February 28, 2015

Update #1

Kia ora! I can’t believe I’ve only been in New Zealand a little over a week!

It was a balmy -1o F and lightly snowing in Newark on my day of departure from the Newark International Airport...

Off to warmer weather!
I had my first taste of warm weather during a short layover in San Francisco where, while waiting, I actually sat next to a few members of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team. The All Blacks are a BIG DEAL in NZ and I had no idea I was sitting next to them; they weren’t showy at all and, except for wearing the same (I’m assuming) team outfits, they blended right in with the rest of the crowd waiting to board. I’ve heard that in NZ fame is more relaxed and not quite as big a deal as it is in the United States, and my casual run it with players from the incredibly famous national rugby team definitely confirms this.

The All Blacks performing the haka, the traditional Maori war cry/dance, before a match.
(photo via dailymail.co.uk) 
The flight itself to Auckland was very nice, more comfortable than my domestic flight across the US, actually. The in-flight safety video was Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit themed, which was adorable, and got a laugh from most of the passengers. After 18 hours combined domestic/international travel, I finally landed in NZ February 18, 2015, at 6:00am.

After we landed and cleared customs, I met up with the rest of the IFSA Butler students in the lobby. The Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) Butler is a group that helps students from the US study abroad. They helped organize my flight, my lodging at the University of Auckland, class enrolment, and put together a “welcome to NZ culture” orientation as well as trips during the semester for myself and other IFSA Butler students. At the University of Auckland there are about 10 other students studying abroad through the IFSA Butler program.

Day one of the “welcome to NZ culture” orientation we were very active in an effort to stay awake and get over jet lag. From the airport in Auckland we took a bus north to the YMCA Lodge in the Shakespear Regional Park (yes, that’s spelled correctly!) in Whangaparaoa (pronounced fong-ah-pa-row-ah, “wh” in Maori sounds like “f”) which would be our home for the next two days.

Shakespear Regional Park location from Auckland. (map via google.com/maps)
Once we reached the lodge we were able to unpack, meet the staff, and have morning tea! The food was definitely a highlight of the culture orientation, and we were spoiled with 4-5 meals a day. We ate like hobbits with breakfast, morning tea (second breakfast), lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. Just a small sampling of the foods I got to try included lamb sliders, meat pies, pavlova, hokey pokey ice cream, lolly cakes, spaghetti on toast (for breakfast...), tea and crumpets, vegemite/marmite, and kumara. The spaghetti on toast was surprisingly good, but interesting as breakfast. 

The first day’s activities included a walk through the park to a high point where you could see a 360o  view of the land as well as Auckland across the water. 

From the lookout. The red building on right is the YMCA Lodge.

From the lookout in a different direction.
(photo via IFSA Butler)
After the walk we were given more information about NZ culture and then headed off to go kayaking around the bay. Kayaking was followed by a bus ride north to Waiwera, another region of NZ close to Whangaparaoa, where we were able to soak in mineral hot-pools and relax a bit. Water is apparently rumoured to help with jet lag, and as much as I thought the hot-pools would relax me too much and put me to sleep, it actually did keep me awake. Even so, that night I went to bed at 7:45pm because I just couldn’t stay awake any longer.

Waiwera from Whangaparaoa. (map via google.com/maps)
Aaaaand so, because I went to bed at 7:45pm, I woke up at 6:00am the next morning! The sun hadn’t quite risen yet so I walked down to the beach and watched the sun rise over the bay and the city. I wish I had taken pictures with my camera, because it was absolutely beautiful! I took pictures with my US cell phone which I ended up not getting a SIM card for, so I have no way to send those photos to myself to share. Later that day (day two) I got to try archery and touch-rugby which were both really awesome.

(via IFSA Butler)
On day three of orientation we packed up and left Shakespear Regional Park for good. If I get the chance I would definitely go back, the views and the beach were so beautiful…overall it was the perfect introduction to NZ.

Shakespear Regional Park beach.
(via IFSA Butler)
That morning we got to explore Auckland for a bit and then took a bus to Te Hana where we would be staying in a Maori meetinghouse on a marae (sacred piece of Maori land) for the night. 

Te Hana. (map via google.com/maps)

Inside the meetinghouse.
(via IFSA Butler)
We experienced a traditional Maori powhiri (formal greeting for visitors) when we arrived, which was really neat. 

Walking through the gate onto the marae.
(via IFSA Butler)
At the conclusion of the formal part of the ceremony we got to hongi (the pressing of noses, a greeting in Maori culture which symbolises the exchange of the breath of life) with the Maori who welcomed us to their marae and enjoy a small snack...just a small teaser of what was to come!

Hongi greeting. (via IFSA Butler)
That night we got to enjoy a Maori hangi, a feast! "Hangi" is the Maori way of cooking large amounts of food via heated rocks in the ground. We didn’t actually get to see any food being cooked in the ground, but we did get to feast on the results! The Maori fare actually reminded me a bit of traditional Thanksgiving food. Some of the deliciousness included kumara (NZ sweet potato), shredded cabbage, stuffing, fried bread, chicken, pork, NZ muscles in a creamy mint sauce (SO GOOD), and other fresh fish cooked and served cold. Dessert included a “fruit salad” and pavlova.

We all slept under one roof that night in the central room of the Maori meetinghouse. We pulled out beds and lined them against the walls, and since there were about 30 IFSA Butler students and 4-5 IFSA staff members we took up all the wall space. Sleeping communally in the same room with 35+ other people was definitely something different, but it was a good experience.

Sunrise on the marae.
(via IFSA Butler)
The next day (day four) of orientation we traveled to Auckland and were finally able to move into our Uni accommodations. I was/am super impressed with my room and flat. It’s really spacious, has plenty of storage, and is just generally clean and new. My room is super sunny and looks out behind the building to a small bunch of trees and train tracks. 

View from the room, train going by in the middle.
Orientation was great and the places I got to see were beautiful, but it was nice to finally have a place to permanently call home..and do laundry!

This week I had other University of Auckland orientation events, and the IFSA Butler students and I went to check out the Lantern Festival set up for Chinese New Year in Auckland’s Albert Park.

More on that and the start of classes next update!

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