Note: This post was originally published on a Blogger site I made for my college semester at New Zealand’s University of Otago (the first of four). Welcome to the mind of my college-self 🙂
New Zealand is so much prettier than even what I expected. It seems as though everywhere you look the terrain is different. Here in Dunedin [done-nee-din] there are mountains and the coast, flat stretches and rolling, San Francisco-esque hills. In fact, Dunedin is home to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin St, though I have yet to see it.
This is also home to the Cadbury factory, meaning that I can be walking across campus catching wafts of chocolate smells on the breeze. I took a tour of the factory yesterday and let me tell you–I had no idea my mouth could produce so much saliva. Our guide was straight out of Willy Wonka, too, with bright orange hair twisted into something like a cross between dreads and peppermint sticks… and if this visual isn’t working for you, just take my word on it.
The University of Otago [w/ the ‘tag’ part pronounced like in ‘guten tag’] courses start Monday so pretty soon things will really kick into gear. I arrived via a good ol’ 12 hour group flight last Thursday morning in Auckland, which is at the very northern part of the north island. Then the group took a bus to Rotorua [wrote-ah-rew-ah], which was a very long couple of hours away. Rotorua is unique in that it sits on top of a very thin layer of the earth’s crust, providing the opportunity for numerous thermal vents to crop up. This meant two things, mostly: 1-you could go to the beach, dig a hole, and have a nice hot thermal pool to sit in (which I haven’t done but sounds way cool), and 2-the air carries the very distinct scent of rotten eggs from the sulphur. It wasn’t constant, but every once and a while… yeah.
We stayed in a really nice hostel while there and had a few scheduled activities. The day after we got to Rotorua, we went caving in Waitomo. We had a choice between the dry or wet caves, and I opted for the wet. We got decked out in wet suits, rain boots, harnesses, and one of those helmets with a light on it and did a quick little rappelling demo down a hill. Then it was off to the caves, awkwardly lumbering in our new gear.
The whole Waitomo area apparently sits atop a giant maze of caves, and the entrance to ours could have easily been mistaken for an animal den, or maybe a reclusive hobbit’s hole, aside from the steps (human-sized) that led down to it. Inside, we had to rappell (or as they say here, ‘abseil’) down cliffs and waterfalls (the first cliff was 20 meters! aaah!), rock climb up walls, and get on our stomachs to inch our way through the sorts of whole that even I could hardly fit through and were partially flooded with streams. One guy said his hips nearly got stuck at one point.
When we turned out the helmet lights, we could see the glowworms, which basically look like someone ground up a lightning bug and splattered it on the ceilings. The little buggers are in fact not worms, but the larval form of maggots–which apparently lacks tourist appeal. The glow is caused by a chemical reaction to break down their excrement, since they only have a mouth (for anyone who might care to know). When they grow up, their mouth becomes the other end and they can no longer eat, meaning they really have nothing better to do than procreate and die. Quite a life those suckers lead.
Rotorua also happens to be home to the famous Zorb (don’t worry- I had no idea such a thing was famous, either). Zorbing is when you get inside of what is, essentially, a giant, inflated plastic ball (or a ball suspended inside another ball, for you technical folks)… and then roll down a hill. Now this may sound ridiculous, and it is, but it’s also really crazy fun. I went with two other people, plus a few gallons of nice hot water, and was laughing hysterically the whole way down.
That evening we attended a Maori Hangi. The Maori [mow-ree, with the ‘ow’ like when you stub your toe] are the native people, and a Hangi [hang-ee] is a dinner feast and dancing (not us, them–thank goodness). It was all set up for tourists, so we got to walk through an area that looked as I suppose a Maori village may have, with Maori people scattered about to tell of various aspects of traditional culture. Talk about a well-rounded day, right?
Dunedin is a much bigger and busier town than Rotorua was, with a funny sort of mix between feeling Fort Collins/suburban-ish and a downtown city. Everything seems to be really close, with my flat maybe a minute from campus and 5-10 minutes from streets upon streets of bustling little sidewalk shops. There’s a pretty wide variety of restaurants mixed in, as well, with Vietnamese currently being my favorite. There are mountains that sit in the west and pull around to the north, and other than the little bit of NZ that’s left southward, the only thing left to hit is Antarctica. I’ve only seen the Pacific coast on that drive in, but I can feel it with the damp, cold air and frequent rains.
It’s the dead of winter here, and with central heating virtually nonexistant I’ve been wearing about 6 layers of clothes a day. It’s pretty weird, too, because it doesn’t really get light outside until 8 or so and it gets dark around 5.
Good thing I have such cool flatmates to hang out with at home! I have three: Liisa–a Kiwi, Georg–who is German, and Morten–who is Danish. I am the youngest by far, with the three others being a med student, doing research work, and a grad student, respectively. But they’re all really awesome in completely unique ways and me and the boys have bonded over Season 1 of Prison Break, which they are obsessed with and to which I have been sucked in. Go figure I come to New Zealand and get pulled into a three year old show on Fox.