ka kite, aotearoa: goodbye to new zealand

IMG_3053 stg

Inherent to this journey — all journeys — is the expectation that they will end.  When I stepped onto a plane in Minneapolis this February, I know exactly when I would step back off one.  Linear, right?  One hundred thirty-seven days.  Each hour here lasted just as long as the one before it.  But the lazy summer faded into cool autumn, and winter brought with it a lurking imminence.  Departure crept closer, until I could see it on the next calendar page — then the current one — then the next week —

Et cetera.

I don’t need to tell you about all the places I’ve visited, or about all the things I’ve learned: I’ve already told you that.  You’ve seen pictures.  You’ve read stories.  I don’t need to tell you again how amazing or fun or eye-opening it was.

And I don’t need to tell you how much I’ll miss it.  I’m leaving the ocean, the mountains, the hills.  I’m leaving those who are lucky enough to call this place home.  I’ll miss them, and I’ll miss New Zealand — but you already know that.

So what am I here to tell you?

This trip started as a dream, a way to distract myself when I was an overworked high schooler still studying at 2 am.  Late in those nights, I’d allow myself brief respites of imagination, scrolling wide-eyed through pictures of places I’d rather be.  New Zealand was always the most beautiful; for those scant minutes, fatigue was replaced with bubbly, far-reaching thoughts of adventure.  I don’t think I believe in destiny, or fate, or anything construed as divine coincidence — but I think all paths would have eventually taken me here.

Today, I’m telling you to realize crazy dreams.  To check off your “someday” list.  To see new places, meet new people, and find new love in both of them.   Do things that are exciting, the things you wish you had the time or money or courage for.  Go to mountaintops and beaches and cities you’ve never walked in.  And then, after that: go home.  Come back to whatever you left with new perspectives, new friends, and heaps of stories about all your adventures.

I look back on the past five months with incredulity, hardly believing I was lucky enough to travel here and make such fantastic memories.  I’m so grateful for all the support I’ve gotten from family, friends, and everyone who helped make this semester a reality.  Thank you to everyone reading this blog: it’s been enormously fun to write, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

When I land in Minneapolis this Sunday, I’ll be returning to the place I know best, the place I’ll always return to.  This time, though, I know that there’s another place that will always be waiting for me — and I know I’ll be back someday.  Ka kite anō, Aotearoa: see you again.


land of the frats, home of the bagel: answering questions about america

Without a doubt, one of the most rewarding things about my time in New Zealand has been the cultural dialogue that many are excited to engage in.  It’s made me more aware of things that are specific to America, how things are analogous or different in New Zealand, and how each country views themselves and each other in the context of global relations.  I’ve been asked about nearly every aspect of American culture — politics!  education!  food! — and asked even more questions of any unsuspecting Kiwi who would listen.  I posted a few months back about the ways I noticed New Zealand culture to be different; now, I thought it would be interesting to share the questions I’m asked as an American.  By far, the most frequently asked question is…

“So…what exactly is a frat?”: Greek life is an American phenomenon, and when you think about it, it doesn’t really make much sense.  As expected, most ideas come from pop culture — think Zac Efron in Neighbors, or the Delta Tau Chi crew from Animal House — so the classic stereotype of guys, beers, and partying holds strong in New Zealand.  Most are surprised that fraternities or sororities are larger than twenty people, that houses are more like dorms, and that most Greeks spend their time planning philanthropies or recruitment events.  Generally, college students here think living in a frat sounds…well, weird.  I can’t blame them.

“How does school work over there?”: Although the early school years are very similar between the two countries, America and New Zealand diverge during high school.  Getting into university is much simpler here than it is at home; wouldn’t it be nice not to spend two years focused on college applications?  Additionally, if you’re not planning on going to college, it’s rare to complete your last year of high school.  At the tertiary level, undergrad degrees are 3 years, and programs are pre-set: you don’t pick and choose classes as you usually would in the U.S.  Assignments are sparse and exams make up half (or more) of a class’s grade.  Objectively speaking, I think school is more difficult in America.

“How does tipping work?”: This one’s sort of a hydra, as once you start explaining it more questions inevitably arise.  Tipping doesn’t exist in New Zealand, so it’s a weird concept to wrap your head around.  You tip at restaurants, but not at coffee shops.  You tip taxi drivers and people who deliver food.  You tip when you get your hair or nails done.  You don’t have to tip…but you really have to tip.  Most often, the question that follows: “Why don’t you just pay people a living wage so you don’t have to tip them?”  Touché.

“Your country is so big!”: Okay, so this isn’t really a question — but it still comes up all the time.  New Zealand is, relatively speaking, quite small; compared to the U.S., it becomes tiny.  When considering the fact that I live in the central part of the country and that it would take four hours to fly to either New York or Los Angeles, this becomes even more apparent.  Besides the immense amount of land we occupy, there’s also the huge American population; our 320 million is over seventy times larger than their 4.5 million.  And when you consider that the state of Minnesota has over a million more people than the entire country of New Zealand…well, things come into a different perspective.   

“What do you miss most?”: I’ll admit that most of the things I miss on a day-to-day basis are all food items.  Numbers one and two are, decisively: bagels and Chipotle.  The former, in an authentic form, doesn’t seem to exist here.  Of course, some would argue that it doesn’t exist outside of New York — but I’ll still relish my first trip to Bruegger’s.  Mexican food isn’t really something you see here either, which makes sense considering the U.S.’s proximity to Mexico and our sizable Latino population.  Mind you, I’m not calling Chipotle actual Mexican food; I just miss eating burritos the size of my head.  I also miss pizzas that are larger than what we consider a “personal” size, graham crackers, and junky breakfast cereals.

Other inquiries have included are school busses really yellow?, do you know the names of all the states?, and the ever-impossible wait, so your biscuits aren’t sweet…?  

One thing that New Zealand has made me appreciate about America is how our size contributes to a plethora of regional differences.  Think about it: we have countless dialects (looking at you, Northeast), treasured local cuisine, and fierce state pride.  I love how diverse the place I live is — how the traditions of immigrants have shaped our culture, and how that process is continual.  Chances are if you drive six hours from anywhere in the U.S., you’re liable to find a different set of customs and cultural phenomena.

Speaking of local culture, in a mere sixteen days I’ll be returning to the Scandinavian-tinged, iconically-polite, hotdish-and-“salad”-eating Minnesota.  Of course I’ll be excited to get back; I’m already looking forward to morning yoga and summer days in Minneapolis.  I can’t wait to see friends and family and see how things have changed since I’ve left.  But I know there’s far more I’m going to miss about New Zealand, and my impending departure brings a little more dread every day.  I’m trying to enjoy every last second and take stock of the tiny things I’ve come to love here: the freshness of the eggs and butter, the strong coffee, the way the hills look when it’s about to rain.  Pictures have documented many of my adventures, but the minutiae of mundane scenes is what I’ll hold onto most strongly.  Although my final days will be bittersweet, I’m content with the knowledge that the last four months have been some of the best times in my now-20 years.  I get to wake up each morning with incredible gratitude for this opportunity, and I know that won’t fade when I leave.

In the meantime, I’ll be studying for finals, attempting to keep out of the rain, and amassing an unjustifiably large stockpile of Pineapple Lumps to import.  I’m sure you’ll hear from me again before I fly out…but in any case, I’ll be seeing some of you soon.

the journey continues, again: milford sound, queenstown, glaciers…etc.

Friends, speedy content creation is not one of my strengths.

In the interest of finishing what has become a complete albatross of of trip recount, I’m going to give you the quick version: the summary-listed, easy-to-read, 33-Amazing-Pictures-You-MUST-See-From-New-Zealand version.  That’s what we’re all into reading online anyway, right?  So let’s get through this months-old adventure and move on to some newer ones…especially since there’s precious little time left to have them.

Milford Sound.  This is arguably the biggest tourist attraction in the country, but don’t think that diminishes its beauty.  Cruising around the bay is the perfect way to see these towering landforms, and maybe the infamous West Coast rain will hold off long enough for you to get a few good pictures.

Our first look at the morning sun

Our first look at the morning sun driving in

Stream at The Chasm, just a short walk from the road

Stream at The Chasm, just a short walk from the road

Milford Sound proper, and the scene from MANY New Zealand postcards

Milford Sound proper, and the scene from MANY New Zealand postcards

Queenstown.  This city boasts a reputation of Adrenaline Capital of New Zealand, which can perhaps be extended to the entire world.  It’s the native home of bungee jumping, but those looking for a rush have a plethora of options: skydiving, parasailing, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking are all popular.  As for me, I took our two days there as an opportunity to catch up on reading and coffee.

Queenstown against the Remarkables mountains on Lake Wakatipu.

Queenstown against the Remarkables mountains on Lake Wakatipu.


Walking around, shopping, and drinking espresso: three things I do well.

Glaciers.  After Queenstown were our stops at Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.  Here, I fulfilled my dream of seeing a glacier in real life before they’re all melted.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier


Scenic drives for days…literally

West Coast.  We kept heading north up the western side of the island, stopping in Greymouth before again continuing inland.  The highlight of this stop was touring the Monteith’s brewery, and staying in a hostel that had a hot tub in the backyard.

Lots of steps...

Lots of steps…


Beer making 101



Tramping.  Ending our trip was a final two-day backpacking trip on the Mt Somers track in the Southern Alps.  Snow made the mountains even more beautiful, and the views were fantastic.  However, two seven-hour days on muddy, steep slopes was plenty for me…and by the time I emerged from the bush, I was more than ready to hop on that flight back to Palmy.

Track through the forest

Track through the forest

Close to sunset

Close to sunset

Mountains just look better with snow, huh?

Mountains just look better with snow, huh?


Contractually obligated picture of myself

If you imagine very long car rides between each of those sections, you’ve got yourself a pretty accurate summary of my trip.  It seems like forever ago, now, but in reality it was just last month.

I’m sitting on a paltry twenty-three days left in New Zealand, a number that gets smaller each morning and brings home ever closer.  Yesterday I had my last class as a sophomore, making me officially halfway (or more) done with college.  Next week is my birthday, making me twenty years old and more of an adult…ish.  I’m not sure if this combination of events feels like change, or progression, or anything at all — but I’m happy with it.

More posts coming; I only have a month left with you as my captive audience!  Thank you to everyone for reading, as always.  Enjoy your burgeoning summer weather…and send some sunny vibes to the chilly Southern Hemisphere, please.

the journey continues (a belated update): dunedin, the catlins, te anau

Last it was read on this blog, I was beginning to trek my way across New Zealand’s South Island in an overstuffed station wagon.  By now, perhaps you’ve wondered: was she eaten by sheep?  Did she get stuck in the mountains?  Is she still alive down there?

In reality, I’m just a procrastinator (surprise!)  Since returning from break weeks ago, I’ve been busy with a seemingly endless list of assignments and projects, which has lead to my radio silence.  So: yes, I made it back.  By now I feel like the point of recounting my travels is nearly moot, but then again, what else do I have to tell?  What follows is what I wrote during those two weeks, when I had the light and the pen to do so (both proved to be obstacles on occasion).  Last I left off, it was Easter morning…

“Of course, we couldn’t leave Dunedin without a trip to its well-known tourist attraction: the Cadbury chocolate factory.  It wasn’t hard to let your mind wander into thoughts of Willy Wonka upon seeing the rows of chocolate bars and confections.  A silo here houses a chocolate waterfall, serving no other purpose but the novelty of watching a ton of the melted stuff fall four stories.  We got to learn how the Dairy Milk bars and Jaffas–neither found in America, but both iconic in New Zealand–are made, and where each ingredient is sourced from.  They say it’s the fresh Otago milk that makes the chocolate so good, and I think I might just believe them.


Needless to say, we were on a sugar high

We made our way down Route 1, then joined up to the Southern Scenic Route snaking along the coast.  Each town looked the same: hotels, convenience stores, and a stretch of sandy beach.  Leaving Otago and entering the Southlands, it was if we were in another country; dense forest grew next to rocky shore, and cresting each hill brought us expansive views across inland bays.  This region is known as the Catlins: home to temperate rainforest, rare wildlife, and the southern-most shores of the South Island.

We set up camp in Curio Bay and explored a petrified forest at low tide, the fractured red rocks of which were home to yellow-eyed penguins–one of the world’s rarest species.  We were lucky enough to see two that night, along with a few seals and sea lions.  Having only seen the ocean a handful of times in my life, I still never fail to be in awe of the thunderous crashes made by breaking waves.

Sunset over the petrified forest of Curio Bay

Sunset over the petrified forest of Curio Bay

As you might expect, it can get pretty windy on the edge of an island–but around midnight that night, we were struggling to keep our tent from being blown away.  We staked and re-staked the $40 Kmart tent, eventually relying on faith in our hopes that the poles wouldn’t snap.  Thankfully, both the tent and those inside made it to the morning in one piece.

After our fitful sleep, we continued our drive along the Catlins Coastal Route.  A stop at Slope Point brought us to the southernmost tip of the island, bringing me the closest I’ve ever been–and probably will ever be–to Antarctica.  Waipapa Point, site of New Zealand’s most fatal shipping disaster, was home to a lighthouse and reminded me of Montauk.  Finally, we made it to the city of Invercargill, where a visit to the Invercargill Brewing Company served as a fine welcome.  After a particularly delicious dinner of homemade burritos and local beer, we kicked back in our cabin and slept without so much as a breeze.

Should have gone for the South Pole while we were at it

Probably could have swam from here, huh?

South Island or Long Island?

South Island or Long Island?

Our time in the Southlands had come to a close, and for the first time on our trip we headed north.  Our destination was Te Anau, a town on a lake of the same name and the base for our exploration of the Fjordlands.  Almost immediately out of Invercargill, mountains stretched across the horizon.  Suddenly, it felt like the “real” New Zealand: all the scenes from postcards and promotional videos were now ahead of us.  It quickly became clear that this was the tourism capital; every vehicle on the highway was a tour bus or campervan.  This area was also home to three of the Great Walks, a collection of nine extraordinary multi-day hiking trails across the country.

A scene from Fjordlands National Park

A scene from Fjordlands National Park

In Te Anau, we walked on the shore of the lake and saw the beginning of the Kepler Track.  Although the weather was sunny, the low clouds that moved in with the wind reminded us that we were now on the West Coast.  That night, we camped beside a river and ate nachos that, by far, were the highlight of our cooking.”

On Lake Te Anau

On Lake Te Anau

…and I think I’ll stop there for today.  Next time: fjords!  Glaciers!  Bungee jumping (an activity in which I did not participate)!  Stay tuned–and I promise it won’t take me a month to continue the story this time.

the journey begins: two weeks on the road

Two months ago yesterday, I arrived jet-lagged and starry-eyed in the Auckland airport.  It seems like forever since I’ve seen the snowy Midwest, but I know that all too soon I’ll be seeing it again — this time sans snow.  I’ve also arrived at the halfway point in my semester at Massey, something that’s come in a similarly quick fashion.  This means two weeks of break: or, as we’ve been planning since our arrivals, a roadtrip around the South Island.  Since I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to update during this time, I’ll give you an intro now.

Just as I was in February, Saturday found me sitting on the tarmac in the Palmy airport; this time, however, I was departing.   Flying to Christchurch brought us above the green paddocks of the Manawatū and sent us southbound toward the ocean.  In a half hour, we were gazing across the Southern Alps, rugged brown peaks on the coast of the bright ocean.  From the plane, rivers were criss-crossing threads of silver, reflecting the afternoon sun.  Almost immediately, contrast with the North Island could be seen.

View from the tiny Bombadier

View from the tiny Bombadier

At the airport we were met by Chris and Amy, who — as long-time readers will recall — we met in February for a backpacking trip in Rangiwahia.  They had finished their stint working in a vineyard, and were joining us on our South Island roadtrip as part of their last weeks in New Zealand.  After barely fitting our packs in the trunk (er, boot) of their already full station wagon, we made our way to a camp ground for the night.  Cam, Joe and I found the 3-person tent to be…cozy.  At least no one is going to get cold on this trip!


Chris and Amy’s car/home, also known as Shirley

In the morning, we packed back up and headed south once again.  Christchurch is a city in recovery, the impact of a devastating 2011 earthquake still apparent in a skyline disrupted by cranes.  To drive downtown is to navigate a labyrinth of cones and one-ways; still, the sights stand out.  Most notable is the Re:Start mall, a shopping center constructed out of colorful shipping containers.  After making our way through the city, we made our way through rural Canterbury — scenery that reminded me very much of driving I-35 through Iowa.  Fields of pasture were punctuated only by sheep and small towns, eventually giving way to steep hills and the city of Dunedin.  Here, autumn was apparent: trees were well into their colors, and the breeze had a chill to make you zip your coat up.


The Octagon, downtown Dunedin

Dunedin is the home of Scots, Speight’s, and a Cadbury chocolate factory.  Although we’ve only spent a short time here, it seems like a cool city.  Perhaps this is owing to the students at University of Otago, or a downtown populated by restaurants and art galleries.  It’s located right on the east coast, and this evening a short drive brought us to the beach.  There, we saw the sun set into the Pacific — an ocean I’ve seen once before, in San Diego — and spotted penguins, sea lions, and seals.


Sandfly Beach


Penguin tracks

Tonight we’re hostelling, and tomorrow it’s back on the road — not before a visit to the Cadbury factory, of course.  We’ll be heading down to the Catlins, home of rainforests and wildlife on the southern tip of the country.  From there, it’s Invercargill, Queenstown, and as many national parks as we can get to before our departure on the 17th.  To say it’ll be an adventure is an understatement…

mountaintops and lakesides: another weekend in the Waikato

I found myself this weekend heading north on Route 1 for the third time in my now nearly two months as a New Zealand resident. Having conquered both Rotorua and Ruapehu, this Saturday I had come for yet another North Island landmark: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Accompanying me on this quest was native Waikato resident and fellow Massey student Tim, the fantastic Kiwi I’m now dating. After a much-needed coffee stop, we set out early on Saturday morning.

Hey, isn't that the mountain I climbed last week?

Hey, isn’t that the mountain I climbed last week?

Two hours of highway and ten minutes of gravel road later, we arrived at Tongariro National Park. Packs on and snacks handy, we set off on the trail under clear skies. The crossing lies along the base of Mount Ngauruhoe, which I mentioned last week was the “real” Mount Doom, and ascends up Mount Tongariro. Volcanic activity here is reflected clearly in the landscape; scrubby bush and grasses are dominant on the dark, rocky plain.

Beginning of the trail, Ngauruhoe on the right

These are our

These are our “ready to hike” faces

.After only a few kilometers, we started climbing into the increasingly barren hills. Although the Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most popular day treks, that fact didn’t make the stairs any easier – not that Tim seemed fazed, as he bounded up two at a time. Remind me again not to hike with people who do triathlons.


Not pictured: Tim’s enthusiastic stair-jogging


View from where we came


Beneath Ngauruhoe

Before long, we joined the masses at the top of the mountain saddle. Here, it seemed almost lunar: little vegetation grew among the boulders, and flat craters stretched out beneath us.  After a treacherous descent down a sandy slope, we took a trail-mix-and-cookie break by the colorful hot pools.

They're all Germans, I swear

They’re all Germans, I swear


Across the saddle


Keeping our energy levels up

With the most difficult part of the walk over, the trail down the mountain was meandering and leisurely. Alpine flora was the foreground to a gorgeous view of Lake Taupo and the surrounding area; as usual, I was in awe of the variation and beauty in the landscape. Eventually we fell below the treeline, and before I knew it we emerged at the Ketetahi carpark, six and a half hours and a little under 20 kilometers from our start that morning.

A crater lake

A crater lake

Taupo on the horizon

Coming down; Taupo on the horizon

More happy hikers

More happy hikers

Another hour back on Route 1 brought us to our destination for the night, Taupo. A city named for the lake it lies beside, it’s a tourist destination somewhat reminiscent of Okoboji. We spent Saturday evening on the waterfront, eating delicious food and enjoying some well-deserved local brews. Although last week brought the first hints of autumn to Palmy, the breeze here was still summery and the night was warm.

Sunday morning brought good coffee, lazy breakfast, and the unfortunate pull of realities back home. Reluctantly leaving the sunny shores of Taupo, we retraced the previous morning’s route through forests and desert and arrived back in the Manawatu exhausted but happy.

In this country, travel begets travel — the more places you see, the more places you want to go.  I’m amazed at what I’ve already done, but I don’t think all the trails or highways in New Zealand could leave me satisfied.  Still, I’m going to try; I leave for Christchurch in eleven days, and plan on spending two weeks desperately seeking out every adventure in the South Island.  After that, the list of destinations goes on: Hamilton, Auckland, Coromandel, Matarangi.  And, lucky for me, it’s nice having someone who wants to show you where they’re from. IMG_1905


Summiting Ruapehu

Last weekend, I went on a trip with the Massey University Alpine Club — all the way to the top of Mount Ruapehu.  I’ve been meaning to get a post about this up all week; unfortunately, I’ve been swamped with assignments.  Apologies for the abbreviation here…hopefully the pictures make up for it!

Our destination was about two hours north of Palmy, so we loaded up cars with our packs and boots on Friday night and set off.  After winding through Tongariro National Park, we arrived at the Alpine Club’s hut, a cozy chalet on a secluded side of the mountain.  Although bringing more people than we had mattresses, everyone cozied up and tried to get some sleep for the early start (luckily, I snagged a spot in the loft all to myself).


Our accomodation

We set out from the hut in darkness on Saturday, watching the sun rise over the mountain as we drove to Whakapapa Village.  The town nearest Ruapehu — Ohakune — seems typically alpine, filled with A-frames and ski shops.  Parking at the resort, we set out on the dark volcanic rock in the chilly dawn.

Sunrise over Ruapehu

Sunrise over Ruapehu

Starting our trek

Starting our trek

Those familiar with Lord of the Rings may know that the Mount Doom scenes were filmed on Ruapehu, though the actual image of the mountain comes from nearby Mount Ngauruhoe.  It didn’t take any stretch of the imagination to see why Jackson chose this location for Sam and Frodo’s climb: between soft soil and loose rock, parts of our hike felt more like a scramble, at best.

View from a third of the way up

View from a third of the way up, Mount Taranaki in the distance

It's rocky!

It’s rocky!

The sun rose, but temperatures only dropped as we got higher.  Three-quarters of the way up, we reached the snow that remains on the mountain all year.  The clouds got thicker as well, and by the time we neared the top it was hard to see more than twenty feet ahead.  I’ll admit, I was pretty tired out near the end — something that seems justifiable considering the 9,177 feet we ascended.  By a little before noon, though, we had reached the summit and could look down into the crater lake.

In the clouds...almost there

In the clouds…almost there

Made it!

Made it!

Everything tastes better a mile or two up

Everything tastes better a mile or two up

After a much-needed lunch, our descent back into the clouds began.  Rain was anticipated, but then actually came once we made it down about halfway.  Although we couldn’t say we hiked all the way up and down Ruapehu, I think everyone was grateful for the charlift rides we took back to our cars.

That night we relaxed in the hut, ate massive plates of nachos, watched the sun set and the moon rise.  Among all the Americans on the trip, our view was consensus: seriously, New Zealand?  Can you GET more beautiful?  Oh, that was a rhetorical question — of course you can.

Looks bigger from here, huh?

View of Ruapehu from the hut

We've earned those drinks

Drinks and a gorgeous sunset

Joey Stars

Stars over the hut, courtesy of the talented Joey Reuteman

This weekend, I’m looking forward to heading back up north to visit Lake Taupo and hike the Tongariro Crossing.  Fall is beginning to set in here, so I’m trying to get a few last excursions in while the weather is good.  Soon it will be our two-week mid-semester break, and there my South Island adventures will begin.  Still loving every minute of life here, and always feeling incredibly grateful to those who’ve given me the means to live out my crazy New Zealand fantasy.

(P.S. — For those of you who said you wanted more pictures of me on here…your request has been heard!)

Me and the real Mount Doom

Me and the real Mount Doom

Dancer's and Tree pose...couldn't resist yoga on a mountain!

Dancer’s and Tree pose…couldn’t resist yoga on a mountain!

Lizzy and I lookin' good

Lizzy and I lookin’ good


in which my life is consumed by kiwi(fruit)

Hōhepa teaching our class about eating utensils--in Maōri, of course.

Hohepa teaching our class about eating utensils–in Maōri, of course.

Semesters work in mysterious ways.  It’s as if you’re in a time dilation—the first and last weeks s t r e t c h, but blink and you might miss the rest.  Now that I’ve rubbed the stars of confusion from my eyes and settled into routine, school is proceeding as it normally does: at a blinding pace.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m enrolled in four classes.  College works a bit differently here than it does in the States; in fact, we seem to be the world’s only exception to the rule.  Instead of taking more classes—say, six or seven—most here take a standard four classes, called “papers”.  In each paper, you can expect weekly readings accompanied by a few big projects, plus a final exam that accounts for half (or more) of your grade.  It’s a shift from doing more regular assignments, and it certainly tests your ability to manage time when things aren’t due for weeks or even months.  However, only having to spend a few hours in class each day is a welcome change.

Degree programs are structured differently here as well.  Most bachelor’s programs are three years long, and there’s little variation in the courses you take; the concept of picking and choosing classes without regard to your year isn’t really an option.  For example, I’m in a third-year horticulture paper, and everyone in it is a third-year horticulture student.  This is dissimilar to, say, when I took a 300-level soils course at Iowa State, where you could find a wide variety of class standings and majors.

So what did I come all the way across the ocean to learn?  Well…how to grow kiwi, mostly.  Or kiwifruit, as it’s called here.  This is the main focus of our discussions in my aforementioned horticulture paper, the class that takes up most of my time.  It’s certainly different than anything I’d see in the Midwest—when we’re not talking about kiwi, we’re out in the apple orchard taking data for a project, or considering the impact of climate change on winemaking.  Although I’m fairly certain I won’t be working in any of these fruit production industries, it’s cool to be exploring topics I wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise.

The same goes for my Maōri class.  Learning the language (or attempting to, at least) of the native people of New Zealand is something you can only do in, well, New Zealand.  Te reo is nothing like the French I took for years, and being back in a language course makes me remember why I loved it.  Our instructor is enthusiastic, filling our twice-weekly lectures with songs, games, and cultural anecdotes that delve deeper into the study of Maōri.  I’ll admit, it’s not easy—Polynesian languages are filled with unfamiliar syllables and incredibly long words that seem especially foreign to me.  However, it makes learning another basic phrase all the more exciting.  So far I can introduce myself and my family, ask people how they’re feeling, and discuss my favorite foods!  Hey…it’s something.

I’m also taking a business writing course, something that seems odd until you consider the fact that it’s required for my agronomy degree at ISU.  But it is odd, really—editing emails?  Drafting memos?  This isn’t like any kind of writing I’ve done before, nor do I imagine myself to be doing it in any future jobs.  However, it’s literally the only composition class I’ll take in college, so I’m enjoying the chance to write at all.  It also sort of makes me wish that I was in a more creative field; I’ve always loved design and communications, so this course makes me wonder what a path in journalism or media could have been like.  Perhaps as evidenced by this blog (or by my former endeavors)…I really love writing!  Hopefully this isn’t the last time I’m able to do something that isn’t a lab report or a research paper.

Lastly, I’m in a course called Managing the Landscape.  Although it came to me at recommendation from a fellow ISU agronomy student, I’m not really sure why I’m taking it.  First, it’s a landscape architecture class (not me) for those in their final year (again, no).  It involves the study of trees as they age (ok, sort of me?) and management strategies to replace them as elements deteriorate (aaaaand we’re gone).  Luckily, the other three students—one German on exchange and two girls in ecology—are just as lost as I am, and our professor knows it.  So stay tuned, I guess, to see how this one goes?

When I’m not in school, I can generally be found reading—currently, this is Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and a nostalgic re-read of L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  When I’m not doing that, there’s a good chance I’m baking butter-laden treats or indoctrinating unsuspecting Kiwis to the wonders of fluffy pancakes with hot maple syrup.  This weekend I’ll be climbing the summit of Mount Ruapehu, and the weekend after hiking the Tongariro Crossing.  After that, it’s just a few weeks until we head down to the South Island.    

Did I mention time is going fast?


Te Apiti wind farm near the Manawatu Gorge.

Te Apiti wind farm near the Manawatu Gorge.

The number one thing I find myself asking people from other countries is, “What would you say the biggest differences are between (your home) and the U.S.?”  It’s also what I tried to find out about New Zealand before I moved there.  Initially, this country might seem pretty similar to the States—and, in many respects, they’re nearly identical.  But as I continue to spend time here, more subtleties emerge that further differentiate the two.  Here are some of the more glaringly obvious:

Driving.  Like all Commonwealth countries, New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road, opposite to what an American is used to.  This was probably the most difficult thing to get used to my first week here; after being taught to look left THEN right, doing the reverse seems odd.  The rule extends to walking, as well—stay to the left on the sidewalk, stairs, etc.  However, after a few weeks of acclimation I now barely notice the difference.  Also: everyone here yields to pedestrians on the road, which is refreshing!

Coffee.  Ok, so this isn’t really exclusive to New Zealand.  Just like in Europe, “coffee” means “espresso”—you’d be hard-pressed to find drip coffee on any menus (no, not even at McDonald’s).  Terminology here is different as well: for instance, my beloved Americano is called a “long black”.  The “flat white” is the national standby, similar to a latte but with less milk, a different consistency, and smaller in size.  “But wait,” you might say, “what am I supposed to do about my mug of morning dark roast?”  Two words: instant coffee.  Although this might initially send a shiver of fear down your spine, worry not!  Instant here is actually dehydrated, and much better than what we find at home.  Trust me…it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Footwear.  Unlike at home, this seems to be optional in New Zealand.  Yes, I definitely did a double-take the first time I saw someone barefoot in the grocery store.  This can probably be owed to   If you are going to wear shoes, opt for jandals–or, as we call them, flip-flops.

No Netflix.  Yes, you read that right.  Fingers are crossed for a May release.

So those are the things you’ll notice right off the plane.  But spend a month here, hang out with some of the people, and you’ll notice that things might be more different than you thought:

Native culture.  What was the last time you saw signs subtitled in Ojibwe?  Have you used any Anishinaabe words recently?  If you weren’t from the U.S., it would be nearly impossible to discern the existence of a native population from our daily culture.  However, the role of New Zealand’s indigenous people—the Maori—is prominent in society here.  Signs everywhere are printed in English and Maori, children are taught about the culture in school, and certain words and phrases are common in Kiwi English.  Although there is still controversy over the Treaty of Waitangi, signed between the British and the Maori in 1840, the respect toward New Zealand’s first peoples is evident.

Trust.  It’s not uncommon to walk by a house and see the windows and even the doors wide open.  Kiwis don’t seem to be worried about their stuff being stolen, or maybe about the neighbor’s cat weaseling its way into their living rooms.  As a whole the culture is very trusting—for instance, hitchhiking is quite common here.  To someone who grew up shutting, locking, and deadbolting the front door at the behest of their New Yorker father, this whole thing seems pretty foreign.

Urgency…or lack thereof.  It takes some time away from America to realize how fast-pace our lives really are.  Everything here is much more relaxed, and impatience doesn’t exist to the extent we’re used to.  This might explain why the people are friendly, and always seem willing to lend a hand, offer directions, or just strike up a conversation.

So my first week at Massey is over, which went well despite being late for four consecutive classes due to navigational difficulties.  I’m already enjoying my subjects, but still getting used to the reading-heavy structure of coursework here: when you only have two assignments and one exam, the pressure is on…

Tomorrow makes a month since I left Minneapolis for Manawatu.  I can’t really say if my time so far has gone quickly or slowly, and I know I don’t want to comment on it in the context of the four months I have left.  But I can say with certainty that I’ve already had some incredible times, and that I intend to continue enjoying the hell out of life here.  Cheers, everyone–and here’s to a good March.

of tourist towns and timetables

It seemed like this day would never come…but I’m finally back in school!  Campus is bustling, the library is packed, and I’m excited to be in class after a sometimes monotonous two-month break.  I’m taking four classes this semester: Horticultural Crop Development & Yield, Managing the Landscape, Professional & E-Business Writing, and Socializing in Maori.  Many things will be similar to Iowa State, I’m sure–but for now I feel like a freshman again, trying to find my way around campus and attempting to write in British English.  Also, I was late every single class the first day…so I guess you could say I’m off to a pretty auspicious start.

But wait: you can’t go back to school without one last summer hurrah, right?   This past weekend, my flatmates and I took a spontaneous trip to Rotorua–affectionately/appropriately nicknamed “Rotovegas” by locals–in an attempt to make the most of our last free time.  Our tickets were bought on Thursday morning and by the afternoon, we were on the bus and on our way.  Despite a complete lack of planning (“Hey Joe, where were you planning on staying?” “Uh…not…sure.”), fun was had by all.  We checked into the Backpackers Downtown hostel on Thursday, and enjoyed the food and music of the farmer’s market that night.

Cam & Joe enjoying their churros

Friday was spent hiking 22 miles in the redwoods of the Whakarewarewa Forest, swimming in Blue Lake, and watching the mountain bike events in the Rotorua Bike Festival.  On Saturday, we took part in the local obligatory tourist attraction: zorbing.  This is the name of the activity where you take a giant, inflatable sphere–think human hamster ball–fill the bottom with water, put a person inside, and push it down a hill.  For those of you that know me, the perennial opposite of a thrill seeker, this sounds like the design of some adrenaline-fueled junkie with a penchant for inducing claustrophobia.  However, I got talked into it and did, admittedly, have a good time.   This does not change the fact that there will be NO bungee jumping for me in Queenstown.

Rotorua is interesting because of its thermal activity; it lies on top of hotsprings and is home to geysers, bubbling pools of mud, and a permanent rotten-egg sulphur smell.  It draws visitors from all over; in our hostel we met Germans, Canadians, Americans, Dutch, Brits, and Kiwis among them.  Everyone in this country has a story: I met two Illinoisans who quit their jobs to fulfill a New Zealand adventure dream, a German business student who regretted his decision to get a degree in business instead of pursuing sports.  I’m also constantly reminded of how small our world truly is–two girls at the hostel were from Burnsville, the suburb that borders mine at home.  We knew some of the same people in high school!

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and commenting; hopefully you can do a little vicarious living (especially if you’re looking at snow right now).  If you’re tired of checking this page and being disappointed by my lack of activity, hit “subscribe” and receive an email every time I post.  Nifty, huh?

In the meantime, I should do some class reading or practice the pronunciation of impossible Maori words.  Next: what’s it like living in New Zealand, anyway?  Are there any glaring differences between the U.S.?  Who the heck do I even live with?  Most questions will be answered, so check back soon!