Sunday, January 19, 2014

18 January 2014: and...we're home!

Our long trip home, beginning at 4pm New Zealand time in Christchurch and ending at JFK at 12:15am, lasted 26 hours, but our spirits have not dampened.  Although everyone was tired, the energy of the trip still seemed to bubbling from all.  The last hurrah for our group included a few photos, lots of hugs, and a final huddle and cheer.  We had an amazing time in New Zealand and, with some patience from you, we'd love the opportunity to share that experience with you through pictures and stories. Enjoy those re-tellings, as they are an intricate part of your trip participant.  Listen and ask about the details; they've learned a LOT over the last three weeks!  Dr. Moran and I have learned much about our students and we feel very fortunate to have been able to do so through the flights, the activities, the housing nuances, and supermarkets we've experienced together.  Once again, thank you for sharing your student(s) with us!

Our final photo after returning to JFK at 12:15am today.

Friday, January 17, 2014

17 January 2014: our departure for home!

As I write this, our students and Dr. Moran are awaiting our boarding of our first flight enroute to home.  We leave for Auckland in about 30 min, and then we'll be on our way to Los Angeles later in the evening.  The mood is somber, as it is hard to believe that our grand adventure is at a close.  After another relatively slow day, one in which we spent several hours at the local mall, we have our ducks aligned and are ready for the grueling movement to our homes (~21 hours in the air, 4 hrs of layovers, and the time it will take to drive home from JFK).

One of the best signs that this trip has been a success among the students was illustrated to Dr. Moran and me when we arrived in the airport after delivering our borrowed trailer to a storage facility and the rental van to its respective company.  As we walked up to our group, we could see that they were writing (again) in their journals.  I thought they were working on writing their final 'daily' journal entries of the trip, but instead, they were signing each other's journals.  We've really had a special group on this trip, and I think they realize what a great set of friends they've made through the course.  As I write this, another student approached me about writing something in his journal (Dr. Moran has had several requests as well).  We've learned a lot about conservation biology, about birds, and the dual cultures (Maori and Europeans) of New Zealand, but the students have also learned a lot about themselves.  Mission accomplished!

The next entry will probably be once we arrive back on US soil, in Los Angeles.  Thank you to all the parents, family members, friends, and other folks who made this trip possible for a fantastic group of students.  Dr. Moran and I have been very fortunate to have your students with us on this trip!

One final picture of the mighty stallion that helped us get around New Zealand's South Island!

16 January 2014: Quake City, Christchurch

On our second day in Christchurch, we had a relatively slow day.  The slow day was supposed to include a 2.5 hr drive to the north to Kaikoura to possibly dive with dolphins, but the poor weather that was forecasted shutdown that effort.  Unfortunately, the weather was fantastic: warm, slightly overcast, and a bit windy.  The projected 'southerly' storm never materialized or was slow coming ashore and the beautiful from yesterday has persisted.  Oh well.

We used our time in Christchurch to visit the tributes/remembrances of the severe earthquakes that rocked Christchurch on 4 Sept 2010 (Richter scale: 7.8) and 4 February 2011 (6.3) and the efforts businesses have made to demonstrate the earthquakes are not enough to scare them from the city.  The site of the tributes is a museum called 'Quake City' and is located in the city centre, the site where the majority of the damage occurred during the earthquakes.  Quake City is located in the center of the recreated business district, named 'Re: START", a collection of shipping containers that have been co-opted into store fronts.  We walked through the city centre enroute to the museum and got a flavor for the damage that was done by the earthquakes: city corners were vacant where buildings used to stand and several churches had their walls supported by braces and were surrounded by scaffolding.  With this in mind, we entered Quake City...

The designers of Quake City took the heart of Christchurch and put it on proud display. In addition to the 'facts' of the earthquakes, their intensities, the number of lives lost in each, and their epicentres, the museum also projected stories of persons caught in the earthquake.  The stories were probably as powerful as the earthquakes themselves and many of us admitted getting emotional while hearing the scary, emotional testimonies of the Cantabrians caught in the tremors.  Additionally, there were stories about all the international help that was sent to New Zealand as part of the relief effort.  Many of us mentioned how the USA helped with the effort, as well as the Chinese, Japanese and Australians.  It's time like this that I'm especially proud be an American. Scattered throughout the tribute were structures, from doors, church bells, and points to steeples, that were collected from the rubble following the earthquakes.  A brief security camera video recorded during one of the earthquakes gave some idea of how these artefacts of the earthquake might have been acquired.  Despite the terrible damage, Christchurch is working everyday to rebuild the city.  Displays in the museum detailed some of the technology being employed in new buildings and it was pretty impressive! Some buildings have suspension systems that allow them to 'float' on the ground if another earthquake shakes the Earth; new roads that are being built are having as a foundation columns that will support the road to prevent them from collapsing should the ground disappear from beneath them.  Our students had the opportunity to 'rebuild Christchurch' by making Lego structures from the blocks provided in the museum (see below for their creations).  The Quake City tribute was an emotional, educational experience, and I'm glad we had the opportunity to visit.

After Quake City, we had the chance to walk around 'Re:START', the shipping-container city with businesses inside of them.  The initial goal of the project was to keep Christchurch running despite the damage done by the earthquakes.  What started as a novelty has turned into something of an attraction, something that keeps Christchurch city centre functioning economically to a much-greater extent than initially planned.  Apparently, there are talks of continuing the lease on the property, along with the containers, beyond the April 2014 termination date, a good sign that Christchurch is embracing the container-front business enterprise.

Our day in Christchurch city centre only lasted into mid-afternoon and instead of running out to do anything else, the group decided to lay low for the afternoon and begin packing for our trip home.  Many students spent time catching-up on their journals for the class, or talked with family and friends online, or worked on blogs (:-)).  Everyone is feeling drained from the nearly 3-week long trip now and it was good to have a relatively slow day.

Tomorrow: we leave for home!

Two of the many businesses that are currently situated in shipping containers in Christchurch city centre.  What was amazing about these containers was that they were really quite simple, some contained messy caulking around the edges to prevent water from entering the structures.

The Quake City museum, dedicated to the events and damage caused during the major earthquakes that happened close to Christchurch on 4 September 2010 and 22 February 2011.

Our students made their best attempts to re-build Christchurch city centre by building Lego blocks made available in Quake City. Some of the structures survived simulated earthquakes (dropping the structure from about .5m above the table), others didn't fair too well!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

15 January 2014: Taylors Mistake

Our final stop in New Zealand would not be complete without a visit to the beach!  On this trip, we visited 'Taylor's Mistake', a cove of a beach that boasts some of the cleanest water in the Christchurch area.  The spot also boasts some fantastic surf conditions, and it didn't disappoint!

We arrived late in the afternoon, following our visit to the Antarctic Centre, and got into the water soon thereafter!  Most of group got into the surprisingly-mild water to do some body surfing and water-ducking.  We threw the rugby ball around for some true New Zealand experience and took plenty of pictures.  We relaxed for a while on the beach, talking about our experiences during our course, and discussed some of the changes that would improve the program.  Our students have just been fantastic on this trip and we've been really fortunate to experience this trip with them, and now, in retrospect, get their feedback on the experience.  Dr. Moran and I have some changes to make to focus more on some of the exciting or unique experiences of the trip, but according to the students, it seems like the students have had a great time!  Awesome!

15 January 2014: the International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch

A trip to Christchurch would not be complete without visiting the International Antarctic Centre.  Christchurch has long been a jumping-point for expeditions to Antarctica, and it continues to be so: the United States, Italy, and Germany all have facilities here in Christchurch that serve as the final stop before the trip to McMurdough Station, or other destinations, in Antarctica.

Our visit today was facilitated by Laurel, who gave us an introductory presentation on the Centre and led us between the different attractions.  We learned about the international contingency located at the official Antarctic Centre next to the layperson centre and a little about the penguins that we would see one-on-one later during our visit.  After our introduction, we joined a large group of children and adults waiting to see the feeding of the Little Blue Penguins (one of seven species found around the New Zealand islands).  Although this was a site specifically for Antarctica, the centre hosts a population of Little Blue Penguins that are no longer able to survive in the wild around New Zealand.  Nearly all of the penguins at the Centre were brought in because they were permanently injured (blinded after being hit by a boat), had amputations due to boating injuries or predator attacks, or otherwise.  All the penguins have identifying tags (left-wing tags for males; right for females (because 'females are always right' according to our host, Dianne) and stories about their lives.  Dianne's description of the soap-operatic lives of the penguins I think shed some light on the complexity of social life for wild animals.  Too-often we distill species characteristics into stereotypical sound-bytes; it is not often we hear about the intricacies, the nuances, of wild animals.  We heard how one female left her mate to pair-bond with another female. One male currently has 5-6 girlfriends, something unusual for a species that would otherwise be classified as monogamous.  Dianne fed all the penguins in the viewing tank and then we had the opportunity to go 'backstage' with the penguins.

Dianne first showed us around the water treatment facility that is responsible for cleaning the water in the penguins' tank.  The complete cleaning of the water takes place regularly, particularly because the water is soiled rather quickly with the feces of the penguins.  The penguins actually are in a freshwater tank, despite the fact they survive in the wild in saltwater.  Dianne told us that the use of freshwater simplifies the management of the tank, as saltwater tanks take a great deal of special management.  Additionally, because of the earthquakes that have taken place recently in Christchurch, the replacement of freshwater that is lost due to cracks in the tank can easily be done with local supplies, whereas saltwater replacement would much more difficult.

After our tour of the maintenance facility, we got to see a Little Blue Penguin up-close and personal!  We were introduced to a little bugger of female, Horatio.  She had quite the attitude, according to Dianne, and we got to see her 'tude in action when Dianne tried to pick her up from her pen.  We learned a little more about the biology of the penguins and then were off to our next adventure, the Hagglund all-terrain polar vehicle.

The Hagglund vehicle was designed by the Swedes for extreme polor conditions. The two constituents that comprise the vehicle are the driver cab (with some room for some passengers) and the passenger cab.  Our group piled into the cabs and off we went through a crazy course of steep hills, rough terrain, and a 3m-deep pool.  I was nearly motion-sick from the wild ride, but the students seemed to love it.  Sean Harrison (Business, 2015) was riding-shotgun, and his voice could be heard in the background as the driver gave us descriptions of the course were tackling.  The 10 min trip seemed much longer, but we survived the trek and were back on the ground.  The trip gave us some insight into the intensity of polar existence and how simple the major vehicles used to transport Antarctic are on the inside.  I've considered going to Antarctica for a visit, not necessarily to do research, but just to see the continent...this has made me think otherwise!

We had two final events in the centre: the Antarctic storm and the 4D movie that shows a trip across the Drake Passage (the stormiest pass on the planet) and then scenery across the continent.  The simulated Antarctic storm was easily the most entertaining of the two activities, particularly because the men in our group decided to go shirtless during the pseudo-storm.  The room in which the storm takes place starts at 32F, and then the as wind speed rises to 30mph, and the windchill drops below 0F.  As the storm picked-up, the shivering and howling (from the men) increased until the wind stopped blowing and the storm was over.  Many of us were laughing during the event, while we were shivering, and all had fun!  The most-striking part of the storm was how the room became darker and the sound increased.  These two conditions are supposedly what occurs when storms occur in Antarctica and they seem pretty accurate given what I've read by early explorers. The field conditions I experienced while working as a field technician on an island in the Columbia River were harsh, but nothing like the conditions we were subjected to in the storm room!

To contrast our experience in the Antarctic, we decided to take in one last bit of summer sun by visiting a nearby beach.  We need a tan before we leave for the snow and cold of New York!

Horatio, the female Little Blue Penguin who we were introduced to during our 'backstage' pass at the Antarctic Centre.

Our group after our ride on the Swedish-made Hagglund polar explorer.

Our MSMC men braving an Antarctic storm at the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch.  Go Knights!

14 January 2014: enroute to Christchurch: Moeraki boulders

The 5+ hour drive to Christchurch took us along the eastern shore of the South Island, through the Canterbury region.  This area of the South Island is dominated by agriculture.  We drove past miiles of wheat fields, primarily, as well as some corn and lavender fields.  Sheep grazing also dominated the landscape, not surprising given that New Zealand has about 40 million sheep, a little less than 10x as many people!  Looking over our right shoulders, we could see the coastline with its sublime blue hues.  After 1.5hrs in the van, we decided to make a stop for some geologic curiosities on this coast: the Moeraki boulders.

Over the course of the last 55 million years, pebbles and shells along the coast started balls that were subsequently layered with lime deposits.  The layes of lime 'cemented' together to form large boulders, some nearly 2m (~6 ft) in size.  I had heard about the boulders during our last trip to New Zealand, but we didn't stop for one reason or another.  So, we made a stop on this beautiful day.  The boulders were pretty impressive, and we could see at least a dozen boulders on the beach; we could've probably seen more, but the tide was high and there wasn't room on the beach between the water and the cliff face.  After a 45min stop, we decided to call it a day and proceed to Christchurch.

Our students and Dr. Moran standing in front of some of the Moeraki boulders.

Dorian Shann (Physical Therapy, 2015), Sean Harrison (Business, 2015), and Lara Guindi (Biology/ pre-med, 2015) contemplating the massive Moeraki boulders.

14 January 2014: Royal Albatross over the Pacific Ocean

This morning I made my way to the Albatross Colony on the far east end of the Otago Peninsula for some bird watching.  The rest of our group spent time in Dunedin, including a visit to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, and some time on the 'Octagon', a prominent site in Dunedin.

Just like yesterday, the wind was blowing at gale force, except the winds were now out of the north, rather than the south. When I arrived in the car park of the Albatross Centre, I was immediately greeted by the local Red-billed Gulls.  Gulls the world-over are notorious for 'begging' food from humans, and these adults, sub-adults, and fledglings are no exception.  I don't choose to feed birds unless I have an experimental protocol in place, so these gulls were right out of luck.  While awaiting for non-existent donations, the gulls busied themselves with pecking a stumbling juvenile gull.  Because I didn't see the beginning of the taunting, I don't quite know why this young bird was receiving the wrath of these adults, but one thing was clear to me: abnormalities in wild animal populations are quickly rooted-out.  I watched for nearly 15 min as the adult gulls continued to peck, jump on, and harass the young gull before I stepped-in and scared away the adults.  The young gull walked under my van and that seemed to quell the beating, but I would learn later that it didn't seem to make a difference: the young gull died below my van.  Social life is very difficult for wild animals; we as humans have chosen to make life miserable for each other in different ways...

Without having access to the Albatross Colony, I spent my time looking east and south over the Pacific Ocean in search of albatross soaring over the seas in search of prey or just making their way back to the breeding colony nearby.  A short 15 min later, I spotted my first albatross, criss-crossing its way across the water at least .5 miles from shore.  It was difficult at first to recognize the albatross from other seabirds, particularly the large Southern Black-backed Gull, but when a Black-backed Gull crossed in front of my view while I was simultaneously watching an albatross, I quickly learned the difference between the two species!  The Royal Albatross, the species that nests on the Taiaroa Head (the east end of the Otago Peninsula), has a wingspan of nearly 4m (12 feet)!  The pictures I took do not do justice to seeing the albatross cruising this way and that over the ocean.  I was disappointed that I couldn't visit the Albatross Centre, but seeing the birds soaring was sweet as!

An albatross soaring above the Pacific Ocean, south of Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula.  The handrail in the foreground gives some insight into how far this bird was from the shore, given that the bird probably had a wingspan of at least 3m (~9 ft).

13 January 2014: Yellow-eyed Penguins...maybe

We made it to Dunedin, checked-in at our hostel, and then made our way to the site of the Yellow-eyed Penguin, Sandfly Bay.  Our visit to see these particular penguins is important because we have the opportunity to see one of the rarest penguins on Earth in its native habitat.

Our trip to Sandfly Bay takes us out of the city centre and southeast onto the Otago Peninsula.  The peninsula, some 30km long, is covered with pastures used to raise livestock, primarily sheep.  The south edge of the peninsula is primarily cliff-face and small beaches and one of these beaches has the penguin colony.  The wind was howling today, from the south, at about 30mph, and it made the walk onto the beach EXTREMELY difficult.

We walked the 1/2 mile down the beach toward the Yellow-eyed Penguin colony site, which up in the hillside next to the beach.  At the base of the hill, we found about a dozen sea lions.  The sea lions, apparently a sub-species of sea lion only found in New Zealand, were largely lounging on the beach.  According to an information panel by the Department of Conservation (DoC), the afternoons are when sea lions come ashore to bask in the sun and to let their food digest.  It didn't seem like the sea lions were particularly alarmed by our presence, as all were content to continue sleeping.  We all managed to take a number of good pictures, but in the end, we were probably sabotaging our efforts to see any penguins: the penguins do not come ashore when people are detected.  After 30 min of visiting with the sea lions, we headed to the 'hide' (or 'blind') to look for penguins coming ashore from a morning of foraging.

After a 50m walk up a sand dune, we arrived at the 3m x 3m blind.  Our entire group got into the blind and then we shared my binoculars in order to find penguins in the water or on the hillsides nearby.  A few shags (cormorants) were seen swimming in the water, and a subadult albatross was seen flying out at sea, but we didn't manage to see any penguins.  Sigh...we were all disappointed, but that's the way wildlife watching goes.

As we made our way along the beach back to the van, we spoke with a DoC volunteer who told us that we had just missed several penguins that came ashore about 400m from the hide trail.  The DoC volunteer said that the penguins were probably afraid of all the human traffic on the beach close to the hide (most likely us) and that they came ashore anyway in order to make their way to their nesting site in the hillsides.  Although none of us saw the penguins, we made a great effort nonetheless.

Our trip back to Dunedin went quickly and after arriving at our hostel, we all quickly got changed and headed out to get something to eat.  Tomorrow, students have the opportunity to visit the Cadbury Chocolate Factory or visit the sites in Dunedin.  I'm gearing-up for a visit to the Royal Albatross colony.

 David Hobbs (Business, 2015) taking pictures of sleeping sea lions on Sandfly Bay, Dunedin.

Our group posing at the trail head to Sandfly Bay, Dunedin.  The group looks good given the windy conditions we experienced on the beach just before this picture!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

13 January 2014: Queenstown to Dunedin

Our time in Queenstown has come to an end and our students look like the town got the best of them...which is good and exactly as planned!  Sleepy students piled into the van and promptly knocked-off for the trip to the coastal city of Dunedin.

The trip through the Otago region to the southeast coast of the South Island was initially covered with fruit orchards of all sorts: cherry, apricot, and plum were the most popular.  We drove through a vast grassy plain that was scattered with large chunks of sedimentary rock, scenes that were reminiscent of the vistas from the 'Lord of the Rings' 'Rohan' region.  Quite spectacular!

As we wound-around to the southeast, the wind picked up and the weather turned from bright and cheery to horrendously windy and wet.  As we drove into Milton, the wind lashed against our virtual sail of vehicle and pushed our van all over the road.  We started worrying that our walk in Dunedin to the Yellow-eyed Penguin colony would be nipped, but as we approached the outer limits to the city of Dunedin, the rain abated and clear skies came into view again.  Whew!  Now let's hope this stroke of luck carries over to our walk to find one of the rarest of penguins: the Yellow-eyed Penquin!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

12 January 2014: Queenstown, day 2

The southerly weather system that appeared to be arriving last night while I was atop Queenstown Hill was in full-force this morning: the wind was whirling and the rain came down in sheets.  A few students were braving the elements to do bungy jumping (Queenstown is the home of bungy jumping!) and canyon swinging.  Words here cannot adequately describe these activities; you’ve got to Google the terms to fully appreciate the thrill (and insanity!) of these activities.  True to form, Dr. Moran and I took the low-profile approach to our final ‘off day’ of the trip.  Our biggest thrill was getting lunch at the infamous Queenstown novelty, the Fernburger.  We walked into town for a lunch of Fernburger, and it didn’t disappoint.  I ordered the ‘Big Al’, a twin-patty burger (1/2 lb of meat!), topped with a fried egg, a few slices of pickled beets, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and mayo.  Dr. Moran had an equivalently-sized burger and after eating these beasts, we declared that we wouldn’t need dinner…which turned out to be true!

Our evening was fairly slow, as I worked on blog entries and Dr. Moran watched 'The Hobbit' on his ipad.  We're ready to move on to our next destination, but also realize that our trip is quickly coming to an end.

After a thrilling few days in Queenstown, I think our students are ready to move on a slightly slower scene: Dunedin.  Tomorrow, we head 3 hrs to the south, where we’ll visit one of the major sites of Scottish colonization of New Zealand.  If the weather holds, we should be able to visit the colony site of one of the rarest species of penguins: the Yellow-eyed Penguin.

11 January 2014: Queenstown, day 1

Queenstown is built on adrenaline and our students were eager to get a taste of it!  Several of our students sky-dived for the first time ever, and a few other students took a less-risky thrill: canyoning.  Much of the remainder of our group did what Dr. Moran and I chose: have a slow day taking in Queenstown.  After a late start, Dr. Moran and I headed to town for some shopping at the Saturday flea market, a lunch of steak or fish-and-chips, and then we walked a track that went to the community adjacent to Queenstown, Fernhill.  The weather was absolutely perfect: cloudless sky, slight breeze from the west coming off the lake, and temperatures in the low 70s.  After realizing we didn’t find the correct track, we make our way back to our hostel.  Following more souvenir shopping, Dr. Moran and I grilled some hotdogs he procured at the local convenient store…and spruced-up those puppies with ketchup and/or hot sauce!  New Zealand doesn’t do hotdogs very well, but we managed.  Following dinner, I hiked up Queenstown Hill for some incredible vistas of this area.  The weather started to change from cloudless skies and the sun was beginning to set (it was 8:30pm, after all!) while I was atop the hill, so I made my way back to hostel.  Today was an amazing day, and one that was great to have ‘off’.

Queenstown harbour on a beautiful summer's day, the scenery for mine and Dr. Moran's lunch today.

Me, atop Queenstown Hill, after an exhausting hike!

10 January 2014: Rowi Kiwi project in Franz Josef and Queenstown

Jim Livingstone, Department of Conservation Senior Ranger of Conservation Services, spoke to us this morning about the Rowi kiwi (Apteryx rowi), a relatively-recently recognized species of kiwi, whose population is only about 400-strong.  The entire population lives in the region just north of Franz Josef and is monitored closely to ensure its persistence. 

We learned how conservation scientists operate the restoration effort through descriptions of the field and lab techniques used in the project.  Adult kiwis are first captured after drawing them toward ‘squak boxes’ (radios playing kiwi vocalizations), then with the help of leg radiotransmitters, the activity patterns of the kiwi and their locations can be ascertained.  Once it’s known that an adult is stationary, but alive, the scientists check whether the bird is incubating an egg.  If an egg is present, it is ‘rescued’ and brought back to the lab for incubation and hatching.  Eggs and juvenile birds are raised in Franz Josef’s Westcoast Wildlife Centre, and then the young birds are shipped to Motuara Island (Marlborough Sound) to live until they reach the predator-resistant size of +1kg, after which point they are released into the South Westland region.  Our students were very attentive to Jim’s presentation and had some very insightful questions to ask following the presentation.  After getting to touch a Rowi kiwi specimen, our group visited the Westcoast Wildlife Centre to learn a little more about the Rowi kiwi and to see three live juvenile Rowi playing in an observation pen. I know I’m biased, but it was pretty cool seeing the kiwi ‘kids’ teasing each other in the pen!

After our trip to the wildlife centre, we hopped into our trusty stallion of a van and headed south to Queenstown.  We traveled along the Haast River, a wide river valley with mountains reaching several thousand feet high along its borders, then passed through the precarious Haast Pass, which closes at 6pm each night due to a rock ‘slip’ (Kiwi for ‘landslide’) that is monitored by ‘rock spotters’ all day, and then into the Otago region.  We stopped to view and swim in the beautifully tranquil and aqua blue water of Lake Hawea.  If you didn’t know it already, we have some pretty proficient rock-skippers in our group!  By dinner, we arrived in Queenstown, the ‘adventure capital of the world’.

A break during the trip from Franz Josef to Queenstown: Lake Hawea.

Steve Maccleod (Business, 2016), David Hobbs (Business, 2016), and Jack Capetola (Chemistry, 2016) take a dip in beautiful Lake Hawea!

On the precipice of adventure: we stopped to take photos atop a beautiful vista high-above Lake Wakatipu, site of Queenstown, the 'adventure capital of the world'!

9 January 2014: Fox Glacier

Today’s activities included hiking Fox Glacier in the morning and then soothing our glacier-climbing bodies in the Glacier Hot Pools located in Franz Josef.  We really earned our keep this morning, as we needed to get on the road to Fox Glacier, 30min south of Franz Josef, by 8am to keep our appointment with the Fox Glacier Guide company.

Our guide today, Tom, was the most informative guide I’ve had on the glaciers since I began coming to New Zealand: he was articulate, knowledgeable, and very willing to address our questions along the trip.  Tom was our personal guide on our adventure on Fox Glacier, a luxury we have not had on past trips onto Franz Josef glacier.  Given our experience, I’m almost glad that Franz Josef glacier is retreating so quickly that walking hikes onto the terminal face of the glacier are no longer available! 

Prior to leaving the Guide shop, we learned that we wouldn’t be taking any rain gear with us, something that was completely unheard of during my last two times on Franz Josef glacier: on our trip in 2012, it poured rain and the wind howled during our entire hike on the glacier!  We had the most glorious day on the glacier: bright sun, 70F in the valley (about 40F on the glacier), and nearly no wind!  During our hike, we learned about the expansion and retreat of the Fox Glacier along the Fox River valley, how quickly it has retreated during the last 80 years, and how quickly the glacier melts daily (20cm!).  Tom shared with us the Maori story used to explain the presence of the ice mass, which included a love story, a fallen loved one, and the tears of the surviving lover being frozen at the top of the mountain.   Tom was even generous enough to let anyone who wanted to use his ice ax; very cool!  Tom shared with us his experiences as a guide and perhaps gave some of our students something to think about for future plans!    

Our 4-hour experience on the tour was good enough for our group, as everyone was still recovering from our travel out of Abel Tasman National Park and to Franz Josef.  The rest of the day was spent doing laundry in Franz Josef, visiting the Glacier Hot Pools, and chatting with family.  Dr. Moran and I got dinner at a local restaurant and then called it an evening.  We have a slightly slower morning tomorrow, a 9:30am start, but we need to be checked-out of the hostel prior to our meeting with the Department of Conservation on the Rowi kiwi project in the South westland region, so still lots to do in the morning!

David Hobbs (Business, 2016), Stephen Maccleod (Business, 2016), and Jack Capetola (Chemistry, 2016) on the trail to Fox Glacier (middle, background).

Our group scaling Fox Glacier on a beautiful summer's day!

Our group atop Fox Glacier's terminal face.  We explored crevasses and looked into moulins as we crossed the ice.

Me and Dr. Moran inside 'Superman's cave', a compression cave created at the terminal face of Fox Glacier as the leading edge of the glacier gets driven into the ground by the force from the glacier pushing it from behind.

Chris Lorch (Nursing, 2019) wielding our glacier guide's ice ax!

Tom, our Fox Glacier guide, and Sean Harrison (Business, 2016).

8 January 2014: Abel Tasman National Park and the marathon drive to Franz Josef

We quickly rose and packed camp to leave for Marahau this morning.  Once again, our group was expedient in their packing and were right on time for departure by kayak or by foot.  Our trip along the Coastal Track (Kiwi for ‘trail’) had some picturesque scenes and the weather cooperated with us until just before reaching Marahau.  Once in Marahau, we all re-packed our belongings to include everything we’d left behind at the hostel and then headed to Franz Josef.  A visit to Marahau wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the local fish-and-chips eatery, the Fat Tui, so a quick stop was made after leaving The Barn hostel and nearly everyone had something yummy to eat (I nicked some fries from Dr. Moran, who ordered the Cowpatty: a generously-sized burger with lettuce, tomato, and some sauce that looked like it had seeds in it!). 

What Google Maps said was supposed to be 4-hour long trip from Marahau to Franz Josef turned out to be 8 hours in length.  Our group was tough and survived the long haul.  At 12:30am, we got settled into our rooms and called it a night…we’ll be ready to go by 7:30am tomorrow morning for our trip to Fox Glacier.  Whew!

7 January 2014: Abel Tasman National Park: a lazy day

On our first day of no movement from one site to another, and free from any planned activities, students slowly emerged from the tents as the morning expired and the rains began to fall.  An overcast morning transitioned into periodic showers of different intensities.  Students explored the beach, the caves, and studiously (yes!) worked on their daily and topic journals.  Just as a side-note: Dr. Moran and I have been so impressed by the dedication the students have shown in completing their journal entries in a timely basis.  Not only do the journals represent a significant part of the graded component of this course, but they are a future reference point for the students on the trip.  My reading of the journals several days ago indicates that the students are taking journaling very seriously and it’s great to see them working diligently!

Late in the afternoon, in between rain showers, our group decided to visit Cleopatra’s Pool, a freshwater pool created along the Torrent River high above Torrent Bay.  The frigid water, having been collected from rain run-off from throughout the watershed, slices and winds its way around giant boulders, passes along a natural slide, and then collects in a pool.   The algae covering the rocks on the slide make it a great treat to slide upon and our students took-up the challenge.  Among our group, only Jack Capetola (Chemistry, 2016), Kristen Maddock (Biology/ pre-med, 2019), Lara Guindi (Biology/ pre-med, 2016) and Dorian Shann (Physical Therapy, 2016) took a dip; the rest of us video-recorded their efforts, and, well, stayed warm!  The slide looked very inviting, but on my third time to the slide, I opted for warmth instead of fun.  Ah, well, maybe next time.  The students that did take the plunge looked they had an incredible time! 

During the trip to Cleopatra’s Pool, Sean Harrison (Business, 2016) and Jason Lorch (Biology/ pre-med, 2016) followed the Torrent River upstream.  They quickly disappeared from view and scrambled along enormous boulders in the river bed and searched out some great finds: several incredible waterfalls!  Apparently, approaching the waterfalls involved some careful movement along rock ledges that ultimately resulted in wading through the cold river water.  Sean and Jason were pretty pumped from their expedition and relayed their journey with great excitement. 

Tonight’s dinner of rice and chili was extraordinary and the team of students responsible for cooking it, Kate O’Driscoll (Biology/ pre-med, 2016), Lara Guindi (Biology/ pre-med, 2016), and Dorian Shann (Physical Therapy, 2016) did an excellent job mastering the cook stoves so the food never got burned (a task I can’t say I’m adept at while using the stoves!).  After dinner, a crew of students cleaned all the pots and pans to make sure we were ready for cooking in the morning.  The students have taken great initiative when it comes to camp-tasks and Dr. Moran and I have been very impressed with their efforts and coordination.

After dinner, Sean Harrison (Business, 2016) led the charge on ghost stories and all seemed to be creeped-out by some of the tales.  Following the stories, another foray down to the caves on the beach produced another surprise: cave weta!  Weta are distant relatives of grasshoppers and crickets (Order Orthoptera) and are only found in New Zealand.  The Giant Weta, a forest-dwelling nocturnal species of Orthopteran can be found at sites such as the Karori Sanctuary, but we didn’t get to see them while we were there.  Some of the students were freaked-out by the weta and left the cave pretty quickly, or so I’ve been told.  In any case, we have another New Zealand endemic to add to our list.

Lara Guidi (Biology/ pre-med, 2016), Kristen Maddock (Biology, 2019), Dorian Shann (Physical Therapy, 2016) and Jack Capetola (Chemistry, 2016), from left to right, stand in front of Cleopatra's Pool and the rock slide along the Torrent River.

6 January 2014: camping and sea kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Our adventure into Abel Tasman National Park began with training from Mary at the Sea Kayak Company on how to use our sea kayaks and ended with an evening of our version of S’mores, New  Zealand-style.  Mary taught us the ins and outs of our sea kayaks and gave us some recommendations on where to look for Little Blue (or ‘fairy’) Penguins and southern fur seals during our paddle to the Anchorage campground in Abel Tasman National Park.  The students and faculty split into two groups and Dr. Moran and I led our respective groups to the campgrounds: Dr. Moran by land and myself by sea. 

My students and I faced a steady headwind enroute to Adele Island, but our efforts were rewarded with sightings of a few adult seals and a seal pup, who was spiraling around in the water near the island’s rocky coast.  After a short break along the island’s coast, we finished our paddle past the submerged ‘Mad Mile’, a rocky area along the coast along the route to Anchorage.  As we entered Torrent Bay, the site of the Anchorage Campground, a few of our students spotted a Little Blue Penguin swimming in the water!  In the run-up to the beach, we spotted Dr. Moran and his crew waiting on the beach for us to arrive (and get the lunch food!). 

After unloading the kayaks, our crew made its way to the area Dr. Moran’s group had selected for our four tents to be pitched.  It was a great site: all of our tents fit comfortably in a large clearing in the native bush and we had a fire pit/ grill in the center of the clearing, to boot!  The fire pit was surrounded by picnic benches and a table/ wood storage bin for fire wood.  We were set for grilling on a wood fire and using the gas-powered cook stoves.  Excellent!

Following the expedient erection of all four tents (these students are GOOD!), the students learned how to start the gas stoves and lunch was on!  We had hotdogs for our first lunch and everyone ate heartily, particularly because the hike and kayak trips were pretty tiring.  Lunch gave way to exploring our nearby beach and the fairly large beach (due to the low tide).  Sean Harrison (Business, 2016) quickly figured out the location of the caves lining the north end of our beach and he and several other students spent time exploring.  These caves would be the source of some fun later that evening…

After the backpacking-students had a break, they suited-up for a trip into Torrent Bay with the kayaks.  It sounded like all went well, although they quickly learned that paddling a kayak is a bit of work!  The weather was fantastic for a paddle: high 70sF, clear sky, and little wind.

All around us in the campground native and introduced birds filled the air with song.  Bellbirds gave their loud screeches from obscure perches in the low-growing trees, while introduced House Sparrows hopped on the ground in search of crumbs.  Several Mallard (introduced) females, one with a single ducking, begged for food (and Kristen Maddock was happy to oblige!), while native Fantails in the bushes flashed their tails while foraging to draw-out insects from their hiding places.  As an ornithologist, I wasn’t very excited to see the birds we have in North America, but the Bellbirds and Fantails were certainly a treat.  In North America, we don’t have an equivalent bird in the Bellbird, but for the Fantail, we have the American Redstart, which uses a similar foraging strategy as the Fantail.  Nevertheless, it was neat seeing these native birds of New Zealand.  Maybe I’ll study one of these species in the future…we’ll see!

Dinner tonight was prepared by Kate O’Driscoll (Biology/ pre-med, 2016) and Lara Guindi (Biology/ pre-med, 2016): pasta and leftover sausages.  After dinner, we followed-up on a tip on the caves on the beach: glowworms, fly larvae with bioluminescent abdomens, apparently were in the caves.  Sure enough, after dark, we made our way to the caves and we found that the deeper parts of the caves (only 10 feet from the entrance) were lined with glowworms!  It was an amazing site; it looked as if there were stars in cave, as the light produced by the larvae was aqua blue in color.  From some of the larvae, the silken thread used to capture prey could be clearly seen.  Our students witnessed a terrific natural phenomena…and I’m glad we didn’t have to stop in Hokitika again to see these little buggers (see the entry on Hokitika (10 January 2012) below).

Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, the site of our campground.  Not so bad, eh?

Students and Dr. Moran tending to or watching the campfire in the fire pit located at the center of our camground.

Glowworms lighting-up inside a cave in Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park.

5 January 2014: Picton & Marahau

A drizzly morning was on the docket today as Dr. Moran and I awoke around 5:30am due to the large skylight above us in the sitting room of our ‘apartment’.  I made my way to the Rental Cars New Zealand this morning around 8:15 only to learn that our missing trailer was not missing, it was non-existent!  Unfortunately, the agent I worked with in Auckland a week ago never found our group a trailer to rent, so we were without a trailer!  I spent the next two hours talking to every and any car rental agencies that would listen trying to get a trailer for the remainder of our trip.  Louisa and Magda, at Ace Car Rental, worked to find a trailer in Picton for me, but again, to no avail.  Keeping my calm, I made my way back to our hostel to talk to Dr. Moran about our predicament.  It was then that the owners of the YHA came through for us.  Ok, so the room arrangements, as we learned, got mixed-up the previous night, but today, the owners, Kahu and Peter Bugler, would come through for us!  Peter asked his brother, Lloyd, whether we, a group of complete strangers, could borrow his trailer for the next 12 days…and then leave it 4 hours away in Christchurch.  To my amazement, and without having to sign my life away, Lloyd took a nominal fee for the ‘hire’ (Kiwi for ‘rent’) of his trailer.  So, we were back in action and on our way!  Many, many thanks are extended to the Bugler family for their generosity!

The trip to Marahau from Picton took us through Nelson, a coastal town with its own community-supported wildlife sanctuary, and miles and miles of vineyards.  This region of New Zealand is known for its vineyards and hops and it was evident throughout our journey.  The students slept most of the way to Marahau since we were up so late the previous night.  When we arrived in Marahau, we quickly got our gear out of the trailer and made our way to beach!

Marahau is the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, one of the most-visited parks in the country.  Beaches line the main road through Marahau and our students were quick to do some exploring on the vast tidal flats that become evident during low tide.  The students searched-out hermit crabs, seastars, limbs of seastars (!), and clams that would be boiled or cooked on the grill at our accommodations for the evening: The Barn.  We have had great learning opportunities that have been fairly structured, now the students have taken the reins and are exploring and learning more about their environment without prompting.  Awesome!

We returned to the The Barn to cook dinner, including the clams from the beach, and prepared for our sea kayaking and backpacking trip into Abel Tasman National Park tomorrow.

The Bugler's trailer: a very functional solution to our problem!

Chris Lorch (Nursing, 2019) and Dorian Shann (Physical Therapy, 2016) looking at a seastar on the Sandy Bay (Marahau) tidal flat.

Our students soaking-up the Austral summer sun on the tidal flats of Sandy Bay (Marahau).

4 January 2014: Te Papa and Picton

Today was a big day, as we visited the marvelous national museum, Te Papa, and rode the enormous ferry, the Interislander, from Wellington to Picton in the evening.  We had some angst once we arrived in Picton, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

Te Papa is a museum with stunning displays and beautiful artistry.  The foci of today’s trip was on the geology of New Zealand, including the origin and potential danger of earthquakes in New Zealand, and the Treaty of Waitangi, the document written by British colonists and signed by Maori chiefs that amounted to the chiefs signing-away their privileges to Queen Victoria in the 1800s.  In addition to these two items, the students learned about the means by which the early Maori (Polynesians that arrived around 1000 A.D. in New Zealand) traveled the South Pacific and the types of adaptations plants in New Zealand have.  Several hours in the museum was enough for the students and then it was out to do some exploring of Wellington.  The last few hours on the North Island were spent shopping and grabbing a bite to eat…and for me, the reading of the first week’s-worth of journal entries written by the students.

In the evening, we caught the Interislander ferry to Picton, which proved to be a relatively benign trip given the relatively high winds that blew across the area this evening.  Unfortunately, our luck didn’t extend to our brief time in Picton.  Allow me to elaborate…

After landing in Picton, I walked to the Rental Car New Zealand site and learned that our rental van (only 339,000 km on it!) did not have a trailer!  So, our students spent the brief car ride from the ferry terminal to the hostel with their 30-40lb backpacks sitting on their laps!  Then, once we arrived at the hostel, we were without keys to get in!  Another visitor to the hostel was kind enough to tell me where our keys were hidden, but the surprises weren’t through yet!  Upon entering the hostel, our students determined that one of the rooms, which was to house 4 men, was already filled with 4 people!  Yikes!  So, at 1am, our women settled into their room, a room housing 3 of our men took two more who slept on the floor, and myself and Dr. Moran slept on the floor so two of our male students could have beds.  It was a crazy evening…

Our group in front of Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand.

Friday, January 10, 2014

3 January 2014: Karori Sanctuary, Wellington

A big day is in-store for us!  Our students were ready on time (they’re fantastic like that, really!), but we faced an immediate obstacle to our day: the high winds from yesterday blossomed into a full ‘southerly’ (a gale-force wind blowing to the south).  To boot, torrential rain accompanied the wind later in the morning, which eliminated doing anything outdoors!

Our guide for the day, Russ, a facilities manager, gave us an introduction to the history of animals in New Zealand, the geology and formation of the ‘sinking’ continent of Zealandia (only 5% of the continent remains above water; that land is known as New Zealand!), and the ways in which the conservation goals of the sanctuary are achieved.  Russ was a witty Kiwi and kept our students smiling as the lesson proceeded.  We learned that the major predators of the birds and reptiles of New Zealand, weasels, stoats (similar to our long-weasels), ferrets, and rodents (mice and rats), were eliminated from the sanctuary over the period of 1990-1995, and then the reintroduction of native species began, as the land was now free of predators.  Today, several hundred Brown Spotted Kiwi, North Island Saddlebacks, and North Island Robins inhabit the Karori Sanctuary.  The sanctuary serves as a beacon for what many Kiwi (inhabitants of New Zealand) ultimately hope for the country: to be rid of introduced predators and the recovery of the precious birds and reptiles whose populations were decimated after humans arrived in New Zealand.

Following Russ’ presentation, our group had a walk through the informative multi-room display in the main building, which included an amazing movie on the history of New Zealand from the time before humans arrived until the present.  The students were captivated by the portrayal of the mighty Moa, a group of 11 species whose largest species stood at 9 feet (3m) tall!  We had the chance to ask Russ more questions about the species of bird now inhabiting Karori following our visit of the exhibit and it was impressive to hear our students ask such detailed, informed questions.  Right on!  Score points for Mount Saint Mary College students!  A clearly-impressed Russ had bad news for us, though: the howling wind was now accompanied by torrential downpours, which would preclude any work taking place outside.  Rats (pardon the pun)! Our second ‘service’ project was thwarted!  Ah well, we should score points for our good intentions!

The rest of the day was spent dodging rain drops.  Many students focused on completing their main assignments for the trip (daily journals and journaling on the activities that we participated in, e.g., listening to Russ’ presentation at Karori in the morning), or jockeyed for the few washing machines found in the hostel.  The rained did stop later in the day and it afforded us an opportunity to visit Mt. Victoria, one of the tallest points in the harbor around Wellington, and conveniently located ‘just’ up the hill from the hostel.  A 10-min van ride up a 15% grade hillside landed us at the top and afforded us incredible views of Wellington and the Lower Hutt region of the North Island.  At 10pm, when it was just nearly dusk, we made our way back to the hostel.  It was a mixed-up type of day, but it turned out well in the end!

Tomorrow: Te Papa, the national museum, and our ferry ride to Picton.

Russ, Operations Manager at the Karori Sanctuary, talks to our group about the sanctuary and the history of New Zealand.

Sean Harrison (Business, 2016) holds a mounted specimen of an Australian Possum, a predator introduced to New Zealand for its fur, but quickly became a pest species that ate native wildlife.

Me holding a mounted specimen of a juvenile Little Spotted Kiwi from the Karori Sanctuary.

Our intrepid group that drove to the top of Mt. Victoria.  Wellington, the capital city, is in the background.

2 January 2014: Mt Doom and Wellington

Following our night in Rotorua, our group started with grand aspirations: climb Mt. Ruapehu, or as fans of the Lord of the Ring series more affectionately know it: Mt. Doom.  Mt. Ruapehu lies with its two siblings in a series of volcanoes between Rotorua and Wellington.  Tongariro National Park lies to the south of New Zealand’s largest lake, the crater lake called Lake Taupo.  Our beast of a rental van (Toyota Hiace with 330,000 km on the odometer!) met its first challenge of hills on this expedition and readily failed…not only did we struggle to progress any inclines very quickly, it also dumped copious amounts of antifreeze once we pulled into the Whakapapa Ski Area chairlift site, the location where one can take a chairlift partially the way up Mt. Ruapehu.  As Dr. Moran and I sat in the parking lot awaiting our car roadside assistance to arrive (a process lasting two hours!), the students rode the chairlift and then returned, with the hopes that our car would not be towed to the nearest town for repairs.  The mountain views from the top were described as ‘breathtaking’ and ‘amazing’ and the ride down from the top was generally characterized as ‘freezing!’.  The mountain top was at least 15-20F colder than the town we visited just prior to our ascent, but who could know what it would be like when it’s summer!  The landscape of Mt. Ruapehu was just as it appeared in LotR: desolate, forbidding, stony, and, well, desolate!  Peter Jackson definitely picked the right place for Mt. Doom cinema!

Aside from the good news that all 10 of our students made it back to the van, our Kiwi mechanic, Dave, informed us that the van must have gotten good-and-heated-up over the drive up Mt. Ruapehu and boiled over the excessive amount of coolant in the reservoir.  Whew!  We dodged a bullet!  We got on the road immediately and made our way to relatively gloomy Wellington later in the afternoon.

The YHA Wellington is located in the heart of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.  In close proximity to the hostel are plenty of restaurants, pubs, and stores, as well as the national museum, Te Papa.  As we arrived in town, it was clear our good weather fortune had changed.  ‘Windy Welly’ was living-up to its name: the wind was only blowing ~20-30mph…and it had yet to start raining.  Most students ran across to the ‘New World’ grocery store across the street from the YHA for food and had a quick meal before retiring for the evening.  We needed our energy for the next morning, when we would visit the Karori Sanctuary (a.k.a., Zealandia) for a lesson on the initiatives at the ‘mainland island’ nature reserve, a guided tour of the sanctuary, and our service project (brush removal).

Mt Ruapehu and the Whakapapa Ski Area, with Dr. Moran walking in the foreground (orange coat).

Dr. Moran points out Mt Ruapehu as we wait for the roadside assistance to arrive and assess our van.

1 January 2014: Auckland and Rotorua

Our morning started more slowly than most as many of our students were out enjoying the international New Year’s Eve celebration.  Today’s activities were relatively simple: drive to Rotorua and enjoy an evening of Maori culture, including a traditional dinner.  We traveled from Auckland and its background of volcanic silhouettes to one of the few sites on Earth where geysers occur (Yellowstone National Park and Iceland are the other regions).  Our arrival in Rotorua was greeted with tell-tale sign of geysers: the smell of sulphur oxide (the potent odor of rotten eggs!).  The students deposited their bags into the YHA (Youth Hostel Association) and were off to explore the small, but tourist-friendly, town of Rotorua.  A few students found the choice (Kiwi for ‘excellent) pub that has Irish plates for lunch specials, then all were ready on time (as always, it seems) for our evening at Te Puia.  Te Puia is a family-run Maori experience that includes guided tours of the geysers around the facility, background on the Maori tribe (iwi) living in the area through time, some of the cultural practices of the Maori, including weaving and wood-carving, traditional song and dance of the Maori, and a meal cooked in the Earth (a hangi).  Our first experience at Te Puia began with our guide, Carl, pulling our group aside from a large group of tourists, and leading us on an entertaining tour of the facility.

Carl was quite the tour guide: he sprinkled humor among the Maori stories, answered questions our group had on Maori traditions or the natural phenomena all around us, and perhaps extended the truth of some stories (for effect, clearly).  Everyone got a kick out of Carl and he was terrific to have as our guide for the afternoon.  One of the fascinating things we learned about the delicate nature of the ground surrounding the geysers.  As the hot water/vapor/gases escape the ground, the minerals from the water drop around the geyser as the water evaporates in the air.  The minerals then form deposits that appear thick and solid, but they are anything but!  The crusts formed by the minerals can easily crack and break, and the subsequent holes can be large enough to swallow whatever caused the break in the first place.  In the past, Moa, large flightless birds that weighed up to 1000 lbs sometimes broke through the crust and died after either failing into the hole and the boiling water below or died after failing to get out of what could be a relatively deep hole.  Furthermore, the Haast Eagle, an extinct raptor that lived in New Zealand prior to humans arrival, would sometimes attempt to retrieve a sunken Moa and end up getting stuck in the hole as well. Oops!

Following our tour, we had the opportunity to witness a traditional welcoming of strangers into the home of a Maori tribe.  The host family sent a warrior out to make an offering of peace to a representative of our group (we tried to convince Sean Harrison of our group to do the honors to no avail).  Upon our ‘chief’s’ acceptance of the peace offering, we then entered the home (a reception room lined with traditional wood carvings) and were ‘officially’ welcomed by the tribe.  After several songs, the audience had the opportunity to learn a Maori dance performed by the women of the tribe or the war dance, called the ‘haka.’  Kristen Maddock (Biology/Pre-med, 2019) and Lara Guindi (Biology/Pre-med, 2016) learned and performed the poi dance, which involved the swinging of a white ball attached to a length of red twine.  Out of the group, our women were the best at the dance! Following the poi dance, our host family performed a haka, the war dance used to simultaneously excite the performing tribe and terrify the witnesses!  After a rousing performance, the family welcomed all of our young men to the stage to learn the steps/body slaps/shouts performed during the haka.  I haven’t seen the video yet, but I felt like our group was pretty threatening!  Following our haka, we soon made our way towards dinner…

The Maori traditionally cooked meals in the Earth and called the meal a ‘hangi’.  A hole would be dug, then filled with hot coals, then the food, and then covered with a plant material to prevent the soil from spoiling the food during the day-long cooking process.  After our evening of song and dance, we watched as our hangi was removed from the ground.  The food, potatoes, kumara (sweet potato), lamb, and fish, and more, looked and smelled sumptuous!  We made our way to our tables and then enjoyed the fruits of the Maori family’s labor….my goodness…this meal will undoubtedly be the best meal of the trip!  It would be misleading to say that our students and James Moran (Natural Sciences) and I ate well tonight; we ate gluttonously!  Of course, we’ll need that energy come the next few days!

Our night ended with another trip around the geysers and hot chocolate for our efforts.  What a tremendous experience!

Carl talks to our group about the silver fern, one of New Zealand's national symbols.

 A Maori warrior blows on a ceremonial horn that welcomes us into his family's greeting house.

Kristen Maddock (Biology, 2019) and Lara Guindi (Biology/Pre-med, 2016) perform the poi dance.

Kate O'Driscoll (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016) and Lara Guindi (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016) listen to Carl talk about the geysers at Te Puia.

Kate O'Driscoll (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016), Lara Guindi (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016), Chris Lorch (Nursing, 2019), Jason Lorch (Biology/ Pre-med, 2016), Dorian Shann (Physical Therapy, 2016) , and Jack Capetola (Chemistry, 2016) in front of the major geyser at Te Puia, Pohutou.

Our traditionally-cooked Maori meal (hangi) just after it was removed from the ground!

Our group getting ready to enjoy an incredible Maori meal!