I spent the spring semester of 2010 studying in New Zealand through the ISEP program. I used this blog to keep an account of my school experience and as a record of the adventures I found. Hopefully it can serve two purposes: to have kept my friends and family informed of my travels and experiences; as well as to serve as a reminder of how important the study abroad experience is, whether it's in New Zealand or not.

03 October 2010

My Final Adventures

As the semester comes to a close I can feel a sense of sort of impending doom. I remember when I headed back to the US from Ireland both times and how much I didn't want to leave then; and that was only after a few weeks. Four months is both a lifetime and a second to spend in a place away from home. I remember back when I applied to the program thinking I could go for a whole year, but four months really seemed like a lot. Think of all the things you'll need to pack and what you might miss while you're gone, not to mention everything that happens back home you'll miss. But once the time comes to an end, there's this sudden pressure to do everything. Something that is not helped by the approaching finals. Not to mention how difficult I know the finals will be. With all this in mind, I decided I needed to break up my final time studying with some exploration. So on a moderately good looking day Sabine and I head out in our rental car to Cape Pallisar. She has persuaded me to go for a chance to see seals by informing me that there is a LOTR film site nearby we can go to as well. So with me behind the wheel and her directing, we maneuver our way out to the cape and along the winding road. It becomes clear quickly that this is not the ideal travel day; the rain looks like it might hit at any second, the wind whips around, and the temperature is low. We wind our way down to the water where the cliffs along our side are breaking pieces off into the road that I have to avoid hitting. Eventually we make it to where the road starts to go down close to the water. Unfortunately this also marks the end of where we can drive. The road is flooded out and we have to turn around. Unable to see the seals we move on to find the film site. I have to assure Sabine she will see seals when she travels the south island in a few weeks. We park the care, take a look at the map and start out on the trail. But we're quickly foiled again. The river is too high from the recent rain and after a few attempts at crossing, we decide it's really safer to head back. Just then I notice a side path that's really more of a mud slide than a trail. In fact, we both think it's safe to assume very few or no people probably traveled up it. So we make our way up and through an area I find to look much like Bryce National Park back in the US, but with different colors. We explore for a while, deciding since it looks so much like the film site we were trying to find (the passage where Aragorn goes to call the king of the dead to fulfill their duty) that we'll just take pictures and tell people we got there (obviously something I have just decided I'm not following through with). After we satisfy ourselves that this was not a trip wasted, we make our way slowly back to campus and plan our next trip out. The next weekend Sabine, Nadja, and I pile back into our little rental car and take off in another direction (West) toward Mt. Taranaki. We arrive by midday, eat lunch, and figure out where we're going to hike. This is supposed to be one of the world's most perfectly formed volcanoes, but you can only see it like three days out of the year. So we pick our route and hope that if we go fast enough we might beat the rising clouds to get a good view. However, the clouds are either too thick or were already there and we never do get to see very far in front of us. But we have fun making our way up, across, and down anyway. After a very steep uphill, where there is still a clearly defined road (though it's horrendously steep and I can't imagine the toll it must take on the vehicles traveling it, not to mention it would scare me to death to attempt to drive down in a virtually straight line on an incline like that) used for maintenance, we start to hear a humming sound. Out of the fog we begin to see a pulsing light and a growing dark shadow. It's sort of eerie approaching, what we already know to be a radio tower, in the thick fog. It grows out of the fog and even when we're up-close and it becomes clearly defined, the fog surrounding us still makes it feel like either an alien or a horror movie, I have yet to decide which. Either way I can't say I'm sad to leave it behind us; even if I do want to keep an eye on it by checking over my shoulder now and again. We keep adjusting layers the whole time trying to account for how thick the fog is that it basically feels like rain. At one point we have to stop and try to locate the trail after it was washed out. Creepy moss hangs from trees along the way and there is a distinct sulfur smell at several points, but we just pretend we're in Lord of the Rings as we make our way down ladders and along ledges. When we eventually make it to the bottom we emerge from the clouds to find a bright, sunny afternoon. Our hostel is nice and we find a place for dinner and wander the town for a bit. I attempt to explain what a moose is only to hear them think they've got it and say something in German, to which I promptly respond: "No it's not an elk." They look at me having no idea how I could know what they're saying, but apparently the word for elk is the same in English and German even though our actual elk are somewhat different. We turn in for a what had planned to be a fairly early evening and ends up just being a late one. The next morning we have to find a place Sabine is determined to go to to take the exact picture she found in her guidebook. While we do manage to find the same spot, we of course can't get the same picture, because those stupid clouds remain hovered around the mountain. We just determine we'll have to swear there's a volcano behind those clouds. We get back to school and I settle in to study my butt off for the upcoming finals. Sandy and I settle ourselves in determined to make the common room in our pod feel like home. We bring out blankets, pillows, her heater, our computers, the single Ethernet cord we can plug in (do four people not live in this place? How did that design idea seem good), and all our study materials. We go through everything and answer (in endless detail) all of the previous exam questions for the past 4-6 years for each of our classes. The process takes all our time and we create study sheets for ourselves. I'm glad to have time between each test or I would never manage to get everything prepared. We order take away from Hell Pizza and watch Sortland Street as our rewards for working so hard. I'm glad it's freezing out because it makes me feel less guilty for not being outside. Lucky for us there's a new Shortland Street five days a week so we get a little treat every day. I'm glad for this time with Sandy because we've been so close the whole semester (living with some cultural difference difficulty with the two Chinese girls in our pod) and I know I have to leave just after finals. While I have struggled with my classes over the semester and the grades I have received, I enter each test feeling confident that I have studied as best I could. After the first final is over, I know my method of studying is working and I also know that if I cover enough of the past tests, all the same questions come up throughout the years and I will be prepared to answer them. So I also leave each test feeling pretty good about myself. In the end I just have to say that I have tried the best that I can and no matter what grade I get, I couldn't have done better. The grade doesn't matter, what does is that I learned all that I did. And boy, did I learn a lot. My brain feels just about ready to explode. I can understand why the advisor at the beginning of the year was reluctant to put me in four 300 level courses, but in the end I really showed her. With my last final over I have my last afternoon to pack everything before Jessica and I leave for Rotorua and then I take off for Auckland. After much debate I have decided to take a car from Palmy and, skipping my first flight, go directly to the Auckland airport. This allows for one last trip the morning before my flight. So Jessica and I finally make it out only to determine that we will not make it to Rotorua that night and we instead find a hostel in Taupo to stay at. We wake up fairly early the next day to hike around Taupo before going to Rotorua. We take a walk along the river where thermal springs feed in along the edges. Our goal is to make it to Huka Falls. This is the river leading out of Lake Taupo. A sign at Huka Falls informs us that the force of the falls is so strong that no fish can jump up it and there are therefore no fish in Lake Taupo. We make it back to the car, have a quick stop on the side of Lake Taupo and then start our way to Rotorua. Neither of us really know what we want to do in Rotorua other than to try not to spend too much money. So we go to one free little geothermal park to see the bubbling mudpools. We then decide it's worth it to pay to see something, so we locate Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, AKA Whakarewarewa AKA Whaka, the living geothermal village. We see a culture show and go on a tour where they tell us all about how they live there. They use the hot thermal springs to cook and to wash. One of the little thermal offshoots reaches 180*C (356*F for you Americans) regularly. The champagne pool bubbles most of the time and when a major natural disaster happens (such as the major Haiti quake) the water rises quickly, the pool cracks, and the water level drops. You cannot visit Rotorua without taking a soak in a thermal spring and lucky for me, my guidebook has a cheapo section telling me about a free thermal stream you can access off the main road. However, the name of the road is all wrong and it's nearly impossible to find, especially in the dark. However, we persevere and it pays off. Lucky for us another group of people arrives at the same time and we get to follow them out to the spot they clearly are familiar with. Neither of us managed to get a flashlight out to bring along. So we have no idea what anything looks like (upon reflection we both agree this is good since we aren't sure we want to know what colour the water we're sitting in is). We lie in the stream absorbing the heat and the rejuvenating chemicals. Considering I have nothing to shower with, I feel a little bad for whoever will have to sit next to me on the plane ride home the next day, since I'll reek like a rotten egg, but this turns out to not be the case. I drop Jessica off at the bus station later that night, where she'll barely have time to stop in Palmy before heading off for her south island trip. The next morning Sabine and I take off for our last adventure (notice how I'm getting some quality time with each of my friends before the very real possibility I never see them again gets super close to a reality). This is something I debated doing for a long time (i.e. since I knew I was going to NZ). It's super nerdy, but kinda cool; I know I want to, but then again do I really; and it costs money, but maybe not all that much. In the end I have a friend to go, the money to spend, and it really may be my only chance (though let's pray it's not). So we rush our way our to Matamata, where we manage to just miss our shuttle out, which means we get a private one. "Feel free to break out costumes if you have them. We employees are not allowed to by law, but that doesn't have to stop you." Our van driver informs us. Can you guess yet where I'm spending my last morning in New Zealand? One more hint: small, hairy footed, food lovers were found here for months and only the shells of their houses remain. The sign at the entrance welcomes us to Hobbiton and quite possibly the dorkiest thing I have ever done (besides arguing Star Wars politics in the halls of my high school). In the end, totally worth it. However I did have to sign a release saying I wouldn't talk publicly about what they tell you on the tour, so I'll have to leave it out here. I can say that I went at a good time; filming of the Hobbit starts in January 2011 so they're rebuilding. Several sheep posed quite perfectly for their fame shots (no sheep on the farm appeared in the film, while there are over 2,000 sheep on the farm, they flew in Suffolks rather than the local Romneys for the movie). Having satisfied my need to prove my LOTR love to my fellow nerds back home, I take Sabine back to Rotorua and begin my battle to locate the Auckland airport (which by the way, is not in Auckland, but way the heck out in the surrounding country). I return the car, walk about a mile with all my stuff to the airport, and check in for my flight home. All the way until I'm buckled in I debate missing the flight and having to stay in NZ. But I know this isn't a realistic option and I have to resolve to just return in the future. Thirteen hours later (and 1 hour ahead of schedule due to high winds which created unbearable turbulence even for someone who travels as much as I do for the first half hour the flight) I find myself in the San Fransisco airport, immediately welcomed by security I don't know what to do with and the overwhelmingly oppressive presence of American culture. In all my years of air travel I have always been happy to see California because it means vacation and my family. This is the first time I have ever been disappointed to land in SFO. I feel like a total alien in this country and find myself going into immediate denial that I have returned home. I spend my four hour layover thinking of how I can get back to NZ and focusing all my attention on getting through customs so I don't have to realize I'm not still there. I know immediately I will have to save an entry on my blog to write about the transition from NZ to the US, home, work, and school. It's just so hard to start all of it.

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