It's been a week since I arrived in New Zealand and I've seen and experienced so many things in such a short amount of time, it's exhilarating. The Kiwi World is at my fingertips and I know this sounds so cheesy, but my adventure has truly just begun! Here's a rundown of my travels and so far on the North Island as part of my Arcadia Orientation. Long post, lots of activities went down.
FLIGHT: As you can imagine, the flight was pretty long (around 18 hours total for both my domestic and overseas legs) but it actually wasn't too bad. I didn't check the time much, slept as best I could, and by the time I looked at the clock, there were only a few more hours until we landed. My favorite part was watching Hunger Games on my 2 inch iPod Nano while everyone else watched their personal touch screen TVs on the backs of the seats in front of them (I ended up watching Crazy Rich Asians on mine when I got bored of trying to nap). The flight went the Pacific way, so I went from Chicago to Los Angeles to Auckland. The really strange part was the time difference. I took off from LAX on Monday Feb. 18 at around 9:30PM and landed in Auckland on Wednesday Feb, 20 at around 7:30AM. So Feb. 19th was just not a thing for me which is awesome and freaky at the same time.
DAY ONE: The first day in Auckland was shocking, I was not expecting it to be humid but I felt the humidity in the air on the plane before I even got off. Also, I didn't get my passport stamped because they had an e-reader thing which is kind of disappointing but that's fine. I met the Arcadia people and was greeted with a hug which was absolutely wonderful! Once all of the students arrived, we filled a bus and drove to the Kiwi International Hotel to drop our stuff, change clothes/wash up, and do some orientation-y things. The drive there was cool because I got to chat with other students and experience all of the cars driving on the other side of the road. I was surprised by the amount of green everywhere, and all of the houses are so different than houses in the US in a way that's hard to describe.
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand. We walked around before lunch and I felt absolutely intimidated, the city was so busy and full. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't something both urban and tropical at the same time. We ate lunch around the harbor area and went for a hike up a dormant volcano near by while we waited for the tide to come back in. Then, we went swimming in the ocean which was so great even though it was overcast!
Next, we got to shower and go for dinner at this really good Italian place. I was feeling pretty tired by this time but I went out after anyways with some other students for a walk and some ice cream. The ice cream place we went to was so fancy that after you ordered, you went to sit and they brought it out to you. I'm not sure if that's a thing and I'm just not into boujee ice cram places but I thought it was pretty cool.
DAY TWO: On the second day, we got up and hopped on a bus for Rotorua which is about 3 hours southeast of Auckland. It was really cool to see the country side! Hills, mountains, and sheep/cows/horses everywhere. The roads are so narrow and weird that the bus was literally swaying back and forth sometimes when we were driving. It felt like we were on a boat, not a bus. We stopped in a town called Matamata which is near Hobbiton! We didn't get to go but the info building was all hobbity so it was cool to check that out.
Our next stop was this farm show at the Agrodome which was pretty sweet! We got to learn about and see 19 different kinds of sheep and see some sheep dogs do their thing. I accidentally volunteered to go on stage, and after some funny show talk with the sheep herder dude, I found a toy sheep in a bunch of freshly sheered sheep wool (fun times). Next, we went to Rainbow Springs Nature Park which was the amazing because we got to see a kiwi bird! Fun fact, they're nocturnal so I only got to see it curled up under a tree looking like a fuzzy rock but it was cool nonetheless. I'm finding myself to be just as crazed and obsessed with the kiwi bird as Kiwi people are. After one week, I already feel a strong passion for the animal and protecting its environment and species. We also got to walk through the park and see redwood trees, some rainbow trout, native NZ birds and lizards, and drink some fresh spring water.
Finally, we checked into the Sudima Hotel right on the sulfur flats of Rotorua Lake. This whole area is called Waiotapu which means sacred water in Māori. It's an active geothermal/volcanic hot spot and the air in the city smells like sulfur but not in a bad way if that makes sense. We got food at the Night Market which was poppin. That night, we went to the Polynesian Spa which had a bunch of outdoor hot mineral pools right by the lake. We sat in there for almost 3 hours, chatted and watched the stars. At this point I was questioning if this was real life because HOW/WOW!
DAY THREE: We spent another day in Rotorua to see some of the Waiotapu geothermal nature-y things. As we were driving towards some of the more active bits, you could literally see the environment seething and steaming from the heat. Not like hot pavement in the sun, like the trees on the mountains and the ground had the earth smoke machine cues on full blast. We got to the first stop which was the mud pools, which is exactly what it sounds like except the mud was HOT. and bubbling and sizzling so loud you could hear it before you saw it. Next, we saw The Lady Knox Geyser erupt which was pretty cool. The geyser first was discovered when prisoners working in the area accidentally let some soap slip while washing clothes by the water. The chemicals in the soap break the surface tension inside the geyser and caused it to erupt, and they induce it every day at 10:15AM. It was pretty spectacular!
This next part is where I really lost my cool because of the sheer beauty of this place. Every other word I said while walking around the Waiotapu Geothermal Wonderland was "WOW" or "WHAT!?" or just speechlessness and a jaw drop. Some of the highlights of the tour were the Champagne Pool which has blue, clear water, and orange rim and constantly gives off bubbles and so much steam sometimes I couldn't see where I was walking. The green pool was absolutely shocking and I couldn't stop thinking about Shrek because of the color. The Artist Palette is a shallow pool with chemical reactions happening everywhere to make different colored rocks and water and such.
The terrain we were on was super cool too, it actually did remind me of Lord of the Rings a little! Peter Jackson liked the rumbling/bubbling sound from down in one rock/mud area that the tour guide pointed out. She told us he lowered down his recording equipment and used the sound for Mordor scenes! Lastly, we walked through a forest area with the biggest trees I've ever seen, some of which had bright orange moss on them like 50 bags of cheeto dust. Waiotapu is definitely one of the coolest places I've ever been.
Next, we went zorbing! Basically, you put 3 people in a big blown up hamster ball at the top of the hill, add some water and roll on down. It was so fun and definitely an adrenaline rush! The zorbing people even let us lay in a row on the grass hill and get run over by a ball with people in it! I thought it might hurt a little but it didn't at all, it was just kind of funny and the people in the ball said it felt like they were going over a bunch of speed bumps. These pics were taken by staff at the zorbing company.
Lastly, we went for an evening at the Tamaki Māori Village where we were officially welcomed to NZ and had a hāngi or meal. It was a really unique experience even though it rained the whole time and part of it was outside. We rode a bus there and our Māori driver picked a chief to lead our group and partake in a kind of peace offering ritual before we actually entered the village. The Tamaki were extremely intense and intimidating during the ritual, and our chief had to keep eye contact through the whole thing. He then follow specific instructions to accept a silver fern as a peace offering. It was very interesting to observe and also very serious. The crowd was given specific instructions at least 3 separate times that smiling or laughing were prohibited and extremely rude. We went into the village and got to learn about and participate in different activities, ask questions, and take as many pictures and videos as we wanted. They even asked us to do so, because it helps their culture stay alive and known to the outside world. We saw a traditional haka, listened to a Māori song and performance, and ate the hāngi which was delicious. The direct and indirect interactions I had with the Tamaki during the evening were so very warm and welcoming, even after a fierce first impression. They were all such beautiful singers and I was impressed with the volume and passion behind their voices. I felt a wonderful buzz in the air at the end of the evening. To make it even better, it's tradition in Māori culture to sing the entire journey back from this type of event. We performed Party in the USA for our driver and sang songs with him which was just so perfect and beautiful. I chose to not take many pictures because I wanted to be an active part of the experience instead of a surveyor/observer.
DAY FOUR: We had to separate from half of our group who were studying in Auckland early on Saturday morning which was sad. I hopped back on the plane and in 1 hour I arrived in Wellington. Auckland wowed me but I don't think I will ever stop being shocked about Wellington. It's incredibly hilly and the bay is turquoise blue. The city is so much larger than I ever imagined and the house I'm staying at is high up in the steep, green hills overlooking the bay area. I went for a tour of Wellington with the group and I immediately got confused by the many roads and buildings. There are so many restaurants and shops. To make it better, it was Saturday night so everyone was out enjoying the weather. There was a dance party on the street as part of a lantern festival with food trucks and lights. There was live music in one area and huge industrial boxes lining a walkway filled with people doing performance art and setting up installations by the water. Some kids were jumping off this structure into the water in a competition to make the biggest splash. It was windy but incredibly lively.
I ended off the night realizing I didn't know how to find my street. I understand that sounds strange but the thing is, I've never had to deal with different levels as a factor while walking around a city. God bless the flat midwest because if I go in NZ, it will be from rolling straight down the steepest roads I've ever seen in my life. My road is called Adams Terrace and one side of the road is at a normal level and the other is a cliff of trees and bushes with houses at the top. Can you guess which side of the road I'm on? It's easy to traverse the hills but there's only a few paths to break through from street to street without having to take a 10+ minute detour (did I mention this involves more hills?). Long story short, I slept good the first night.
DAY FIVE: It rained all morning and most of the afternoon so I now know that my raincoat and backpack cover are my new best friends. My new friend and neighbor Claire and I walked to find the group but we missed them before they left the meeting spot for the market, so we went down to the waterfront by ourselves. We got coffee and some breakfast while looking at all the fresh produce in the pouring rain, but we were both so happy to be there. I got fresh bread, broccoli, red bell peppers, pears, bananas, and avocados. We made the hiked home and I finally unpacked. Later when it stopped raining, I went out with my flatmate Molly and her friend Iona. They are from the UK and have already studies at VUW for a semester. They showed me around campus and then we went to meet people from the group for drinks and food. It was a really fun night and we talked and enjoyed ourselves until the place shut down.
I'm so happy to be here, I can't wait for the next new experience.