A Finnish Invasion (9/16/09)

I interrupt my travels from the South Island to talk about my new found fascination with Jean Sibelius. I just returned home from hearing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra play their first programme of four by Jean Sibelius. On the programme was Finlandia, Violin Concerto in D minor & Symphony No. 5 in E flat Major. Under the baton of Pietari Inkinen & featuring Vesa-Matti Leppänen on Violin (both native Finns), this was truly a tribute to Finnish music. The hall in which they performed was absolutely gorgeous, and reminded me of the Kimmell Center, home of the Philadelphia Symphony. Finlandia is one of my favorite pieces of music and it was amazing to finally hear it live. I have never heard either of the other pieces, but after tonight, I might be heading back to hear more this weekend.

The Violin Concerto is incredible and has been compared to those by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. The beginning has an awesome contrast between the soloist and the orchestra. Leppänen was amazing. The Fifth Symphony is shorter than the fifth symphonies I’m used to (namely Beethoven & Mahler), but has a fantastic ending. The conductor was inspiring as was the energy emitting from the players. I’ve found a new love for Sibelius and will definitely be getting the CD of his entire symphonic cycle from the NZSO when they release it in the coming months.

More from the South Island soon!

Cheers,

Liam

Follow Symbol! (9/14/09)

Welcome back everyone. I left off with our arrival in Dunedin, a Scottish town on the southeastern coast of the South Island.

Lauren and I got up early on Monday, made scrambled eggs and drove to the city centre to do a tour of New Zealand’s Cadbury chocolate factory! This $17 tour brings you into the heart of the factory’s operations, giving you a bit of history of the company, the process of making chocolate and the specifics of come of Cadbury’s products. So after donning our hairnets and receiving a “trick-or-treat” bag, Lauren and I followed our tour guide throughout the factory. At times, he would ask bits of random trivia, either from earlier in the tour or life in general, with the reward of more chocolate. By the end of the tour, Lauren and I had bags bursting with Dairy Milk, Dream, Pinky, Whip, Curly Wurly and Perky Nana. However, we were not nearly as lucky as the children on our tour. Even though their tour cost a mere $8, they were rewarded with full size bars of Flake and Whip as well as plenty of other confectionaries. Lauren did manage to trade for a bag of candy covered dark chocolate, but this five year old from California did not give it up easily. Lauren and I perused the gift shop for a bit after the tour; I was looking for a HUGE Cadbury egg to send to Heather, but no such luck, as they don’t sell till Easter.

Lauren and I then headed back to the hostel to pick up Maggie and head over to the botanical gardens. There, we pretended we were children again, feeding the ducks with free food available from the visitor’s centre. This is also where we met Abi. Abi is a girl from Chicago with a stereotypical American attitude. She recognised our accents and wanted to know all about our trip that we had planned. After we discussed our plans with her, she criticised them and gave us a completely different route. Her attitude explained to me why so many foreigners dislike Americans. Needless to say, every time we did something amazing on our planned route, we all commented on how much we hated Abi. Also in the gardens was a pretty awesome aviary housing mostly Australian and New Zealand birds, but also some more exotic species. There was one cockatoo who made the most god awful noise before it began talking, saying “Hello!” (in the voice of Mrs. Doubtfire) and “Want a cup of tea?” (in the voice of an Orc). After a little bit of sightseeing in central Dunedin, we made ourselves some dinner before heading out to Speights Brewery.

For another $17, the three of us took a pretty awesome tour through one of the historic breweries of New Zealand and home to one of my favourite beers here. Like the Cadbury tour, we heard history about the brewery itself and about the process of making beer. Finally, we headed downstairs to the Speights Tasting Room, where we were able to sample six of their brews. After we all toasted each other to a glass of Speights Gold Medal Ale, our guide released the taps to us and for the next 45 minutes, we were able to sample as much as we liked. Speights Summit, a lager made from all natural ingredients, soon became my favourite. The girls and I met some pretty awesome guys from Britain at the tasting and surprisingly met them later at a pub we stumbled across that was playing the Yankees – Red Sox Game! It was a good night all around, definitely encouraging me to return to Dunedin in the future.

The next morning, we headed south, choosing to take the Southern Scenic Route rather than the main highway. However, a wrong turn took us out to the Otago Peninsula. This was a wrong turn that none of minded, and allowed us to get some pretty sweet pictures of Dunedin and the bay before actually heading south, being reminded by New Zealand road signs to “follow symbol.” After reaching Balclutha, we got a map of the route, and began planning our stops. First on the list: Nugget Point.

Nugget Point, Catlins Coast, South Island, New Zealand

If you ask me, Nugget Point is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It’s a chain of large rocks that sticks out into the ocean. But words cannot describe the beauty. It was just so serene and wonderful to sit and bask in the splendour of Aotearoa. We enjoyed some peanut butter and jam before following symbol once more.

Our next stop was a glorious beach on Surat Bay, which I will remember forever. The sand was rippled by the waves that had run over it during high tide hours ago. The sun was shining and the water was a beautiful blue-green. I could not have asked for more, except maybe a nice tall glass of lemonade. This beach also enabled me to see one of New Zealand’s endemic species, the New Zealand sea lion. Gabe, we named him. He was doing what most sea lions do best: sleeping. At this point in the day, we just wanted the daylight to never end.

Surat Bay, Catlins Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Our next stop was the Purakaunui Falls. These falls are about a ten minute walk from the road. Unbeknownst to us, as we were walking towards them, we were actually looking at them. You can see by the photos that the view is only appropriate from the front. From above, these falls are not very remarkable, but from straight on? Wow.

Purakaunui Falls, Catlins Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Following these falls, we headed towards Niagara Falls. That’s right, New Zealand’s own version. On the map we were using, these falls were simply described as such: J. This turned out to be a bit of a joke. Apparently the man who lives on this land visited the real Niagara Falls and thought the mini waterfall on his property looked something like them. I still don’t know if this is true, since the stream was swollen when we arrived and the “waterfall” was mostly submerged.

Niagara Falls, Catlins Coast, South Island, New Zealand

With the light growing dim, we decided to find accommodation. This is similar to trying to find somewhere to stay in the mountains of Montana. In short, our options were limited, and the fact that it was winter meant that the roads and “towns” were ghosts of their summer selves. Luckily, we found Dolphin Lodge and inside discovered we had really lost civilization. Their water supply came from rainwater, there was no internet or phone, and heating came from coal. The ocean views made up for it, especially since it cost only$23.

In the AM, we continued following symbol. We stopped first at Curio Bay, where there is a petrified forest. Here, we began to notice the roaring wind that would haunt us later that day. From the petrified forest, we drove to Slope Point. This is the southernmost point on the South Island and probably the closest to Antarctica I’ll ever be. From the road, it’s about a ten minute walk across some guy’s sheep field to the cliff. However, with the wind probably gusting at about fifty miles an hour at that point, we were struggling to walk straight. By the time we reached the cliff, I honestly think that if we had jumped in the air, the wind would have blown us into the water.I had removed my glasses for the walk, but Lauren’s were almost blown into the water by these howling winds. Maggie was luckily able to save them, minus a scratch. We all posed (painfully) for a picture with the signpost and then fought the wind back to our car.

Slope Point, Southernmost Point of the South Island, Catlins Coast, South Island, New Zealand

About a five minute drive from there, we saw a sign for coffee. Windblown, we all were in the mood for some hot chocolate (or, as I apparently say it, hawt chawclate). We discovered that the store was closed for the season, but the owner, a Welsh woman, was more than willing to make us hot chocolate in the lounge of her hostel. Definitely one of the most interesting places that I’ve purchased hot chocolate, and definitely what we all needed at that time.

From there, we drove straight through to Invercargill. Anytime we told any kiwi that we were going here, they immediately asked why. Invercargill is apparently somewhat of a joke to anyone who doesn’t live there. A former port town on the south coast, it has since become less important to New Zealand’s economy than it once was. And without a university or anything to lift it up, it has fallen upon hard times. However, it is not nearly as bad as anyone said it would be. But then again, we were only there for about an hour. Our next stop was Bluff, which is a 20 minute drive south of Invercargill and the starting point of Highway 1, which runs all the way up to Picton, crosses to Wellington and then travels all the way up to Northland. They had a pretty epic signpost here, which pointed out how far away major cities in New Zealand, Australia and the world. From here, I was 15,000 kilometres away from home. (If you click on the picture, it will show a larger version).

Bluff, Southland, South Island, New Zealand

We had an incredible lunch at the Drunken Sailor Cafe, where I sampled some of Bluff’s famous oysters alongside a piece of fish with a side of chunks. “Chunks” are basically roughly chopped potatoes that are then deep fried. They’re actually really good, just with an unappetizing name. After this delicious lunch that was complimented by full length windows of a gorgeous view, we headed north towards Te Anau, still following symbol and making brief stops at Monkey Island and an overlook that combined the coastal scenery with the most southern of the Southern Alps. Finally, we reached Te Anau, gateway to Fjordland National Park. We found a hostel and booked our beds (our first time having to share a room). After some dinner and great conversation with some Brits and a boy from Christchurch, we headed off to bed.

I’m now realising how long our trip actually was. I’ll try to get some pictures up here in the next couple days, as well as continue to update you on my trip down south.

Kia Ora America,

Liam

And so it begins… (9/13/09)

Hey there everyone. Sorry its taken me so long to start talking about my trip, but here goes!

So on the first Saturday of break, I got up early to finish packing, skyped home to get some addresses, and burned some CD’s. Then Lauren, Maggie and I hopped in a shuttle that took us to the airport. I haven’t done much traveling by air, but this was by far the most lax experience I’ve had in an airport. Electronic check in, self-baggage weighing, walking onto the plan and zero security. Literally we walked into the airport and walked out the back onto the plane. No metal detectors, no x-ray machines, nothing. This was probably because our plane was so small, but still, I’m used to high security just to get into NFA, so for a flight, my expectations are high.

A note here about Air New Zealand. I don’t know if its possible to get better service on a plane. They were amazing on my trans-pacific flight and lived up to the standard on this short domestic flight. On my 50-minute flight, I was given 4 biscuits (remember, that’s a cookie), 3 lollies (kiwi for candy) & 2 cups of coffee, one served as we were starting to descend. Definitely worth the $129 I shelled out for the flight.

Once we landed in Christchurch, girls manned the baggage claim while I called our car rental company to arrange for another shuttle (this one was free!). After tons of paperwork and some discreet flirting by Maggie to ensure our car came with a CD player, we got hooked up with our silver Toyota Platz (complete with CD player and digital speedometer). After stocking up on some necessities at Pak’n’Save (New Zealand’s Sam’s Club), we hit the road heading south. We saw an amazing sunset during the 3 hour drive to Oamaru, a small town in between the cities of Christchurch and Dunedin.

We had made a booking at a hostel called Chillawhile, which was a backpackers combined with an art gallary. It also came with free breakfast and free internet. A rare gem in New Zealand. After some delicious dinner (PB&J), I started to write some postcards and the girls tried to head to bed. One of the other people staying here was from Chicago but had been living in New Zealand working at a vineyard. We had an amazing conversation about wine, and I got a lot of awesome tips for wine here in New Zealand and back home. At this point (about midnight), Maggie was having a lot of trouble sleeping because of severe pain in her ear. With hopes that it was nothing serious, we headed out to the Oamaru hospital. A very confident nurse and a very sleepy, agreeable doctor decided it was just pressure in the ear. We returned to the hostel, Maggie tried to depressurize her ear and we got to sleep.

Another side note here. I have begun to notice that in every hostel in New Zealand, there’s at least one cat that also calls it home. However, Chillawhile did not come with a cat. Instead, it came with a ridiculously cute 2 year old. For the first hour we were there I don’t know what language she was speaking, but finally she started speaking English and showed me the animal center…which was completely in her imagination. While cute at night, I would have preferred silence in the morning. But we ate breakfast with her, got her to impersonate the Charlie Bit Me YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBlgSz8sSM) and packed the car.

After a delicious lunch of cheese, bread & pepperoni on the beach, we took a short walk around the coast. Lauren nearly stepped on a seal, which allowed us to get closer to a seal than we probably ever will again. The coast here was as beautiful as every other New Zealand coast that I have seen. I hopped out to a rock in the surf, but after about 20 minutes, realised that the tide was coming in and I was about to float away. Whoops. I managed to escape without getting too wet, and we headed back to our car.

Next, we drove down the coast about an hour south to Moeraki, a small town famous for little else than dinosaur eggs. Well, not actual dinosaur eggs, just some pretty awesome naturally made boulders. These rocks formed thousands of years ago underneath the earth and erosion has caused them to be pushed out from the hill side and to roll down into the ocean. After a bunch of photos with these pretty sweet rocks, we headed to the village for a cup of coffee. This was probably the most scenic place that I’ve ever had coffee…and warm melty chocolate cake. Delicious.

Then it was back into the car for the remainder of our drive to Dunedin. Like every drive in New Zealand, it was absolutely fantastic and scenic to the max. We found a hostel to stay in, made a delicious dinner of pasta and headed to bed.

That’s my first two days in the south island. These updates may end up being lengthier than I intended…

Cheers,

Liam

Reality Check (9/7/09)

Sorry I have been neglecting this blog so much. My trip around the South Island was incredible in so many different ways. I was so happy to see so much of this country, and yet, I feel as if I only saw a tiny bit. Now I’m back at school and struggling to get back in the “academic mindset.”

I think the best part about coming back to Wellington was that it felt like coming home. In a time of the year where everyone in Delaware is getting back, its nice to feel like Wellington is home for me. It’s a bizarre feeling being here now. I’m so happy to be here in New Zealand and yet wish I could be in Delaware. I would definitely not rather be in Newark than in Wellington. I think that I would really like to be able to pause time in Delaware until I get back. Facebook and email lists make this feeling really bizarre, because they allow me to experience what is going on at home while being not being there.

I’ll try to get some photos and thoughts up here from the two week road trip by the end of the week.

Until then,

Liam

Southern Beach, Catlins Coast, Southland, South Island, New Zealand

Go the Naki! (8/17/09)

As of tomorrow, I am halfway done with classes at Vic. And band camp hasn’t even started at Delaware yet. Bizarre.

I had another amazing, albeit rainy, weekend in the Taranaki region, on the west coast of the North Island. The main town is New Plymouth but the main attraction is DEFINITELY Mt. Taranaki, an active volcano which peaks at 2518 metres above sea level. During the heart of winter, it is extremely difficult to reach the peak, especially with the lack of gear that I have with me in NZ. Although it was quite misty for most of the time we were there, the peak did emerge from the mist on Sunday for about 15 minutes, allowing me to snap a few pictures.

Mt. Taranaki, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

We attempted to do some short walks around the mountain on Saturday, but heavy rain and even some snow kept us at bay. Instead we checked out Puke Ariki, a museum in New Plymouth that has exhibits about the history of Mt. Taranaki, Maori culture and New Zealand ecology. It was fun to explore for the afternoon. That evening, we headed to TSB Bank field for my first rugby match! Taranaki was playing Hawkes Bay, so it was a battle between the two places I’ve visited on the North Island! I had no idea what was going on, but it was really fun regardless. I think my favorite part was when a couple from India sitting in front of us turned around and asked us who was the better team. Our response was that we didn’t even know which team was which. However, if was a great experience and only cost $5 thanks to my uni ID.

Taranaki vs. Hawkes Bay, 2009 Air New Zealand Cup, New Plymouth, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

Saturday night we headed to a local pub where the team was celebrating their draw (better than a loss, and MAN what a comeback). On Sunday morning, we got an earlier start and headed around the coast, which was a beautiful drive. This was when Mt. Taranaki chose to appear through the clouds. We continued driving until we reached the guiding stone.

The Guiding Stone, New Plymouth, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

The story of the guiding stone is a Maori legend about two great mountains. As legend has it, Mt. Taranaki and Mt. Tongariro were fighting over Mt. Pihanga, the only female volcano. As the two volcanos fought, they spit fire and ash between the two. In the end, Tongariro was victorious and made Taranaki leave. Here’s map to help you better understand:

NZ-Tongariro

Taranaki used the guiding stone to find his way to his current home on the West Coast. There are still some who will not drive their car between the two because they are afraid that the mountains will begin fighting again and spit fire across the North Island.

After the guiding stone, we travelled up the mountain to see Dawson Falls. But first we got slowed down by a herd of cattle walking down the road.

Bovine Crossing, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

Once we got to the trailhead, it was only about a 5 minute walk to get to the falls. However, it was pouring rain. Pouring. However, it was well worth it. The falls were freezing, since most of the water comes from melting snow and the water was making an incredible amount of wind when it hit the pool at the bottom.

Dawson Falls, Mt. Taranaki, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

I’m so glad I got to travel to yet another absolutely beautiful part of this country. Stay posted in the next couple days for my travel plans for the mid-semester break.

Kia Ora,

Liam

Fern, Mt. Taranaki, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand

Life as a Kiwi (8/12/09)

Sunset, Kelburn, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand

It’s been over a month since I departed from New York, but it feels like so much longer. After five weeks here, there are some things that I have become used to and some that I still find strange to adjust to. Something that I was a little concerned about prior to arriving was my living situation. It reminded me of freshman year, in that I would be living with people whom had never met, but in the environment of a house. However, after just over a month of living with Elizabeth, Kevin & Natalie, I can only hope that HKLZ house is as fun as ours here.

Elizabeth reminds me incredibly of Kathleen, with little bits of Heather & Danna mixed in. We both love to eat and I love to cook, so that works out wonderfully. We drink gross amounts of juice each week, but luckily found NZ’s version of Kool-Aid, Raro, in order to save money. Elizabeth adds cheese to EVERYTHING that we eat, and I’ve started to do the same. The cheapest cheese here is Edam, which is a Dutch style cheese. It’s surprisingly good with everything, even Chinese food. A favorite pastime of Elizabeth and I is sitting in the lounge and Skyping from across the room as the flat watches TV. Even though we’ve only known each other for a few short weeks, we already have inside jokes that can make both of us burst out laughing in an instant.

Kevin, aka DJ Whatevskies, has one of the most extensive iTunes libraries I’ve seen and is our regular DJ on Friday nights. He’s also an incredible photographer and I’m really happy I was able to steal some of his work before he added a digital watermark. Kevin is our resident “old man” since he has begun drinking scotch (Drambuie) and can’t wait to find a pipe to smoke.

Natalie has been missing a bit in my life, but when she’s here, she always makes me smile. To describe her, I’d say she’s half Heather and half Danna. We have very similar senses of humor, leading to plenty of laughs at any time of day. Natalie has gotten almost hooked on Shortland Street, the only New Zealand soap opera. I’m not the kind of person to sit down and watch soap operas, but this one is growing on me. We’ll see. Natalie makes amazing eggless cakes, even though she doesn’t think so. Thankfully, we both have similar political views, which makes our discussions of Parliamentary much more interesting (and less heated haha). I’m ridiculously excited to visit Natalie in Blenheim, the heart of New Zealand wine country, to visit vineyards with her and her family.

Other than my living situation, Aotearoa has some cultural differences that I’ve really come to love and others that I’m still working on understanding.

New Zealand has a tradition known as the “sausage sizzle” which basically means a grilled sausage served with grilled onions on bread spread with butter and topped with tomato sauce. (Side note here…tomato sauce is NZ refers closest to ketchup…its a little less sweet and I definitely prefer it to Heinz). Sausage sizzles are absolutely amazing and are available often in the quad for free or one dollar. Healthy? No. Delicious? Yes.

I mentioned both Tim Tams and pies in my last post, so I’ll take some time now to explain them. A Tim Tam is a wonderful cookie that is extremely popular here in New Zealand. The best way to describe it is an Oreo wearing a chocolate blanket. There’s also the notorious Tim Tam Slam, which involves biting off both ends of the cookie and using it as a straw for a full glass of milk. Delicious.

Referring to a pie here means a meat pie, that is eaten as part of a meal. They come in a huge variety of flavours. My personal favourite at the moment would probably be steak and cheese. Last week I made my first traditional Kiwi dinner; Peas, Pie & Pud. I grabbed a picture of it for this blog. It was a really good and I’m sure I’ll repeat it before I leave.

Peas, Pie and Pud

As for other culinary endeavors, cooking on my own is amazing and I really am learning to cook on a budget. I don’t think I’ll have to buy meat again until October since I recently visited NZ’s version of Sam’s Club, Pak’n’Save and stocked up on chicken, steak and shrimp. Fish and chips is huge here and I’m going to have to get that again soon, because the first time I was really happy with it.

Some things I’m still getting used to here include:

* figuring out which way to look for oncoming traffic when you’re crossing the street
* the spelling of certain words. I really don’t want to lose points on a handwritten assignment because I spelled centre wrong
* the way Kiwis text. its rly hrd t0 rd a txt whn its ritn lke this
* The accent. I love it. But sometimes I have NO idea what’s going on. For instance, when Natalie says beer, it sounds like beeah and when she says bear, it sounds like beeyah. Very subtle difference. So when she told me she was going to dress up as a cute, cuddly beeyah for a Canadian themed party, I was trying to imagine how a Molson could look cuddly.
* In the choir I joined, the way that they talk about crotchets. Yes, I know a crotchet is a quarter note, but when they keep saying it, I can’t help to giggle.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a list of some Kiwi slang that I’m picking up, so you all understand me when I get back =)

* Kia Ora – Maori for hello, goodbye, how are you and basically any other kind of greeting or farewell. Similar to Ciao or Shalom
* Sweet as – Really sweet. haha by adding “as” to an adjective, you are saying its really —-
* Biscuits – as in the UK, this means cookies, but only crunchy ones. Chewy cookies are cookies. And in case anyone was wondering, explaining what an American biscuit is to someone who has no idea is so difficult, but I think Natalie got the idea eventually.
* Jandals – flip flops
* Oz – Australia, with whom New Zealand actually has quite the rivalry with.
* The Ditch – the Tasman Sea, which separates Aotearoa from Australia
* Hokey Pokey – Not the dance we all did in Kindergarten, but instead a flavour of ice cream that incorporates bits of toffee-like things. Really tasty.
* Zed – The letter Z. All of their websites end in .co.nz and every time they say a website on TV it gets me.
* Uni – University. They abbrev here a lot.

That’s all for now…I’m heading to New Plymouth this afternoon, so I’ll be blogging on that next week, which is the halfway mark for classes. (what?!) I’ll leave you with a picture I got from Kevin of the three Americans. Natalie was home for the weekend 🙁

6A - USA

Kia Ora,

Liam

Left Side of the Road (8/3/09)

Last week at about 4:00AM Thursday morning, I booked a car online for the weekend. My flat mate Elizabeth and our across-the-street neighbors Emily, Lauren and Aron decided it would be awesome to get out of the city for the weekend, but it wasn’t until late on Thursday that we decided on a destination – Hawkes Bay. After some car rental issues we ironed out on Friday morning (only Lauren is 21) we packed our silver Nissan sedan and I got behind the wheel and got ready to drive on the left side of the road.

So weird.

Once we got out of the city and onto the highway, it was a much less stressful drive. The most difficult part of driving was keeping my eyes on the road because the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We saw the sunset on the Kapiti coastline, which is just north of Wellington and then continued the rest of the drive in darkness. After stopping in Palmerston North for dinner at a Subway (where they do NOT have American cheese and the turkey has no preservatives), Aron took the wheel and drove the remaining two hours north to Hastings, a small city just south of Hawkes Bay. We had “booked” a hostel just before we left Wellington and at about 9:45, we located the Sleeping Giant. Apparently, though, this hostel is not frequented by backpackers. Instead, it is a hub for migrant workers. After we saw one of these workers polishing his gun in the lounge, we decided it would be best to find another place. Luckily, there were a few to choose from and by 11:00 we had settled into our home for the night, opened a bottle of wine and planned our weekend.

Saturday morning we headed towards Napier, a centre of this region. However, when we saw a sign for Cape Kidnappers, our plans changed and we turned off the main highway to see what many guidebooks have referred to as a must see for this region. These coastal cliffs are home to the largest gannet colony in the world. What’s a gannet? I didn’t know either…but here’s a picture:

Gannet

Unfortunately, I didn’t take that picture. The hike out to the gannett colony takes about 5 hours round trip and since it’s the middle of winter, the colony is rather sparsely populated. However, we did get some gorgeous pictures of the scenery.155

We then loaded back into the car and finally arrived in Napier. After exploring the city and finding a new hostel to stay in, we drove out to two vineyards on the outskirts of town. Hawkes Bay is one of the largest wine producing regions and is the oldest in the country. We visited Mission Estate, the oldest vineyard in Aotearoa and Church Road, a sister vineyard that was the first in New Zealand to produce a red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon. We took a tour and dd several tastings at Church Road and then headed over to Mission for more free tastings. I bought a few bottles of white that I hope to bring home without having to pay a customs fee. Mission also had a sweet bottle of Syrah, which typically I don’t even like but would consider shipping a case to the US. With the Hawkes Bay vineyards under my belt, its Malborough next. This is the true heart of New Zealand wine country and luckily where Natalie (my kiwi-mate) lives. Her parents have offered to drive us around the vineyards there and I can’t wait for that. This is a cuvee from Church Road Winery

One litre of wine a day for 60 years.

One litre of wine a day for 60 years.

These large fermenting tank holds enough wine for you to have one litre a day for 60 years. I want one.

Following the tastings, we went grocery shopping and returned to the waterfront lodge, where I made steak, corn, potatoes and a blue cheese sauce for dinner. The best part of this? $6 each.

Sunday morning we headed south again to the small town of Havelock North which is at the foot of Te Mata Peak, a 399 metre tall hill. We tramped to the top and saw spectacular views of all of Hawkes Bay as well as the Mt. Ruapehu, the tallest mountain on the North Island and featured as Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The views were absolutely incredible and the landscape we tramped through was just a beautiful.

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Te Mata Peak, Havelock North, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand

Following the top of the mountain, we headed down to the redwood forest at the base of the mountain. On our way, we found a sweet cave on the side of the hill, where you could see so many shell fossils that showed how this mountain had originally been part of the sea bed. We sat in the cave overlooking a valley, eating steak sandwiches and drinking the Syrah that I had bought the day before. What an incredible day.

Te Mata Peak, Havelock North, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand

Laughter, Te Mata Peak, Havelock North, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand

We followed this amazing mountain with a trip to Ocean Beach to watch the sunset. It was cold, but totally worth it. It really reminded me of spring break in Myrtle this year. A bunch of friends on the beach having a good time.

Ocean Beach, Havelock North, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand

We conserved money that night by eating ramen noodles with eggs for dinner. Add on the cookies (Tim Tams…more about these later), milk & bread and dinner cost us each $2.50. And that’s NZ$.

We had to leave Havelock North early Monday morning to make sure that we were back in time for classes at noon. Leaving at 6:30, we saw the sunrise over the mountains while driving, stopped for pies in Palmerston North (more about pies later too) and arrived safe home in Wellington at 11.

I don’t think that I can pick a favorite part of the weekend, but it was so awesome to get out of the city and explore this country a little bit. It was a completely spontaneous weekend full of good friends, good food, good wine and good times. In two weeks I’ll be heading north again with a bigger group of people and I can’t wait.

This country is slightly smaller than Colorado, and it seems like I’ll never be able to see it all. Which is making me realize how big the world is, and how much of it I’ll probably never see. But I’ve got enough trips planned before I leave the country and then I’ll be adding Australia and Fiji to the list, so I guess I can’t complain too much.

I’ll put up the rest of my pictures this weekend, so stay tuned for them.

Left side of the road, North Island, New Zealand

Kia Ora,

Liam

Rubbish (7/23/09)

After 5 days of near perfect weather, Mother Nature remembered its winter here and sent gale force winds and spitting rain. And so, on little sleep and no coffee (I’m still not sure how I’m able to survive that one…) I walked all the way to the Beehive for my first exploration into New Zealand’s government. I was hoping to sit in the Defence committee’s meeting which turned out to be in a completely different building. The woman described it as “the pink building” which I assumed would be easy to find. Turns out there are three pink buildings in sight of the Beehive. I got it right on the second try and got the necessary sticker that I need to prove to my professor that I attended. Finally found the right meeting room, just as all of the MP’s were leaving. So far, a great start to my day.

Since I was already down in that section of town, I decided to wait until the general session of Parliament started that afternoon. I hunted for a decent place to eat and stumbled across this great little dive down an alley next to Parliament. I had my first Fish & Chips in New Zealand and found out that this place sells its entire left over stock for one dollar each. Daily. So when money starts to run out…

After lunch, I headed back to the Beehive for the Question period that opened the General Session of Parliament, receiving yet another sticker:

Parliamentary Stickers

There was a short opening ceremony involving the Speaker of the House, a huge scepter and a prayer. Then questions began. Oh my god. If there is this much yelling and disorder in the US Congress, its obvious why nothing gets done. I expected some hostility between the government (National Party) and the opposition (Labour Party), but not nearly to the extent that it existed. There is a loose sense of order that only results in complete silence when the Speaker demands it. Quite often, members of the opposite party are mumbling about the “rubbish” that they are hearing. One MP read a newspaper and a book before leaving when the debate got too loud. There were plenty of times when I thought I was in a high school cafeteria, not the Gallery of the New Zealand Parliament. But such is politics.

My experience today in Parliament has left me anxious to see more. I’m definitely excited to head uptown again to see different aspects of the governing structure. However, it has also left me a bit confused since I know next to nothing about New Zealand government and an equal amount about the political history of this country. Google has been my friend this afternoon, helping me to learn a little more about the key players in this game as well as some of the recent history of politics. Hopefully next time, I’ll be a little more clued into some of what the MP’s were shouting about.

Bed now, but more again soon.

– Liam

Earthquakes, Swine Flu, and Harry Potter (7/15/09)

Sunset, Wellington Harbour, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand

This week, an earthquake on the South Island that registered 7.8 on the richter scale and both of my american roommates came down with swine flu.

I, however, successfully survived the first week of class.

My classes are good so far and I think I’m going to enjoy them…with the exception of Pacific History. This was unfortunately not what I was hoping it would be and I have replaced it with World Religions. This class looks to be awesome since it has 6 professors teaching it. Each of these professors (or lecturers as they are called here) is an expert on a major religion so I think that this class will be very interesting and a lot easier than Pacific History looked like it was going to be. Speaking of religion, here’s a sweet church I saw downtown last week.

New Zealand Politics is probably my favorite class so far. The professor is British and our biggest project for the semester is going to be actually going to Parliament to watch the action unfold. This should be pretty interesting…I hope 🙂 Speaking of Parliament, here’s a picture of the Beehive, which is the name of NZ’s Parliament Building.

International Relations is great. The professor is an American from Boston who makes a ton of jokes about the States. This gives the class of mostly Kiwis a good laugh, but since most of them are true (albeit quite liberal), I usually laugh right along with them. Sometimes I think they don’t think actually get the joke…but then I don’t understand half of their slang so I guess its a fair tradeoff. I don’t have a picture of anything related to this…so here’s a picture of Victoria University’s campus!

My education class is not what I expected it to be. Instead of a survey of different educational systems in the South Pacific, this class will focus on how education must be altered when dealing with students from impoverished or minority backgrounds. Definitely a class that will come in handy in the future (that is…if my hands-on experience in Newburgh fails me).

Of course, it’s not just been class here. I saw a whole different side of town last week. The business/government district of Wellington have a much more “big city” feel than the downtown section I’m a little more familiar with. More chic shops and expensive restaurants as well as Mrs. Higgin’s Cookies. Hopefully next time I visit this shop I’ll have my camera. They make huge “American style” cookies. Most other cookies, or biscuits, are crunchy and I had been missing warm, melty cookies. I naturally got chocolate chip and also tried a local favorite, the ANZAC. ANZAC stands for the Australian-New Zealand Army Corp. who fought in Turkey in World War I. These soldiers are remembered by a Memorial Day and by this cookie, which was a popular way to feed the troops since they travelled well. The ANZAC Biscuit is a simple cookie similar to an oatmeal cookie, made with coconut. It was so good. Luckily, Mrs. Higgin’s prices weren’t too bad, since I don’t think I’ll be able to help myself when I make my weekly trips to Parliament.

I also passed by the railway station that I (apparently) came into almost two weeks ago. However, I was picked up right at the outdoor platform, so I never saw the building until a few days ago.
The train station also has a small dry cleaners inside known as Platform 9 3/4. With Harry Potter only a few days away, this really got me excited for the sixth film.

With that, I’ll leave you with a link to more photos and a picture of a sweet bird I saw down at the harbour.

Cheers,

Liam

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=287318&id=713885494&l=577bfa7418

REAL Kiwifruit (7/10/09)

I seriously cannot believe how slow time is going. It feels like so long ago that I was working crazy hours between Washingtonville and Torches and hoping that the sun would finally show its face! Only a week later, I’m still hoping the sun will come out. The weather here is very similar to what we’ve been experiencing in New York. I hope for all your sakes that the sun is shining a little more now than it was before I left. Somehow, the on and off rain is much more bearable when I’m overlooking the Wellington Harbour or watching the mist roll off of Mt. Victoria.

the view from my street

I think I’ve finally worked myself not only onto the correct sleep cycle but the more important eating cycle. Today was probably the first day when I was hungry at the right time of day. Food has been delicious so far. I’ve eaten at some places in town while exploring with the other internationals (although this will stop once classes start, to the great enjoyment of my wallet). Wellington has a huge mix of cuisine options, similar to the city. My two favorites are a Malaysian place that not only has good food, but CHEAP food & a crepe stand that makes both sweet and savory crepes. Shopping at the supermarket yesterday was eye-opening. Partially due to the exchange rate and partially due to getting used to what is cheaper here, I was a little surprised to see some of the prices. Staples like orange juice and yogurt were crazy expensive. However, the biggest bargain came when I found a bag of about 10 kiwifruit for $1.69 (and that’s New Zealand Dollars!). Which reminds me, kiwifruit here is SO much better than in the states. Apparently, we eat kiwifruit mostly from Chile. The kiwifruit here is a much more vibrant green and a little more tart. And that’s the rundown on kiwi food.

Classes start on Monday so I’m getting myself all setup for that. I am taking Introduction to International Relations, New Zealand Politics, Pacific History & Pacific Nations Education. The best part of my schedule is that I only have lecture on Monday & Tuesday. I will have tutorials too, which are like discussion sections in the states. Typically these are on the same day as the lecture so with any luck I’ll keep all classes to the first three days of the week, leaving a 4-day weekend for exploration =).

My Flat!

Flat life is awesome, which makes me even more excited for HKLZ house in the spring (although the rates here are much cheaper…). My kiwimate, Natalie, is from Blenheim, which is on the South Island and basically the center of wine culture in New Zealand. She has already offered to drive us around to all the vineyards during the midsemester break in August. Hopefully then I’ll be able to see more of the south island while using weekend getaways to explore up north. Kevin is from Maryland but goes to school at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Elizabeth is from Ohio and goes to school at Wooster University. Our flat is awesome and I know we’re going to have a great trimester together. The best part about the housing is that we are surrounded by other international students from all over the world. I have met people from Italy, Germany, Denmark, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Great Britain and of course, the States. There are also Kiwis that live here, but most of them aren’t here yet.

Victoria University is home to the New Zealand School of Music so I am hoping to get involved with something here since I won’t have music classes, UDMB, MelUDees or Phi Mu Alpha to keep me busy over the next semester. Luckily, I have scored an audition with the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Symphony who directs Varsity Voices. It only meets once a week so it won’t overwhelm my schedule, but still allow me to take advantage of performing.

Sorry for such a long one, but there’s so much that’s been happening. Email me your address for a postcard OR send me a letter =)

6A Landcross Street
Kelburn, Wellington, New Zealand 6201

More soon…

– Liam