Auckland Wanderings (7/5/09)

Its been almost 4 days since I left New York and yet it feels so much longer. I had a great flight to LAX sitting next to a Lebanese Business man who turned out to be a great seat partner. Layover in LA was full of expensive food and some good phone converstations. Finally, I boarded my 13-hour Air New Zealand Flight direct to Auckland. It. Was. So. Long.

I made it through customs successfully and took a shuttle to my hotel getting there just in time to make it to my harbour-side room for the sunrise. =)

Auckland is an incredible city, the “big” city of New Zealand (1.2 million people). I spent the morning on the waterfront before climbing to the top of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. I hate heights, but I had a blast. The view could only have been better if there was sunny. I was the only one on the walk/tour while everyone else there was bungy jumping, which simply terrifies me. After the bridge climb, I got a coupon for a restaurant on the harbour where I had a server from Galway, Ireland. She’s on a work visa from the University of Galway and was excited to hear that I’ll be travelling there in December. I explored all over the city until it began to rain.

Was it really necessary for NY’s weather to follow me halfway around the world??

I went back to the hotel and watched the sunset. I then had dinner 190 metres above the city in the SkyTower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. The food was INCREDIBLE and came with a paired glass of wine. Full, I headed back to the Hotel for a short night’s sleep, watched the sunrise in the morning, and boarded my train by 7:30.

This train ride has been one of my best decisions so far. The seats were really comfortable and the views were incredible. Food was reasonably priced at the dining car and attached to the front of the train was an outdoor viewing car which was not that popular during the trip thanks to the rain and cold temperatures. I arrived in Wellington at 8:30 Sunday night and after checking in, headed down to the city with my roommates and some other Americans. The first place we went to didn’t accept a NYS driver’s license as an acceptable form of identification, so we had to leave. After we found another place, we hung out for a few hours, getting to know each other. I then had the best night’s sleep I’ve had since Spring Break.

Today, I got a cell phone for my time here, had coffee in a cafe, explored Wellington’s Harbour and visited the Te Papa National Museum. Which reminds me: there is no coffee as we know it hear. What am I going to do?! I’m trying to adjust to the Long Black, but its very heavy so we’ll see. They also don’t put cream in their coffee, only milk, which I’m also adjusting to. Wellington is my kind of city. It’s not too big and not too small with a lot of variety. I could never move this far away from NY forever (don’t worry mom) but know I will enjoy living here for the next five months.

That’s all so far from New Zealand. Orientation tomorrow and enrolment on Wednesday so I’ll update again later this week. I’m glad to be settled in a permanent place and look forward to exploring the area more.

Talk to you all soon,

Liam

Pictures from Auckland: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=281466&id=713885494&l=27d5385327

Pictures from the train and Wellington: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=282624&id=713885494&l=4148bc852f

Here Goes Nothing (written 6/30/2009)

Wow. I can’t believe that after over a year of planning, I am FINALLY about to travel halfway around the world. I knew I wanted to study abroad before I took the SATs in high school. I became even more excited after I heard about Ellen’s adventures in South Africa. And now, I have less than 48 hours left in NY.

For those of you that don’t know, I will be taking off on 2 July at noon from JFK and after two flights and a long layover in L.A., I will arrive in Auckland at 5:25AM on 4 July. Due to the time difference, I end up losing a day! Please don’t do anything exciting on the 3rd. I’ll be spending the day in Auckland, most likely climbing the harbour bridge and visiting the SkyTower, New Zealand’s tallest building. After a night in a hotel, I’ll take a 13-hour scenic train ride to Wellington, where I will settle into my house and get ready for orientation & classes.

I’m not sure of the internet situation in Wellington, but will try my hardest to update this page at least once a week. Pictures will be posted on Facebook and I will put public links to those albums on this page. PLEASE download Skype, as it will be the best way to get in touch with me (AIM works too…)

I love you all and I can’t wait to share stories and pictures over the next 5 months.

Noho ora mai

– Liam

P.S. That’s Maori for Goodbye!

Well here I am, back in upstate NY after a good five months on the other side of the world.

It’s sort of funny that the one thing that every and anybody wants to know right off the bat is “How was it?”… Taking that question into consideration on the spot, about half a million experiences, faces, lessons, landscapes: memories… everything that I gained while in New Zealand runs through my head, and with a deep breath the only thing that I can respond with is something along the lines of, “Great!” With a smile.

Even stepping back and taking the time to write about what I’ve taken out of New Zealand is very difficult, and I’ve got to say that I’m rather pleased that I kept a journal with me while over there! Study abroad, I imagine, opens up different opportunities for each individual who goes, and likewise each person takes out what they learn for themselves, depending on where they are at that time in their life, and can reflect on it in their own way…

However, something that I’m sure holds some similarities for most travellers is the leaving and returning… I had a very difficult goodbye to say to New Zealand: friends and home. But when considering how meaningful each goodbye and everything that seemed at the time like a loss was, the experience was, at the same time, pretty spectacular to be able to experience… My mom has always said, “It’s better to leave a place before you’re ready than stay too long” afterall, which is so true! I’d rather only have great things that are drawing me back to a place to remember than simply remember wanting to leave. I mean, who would really want that for a memory?

I returned to the US in a state of exhaustion, emotional drain and lack of sleep, but I was welcomed by a friend of mine in the LA airport whose sight cheered me up instantly! I was in my home country again! The first thing that I remember noticing was the sound of what seemed to be an all around exaggerated American accent- everywhere! And then I noticed how slowly the clouds were moving across the sky compared to the constantly fast moving sky of Wellington- the windy city!

Since I returned to the States, I’ve continued to notice a number of other differences between places, caught up on a whole lot of necessary sleep, and I’ve slowly re-acclimated to the hot weather! Though I didn’t return home right away, it’s taken the past 2 1/2 to 3 weeks of being back in the states to feel fully recovered, and I’ve got to tell you, everybody was right! Now that I’m back and settled, I’m antsy as to go on another overseas adventure!

While I can’t tell you everything about New Zealand that I have experienced, I do hope that I’ve been able to do justice to the small, beautiful country down under.

Other than a thanks for reading my blog, I lastly want to tell ANYBODY who is considering study abroad to do it. You will not have an experience and travel opportunity like it any other time!

-Alida

STUDY abroad?

Victoria University

Barely over 3 weeks left here in New Zealand, classes just finished yesterday, and
I’m finally blogging something about Victoria University! To confirm
the curiosity of those of you wondering whether or not I do actually
attend university here, I do! As a matter of fact, I am enrolled in
three courses here (called, “papers”). There are four victoria
University campuses throughout the city of Wellington, two of which I
attend. Though I live a 5 minute walk from Pipitea campus, which is
primarily Law and Commerce, I take classes up hill at Kelburn (the
main Uni campus) and at Te Aro, which I walk 25-30 minutes through
the city to get to.

Each course here is worth slightly more than classes at home as far
as points/credits go, and therefore a minimum of 3 classes will
enroll you as a full time student. However, the classes require a
bit more work, as there are three hours/week of class time per paper
and another extra hour of the week allotted to a mandatory tutorial.

Most classes require students to buy “Notes” which is basically all
of the readings photo copied and binded together in one big book,
cutting down the number of books necessary to be purchased.

One of the classes that I’m enrolled in, and my favorite, is Maori
123, Culture and Society. Funny enough, a vast majority of the class
consists of study abroad students, and a few kiwis (many of them
Maori). In the class, we’ve basically learned the background of the
indigenous culture of this small South Pacific country, and the
di/progression of it throughout the past centuries. It’s been an
incredible way to understand much of the atmosphere of this country,
and a great way to involve myself with some Maori traditions with at
least a little understanding of their background, passions and
beliefs. I would highly recommend a Maori class of some kind to
anybody studying abroad over here in New Zealand!

I’m officially done with Uni on June 16th- my last final exam, and then I have 10 days left to find some more adventures before I join the rest of you back home for summer… What’s everybody up to, anyway?

See you all soon :o)

Wellington…

…Is a beautiful city right on the harbour of Oriental Bay on the southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand. The city skyline can be seen while walking down along the harbour.

from the harbour

…Is Windy!
Wellington is...

and is full of all sort of plants, both indigenous and introduced.

…Is the capitol city of New Zealand. One can stroll right outside of Parliment as they please- night and day! (Amazing, huh?) There are also free tours of the buildings on the hour daily. The far building is known as “The Beehive” here in Wellington. Apparently that end was meant to have mimmicked the other half of Parliment, but they ran out of room! The older half is made up of solid marble blocks taken from various places throughout New Zealand.

They

…Has everything within walking distance. Weekly I walk across the front of Parliment, working my way to the local grocery store, New World.

Grocery Store

…Is the home of the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere, second in the world only to The Todaiji temple in Nara, Japan (Northern Hemisphere).

The law library...

This is the Victoria University Law School on Pipitea Campus (One of 4 Vic campuses throughout Wellington)

...is a giant maze!

…is easy to commute in and out of. There is also a free shuttle from the Railway Station to the Interislander Ferry Terminal for connection between the two islands!

Race transport...

…has artwork everywhere. This includes that all too famous bucket fountain designed in the 70s and still standing in the center of Cuba Mall. It’s uncertain whether the design of the fountain which splashes unaware people as they stroll by the lovely commons was intentional or not… Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan (Better known to many as the Hobbits, Frodo and Merry) Peed in this fountain, which has only increased the fame of this bizarre contraption.

Splash!

…Also has entertainment everywhere! (This includes various musicians, singers, fire eaters, unicyclists, beatboxers… performers of all ages, talents… you name it!) Live entertainment can be found at any time of day or night on Cuba Street.

crazy Cuba...

…has a national museum! Along with the permanent exhibits that take you through the history and progression of New Zealand, the is currently a temporary Lord of the Rings installation.

It's

Unfortuantely, photos are not allowed in this particular exhibition, but I can at least give you a taste of what was inside:

...

This is a 1:12 scale miniature model, and the only one needed for the entire film. “They filmed it dressed up in four different ways, then put the shots together digitally… Corsair Ship: Made by Weta Workshops. Made from timber, urethane, fabric, and paint.”

…The Exhibition is up through August, so, you know… if anybody happens to be in the area :o)
http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/Tepapa/

Wellington!…

…has Civic Square, a big, beautiful open commons right near the harbour.

Civic Square

It’s lined and decorated by various pieces of art as well as a gallery, the Visitor Information center (“i site”) and the city Library. If you get a membership at the city library, there are 3 dollar video rentals for a week!

cheap video rentals

… Is gorges?

Ithaca is...

???

Stafford House

I can remember sitting at my kitchen table back home in Groton, NY staring at what felt like an infinite number of options of where to live here in Wellington, New Zealand. I could flat with other uni students throughout the city, I could live with a family in the Wellington area, which would provide me with food and a place to sleep, but on the other hand I would have to find transportation daily into the city, and I’d be farther from other students. I could take advantage of the flatting provided through Victoria, which upon deciding to do, was presented with even more decisions! Did I want to live right in the city? What campus did I want to live near? What halls seemed to provide the most (electricity, furniture, internet, heat, etc…) and what combination of these was the most appealing? Did I want a meal plan? or to cook for myself? what were the best prices? Yikes! Decisions decisions (not exactly my favorite thing to make!)

I eventually came to the decision to live in the flats provided by Victoria, and Stafford House sounded pretty good to me, so I put it down as my first choice, and got in!

Stafford House......is tall!

Stafford house is on the beginning of The Terrace and not a 4 minute walk from the Parliment buildings. There is a delicious coffee shop right next door, as well as a dairy. The Terrace is parallel to Lambton Quay, one of the busiest streets in Wellington, and it provides about a 20 minute uphill walk to Uni… (You’re lucky if you’re not dripping in sweat by the time you get there- even on cooler days!)

40 The TerraceVic Uni flats

Stafford at eyelevel looks just like the base of any apartment building. There’s a glass awning over the entrance, so many people tend miss the overwhelming feeling of dizzy verticle stripes at the simple tilt of their head, but the modernized zebra-look is what helps Stafford to stand out in Wellington (though, there is one other building in the city painted up like a big zebra).

My view every morning...

This is my view as I leave stafford every day to wander the city of Wellington.

International students from all over!

In the lobby of Stafford House, there is a World Map with pins for everybody to share where they’re from. There are students from everywhere here- Aside from Americans and Kiwis, there are a number of Aussies, Europeans (from Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, Norway, Finland…) Asians, and Pacific Islanders, Indonesians- All in Stafford House! Everybody wants to come to New Zealand! (And I honestly can’t blame them ;o) )

Moving on to my flat!

...dining room?

our kitchenmeercat manor

Stafford house provides each fully furnished flat with a kitchen, a table and chairs, a bathroom, washer/dryer, and a couch. (And three bedrooms…) It is so nice to cook for myself, and be able to decide just what I want to eat. The pictures on the wall just so happen to be from the gorges town of Ithaca, and with one of our chairs that has fallen apart, my flatmates and I were able to rig up a decent television stand!

There are three bedrooms in each flat, all differently shaped and sized. I have only one window, but because our flat is quite high up, I get a decent amount of sunlight through my window.

The rooms each came with a desk, bed, drawers, lamp and a wardrobe. On the wall to the left of my desk I hung a huge poster up backwards so that friends (and I) can draw on my wall! It’s been one way to make my room a bit more cozy and feel lived in (seeing as I didn’t bring anything to hang up with me).
…You’ll notice the Ginger Beer bottles on my desk. Gingerbeer here is sooo good- sweetened with honey! (Genius!) It’s one thing I think I will genuinely miss when I leave in 4 weeks.

Stafford House takes a lot of pride, I think, in housing so many international students, and to express their appreciation for living with them, Marie and Stewart (The wonderful owners of Stafford), took everybody leaving the building out to dinner just last night. It was such a brilliant way for everybody to interact, and for us to hang out with Marie and Stewart beyond the walls of our building a little.

The food, too, was wonderful! And the proportions HUGE.

Emma, me, Erin

Stafford has been an excellent place to live. I feel so situated in this area of the city. The grocery store is close, the Botanical Gardens a 10 minute walk up behind my building, and I know my walk to Uni by heart: the businesses, coffee shops, crosswalks, the tall buildings that reflect the rest of the cityline, and the shortcut through the woods that I take every chance that I get. Marie and Stewart are great, I have had so much fun cooking for myself, and both my flatmates and building…mates have turned out to be wonderful! Stafford has become my home and my family for my stay here- so far away from my home and family in the States…

…And though I can’t wait to return to them, I’ve got to say- it’s going to be difficult to say goodbye here. :o)

A drizzly, reflective evening…

The past two weeks have been busy with sunny weather, rainy weather, finishing up big trimester projects and organizing what time I have left way down here. As I had mentioned in a previous blog, I spent my mid trimester break back packing and hiking around the South Island. Despite the rain, I experienced some magnificent views and met some pretty awesome people who I’m sure that I will never forget. While much happened on that trip however, I’d like to reflect a little bit more on my return to Wellington.

Before I hopped on the Ferry and headed to the South Island, I couldn’t wait to get out of Wellington- this city that I had spent the past couple of months living in- I couldn’t wait to check out the wonders of the South and jump into the adventures that it held in store (positive that they would be more brilliant than I could imagine). Ironically, my return to Wellington very well may havebeen the best part ofthe trip! As I was walking down Lambton Quay (pronouced “key”), the biggest shopping street in Wellington, on the way back to my flat, I suddenly realized that it felt different to be there. It was the first time that I no longer felt like I was visiting Wellington, but rather understood that I was returning to it. It was a home base. I entered my building only to be welcomed by hugs from friends I had never hugged before, and exchange some pretty amazing smiles. Throughout the next week or so jumbled full of catching up with friends over coffee, taking walks to my favorite parts of the city, getting to know people better, and decorating the walls of our flat (finally!), I gradually felt more and more like I belong here. That I live here. And so, as it goes, Wellington has become mine. Wellington is a home to me!

I’d like to share a little bit more of the life around Wellington, but due to the raininess that winter brings here on the bay, I’ll have to wait a little while to get some more decent pictures…

In the meantime, I hope that everything back home is going well and that finals are wrapping up brilliantly!

The Tongariro Crossing

10 Hours of astonishing sights, temperatures, and burning muscles…

The Tongariro Crossing is known as “New Zealand’s Finest One Day Tramp” (tramping = hiking here). As the summer winds down and weather becomes more unpredictable, they allow fewer and fewer trampers up the crossing, as conditions can go from sleet and hail one moment to sun, rain or snow the next… and the wind is always pretty intense, so some of my friends and I really lucked out in making just about the last beautiful weekend up to the National Park!

Though the track started up above the clouds, it was a flat start up to the volcanos. Our first real challenge was getting up Devil’s Stair Case. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but there are tons and tons of people tramping up the left side of the terrain in the foreground.

Once we made it to the top we took a nice break to recover our legs and keep them from collapsing from the constant uphill tramping… we hadn’t a clue of what was to come…

Mount Ngauruhoe, better known to many as Lord of the Ring’s Mount Doom, was a 1500k straight up climb along loose lava rock. But we did it! We climbed for a solid hour and a half straight up to the top, taking a lunch break at that greater jumble of big rocks just past half way.

The climb up was pretty tough, but it wasn’t hte steepness that was the most challenging, it was having to keep from sliding down with the rocks beneath your feet!

One thing that kept the climb exciting was the spontaneous shout of warning: “Rock!!” from above as a large rock might have escaped its stationary place on the ground, and tumbled down the mountain at high speeds. Yikes!

But all of the climbing made for some pretty fantastic views at every point we stopped at… This picture was where we ate lunch, about half way up Mount Ngauruhoe.

This was what our way up looked like…

…And this our way down. The way down was basically a balancing act going through roller blading type motions… constantly picking up each foot so as not to stop too quickly, and just basically sliding down, hoping that if you fall, you fall backwards rather than forwards! It took us maybe 30 minutes to make the trip down Mount Doom. Though Frodo’s trip might have been more exciting, I think that ours at least provided some pretty sweet as thrills!

From the top of Mount Ngauruhoe! (Shaun looks like he’s about to jump in…)

From the top, we could see people walking around the outside of the ridge on the other side. Because of the high winds and our lack of time, we decided to just watch in awe the size of the people scampering across the volcanic ridge across from us.

…and check out the preview of more tramping that lies ahead of us… we walked along the bluer lake in the back ground eventually.

…And the descent begins.

Although much of the Tramp lacked any kind of foliage- or even anything other than volcanic rock, there were some absolutely brilliant colors and rock formations along the way.

The Emerald lakes along the Crossing are another of nature’s wonders, sacred to the Maori. Despite their state of being Tapu (Sacred), one wouldn’t want to go swimming in them because of the level of acidity in the water (which makes them green…)

This was looking back at one point toward the end of the 10 hour tramp… (well, with maybe 3 hours to go…) You can see Mount Ngauruhoe in the background, and another up/down saddle that we made our way over.

We continued through some grassy trails and down to a hut, leaving us about two hours to finish and get back to our shuttle.

…More adventures soon to come :o)

Half way…

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this upcoming blog… I promise that when I get a chance I will upload some pictures of the most recent adventures I’ve taken part in (Including a 10 hour hike of the Tongariro Crossing [see previous blog..] plus a 1500 m straight up climb to the top of The Lord Of The Ring’s: Mount Doom).

Hmm… Who will read on now, knowing that this story is not yet being told?

While for many of you at home in the states the end of the semester is in view, we down here in New Zealand have just completed the first half of our trimester and are currently on a two week break from everything Uni. To start off my refreshing break from the dense wall of work that I just broke through, I entered a race in a suburb of Wellington called Upper Hutt. Having to rely on the train to get there, and knowing that I’d have no particular place to keep anything, I shoved some cash into my running shorts, tied my shoes, threw on an extra long sleeve shirt and made my way to the railway station. When I arrived in Upper Hutt 45 minutes later, I made my way to the race beneath the somewhat forboding looking sky.

There was a 21k (Half marathon) and 10k to choose from, and not having run much more than 6 or so miles in some time, I went with the 10k to be safe- boy what a good decision that was! The race started in a heavy drizzle, and only progressed from there. Not 5 minutes into the all-grass course, lightening struck and thunder followed… apparently that’s the signal for the rain to pick up! Carrying on the pattern, the next strike of lightening turned the huge rain drops into hail! I couldn’t help laughing at times- what an insane race! Luckily by about 5k in the worst of the weather was over, and it continued to digress to a heavy drizzle by the end. Phew!

Worried about being chilled in the very little clothes that I had with me, I changed into my dry top and considered skipping the awards ceremony and instead working my way back down to Wellington. But the sun came out! And it was warm and drying- and I ended up being quite comfortable, talked with some wonderful people in the Wellington area, and ended up staying through the awards. The awards were the basic First place runner for each race, youngest finisher, earliest entry, etc… what wasn’t expected is that there was an award from the male and female from the furthest away! (lucky me!) There were two international individuals in the race- me (from NY) and a man from Great Britain! So I won a nice thermal tshirt, and found myself quite proud to have been at the small road race from so far away :o).

I made my way back to my flat on The Terrace, and had a marvelous night’s sleep. That was 3 days ago. Now, I’ve just finished packing a big frame pack that I’m borrowing from a friend, and am heading to the south island bright and early tomorrow morning for a week and a half long back packing trip! I’ll spend the first couple of days on my own in Picton and Nelson, and then I’m meeting up with two other people who I’m going to be hiking and camping with for the rest of the time… So I’ll leave you in dire anticipation of what stories are next to come, and get a good night’s rest.

Goodnight, Friends!

Just for Kicks…

Some Panoramas!
(Afterall, who doesn’t like to look at pictures??)

I just thought it would be fun to post up some panoramas of New Zealand that I’ve made:

This is (most of) the city of Wellington! The picture is taken from Mt. Victoria- the highest point in Wellington- AND where a good deal of the Hobbit footage was shot (You know that tree they hid beneath when the dark rider came? That’s on Mt. Victoria!

my city!

So, that’s the city that I live in… and THIS is the building that I live in! The closeup is from some place in the center of the second image from the right. That’s Stafford house! (minus the bright green outline)

my building!

Just a bit more proof of the amount of sheep here… on some beautiful hills. This is only a small portion of the amount of sheep that I’ve seen here so far…

sheep everywhere!

Kapiti Coast is one of the big scenic attractions on the north island. On our way up to the Ironman in Taupo that super windy weekend, we stopped along Kapiti coast in a random town for dinner. It was so windy, though that we ended up eating in the car after we took in the view. Unfortunately, this isn’t the best of panoramas… it’s suppose to be straight, not curved- my bad! But you can still get a sense of how beautiful it was along there.

kapiti

And here’s another view (on a different day) of Kapiti Coast! And from higher up… From a different point and on an absolutely clear day, you can see the South Island across the sea!

kapiti coast

This is a manual panorama that I took as Solny wrote in the sand on The Great Odyssey Adventure…

booooy do I ever...

AND this is another Manual one that I took while we were up in Coromandel. I hiked up to the top of this breathtaking lookout- to the left is Tairua Harbor (I think..) and to the right is the Pacific Ocean!

at Coromandel