December 20, 2007
Today was the day everyone looked forward to…a car ride to figure out everyone’s deepest darkest secrets. It was a 9-hour car trip all together in our small cozy van, bundled in like sardines. Oh how the car rides are so much fun. Nevertheless, most people slept the majority of the trip or listened to music on their ipods, and occasionally some people watched movies or read magazines and books. Before we got on the road we took a quick hike to Fox Glacier. It was about a 15-minute walk from the car park to the glacier view. The glacier was thicker than Franz Joseph (glacier seen pervious day) but not as wide or as tall. Fox Glacier looked more like a castle with a spiral swirled peak on the top and long narrow openings that appeared to look like stained glass windows. The different colorations of purple, blues and glistening white shined through the different openings. In the background the ice was melting and rocks were falling to the ground at great speeds. Glaciers are changing shape and formation consistently; it was amazing to see it just before our eyes. I preferred Fox Glacier to Franz Joseph glacier in terms of the free self-guided tour. However, if I were to take a guided tour, I would have loved to walk up and hike the Franz Josef Glacier because of its massive size. The glaciers were a truly amazing experience. Most people didn’t know what a glacier was until we got to see and learn about them first hand. Once we returned to the car park, we encountered a Kea. A Kea is like a parrot, which is highly known for its destruction to cars, especially rubber particles. A Kea can destroy a car in less than 10 minutes. It can pull apart the window lining, shatter all the windows, and take off the rear-view mirrors and antennas completely totaling a car or RV. We saw two different Keas jumping from roof to roof of the different cars in the car park. The Keas appeared to be playing a game… “Who could get the first thing detached from the car?” However, we were not able to see complete destruction, probably because numerous people were taking photos and hovering over creating a distraction. Our final destination was Lake Taukpo, where were going to be celebrating the New Year. We arrived so late that we had some dinner, took showers, and went to bed.
3 Mile Lagoon Hike – Okarito
December 28, 2007
We all awoke this morning with an impending excitement of the day’s hike. The group was able to eat breakfast with a spectacular view of Franz Joseph glacier right outside of the kitchen window. We had a nice drive on a dirt road out to a beach and after unfolding out of the van, we set out on our way. As we descended onto the beach, Nina spotted a couple of guys that turned out to be from New Zealand and asked them about the hike we were looking to go on. We were told that in order to make it to the beginning section of the walk, we would have to beat high tide otherwise we would be stuck on the rocks! The beach part of the hike involved attempting to seek out small rocks to hop onto to avoid the sinking sand, which was pretty difficult to walk in. Many of us stopped to click pictures of the ocean and look for shells, while others forged ahead like soldiers. There were parts of the hike on the beach where large rocks dominated the landscape and the only way to the other side was to climb over or through them. For those of us that chose to be brave, great landscape shots could be gained by climbing on top of some of the tall rocks! After some inspection, we found the beginning of the actual hike. The start was a pretty steep incline, but we all made it without huffing and puffing. We took a detour off of the 3- mile hike to eat lunch. We walked across a bridge that suspended us over water. We sat down on a smooth pebble beach and ate. Some laid on their backs to sunbathe and others skipped rocks across the water. While the food settled, we finally began our actual hike. In the beginning, we knew who our power hikers were; therefore we paired up and went our own pace. At times the terrain was rough, but thankfully we all had a supportive partner or group of people that we were hiking with. The flora was a temperate tropical forest; the birds over our heads serenaded us with sweet songs as we walked along. There was a faint echo of the waves crashing on the beach as we made our way up the mountain. At one point on the hike, there was a part in the trees that gave way to a breathtaking view of the ocean. The sky was a beautiful light blue that meshed with the turquoise hue of the ocean. Ashleigh and Natalie took the lead ahead of the rest of the group and would leave us stacks of rocks, large to small, to show the paths that they had taken. The group that consisted of Whitney, Savannah, Brittany, and Robert spent a majority of their hike laughing and giggling when Whitney would stop in the middle of the trail and exclaiming: “I just can’t go any farther!” Needless to say, Whitney was able to go the whole distance thanks to the support of her hiking buddies! The group shared hiking stories after reaching the van, and we piled in to head back to the Glo-worm hostel for a night of rest and relaxation.
December 31, 2007
New Year’s Eve has arrived! We started the day at Lake Tepako well rested, as we didn’t have to meet until 10 a.m. I on the other hand somehow managed to wake myself up at 8. Don’t ask me how I could do it so easily on my own that day and every other day it seems like a treacherous task to behold! Nina and Robert made me glad to be awake that early when they fixed eggs and hash browns for breakfast (yummy!) By the time everybody woke up, we discussed whether we would hike Mt. Cook then or the next day. It was unanimous, New Year’s Eve was our free day and we would hike the next morning. Everybody rushed to the lake immediately after our meeting. While some were soaking up rays, Natalie and I really wanted something to float on in the lake, so we decided to commandeer a couple rafts from a few guys. The guys ended up beaching their rafts a few feet away and came to talk to us, it turns out they were from Christchurch, NZ, and they came to the lake for the holiday. After chatting for a bit, I think they realized that we were eyeing the rafts next to them and they let us take them for a nice float around the lake. Well we didn’t really get that far- we ended up beached as well. As for the rest of the crew that stayed lying in the sun, well let’s just say they should avoid contact with the deadly rays for the rest of their lives! It hurt me just to look at the painful burns that covered their entire bodies. I’m talking blisters people! Let’s just say it was a harsh reminder not to skimp on the sunscreen…SPF 5,000 maybe? Well, after the hot tamales evacuated the beach, a Scottish band came through the area. I didn’t get much of a chance to check them out, but I was definitely digging the bagpipes from my spot in the sand. What a nice way to ring in the New Year in another country!
After taking in as much sun as possible, the rest of us came inside to watch Grease while Joe and Robert cooked us a great dinner. They cooked up some tasty potatoes, veggies, and steak for those with a carnivorous habit. Not long after dinner, everyone was all prettied up for our dance party beside our rental van! We started the night with my iPod blaring “Brick House” just for Nina, I’m sure she loved it. We danced ’til midnight with our group, and a bunch of other random kiwi’s from the nearby campground. Once 12 o’clock rolled around we had not one, but three countdowns. I have to say, it was one of the best New Year’s Eves ever.
January 1, 2008
Happy New Year!!! We started the year at 12:01 a.m., with two countdowns!?! Don’t ask me why. We all went to bed soon after that because we were getting up early to go to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, or Aoraki in Maori.
We dragged ourselves up relatively early and headed out toward the mountain. We all felt the excitement and anticipation of the magical destination where we would start the New Year. Before we got anywhere near the mountain we had to start off with an animal rehab opportunity. Nina spotted a black Labrador standing by the fence and was afraid it had been tied there and left. We slammed on the brakes and pulled one of our by now all too common u-turns. When we got back to the dog we found it was very skittish and definitely not tied up. It took off down the fence at great speed and we had no chance of catching it.
Our first view of the mountain came as we rounded a corner beside Lake Pukaki. Lake Pukaki is one of the New Zealand lakes filled with “rock flour” (fine dust left when a glacier rubs across rock over thousands of years), which creates a stunning turquoise tint in the water. So as we rounded the corner over the amazing blue lake the massive majestic mountain loomed above it in the distance. It was like a scene from a movie when the hero finds a lost land full of dinosaurs, with no way to tell where we were in time. We had to stop to take pictures and Nina’s daring dash across the road earned her a disgruntled horn blast. We were tourists and we had to accept the fact. Every time we went around a corner from then on our jaws dropped as the dominating 3755 meter (about 10000 or 11000 ft.) peak seemed to get larger and larger in front of us. There was also a line of peaks that were almost as high in a line looming over us, with glaciers hanging down.
After we reached the visitors’ center and decided on a hike to take we ate lunch to gather energy for the impending walk. We chose to walk up Hooker Valley towards Hooker Glacier. Several in the group were nursing sunburns after their “sun block malfunctioned” the day before while they lay out on the beach so two dropped out after we reached the first swinging bridge. The bridge hung over the grey raging torrent below and invoked a mixture of excitement and dread as it swayed with the rhythm of our steps as we crossed. The terrain was rocky but it was a very gentle grade so the hike was reasonably easy. It was inspiring to look up hundreds of feet on either side were waterfalls dropped from rivers truncated by glaciers centuries ago. The sun radiated its soft warmth throughout the valley. We walked slowly, stopping along the way to take occasional pictures of the next incredible view that seemed to appear around each corner.
Eventually we reached the second swinging bridge, which was just as enthralling as the first. Others in the group who had said they would drop out had by that point been convinced by the mountain that they should keep walking despite their pain. The walkie-talkies Ashleigh had brought came in handy as we talked back and forth with the speedsters up front. The main group knew Natalie and Ashleigh had reached the lake at the glacier terminus so we pushed on to catch them up there.
The lake sat below the most spectacular of the waterfalls we had seen so far. The wind was catching it in one place, spraying it out into the sunlight, which created the hint of a rainbow coming out of the face of the cliff. Icebergs floated in the lake having been left stranded by the glacier’s natural summer retreat. (On average the glaciers in New Zealand are advancing, which is one reason the experts are changing the name of “global warming” to “climate change”. The drastic spike in our global average temperatures caused by pollution is affecting different parts of the globe in different ways, which includes some cooling in this part of New Zealand.) The glacier was actually quite visually unimpressive although quite interesting. It was covered in moraine (rock carved off the side of the valley by the glacier), giving it the appearance of a giant Popsicle rolled in gravel. It was hard to tell if there was a glacier there at all if you didn’t know what to look for.
After sitting by the small lake for a little while we headed back to the van and drove back to Lake Tekapo. It had been such a long day we decided to eat out at the Japanese restaurant. Many of the students have developed a love for sushi since we have been here so it was fun to eat raw fish with them, adding another cultural dimension to our trip. After dinner everyone was ready to crash and we all went to bed early to be ready for our next day of travel.
January 4, 2008
“The Royals of Taiaroa”
We started off the morning getting up around 7:00 a.m…this was very difficult for some people! Nina and Robert fixed everyone breakfast and then we headed off on our way. Our first stop was at Rosalie’s to drop off our penguin bags and our picture. We have given all the rehabilitators one of these as a gift and a way to say thank you! We then headed a little east of Dunedin to the Otago Peninsula to Taiaroa Head where we hoped to find a colony of Royal Albatross! When we arrived Robert and Nina went up to the information center to find out what we needed to do to the see the birds while the rest of us fixed lunch and chatted with the noisy Red Billed Gulls that hovered close by our “Chilly Bin”, or cooler! While we were eating lunch we had a juvenile Red Billed Gull approach us that had injuries to the back of his head where the other gulls were pecking at him viciously. Brittany caught him and we cleaned up his would and placed him in a box to take to Rosalie in the afternoon! When Nina and Robert returned they informed us that we would be going on a guided tour of the colony that would start at 1:30.
I must stop a moment and say thank you to Nina and her husband Mike who decided to pay for everyone to take the tour. Mike called while Nina was in the information area and they decided that it would be such an amazing experience that they wanted to “donate” the money for the group to see the Albatross! So from everyone…Thank you so very much!!
We had some time to kill before our tour started so we went up and walked through the small museum that was set up in the information center. There was information displayed about all of the different species of wildlife that could be seen and found on the conservation site: Little Blue Penguins or Fairy Penguins, Yellow-Eyed Penguins, New Zealand Fur Seals, Hooker’s Sea Lions, Elephant Seals, Leopard Seals, several species of Shags, or Cormorants as we know them, several species of Gulls, Shearwaters, and the Royal Albatrosses!
There were videos playing all around the museum with clips of the different species and some of their behavior along with several videos that told about what different people and organizations were doing to help conserve the Albatross. One video especially remains in my mind; one of the biggest issues with Albatross is connected with the fishing boats. When the boats let out their lines the seabirds swarm the waters following the boats feeding on the bait that is placed on the hooks. When the lines are released from the back of the boat they don’t sink fast enough giving the birds access to the baited hooks. The birds dive for the bait and swallow the hooks along with their bit of food. They are then pulled under the water … attached to the lines … and drown. The video was entirely about this problem and what was trying to be done to help limit the number of birds caught by fishing boats. Roughly 10,000 Albatross are pulled aboard each month from the hooks and lines, approximately 100,000 a year. Different organizations are working to have the lines dropped from the side of boats instead of the back allowing them to sink faster due to the pull of the propellers and water and also having the lines weighted heavier to try and have them sink before the birds have a chance to go after the bait. These are some of the adaptations that Hawaii has already put into action and they have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of seabirds being caught by their boats. The video was very wrenching and really caught me off guard. I had no idea that this happened to seabirds. I knew that fishermen were always catching turtles and other sea dwellers that they didn’t mean to, but never would I have thought of birds. There are 19 species of Albatross that face extinction at the moment and this problem is one of the main causes. I believe that everyone who watched this particular video walked away from it with a mindset that they wanted to figure out a way that they could do something to help. The website that pertains to this information and other about the Albatross and how we can help them is www.savethealbatross.org.nz!
We started off our tour by our guide giving us facts and information about the Royal Albatross and the conservation site that they were breeding and residing on. The first egg was found on Taiaroa Head in 1920 and the first reared chick flew in 1938. It was in 1937 when the Otago Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand and Dr. L.E. Richdale worked to protect the colony from interference. The first field officer was appointed to act as caretaker of the Albatrosses in 1951. The colony has slowly grown and now consists of 150 birds or more. Each bird reared on Taiaroa Head is banded with a number and a color-code, this band allows the rangers to record the bird’s life history along with being able to distinguish the Taiaroa Albatrosses from other albatrosses that sometimes wander onto Taiaroa Head and stay to breed. The breeding birds arrive in September and build their nest during early November. The male builds the nest, before the female comes ashore; they sit and pull vegetation and dirt around themselves with their bills. The female will come ashore and find her mate…they do mate for life! If she doesn’t approve of the nest she will move it around and fix it the way she wants and then will lay her 500 gram egg during the first three weeks of November. The parents share incubation duty in spells of two to eight days over a length of eleven weeks…one of the longest incubation periods of any bird. When the chick is hatched the parents take turns at guarding and feeding it for the first 30 to 40 days. After this time the parents will leave the chick alone for 3 to 4 days at a time while they go off to fish. The parents tend to the chick for roughly 300 days before the chick spreads its enormous wings and is lifted onto the sea breeze. There are no practice runs, just one shot! After the chick is gone the parents head out to sea and will remain there for a year before returning to breed again. Each pair lays only one egg per season and only every other year. The young birds spend 3 to 7 years on the open ocean before returning to shore to pick a mate, once they return to their original colonies they will chose a mate and then return back to sea to be sure that their mate is the right pick. The average age for a pair to rear their first clutch is around 9 or 10 years of age. After we had listened and talked with our guide and watched a short documentary on the Royal Albatrosses of Taiaroa Head we headed up the hill to the observation building to see the colony.
We were told that we were guaranteed to see 4 birds sitting on nest and we might be lucky enough to see one fly into the colony. We walked into a large open room full of educational displays about the Albatross and the shags that lined the hills above the ocean on the back walls and windows covered the front walls. The windows provided a view across the ocean as far as your eyes could see along with the most spectacular view of these amazing stoic creatures. There sat the Albatrosses, so majestic and elegant; their white feathers with the black contrasting so deeply with the grass as they huddled against the wind keeping their precious egg warm and safe. The sight out the window alone was breathtaking but the view along with these fabulous creatures dotting the hillside made it unbelievable. The birds have such a serene look to them, so peaceful and calm. We were told that the birds that were on the nests consisted of two males and two females. We were hoping to see one fly…Albatross have the largest wingspan of any bird, 3 meters from tip to tip and a body length of 1 meter from bill to tail…but we were all so mesmerized with the ones sitting on the nests that we almost missed the giant bird soaring in toward us from over the ocean. This is what we were all praying that we would see and now we were witnessing this magnificent creature soar just above our heads and circling above those on the ground. It shifted its wings to guide it in the direction it intended with no problem. This wonderful bird just floated on the sea breeze ever so gently. It was a moment that will remain with several of us for such a long time! The stunning creature landed close to one of the others that were on the ground and we hoped that it was going to be a mate and we would get to witness a nest exchange. It definitely didn’t have the most graceful landing, crashing to the ground on his head…oops! It turned out to be a young bird coming in to visit the colony. The rangers call these young birds “teenage birds”; they come into the colonies checking out the birds already ashore searching for a potential mate. He traveled around the hillside calling and chatting with the other birds. We watched as it stretched its wings a few times in hope that it would allow the wind to lift itself off of the ground and guide it high above the ocean. We didn’t get to witness it fly again or another come in, but we did get to see one fly and several sit so stately on their nests. We were the only group, up to that point, that had seen one fly that day and it was the first that our guide had seen all season. We considered ourselves very lucky and just maybe it was a trade off for doing the extra special deeds that we do each day! We watched the Albatross for almost 30 minutes before we headed back down the trail to our van. It had turned out to be an unforgettable moment that I think many of us will remember for quite some time!
After leaving Taiaroa Head we headed into the city of Dunedin to spend some time before heading back to our hostel in Waianakarua. We spent a couple of hours in Dunedin checking out some of the shops and tidbits that lie within the city before picking up some pizzas and traveling on our way! The day turned out to be a memorable one for everyone and a good way to begin to wrap up our stay here in New Zealand! As for the Red Billed Gull…we plan to take him to Rosalie tomorrow, his head looks much better…just some surface wounds…and he gained the name Keri…the brand name on the box he was placed in!!
January 5, 2008
This morning we woke up and ate breakfast and then a couple of us went back to Rosalie’s place to take her Keri. Keri was a juvenile Red Billed Seagull that Brittany had captured the day before because he was being picked on by all the other seagulls. The seagulls had pecked the feathers out of the back of his head. When we got to Rosalie’s house we got out of the car and walked into her yard. She was standing their getting Keri’s cage ready for him. She had a really nice big cage set up for him. Keri looked really happy when we took him out of the box that we had him in and let him out into the cage. Rosalie laid some salmon down on the ground in a bowl and started hand feeding him. She did not hand feed him for long because once he saw that there was salmon he started eating it on his own. Brittany, who was the one who caught Keri, was teary eyed when we left because she did not want to leave Keri. Brittany asked her if she would post Keri’s picture along with his progress on her web site so that we can follow along with his recovery. She seemed excited to have him and guaranteed that she would take good care of him. We all left her place happy knowing that he was in good hands. When we returned to the hostel we picked up everyone else and headed on our way to Akaroa. The drive to Akaroa was beautiful. We went from mountains to a peninsula. The whole town surrounds Akaroa harbor which was a very beautiful place. Akaroa has a lot of interesting history. It was the first French Colony in New Zealand. In 1838 French commander Jean Langlois purchased the entire peninsula for 100 French francs. He then returned to France to encourage people to move there. While the French were on their way back to New Zealand the British had heard about them planning to colonize and they sent Captain William Hobson to assume the role of lieutenant governor over all the land that could be purchased. Just 6 days before the French arrived the British flag was raised at Akaroa. When we got to Akaroa we had to drive up a big winding road to our hostel. The hostel was called Onuku Farm Hostel. It is a nice hostel they have a really nice place. They have a really cool volleyball court. Everybody went down to play volleyball in the evening and played until supper. Nina and I cooked. We made pork chops, tofu, potatoes, spring rolls, and cooked spinach. Everybody had a good day.
January 7, 2007
Jackie’s Little Helpers and Heritage Village
We awoke to the pitter-patter of rain on our roof this morning. After some heavy coaxing out bed, the group packed their bags and packed into the van. We traveled to a small suburb in Christchurch to visit a rehabilitator named Jackie Stevens. Jackie invited us into her home to discuss how she got her beginning as a rehabilitator and also getting some pointers from us on how we do things in our rehabilitation center. While we’re talking, a swallow flew to her sliding glass door and when she saw him fluttering there, she hopped up to let him in. The swallow flew from room to room in her house looking for her stash of mealworms. Jackie then told us about 5 German owls in her care and brought out one of them that suffered from head trauma. He looks a lot like the Burrowing owl in the United States. We talked for a while and then she showed us her facilities. Right outside her sliding door, there is a Wood Pigeon that lives in a bush. Jackie raised the bird and it is unable to fly, so she has been in contact with a couple of zoos as well as other rehabilitators trying to place him in a better environment. In her backyard, she had 3 large aviaries and one smaller one for her birds. She needed our assistance cleaning 2 of them out so that she could place a kingfisher in one of them and a German owl in another. We split into groups, half working on each of the cages. The resident in the larger aviary was a thrasher that was ready to be released and Jackie was more than excited to let us do the honors as we left for the day. After finishing with the cages and placing the thrasher in a carrier, we promised to return the next morning to continue our work. We went to a nearby park that was teeming with bird life and that’s where we decided to release the thrasher. Savannah reached into the box containing the bird to get a hold of him, however the bird was none too happy with being handled. He pecked Savannah’s hands quite a few times, but Savannah held the concentrated and patient look on her face as she got a better hold on him. When she threw him up and opened her hands, he took off strongly. We watched as he chose a tree and perched on one of the branches where we could still see him. We were all confident that he would fit right in with the other birds in the park. We all packed back into the van and headed to our hostel to prepare for our Maori dinner and show! We had planned for the dinner for a couple days prior to arriving in Christchurch, so we were all anxious to get there.
After doing a couple of U-turns, we finally found our way and reached our destination at Heritage Village. The trolley driver who pointed us in the direction of a circular dirt floor theater greeted us at the entrance. There was a young lady reading from an open book in Maori dress about the beginning history of the Maori people. Her dress was a simple wrap around type dress that was tan in color and had bunches of black yarn placed all over. Her voice was low but full of knowledge. There were also 2 men circling the dirt floor in front of us who were dressed like rogues. One had his face painted mostly black, and approached us to let us know how he didn’t like late- comers, kidding of course. The first two men left through a walkway and another man came through the same walkway carrying an ornately carved walking stick and singing a mournful song in the Maori language. He spoke of the peaceful days before guns had reached the tribal people and some had left the life of the village for the life of the Europeans who had began to settle in New Zealand. We were then told to follow him as well as our guide who had read to us in the beginning. We were given the warning to keep the children close as well as the women because “sometimes the men felt frisky and would snatch them up!” We followed a dirt pathway. We came up on a young boy drying flax leaves and he picked up a few of the leaves already dried and began to follow us. Our next stop was in front of a wooden bridge that led to a building that stood on stilts in the middle of a stream. The bridge itself had carved tiki men on posts that served as guardians. The group was given the blessing to pass over the bridge and then made our way inside of the building. We took our seats and the room went black. Many television screens lit up in front of us and we watched a short movie on the history that we had already heard about from our guide. The movie was more moving I think because of the visuals that gave us a real look at the people. It spoke of the relationship between the Maori and the Europeans that were settling and allowing the Maori to keep pieces of the land they had once inhabited. It also spoke of the impact that the arrival of guns had on the Maori people who were leaving the traditional way of life. The gun-slinging renegades that we had first met in the circular dirt-floored theater, who spoke of ruling with the power of guns, once again visited us. We were also introduced to the chief of the renegades that was a mountain of a man dressed in European style clothing. They gave way to a man dressed in a long loincloth with a fur sheath over his right shoulder. His thighs and face were ornately decorated in traditional Maori symbols. He introduced himself as the chief of one of the tribes that still practiced the customary way of life. He spoke of the life pre-European influence and how Maoris were usually peaceful people who would often resolve tribal issues through marriages, which would unite two tribes that were once feuding.
He told us that he was pleased with us and wanted us to visit his village and talk to the people within it. We stood and walked through the doors of the building. It was like stepping in a time machine and coming out in a completely different world. There were approximately 6 to 7 huts made of flax leaves woven together that you could walk into. Most huts had simple pallets inside that served as beds. There were also everyday tools laid out on the floor in some of the huts. Every hut had a person standing outside of it to talk to the group about their trade or to answer any question a person may have. One of the huts held my particular interest because the woman sitting outside of it was a basket weaver. She explained the weaving process and what some of the baskets were used for, which was mostly food storage. After some peaceful time of conversing, shouts rang out that the rebels were invading and that everyone should huddle with the men in front to protect the women and children. The chiefs of both tribes stood face to face, sizing the other up. After exchanging some words, the group made their way to another building. This time 3 garage sized doors opened up in front of us and we were able to watch the two tribes battle. They used walking sticks as swords and battled much the same way. Soon, the chief of the rebel tribe called his men off and the battle went from tribe against tribe to chief against chief. Sadly enough the chief of the peaceful Maori was killed, but both tribes mourned his death. He was carried back to the safety of the village walls to be prepared for burial. Meanwhile, the other chief had been stricken with a disease and was slowly dying. He passed his duties to his right hand man and died soon after. We were then flash forwarded to later years, which required us to load onto a trolley to see the church. We passed some proper ladies on a bench right outside of the church, dressed in hoop skirts and bonnets. We unloaded from the trolley and were met by some “drunken” Maori men who interspersed in the group that was crowded around the church doors listening to the preacher. He spoke of converting the heathens to the belief in God. The guy who had taken over as the chief of the rebels intercepted he preacher as he spoke and they argued for a bit over what was right in the belief system and that his people were not heathens. While the two men were arguing, the “drunk” guys were talking to people in the group. Savannah was given the choice to trade Brittany for rum. (I think Savannah made the trade!) After being traded, Brittany was then proposed to and one of the “drunk” guys gave her a ring made out of grass!
We moved onto the courthouse where a European man was charging one of the rebels with tearing down his fence. The judge looked extremely silly! He was young enough to have brown hair, but wore an ill-fitting white wig on top of his head. He made the decision that the hearing would take place in 6 months time and neither party was exactly happy with the ruling. The next stop on our trip through time was the raising of the flags. A Maori man held New Zealand’s first flag and a European man held the flag, as we know it today. Our guide read a passage that spoke of how the two cultures had finally found a way to peacefully coexist and this is why New Zealand was so culturally rich. After seeing both flags raised simultaneously, we were then lead to the place where dinner was set up! Everyone found a seat, all excited about the day’s events and now dinner. The host of Heritage Village took center stage and gave us some history behind the preparation of the food and introduced us to the chef. Before dinner began, the actors and actresses performed for us, which was to bless the food. The dancing was AMAZING. All of the dancers gave their whole heart to what they were doing. You could see the intensity in their eyes as well as their bodies as they sang out in their native tongue, stomped their feet and slapped their chests. Thankfully we videotaped the performance for future enjoyment. There is so much spirit that comes from these people and to see it live is out of this world. After rounds of applause, we were dismissed to grab a plate. We had lamb, fish, and chicken to choose from as well as carrots, potatoes, and many types of salads. The soup, which was seafood chowder, was delectable. Dessert was a New Zealand favorite called Pavlov, which is a type of cake with a meringue and fruit on top. There was also pudding and fruit salad to choose from. I think we stuffed ourselves to the point of misery! Whitney was quite fun to sit near. Every bite invoked an “oh my goodness” or “this is SO good!” All of the people in our group also practiced their Maori faces over dinner, which involves sticking your tongue out and making your eyes as large as possible. A majority of the actors had changed into their regular clothes and came to join us for dinner. The dinner itself is cooked in a traditional Maori way. A pit was dug in the ground and a fire is built at the bottom. Food is stacked on pallets of woven flax leaves according to the length of time each type of food requires. The whole process took about 6 hours for the chef to prepare that day. Night had fallen on Heritage Village and feeling quite full and giddy from the day’s events, the group loaded back onto the trolley and unloaded at the van. We all piled in, sharing our favorite aspects of the demonstration and dinner. We reached the hostel and we parted for smoke breaks, showers and bed! What a perfect ending to such a great day!
January 8, 2008
It has become a routine to get up early in the morning after doing it for a solid month. Nina made her usual rounds of wake up calls around 7:00 a.m. to make sure we would have enough time to be ready and out the hostel door at 8:30. We were scheduled to arrive at Jackie’s house at 9:10 that morning to begin our service project. The service project incorporated feeding, cleaning, organizing, and any other jobs she needed help with. The previous day, it was noticed by many of us that Jackie was not used to being around large groups of people and gets easily stressed. Reacting to this, the group decided to have a single relay person who would get all the directions from Jackie and relay them to the rest of the group, instead of having ten people asking her at one time.
Upon arrival at Jackie’s house, she was anxious to see us. Almost immediately we were able to get a list of jobs. The group was then split into smaller units that took over certain tasks. A group located in Jackie’s backyard cleaned perches, enclosures, and dishes. The group located in Jackie’s front yard took the tasks of cleaning small metal birdcages, small plastic pools, and a low-to-the-ground horizontal bird enclosure. With ten people and 20 willing hands, we were able to finish all of her tasks and more in about an hour. Jackie seemed amazed at our ability to do work and do it correctly, but she was more than satisfied with the results.
During our visit the day before, Jackie explained to us about one of her animal charges. The bird is a swallow she is in the process of releasing. Her interaction with the swallow is strange in the sense that the bird is slightly imprinted on her, but she allows him to fly outside unattended. He has been known to fly off into the distance for a few hours but will return to her for feeding. Jackie is unsure if he will be able to survive in the wild on his own because he doesn’t recognize predators and danger. For the past couple of days she has watched him leave in hopes that he will be okay. It was an exciting moment for Jackie when her swallow came flying into the yard with a swallow friend. Watching Jackie’s face light up while she watched the two swallows flying around each other was like seeing a child get the gift they always wanted on Christmas. Her eyes lit up and a large smile broke onto her face as she clasped her hand together in front of her.
The joy of seeing one of her charges making progress was shadowed by Jackie’s need for food to feed the animals. The company she orders her mealworms from was unable to provide her with any this time because he has having difficulty getting them to mature. This put stress on Jackie to find her birds food. She found that using sand hoppers, a small crustacean found among seaweed on the beaches, makes great food for some of her birds. Sand hoppers look like miniature shrimp, but are able to hop when disturbed. As a group we went down to the beach where Jackie demonstrated how quick you have to be in order to capture them. She did not spend the whole time with us because she was confident in our ability to catch the sand hoppers. As she left many of us were already trying our hand at getting the hoppers. The indicator of sand hoppers being in the sand, are the little holes on the surface of the sand. Using this knowledge, we all broke apart and found our own areas to begin digging. The first attempts were the funniest because we would try to grab the sand hopper only to have it hop out of our grip. The next thing you see are college students attempting to catch the hopper as it makes its way across the sand. After the first 10 minutes we got the hang of capturing the sand hoppers without much effort. Jackie left 7 or 8 small containers with us to fill with sand and sand hoppers. It did not take us long to fill the containers. With that task out of the way we decided it was time for a break and lunch.
Lunch took place at a small picnic area just off the beach. There was a playground next to the picnic area. Sandwiches, the popular choice for lunch, and salads were eaten for our midday meal. As people finished they either lay on the grass listening to their iPod’s and enjoying the sun or went to play on the zip-line on the playground. Charlie and Brittany did a beautiful rendition of the once popular Spice Girls for all who walked by them lying on the grass. They were the afternoon entertainment. Time seemed to fly by us as we relaxed in the picnic area and before we knew it, it was time to head back to Jackie’s to drop off her sand hoppers.
When we arrived at Jackie’s house she was happy to see us. Only a few people went to deliver the sand hoppers in hopes to make it less crowded in her yard. Nina presented the picture of us to Jackie who was thrilled to see all of our animal ambassadors and of course us! Jackie was very adamant about the group keeping in touch with her after we leave New Zealand. She also made the comment that if another trip came to New Zealand; they HAD to visit her again. It was really heart-warming to see how much of a positive impact we made on her life in only a matter of a day and a half.
The next stop of the day was to Willow Banks. Willow Banks is a nature center that is also in the process of starting a rehabilitation center at their facility. Ami, our guide is originally from North Carolina. She moved to New Zealand 8 years ago and visited the Willow Banks establishment. She started out just volunteering her time at the center before a position opened up to her and she became a permanent part of the Willow Banks staff. The first thing most of us did when we arrived at the center was shop the gift shop…you know how that last minute shopping is! When we met up with Ami she immediately started our tour of the facility. Just outside the gift shop doors begins a New Zealand jungle excursion. The facility is based around a natural spring that has been made into a natural man made river. The habitats in the enclosures were purely natural areas. There wasn’t cement in sight. The walkways were wooden or gravel and all the animals were able to intermingle in the enclosures – a nice change from the zoo atmosphere. There are about 4 or 5 sectioned off areas that the river flows through. The first section we went into was the Kea enclosure. These birds came right to us when we walked in. Ami said they may bite but usually are just curious. The next enclosure created a large amount of excitement among the group. The Tuatara enclosure blew our minds away because unlike Kiwi Encounter, the Tuatara was out in broad daylight where we could easily see it. Ami took us behind the scenes at this point and showed us the area they are currently using as a recovery room for animals that just had surgery. The only occupant we saw was the resident Pukeako. When Ami learned of the groups’ interest in the Tuatara, she took us back where they kept the Tuatara’s not on display. Ami, who is cautious around reptiles, turned on the water one of the Tuatara’s came out of its den box; the others remained inside. After attempting to get the other Tuatara’s to come out, another staff member showed up that was willing to pick up the lizard. The staff member even allowed the group to stroke the Tuatara on its lower back and tale. This was the highlight moment for most on the trip. Charlie was thrilled at being able to touch a Tuatara, a dream come true for her.
Ami rushed the group through the rest of the tour as she had feeding preparations to attend to…something we all know well. She told us at the end of our tour to feel free to roam about the nature center as we only saw one of the 3 trails. We took her advice and wandered our way down the trails seeing ducks, wallabies, farm animals, an assortment of native New Zealand birds, and other animals. At one point on the trail Savannah came across a goose displaying threatening gestures. Right below the goose was a young hedgehog. Always the one to save the animals, Savannah risked life and limb (not really, maybe a pricked finger or two) to save the misguided hedgehog. She relocated it to another part of the enclosure, safe from harm.
Of course, before leaving we had to finish our gift shopping. Many of us spent time looking around the well-stocked store looking at things here and there. With money spent and hearts placated, we headed back to the hostel for our last meal together in New Zealand. Savannah and Brittany chose to make pasta with mussels. It was a great dinner with all of us together talking and laughing about things that happened on the trip. When dinner was winding down, a sense of gloom seemed to envelope the atmosphere. People split up to take showers, write in journals, read, play pool or make phone calls.
Nina called us together later that evening to have our last meeting in New Zealand. We talked about the day and how everyone was feeling before Nina instructed us to lie on the ground and clear our minds. A slow calming music filled the room as Nina asked us to imagine each day on our trip. In the stillness of the room you were able to almost relive each moment in your mind. Towards the end you could tell that some people were becoming emotional. When we were ready to open our eyes again and sit up, a couple of the people had teary eyes. Then Nina explained another exercise we were going to do. We passed a feather around the group and whoever had the feather was able to speak their mind. Many of us revealed feelings about others while some told of moments they will treasure. At one point during this telling we had to take a short break to get tissues for those that had tears. It was nice to be able to tell our feelings to each other and go back and laugh at some of the jokes on the trip. In our minds we knew it was the end of a life-changing trip, but some of us didn’t want the trip to end. We have made so many new friends and memories on this trip. Now our lives will always be intertwined no matter where we are or what we’re doing because these times will be with us forever.