Monday, January 23, 2012

Thank you

We've all returned to our families and friends and now have some time to reflect upon all that we saw on our amazing journey to New Zealand.  I cannot help but think that we have all been very fortunate to have had available to us the opportunity to travel half-way around the world to see, first-hand, exotic animals, participate in activities many of us will never do again (e.g., glacier climbing), talk to folks about life in the southern hemisphere, and see plants and hear bird songs that were simply out-of-this-world!  We have many people to thank for our opportunities: the parents of our students, the Mount's administration and faculty for supporting our trip, Emily Marmo for her help in coordinating the trip, Kris Campbell-Defoe and Carol Franklyn at the Balmville School for coordinating our Skype sessions with the Balmville School 3rd graders, and mine and Dr. Moran's wives and children for letting us be away for three weeks during the winter!  We also thank you, the reader, for following us during our journey.  We hope you've enjoyed it as much as we have! Cheers!


Our final group picture.  We're back to where we started: JFK airport.

19 January 2012: On the leaving...

We made our way to Christchurch International Airport at 8am this morning, our last day in New Zealand.  During the final packing of our rental van, many students were asking whether they could just 'miss the flight' so they could stay in New Zealand the entire length of their 3-month visas.  With a sigh, I had to respond, 'No, you need to go back home today', but knew in my mind that I had the same sentiment!  We all miss our family and friends at home, but the last 22 days were so amazing that none of us really wanted to go home.

Packed into the van, we began what would be one of the longest days of our lives!  Sure, we had completely skipped 28 December 2011 during our flight to New Zealand, but that was ok.  Today, our total travel time, all on 19 January 2012, would be 33 hours!  Wait, you say, how can that be?  Well, our movement began at 8am, 19 January, going to the Christchurch Airport.  After leaving at 4:30pm (19 January 2012) from Auckland following our connecting domestic flight from Christchurch, we crossed the International Date Line and re-entered 19 January 2012.  We landed in San Francisco at 10:30am (7:30am EDT on 19 January 2012) and then arrived in New York at 9pm, 19 January 2012.  While our total flying time was only 16 hours, our total time in motion (including my car drive home in Newburgh from JFK) was 33 hours!  Whew!

As we disembarked from Air New Zealand's US affiliate, United Airlines (who's service paled in comparison to their Kiwi counterparts!), we met as a group for the last time.  Dr. Moran and I let our students know how proud we were of their efforts in the course and their flexibility in dealing with the issues we faced.  As pioneers of  a new course, they have set the bar (for accomplishments) very high for future participants.  Dr. Moran and I were happy to have such a great bunch of students accompany us to New Zealand.

Breakfast on our final day in New Zealand.  Notice those instant soups in Peter Kelleher's and Bryan Pujol's hands?  Yum!

Our group says goodbye to the trusty stallion that carried us throughout New Zealand.  Good riddance?!

The view from my seat aboard our flight leaving Auckland.  Goodbye New Zealand sky...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

19 January 2012: Our final Skype with the Balmville School

On our last morning in New Zealand, three students, Sharon Benzenberg (Biology), Jenn Szknolnicki (Psychology Physical Therapy), and Joe Santangelo (Business) fielded the final questions from the 3rd graders at the Balmville School.  Our students answered questions about the water bodies around New Zealand, the types of animals we've seen during our visit, and our experience on the Franz Josef Glacier.  We were joined by Mrs. Johnson, Assistant Principal at the Balmville School, who had her own questions about New Zealand!  Our experience Skyping with the Balmville School students has been terrific and I'm glad we were able to share our trip with a great bunch of students!

We're in the final packing stages right now and we're about to head to the airport so we can fly out of Christchurch.  We'll see everyone soon!

Sharon Benzenberg (Biology) wrapping up our Skype session with the Balmville School 3rd graders!

18 January 2012: International Antarctic Centre and a summer farewell to New Zealand


Today would be our final full-day in New Zealand, as tomorrow we begin our long migration back to the United States.  We began the day with Brittany Farron (Biology) Skyping with Mrs. Campbell-Defoe’s 3rd grade class at the Balmville School (Newburgh, NY).  The Balmville School students have been excellent pen-pals during our trip and the Mount students have risen to the occasion and acted as knowledgeable docents who relish in the opportunity to talk about their experiences.  Brittany chatted with the students about some of the animals we’ve seen on our trip, including the Rowi kiwi in Franz Josef, the glow-worms in Hokitika, and the Yellow-eyed Penguins in Dunedin.  The students also asked about the other neat experiences we’ve had, and were keen to know about the non-avifauna that we had seen.  Brittany spoke with the students about the Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) that we saw at the Karori Sanctuary (Wellington) and the fact that we haven’t seen very many insects (besides the sandflies in Abel Tasman National Park!) during our trip.  Although our short interactions with the Balmville students has been great, we’re all looking forward to sharing more of our experiences and pictures with the students following our arrival back home!

Our main attraction today was our visit to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch.  Jane Porter, director of education at the Centre, coordinated our visit today (despite having only returned from vacation just today!) and led us through the exhibits like she had been working straight through the holidays!  Our visit today would include an introduction to the continent of Antarctica, a viewing of one group of birds that inhabits the continent, an opportunity to try-on and view some of the gear used during the exploration of the continent, and the chance to experience a Class 1 storm at New Zealand’s Antarctic research station. 

We were first introduced to the continent of Antarctica and the major research bases that are found on the land mass.  Antaractica is nearly 1.5x the size of the United States, but is not owned by any one country; instead, it is governed by over a dozen countries from around the world.  Next, Ms. Porter guided us to see the stars of today’s visit, the Little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor).  Although these birds are not found in Antarctica, the 20+ live penguins on display gave us a glimpse into the characteristics of other penguins living on the coldest, driest, and highest (in altitude) continent on the planet.  We watched as Mel, one of the caretakers of the penguins, fed the penguins and described the basic life history features of the Little Blues: they can live an average of six years in the wild (some are 23 years old in captivity), they use burrows as nest sites rather than create a nest of pebbles like many other penguin species, and can dive for 1.5 minutes.  Our visual and audio introduction to the penguins was only the beginning: Mel brought out to our group one of the ‘oldie but goodie’ Little Blue Penguins, a half-blind male called ‘Pedro’!  Sitting in a circle on the floor with our crossed-legs touching knee-to-knee, Pedro was released and allowed to explore our ‘circle’, touching several of us and coming within six inches of other folks!  Pedro was very curious to investigate us and even escaped from the circle for a moment and explored around Brittany Farron for a moment or two!  This was an experience none of us will soon forget and we extend heaps and heaps of gratitude to Ms. Porter for making this opportunity available to us!

Our visit to the Antarctic Centre also included a visit to the ‘storm room,’ where we experienced conditions similar to those found around the Scott Base, New Zealand’s research station on Antarctica.  We stepped into a large room that, complete with snow cover, was set at 17 degrees F, a temperature that was rather mild for the station, but much chillier than the 70 degrees F outside the Centre.  After a minute inside the room, the ‘wind’ picked up, and the deafening wind that was blowing at 30mph dropped the perceived temperature to -1 degree F!  Only one student decided to wear a heavy jacket through the ‘storm’; most of us braved the elements in our shorts and short-sleeved shirts, although many of us had regretted doing so four minutes into the five-minute session!  Chilled from the experience, we soon called it a day at the Centre, ate some lunch, and then moved onto some real summer fun!

With lunch completed, we drove to the coastal town of Sumner, located on the Banks Peninsula due east of Christchurch.  Bright sun and 75+ degrees F temperatures greeted us upon arrival and we quickly took to changing into our ‘togs’ (swimsuits) and made our way onto the beach!  Most of us took a dip in the cool Pacific Ocean water, but many lounged in what would be our last taste of New Zealand sun on our trip.  A few hours at the beach was enough to soothe our travel-weary souls, so we packed-up, hit the local ice cream stand for a summer treat, and then hopped into our van to head back to our railway cars awaiting us in Waipara.  We finished the evening by cooking the remains of our groceries and then packed for our long haul back to the United States tomorrow (19 January).  We’ve had a great trip and today seemed to be an excellent way to conclude our awesome journey!

Our students testing the integrity of a dogsled used for transporting goods in Antarctica.

Dr. Moran and Joe Santangelo (Business) checking out 'Pedro' the Little Blue Penguin.

 Jenn Szknolnicki (Psychology Physical Therapy) looks on as 'Pedro' visits with our group.

Peter Kelleher (Psychology) and the Balmville Bee cruising on a snowmobile at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch.

17 January 2012: Royal albatross, the world’s steepest street, and…railway car bunks!


Our day started with some glorious weather in Dunedin and ended with equally splendid weather, but in an unexpected place.  First: Dunedin and the Royal Albatross colony.

Besides having a strong Scottish background and some quirky design features (do a Google search for ‘Dunedin Octagon’ for an example), Dunedin is also known as the site of the only mainland (as oppose to offshore-island) location hosting a Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) colony.  This morning, we visited the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head, and spoke with Department of Conservation site manager Lyndon Perriman.  Mr. Perriman told us about the life history of the Royal Albatross, including their incredible 8 month incubation period and 5-month fledgling-feeding stint.  Breeding every-other year, Royal Albatross populations can suffer great swings if breeding success is relatively high or low in a particular year.  This year, long dry spells (8mm this December whereas the long-term average is 120mm for the month!) have created slightly unfriendly conditions for the nesting albatross: 10 of the 21 pairs on the head have failed to this date.  The individual we could see from an observation building was incubating a soon-to-hatch egg (or, at least that what she thinks! Mr. Perriman told us that his organization incubates all albatross eggs on the site and substitutes replica eggs for the real ones in order to keep the nesting parent’s attention!).  This female, an immigrant from a sub-antarctic island south of New Zealand, is 18 years old and is paired with a male who had hatched from the very same nest location 14 years ago!  Our students again rose to the challenge of another visit with a conservation-related individual and asked great, insightful questions.  I’ve really been impressed with the level of attention to detail all of our students have devoted to our academic activities on this trip.  Way to go!  Mr. Perriman did a fantastic job chatting with our students today and we greatly appreciate his time away from tending to the Royal Albatross colony!

Following our trip to the Albatross colony, we visited the Guinness Book of World Record’s ‘Steepest road’ on record.  Baldwin Street, located to the north of Dunedin’s city center, boasts quite the gradient up its ¼-mile length!  The steps on the sidewalk aided the climb up the street, but it was one tough walk nevertheless!

Baldwin Street would be our final hurrah in Dunedin.  We traveled 5 hours north along Highway 1 to Christchurch, the unfortunate site of a number of destructive earthquake on 22 February 2010 (190!) and then a significant tremor (and aftershocks) in December 2011, just prior to our arriving in New Zealand this interim.  As we drove into the city, we noticed homes and businesses that had been destroyed or damaged by the earthquakes.  City Centre had been largely destroyed by the earthquakes and was closed to any visitors.  We arrived at our destination, the Old Country House hostel, a hostel voted the best in the country 8 times in the last 11 years, only to find out that due to a communication error, our reservation was never made!  Thanks to Gerti, the manager at the OCH, we found accommodations for the evening at a town 45 minutes north of Christchurch.  Our crew somewhat reluctantly (having just spent five exciting hours in the van already) climbed back into the van and we headed a bit further north on Highway 1 to find the Waipara Sleepers hostel.  Nestled among the sprawling vineyards of the Waipara region in the Canterbury Plains, the Sleepers consist of campgrounds, cabins, and you guessed it, sleepers, that is, sleeper railway cars from a by-gone day.  The former New Zealand railway cars had been permanently affixed and transformed into bunkhouses for folks traveling on a slim budget (folks just like us!).  Our students made their way into the sleepers and made the best of what was easily the hostel with the greatest amount of character!

A lone Royal Albatross female seen incubating her 'egg' on the slope of Taiaroa Head outside of Dunedin.  Other individuals would be seen on the hillside, but the majority of other nests were located further downslope, outside of our view from the observatory.

Royal Albatross have a 9 foot wingspan (red silhouette).  The sparrow (white silhouette) is just larger than the Balmville Bee, the mascot of the Balmville School (Newburgh, NY), who is positioned atop the hand on the left of the image.

Our group looking down the slope of the world's steepest road, Baldwin Street, in Dunedin.

Bryan Pujol (Business) and Brittany Farron (Biology/ Chemistry) outside one of the sleeper cars at the Waipara Sleeper  hostel.  We've had quite the diversity of sleeper quarters on this trip!

Monday, January 16, 2012

16 January 2012: Yellow-eyed Penguins!

Today we were fortunate to have many things work for us: 1. we had sunshine!; 2. we had relatively warm temperatures; and, 3. we saw one of the rarest species of penguins: the Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes).  

We drove out from Dunedin to the nearby Otago Peninsula to see one of the few mainland colonies of this solitary-nesting species.  Our visit was timed such that we would get to the colony site in mid-afternoon, when adults foraging at sea return to their burrows to feed their recently-hatched nestlings.  The colony site is located among the dunes of a wind-swept stretch of beach along Sandfly Bay.  "Sandfly Bay", as we would learn, refers to the fact that sand 'flies' (more like whips!) across the shore and inland due to strong southwesterly or southerly winds blowing into the bay.  Over millennia, the blowing sand created huge mounds that were then populated by grasses, sedges, and reeds capable of surviving the harsh shoreline environment (NB: A similar landscape developed on the southeastern shoreline of Lake Michigan, so if you're in the area, check it out!).  It is in these hills that the Yellow-eyed Penguins have established a nesting colony.  

After driving through a few acres of pasture slowly being grazed by sheep, we parked our van and walked a 1/2 mile along the beach to the site of the track ('trail') leading to the observation 'hide' (or 'blind').  As we walked along the shore, we found two pairs of Variable Oystercatchers (Haematopus unicolor), one of which was tending to two of the cutest little birds you ever did see.  We also found a number of fur seals (Arctocephalus fosteri) and sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) loafing on the beach, as well as the rocky outcropping that bounds the eastern edge of the bay.  Our students were very inquisitive, searching the rocky shoreline for any bulls, cows, or pups they could find!  After some good looks of the pinnipeds, we made our way into the penguin blind situated atop one of the tallest dunes in the bay and hoped for the best.  Well, we wouldn’t be disappointed!  After 15 minutes in the blind, our first Yellow-eyed Penguin made its way onto the shore.  It waddled, hopped, and scooted along the rocky shoreline, and then began its journey up the grassy hillside en route to its…burrow, we supposed.  Our fine feathered friend didn’t travel very far over the next 45 minutes; it just waddled/hopped a few meters, then took a break to preen or sun itself, then moved a little further up the hill before taking another break.  Our students patiently watched the penguin, sharing the lone pair of binoculars we had with us.  Students with digital SLR cameras snapped pictures of our friend 100m away from us.  The entire group seemed to relish in the fact that they were viewing a penguin in the wild; a Yellow-eyed Penguin, for that matter!  After another 15 minutes, the action had slowed with our penguin friend; yours truly was wondering whether it might be time to call it a day.  But, then, what’s this, ANOTHER penguin?  Yes!  Our second penguin moved rapidly onto shore, jumped onto the rocks, and began making its way toward our first penguin (mind you, this took about 10 minutes; not quite the explosive action of penguins springing out of the ocean as portrayed on television nature specials!).  After our second friend disappeared, attention waned (and bellies growled for dinner!) and it was clear that it was time to make our way back to the van.

Back at the ranch (or YHA, whichever you like; sounds more rustic/romantic when you say ‘ranch’ rather than ‘YHA’!), Dr. Moran and I prepared a spaghetti dinner for the students (although they did a lot of the heavy lifting!).  We didn’t quite get the proportion of spaghetti: sauce correct, but we had sausage to make up for the lack of sauce.  Another great group effort helped get the meal together in no time flat and we all enjoyed a warm meal after the windswept journey we had this afternoon.  What a fantastic afternoon and evening!

Tomorrow’s big adventure: the Royal Albatross colony at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula!

Our group prior to exploring the beach in Sandfly Bay.

Sandfly Bay.  The Yellow-eyed Penguin colony is located in the dunes just below the rocky outcropping in the middle-left of the picture.

Our students patiently watching as each Yellow-eyed Penguin made its way onto shore.

Our first Yellow-eyed Penguin (look at the center of the picture)!  Thanks to Becky Seepersad (Chemistry) for snapping this pic!

Gratuitous picture of sheep grazing in the pastures surrounding Sandfly Bay.  We've seen sheep throughout our trip, but interestingly, no one has taken pictures of these abundant animals until this point in the trip!

Our group preparing tonight's spaghetti dinner at the Stafford Gables YHA.  Great meal, crew!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

15 January 2012: Dunedin

Our planned trip to the Dunedin Botanical Gardens was 'called' last night due to the forecast for southwesterly winds blowing at 30mph and heavy rain showers projected to hit Dunedin today.  Well, we awoke to blue skies and bright sun...perfect weather for a guided tour through the Gardens.  Alas, having canceled the tour the previous evening, we were stuck with an 'open' morning.  The students, always eager to do something new, decided to take a tour of the local Cadbury chocolate factory.  Most reviews of the factory came back favorably, particularly from the students who LOVE chocolate!

Dr. Moran and I decided to meet with Dr. Dudle for a guided tour of Dunedin, rather than the gardens, and very much enjoyed our time talking with a professor from a similarly-sized institution. Dr. Dudle is an evolutionary biologist specializing in plants and she is conducting research through Otago University while on sabbatical from her home institution of DePauw University.  Her studies take her into regional mountains, where she investigates the function of pigments in various alpine plant species.  We missed a great opportunity to hear Dr. Dudle speak about the native New Zealand plants in the Botantical Gardens, but gained a lot of insight into a US citizen living in New Zealand for a prolonged period of time.  Very cool!

The good weather wasn't completely lost on our crew.  We packed up in the late afternoon and headed to the beach to poke around for a bit.  We drove to the southern portion of Dunedin to find St. Kilda beach, one of many beaches lining this area of Dunedin.  The sun was shining, but the wind was howling!  Our awesome pictures (see below) do not quite capture how chilly the blowing winds made us feel!  Even the red-billed gulls and black-backed gulls seemed chilled by the roaring winds from the southwest!  We decided to call it an early afternoon and retreated to the comforts of our hostel back in town.

Tomorrow: the rare yellow-eyed penguins of the Otago peninsula! (if the weather holds out!)

  Dr. Dana Dudle (DePauw University) and I standing on greatly-sloping hill in Dunedin. Dana told Dr. Moran and I that the city of Dunedin had been planned in Scotland without the aid of a topographical map, and then the builders went ahead with the original plans without regard to the area's terrain!

Our group standing on St. Kilda beach south of Dunedin.  This photo, taken just as we walked onto the beach, only hints at how chilly the beach was during our visit!

Self portrait of Dr. Moran and I on St. Kilda beach, Dunedin.

14 January 2012: Queenstown --> Dunedin

We woke this morning to beautiful blue skies and bright sun...which means we must be leaving!  We had a cool morning (high 50s), but the sun made it all worth it.  After a short stroll to the Lake Wakatipu waterfront in Queenstown to visit the Saturday morning farmer's market (it is summer, you know!), I made a quick trip through town to pickup a savory (a pie the circumference of a softball that is filled with meats, veggies, and cheese...oh goodness they're tasty!).  By 11am, we were in the van and on our way through the central Otago region down to Dunedin.  We traveled through many small towns, all hosting their own version of a farmers market.  I guess if the singing birds didn't let me know it was summer, then the presence of the farmers markets, with children running around outdoor tables lined with veggies and crafts and adults carrying bags and boxes of veggies and baked goods through make-shift carparks (parking lots to us) definitely did!

This morning also featured Lindsay Bordonaro (History/ Education) as discussion leader with the Balmville School's 3rd graders during our Skype session.  To say Lindsay was in her element during her discussion with the students this morning would be putting it lightly!  Lindsay took the student's questions and turned them into vignette's that placed her (our) trip experiences into contexts connected to information with which the students were familiar (how easily or quickly could you make the connection between phytoplankton and the Spongebob Squarepants character, 'Plankton'?!).  Lindsay did an awesome job sharing what she had learned on the trip, often using the Balmville Bee mascot while addressing the students' questions.  Lindsay's expertise on some of the questions led a nearby 'Kiwi' (native New Zealander) to comment to me that he had learned a thing or two while overhearing the session!  Lindsay is going to make an excellent teacher!

We drove on to the southeast corner of the Otago region, only to hit winds gusting to 30mph and whipping rain showers.  We reached Dunedin after 4 hours in the car and found out from the receptionist of our hostel that, guess what? Today was the first day Dunedin had rain in over a month!  All hail the rain-bringers of the Northern Hemisphere!  Well, we'll just have to see about that!  Tomorrow: the Dunedin Botanical Gardens with Dr. Dana Dudle, botany professor from DePauw University (Indiana).

A sunny morning developing outside our hostel room's window.  Hooray!

Beautiful Lake Wakatipu on the edge of Queenstown.  Just stunning!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

13 January 2012: Queenstown

Another rainy day in New Zealand!  Queenstown, like Franz Josef, has been without rain for nearly three weeks…until today!  Well, it’s been a good day to catch-up on things and take a break from our constant motion.  The students aren’t letting moss gather on them, though. Everyone is out looking for something to do in the self-proclaimed ‘adventure capital of the world’, Queenstown!

Another rainy day...this time, we're in Queenstown!

12 January 2012: Onto Queenstown

The ride from Franz Josef to Queenstown is nearly 6 hours long and the majority of the driving is through winding roads in the mountains of the west coast (also known as the ‘Southern Alps’).  Leaving the mountains, we drove through a relatively dry region that was scattered by low-growing shrubs, the occasional stand of introduced pine trees, and canyons.  Dr. Moran and I had agreed on listening to U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ as we left the mountains, not realizing that the history behind the album and the song’s inspirations would be very similar to the lands we would be driving through enroute to Queenstown.  Well played!

12 January 2012: Franz Josef glacier

Remember that three week period without rain that Franz Josef had been experiencing?  Well, we awoke to rain, rain, and more rain.  The rain was variable in its pace: a light drizzle enroute to the Franz Josef glacier, steady and blowing at a 45 degree angle during our hike on the glacier, then heavy during our trip to Queenstown later in the day.  Ah, Mother Nature is certainly an interesting character!

Our morning began early today.  Angela Broyles (International studies) Skyped with the Balmville 3rd graders this morning at 7am (1pm EST) and answered questions about the types of animals we’ve seen (especially kiwi!) and the type of climate New Zealand experiences. The Balmville students were excited to speak with Angela and she did a fantastic job handling the ‘tough’ questions!

Franz Josef glacier, one of two glaciers in the region (the other is Fox glacier) that is readily accessible, is a rapidly-moving glacier found just 15min outside of town.  The glacier is formed from the compaction of the 50m (150 ft!) of snow that falls annually atop the mountains outside of town and which slides down the Waiho River valley at a staggering 1m/day!  Only permitted guides and persons are allowed to climb on the glacier, so we joined the Franz Josef Glacier Guides for a half-day trip up the glacier.  Before tackling the glacier, we obtained gear to keep us dry and safe during our climb: waterproof pants and jacket, gloves, hats, heavy climbing boots, and crampons (metal spikes that clamp to the bottom of boots and are used to jam into the ice of the glacier).  Although some of us were dubious of the rain gear, it became apparent immediately that it would not be a waste: rain fell for 2 hours of our 2.5 hr adventure!

The trek to the glacier began with a 2.3km walk up the Waiho River valley to a large mass of rocks and boulders found below the terminal face of the glacier.  One hundred years ago, the glacier was located within 500m of the beginning of our trek; however, elevated temperatures have hastened the retreat of the glacier (despite the huge amount of snow contributing to it).  After reaching the mini-mountain of stones, we were instructed on how to attach our crampons, and then we were off to climb on the glacier!

The glacier is largely composed of ice, but in many places, the ice contains rocks, boulders, and other debris that can make the ice look ‘dirty’.  Our guide, Chris Abel (a.k.a., ‘Avatar’ due to his height and apparent possession of tail), chopped steps into the glacier using an ice ax and told us tidbits of information on the glacier.  After passing through an incredible ice cave with cool-blue colors streaked through streams of white and clear ice, we learned the curved portions of the cave were formed as the result of wind eddies eroding away the ice.  Chris also told us about how significant rainfalls (e.g., the glacier received 1.5m of rain in 1 day!) contribute to the accumulation of rock debris on the glacier, and also told us how paths over and through the glacier need daily maintenance or re-routing due to the glacier melting or shifting during its progression down the river valley.  The students had a fantastic time, although some were scared to fall into the occasional crevasse that we came across, and lots of great pictures were taken of the glacier!  One of my highlights from the trek was the arrival of a Kea (Nestor notabilis), one of the two alpine species of parrots that inhabits New Zealand.  Kea are known to wreak havoc on rubber stripping found on cars and for picking through unattended bags, boxes, etc., discovered in their alpine homes.  The kea that visited the glacier today seemed to be interested in the ice axes being used by another group, but it allowed me to get a few pictures of it nevertheless!


Ready to climb Franz Josef glacier!

The giant mountain of rocks and boulders that had to be climbed to reach the glacier. Look closely and you'll see a string of people on the mountain.  That's one large hill!

Time to put on the crampons!

Crampons? Check! Ok, NOW we're ready to climb the glacier!

Dr. Moran in a super-neat ice cave! Check out the curved features of the cave.

Taking off the crampons and taking a break. Joe Santangelo (Business) poses with our group mascot, the Balmville School bee!

My star of the show: a Kea!

11 January 2012: Rowi kiwi project (Franz Josef)

We had a harried morning following our emergency camping trip: Becky Seepersad (chemistry) and Shannon Attebery (biology) led a Skype discussion with the Balmville 3rd graders and then we made our way south to Franz Josef to meet with Neil Freer (Bank of New Zealand Operation Nest Egg), project manager of the Rowi kiwi project on the west coast.  Neil led the discussion on the management of the rarest of kiwi species, the Rowi (a subspecies of the Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis). We learned of the radiotransmitters attached to the legs of kiwis to monitor to movements, and learned how based upon the subtleties in kiwi movements, incubation by radiotagged kiwis could be ascertained.  Our students asked very insightful questions on the breeding biology of the kiwi, demonstrating again how they have internalized the information learned from our sanctuary experiences on the trip.  Following Neil’s presentation, we walked to the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, an operation that works with the BNZ ONE to incubate wild-laid kiwi eggs, and raise the juveniles to several months old (at which point they are transferred to Christchurch for further growth and development).  Inside the centre, we viewed nearly 3-month old chicks freely moving about in a darkened enclosure.  As a bonus, we were treated to the incubation and brooding rooms, where kiwi chicks are hatched and spend their first few weeks growing.  Kiwi eggs are the largest eggs (relative to their body size) of all birds and they made a typical tv remote control look small!  Two eggs were incubating during our visit and we were able to view them via tv monitor.  Our experience finished with a viewing of the newly-hatched kiwi in the brooding room.  These little guys are cute!  Unlike in the juvenile enclosure, we were allowed to take pictures of the young kiwi, and some students recorded video of these guys moving about in their brooding chambers.  Super cool!  Neil was a terrific host and his time and patience in waiting for us to arrive in Franz Josef were greatly appreciated!

After a busy morning, our group decided to lie low in Franz Josef.  We spent the day doing laundry, checking email, and relaxing. Relaxing is probably not a generous-enough term, as it amounted to our entire group visiting the Glacial Pools located in Franz Josef, a set of three pools that ranged in temperature from 88-105 degrees F.  After an hour or so in the pools, Dr. Moran and I called it quits for the evening; the students spent a little more time relishing in the naturally-hot water produced from local geothermal pools.

One interesting note for our visit to Franz Josef: despite all the wet weather that has followed us throughout New Zealand, Franz Josef has not received rain in 3 weeks!  Water usage had gotten so bad that the city began drawing water from local rivers and was not able to filter the water for drinking. Thus, any water for drinking had to be boiled if from the tap, or bought as bottled water.  Another new experience for our students!


Neil Freer (Bank of New Zealand Operation Nest Egg) with our group at the Department of Conservation centre in Franz Josef, New Zealand.


Me holding a mounted Rowi kiwi.

Wow! That's a large egg!  A Rowi kiwi egg next to an average TV remote.


10 January 2012: To Franz Josef…or maybe not

There are times in all journeys when adaptability, understanding, and patience are needed.  Tonight was one of those rare times in our trip when we needed all three qualities to be exhibited by our students.  In the excitement following the glow-worm visit in Hokitika, yours truly, the lone drive of our van/bus, forgot that our van was running low on gas.  Leaving Hokitika around 10:30, I had forgotten that most businesses would be closed by 11pm, particularly on the west coast of the South Island, which has one of the lowest densities of people in all of New Zealand.  By 11:30, having driven for nearly an hour, I had re-noticed that we were very low on gas and determined that we would not make it another 2 hours to Franz Josef.  At this point, Dr. Moran and I made the executive decision to return to Hokitika to find gas and find lodging for the evening.  Upon arrival in Hokitika around 12:15, we found that literally nothing was open.  Our students found the humor in the situation (my forgetting to get gas), but also realized that we had a bit of an emergency on our hands: we faced the prospect of having to spend the night in the van (not a desirable situation at all!)  After finding a few residents to question, we learned of a campground nearby that accepts late arrivals and decided we would camp.  In a most-impressive display of fortitude and skill, our students quickly erected our tents from the Abel Tasman camping trip in the glow of headlamps, and at 1am (to boot!).  By 1:15am, everyone was tucked in their sleeping bag (or in the van, as some students opted for) and off to bed!  Dr. Moran and I were EXTREMELY impressed with how well our Mount students handled adversity and tackled the challenge head-on!  Kudos to them!

10 January 2012: Hokitka: beach and glow-worms!

The seaside town of Hokitika is largely a tourist destination, rather than industrial area like Greymouth, and had ample opportunity to visit its beaches and take-in some biology, which included viewing glow-worms!

The glow-worms that inhabit a dell (a valley) near Hokitika are the larvae of the Fungus Fly, an insect that feeds on, you guessed it, fungus.  The dell was a small cove located about 30m from the highway, at the end of a short path.  The walls of the cove were nearly vertical, lined with ferns and other low-stature plants capable of clinging to the vertical surface of the cove.  The sounds of a light trickle of water contributed to the feeling of damp conditions within the dell. 

The Fungus Fly larvae occupy burrows, where they dangle their tails that glow a light-blue color.  The bioluminescence serves as a lure for prey that ultimately become ensnared in a string of silk excreted from the tail of the glow-worm.  It was not clear from the description on the road-side sign how the light was created, but Dr. Moran explained to our students how other organisms are able to ‘create’ light through biochemical processes (thanks Dr. Moran!).  The glow-worms do not begin emitting light until dusk, so our group decided to spend the waning hours of light walking the nearby beach.

The Hokitika beaches are largely flat and bounded on the shore side by small dunes lined with dune grass and few flax plants.  We walked the beach in search of one of the prized stones of New Zealand, jade (known as ‘pounamu’ to the Maori), skipped stones in the Tasman Sea, or walked quietly to reflect upon our trip and our families back home.  Black-backed gulls cruised the shoreline looking for tasty morsels, but they were the only birdlife using the beach: no penguins were found, despite the signs from the DoC that they may be found on the beach.  We watched the sunset through the cloud cover and then made our way back to the glow-worm dell to wait for the worms to do their thing!

As dusk approached, we watched in amazement as the glow-worms began to turn-on, an appearance that was magical, yet familiar: it looked like the stars coming out at night!  Our students patiently waited for the full show, which became more apparent as it grew darker.  Pictures of the glow-worms were difficult to obtain, but our students made their best efforts to capture this spectacular scene!

Dr. Moran contemplating life's great mysteries on a rock jetty on the beach in Hokitika.

Our group at sunset on the beach at Hokitika.

The glow-worm dell in Hokitika...check out those headlamps!

10 January 2012: Greymouth: a day of rest

Our day in Greymouth began with a Skype session with the Balmville 3rd graders led by biology major, Shannon Attebery.  Unfortunately, we had trouble establishing a connection and only had a limited interaction with the students.  Internet connections have been relatively inconsistent during our travels, but we’re resolved to have our conversations with the Balmville students.  Shannon grinned-and-beared having to wake early to Skype and I really appreciated her understanding!


Our day in Greymouth was a relatively relaxed one: many students walked the town in search of souvenirs and worked on their journals for our course.  Following an early dinner that included watching LSU blank Alabams for the BCS college football championship, we headed to the nearby town of Hokitika for our next big biology adventure: finding glow-worms!

9 January 2012: Arrival in Greymouth

Greymouth is largely an industrial town lying along the west coast of the South Island, that is apparently fairly quiet after 6pm.  Our arrival at 9:30pm left us with few options for dinner; we would eventually settle for a meal at McDonald’s, my first time eating from an international organization since arriving in New Zealand.  We made our way to the local Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and had a restful evening, one that included showers and sleeping in beds…a welcome experience given we had been camping for the last three days!

9 January 2012: Punakaiki’s pancake rocks

After sitting in the van for nearly 2 hours, we reached our destination of Punakaiki’s pancake rocks.  This geological formation sits on the west coast’s shoreline and is the product of millions of years of sediment accumulation, uplifting due to tectonic plate activity and erosion by the Tasman Sea.  The result: rocks that take on an appearance very similar to lots and lots of pancakes stacked upon one another!  The formation reminds me of Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, at least what I’ve seen in pictures!  Along the path from the road to the shore, we were able to see some wildlife: a Weka foraging and a few Tui calling.  Very cool experience overall!


Dr. Moran and Joe Santangelo (Business) look out over the 'pancake rocks' at Punakaiki.

Punakaiki's 'pancake rocks'.  Notice the layers in the rocks!

9 January 2012: Petting eels in Tasman

Rick Field (Brook Sanctuary) turned us onto a place in the town of Tasman, located about 15min from the Barn, which reportedly had freshwater eels that could pet.  So, our adventurous crew took to finding these creatures during our trip to our next stop on the trip, Greymouth.  Low-and-behold, finding them was easy!  We stopped at the Jester House CafĂ© in Tasman and found that, yes, they had eels in an adjacent stream that could pet!  Most of our crew took the opportunity to reach into the shallow stream to pet the eels, some as long as 1m!  Our students reported that the eels were very slimy (and I have to concur, they were probably the most slimy thing I’ve touched!).  After a short visit and lots of photos, we hopped back into our home-on-wheels and began our trip to Greymouth.  We would make a final stop during our trip…read on!

Peter Kelleher (Psychology) petting the freshwater eels at the Jester House in Tasman, New Zealand.

9 January 2012: Return to Marhau!

Contrary to yesterday’s report of strong ‘southeasterlies’ developing today, we awoke to a benign morning that was cool (high 50s F) and overcast.  Our camp ranger, a delightful Aussie temporarily stationed in New Zealand, informed us the weather report had changed overnight and that the winds would be favorable for kayaking back to Marahau.  We broke camp by 9am and packed the kayaks and backpacks for the return trip.  Our backpacking group (Dr. Moran and six students) packed for their trip back by kayak and my group, the folks who initially kayaked to the Anchorage campground, packed for the hike back to Marahau.  Both groups had a smooth trip ‘home’ to the Barn. We made a quick lunch at the Barn and then we were off to find some ‘tame eels’ to pet in a nearby town!


Kayakers and backpackers set to leave Anchorage campground for Marahau!

8 January 2012: Kayaking in Anchorage Bay and Cleopatra’s pool

The summer weather that blessed us for the last few days has made way for another southeasterly that brought cool temperatures (mid-60s F), wind (10-20mph), and light rain. Our group of backpackers, who hiked to the campground the previous day, decided to ignore the less-than-summer conditions and tried their hand at kayaking.  The group paddled out of Anchorage Bay, into the Tasman Sea, visited a nice beach, and then headed back to camp.  The wind and seas were fairly rough, but Dr. Moran guided the group safely into shore.  Following lunch, we got on our ‘togs’ (New Zealand for ‘bathing suit’) and headed to Cleopatra’s pool, a site along the Torrent River that includes a 10m (30 feet) slide created by rocks covered in algae and lubricated by rushing mountain water (which felt as though it hadn’t melted too long ago!)  Nearly our entire group gave the slide a ‘go’, with each person on the slide being cheered-on by our group’s onlookers and unknown hikers who were not as adventurous as our group members! After toweling-off and warming ourselves after swimming in the very cold water, we hiked through the fern-lined trail toward camp. We decided to take a short-cut on the return trip and hiked along the delta of the Torrent River, where we searched the exposed river bed (due to Torrent Bay’s low tide) for oysters, mussels, clams, and the odd jellyfish.  We ended our journey by peering into caves exposed as a result of the low tide and taking some neat pictures of mussel and barnacle-encrusted rocks of the shoreline.  Despite the continuing dismal weather, our group keeps looking for the next opportunity to see or experience something new!

Our evening ended with veggies cooked in foil over the open fire, hot chocolate, and yes, more rain.  We’ve become adept at maintaining the fire, probably out of necessity rather than purely charm!  Our group stayed up past dusk (10pm!) to work on their journals, but their fearless leaders, Dr. Moran and me, called it a night a bit earlier.  It’s been a great few days, but goodness they’ve been exhausting!


Look closely and you'll see our group of 3 kayaks paddling in Anchorage Bay!


Our intrepid group of kayakers taking a break on a beach in Anchorage Bay.

video

Bryan Pujol (Business) slides down the water slide near Cleopatra's Pool.

Walking the Torrent River's exposed river bed on our trip from Cleopatra's Pool to the Anchorage campground.

7 January 2012: Sea kayaking and backpacking in Abel Tasman National Park

Our morning started early (6:45 am) with a chat with the Balmville School 3rd graders, this time lead by psychology major Peter Kelleher.  Peter fielded questions about kiwi, the water bodies surrounding New Zealand, the current season New Zealand was in, and the types of animals we’ve seen so far on our trip.  The Balmville students were excited to see and hear Peter and see the scenery around the Barn.

Sun and warm temperatures (~70 degrees F) prevailed during our mini-migration to the Anchorage campground in Abel Tasman National Park.  Our group received training on how to use/navigate sea kayaks, and then half of our group began a trip that lasted nearly 3 hours.  The group backpacking to Anchorage campground began their trip soon after and were very happy to arrive after a grueling 3.5 hr hike (mostly uphill!).  As a member of the sea kayak group, I was happy to see a fair amount of wildlife while paddling through the bays lining the Tasman Sea: a species of Skua (a relative of albatross and petrels, and distant relative to gulls) kleptoparasitized (stole) a fish from a White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata), an Australasian Gannet (Morrus serrator) flew past us, Black-backed Gulls (Larus dominicanus) foraged throughout the bays, and seals basked in the morning sun.  We were very fortunate to paddling past a small seal colony site and have seals swim beneath (and touch!) our kayaks!  We saw several species of Shag (Phalacrocorax spp.; relatives of North American Cormorants) drying their wings on the shores of several islands, but we didn’t see any penguins (although a Pied Shag (P. varius) did give us brief hope!).  Once to camp, we picked a great site lined with trees and waited for the backpackers to arrive.  Following lunch with the backpackers after they arrived, everyone contributed to erecting tents and getting ‘camp’ setup for the next few days.  Many students had never erected a tent prior to this trip, but everyone got involved and hastened the process.  We’ve got a great bunch of students and this was just one of the ways in which our group acted as a cohesive unit.

Our group on the eve of kayaking or backpacking to the Anchorage Campground in Abel Tasman National Park.

 Our kayaking group receiving training on how to paddle and navigate sea kayaks.

Angela Broyles, Shannon Attebery, Becky Seepersad in Anchorage Campground, Abel Tasman National Park.

Dr. Moran, master fire-maker!

 Joe Santangel, Jen Szknolnicki, and Becky Seepersad keeping warm around the fire.

Peter Kelleher waiting for the next rugby game...