Week 9 & 10: Earth, Air, Fire and Water

The last thing we did in week 9 was go to Tiri Tiri Mantangi, an island an hour and a half off the coast of Auckland. Up until the late 20th century, this island was one big farm and all the native birds there were either completely driven away or nearly gone. Their were tons of pests like mice and rats on the island. It was transformed into an animal and plant sanctuary in the early 1980s. To this day, both bird and plant populations are still growing and the island is doing a great job at preserving lots of nearly extinct New Zealand wildlife.

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Early Saturday morning we left for our week trip across the North Island. we started off by going to Raglan, a small coastal village south of Auckland. The village had one very high bridge, about 10 meters high. Jenni, our biology teacher and tour guide told us to jump off off it, and so we did. The hostel we stayed in had a pool table, and we spent the first night playing pool, having dinner and drinking some beers while getting to know new people from all over the world. the next morning we went surfing at a beach. it was my first time surfing, but it actually went quite well. after being completely demolished by some of the bigger waves in the back, I decided to try some smaller waves closer to the beach, and I managed to get up and stand a good few times.

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In the afternoon we traveled to Waitomo, which is famous for its glowworm caves. I had already seen glowworms on the weekend trip so I decided not to go, but some friends of mine did go and said the caves were very different and incredibly beautiful. they rafted through the dark caves which were solely lighted by the glowworms.

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The next day we went to Taupo, the center of the North Island. It has a huge lake with lots of famous rivers leading into it and tons of activities around the lake and on the rivers. We went on a trip in a Hamilton Jet Boat across the river where both the Hobbit and Yogi Bear were filmed. We had a blast. Our very skilled driver got us real close to the rocks on the sides, did some powerful turns and dove with the whole boat into rapids. We ended up being completely soaked and we had enough adrenaline for a few days.

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In the afternoon we went to some natural hot springs, pools with water up to 45 degrees Celsius in which people were just swimming around. It was very relaxing, even though the hottest one I could handle was only 30-something degrees Celsius.

The next day we were supposed to go on an eight hour hike, but the pass was deemed to dangerously by authorities because of wind speeds up to 85 kilometers an hour. Some of us then went bungee jumping of a 50 meter high bridge and others went on a swing from that same bridge. It was quite a sight to see everyone just free falling of a bridge so high up.

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after that we went on a different hike along the same river we went Jet Boating on and hiked all the way up to the Huka falls, one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist attractions. It was only a small hike up there, and the view was well worth it. Huka Falls.jpg

The next day we went to Rotorua, where we visited a traditional Maori village, which had some enormously hot natural pools and geysers. These pools were so hot that some were even boiling and all were used to cook their traditional food, but also eggs and corn. This is possible because only 30 meters under the ground, there is still hot lava flowing. It was almost surreal.

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After that we went to Hot Water Beach, a beach on which we could dig our own hot pools. beach was on some places so hot that I just couldn’t stand on it. turns out I really can’t handle hot water, because some of my friends didn’t really have much trouble with it. We also boogie boarded some more and had fun in the water once again. Hot Water Beach.jpg

Next thing we visited was Hobbiton, the famous film set for both Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. It represents the town as described in the books and seen in the movies. It looked just like it, and you felt like you were in the movie yourself. we even got to drink some hobbit beer in the Green Dragon Pub. It’s a must see for everyone visiting New Zealand.

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We then went to Crystal Cove, a nice secluded beach were we did some swimming and jumped off some cliffs and also snorkeled for a bit. This is when we realized that this was our second to last day in New Zealand and we had to start heading back home.

The next day we did some paintballing where I got severely injured (not really, just don’t take your shirt off completely). We ate some ice cream, my friend Dante ordered and finished the biggest one you could get and ended up on the wall of fame. IMG_20160311_174400.jpg

That evening we had our last barbeque and the next day we started our journey home. I had 30 hours of flying to look forward to, and I wasn’t too happy about it. after being interrogated by the San Francisco customs officers for about two to three hours, I was getting pretty tired. We then had another 2,5 hour flight to Seattle after which I got to say goodbye to my new friends. I will love you guys forever, thanks for making this trip awesome! The next morning I had my last 10 hour flight home and I am currently still recovering from a terrible jetlag. I can’t wait to go back there. This trip was an experience of a lifetime and something I will never ever forget.

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Week 8: Sandboarding and Glowworms

I came back from my weekend trip to Paihia. This was one of the best things yet in New Zealand. We started off by driving to Leigh, were we were supposed to go snorkling. However, due to ocean conditions this wasn’t possible so after a short visit to the Goat Island Marine Museum we decided to move on. Shortly after that we arrived at Waipi, were we went caving. I forgot to bring shoes that could get wet on this trip and apparently this cave was halfway filled with water, so I ended up getting my favorite shoes wet. About five minutes into the cave a stranger behind us asked us to turn of our headlamps. Confused at first we did it anyway. Turns out this part of the cave that seemed completely dark had all these small green dots on the walls and ceiling. There were glowworms everywhere! It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. such impressive natural beauty. We then moved on and walked through some waste deep water, crawled through a small tunnel and almost got lost. We spend about two hours in the cave and it felt like ten minutes.IMG_5856

After the caves we went straight to the hostel in Paihia, a small town in the Bay of Islands. In this bay there are over 200 small islands. We had some dinner and a rough nights sleep and the next morning we went to 90 mile beach. The name lightly suggests that it is about 90 mile long, however in reality it is only 88 kilometers, or 55 mile long. This beach is a road as well, but apparently not for all vehicles. we saw some 4×4 trucks drive on it without a problem, but the first tourist that we saw got stuck within 100 meters of the entrance and had to be town away by the police who looked like they had done it before quite a few times before. We went boogie boarding in the sea which had waves of about 3 meters high. It was an absolute blast, and as the only one that’s only used to Europe’s sad 50 centimeters high waves I am not afraid to say that I got pulled under quite a few times.

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After that we went to the most northern part of the island. It’s called Cape Reinga. The Maori believe this is the place their spirits go to before swimming to Hawaiki, the place where their ancestors are. When we got there, it was extremely foggy and hard to distinguish anything. As we got closer to the lighthouse, it became more and more clear. At the tip of the cape we could see the Pacific Ocean meet the Indian Ocean. The fog made everything feel a lot more spiritual to most of the group.

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After Cape Reinga we went back to 90 mile beach, but this time not to the water. We visited the sand dunes. some of these were over 100 feet high. We got the boogie boards out of the van and carried them to the top of these hills. We then proceed to slide down the dunes face first and I ended up face first in a river filled with red algae. Another guy nearly broke his neck and someone else flew three meters through the air and also landed in the river. My second attempt, from an even higher dune went slightly worse. There was  no river at the bottom of this dune, there was only sand. I managed to go down the hill fairly smoothly just to come to an abrupt stop. I had landed face first with my open mouth on a small bump and to regain my ability to breath I had to scoop the sand out of my throat with my hands. After sliding down that hill a few more times I also managed to come down without crashing once or twice. A video of this will probably be on my Facebook tomorrow.

The next morning we went to the Waitangi museum, this place, Waitangi, is one of the most important historical sites in New Zealand history. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, which prohibited the English from killing all the natives and stealing all their lands. New Zealand is one of the few countries in which they managed to do this. On the picture below you can see the old colonial house in which the Treaty as well as New Zealand’s Declaration of Independence were written and signed. At this place we also attended another Maori welcoming ceremony and were shown some more of their martial arts and they also sang a bunch of traditional songs.

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After the museum we went to some natural hot springs and mud baths. These springs weren’t heated by man but some of these were 47 degrees Celsius. The mud also made your skin feel real soft. The downside was though that everyone and their clothes smelled like rotten eggs. Just now, two days later, is when the smell is slowly starting to fade away, to the joy of all the others in the group who didn’t go in the pools.

I had an amazing weekend, even though I was sick the Monday after. It was one of the funnest things I’ve done here yet and I would suggest everyone to do these things if they ever come to New Zealand.

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Week 7: Islands and Festivals

After a pretty easy first week in New Zealand, the second one was a bit more action packed. We started off with a few biology and history lectures, and on Thursday we went to Maugnakiki, One Tree Hill. This volcano used to be the home base of a Māori tribe and is now a national park. The one tree after which the hill was named was cut down by protesters, and the only thing you find at the top now is a large monument. When you are on the top of the hill, you can see to the west the Tasman Sea and to the east the Pacific Ocean. The fact that you can see all over the width of the island was amazing.
After Maugnakiki we visited a rainforest with some very endangered trees. You had to wash your shoes before entering and after exiting the forest, that’s how afraid they are for the wellbeing of these trees. There were a few vantage points, and it was amazing to see such an astonishing rainforest on about an hour from New Zealand’s biggest city.

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Next on our list was visiting the blowholes at the Waitakeries. Because it was low tide there wasn’t a lot of water coming out of them, but this did allow us to go swimming in the ocean, which still offered some huge waves.

Friday we had another Māori culture class, these classes are great. We got an introduction to their martial art. We learned the taiaha. We learned how to wield a stick and learned the first set of moves. Our instructor also tried to teach us the Māori names for all the moves, but I don’t think anyone still remembers them, I certainly don’t. This class was great and the jokes the instructor kept on making only made it more fun.

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On Saturday some friends invited me to come with them to a large festival, which I did of course. It was the first time I ever went to a festival and I liked it a lot. Lots of people, good music, and we even played around in those huge inflatable balls. The good weather only made it better, even though I came home with a slight sunburn.

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On Monday we started of with another culture class, in which we learned all about Māori games. We played a game called Ki O Rahi. It’s played on a circular field with two teams with entirely different objectives. I still don’t completely get how it works, but I do know that I was quite sore for the next two days, so it’s definitely exhausting.

In the afternoon we went to the Auckland Art Museum. This was mainly modern art, something I don’t really care for, so I didn’t stay for too long.

On Wednesday we went to Rangitoto. This is a small island just off the coast off Auckland. It is one of New Zealand’s youngest islands, it’s only about a thousand years old. It is now a sanctuary for birds. It is almost completely free of pests and basically all the birds that live there are growing in numbers. We had a nice hike to the top of the volcano which offered some beautiful views, crawled through some caves and then we went back to the pier. We arrived when it was high tide so the pier didn’t seem that high, so we decided to jump off of it on our way back. However, when we got back it was low tide and the pier now rose about six-seven meters bove the water. So we decided to climb to a higher spot and spend an hour jumping in to the water from our makeshift ten meter high diving board.

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The view over Auckland from the island. Over a quarter of the people in New Zealand live in the frame of this picture.

Right now I’m packing my suitcase for a big weekend if traveling, so be prepared for next weeks post!

Week 6: Sunsets and Māori

We’re in New Zealand! After an amazing first half of the trip I’m ready to make this second part just as awesome! I am now the furthest away from home as I will be on this trip.
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Amsterdam is about half the world away.

After our arrival we went straight to a pizza dinner next to the pool in our accommodation in Auckland. In this wonderful lodge we are teamed up in groups of three and all share a room with kitchen and bathroom, it feels great to finally be able to cook again. Overall this place is awesome. After a quick and not so well calculated trip to the supermarket, we ended up with a few hundred dollars worth food.

On day two we had our Auckland scavenger hunt. We went into the city with some questions to get to know the place better. We walked through their marina, their most important shopping street and train station and had a brief workout break in a park. They have their own Space Needle here, called the Sky Tower. It’s slightly higher though.

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On Friday we were still getting settled. After another quick trip to the supermarket to get everything we had missed on our first $400 shopping trip, we went to the Auckland museum. This museum offered place to tons of old Māori artifacts and even a Puukenga, their temple. They also had some Maori people in employment who performed a Hakka, their traditional dance, for us museum goers. They also had an exhibition about Air New Zealand, the national airline, which we briefly visited. After leaving the museum we found that on a five minute walk away there were some botanical gardens. In these gardens we saw all kinds of unique New Zealand plants like the silver fern which might soon be visible on their new flag.
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Our destination on Saturday was Piha beach. This is a beautiful black sand beach in a great area. There are waterfalls within walking distance, there is this great rock you can climb, and the waves in the sea are great for surfing. We spent our afternoon their and unfortunately the lifeguards advised us people that had never done it before not to go surfing. I had a nice nap on the beach because the previous night had been kind of rough, while others went and visited the waterfall.

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Piha Beach

New Zealand, and mainly the area were we are, has lots of volcanos. This means there are tons of dormant and active volcano’s within driving range. On Sunday evening we went up to mount Eden, an old volcano. At the top you could only walk on the ridge because their was a huge crater in the center of the mountain. It wasn’t as dramatic as in the Lord of the Rings, with hot lava just flowing around, but it was still very impressive. We watched the sunset over Auckland from here, and it was a phenomenal sight. Watching the sun slowly drop behind the mountains while Auckland was slowly turning red in the sun’s light was an extremely pretty sight.
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Monday was supposed to be our first day of class. Since we are new students at Unitec, this meant that we had to be introduced to the Māori tribe that has their Puukenga on campus. We had a welcome ceremony which was almost completely in their language, complete with songs and all. We also had to sing our own song to them. We had chosen to sing “Strangers Like Me” by Phil Collins. They really liked it and we were happy that we hadn’t completely blown it. We were then taught about all the lore surrounding this one temple and also the stories of how the Māori arrived in New Zealand. It was great to get such an immersive introduction to their culture.
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The Puukenga from the outside

Today’s Tuesday, and as two friends and I have gotten a gym membership I’m quite worn out right now, so I’m heading in for the night. More next week!

Week 4: From oceans to mountains

The Thursday in week three was spent by visiting Bendigo. This is a fairly small town with lots of museums in it. We visited the Chinese museum and saw that a lot of Chinese had come to the country during the gold rush in the 1850s. After the Chinese museum, we visited the war museum with lots of World War artifacts and we also visited the botanical gardens. Overall it was a very pretty town and we learned more about the history of the country in general.

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The botanical gardens

On Saturday a large part of the group decided to go on the Great Ocean Road. This is a tour which was not in the programme, but was arranged through a backpacking agency. We spent the day in a tour bus driving past the twelve apostles, big rocks that have eroded from the mainland and stand as pinnacles in the ocean. We also walked through a rainforest with trees that were once used as prisons for convicts, we saw Koalas and Parrots in the wild and visited enormous beaches with no one on them. This trip was phenomenal and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting this area.

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The apostles

The next day some friends and I decided to go to the aquarium. They had very large tanks with sharks and rays and all kinds of fish in them. They also had a saltwater crocodile, one that can grow up to six meters (20ft) in length. We also saw some penguins that were trying to hatch their eggs, fish that spent their time jumping around on the land, seahorses that looked just like plants and fish that shot flies right out of the air.

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The crocodile

On Monday we had a biology field trip. First we went to Mount Donna Buang, which isn’t really a mountain but more of a glorified hill. We inspected the area for traces of wildlife and after getting bit by some leeches we decided it was time to hike down the mountain to the next spot. We spent the day visiting various types of (rain)forest and learning stuff about the trees and the wildlife.

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The view from a viewing tower on Mount Donna Buang.

In the afternoon we went to a chocolate factory which had some amazingly tasteful chocolate to offer. Sadly it was also fairly expensive. After dinner and some billiards we went back to the rainforest as it was getting dark. We were going to see gliders, creatures the size of a cat with flaps between their limbs which enables them to float from one treetop to another. We saw plenty of them and even saw a fairly rare specimen fly. We also found a nocturnal frog and saw some very large bats.

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The chocolate factory

Tuesday was Australia Day. This is a day to celebrate the arrival of the first settlers in Sydney Cove in 1788, but for most Australians this public holiday is just a nice excuse to go out and get drunk in public. We spent our time having fun on st Kilda beach and watching tennis on a big screen on federation square in the afternoon.
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On the beach on Australia Day

The rest of the week we watched some more movies and the weekend was mostly spent writing essays and going out in the evenings. I also visited a large BBQ festival in the middle of the city. Right now is our last day in Melbourne. I am packing my suitcase because tonight I am leaving for Cairns, the city right next to the Great Barrier Reef! More about that next week!

Week 2 & 3: Wildlife and museums

After an eventful first week, the second proved to be just as busy.

Tuesday afternoon we went to the Victorian Parliament. It was a beautiful colonial building with lits of influences from ancient Greece. We were taken on a tour through the building and got to see nearly everything. We were allowed to sit down in the chairs were the politicians usually debate. The tourguide was very helpful and knew nearly everything. For example, did you know that the gold decorations alone in the building had a value of over $AU2.5 million?
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The parliament from the front

Wednesday we had class in the morning and in the afternoon we went to the museum to see some Aboriginal art. We didn’t stay for too long, but we did get to see most of it.
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One of the displayed pieces

Thursday we started off by going to Healesville sanctuary, a place where people take wild animals that have been injured and where they will get healed. They have a big hospital, but also a zoo which allows people to not only see, but also to interact with the animals. If you so choose, you can purchase an extra ticket to, for example, pet a kangaroo or feed a dingo.

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Me petting a kangaroo with Danielle

Friday was fairly uneventful, but we did meet with Josh from the friendly backpacker. He is going to help us plan our trip in our week of, and this is when he showed us all the brochures with recommendations for things we should do or see. That night, a large part of the group set out to once again explore a bit more of Melbourne’s nightlife.

Saturday was spent playing some soccer and football and by writing my biology essay. Sunday I went to the beach with some friends.

Monday afternoon we did the golden mile. This is a tour through Melbourne which takes you to all the important museums and landmarks. We didn’t go in the museums, but now we at least know were they are. Most of the museums were old colonial buildings which blended in quite nicely with the modern skyscrapers.

Tuesday we went to cape Shanck. This is a national park were we explored the tidepools. These are small pools in rocks which overflow when the tide sets in but are easily explored when its low tide. There will then still be a lot of water left in the pools, making KT very easy to spot the wildlife in them. It made a very interesting scene.
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The tidepools on the right and a small island on the left.

After visiting the tidepools we went to bushranger bay. While hiking towards the beach, we spotted a few echidnas in the wild. The beach was lovely. It had soft, white sand and the sea was warm. There were nice, big waves on which we could bodysurf. We had lots of fun.

Wednesday was your typical study day. The morning and afternoon we spent in class, and after school I tried to work on my essays for a bit.

Right now it’s Thursday, and I’m in the train towards Bendigo, were we will visit several museums.

Week 1: Kangaroos and Beaches

It has now been exactly one week since the group and I have departed from SeaTac airport. After 3 more flights, we arrived in Australia at Thursday morning, Melbourne time. I was afraid my jetlag was going to be real bad, as I had visited 3 continents in just 2 days, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as expected. Apparently sleeping on the plane and having a few introductory drinks with your new friends really helps for getting over one. I think it took me a little less than 2 days to get over it.

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Newman college

In Australia we are staying at Newman College. It is a beautiful colonial monastery that includes a church, lots of bedrooms and a large dining hall. I was fortunate enough to get one of the smallest rooms. However, it is located on the third floor and has quite a spacious balcony which gives me a real nice view of the courtyard.

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The view from my balcony.

After getting used to both our group and the bedrooms in Thursday, the day offered a few more activities. The universities campus was shown to us as were a few shops and restaurants in the area. We were also introduced to Melbourne’s tram system, which is a lot like the ones found in the big cities in the Netherlands. It has proved to be a great way to get around the city.

Friday was another eventful day. We were sent on a scavenger hunt through the city of Melbourne. We were asked to find landmarks and take pictures with them. We also needed to answer some questions which required us interacting with the locals, as making use of the internet was forbidden. The group I was in was the only group that was able to find all landmarks and take pictures of them, although we did end up getting back around half an hour after the time they wanted us back.

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Federation square, one of the landmarks.

That evening, we did that what Aussies do best: we had a barbeque. It was a great way to get to know the group, and the food offered was delicious. This is when I had my first encounter with a kangaroo, nicely cut into a steak and between two buns. The meat is very lean and tasted a bit more salty than regular beef. I have yet to meet a living kangaroo, although I have a strong suspicion that is going to happen later this week. I have seen a few Possums and some very large bats though.

After that,  large part of the group, myself included, went out to experience Melbourne’s nightlife. One thing to note if you are ever planning on visiting nightclubs in Melbourne, is that alcoholic beverages are very expensive. Take for example a shot of tequila (10$Aud) or a glass of beer (5$Aud). Drinking here is an expensive hobby.

On Saturday, we were told to go see the beach. As we arrived there, it was a bit chilly and we decided that we were better off in the city. Three others and I decide to rent some bikes and explore the city that way. The city is very bike-friendly, however it does take some time to get used to driving on the left.

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Melbourne’s skyline as seen from a bicycle bridge.

Sunday three of us decided to go back to the beach and experience it while the temperature was a bit more forgiving (40°C/100°F). The beach is great, the water is warm and the people are very friendly

Monday is when the classes started. We didn’t really get a warm up day, we landed right in it. Tuesday was the same, and after going back to the beach in the afternoon and arriving too late for the movie shown that night, I am now writing this blog from the courtyard while getting stung by a few dozen musquitos.

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St. Kilda Beach.

More to follow!