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

Island Living: Part One

Hello, everyone.

I apologize for the long delay in posting this, and I hope I didn’t worry any of you. The semester is really kicking off and all of our professors are assigning us enough essays, tests, and presentations to keep us busy for weeks on end. But we didn’t let a little thing like schoolwork get in the way of having fun! In fact, this past weekend I went on the longest trip I’ve taken since arriving in the country!

Four of us (me, my flatmates Sarah and Walker, and our friend Regina) rented a car and took a long drive down the coast and across the ferry to Stewart Island. Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third-largest island, 18 miles off the coast of the South Island. A full 85% of the island is pristine national forest, with only one small town called Oban on Halfmoon Bay containing most of the permanent population of around 380 people. The island is known for its incredibly diverse bird populations and it’s one of the best places to see kiwis in the wild!

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The four of us left Dunedin at 6pm Friday evening. Sarah was the only one comfortable enough with New Zealand driving to brave the roads in our rental car, so she was our driver for the entire weekend. We drove straight south from Dunedin, along gently curving highways that gave us lovely views of the rolling hills and vast farmlands of the South Island.

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It took around three hours for us to reach Invercargill, where we stayed overnight at a lovely B&B. The ferry to Stewart Island left the town of Bluff at 9am the next day, and with a recommended half-hour early arrival time on top of the 30 minute drive, we went straight to bed in anticipation of an early morning.

Despite the cold and early morning, we were in bright spirits by the time we dropped our car in long-term parking and arrived at the ferry terminal. The ferry was tiny (a fraction of the size of the huge transport ferries in Seattle) and quite bouncy. It was a breezy hour-long ride to Stewart Island, taking us past rock spits, tiny islands, and fishing ships.

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From front to back: Walker, Regina, me, and Sarah on the ferry

We landed in Halfmoon Bay under cloudy skies, and happily spent a while walking around the beach after dropping our bags off at the hostel. The town of Oban was tiny, with two places to eat, a church, a small supermarket, and houses scattered across the hills and coastline. Despite the town’s size, the bay was filled with fishing boats and canoes owned by visitors, residents, and local businesses.

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After lunch we stopped into the Department of Conservation, where a very nice ranger mapped out a fun three-hour hike for us to go on. The path wandered through a small stretch of forest to the local soccer field, meandered from there along the coast to Golden Bay, and circled around to bring us back into town from the other direction. The forest was incredibly dense and green, with thick trees, hanging vines, and ferns as long as my legs growing everywhere.

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From front to back: Walker, Sarah, Regina, and me on our hike

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Every so often we would hear a bubbling brook or catch a glimpse of water through the trees, and once we got to Golden Bay we were treated with gorgeous views of glittering waters, bobbing boats, and the densely-forested Ulva Island.

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Walker, Regina, Sarah, and me at Golden Bay.

And the birdsThe birdsong was absolutely out of this world. There was chirping and whistling of every tone and tune, noises like people singing, yelling, and shouting, and even some birdsong reminiscent of bike horns, cats hissing, or motorcycles growling! It was amazing and completely indescribable. You can hear some of it here and here. I was even lucky enough to get a couple photos of the birds around us.

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Above is a Tui bird, a common and boisterous bird found all over New Zealand. They look black except for the tuft of white feathers at the neck, but their backs have an iridescent bronze and blue-green sheen. They make a distinctive whirring noise when they fly, and their song is a mix of whistles and tunes interspersed with coughs and wheezes.

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This is a male Bellbird, the most common and familiar honeyeater in New Zealand. They mainly eat small fruit and flower nectar and play an important role in pollinating many native flowers and shrubs. Their song is clear and ringing, coming together into bell-like tones when many bellbirds sing together.

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Above is a Pied Oystercatcher, the most abundant oystercatcher in New Zealand. They’re wading birds native to Australia, found in coastal areas and estuaries, with a loud, shrill peeping call. Their name is a little bit of a misnomer, as they mainly feed on molluscs, worms, and bivalves like mussels.

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Finally, this is the Weka. The top photo was taken by me, and the bottom photo is from Google for reference, since my photo doesn’t show the bird very well. The Weka is an omnivorous flightless bird, often mistaken for a kiwi, that is highly charismatic and often seeks out people to look for food they may be carrying. They’re unfortunately extinct over large swaths of the main islands, but Stewart Island has a pretty stable population.

This was the most exciting bird I spotted, as it took me on quite a hunt before I finally saw it. Sarah and I were hiking along behind Walker and Regina, and we had stopped for some water when we became aware of a loud rustling noise in the undergrowth beside the path. We stood very still and watched closely but could only see the plants rustling and moving where something was touching them. Eventually we crouched down and lifted up some fern leaves, and were finally able to see the Weka! It didn’t care about us at all, poking through the undergrowth just a foot or two away from us. I took a bunch of photos, partially obscured by plant leaves and stems around the bird, and this was the best one I could find. Eventually, though, Sarah and I made too much noise and it ran away. It was an incredibly exciting and humbling experience, to be so close to one of the iconic flightless birds of New Zealand!

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Eventually we came to the end of our hike. We had so much fun walking through old-growth forest surrounded by verdant ferns, aquamarine waters, and flashing birdsong. By the time we got back to our hostel we were sweaty and tired but very happy. We made dinner and took a leisurely walk on the beach in the evening, before hanging out in the hostel lounge playing cards, talking, and laughing together.

Thus ended our first day on Stewart Island! More to come in the next couple days.

Until next time,

Rachael

Tunnel Beach

Hello, everyone!

I hope you all are doing well. I’ve been sick for the last few days, which is why this post is so late, but I only missed a couple hours of class and I’m feeling better now. This week was the second week of classes, and my flatmates and I are still adjusting to the change. It’s been a big shift from having over two months of break, with tons of freedom and the ability to take trips around the Dunedin area whenever we wanted, to being stuck in classrooms all day and having sports and cubs taking up our free time. We’re all making a point to do fun stuff and take lots of day trips on the weekends to tide us over through the week.

Last weekend I went to Tunnel Beach with my flatmates Caty and Zach, and Caty’s friends Sarah and Kyra. It took us a little over an hour to get there, taking two buses (missing our first bus, taking a different line and then having to run to catch our connection) and walking a half-hour from the bus stop to the beach trailhead. This part of Dunedin is very rural, and we passed lots of farms and sheep on the way.

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Once we got to the trailhead, on top of a huge grassy hill, it was a steep twenty-minute walk down to the beach. The path was sheer and slippery, but afforded some amazing views of the ocean, rocky cliffs and islands, and the beach below.

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Once we got down the cliff, we eagerly explored the rocky bridges and cliffs above gorgeous views of turquoise waters, crashing waves, and roiling masses of black seaweed.

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And, of course, we couldn’t go to  Tunnel Beach without visiting the famous structure that gives it its name. In 1870, local politician John Cargill (son of famous Captain William Cargill, who helped found the Otago settlement) carved a tunnel from the cliff-top down to a private sandy cove for his family vacations. Now, it is a great place to go swimming, dip your toes in the water, or sit and read awhile atop one of the huge boulders on the beach.

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Standing on a boulder, Sarah (left; Caty’s friend), Anna (middle; a nice Italian woman we met on the beach) and Caty (right) look out over the water.
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Zach braves the cold waters to dip his feet in the waves.

After exploring for an hour or so we sat at the top of the cliff, looking down into the sandy cove, reading, talking, and eating snacks. The sun was warm on our backs and the refreshing ocean breeze blew into our faces. Seagulls clustered around us, hopping around, biting at each other, and keeping a sharp eye on our food.

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A note on the seagulls: they can be found all over the Dunedin area and look like regular seagulls, except with black and white-tipped tails and bright orange beaks and feet, but they make the strangest sounds. When aggravated they stretch their necks out, point their beaks at the ground, and scream. There’s really no other word for it, a screeching shriek that’s surprisingly loud for such a small animal. It looks hilarious too- every time I see them do it I start laughing. I call them scream gulls, or scree-gulls for short.

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I had so much fun at Tunnel Beach. The day started out cloudy but got sunny in the afternoon, bringing out the vibrant blues and turquoises of the water. I fell in love with the rocky cliffs, smooth boulders, and sandy cove, all so breathtakingly beautiful that these pictures really don’t do it justice. It is in the top five most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and though I was tired, sunburnt, and hungry at the end, I was reluctant to depart. With luck, I’ll be able to go back before I leave New Zealand.

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Until next time,

Rachael

Back to the Daily Grind

Hello everyone!

Monday was the start of semester for the University of Otago, which meant that my schedule suddenly became very busy with classes. Things work a bit different here than in the US, with classes (called papers) split up into multiple components. Each paper has two hours of lecture per week, which can be all in one go or split up over two days, plus either a lab session for practical work or a tutorial session, where only part of the class meets so that the students get more attention from the teacher and so that they can do group projects and activities that can’t happen in a full lecture.

I have four classes: the Archaeology of New Zealand, which has lectures and a two-hour lab, the Anthropology of Religion and the Supernatural, which has lectures and a one-hour tutorial, Archaeozoology, which has lectures and two labs for a total of five lab-hours per week, and Maori Society, which has lectures and a one-hour tutorial. In total, I have eight hours of lecture, two hours of tutorial, and seven hours of lab time per week.

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And so far, I am loving all of my classes! The professors are friendly and knowledgeable, the students are excited and sociable, and the campus is absolutely gorgeous with wide lawns, big stone buildings, and a river running straight through it!

1200px-university_of_otago_clocktower(The picture above is from Google because the Clocktower is covered in scaffolding and under construction right now, and I thought you guys should see a picture of it in all its glory. All the pictures below, however, were taken by me.)

I started off the week with the Anthropology of Religion and the Supernatural. I was a bit worried about this class, since recently I’ve had a spate of anthropology classes that sound interesting but are actually incredibly boring, but within the first hour of lecture I knew that my fears were unfounded. My professor is very passionate about the topic, with a lot of personal research and a good background in it, and has a teaching style that encourages students to do a lot of analysis and deep thinking. We jumped right into the material, talking about what exactly a religion is, why it’s important to study them, and the ways anthropologists in the past conducted their studies. We had a deep discussion on the best ways to study religion as an anthropologist, debating over whether it is better to be very objective and study from a distance, or whether it’s better to study religion from the inside and to approach it as a religious person rather than an impersonal scientist. It was very interesting and really got me thinking.

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My next class was Archaeozoology. Archaeozooogy (sometimes called zoological archaeology or zooarchaeology) is the study of animal remains in the archaeological record. It mostly involves looking at shells, bones, and teeth of animals found at archaeological sites to discover the relationship and interactions between the animals and the humans that lived there. I’m taking this class because I’m very interested in archaeology and because I thought it would nicely complement the Forensic Anthropology class I had previously taken, which studies human remains in both archaeological and forensic contexts. The class lecture was fascinating and the lab session was very fun (interestingly, the Archaeozoology lab was the only lab that I had this week; most of the others were cancelled due to it being the first week of the semester). We spent the lab learning about tools used in the field like scales and calipers, and trying our hand at drawing different shells and bones because we would be required to submit archaeological drawings for our independent research project at the end of the semester.

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My third class was Maori Studies. The Maori people are the indigenous population of New Zealand. They make up a good portion of the New Zealand population, contribute greatly to the culture, and along with students from other Pacific Islands like Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, are a fairly large group on campus. I thought it might be interesting to learn more about Maori culture while I’m here, so I signed up for a class. It’s the biggest class I’m in, filling one of the larger lecture halls, and so far has been quite engaging. Today we learned about some Maori creation myths and what the myths have to say about the ideas, values, and culture of the Maori people.

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Last, but not least, is my New Zealand Archaeology course. This course complements nicely with my Maori studies and Archaeozoology papers, and like the Maori course stems from my desire to learn more about this country. My first lecture was this morning and I really loved it! We started right off by learning about Pacific Island geography, their geographical and biological divisions, and how they came to have the flora, fauna, and resources that we do. We then discussed the people living on these islands and how they came to live there. Did you know that New Zealand is unique, both in its climate and its settlement? First, New Zealand is temperate where all the other islands around it are tropical or subtropical, it is continental and not formed by volcanoes, and the reason it doesn’t have big land animals like Australia does is that it was underwater for a while! Also, New Zealand is unique because the indigenous people traveled here in a matter of weeks, on boats and rafts, instead of in a hundreds of years-long trek across a land bridge like they settled Australia and the Americas. This is exactly the type of thing I find fascinating, and I can’t wait for the lecture tomorrow!

So, that has been my week so far. Classes during the day, and then coming home and eating dinner with my flatmates, and spending the evenings with them or with my textbooks.

One evening, we even went to see a genuine New Zealand rugby match!

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It was the first match of the season, which meant that the streets and bars were full of fans as we walked down to the stadium. We got the cheap seats in the pit, where all the excited college students were and where for some reason everyone stands on the seats, and although it was long and confusing and my feet hurt and our team lost, I still had a lot of fun!

Until next time,

Rachael