Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Dr. Moran and I welcomed in the new year standing with thousands of people in the streets of Auckland.  At the stroke of midnight, fireworks shot from the Sky Tower and the folks lining the street cheered and shot-off fireworks.  Happy New Year!

Saturday, 31 December: Leigh Marine Reserve

As the rain drizzled down on the beginning of day 3 in New Zealand, we piled into the van to head north to the Leigh Marine Reserve and Leigh Marine Laboratory.  We were guided through the marine laboratory by the manager, Rebecca Goffin and a former graduate student from the laboratory, Bhakti, who shared with us the origins of the laboratory and information on local fishes and food webs.  Everyone had a blast handling the live sea creatures in the center's 'water table'.  Following our tour, we hiked on one of the trails near the center and swam in the turbid waters of the marine reserve.  Sun shown for most of our time at the reserve and even followed us to our stop in Matakana, where we stopped for a nice summertime treat: ice cream! 

Back in Auckland, folks are gearing-up for New Year's Eve.  Here in New Zealand, we're 6 hours ahead of New York, so we'll welcome the New Year first and wish everyone at home a happy and safe New Year's Eve!

Friday, 30 December: Auckland Museum

Well, the former cyclone continues to put a damper on our activities in Auckland: today, our trip to the Tiritiri Matangi island nature reserve was canceled due to 90 knot winds blowing around the island.  So, in steady drizzle, we walked to the Auckland Museum to explore New Zealand cultural and natural history.  Before venturing inside, we took a photo-op with a HUGE tree on the museum's grounds (see picture). The museum had an incredible display of Maori (first successful human inhabitants of New Zealand) artefacts, including an entire whare runanga (meeting house) and a beautifully-carved waka (tribal war boat).  The nature history section of the museum highlighted the flora and fauna of New Zealand, and it was great to view up-close many of the organisms that we will see in the wild in the next few weeks.  The museum was a 'choice' (New Zealand for 'awesome') alternative to the island nature preserve, but we're all looking forward to some summer sun!

Thursday, 29 December: First day in Auckland

We arrived early this morning (5am!) made our way through customs, got into the rental van and successfully navigated our way to our first stop: the Auckland City youth hostel.  Everyone was in good spirits and ready to explore the city.  Our activity for the day was the Auckland Sky Tower, one of the tallest structures in the southern hemisphere.  Everyone was impressed with the 360 degree view of Auckland and the surrounding areas, particularly since the region has 30+ volcanic cones in view!  The weather has been unseasonably wet due to now-defunct cyclone perched northwest of the north island, but we're all taking it in stride!  Tomorrow: Tiritiri Matangi island nature reserve!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We're on our way!

We just finished our first leg of flights to New Zealand and are currently waiting to board our Air New Zealand flight at the international terminal in San Francisco.  The excitement among the students (and faculty!) is palpable!  We had a fairly benign flight from New York and are set to enter the austral summer in half a day!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Presentation to Balmville School 3rd graders

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to talk to the 3rd graders at Balmville Elementary school (Newburgh, NY) about the flora and fauna of New Zealand.  These students will be our pen-pals throughout our trip and their desire to learn about some of the charismatic plants and animals of New Zealand was awesome!  While the Kiwi was probably the star of the show (based upon the number of questions asked about this species), the students loved listening to the call of New Zealand's only native owl, the Morepork (guess what its call sounds like?!).  My students and I are really thrilled to be working with the 3rd grade teachers and students during our trip and I think everyone is looking forward to Skyping during the trip!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In the final stretch!

Just a little over 6 days left before we fly nearly half-way around the world to our destination: New Zealand.  Although the winter in Hudson Valley has been less than winter-like, it will be fantastic to live in the austral summer for a few weeks!  I'm looking forward to hearing the dawn chorus of birds, as it is sorely missed here at this point (nothing against the Carolina Wren pair who are constantly calling!).