left of me?  This thing was huge!  In New Zealand, I’ve been able to accomplish two of the goals set out in my high school senior biography - walk through a rainforest and touch a glacier.  Now I just need to find a sequoia to scale...

Fox Glacier.  We just drove by - didn’t hike to this one.

Day 9 - Wanaka

Our last day out.  Elizabeth and I spent the morning walking around the pristine lake, taking in the autumn scenes.  It was a perfect day for yellow leaves and playing on swings...

Wanaka Lake

Elizabeth, the Californian, indulging in some deciduous autumn fun.

Swinging by the lake.

We left in the early afternoon, and continued our drive over crazy New Zealand roads.  We even pulled over at the bottom of one mountain because our brakes were smoking from the crazy grade and turns!  We relaxed for a bit in the quaint village of Arrowtown, who was throwing their annual autumn festival.  More gift shopping, some freshly baked bagels, and we were back in the car and on own way home!

Just one example of breath-taking New Zealand scenery.

The crew and Momo!  LtoR: Me, Ida, Elizabeth, and Silje.

We arrived back in Dunedin not too late on the Saturday night before classes resumed.  We dragged our many bags into the house and each retreated to our rooms for a little quiet time.  We all had a wonderful time and some how managed to avoid the usual cattiness that accompanies girly road-trips.  And as for my first hostel experiences, I was pretty impressed - what a great deal for only twenty-something dollars a night.  As long as you’re not sharing with some stinky backpackers, that is...  We managed to stay pretty cozy (even snuggled during a chick flick one night) and ate pretty well for girls on a budget.  It was an amazing trip with a million memories that I plan on never forgetting.

And that’s all for now!  Don’t expect too much in the weeks to come... I have lots of assignments to finish up, and the Easter Break trip left me a little short on funds.  Oh, and did I mention - my boyfriend Chris is coming out for a visit in just three weeks!!  Very unexpected, but so, so excited.  So, I’ll probably just be hanging around Dunedin to save some cash until he shows up.  Maybe I’ll find some funny things at the grocery store or some pretty shots of campus to share... You never know!  Keep posted :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Quick Catch-Up: Markets, Museums and 21st Memories

It’s been a while!  I meant to catch you all up much earlier than this, but I just spent the last nine days without internet while enjoying my awesome Easter Break roadtrip.  But that’s a story for another day...  While maybe not quite as cool as swimming with dolphins or walking on a glacier, I did do some stuff before leaving for my trip - like turning 21 years old.  Thanks to midterms craziness, I got some more quiet time around Dunedin in the week before I left on my roadtrip.  My Saturday morning started off with a trip to the large farmer’s market...

First stop - crepe stand.  I had been dreaming about eating this mound of sugary deliciousness since I first saw them on my first morning in Dunedin.  Unfortunately (well, fortunately), I’ve been away all Saturday mornings and haven’t had a chance to get one.  Finally, my banana, chocolate and whipped cream masterpiece:

[Yum yum yum...]

[Crepe stand]

I quickly filled my backpack (and emptied my wallet) as I walked around the market, taking in all of the colors, sounds, and smells it had to offer...

[NZ apple season definitely rivals PA’s.  There’s nothing like fresh, crisp apples (with a dab of peanut butter) for an afternoon snack.]

[Lamb stand.  Bought some chops for dinner that night.  Not quite as meaty as I had hoped, but very tasty.]

[A large variety of veggies...]

[And TOO much cheese to handle.  I usually go straight for the brie, but he was out!  I grabbed a slice of Camembert instead, and soothed myself with the fact that this locally-made cheese is also available in the grocery store - very cool.]

Missing are photos of the bacon stand, the coffee hut, the nurseries, the local wineries, and so much more.  My camera chose this moment to die, just meaning that I will have to go back again soon so I can share more of this wonderful market with you all.  The only bad thing - I was too distracted by my stomach to pay attention to the drizzling rain.  I left my hood down all morning, and the damp cold combined with my midterms stress to give me one heck of a head cold.  Just hours after getting home from the market, I was curled up sideways on the couch under a blanket, clutching my hot water bottle.  It took me until almost the end of my Easter Break trip to kick it completely.

Despite my spinning head and runny nose, I fulfilled a promise to myself and finally made it to the Otago Museum on the following day.  It was the last day for a special Maori exhibit recommended by my archeology professor, so I had to go.  It was a quick trip, but the live butterfly exhibit made it totally worth it...

[Not part of the actual exhibit, but still cool.  I had a lot of trouble getting pictures to come out in the museum, but here’s an example of some Maori artwork.]

The Museum is home to a live tropical butterfly forest.  We peeled off our coats and scarves and walked into a very hot, steamy room, complete with jungle trees and waterfall.  There were butterflies everywhere!  They even had a window into the hatching chambers which were filled with cocoons, both broken and whole.  (They release the new butterflies every morning.)  I wasn’t lucky enough to have one land on me, but many still posed for some pretty pictures...

[I left the security camera in as a size scale.  This moth was HUGE!]

When we reached our limit with the heat, we moved on to new exhibits.  We played around in the kids’ science center (similar to the Carnegie one in Pittsburgh) and then explored the ‘Faces’ exhibit, which allowed you to play around with photos of yourself in different applications.  I got to see what I may look like at the age of 70 after overexposure to the sun - NOT pretty.  My next favorite exhibit after the butterflies was the Animal Attic - big surprise.  This room was filled with  stuffed animals - including a giant leopard seal.

[Baby albatross!  Still pretty big for a bird.]

[My little blue penguin friends!]

[Replica Moa birds - NZ famous extinct land mammal.  There were a couple different species, but all were wiped out by the first Maori settlers.  The biggest could reach about 12 ft in heat and weigh over 500 lbs.  As my one professor said, ‘If one sat on you, you would definitely know about it.’]

[Just a little intimidating...]

I worked my way through my midterm tests and papers, did what I could for my nasty head cold as it got worse and worse, and then finally!  Break began on Thursday evening - which also happened to be my 21st birthday.  While a little sad I couldn’t celebrate the special day with my family and friends back home, my flatmates definitely took care of me and made the night one I will never forget.  Complete with tiara, badge, and (temporary) butterfly tattoos, I had a great time.

[My birthday cake - which was really a lemon meringue pie.  Somehow my flatmate Elizabeth (to my left) was able to fit all 21 candles onto it.  To the left you’ll see my drink of choice for the evening: a locally bottled alcoholic lemonade.  Definitely more juice than buzz - just the way I like it :)  And to the right of the pie, my obligatory 21st birthday shot - coconut rum, another gift from the flatmates.]

[Finally, a nice picture of the 441 Leith St. tenants, as they join in on my obligatory drink. From left to right: Julia, Ida, Elizabeth, me, Charley, and Richard]

The next morning, we were up early and off to Christchurch to begin our Easter adventure!  We had fun, but going through these photos made me realize how happy I am to be back in Dunedin, with my flatmates and the awesome market.  This city definitely has its downsides (namely, the dreary, cold weather), but I’ve come to find it very comfortable and perfect for what I need while abroad.  I have lots of fun exploring out of town, but it’s nice to know I have a good place to go home and relax.