Journals from New Zealand

Ten students travel to the opposite side of the globe for a wild experience

For a place where only 5 percent of the population is human and the rest are animals, it makes sense why students from the Wildlife Rehabilitation program would travel there to learn.

Led by wildlife expert, New Zealand familiar, and Director of the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Nina Fischesser, ten students spent their winter break traveling the unique island, exploring, and learning along the way. Those students included: Chelsea Digregorio, Samantha Galvin, Emily Griffith, Dara Madden, Ashlyn Mills, Lydia Mugridge, Corey Mullen, Megan Nelson, Arden Simmons, and graduate Ally Dula.  

Throughout the course of their journey, students were tasked with keeping a daily journal recording their life-changing experience. Travel off campus and across the world to “Kiwi Country” with students, and read their journals as they toured the awe-inspiring island.



Saturday–Monday, Dec. 14–16: Traveling to New Zealand

Arden Simmons ’22: The flight to New Zealand was long not only due to the fact that we were all anxious to arrive, but also from the fact that it alone is a 14 hour flight. We all tried to nap and eat and kill time as much as we could, but the only thing that would lift spirits was the occasional “New Zealand!” screamed by one of our group members. We arrived early in the morning in Auckland, and the deep fog and the faint lights made it seem to be a sleepy little town, but I realized this assumption was incredibly wrong. We were met by smiling faces, music, huge carved towers, warm weather, and green trees in every corner. The entire drive from the airport to the accommodation we spent glued to the windows, taking in each huge fern, colorful flowers, large flax bushes, and unfamiliar bird. Our ongoing joke of the trip was created, that we wouldn’t be surprised if a pterodactyl or T-rex jumped out of the mountain and walked down the road; every bit of everything was completely prehistoric. 



Bird Rescue

Tuesday, Dec. 17: New Zealand Bird Rescue Charitable Trust

Chelsea DiGregorio ’20: Visiting this at-home rehabilitation center was like a flash back into the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center past. Everything was so hectic with baby birds and compacted like we used to be before our new building extensions. Listening to General Manager Dr. Lynn Miller talk gave me hope for the future of the animals. Her science background pushes her to not only help the fragile wildlife but to find new cures and new ways of saving each species. Hearing about her 100 percent success rate with her babies gave me and my fellow students a new drive within ourselves. Seeing the baby kingfishers, the blue penguin, and the morepork was everyone’s dream. It is what we came to New Zealand to do, help these rare fragile species. 


Wednesday, Dec. 18: Matamata to visit the Hobbiton

Ally Dula ’18: I have always loved the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies since I can remember. So once I figured out that we would have the chance to go to Hobbiton during the trip, that immediately got my attention! Being able to walk and visit the movie set—which is one of the most important locations in both movie trilogies—was the most unbelievable experience. I could picture scenes from the movies while we were walking the small paths and looking at the different hobbit hole houses. I love learning the behind the scenes of movies and so having a tour of the set was very interesting to me. We got to walk to Bilbo and Frodo’s hobbit hole, called Bag End, and visit Sam’s hobbit hole too— some of the most important characters of the movies! We also got to visit The Green Dragon which is the famous pub of Hobbiton and in there was a book in a glass case that was signed by many people, and one of the signatures was from Elijah Wood (Frodo)! The set was beautiful, in the middle of a New Zealand sheep farm in Matamata, everything was exactly like the movie with lots of flowers, bushes, tall green grass, and huge trees. It was amazing!




Thursday, Dec. 19: Wingspan Raptor Center

Lydia Mugridge ’20: The second place we stayed at during our New Zealand trip was in Rotorua. Called The Willows, it was a stunning lake house that we would only be staying in for one night. The main event we did in Rotorua was go to Wingspan, which is the only raptor center on the North Island. It wasn't far from the lake house and this is also Wingspan's new location, thus they were still under construction.

First thing we did was get some awesome merchandise from their gift shop before getting a seat. Their raptor show started with Siren, an adult female New Zealand Falcon (or kārearea) who was more interested in flying around than catching the lure her handler wanted her to catch. The second raptor was another falcon named Ribbon, who was a juvenile. She was trained to catch a flying drone! It was amazing to watch her in action. The third raptor we saw was another juvenile falcon named Shadow. She was trained to catch remote controlled lure on the ground which she did a couple times before getting distracted. All three of these raptors are food motivated and when capable will be released in the wild! The last raptor was a special treat, because they have never shown her before. They brought out a fledgling Australian Barn Owl named Charlie. She was a beautiful little bird that was curious about the crowd. The experience at Wingspan was amazing and I'm thankful I was able to witness it. If I ever come back to New Zealand I will definitely come to Wingspan again! 

Hawke's Bay

Friday, Dec. 20: Hawke’s Bay Bird and Wildlife Refuge

Corey Mullen ’21: Nina’s friend from Outward Bound, Sue, joined us on our trip today and we all caravanned over to Liv Flynn’s—the base of operations for Hawke’s Bay Bird and Wildlife Refuge. I learned she’d been doing this since she was 8 years old and her passion was clear. I admire how she has taken all the knowledge she’s gained to provide the best care for the wildlife she receives. The native and non-native species are kept separated and they have several large outdoor cages in the backyard. The one housed Buddy and Raven, two rooks (New Zealand crows) with clipped wings because they are a pest species that need a lot of attention and playtime to keep stimulated. Otherwise, like a parent of a toddler knows, they’ll make their own entertainment! The backyard is also shared by a few chickens, including Frizzle the cuddly silkie—Arden’s new BFF. 

I’d love to work alongside people like Liv, who have made their dream a reality, and are tirelessly dedicated to the conservation, preservation, and public awareness of their native wildlife. Independently funded and volunteer staffed, as many of these rehab centers are, means that every little bit counts and every resource must be used to the fullest. Donations of time, money, and goods are essential to the survival of these operations, which in turn is the survival of the species for which they care. Together, we can make the changes that could be the difference between extinction and existence. 



Farewell Spit Tours

Monday, Dec. 23: Farewell Spit Tours

Megan Nelson ’21: Farewell Spit is a long, narrow sand spit found on the South Island of New Zealand. The spit extends from Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the South Island, and is referred to as “The End of the World” (at least it was by our tour guide, Charles). Charles, a Polish native living in New Zealand for the last 28 years, took us on a nearly six hour bus tour of the spit and the surrounding areas. The first 4 kilometers of the spit are public access, but after that, the only people allowed are the Department of Conservation and these EcoToursSo we drove quite a way down the spit to see the gannet colony. Though we were far back from the colony itself, we were able to see the swarm of white seabirds all packed in together, with some swooping back and forth over our heads to reach the water. Every step we took out there, Charles said could possibly land us on ground that nobody had ever stood upon. On our way [out to the end of the spit], we stopped and got our workout in by running up and down the sand dunes. We also got to know a lot about the local wildlife. So much so that I made myself a guide to the most frequently seen birds of the spit: 

  • Variable Oystercatchers:Typically uniformly black on the spit, with the exception of Beatrix, an old oystercatcher with a white patch on her chest. All of their babies are named “Stuart” as per our group. 
  • “Shags”: The kiwi term for Cormorants. They tend to stand at the edge of the water and stretch their wings out to dry, making them look like they’re always awaiting a challenger.
  • Dominican Gulls: AKA black-backed gulls. They are mostly white with black feathers on their back and a bright orange/red beak.
  • Paradise Shelduck: One of the only birds where the female is more colorful than the male.
  • Gannets: Large white seabirds with yellow heads and black-tipped wings. They live in a large colony on the spit.
  • New Zealand Fur Seals: Not a bird, but plentiful along the spit. Absolutely massive and surprisingly quick. Do not get between them and the water!

Tuesday, Dec. 24: Horseback Riding at Hack and Stay Farm

Emily Griffith ’22: We left the hostel at 9 a.m. this morning and headed to Hack and Stay Farm where we were able to enjoy a lovely horse ride on the beach for Christmas Eve. Our horses were named Ice, Brown Acre, Siggy, and Song. After the ride we went shopping in the little town near our hostel and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner consisted of a potluck with everyone that was staying at the hostel. We made friends from Germany, France, and Japan. We all went to bed and slept in until 9 a.m.  Christmas morning. We then went outside and exchanged Secret Santa gifts and Nina surprised us all with stockings from our families back home. After presents and breakfast we went to Te Waikoropupu Springs and saw some of the clearest, most beautiful blue water. We went back to the hostel for lunch and then back out to Farewell Spit to see an amazing stone arch out in the ocean. For Christmas dinner we had delicious kebabs and spent the rest of the evening making new friends and enjoying our time together.  


Sunday, Dec. 29: Franz Josef Glacier

Lydia Mugridge ’20: Our group left the hostel we were staying at around 10:30 a.m. to go to the Franz Josef Glacier. It was the major thing we were going to visit while we were staying at Franz Josef. When we parked the van we could see some of the glacier from where we were standing. It was an amazing site to see the glacier and we were excited to see it closer. The weather was a little cloudy with a slight chill, which to me was good weather to go hiking. The hike itself was about one and a half hours long to the glacier and back. The hike went up and down a few hills until we got to the area where the glacier once was. It was interesting to see how the glacier shaped the land as it retreated up the mountain with towering mountains on either side of a rocky terrain and rivers cutting through. At the main viewing point we got some awesome close shots of the glacier as well as a group shot. Then we headed back down the same way we got up thinking about what a wonderful experience we just had. 



Penguin Colony

Friday, Jan. 7: Yellow-Eyed Penguin Colony and Service Project

Emily Griffith ’22: Our adventure at Rosalie Goldsworthy’s yellow-eyed Penguin Rescue facility was by far one of my favorite parts of the trip. The first day we went the weather was too bad to accomplish any of the projects she wanted to have us do, so we just sat in her living room and talked about the plight of the yellow-eyed penguin for hours. They are one of the most endangered species of penguin on the planet due to avian malaria. Rosalie is such an incredibly knowledgeable person with an amazing passion for those animals. 

When we came back the next day the weather was much more cooperative although the wind still made some things difficult. We first helped Rosalie protect some of the plants she’s growing to provide more sanctuary for the penguins by staking wire cages around them so that the sheep can’t eat them. The view of the ocean while we did this was amazing and we even had a little penguin visitor come watch us work. After all of that we sat inside and had some lunch before the cleaning part of the day. We spent the rest of the afternoon spraying out penguin enclosures and rearranging their rocks which may sound like a mundane task but getting to interact with the penguin chicks made everything worth it. All in all it was a fantastic experience that I know none of us will ever forget.  

By Nina MastandreaJanuary 31, 2020
AcademicsCampus LifeFamilies