Dearest Friends and Family,
We have not stopped since we have been here. This has been a magical time here in New Zealand. Every day has brought a new adventure. Everyone we meet has been friendly and kind. The rehabilitators have been always happy to see us, sharing with information, as well as sharing their wildlife with us. We have been gone almost a week now and this is the first time I’ve been able to turn on a computer.
I am so proud of the students. They have been respectful, appreciative, helpful, and use their rehabilitation skills so eagerly! We have had five days in Aukland visiting and helping local rehabilitators. We spent our last day observing a Gannet Colony who are in the nesting season, going on an interpretive walk, and going for a swim in the ocean. Tonight is our last night with the wildlife rehabilitators in the area of Aukland. They have invited us to one of their homes for a barbeque. We have had a wonderful exchange with them.
Tomorrow we will head up towards Whangari to visit another rehab center that is run by a couple. On the way we will go to Goat Island, an underwater park, to go snorkeling.
I won’t get into the details of the days as we are taking turns with daily journal submissions, which will be attached to the email. I will say that it’s amazing how all these different personalities have fun with each other, and take care of each other so well! Communication is important on a trip like this where everyone is operating so closely, so we try to sit down every day and debrief the experiences.
We will try to email out our journal entries every 5 days or so. Please don’t worry, everyone is doing well, and spirits are still very high.
Today we went to a wildlife rehab center that was located in the suburban Auckland. Lyn MacDonald ran the center. She dealt with mostly birds however, she had two hedgehogs. Her bird population included parrots, sea birds, and small songbirds. The birds that she had looked like they came form a pet store, she had cockatoos, lorikeets, numerous other species of parrots, and budgies. The songbirds that she had were the same that we have in the states, thrushes, blackbirds, starlings, and sparrows. She did have a few local New Zealand birds that included pekuko, a tern, a New Zealand Sea Gull, and a Cook’s Petrel. We spent close to five hours working at her center doing odd jobs and caring for the animals. After taking care of her center, Lyn took us to a friend’s, Phil, house. At Phil’s house we met Slug, Lyn’s 11-month old seal pup. After Phil’s house we traveled bake to Lyn center and walked down to the beach behind the center. At the beach we walked through oyster beds along the beach and marveled at the many differences between here and home. The difference that stuck out most in my mind was the constant birdcalls. I am used to the calls of our songbirds, but here the calls were way more complex and melodious. Another difference that stuck out in my mind was the amount of life on the beach in tidal pools, the pools contained shrimp, crabs, snails, limpets, anemones, and other minute sea life. After visiting the beach we returned to the hostel and settled down for the night.
Today we started off by meeting a rehabilitator by the ocean trying to catch ducklings. Some of us got to kayak (Joe and Natalie) and some of us got on a small “dingy” (Savannah, Nina and Ashleigh). After several hours we were unsuccessful. We got to spend a couple of hours at mission bay which is where we tried to capture the ducks. Joe and Charlie got a New Zealand sun burn and turned into lobsters for the next couple of days…pictures coming soon! After leaving the beach we followed the rehabilitator, Mandy to another rehabilitator’s home. Hilary has been our main contact here and has been the one to connect us to all of the rehabilitators we are visiting. Hilary had several aviaries with interesting New Zealand natives all over her back yard. She told us about the Chinese fisherman that used the Cormorants to fish, tying a string around the base of their neck to keep them from eating the fish they catch so that the fishermen can retrieve them. They will leave the birds tied to tires and use them to fish many hours of the day. Once leaving Hilary’s we traveled onto to Mandy’s home. On the way Robert spotted a Cormorant that was injured, so we stopped and Nina and Hilary tried to catch him thus the second failure of the day. He jumped into a drain on the side of the road and disappeared. We then arrived at Mandy’s which was a beautiful farm house, all the injured waterfowl roamed free with clipped wings in her backyard. She also had a lot of domesticated animals that we were able to play with; our favorite was Maggie the Magpie, a resident New Zealand bird. I was especially excited to see a wild pet starling named Sunny which made me miss my own pet starling Buddy. We thought that we couldn’t have a better day than our first but everyday gets better and better.
Today we started off the day by picking up baby birds from Lyn and taking them to Sylvia, our rehabilitator to visit for the day. Sylvia has been the main rehabilitator in New Zealand for many years and has been the mentor for all the rehabbers that we have visited and will visit while here. Sylvia had many pet parrots that she “babysits” for people while they go off for vacation. She also had many native birds in her home, many babies and several juvenile birds. She had several ducklings and two baby Little Blue penguins. The penguins were the by far the coolest thing that we have worked with up to this point. We all got a chance to hold and feed them. While we were at Sylvia’s home she received 5 or 6 birds and then helped a lady with a domestic turkey and then sent it back home with the lady. We left Sylvia’s heading toward the beach for a free afternoon. We had lunch on the hill overlooking the beach and then we all went to the beach for a while. We left the beach on our way back to the hostel for a free afternoon when that was quickly disrupted by running out of fuel on the major freeway. Because the driver thought a gas light would come on. We spent about an hour on the side of the road trying to flag down a car to take Robert to get fuel. It took us a while because everyone would only blow their horns and wave as they drove past. We finally got the fuel in the van and took off for the hostel. Once returning we had a free night to go out to eat and then do what we wanted. Tomorrow we are heading to a gannet colony and to the beach for the day!
Brittany Wadkinson and Savannah Trantham
This morning we drove to Waitakere Ranges National Park. We went into the visitors center and looked at all of the souvenirs. They had a little museum there. There were different Mauri statues that meant different things and told different stories, a bird calling instrument, and some cages with a nasty looking bug and some lizards. The visitors center had lots of information and a video about the flora and fauna of the region. We hiked on one of the trails at the park and looked at different kinds of plants. Some of the names of the plants were hard to pronounce but we had a lot of fun trying to say them. Next we visited to the gannet colony at Muriwai Regional Park beach. It was a beautiful place. The gannets were sitting on two cliffs jutting out in the ocean. There were thousands of gannets sitting on the ledges. They were so beautiful. Gannets mate for life. One of the mates would be sitting by itself and when its mate would come back they would do a dance and it looked like they were kissing. Some of them had really cute babies that looked like big fluff balls. Everybody enjoyed themselves. There was also a beach at the gannet colony. The sand was black because of the volcanic ash. Most of us went swimming in the cold ocean water. There was a cave on the beach that had water flowing through it. Because of the high tide, it was too dangerous to explore. After we left the gannet colony we returned to the hostel and started dinner. We all had a really good day.
Today we left the Auckland area to work our way up to Whangarei, (‘wh’ is pronounced as an ‘F’). We decided that since we would be gone for just one day we would only take what we needed for one day and night. The morning of departure went slow as most people had to do laundry and they had limited facilities here. Robert shuttled folks to the laundry mat to be more efficient. It was okay though because it wasn’t going to be a pushy day in terms of timing.
On the way we went to a little coastal town called Leigh, which was the home of Goat Island, where people go snorkeling and diving. We rented snorkeling gear and all snorkeled out to the island which was only a few hundred yards from the shoreline. Some of us used weight belts to help us dive. It makes the going slow, but worth the weight. Ha! After doing a safety briefing and getting into buddies we went into the water and made our way as a group out to the island. The day was windy and even though the visibility wasn’t perfect, we saw so many things: beautiful fish, sea snails, jelly fish, blow fish, sea urchins, beautiful sea kelp, and many other things. Of course my biggest thing is safety, and everyone did well on sticking together, and checking in to make sure everyone was doing okay. Two of us got a bit sea sick from the swells.
We keep arriving back to our hostels after 7pm. So we are definitely getting into the European style of dining. We have not had a bad meal yet. The students are divided into pairs for dinner. The cooks plan the meal, shop, then cook. The cooks from the previous night clean dishes.
Sometimes we get in late and folks are tired so we de-brief the activities from the day the following morning. Sometimes we simply talk about the experience, and sometimes we do an actual exercise. For example we did a descriptive writing exercise where the students would write about a memory that they want to express. They would write about every physical detail, sensation, and emotion.
I feel fortunate to be amongst such thoughtful, engaged, and caring people. I continue to learn so much from them. This is a wonderful experience for us all.
Today was a day of driving. Our group left Auckland around 9:00 A.M. and began our five-hour journey south toward Rotorua. After three hours we turned off the motorway and took a side trip to the land of hobbits. Picture the lush green rolling hills of Scotland, dotted with white fluffy puffs of sheep guarded by a few well-placed trees. The steel grey rain clouds framed this scenic view. The Shire café and bus charter area were nestled forty-five minutes into this beautiful country. Upon arrival, we looked at the lambs and other sheep surrounding the Shire and browsed the café’s small gift area. Because of price we decided to forgo seeing the Hobbit town, instead continuing on to Rotorua and the Kiwis. At the Kiwi Encounter we got a quick tour of the establishment by Clair and Toni, our wonderful guides. We had planned to do some community service and help out around, but because of the rainy weather, they decided to just show us around. At one point on the tour we went into a nocturnal building and saw actual Kiwi’s snuffling around in the natural underbrush provided by the establishment. Quietness was needed to prevent scaring the Kiwis away, as the displays did not have any screens blocking people from the Kiwi, just a half wall. It was amazing to see the endangered Kiwi in a relatively natural environment. After the tour was finished we all did a little shopping in the gift store, so be prepared for gifts upon our return.