Friday, December 3, 2010

I have made it back to Dunedin after a great adventure, and I have many pictures and stories to share, but I think that I shall leave them for later and just ruminate about my time here a wee bit. The older I get, the faster time goes, which may sound like just another cliche, but what seems banal in writing is poignant and fresh when lived. After hitching back into town yesterday I walked around Dunedin before returning to my flat, taking care of various affairs. Because I was carrying my hiking backpack, however, several people addressed me as though I had just arrived in the country, which encapsulated the whole five months of experiences in my mind. I was taking the same steps, through the same intersections, past the same shops and architecture as I had when I first stepped off of the airport shuttle, but then this city was strange and full of unanswered questions, and now it feels like part of myself, each sight reminding me of friends, lessons, and good times. I thought that I would be fine leaving this place, but it hits me now how much I will miss it. I have had many successes and a fair amount of failures here, but it is consolation to know for certain that I am a better person for my time in New Zealand. I still have a lot of work to do, but I believe that studying abroad was the best choice I could have made for this semester.

I'll leave you with just one picture. When I saw this I stopped dead in the street and laughed loud enough to disturb the passerby. The Warehouse, by the way, is a popular department store here.

Just more proof that big business is evil.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It feels as though I've entered a cycle here in New Zealand: stay in Dunedin for awhile studying and relaxing, then hit the road for a time on some half-planned adventure. In six hours at 6am I will leave Dunedin for the North Island and it's adventure time again. I plan to explore a couple of forest parks, climb a couple of mountains, lie on the beach, and stand under New Zealand's biggest geyser before kayaking for four days. Then on the fifth of December the cycle ends and I fly back to America!

Noah BE Church

Friday, October 22, 2010

I stay alive

Long time, no write. Sorry about that, but I've been away from technology for awhile, first doing some day hikes along the west coast, then going on my first cruise, then tramping around the remote and rugged Stewart Island for over a week. Five of us decided to book a Real Journeys cruise in Doubtful Sound before tourist season began and prices were hiked, so I got to experience my first cruise in one of the most magnificent places I've ever seen, even more so than Milford Sound, which I wrote about earlier. Doubtful Sound is ten times bigger, and though it lacks the imposing Mitre Peak, it seems all-the-more majestic and mysterious for its size and wildness.

To get to Doubtful Sound you must take a ferry across Lake Manapouri and then a bus along the most expensive road in New Zealand, with stops along the way for photo opportunities.

The cruise was fantastic, with the best weather we could have wished for. The trip included an all-you-can-eat buffet, and they even cooked a special vegan meal for me: roasted avocado stuffed with cashew, red bell pepper, and dried apricot. Yum! I also kayaked for the first time, and when the crew called for anyone who wanted to swim, we five and one more were the only ones to volunteer to dive off of the boat—no matter how sunny it was, the water was still pretty cold. Later, we cruised out to the mouth of the sound to see bottle-nosed dolphins, fur seals, Fjordland crested penguins, and little blue penguins (the smallest penguin in the world at about one kilogram).

Flat three on a boat!

After Doubtful we rushed to Bluff on the southern tip of the South Island, where we caught the ferry to Stewart Island. The Island is home to four hundred residents, varied wildlife (including pests), and a continuous series of adventurous hikers. It is one of the largest and most wild collections of tracks and huts in New Zealand, and it has been a goal of mine since hearing of it that I go there and see what there is to see with a pack on my back and adventure in my intentions. I got all I wanted.

New Zealand is afflicted with all sorts of environmentally inimical introduced animals and plants, among which are rats, possums, stoats, and, of course, humans. These compete with endemic species over resources as well as eating endemic species, though the Department of Conservation does its best to limit their effects. They were largely successful with Ulva Island, a small island neighboring Stewart Island that we visited on our second day. Since all dangerous mammals have been eradicated, it is a sanctuary for native birds, and a person walking the island will see weka, oyster catchers, fantails, bush robins, parakeets, saddlebacks, and more. Stewart Island is not so lucky, so Ulva Island is constantly in danger of deer, rats, and possums swimming to its shores. We were lucky enough to see many animals on our trip, including kiwi birds, which few New Zealanders have even seen.

Weka tracks on Ulva Island.

A pair of oyster catchers.

This is either a possum print or very little men walk around on their hands on Stewart Island.

My friend Miguel walked right in front of this male fur seal and didn't notice it until it roared in his face. Fortunately, they're usually too lazy to actually charge. Don't get between them and the ocean!

There are three main tracks that one can walk on Stewart Island: the Rakiura Great Walk (three days), the North Circuit (10 days), and the South Circuit (7 days). My flatmate Michelle and I were walking the South Circuit while five of our friends with upcoming finals were doing the shorter and easier great walk. Michelle and I split from the others after the first day of hiking and discovered what Stewart Island has to offer.

Me and Michelle at Fred's Camp Hut.

There are many outstanding features in this place, but by far the most noticeable is the soil. The dirt here is "peat," which when mixed with water forms a highly compressible sucking mud. The Wikipedia page makes for interesting reading, especially the bit on its characteristics: "". The trails on Stewart Island are consequently difficult to walk on, though often beautiful. Here is a sampling of the trails we tramped:

Mud crossable by way of dead sticks.

Swampy mud.

Me after two hours of slogging through aforementioned swampy mud.

Rooty mud.

Mud with a top layer of hail pellets.

Nonexistent track.

Boardwalk! This was on the most developed leg of the tramp.

Unfortunately even developed tracks can flood completely.

Or become mud highways.

This was the longest tramp I had ever undertaken, and 10 days' supplies weigh heavy on the back. Incidentally, Michelle is in better shape than me :). I knew that it would be hard, and it was, but it was also beautiful, rewarding, and unique. Some of the most pristine beaches and forests I have ever seen are in this place, and we made new friends along the way, including possum hunters, a DoC worker, trampers, volunteers, other Otago students, a guy living out in the bush surviving on possum and fish, and acid-tripping treasure hunters. It's amazing who you meet when you put yourself out there.

Doughboy Bay—a welcome sight while coming down from the hills.

At the end of our journey we took a water taxi out, and watching the rainforest go by while floating down a river out to sea was a fitting close to the trip—a shake back to modern reality from a different place with different rules. Even the weather there plays out according to a different plan, with hot sun at one moment and a windy hailstorm ten minutes later just as you're rappelling from the rainforest onto the beach.

The fun did not end with the taxi, however. I am a fan of thrill rides, and the ferry back over choppy seas was a thrilling ride. It moves very quickly, and the constant wave-jumping is bane to the weak of stomach but boon to me. Michelle and I also threw a message in a bottle from the ferry, hoping that it would reach a faraway land and inspire someone to come to Stewart Island and have a similar adventure.

The sea spray washing over the side of the ferry.

Once back on the mainland, we hitchhiked part of the way and one of our treasure hunter buddies from the island gave us a lift the rest of the way. I must say that it's nice to have fresh food and showers again, along with the other amenities of modern living, but time in the bush—or in any different environment—helps to define our lives and open our minds to new or forgotten wonders, and it was one of my favorite tramps I have ever done.

Much love from Dunedin. I hope that this finds everyone well.

The treasure hunter's car.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I jump

"Spring Break 2010" was the catchphrase of the last week of August—a great week. Three of us began the "vacation" (from what?) with an impromptu hitchhiking adventure south into the Catlins. We didn't quite make it to where we wanted to go, but we met some kooky kiwis and did reach a beautiful beach named Kaka Point.

Jamie, Michelle and I have fun in the sun.

Once we realized that we were trapped here due to low traffic, we found a nice little camping spot for the night in the woods, where we had a campfire and slept for the night. For those of you who don't know, New Zealand is a land of birds, or at least should be. The only native mammals are seafaring creatures and bats. This resulted in some strange bird evolutions such as the lovably ugly kiwi and the moa, the ostrich's bulkier (now extinct) cousin. We're not quite sure what birds we heard that night, but we felt as though we were in prehistoric times. We heard the beat of massive wings above our tent and the calls were indescribable.

Our next adventure was to Wanaka and Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand and home to the pictured kiwi statue.

I should be a model.

Our lovely flatmate Katya's lovely mother hosted us in Wanaka, and Jamie, Mackenzie and I had our minds set on the Nevis. One of the influences in my choice to study in New Zealand was the Nevis, the world's third-highest (formerly highest) bungy jumping platform. I have skydived before, but I was very much looking forward to bungy because of the opportunity to leap forward into the empty air rather than scoot backwards into empty air, as I did when parachuting.

How I expected to look when jumping.

I was last to jump in my group (just as in parachuting), so I got to watch my friends fall screaming while waiting my turn. I was not disappointed. The operator straps you in before having you waddle to the edge, takes your picture, and very nonchalantly counts down from four. I wasn't sure how I would react when falling, but I let out something that was later described to me as, "ROAR." It was one of the most freeing roars of my life, and an experience that will stay with me forever—a very satisfying purchase.


Our follow-up adventure the next day was Puzzling World, a fantastic collection of illusions, phantasmagoria, and large, fenced maze. It is a good lesson in how much we rely upon certain sensory cues that can so easily mislead our judgment. See below.


At this point half of our party wanted to return to Dunedin and the other half wanted to continue west, so Jamie and I were dropped off on the edge of town and hitchhiked to a campground in Lumsden where we planned to stay the night. We weren't quite sure of where to set up our tent, so I introduced myself to the owners of a nearby house and posed my query. Before I knew it, we were offered beds, meals, and showers, which we accepted gladly! Thank you again, Ted and Shirley! It is always nice to be reminded of the kindness in the world.

Our plan was to hitch all the way to Milford Sound through Te Anau, more than 200 km. We made it into Te Anau to hear reports of snow on the road to Milford later that night, with the road closing at 5:30. We tried for more than an hour to catch a ride north but then despaired, deciding to hike around the nearby lake and find a campsite there. As we were walking back along the road we heard a voice scream, "Jamie! Noah!" We exchanged a quizzical look and turned to see our friend and flatmate Michelle in a rental car with her vacationing father and sister. They were on their way to—yes—Milford Sound! They kindly squeezed us in and took us the remaining two hours into the Wild West of the south island. This is often described as one of the most scenic drives in the world, and it has my vote, though what we finally reached was even better: Picture Jurassic Park with a background of snowy mountains.

Actually, just look at this picture!

We spent one night there, but I will surely remember this place. There were two annoyances, however: sandflies and Keas. The Maori have a legend that the gods populated this place with sandflies to preserve its beauty against opportunistic humans who otherwise would have settled the area and spoiled it natural wonders. Instead they—and we—are too annoyed by sandfly bites to stay too long. The Keas are the squirrels of New Zealand, begging for food from tourists and threatening to hop into your car if you are forgetful about closing your doors.

Say hello, but don't feed it!

The Pitcher family drove us back to Dunedin over the next couple of days. Thank you, Pitcher family! Since then I have started my guitar lessons, which are inspiring, and have been practicing every day. I also entered a pool tournament (for free) and made it through to the quarterfinals but then lost to a skilled Kiwi named Pierre. The better pool player won, Pierre. Lastly, I saw my first real "show": Miss Saigon. The sets, music, and lighting were fantastic, and the dancing and plot were good. I think I might become a repeat customer when I have the money to spend.

Love from New Zealand!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I learn

Well, it's Spring Break! They don't call it that here, though; it's the mid-semester break to the Kiwis, as it's not yet warm enough to be called spring. We'll be going to Wanaka and Queenstown after the weekend for a stay at our Kiwi host Katya's house, as well as an extreme sport exploration. Most of us plan on doing the Nevis Bungee jump, which is the third largest in the world. We planned to go on a tramp (hike/camp) this weekend, but our group was unable to rent a van, so we are re-formulating our plan...

We were, however, able to go camping in the Catlins a few weeks ago with about 20 people. This is one of the more wild areas of New Zealand, complete with sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins (the rarest penguin species in the world), and beautiful scenery.

Me in tree!

One of the highlights was a park-like area containing the mechanical art pieces of a local craftswoman. The park was closed due to it being off-season, but we did see an undulating whale sculpture and a sheep skeleton pedaling a bicycle.

Turn the wheel and it undulates!

We also made it to Moeraki Boulders, a beach with some unusually shaped rocks. These rock formations are almost perfectly round. I don't fully understand the geology, but as I was told the central particle attracts other particles equally on all sides, resulting in round rocks of all sizes. Unfortunately, all of the small ones have long since been taken as souvenirs, but the large ones are still a popular tourist attraction.

Conquering the Moeraki Boulders.

We found a strange native creature in one of the rocks...

One of the best parts of being here in New Zealand is having the time and freedom to explore new interests. I am only taking three classes, and while challenging, they do not offer the same workload as Willamette classes. This allows time for things like camping, taking salsa dance lessons, going to shows, and exploring New Zealand. I also discovered that I like to draw and have been doing that quite a bit. It all reminds me that a liberal arts education teaches you about things, not how to do things. I didn't realize it, but I was missing this aspect of education, and I've rediscovered it here.

Impressionistic portrait with sharpie.

Portrait of my flatmate Katya with graphite pencil and charcoal.

I hope that this post finds you all well. Enjoy beginning school, Willamette Students!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Film

Last time I mentioned the Life in a Day project, an invitation to anyone and everyone in the world with access to a digital camera to record one day in their lives: July 24, 2010. Not only will this project culminate in a greater understanding of the world for people in the present, but it will provide a source of memory for the people of the future. What happened in the world on July 24, 2010? Who lived, loved, and feared on that day, and how have we changed? The night of the 23rd my flat heard about this project and decided participate in full, making a list of everything we wanted to do and film with our day.

We all woke up around six in order to drive to the organ pipes and view the sunrise, filming our introductions in the car. The organ pipes are a beautiful collection of rock hexagonal columns resembling organ pipes near Dunedin. It's about a 20 minute walk from the road, and the pipes themselves are at the top of a tall hill. Somehow we decided that it would be a good idea to go through the whole day barefoot, so we all began to walk up this cold and sharp gravel path. About seven steps in the smart people among us turned back to get their shoes, and only Jethro and I were left to make the climb raw style. It was slower going for us, but our feet got quite the workout and the pain was cathartic, making the eventual summit all the more rewarding.

Once we topped this precipitous stack of sheer columns, we saw that our surroundings were enveloped with thick, breathy clouds like the vapor that rises off of dry ice. Instead of witnessing the sun rise in all its glory we just guessed that it had happened from the waxing light, but the rays soon burned holes in the thick mist and we could see how the dropped sharply all around us into the gentle sheep-spotted hills of the Otago bay. I professed to the camera that I have a persistent fear of heights, manifesting in a recurring dream in which I cling to the limber top of a very tall tree and I whip with it in the wind, desperate to hold on. I cope with it by challenging myself to climb tall things. It's never hard until I get to the top and look down.

The spotty view from the organ pipes.

From the organ pipes we drove to the beach, where we all swam in the nicely chilled ocean, hula hooped, rolled down hills, and Jethro surfed. We also practiced beach acrobatics. Jethro did three great wall back flips in a row and some running forward flips. I attempted to emulate and landed on my face—maybe I'll have better luck next time. We also visited a playground, climbing on Fred the Whale and sliding down a dragon's back. I love playgrounds!

Mackenzie in Fred the Whale's mouth.

From there we explored Cargill's Castle, an abandoned ruin built in 1877. Originally a mansion, this building has also been a hotel and host to adolescent parties. Now it is an interesting—if dilapidated and dangerous—place to explore. History seeps out of every rotten floorboard, broken window, and carved word on the place, and the view from this structure is incredible. A long, rocky drop signals the break between land and vast, restless ocean.

The view from Cargill's Castle.

Jamie, my flatmate, had recently decided to prove to herself that she can still be confident and strong without superficial trappings, so on the evening of the 24th she made the first cuts to her curly locks, and we shaved the rest.

Jamie, more beautiful than ever.

This reminded me a lot of when I shaved off my long hair. Both of us felt that we needed to be able to be free of that part of ourselves. Fortunately her head is much more pleasingly shaped than mine.

Jethro then fire danced for the camera and gave us each a go, and then we used his digital camera to create light graffiti, in which the shutter is held open long enough for us to use flashlights to create the appearance of...whatever we want. The creative potential is great, and it's a lot of fun at the same time.

We then had a rendezvous with the green fairy, muse to many a famous artist, absinthe—a new experience for most of us. Flaming shots are much fun, but none of us felt unusually affected by the drink. We rounded out the night with hours of dancing in town, and finally lay in bed at six in the morning, a full 24 hours after our day had begun.

We had some issues uploading our videos. The project requested all of the unedited footage we took (almost three hours), but all we were able to upload was a brief 10-minute collection. We hope to put together a longer, more representative video for our families and friends soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Explore

St. Augustine wrote, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." I find myself doing a lot of reading here, both in the Augustinian and literal senses. My Modernist Fiction class provides most of the literal meaning. As far as I have gathered, Modernist means the writings of early-mid 20th-century Irishmen such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Brian O'Nolan. We are reading 16 novels this semester, which in combination with my other literature class and a metaphysics course means a lot of time by the window with a book. Courses are structured much differently here than at my home university, with only one or two assignments during the semester followed by a large and important final. It puts a lot of pressure on the end of the semester, I am sure.

The figurative reading is a bit more exciting to write about. I've been trying to get an idea of what people do for fun and pleasure here in New Zealand, and I'll give you a roughly chronological account of my adventures.

First, Dunedin is home to a Cadbury chocolate factory, and one of the sweets manufactured here is the jaffa, which is a candy-coated chocolate ball. Dunedin is also home to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street, which is about a half-hour walk from my flat.

Baldwin St. inclines at 19 degrees.

As you can see in the above picture, there's quite a crowd here at Baldwin Street. What could this have to do with jaffas? Well, every year Cadbury dumps 50,000 jaffas down this street in order to see which will reach the bottom first! You may buy a jaffa ticket, and if the jaffa with your number on it reaches the bottom first, you win fabulous prizes like groceries and gasoline. Apparently the first year they did this there were no nets, and the chocolate balls caused thousands of dollars of damage as they pelted houses and cars. They use nets now.

The gutters filled with jaffas.

The announcer tells us to not eat the jaffas, but nearly everyone has a sack in which to stuff the choicest chocolate projectiles. I am sure that jaffas may be found all over this neighborhood for the next several months.

After the race A few friends and I went to the Otago museum, where we such much impressive Maori craft and the below skeleton of a fin whale, the second largest animal on Earth.

This youngster was only 55 feet when it died. Adults reach 85 feet in length!

One of the kiwi hosts in our flat, Jethro is basically our personal adventure guide. He knows how to do a lot of cool stuff, and he takes us to lots of cool places.

Here is Jethro rock climbing.

Here is Jethro spinning fire.

You get the idea. Thanks to him I have seen a lot of this part of New Zealand, rock climbed outdoors for the first time, attended several fire jams (fire spinning get-togethers), danced salsa (kinda), saw sea lions up close, and more. It was at Sandfly Bay that we saw the sea lions, 18 at our count. I also learned that they like to fight and roar at each other a lot. You want to give them space.

Cute, huh?

Nearby is another amazing locale: Lovers' Leap. This vista must be seen in person. Sheep dot the landscape about this natural bridge, and the ocean is vast, like a second sky rippling with life and hidden energy.

Nature is pretty amazing.

Tomorrow (well, today) we are going to participate in a global project: Life In a Day. You may check out the official description here: "". Basically, Ridley Scott asks the people of the world to show him what we are all about, so we will spend tomorrow doing cool stuff and filming it. Included on our list are beach acrobatics, castles, shaving my flatmate, fire spinning, and absinthe. The sunrise is also on our list, which means that I need to wake up in four hours. Given that fact, I'll end this entry here.

Check back for more adventures!