Larnarch Castle

Hello everyone,

The very end of my time in Dunedin was marked by a fun day trip to the Otago Peninsula that I took with my friends Sarah, Francis, and the other Sarah. We had been meaning to explore the Peninsula for ages, as it was only a half-hour drive from Dunedin, but never seemed to have the time. Once we were all done with our finals we got together and had a nice day trip to see Larnach Castle (which my parents visited 25 years ago) and Sandfly Bay.

Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle. It was built in 1874 (although additions continued until 1887) by prominent entrepreneur and politician William Larnach. Upon completion, the complex consisted of 43 rooms, staffed by 46 servants, and rested upon 35-acre grounds (including a vinery) and a home farm of 300 acres. It’s not a ‘castle’ in the sense that most people think of castles, but it’s one of the few homes built to such a large scale, and was dubbed the Castle by the local press in 1874. After the original owner’s death (and financial ruin) the Castle went through a series of uses and owners and eventually fell into disrepair. In 1967 it was bought by the Baker family, who have completed significant restorations and even hunted down the original furniture. Now the Castle is open all year round as a tourist attraction and is surrounded by award-winning gardens. It hosts fancy events throughout the year and has been the site of a few movies and shows (including the American series Ghost Hunters International).

From the outside the Castle is beautiful- a tall stone mansion in Gothic Revival style, built from materials imported from around the world, with intricately carved walls and ceilings and complex stained-glass windows. It’s also built in one of the most beautiful places on the Peninsula, offering amazing ocean views from the upper windows and tower.

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Photo taken from Google; included to show the Castle’s gorgeous surroundings.

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The Castle’s original black-smithing and gun-smithing tools.

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I really enjoyed touring Larnach Castle, learning about the history and seeing the beautiful architecture, furnishings, and views.

After spending a couple hours at the Castle we piled back in the car and drove down to Sandfly Bay. Sandfly Bay (named after the way the sand is blown off the dunes) is a wide bay with large sand dunes which hosts a colony of yellow-eyed penguins and often has seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, walking in the waves and enjoying the sun.

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We even got to see some sea lions sleeping on the rocks!

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How many sea lions can you find in this photo? There’s at least nine.

Although our time at the beach started out cloudy, the skies cleared in time for sunset to turn the sky pink and purple.

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By the time we scrambled our way back up the sand dunes it was turning dark and cold, but it was the perfect end to a fun day. It was really nice to get out of the city (and away from finals) for a little while and just enjoy exploring the peninsula. It was too bad that we couldn’t visit the town of Portabello and the Albatross Sanctuary (two places on the Peninsula that were highly recommended), but we had a good time anyway. It was a great way to say goodbye to Dunedin and our friends there, before Sarah and I left to explore the South Island together.

Next up, Sarah and I go to Queenstown (and go bungee jumping)!

Until next time,

Rachael

 

Auckland

Hello everyone,

The last stop on my spring break trip was Auckland. Sarah and I were only there for about a day before we had to catch a flight back to Dunedin, but we still had fun. After checking in to our hostel and dropping off our stuff we went for a walk around downtown, stopping to gawk at the famous Sky Tower and going into all the stores and shops that caught our eye.

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After wandering around downtown for a while we decided to walk to a nearby park. In the middle of the park was Mount Eden, a big hill that gave an amazing 360-degree view of the city and the harbor.

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All too soon, it was time for us to go the airport and get on our plane back to Dunedin. The flight was short and easy, and since I had the window seat I got some great views of North Island coastline, mountains, and farmland.

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This concludes my spring break trip with Sarah across the North Island. It was a lot of fun and I’m really glad we got to see so many amazing places. I will remember the many exciting things we visited on our trip like Napier’s astounding Art Deco architecture, Lake Taupo’s beautiful blue waters, and the entrancing sulfuric pools of Rotorua for a long time.

Until next time,

Rachael

Rotorua

Hello everyone,

Sarah and I arrived in Rotorua on a beautiful sunny morning. Rotorua is a sizeable town set on a lake of the same name, and is known for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the pervasive sulfuric scent in the air from geothermal pools  near the city. In fact, there was a park with bubbling mud pools just down the block from our hostel, which we visited right after we checked in and dropped off our bags.

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After visiting the park we walked downtown and visited the information center to check out fun things to do around the town. We decided to go hiking along an easy two-hour loop track in a park south of the city. The track took us through some beautiful forests that were absolutely covered in ferns, with bright shafts of sunlight spiraling down through the trees.

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Midway through the hike, the trail led to a lookout which gave a magnificent view of the city. The lookout had a couple benches so we took the opportunity to sit down, eat some snacks, and read our books for a while.

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It was a very fun and incredibly beautiful hike, and we returned to our hostel feeling physically tired but emotionally rejuvenated.

The next day we got up early to catch a bus for a tour of the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The first stop on the tour was the Lady Knox geyser, which was discovered in the early 1900s when prisoners from a nearby institution used the hot spring to wash their clothes. The laundry soap that was introduced to the spring caused the geyser at the base of the spring to erupt. Today the geyser is surrounded by rocks piled at the base of the spring, and once a day the park employees hold a show where they add soap to the spring to induce an eruption of warm, sweet-smelling water.

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The next stop on the tour was some bubbling, steaming mud pools. The mud from these pools are said to have healthy properties, and are used in a variety of cosmetics, creams, and remedies.

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Then we continued on to the main park, which was filled with a variety of bubbling mud pools, steaming hot springs, and deep sinkholes. Upon arrival I was struck by the sight of  hundreds of vents in the ground spewing stinking sulfuric steam. It created an otherworldly (and vaguely hellish) effect that I enjoyed, but I learned to be careful after the first few facefulls of stinking steam induced awful choking and coughing fits.

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The park’s walking tracks took us to a stunning variety of hot pools, some of which were turned vivid colors by the bacteria and elements present in the water.

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Sarah and I really enjoyed visiting Wai-O-Tapu, although we came away with our clothes, hair, and bags stinking of sulfur. The colorful geothermic hot springs, mud pools, and geysers were so different from anything we had seen before, and we ended up having a lot of fun.

The next day we got up early to catch a bus to our last stop of the trip, Auckland!

Until next time,

Rachael

Taupo

Hello everyone,

The next stop on my spring break trip was Taupo, located in the middle of the North Island on the shores of the great Lake Taupo. The nearby hot springs, waterfalls, and the vast waters of the lake attract photographers, nature enthusiasts, and outdoor sports adventurers from all over the island. Sarah and I didn’t have any concrete plans for our time in Taupo, but we were excited to see the lake and to go hiking up to a nearby waterfall.

We got into Taupo in early afternoon and decided to hike up to Huka Falls, which is one of New Zealand’s most visited attractions. The trail started in Spa Park and took around an hour and a half of hiking to reach the falls. The trail was beautiful, meandering under cool forest canopies and winding alongside the shockingly blue Waikato river.

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The falls themselves were breathtaking, full of thunderous turquoise water and surprising ferocity and power.

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By the time we got back from the falls the sun was setting over the river, painting the sky in pale pink and gray.

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The next day Sarah and I took a sailboat trip on the lake. The day started out partly cloudy but cleared and turned sunny as the morning progressed. The lake was a bright blue and ruffled by a light breeze, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough wind for the captain to sail by the breeze so he had to use the motor.

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The sailboat took us around the nearest part of the lake and then stopped at the famous Maori Rock Carving on Mine Bay. Completed in 1980 by master carver Matahi Brightwell and a team of four artists over four years, the carvings tower fourteen meters above the lake’s surface. The main carving is the giant face of Brightwell’s ancestor Ngatoroirangi, covered with patterns and designs representing cultural values and concepts. The rocks around the face are covered with carvings of ancestors and guardians. This site represents an incredible and important piece of cultural heritage and I feel very lucky to have seen it.

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Carvings of spirits and ancestors can be seen on the lighter parts of the rocks above.
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Giant lizards stand as guardians and protectors of Ngatoroirangi.

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The sailboat ride was wonderfully fun and refreshing. It was one of my favorite activities of the entire week, and it was a great way to spend our only full day in Taupo. Sarah and I got back to the town in the afternoon and spent a couple hours walking by the lake before returning to the hostel to eat and go to bed, because we had to get up bright and early to catch a bus out of town.

Next stop, Rotorua!

Until next time,

Rachael

Napier

Hello everyone,

Thank you for your patience while I took a long break from writing. I was hit hard by a double-whammy of sickness (the flu followed immediately by a bad respiratory infection) and then finals. Luckily my finals are over and I am feeling well again so I can start posting!

We left off at my arrival in Napier. Napier is a small town located on the east coast of the North Island in Hawke’s Bay. Napier is super interesting because it is one of the purest Art Deco cities in the world. After much of the city was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake and the resulting fires, everything was rebuilt in the popular architectural styles of the time: Striped Classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco. The commercial city center in particular was one of the hardest hit by the earthquake and so almost every building is Art Deco. It transforms parts of the city into a time capsule where the styles and culture of the 1920s and 30s are almost tangible, a feeling encouraged by the town’s many themed shops, stores, and festivals.

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After checking into our hostel, Sarah and I jumped on the opportunity to explore the city center. We had a lot of fun walking around, admiring the architecture and exploring the themed shops and stores.

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I was alternatively unnerved and amused by the strange feeling of dissonance that came from seeing modern cars and cafes next to the historical architecture, but it faded as I grew used to the style. There were even some old-fashioned cars parked by the sidewalk and driving down the streets, which was very entertaining!

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We spent the afternoon in the city center before heading back to our hostel for some much-needed sleep. We started the next morning by walking on the beach, enjoying the novelty of black sand and the sound of the waves. Gardens, fountains, and even an amphitheater stretched alongside the beach as we neared the city center.

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We also visited a small park, the centennial gardens (complete with waterfall!), and the famous statue of Pania of the Reef.

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Pania of the Reef. An inscription on the statue reads: An old Maori legend tells how Pania, lured by the siren voices of the sea people, swam out to meet them. When she endeavored to return to her lover, she was transformed into the reef which now lies beyond the Napier breakwater. 

 

 

 

 

My favorite part of Napier, other than the amazing Art Deco architecture, was the murals. There were murals everywhere in Napier: in alleys, alongside walkways, and looming over parking lots. They were all beautifully painted and many depicted the ocean or had environmental conservation messages.

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A caption reads: Conservation is the preservation of Human life on earth.” Rob Stewart 1979 – 2017

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This mural captioned: Dedicated to all Fjordland crested penguins & all of New Zealand’s 17 penguin species. Long may you live.

I had so much fun exploring Napier. The gorgeous beach, inspirational murals, and incredible Art Deco architecture and the 1930s theme cemented Napier as my favorite place we visited on our trip. Although we only spent one full day there, we packed it full of fun activities and rejuvenating time in the outdoors.

Next stop, Taupo!

Until next time,

Rachael

On the Road Again

Hello, everyone!

A couple weeks ago was the start of my mid-semester break, when my flatmate Sarah and I went traveling in the North Island. We left Dunedin early Friday morning with our friend Laurel who drove with us up to Picton, where the inter-island ferry left for Wellington. Laurel was driving up to meet her father in Wellington and was nice enough to give us a ride in return for splitting gas and lodging money. Over the course of two days we drove up the east coast of the South Island to Picton, turning inland two-thirds of the way up to avoid some earthquake damage to the road.

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The total driving time was about ten hours and we split it up over two days. We had a lot of fun during the trip, talking and laughing and listening to music in the car, and making some stops along the way whenever we saw signs for waterfalls or lakeside views. A nearby tropical storm was dumping lots of rain on us, but every so often we’d drive through a dry patch where the sun was trying to peek through the clouds. The drive took us through some gorgeous landscapes, jagged mountains and rolling hills and green valleys patch-worked with farms and fields.

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We drove seven hours the first day before stopping at a campground three hours from Picton. We had originally planned to camp with a tent but it was still pouring rain, the ground was soaked, and the tent that Laurel had been loaned had no rain fly. Instead, we moved all our luggage into the two front seats, put the back seats down, and set up our sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon. It was a little cramped with three people but we made it work, and despite the hard floor I actually got some good sleep. The next morning we woke up early and drove through the mountains and up to Picton. The morning was cloudy and rainy, but as we drove the skies cleared and the sun came out.

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We got to Picton an hour and a half before our 2:15 ferry, which gave us some much-needed time to walk around and stretch our legs. The day had turned sunny and beautiful so we took a picnic lunch in a park on the waterfront. The water was bright, bright blue and the bay was filled with boats, including our ferry which was absolutely huge!

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Our ferry is the large ship on the right.

At two we got on the ferry and settled in for the three to four-hour ride to Wellington. The ferry was massive and really nice, feeling more like a cruise ship than the ferries that I’m used to. We sat in the food court at the bow of the ship and took turns going out on the deck and enjoying the fresh air. The view from the ferry was beautiful, a clear sky and warm sun with green hills rising out of startlingly blue water.

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By the time we got to Wellington, dusk was falling. After dropping our stuff in our room, which we shared with ten other people, we went to a nearby grocery store to pick up food for dinner. By the time we cooked dinner in the hostel kitchen, cleaned up, and got our stuff ready for the next day, it was time to go to bed because the next morning we were waking up early to catch a bus to the town of Napier!

Until next time,

Rachael

Island Living: Part Two

Hello everyone!

Sorry for the large delay in posting this. It’s been a pretty crazy couple weeks for me. Right now I’m actually on mid-semester break, traveling in the North Island with my flatmate Sarah. I’ll write about that in the next couple days, I promise! First, my second day in Stewart Island.

Regina, Walker, Sarah, and I ended our first day on Stewart Island by stumbling into bed and passing out. We woke up very early the next morning and walked out to the ferry landing as dawn broke over the bay.

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The ferry ride back to the mainland was cold and choppy, but as the boat skipped across the waves we got to see the sky turn golden behind the clouds with the rising of the sun.

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After reaching the mainland, we all got back in the car and started driving back to Dunedin. Along the way, however, we made two major stops in Invercargill and Slope Point.

Although we had spent the night in Invercargill on the way down, it was full dark by the time we arrived and we had to go straight to sleep so we missed out on enjoying the town. Our hostel manager highly recommended that we walk through Queens Park, so we decided to come back and visit it on our return trip. Queens Park’s 200 acres include multiple gardens and botanical attractions, playgrounds, an aviary, a small animal reserve, and the Art Museum. We took a rambling walk through the park, visiting the rose gardens, aviary, and animal reserve. It was a beautiful walk, and I really enjoyed seeing all the flowers, birds, and animals (including a wallaby)!

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After spending a couple hours in the park, we hit the road again and headed to Slope Point. Slope Point is the true southernmost point of the South Island, as compared to the more easily-accessible and touristy Nugget Point which is sometimes marketed as the southernmost point on the Island. Slope Point was only accessible by small gravel roads winding through farms and cow pastures, which offered sporadic views of the beautiful nearby valleys and lakes.

It took us a while to get there but it was completely worth it. From the parking lot it was an easy 20-minute hike through a cow and sheep pasture to the cliffs, and once we got there the view was absolutely stunning. A tall rusted barrel and a single sign on the cliff were the only sign that this place was a point of interest. Sheer rocky cliffs dropped straight into cloudy blue waters, which pounded against the rocks in huge waves. The only things around were farm animals and a few houses in the distance, and it was silent and calm except for the sounds of the water.

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After walking back to the car, we set off again for Dunedin. We decided to take the scenic route through the beautiful Catlin mountains on the way back, and it was completely worth it. Gently rolling hills of farmland and fields slowly turned to jagged foothills covered in a patchwork of forest and pasture. Farms, small towns, and gleaming rivers dotted our route, interspersed with long stretches where we saw no sign of human habitation. As the hours passed, the sun slowly came out from behind the clouds, picking out the hills and valleys in washes of gold.

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By the time we got back to town on Sunday evening, we were all hungry and tired and ready to be back home. I am so happy that we took the opportunity to visit Stewart Island and all the amazing farmland, views, and stops along the way.  The trip was so fun, full of laughter and excitement and gorgeous views, and really helped the four of us get closer together. It was a great opportunity and will count among my favorite memories in New Zealand.

Until next time,

Rachael