Note: This post was originally published on a Blogger site I made for my college semester at New Zealand’s University of Otago (the last of four). Welcome to the mind of my college-self 🙂
I’m in the dwindling hours of this adventure now, and there is a general sense of culmination floating about.
As I’m writing this, I have just one class left, to be followed by three finals spaced out evenly across a month. But that’s all boring. What have I done that’s actually interesting, you might ask? Well alright then.
I spent a weekend in September volunteering in the Catlins, doing conservation work—which I suspect sounds a bit more benevolently-minded than it really was. I mean, heck, we got to see not just Some penguins, but Lots of penguins! After all, the first day’s work was on a stretch of conserved habitat for the Yellow-Eyed Penguins, which are very rare and slightly scary looking (they do, in fact, have Yellow Eyes after all).
We also got to follow Fergus, one half of our host couple for the weekend, as he emptied and reset traps for the ill-fated eaters of penguins. (Un) Fortunately, we only found one caught ferret, freshly dead and still warm and pliable. I did a sideways scan of my fellow American do-gooders (who I suspect were exercising some will of holding eyeballs within sockets) as Fergus examined the ferret and plopped it on top of the trap before summoning us onwards. The trap part was bit less exciting the rest of the time, though we did a nice sidetrack to sneak up on a nesting penguin deep in the bush. I nearly fell into a river with all the effort it took to tread quietly, but somehow we all made it back to the main track without scaring the bejeezus out of anything.
Then we looped back to the newly stiffened (and tote-able) ferret corpse and continued our parade through the forest of flax in the pursuit of a picnic lunch. The next day started off slightly less eventfully, as we spent most of it tromping around a nature preserve in search of a particular invasive plant—a tricky bugger that could be small and weedlike or tall and branching. Meaning you could be moving about, hunched over and pulling and hacking and poisoning the little guys (like a good busy bee conservationist), only to look around and find yourself hedged in by a couple big tattooed oafs. A true battle of wills.
For the afternoon, we were set free to do as we wished. Our hosts’ home was on a particularly beautiful stretch of coastline (their dining room window was like a wall-sized, real-life picture frame), and so Teri, Laura, and I grabbed a couple kayaks and set out. Well, we were really only out there for maybe a half hour or so as Laura and I couldn’t seem to get our double kayak to go anywhere but left. There’s something wrong when two people can paddle on the same side of a kayak and still not turn. I mean honestly. Not to succumb to demoralization, we wound up the day shell hunting and jump-roping with kelp on the beach. Which was more fun anyways.
On another day, back in Dunedin, Morten took Laura and me out to see penguins on a different beach. This one is called Sandfly Bay, and Morten (my Danish flatmate) had seen a lot of penguins there on his various surfing excursions. It was a very pretty coastal drive to get there, and the path down to the beach wound through heaps of grazing lambs and sheep. I sometimes harbor a sneaking suspicion that grass here is hauled in by the hill-load and rolled out (or shaken out with one dramatic gesture, like laying a sheet across a bed) with sheep already spotted across it, the grass pre-grazed to velvety softness.
Anyways, after the pasture-land there is a gigantic hill of sand that would make any human-sized ant a bit giddy. Speaking as a human-sized human, I can say that running down the hill (helpless to momentum and consumed in wild giggles) was great fun. Looking back up at it for the return trip, however, was a rather more sobering experience. But that came later.
The first time I went to the beach (with Laura and Morten), we saw two penguins and probably more sea lions than I have fingers and toes. And I was a bit concerned for my fingers and toes, since there was really no choice but to walk between the huge sleeping lumps and the water in order to get anywhere. Which is exactly what everyone says—with a very distinct vocal eye roll—not to do. The Jiminy Cricket in my head (who serves double duty as both my moral AND survival consciences) had to squidge up his eyes for a while.
The second time I went with Team America (as the bungy people in Queenstown called us), and there were just as many sea lions but no penguins to be found. There is a little shelter building tucked up on the hill to view the penguins from without disturbing them, and we sat there, squinty-eyed, for a very long time. At one point, bored and antsy, I went back outside and was walking behind the shelter when I heard a weird hissing noise. I was a bit torn between finding out what it was and running for my life, and I was already past the noisy grass patch when my little Jiminy un-squidged his eyes and started looking frantically for the button in my brain that says ‘Run Away! Run Away!’ Before he found it, I got a look at a curled up baby sea lion, less than two meters away from me, camouflaged into the sandy colored grass. Then the hissing started again and (the button evidently found) I was off and running, practically crashing into a group of tourists back on the path.
My friend had obviously left their crickets in the car, because as soon as I darted into the shelter and told them what had happened, they whizzed right back out past me to see it for themselves. Geez.
My last story (for now) is mostly better told through pictures, though I can’t resist painting a little written depiction for you as a primer. So the last time I went to Queenstown (for skiing and whatnot), Bridges, Ben, and I watched people bungy-ing for over an hour with a sort of car-crash fascination. By the time we left, I think we each had the start of a little itch to try it for ourselves, and THIS time it was going to happen. Well, maybe. Aaaahh… ok maybe. If I remembered to leave the stupid survival-obsessed cricket in the car. What a dumb idea! But what a good story… Haunted by this epic internal struggle, I found myself holding a ticket and sitting on the gondola to go up to the adventure-filled hilltop, which you may remember from my last visit. As we slid up past the bungy area, a guy came plunging down past us, swinging out of sight as we were carried past. Holy cow! I was going to do that?! Had we all lost our cricket-vacated minds??? Well maybe. But it DID look pretty darn fun.
When the time finally came for us to have our go, we numbered ourselves off and got geared up. I was second (dun dun DUNNNN). This is the general gist (minus adrenalin, which I had run out of about a half hour earlier anyway): The guy hooked you up to the line and you kind of scooted out into space before hanging back in the straps to pose for a camera set up behind you. Then the guy yells out to you to unhook this and snap that, pull the red thinger—WAAA!!! And off you go, swinging towards infinity and beyond. Well, at least until you swing back anyway. The most Holy Cow part was the first split second, plummeting down before the rope goes taut. I don’t think I expected that part. Hopefully I can figure out a way to post the video online, after I figure out who has it.