Wednesday, January 20, 2016

21 January 2016: the final day

After an amazing trip that lasted 24 days, nearly countless miles in the van, extraordinary smells from said van, interesting and varied conditions within hostels, we are now poised to return home.  Our final days in New Zealand were spent in Christchurch, a city that was ravished by powerful earthquakes in 2010/2011.  It's a city of rebirth and growing architectural beauty.  We visited withe Antarctic Centre to learn about Little Blue Penguins and Antarctica, and, to send us off in a true summer manner, we spent our final full day in New Zealand soaking up the sun at Taylor's Mistake Bay beach.  While we would all say we'd love to just stay in New Zealand, we're all missing you at home, whether its parents, friends, or the family cat.  We have stories to tell and we hope you'll do us the favor and allow us to revel in the extraordinary time we've had on the trip.  Know that the smiles and enthusiasm are deeply-rooted; with the exception of the odd belly ache, we've had an incredible journey!  See you all soon.

The gang in our trusty steed of a van!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

12 January 2016: Punakaiki & Conservation Volunteers New Zealand

We moved on 12 January to the south to Punakaiki, the home of 'pancake rocks', a geologic attraction along the Tasman Sea, to continue our volunteer efforts with Conservation Volunteers New Zealand.  This morning, we helped Michael Kingsbury plant about 50 native plant species (Totara (Podocarpus totara) and Kahikitea (New Zealand White Pine; Dacrycarpus dacrydioides).  Once again, the students jumped in and planted the trees with speed and enthusiasm!  Michael and I were both really impressed with the gardening skills of the class.

Following our visit with Michael, our caravan moved further south to visit Franz Josef, one of the few towns to dot the mid-westcoast in 'Glacier Country'.  Only about two roads large, Franz Josef sits on the edge of the Waiho River, the river derived from the Franz Josef glacier 5km away from town.  The students settled into the bustling hostel filled with travelers from Asia, Germany, the US, and Scandanavian partiots.  We were fortunate to have the weather hold-out for our evening, such that Anne, Jay, and I could enjoy a brief reprieve from cooking dinner to enjoy a night 'out'.  The students were, instead, enthusiastically tackling a meal of pasta and pesto in the hostel.  I've never heard someone (much less a whole group) get so excited about pasta!

Tomorrow: Fox Glacier!

Our merry band of volunteers following the completion of our planting work in Punakaiki.

Nichole Lopez and Christina Antico plant a Totara tree in Punakaiki.

Monday, January 11, 2016

11 January 2016: A long-awaited post!

To all who have been faithfully checking our trip blog hoping to read the exciting news about our travels: Sorry!  Our trip has been so action-packed and our days so long that my blogging has fallen by the wayside.  I'm happy to report that all is going well, and, despite the busy-ness of the trip, everyone is having a great time and in good spirits.

At this point in the trip, we're in Westport (South Island) for a few service projects and to visit the site of 'pancake rocks' in Punakaiki.  Yesterday, 11 Januanary, we worked with Michael Kingsbury (Volunteers New Zealand) to plant ~200 New Zealand flax (Phorium tenax) at the Kawati Beach Reserve.  The group (17 students and 3 faculty) jumped right in an planted with a vengeance: we finished our service in <1 hr!  Michael was pretty impressed with our efforts.

From Westport today, we travel to Punakaiki to see the famous 'pancake rocks' then travel further south to Franz Josef, where we'll visit Fox Glacier tomorrow.  After a brief stay in Franz Josef, our group, which consists of students and faculty from Ohio Northern University (ONU), splits: the ONU group heads to Milford Sound in the Fjordlands National Park, and the MSMC group heads to 'adventure capital of the world': Queenstown.
Our group listens to Michael Kingsbury as he describes the project at Kawatiri Beach Reserve in Westport.

The MSMC students working hard to plant flax in the dune vegetation at the Kawatiri Beach Reserve.

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!