Thursday, June 17, 2010

Auckland, The City of Sails and Even A Few Celebs

I just returned from a three day trip to Auckland. I stayed with my friend Jess who's family lives up there in a suburb called Ponsonby. I flew up Monday evening with her and left this afternoon (Thursday) to come back to Wellington. It was really nice to stay with her family and have a few (good) home cooked meals. She even had a fireplace at her house, a luxury that my house in Wellington does not have, in fact it's lacking in heat all together.

Tuesday she took me to Newmarket to begin with, where we enjoyed some excellent New Zealand coffee as well as did some shopping. Then we went to One Tree Hill which is a little mountain within the city that you can see most of the city from. In fact there is no tree on top of the hill, but an obelisk, pretty much a smaller version of the Washington Monument. That evening we enjoyed watching the New Zealand All Whites play Slovakia in a 1-1 tie. For those who didn't watch the game, the All Whites haven't been to a World Cup in 28 years and have never made it past the first round. The team was definitely the underdogs, but watching the game with Kiwis made me really root for the team. The All Whites tied up the game with less than 5 minutes remaining, in a surprising tie that even the commentators couldn't grasp. Of course all of New Zealand was celebrating that night.

From the top of One Tree Hill
Wednesday we started the day by driving up Mount Eden where you can get another killer view of the city. We then drove down to the Viaduct, or waterfront. The Viaduct is where most of the 2007 America's Cup was watched from and where all the boats are kept. We saw both of Team New Zealand's boats, much to my father and older brother's jealousy I'm sure. Growing up with an avid sailing father has made me appreciate a nice looking sailboat, so seeing these two boats was incredible. They're HUGE! But the waterfront doesn't just house the two New Zealand boats, but tons of other massive yachts from all around the world.

America's Cup sailboats - Team New Zealand
After enjoying the sunshine and warmth of the waterfront we drove out to Mission Bay which is another suburb of Auckland and where several beaches are located. After being in such crummy winter weather here in Wellington it was nice to see some sunshine and walk in the sand. After Mission Bay, Jess who is also a rower, took me to her former rowing club, West End. New Zealand's olympic single sculler, Mahe Drysdale also rows out of this club as well as a few other olympic rowers.

Mission Bay beach

That evening I tagged along with Jess to her friend's 21st birthday party at a local bar. It was really nice to meet some of her other friends and all of them were quite friendly. They all loved hearing about Washington, DC and how much I've loved being in New Zealand. I had my second celebrity sighting that night when I met Kesha Castle-Hughes, the star of the movie Whale Rider. Remember that movie? It came out in 2002 and told the story of a small Maori village in New Zealand. It even had a few Oscar nominations. We talked about it in both of my media classes all semester, so it was kind of funny and ironic that I met her in my last week in New Zealand. She was very friendly and was happy to take a picture with me. As you can see she's pretty short.
I am now back in Wellington and only have five more days left in New Zealand! I can't believe that after being here for four months that it is all coming to an end. I've had an absolutely amazing adventure here and have done pretty much everything I wanted to do. I've made a ton of friends, a few who I will probably remain friends with for my lifetime. I know that I always have a place to stay if I ever want to come back. It was really nice to spend a semester somewhere completely new and different and has only furthered my interest to travel more. I am very excited to come home and see my family and friends, but I know that I'm going to have a bit of reverse culture shock and will be a bit homesick for the life I've made for myself here in New Zealand. The next few days I plan to spend as much time as possible with my Kiwi friends, see a bit more of the surrounding Wellington area, and somehow pack up all my stuff into two suitcases. I leave Wellington next Wednesday morning at 6:45 am and after flying from Sydney to LA to Chicago to Burlington, I'll arrive home Wednesday evening at 11:30 pm EST.
I hope I've kept you all entertained with my blogs from New Zealand. I look forward to seeing ya'll when I return to the states.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rotorua & Taupo

The past two weekends have been filled with adventure and travel. Last weekend, which was Keri and Zoe's last weekend in NZ we took a 7 hour bus ride up the North Island to Rotorua. The town is well known for its' Maori culture as well as active geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. We arrived in Rotorua (also called Rotovegas by some of the locals) in the late evening of Thursday May 20th. The next day we packed in a lot of activities, as it was really our only day in the town. First we visited Te Puia which is an area with an active geyser and tons of hot pools. Everyone warned me that when you get to Rotorua you will know by its' smell. This is in fact true, especially when you are around the geysers. The smell of sulfur is almost overwhelming, but good thing my nose has become accostomed to this smell after living in Florida. After walking around Te Puia we took a local bus to Skyline where you can take a gondola up to the top of the mountain to see the entire town. Also up there we got to take a few turns riding down their luge track. Keri of course being the daredevil rarely used the breaks on the luge, while I was riding the breaks the whole way down.

Here I am with the geyser at Te Puia

Ready to luge!
I brought Keri and Zoe to the airport on Tuesday morning and after having a wonderful two weeks with them sent them on their way back to Florida. I think the both enjoyed their trip here and by the end were both convinced they had to study abroad at some point of their four years of college.

This past weekend I took a trip north to Lake Taupo. Me and three of my Kiwi friends (Jess, Lisa, and Liam) all stayed at a timeshare house that Jess's family has. Lucky for us the house was equipped with its' own hot tub which we took full advantage of. Lake Taupo was created by a volcano over 20,000 years ago and is in fact the crater left from the eruption. While I am completely partial to Lake Champlain in Vermont, I have to say that this is definitely a close second on my favorite lakes list. Traveling with Kiwis was definitely a different experience from traveling with other tourists. My friends knew all the places to take me in order for me to get the full effect of the town. Saturday morning we started of at Huka Falls which is part of the Waikato River. Around 220,000 liters of water goes through the falls ever second and that was quite evident by the fast flow of the river.

Huka Falls

After Huka Falls we went to Craters of the Moon, which similar to Te Puia in Rotorua boasts several geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. As soon as we walked into the park you could see steam coming up in every direction. It took us 45 minutes to walk the boardwalk through the park and to see all the pools and geysers. Next stop on our trip was the largest wine cellar in New Zealand. There were thousands of bottles of wine from all over the world ranging from $20 to several thousand dollars. Here we got to sample a few of New Zealand's most popular wines.
After a day of sight-seeing we enjoyed a hot tub and then later my friends showed me Taupo nightlife.

One of the many mud pools at Craters of the Moon
Sunday morning we enjoyed one of the many amentities that the timeshare offered, a mini golf course! After a leisurely game of putt putt we took out the bikes that the house had and took a ride around the lake. This was a great way to see the lake and several of the summer homes and other attractions around it. Along the way we spotted the "Lake Taupo Hole-in-One Challenge". This was pretty much a tee that you hit a golf ball off of with the intention of getting it onto a pontoon set up out in the middle of the lake with the high hopes of getting it into one of the three holes on the pontoon. We stopped and watched a few eager men try at this for awhile, but no one was lucky.

Taking a break from the bike ride at Lake Taupo. After our bike ride around the lake we packed up and set off for our drive back to Wellington. Along the way we stopped at a few places for some pictures. We first stopped at this spot along the lake where I guess a bunch of the locals usually go cliff-jumping in the summer time. My friends tried to convince me to jump in the lake, but it was just a bit too cold for me. We also stopped at the Army Museum, which unfortunately was closed but we did get to check out the old tanks and cannons outside. Finally we stopped in the Town of Bulls where EVERYTHING and I mean everything in the town has Bull in the name.

We finally arrived back in Wellington around 10 pm and I was definitely ready for bed. This is my last week of class and then the next few weeks are for finals. Luckily for me I only have one in class test which is Thursday and a take home final due early next week. I'm hoping to get one more trip in before I depart for the US on June 23rd. My time here has been absolutely amazing and hopefully you all have been able to see that through my blogs!

Hope everyone is well and enjoyed their Memorial Day Weekend!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Second Trip to the South Island

Last Wednesday to Sunday I took a trip down to the South Island with my sister Keri, her friend Zoe who are visiting till the 25th, and my American friend Kelsey. We flew into Queenstown on Wednesday May 12th where we picked up a rental car and checked into our hostel. It seems almost natural now driving on the left hand side of the road. After checking into our hostel we drove up to the Kawarua Bridge home to one of the AJ Hackett bungy jumps. In fact this is the world's first bungy jump. Keri and Zoe both planned to go for a jump. I'm sure some of you will be disappointed to hear I did not do it. Keri and Zoe were in line to go after a big family of about 6 who were tourists from India. Most of them had no problem doing it but a few of them almost had to be pushed off the platform to go. Neither Keri or Zoe had much trouble taking the plunge off the bridge. They both were dunked into the water on their first bounce and after bouncing around a bit were detached by a boat that floats in the river below. I was quite entertained from the side of the bridge. One day I may regret my decision not to bungy jump in Queenstown, but for now I'm just fine with it.
Thursday morning we woke up at the AU Crew hour of 4 am. We planned to get up to drive to Milford Sound for a boat trip we scheduled. The suggested driving time out to Milford was between 3 and 5 hours, so we played it safe and left at 4:45 to get to our 9:45 am boat ride. The drive was absolutely amazing. We entered the Fiordland National Park after the first two hours of driving and once we were driving through the park the view was absolutely incredible. The road, like most in New Zealand, was one lane (in each direction) and carved through the mountains. We saw multiple water falls and even snow-capped mountains along the drive. Milford Sound itself was also incredible. I don't think I have ever been anywhere else in the world that looks like Milford and I'm not sure that there are many places that can boast its' unique beauty. Our 2.5 hour boat ride brought us up close to the waterfalls and even right up to some seals resting on the rocks of the Sound. Even though it was a rainy dreary day, that is to be expected in Milford Sound. Our boat's tour guide said that if it doesn't rain in the Fiordland National Park for up to 9 days then it is considered a drought!
Here I am on the boat!After taking our time and stopping in Te Anua on our way back, we eventually made it back to Queenstown that afternoon. Thursday evening we experienced some of the nightlife that Queenstown has to offer...which isn't much. The town definitely lives up to its reputation of being a tourist hotspot. Even though it's not summertime there or wintertime to attract skiiers, there were tons of tourists in the town. When we went out that evening, I'm not sure we met one Kiwi between the four of us, but tons of Europeans!
Friday morning we left around 10 am to make our journey across the country to Christchurch. While Kelsey and I already went there once, we figured it'd be a good place to end the trip for Keri and Zoe and also it would be a nice way for us to see the middle part of the country. While the drive took us around 7 hours, we stopped at Lake Wanaka, Twizel, and Lake Tekapo along the way. All of the lakes that we saw were an absolutely incredible blue-green color, thanks to the glaciers that dump into the lakes. I guess the mineral buildup is what makes the water a murky color as well. Driving through Twizel we came upon a salmon farm which we stopped at. It was pretty much a bunch of huge netted-off parts of a lake that was home to thousands of salmon. The owners then caught the fish to freshly fillet and then sell from the farm. While we didn't buy any salmon ourselves, we took plenty of pictures! The drive brought us through some more incredible scenery and my camera was full by the end of the drive.

Lake Wanaka

Lake Tekapo After finally arriving in Christchurch on Friday evening we went straight to a rugby match so Keri and Zoe could witness that important part of Kiwi culture. Of course Kelsey and I spent most of the match trying to explain the rules and figure them out at the same time. Keri and Kelsey spent a good part of the second half of the match trying to decide whether they though football players or rugby players were more impressive athletes. That debate is still on going.
Saturday we spent most of the day walking around Christchurch and showing Keri and Zoe what we had checked out the last time we were there. We headed back to Wellington on Sunday afternoon and I was glad to finally sleep in my own bed for a good night's sleep.

Monday was Keri's 19th birthday and while she was already thrilled to be celebrating it in New Zealand, I had planned something pretty exciting for her..a horse back ride. We took a train from Wellington about an hour north to the very small town of Featherston where we ventured out to Patuna Farms. From the farms we were suited up with an appropriate horse and then took an 1.5 hour trek through some of the 400 acres that the farm boasted. While I hadn't ridden a horse in 3 years, it was luckily just like riding a bike. Hopefully Keri can remember here birthday as an exciting one!

Tomorrow morning I'm taking the girls north to Rotorua to see some of the North Island. We're taking a 7 hour bus ride tomorrow and then returning Saturday afternoon. So while it'll be a quick trip it will be good for the girls to see some of that area and I haven't seen it either so i'm pretty psyched!
Only 5 more weeks left in New Zealand, so I'm making the most of it!

Me and Keri : )

Hope everyone back home is doing well. I miss you all!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Almost a Kiwi

As always I'm apologizing for not being more up-to-date on my blog posts. It's been almost three weeks since I returned from my vacation to Sydney and Tokyo and my last post.

I've been leading a pretty regular life the past few weeks. Class work has taken up most of my time. I have several papers due in the next few weeks, so I'm just trying to stay on top of all that. As my father reminds me, I did come here to be a student, so occasionally I'll have to write a paper and possibly read a book. I have also been taking part in winter training with a few other rowers at the Wellington Rowing Club. My two closest Kiwi friends, Jess and Lap (nickname for Lisa) are both pretty serious rowers. They have a club season that begins at the end of June, so they are training for that. I figure it is good for me to stay in shape and I get to spend more time with them this way as well! We erg two days a week, do weights/calistetics three other days, and then occasionally get out on the water on the weekends. The weather here is the biggest thing that keeps us off the water. I kid you not when I say that when it is a bad weather day in Wellington, it is a VERY bad weather day. The wind here comes from Antarctica, and I guess the way that New Zealand is shaped the wind just blows right over the South Island and into Wellington. So the first time it was a really windy day in Wellington, I seriously thought I was walking through a hurricane. In Florida, even when the hurricane is on the otherside of the state the weatherman recommends you stay in side. When its windy like that here people go about their business and occasionally have to hold onto a light post when an exceptionally strong gust blows through.

Next week I'm getting my first visitors since I've been here. My lovely little sister Keri is coming over and bringing her friend Zoe (from Naples and UF) for two whole weeks! They arrive on Tuesday the 11th and depart the 25th. Keri will be here for her 19th birthday on May 17th! The day after they arrive we are traveling to the South Island for a few days of travel. Wednesday the 12th we are departing at 9 am to fly to Queenstown. We plan to stay there two nights and see a bunch around the area. Milford Sound is a 3.5 hour drive from the city, so we plan to drive out there and take a boat trip around the Sound. We're also hoping to walk up a glacier and see Lake Wanaka. Queenstown is known to be the adventure capital of New Zealand, famous for bungy jumping, paragliding, and sky diving. Bungy jumping and sky diving are two things I am not particularly drawn to do. I know everyone says its a must to go bungy jumping in Queenstown, but I don't think I would be especially excited to do it in any part of the world. I guess I'll see about that one. Paragliding on the other hand could be a little more appealing. Queenstown and the Fiordland is where a lot of Lord of the Rings was filmed, so there are a few spots that we'll see where some of the filming was done. The scenes from that movie are part of the reason I decided to come to this beautiful country, so I figure I better see them. We depart on Sunday at 2 pm from Christchurch, so we plan to end up there on Saturday evening to spend the night. I hope to see as much of the region as possible in the four days we'll be down there and have a fully charged camera for the entire adventure. I'm still working on other plans for while Keri and Zoe are here. One thing I did promise Keri is that we would go horse-back riding on her birthday (the 17th) so that will definitely happen!

The weekend after the girls leave I have another trip planned to go to Lake Taupo and Rotorua. My friend Jess's family has a time share in Rotorua so we are taking advantage of it and going up with a big group of people. I think it'll be pretty exciting to road trip and see all these places with Kiwis. All my friends of course are excited to travel with an American tourist. I am sure we will both provide plenty of entertainment for one another.

My last final is on June 7th. I could have had finals up until the end of June, so that is why my dad booked my return for June 23rd and of course I have to be back for my cousin Lizzy's wedding on the 26th. So I now have less than 7 weeks left here. Saying that out loud blows my mind. It's hard to believe I've been here for 2 and 1/2 months, the time has of course flown by! Before I know it I'll be arriving back in Burlington, enjoying my short summer, and then starting my senior year of college. Now that really blows my mind!

I have definitely come to appreciate my time here. When I first got here my impression was that everyone loved Americans. We were the coolest people to be from the greatest country in the world. But I've come to learn that it's really only Americans who think this about ourselves. The general opinion of Americans is that we all think we're big hotshots and we do whatever we want. Well thanks George Dubya for that one. Obviously no Kiwi is a fan of him. Since Obama has come into office the feeling towards Americans has lightened a bit. But I don't think Kiwis regard him as our president, but more as a celebrity. They all love him, but it is definitely in more of a worship kind of way as opposed to a respected way. I have never felt disrespected in anyway though because Kiwis are too nice to say to my face that they think Americans are hotheaded. It is also a humbling experience to realize that Kiwis are just as westernized and developed as anywhere in the US. I don't know if I expected every Kiwi to be an outdoorsy, farmer type, or what. But in fact most Kiwi college students are like your average American college student. They all listen to the same kind of music we do, watch the same tv shows (Gossip Girl, Grey's Anatomy, Glee, Desperate Housewives), have the same sort of fashion sense, and spend their weekends partying and socializing. As much as I thought it would be great to be American in New Zealand, I often feel like I have to prove myself to people. Prove to them that I did not vote for George Bush, personally pass the Patriot Act, live on the Jersey Shore, or am geographically-inept. Kiwis hate it when you compare them to Australia or assume that they are somehow geographically connected to Australia. So if someone ever tells you they are from New Zealand make sure you know that is in the Southern Hemisphere in the Pacific and NOT part of Australia. My Kiwi friends that know me definitely respect me and realize that I do not live up to the stereotype they had. I only hope that I'm helping pave the way for future Americans who come here. And as much as I love the fact that I am American, it would probably be much easier to travel the world as a New Zealander. Just a bit of insight there.

Well I hope all my lovely friends and family are doing well and know that I'm thinking of you. Before you know it we will be reunited!!

Friday, April 9, 2010

From the Big City of Tokyo

I arrived safely in Tokyo last Wednesday evening into Narita airport. The airport is about an hour and a half from where Tiina lives. The city is that big that it takes such awhile to get from the airport to the part where she lives. I think I was in shock when I was riding the bus from the airport through the city. I've never been in a city as large as Tokyo, some 12 million people. I have no way to describe the size of the city other than it is MUCH larger than New York City. After riding the bus from the airport I arrived at the Shinjuku bus station where Tiina picked me up and then we took a quick cab ride to her "mansion" or apartment.

Thursday, my first full day in Tokyo, Tiina took me to the Metropolitan Government Building, which has an observation deck on the 45th floor in which you can view the city from every side. From every window I looked out as far as I could see was covered in buildings and not much grass. After observing the striking view from the building Tiina took me to another part of the city, Shibuya. Like New York City with Queens, Brooklyn, etc, Tokyo has various neighborhoods. Tiina also took me to one of her favorite sushi places on Thursday, which was amazing. It was one of those places where the sushi goes around on a conveyor belt and the chefs are in the middle placing new dishes onto the belt. And if an item has been on the belt for longer than 10 or 15 minutes the chef will take it off as it is no longer fresh enough to serve. Talk about fresh fish.

Tiina and Alef have taken me to several other delicious restaurants. Friday evening we went to Gonpachi which is well known for having served presidents Clinton and Bush and part of the film Kill Bill was filmed in the restaurant as well. Last evening we went to a Korean barbeque place in which you are served raw meat and then you cook it on a little grill in the center of your table. I'm being spoiled with all this good food!

There are several things about Tokyo and the Japanese people that strike me. First of all everything is so efficient here! The bus that I took from the airport into the city was scheduled for 7:40 pm. The bus arrived at 7:35, we were all aboard at 7:39 and pulling away from the airport at 7:40. Furthermore, the buses, trains, and subways all run so efficiently. What a change after often struggling with the Metro in DC which is being fixed or worked on half the time. The city is also so clean! While there are limited trashcans on the streets (something Tiina said has occurred since 9/11) there is no trash in the streets or the sidewalks. The public transportation is so clean as well. The Japanese are a very friendly people. While there is a limited number of Japanese who speak English, everyone who I've encountered has been very willing to help me, even if they can't understand me. The Japanese are also very into appearance and fashion. I feel underdressed walking down the street in jeans and a sweater, as most girls are wearing dresses and high heels. The oddity of fashion choices also gets me. There are so many girls here who border on being the Japanese version of Lady Gaga. On Sunday Tiina took me to a park where several people dress up in extremely extravagant outfits and then pose along the sidewalk. Each of them had a cluster of people around them taking their photographs, which of course the person posing loves. Some more funny little things that I've noticed are the kitchens are tiny. Japanese often eat out, so there is no need for a massive kitchen. Tiina has a washing machine that also doubles as a dryer, however most Japanese air dry their clothes, so the dryer is rarely used. And most interesting of all is the heated toilets. Yes, the toilets in public restrooms and in houses have the ability to heat up, like a heated car seat. A very odd first experience indeed.

I caught the tail-end of cherry blossom season here in Tokyo. I think the Japanese may have given the United States the puny version of their cherry blossom trees, as the trees here are about twice the size of the ones in Washington. Cherry Blossoms draw a similarly large crowd here as well. Often young Japanese people will spend the afternoon drinking and socializing under the cherry trees in the park here and stay late into the evening.

I have another week here in Tokyo, so much more excitement to come. Wednesday is Tiina's birthday which I'm very excited about as its been several several years since I've celebrated the big day with her. I'm also hoping to see Mt. Fuji at some point! Saturday evening I'll depart Tokyo and arrive back in Wellington Sunday afternoon. I can't believe how quickly time has flown by!

Hope everyone is doing well on the other side of the world!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweeeeeet Sydney

Howdy from Sydney!
I am just wrapping up my second full day here in Sydney and I have absolutely loved it so far. The city is much larger than I had imagined, then again I have been in the very tiny (300,000 people) city of Wellington for the past few months.

After a full day of traveling on Saturday, my friend Kelsey and I arrived in Sydney around 7 pm that night. We took a shuttle to our hostel, the Blue Parrot, located in King's Cross in Sydney. After a quick meal, it was an early night for us as we were exhausted from the traveling.

But we made the most out of Sunday! We took the train (subway) to Darling Harbour. The subway system in Sydney is quite extensive, I believe there are 7 or 8 different lines that stretch out into the suburbs. After getting off the subway we ventured into Paddy's Market, which was pretty much like a giant flea/farmer's market filled with all sorts of things. I have to admit I spent a bit on souvenirs for myself...and of course family and friends! After spending an hour or so in the market we walked along the harbour. There were SO many people doing the same thing. It's incredible the number of tourists. After walking around the harbour and seeing the maritime museum (a few naval ships and submarines) we took the train to Circular Quay to see the other side of the harbor where the Bridge and Opera House are located. As soon as the train came above ground and I saw the Opera House for the first time my mouth dropped. I guess I wasn't expecting something so large, or I was just so psyched to finally see it, but I was speechless. Then of course the Sydney Harbor Bridge is pretty incredible as well. We checked both structures out up close and I got quite a few pictures of everything. As it was Easter on Sunday, Kelsey and I treated ourselves to a nice meal seeing as we were both a little sad not to be with our families for the holiday. But Easter dinner right on the harbor was a close second best. After taking a second look at the Opera House after the sun had set, Kelsey and I took the subway back to King's Cross and our hostel to call it a night.

Today we had planned to go to Bondi Beach, but the weather did not work out in our favor. Instead we walked the city some more, seeing the Queen Victoria building, the Sky Tower, and Sydney's version of Hyde Park. Later this evening I'm planning to go see Avatar on Sydney's IMAX. I know it's been forever, but I'm finally going to see it. I figured it was about time, seeing as my parents have seen the film like 3 or 4 times now.

Hopefully tomorrow will be beach weather. We also plan to go to the Wildlife Park so that I can finally see that Koala bear I've been dying to hold.

Wednesday morning I leave for Tokyo at 7 am and will arrive there around 6 pm (Tokyo time). I am getting very very excited for some quality time with Tiina. I think it is probably a good thing I came to Sydney first seeing as this city is a bit overwhelming coming from Wellington, I can't imagine how I'm going to feel when I first get to the ENORMOUS city of Tokyo!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! Much love!!

Friday, April 2, 2010

5 Weeks Down, Too Few Remaining!

It has been awhile since my last post and I apologize if anyone was waiting patiently for me to write something new. The past few weeks have been filled with mostly academic work and lots of rowing. My mid-semester break started yesterday, Good Friday and in fact I am leaving to start my break in Sydney in just a few hours. My sheer excitement to get to Australia has left me sleepless, leaving me plenty of time to write a new post.

My plans for break have me heading to Sydney today, Saturday the 3rd and staying until Wednesday the 7th. I'm traveling with another American who I had previously gone to the South Island with. We're staying in what looks like the quaintest hostel Sydney had to offer. Situated nicely between Bondi Beach, the Opera House, and downtown, we'll hopefully get to see all the major hotspots. I'm also secretly really looking forward to holding a Koala Bear.
On Wednesday I'm leaving in the morning to go all the way to Tokyo, Japan to visit Tiina! After all the years she's been there, someone from our clan is finally getting to see her there. I'm absolutely thrilled about this. I'm going to Asia?! That sounds pretty wild to me. I'll be there for ten days, as I head back to New Zealand on April 17th. It's a pretty nice size break we have, two weeks. We had 5 weeks of class, this two week break, and then 7 weeks of class remaining. After checking my calendar I realize that I have just ten weeks left in New Zealand. I get a little choked up thinking about that, as there is still so much to do and see. My younger sister, Keri and her friend Zoe (from UF and Naples) are coming over to visit me May 11th-25th. I'm very excited that she'll get to make it over here, I know she'll love this country as much as I do. I'm hoping that when they are here we can road trip up around the north island to places such as Lake Taupo and Rotorua. Keri and Zoe both want to go bungee jumping, so i'll have to work that into the trip as well. I think I'll stay on solid ground for that little endevour.

Seeing as break just started, I had several papers due before I started vacation. I cooped myself up in the library for the past two weeks in an attempt to get those all done before I left for my travels. I'm not much of a procrastinator (good habit picked up from rowing), so it wasn't a problem staying on top of everything. My classes are all going really well. Particularly the media in new zealand class has helped me learn so much about kiwi culture.

I have kept up with rowing, although the season will end next week after they attend Uni Games in Dunedin. There is a club team (Wellington Rowing Club) which starts training after the semester break that I may decide to join. The past few weeks with the team has gained me several close Kiwi friends and even a trip north to Wanganui where we went to a training camp. Last weekend we drove two hours north on Friday afternoon and stayed at the Union Boathouse in Wanganui for two nights and trained on the river which runs through the town. The room that the 50+ rowers stayed in looked something like a high school gym with hurricane victims. Luckily I shared an air mattress with my friend Jess in a semi-quiet corner. We spent all of Saturday rowing, going out three times on the water. Where we were was very sunny and warm, which was a nice change from the cooler weather here in Wellington. On Saturday night the team had their traditional toga party, pretty self-explanatory, in the boathouse that we were staying at. This tradition also included the "novice team initiation" which I won't go into too much detail with other than the boys ate some raw eggs. Sunday we went out on the water again twice and then headed back to Wellington that evening. I think with rowing I have made more Kiwi friends here than American friends. I guess this is probably a good thing and honestly I have loved it! A few of the girls on my team want to take me to the Northern tip of the North Island after classes end. Most of them haven't even seen that area and I think they're using me, the American tourist, as an excuse to go there.

It's 6:40 am here and my flight to Sydney leaves in a few hours, so I better finishing packing! I'll give an update from Sydney! Hope everyone is well back in the USA!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Easy Oar

As many of you know I am an avid fan and participant in the sport of rowing. I rowed in high school and now for my college in DC, American University. My decision to come to Wellington forced me to miss the spring season of rowing, the more competitive of the two seasons. However, when researching Vic University I discovered they had a rowing team, so back in December I emailed the team to let them know I'd be here for the semester and wanted to row. After the assured me that an international student could partake in the sport I was pumped!

Today was the first practice! Or I should say first two practices. The team is divided like most teams into four teams: novice men, novice women, varsity women, varsity men. Although here in NZ they call varsity "senior". So I was fortunate enough to be able to join the senior team. The practice schedule is somewhat different to teams in the US. The senior women's schedule goes something like this
Monday - 6 am and 6 pm
Tuesday - 6 am
Wednesday - 6 am and 6 pm followed by a visit to a pub for "team bonding"
Thursday - No practice (to recover from the hangover I assume)
Friday - 6 am
Saturday - 8 am
Sunday - 10 am.
So where as in the US we usually take Sundays off as the day of rest, here in NZ Sunday is NOT the day of rest. New Zealand is certainly a culture of drinking. Such sports as rugby are centered around drinking, and I guess rowing is no exception to this, so they work it into the schedule.

The practices today went quite well. I expected that the calls would be somewhat different to the calls we use in the US, which they were, but it was not difficult to pick up on them. The title of this post "easy oar" is what the coxswain says to stop the rowers. Where in the US we say "weigh enough" sounds like way-nuff. They call port side "stroke side" and starboard side "bow side". I guess that goes along with the rigging of the boat (for those of you who know much about rowing). Also to increase the stroke rating, the cox said "flip the rate". That one definitely through me off.

The coach is a young guy, a few years older than me I believe. His first name is Dougal. Definitely a kiwi name. When he asked this morning who rowed "stroke side" and "bow side". I was a little confused, but when he discovered I rowed port he asked if I had ever stroked (which I normally do) and I was excited to exclaim YES!! Then I realized, oh wait, the calls are going to be slightly different and I don't want to look like I have no idea what I'm doing. Well I did end up stroking and luckily the girl sitting 7 seat (behind me) translated the calls after the cox made them. After a few minutes I was back in the groove.

As I may have mentioned before, Wellington is a very windy city. This morning when we went out around 6:20 the water was quite flat and easy to row on, however this evening at 6 pm it was choppy enough that a sailboat we passed was keeled way over. We got waked several times and I definitely had a look of grimace on my face, as the water was COLD!! But cold water never deters me and I have to say that it was very enjoyable to be back on the water after a few months away. Between splashes from water, I had a grin on my face.

Rowing in the Wellington harbor was actually similar (scenically) to rowing in Washington. We rowed past the Wellington airport (always row by Reagan National in DC). I was able to see the city from where we were and it's glow before the sun rose (the Washington Monuement, Capitol Building, and everything in between is always illuminated in the early morning). And then of course I saw the sunrise out over the ocean. That was absolutely wonderful! Oh and of course one more similarity..the cox had to constantly watch out for buoys and white cans marking the channel.

Another oddity about University rowing in NZ is the length of the season. 5 Weeks! We practice from now until April 9th and then the team competes at Uni Games, south of Dunedin and then the season is over. Unfortunately (but fortunately) I won't be able to attend the one regatta as I'll be traveling to Japan then to see Tiina! The regatta falls right in the middle of our semester break and I had already planned a trip to visit her in Tokyo. Luckily the coach said "no worries" when I told him this and said that I was welcome to come to practice and once he determined the lineup for the boat, I could go out in a single. I just love the sport of rowing too much to pass up his offer. I'm going to continue to attend all the practices and social events as I love being out on the water and it'll be a great way to meet some more Kiwis who love it just the same.

Here's a picture of the two boathouses on Wellington Harbor, Vic rows out of the smaller, white one.

Hope everyone is doing well! Cheers!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Back to the Books

After three months of no assigned reading, 10 page papers, or class lectures, on Monday March 1st I started school as a student of Victoria University of Wellington (Vic). The school has some 20,000 students, which is much larger than what I am accustomed to (AU is just around 6,000). I am taking three courses, two media classes and one political science course. The two media classes, which is really communications here at Vic, are really going to force me to learn more about pop culture and how kiwis really feel about their worldwide reputation. The first media class, popular media culture, is all about the media outlets here in New Zealand and the ways in which various ethnicities, genders, and cultural differences are portrayed. This class will also help me out with the other media class I am enrolled in, politics in the media in New Zealand. This class is about what the title implies. In the very first class, yesterday morning, the topic of American Politics came up and the way in which 24 hour television news sources, such as CNN and Fox skew the American public' view of the world. At least this is what one Kiwi student said and felt. Time will only tell whether the professor and students will use American political media to compare NZ political media.

Speaking of politics, it fascinates me how interested in our political system and figures Kiwi students are. I've seen multiple students wearing Obama shirts and several more with newspaper clippings post-election day of 2008. When discussing this with some of my Kiwi friends they were all very interested to hear I had been at the Inauguration. They all admire our political system, as they think it is much less catty and more serious then theirs. They believe their politicians make more negative personal comments to one another on the floor of Parliament, then actually accomplish policy-making. If only they really understood Congress or heard of Rep. Joe Wilson.

My third and final class is political philosophy of international relations. In the class we'll look at various philosophers from ancient Greece to Karl Marx in the 19th Century and how the philosopher's writings affected political action. Should also be a very interesting class (but tons of reading).

All the class sizes are gigantic here! The biggest class I ever had at AU was around 150 students and that was Freshman year macroeconomics, since then all of my classes have been between 25-45 students. The largest class I have here is 355 students and the smallest was around 60. Here at Vic, most classes also have an additional section called a tutorial. "Tutes" are pretty much like TA discussion sessions and only occur once a week for about an hour.

Luckily I don't have class on Friday, so I can continue to plan some weekend trips around New Zealand. I would like to get to Queenstown and Milford Sound before the weather starts to turn.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Picton - Nelson - Kaikoura

This past Sunday I left for my travels through the upper part of the South Island. It's interesting that this country is split up into two islands, so far they have been two completely different places. The majority of the people are in the North Island, while the majority of the sheep are in the South Island.

On Sunday my friend Kelsey (also an AU student) and I left at 8:30 am to take the ferry from Wellington Harbor to the South Island city of Picton. The ferry ride took three hours, but was a very beautiful ride. As we left Wellington we could see all of the city behind us and it surprised me how large it actually is. As we traveled through the Cook Straight we hugged the coast line and were probably less than 500 meters from shore. Of course everyone on board was excited when we saw groups of dolphins come alongside the ferry. The ferry is in fact nothing like a ferry that I imagined. It was more like a small cruise ship. There are decks to stand on outside to watch the journey and then inside there are little cabins for sleeping and relaxing during the middle part of the journey. The ferry also holds plenty of cars, which you can take between islands.

After landing in Picton, Kelsey and I quickly ran to catch our bus to Nelson which left at 12:15. That bus ride took us through the well-known Marlborough wine country. We saw very few houses, but plenty of vineyards and farms. Our bus driver pointed out the several wind turbines that we saw and noted that these are in fact not for wind power, but used to generate air flow over the vineyards to prevent frost from settling.

After arriving in Nelson, Kelsey and I took a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car. We're keeping the car till Thursday when we'll drop it off in Christchurch. Nelson City is the most gorgeous beach town. The town is surrounded by mountains as it sits right on the crystal clear Pacific Ocean.

Sunday night we checked into our first hostel, Accents on the Park, which was a clean and friendly little place right in downtown Nelson. On Monday Kelsey and I drove up to Abel Tasman National Park, passing through Kaiteriteri and Monueka. All the roads here in the South Island are one lane and quite twisty and turny. Not only am I having to learn to drive on the other side of the road, but driving on roads that are questionably wide enough for two cars to pass. Abel Tasman was another gorgeous spot with mountains and ocean to explore. We took a short hike through the park, but most backpackers take a 2-4 day hike through the park. I guess if I ever come back to NZ that will be something to add to my list to do.

Tuesday morning we left to drive to Kaikoura taking the route through the Lewis Pass. This drive was certainly the most rural and wild drive I've ever made. We certainly saw more sheep than people and probably only saw 20 other cars in our four hour drive. The scenery was mostly mountains, grass, and some very dry river beds.

We stopped in Hanmer Springs which is a natural hot spring in a town of just 700 people. After driving for hours and not seeing any people it was nice to make a pit stop to relax in the springs. It cost us just $12 to use the varying temperature pools for as long as we liked. After spending a few hours in Hanmer Springs we continued our drive to the coastal town of Kaikoura. We arrived here yesterday afternoon and stayed in a quaint little hostel called the Lazy Shag. It was right on the beach and filled with many backpackers from all over the world. Our room had one girl from Germany, one from Switzerland, and another from Holland. It's pretty neat to meet people from such various places and hear all about where they have been and what they have liked and disliked in NZ.

This afternoon we are taking a boat ride out to a reef to see the seals and whales that populate this area of the South Island. After our boat ride we'll finish our drive down to Christchurch, which should take about an hour. We're staying in Christchurch till Saturday then taking a plane ride back to Wellington. Classes start Monday!

After just three days in the South Island I can see why so many people say this is the more beautiful island. There certainly is a lot to offer down here and so much to explore. I wish I could bring all my friends and family here right now just to see the spectacular sites that I've seen so far. Because I left my computer back in Wellington I have not had a chance to upload any of my some 200 pictures I have taken, but I will be sure to add as many as I can when I get back so you can all see where I have been.

Hope all is well with everyone!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gidday Everyone!

After a day and a half of travel I arrived safely in Wellington Tuesday morning. I flew from Miami to LA to Auckland and then finally to Wellington. I’ve since spent the time adjusting to the time zone difference (16 hours ahead) and discovering the city of Wellington. For those of you who have not been to Wellington before (most except my good friend KB), Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, located on the southern tip of the North Island with a population just over 400,000.

Yesterday, the university I am attending, Victoria University of Wellington (VIC) had an international student orientation for the some 300 students doing a semester here. Although the majority of the students that are here are from the United States, there were several other countries represented, even Finland. The day was spent learning more about the city, Kiwi (New Zealander) culture, and the educational experience I’ll be having at VIC. We finished the day by registering for classes, although I need to still work out a few kinks in my schedule I think I’ll be taking Political Philosophy, Politics and the Media in New Zealand, and Popular Media Culture.

I’m hoping to take a trip next week to the northern part of the South Island. There is a ferry that goes from Wellington to Picton, which takes about three hours. After landing in Picton we will be able to drive, or take the train to Christchurch and see most of the country between the two spots. While I would like to get down to Queenstown and Milford Sound in the earlier part of my trip, it is the height of tourist season there now so it’s pretty difficult to find any cheap and convenient way to travel down there for next week.

Just a few immediate differences I've noticed since arriving here in
NZ, obviously there is a strong accent that takes some getting used to. For the letter Z, Kiwis say "zed" and for the letter W, they say "dub". Corner stores are called dairies, while a pharmacy is called a chemist. They pretty much abbreviate everything they can!
So far the weather has been pretty moderate. Mid-60s to low 70s, but windy as can be. Wellington certainly is the windy city. And I'll be sure to add more as my trip continues!