A bit of New Zealand tradition, both “then” and “now”

I think that I might begin this blog with a couple more cultural aspects of New Zealand. Starting with: The Maori. I’m currently enrolled in a course called Maori Society and Culture, which after only 3 full lectures I have found to be incredibly interesting. The second day of class, we all went to the marae (pronounced: Muh-rye) on campus to go through a Maori (pronounced somewhat like “mow (like “now”) ree”) welcoming ceremony.

our campus marae

The Marae is the area outside of the meeting house. It is a sacred area in which all sorts of community events take place including various ceremonies, weddings, parties, etc… It is also the area in which the welcoming ceremony takes place. This is (now) a very theatrical routine, though in old times, the maori tribes would go the same routine to check if the unknown intruder comes in peace or in aggression. As we walk up the lawn to the Marae, our representative (our female Maori professor) trades a number of calls back and forth with another woman representing the Marae. We then were invited to sit down- women in the back, males in front, and they continued. An older man go up and recited a number of words all spoken in Maori, followed by a younger man carrying a stick. He (I believe) Represented the young warrier sent out to see if the visiters come in peace or harm. If he didn’t return, the tribe would know that it was not an amicable visit. After his many lines, the visiters are all officially welcome, and go around to everybody in the tribe to partake in the Maori Greeting: The Hongi, which is the pressing of noses. Then we could take off our shoes and enter the house. The other bonus part to this is that, when invited into the house, one typically doesn’t leave until they share food :o).
The House itself represents Father sky and Mother Earth together, and there are a number of other panellings streaming down the ceiling representing other various gods decended from those two, who then turn down the wall to the various mortal maori tribes. Just about the entire building is carved (like you can see from the outside of the house as well, and it is absolutely beautiful!

close up of the carvings

That’s the best I can do right now with the Maori welcoming ceremony- I can assure you that many more interesting bits of information will come! At the end of the semester, we are required to either do a night stay in the Marae and wake up for class the next morning, or write a paper (if at ALL costs the night stay cannot be done). How exciting!

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Just today I went down to the Warf to check out Dragon Boat racing.

dragon boat race start

For a decent description of the dragon boat racing history, check out Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Boat

I personally had never heard of, let alone experienced dragon boat racing before, but the entire city celebrated this weekend long event (it continues through tomorrow) of Dragonboating as a festival!

dragon boat race start

The boats are very long and narrow and hold a co-ed team of 20 paddlers, a caller (in the front) and a steerer (in the back). Walking through the many many tents set up with teams who came from all over to compete in this two day long festival, we could see teams resting up and preparing for their race.

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Why not skip around in time? So, while just today I checked out the traditional dragon boat racing, just last weekend my friends Aurora, Solny and I took road trip number two in a Mazda with a sweet little driving reminder on the dash board:
a friendly reminder
We can’t remember the model, but it ended up aquring the name Xena, and Xena took us on the Irondrive: Up to Taupo (oh how we love it there!) to check out the anual Ironman New Zealand! : “The World’s Best Race, In the World’s Most Beautiful Place”
Ironman NZ
What was especially cool is that I knew of somebody from NY competing int he competition, and we were able to meet up with him and watch his race. What was especially unfortunate is that Taupo had their worst Ironman weather in history. Absolutely tremendous winds which resulted in the cancellation of the swim as well as half of both the bike and swim. While it was only 1/3 of the exertion the athletes had planned on performing, it seemed apparent that the weather made up for the lack of distance covered.

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I think that’s enough jumping around and back and forth for now… BUT, If anybody has something in particular you’d like me to blog about, I’d love a mission!

:o)

The Great Odyssey Continued…

Throughout the rest of the trip we pretty much switched from hiking to beaches… both white sand and black- both beautiful. The beaches often looked out into the ocean or into a beautiful torquoise-blue sea with islands in view, white-capped crashing waves along sharp but gorgeously shaped rocks, and tall, naturally carved cliffs with tall, twisting trees growing off the edges.

one of the beaches we checked out

One night, we had found a camp ground with about a 200 meter walk to the beach, and the girls all decided to spend the night on the beach, gazing up to the starry sky that stretched from horizon to horizon. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. One constellation that is actually familiar down here is Orion and his belt. Both hemispheres apparently share the Great Hunter in the sky. We woke up the next morning and took a refreshing swim in the Southern Pacific ocean before we met up with the guys again and continued on our adventure.

Eventually we made it back down to Napier, known for its art deco and wineries. We spent our last two nights in a really great backpackers place right outside of Napier on a port. The last morning, Aurora, Solny and I woke up a 5:30 to catch the last sunrise of our trip across a black sand beach.

The Great Odyssey

Things in New Zealand are still absolutely wonderful! The sun has been out the past few days, I went to a Maori welcoming ceremony, been noting all kinds of differences between New Zealand and the States, I’ve found some beautiful running routes, met my two flatmates, and classes offically began 27/Feb. However, first and formost- before you all topple off of the edges of your seats, I think I am going to tell a story. It’s a story of adventure, excitement, leaf collecting, picture taking, sky diving, left hand-driving… An Odyssey.

*Clears Throat*

Here we go!

The Great Odyssey Road Trip consisted of 7 young Americans: Seth, Alida, Aurora, JC, Solny, Dan and Jason. Barely familiar with one another, the 7 of us loaded up into a Honda Odyssey and started on our way, me being the first driver. Driving was much easier than I had imagined, and I caught on quite quickly.

Driving on the left hand side

The roads throughout New Zealand are loooong, windy, and have little to no shoulders on them. But the scenery was gorgeous! Our first stop was in Tongariro, where we had considered hiking the crossing. It’s supposed to be one pretty darn cool hike:
http://www.doc.govt.nz/Explore/002~Tracks-and-Walks/By-Region/007~Tongariro-Taupo/008~Tongariro-Crossing.asp
However, not everybody was quite up for the hike, and it was later in the day than would have been ideal to start, so we did a shorter hike instead, which was still quite beautiful. The Tongariro Crossing will be completed before I come home though, I can assure everybody of that!

We settled for a shorter hike

That night we drove up to Taupo, a very touristy city along Lake Taupo. The Maori Legend of Lake Taupo is that a party of Maoris working their way inland came across this huge basin. Dismayed, the Leader of the group, Nagtoroirangi, plucked a huge totara tree and hurled it into the bottom of the basin with intention of reseeding a forest. However, the tree landed upside down and the branches pierced holes in the earth, allowing water to gush upwards and fill the basin, creating a giant Lake. On the scientific side, the Lake was actually the result of a number of volcanic explosions. The most recent of which was about 1800 years ago, about 60 cubic kilometers of earth blasted and left a massive crater.

...everywhere

The rumors are true… there are sheep EVERYWHERE. They’re really quite beautiful roaming the hill sides. What I also found especially cool was the textured paths the sheep made on the hill sides while roaming back and forth to get up and down the steep climbs.

These falls are sacred to the Maori

After waking up in a free camp ground we had come across the night before, the Odyssey Gang ventured over to Huka falls, “New Zealands most visited natural attraction”, to enjoy some breath taking scenery before jumping out of a plane 1200o ft above the ground. Huke falls is a river sacred to the Maori tribes.

The Great Odyssey Gang

The Great Odyssey then ventured on a good 2 hour hike up to some hot springs- making many many stops along the way to check out the vast variety of different foliage in this part of the world.

there are so many different plants here

Then it was time. We packed up, got organized, and headed to the airport while listening to Tom Petty’s “Free falling”. (How appropriate). The guys went up in the plane while the girls got all suited up on the ground. Then it was our turn…

ahh!

I’ve got to say that Sky diving is quite possibly one of the coolest feeling things I have ever done in my life. From the height that we did, we experienced a 45 second free fall before the parachute was pulled. However, because of the height we were above ground, the acceleration felt like nothing, and I could rather just enjoy a pure view of the ground that I’d never had before. WOW!

After cooling down from the excitement and the altitude, we headed further north to Rotarua- famous for the boiling mudpits. We stayed at a back packers place that night called Cactus Jack’s. It was all set up and decorated like an Old Western town, which was kind of cool to find in New Zealand.

mmmmm sulfur

The next morning we had intentions of making a short drive to check out the Craters of the Moon (Where there are also mud pits- two in one!) We didn’t realize, however, that the drive took us all the way back into Taupo. Luckily we love it there. Most of us… :o).
The next adventure in store for us: Zorbing!

just...zorbing

What on EARTH is Zorbing you might be asking? It’s basically rolling down a hill in a giant orb. The “Z” comes from New Zealand- where the idea was developed. While I didn’t personally take part, those who did said that it was a whole lot cooler than it initially appeared to be.
Those who take part in Zorbing are known as Zorbonauts… I was almost convinced to zorb simply for the title!

the girls the guys

…The rest of this blog won’t fit I guess, so I’ll try to finish the tale of the Great Odyssey tomorrow…

Driving on the left hand side of the road…

Good morning, everyone! (Sunday morning, that is…) The majority of you are probably waking up Saturday right now… crazy! I was thinking about dates the other day, and realized that if I were to have been born at the exact same moment, but here in New Zealand (or anywhere else past the dateline) I would have been born a day ahead… I’d have a completely different birthday- not to mention Zodiac sign! (I knew what being on the cusp meant before, but now it makes even more sense).

So this is an incredibly brief blog simply with the intention of keeping eveyone on the edge of their seats. You see, as one of only a couple other kids who is of vehicle renting age, I have to wake up early early tomorrow to go rent a van for myself and 6 others who I’ve known for barely a week- one that I have yet to meet even! We then are heading up North and road tripping/camping a big loop to just about the top of the North Island and back down before classes begin on the 27th. To give you a small taste of what this road trip entails: I will be the first person in our group of people to drive on the “wrong” side of the road! (I have enough trouble remembering which direction to look before I cross the road on foot!) We then are going to hike, camp, sky dive, go to white, sandy beaches, hike, camp, etc… until next Saturday! So goodnight, my friends… and you will be hearing from me with stories apleanty soon enough.

:o)

…PS. I have indeed been paying close attention to the direction of flush in every toilet thus far… Unfortunately, they all seem to just go straight down. I can assure you that I have not yet given up on my mission to find a circular-directional flush.

From an entirely different sky…

I’m here! And it’s beautiful, and sunny… and a city.

The trip over here went much more smoothly and was much more relaxed than I expected it to be. I drove up to Rochester airport in a snowstorm, checked my luggage, handed off my winter coat to my parents, and went through security… up until I went through security, I had all kinds of nervous knots in my stomach and wished that my parents could hold my hands through everything. But as soon as I got to the other side of the scary metal detectors, I suddenly felt completely independant and ready for whatever was to come. I waved to my mom across the glass walls who was easily spotted in her bright green fleece and arms waving back and forth like a flourescent traffic flagger… :o)

I gradually met up with different people going over to New Zealand throughout my 22 or so hours spent through airports and the air, and was able to sleep the majority of the overnight 13 hour 15 minute and 5 seconds of airborn time across the Pacific Ocean. (On the coolest Jumbo Jet I’ve ever seen…)
Our jumbo jet!

Once we finally all got here, we were dropped off at our halls and greeted quite kindly by the Kiwis who ran our building. They later took us around town to some of the good places to know (such as the grocery store- as we are on our own for food while living in the Stafford apartment building. Living here is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

Window view to the left Window view to the right

My window overlooks, well, a city. There are tall buildings to one side and to the other a big green hill covered in trees. Because it’s all so new, I’m waiting for the moment that I feel like I really do live here. I imagine it will be once classes begin and I have a daily schedule to follow.

I have been here only three days and things all ready feel totally familiar, as the result of getting lost in the city countless times and then finding my way back with everybody. I’ve been able to befriend quite a few really cool people all ready- mostly other Americans so far, but I can’t wait for the other local students to move in so that I can start meeting Kiwis as well.

For now, I’m learning what it’s like to live in a city, because it is very much one. The streets are lined with coffee shops and cafes. Wellington supposedly has the second largest number of cafes and coffeeshops in the world next to Manhatten! It great having things so close- we walk everywhere that we need or want to go, and though I’ve been running (I’ve signed up for a 7k road race this weekend!), it feels great being so active all of the time. We have found a local farmers market up the street that happens every Sunday, and the produce is great! (And much less expensive than a grocery store). Wellington is a fairly decent size, but very clean, and beautiful buildings. The architecture here is very unique, yet EVERYTHING compliments one another in a fantastic, harmonious way. Another thing that I’ve noticed is the amount of sculpture and artwork throughout the city- the sidewalks are decorated in tiling, there is sculpture everywhere, and even the manhole covers take part in the decoration! What’s unique about the artwork here compared to that of NYC or any other city that I’ve been, is that it all relates to one another and tells the story of the New Zealand culture.

Decorated manhole cover

Just yesterday some of my friends and I went to the beach and had our first swim in New Zealand ocean water, then my friend, Aurora and I dug a great big hole in the sand… topping off the complete beach experience! I all ready got a minor sun burn on my face… (I was luckier than others.) I also just found out that we are under a hole in the ozone layer, so sunscreen is even more my friend that it ever was before! Some of the foliage here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen! And the sea life- we found a starfish yesterday thinking that it was one of the greatest treasures that we would find in this water! Then we looked around the bottom of the clear clear salt water and counted nearly 20 more only around our feet.

Aurora and I in our super deep hole (we The starfish that we found

Orientation starts tomorrow for us, so I’ll be meeting even more people, and get to know even more of the city and what’s going on. Random brochures and flyers for events can really only do so much…

There is a rugby game coming up that some of my friends and I are going to check out- get a taste for the city’s rugby pride (which seems to be pretty significant), and sometime before classes begin there is a small group of us who hope to go camping and hiking for a few days further up the north island. so hooray!

I hope that everything is going well with everyone!

Three days and counting…

It wasn’t until just this morning that I realized how little time I have left here in America before I head down to live with the Kiwis for five months! Three days and whole wonderful medley of excitement, nerves and lists lists lists. Lists of what I have yet to do, to pack, people to contact, blogging… However, throughout the listing process, I’ve realized that there is only so much that I really need to bring with me, and only so many times that I can say goodbye to people before it seems like I’m never going to leave.

My excitement is on-going as I’ve spoken with people about my upcoming journey, hearing about other’s experiences in New Zealand- or abroad in general, and gaining associations and connections one after another! It’s the times that I talk with people about my trip that I forget about every one of my nerves, and then I just can’t wait to be down there- living in a city for the first time in my life! It’s rather the times when things are more quiet and New Zealand is not the first thing on my mind that provokes a feeling of nostalgia of what I‘m going to miss before I‘m even gone: playing with my dog, eating dinner with my family, hanging out with friends in familiar places here at home…

This past weekend I was in New Paltz for four days to visit, say goodbye to some good friends before I leave, and to go through Orientation. Goodbye, New Paltz! It was so strange (and made me feel so lazy) to hear people talk about their classes and work, and what the semester feels like so far and to know that I’m not and won’t be a part of it all! It’s those times that I’ve found it’s best to consider how much I will be experiencing soon rather than what I will be missing out on here. It makes for a much more positive outlook on the distance I’m soon to be traveling.

So overall, I can’t wait to arrive to the land beyond down under, but as it’s gradually gotten closer, the nerves have been growing and the trip itself has been feeling more and more real. But to think! The next time that you hear from me, I’ll be a day ahead of you and all ready have New Zealand experiences to share!

Keep in touch!