Kia ora! (That’s your cue to repeat, “KIA ORA!”). In the Maori language, it means, literally, “good health,” but to the average Kiwi, it means hello, how are you, goodbye, peace, or “I acknowledge that you are alive.”
I just arrived into Dunedin, where I will be living for the next semester. Orientation was really great, and a lot happened, so I’ll give you an abbreviated, though still kind of long, version:
- The first day, I woke up at 6:15 and went for a run down Queen Street, the main street in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. It was raining and muggy out, but after that plane ride the previous day, I couldn’t wait to get out. Here are some things I noticed immediately about Auckland:
- Even though it is New Zealand’s most major city, there were still very few cars on the road at 7:00. There were a couple of walkers, and there were bikers, all of whom wore helmets. There was no honking. Cars drove on the wrong side of the road, and I am willing to bet you that if I die while I’m here, it will be because I’m looking the wrong way before I cross the street.
- There are a lot of American fast food restaurants. A lot. It’s sad to see that such a green, adventurous, healthy country is also home to all that is wrong with the States. However, I’m not going to complain that much because fast food restaurants are, so far, the only places I’ve found free wifi.
- You have to pay for internet use almost everywhere. I may be forced against my will to break my Facebook addiction.
- That day, we bussed from Auckland about 2.5 hours south, to Mata Mata, aka Hobbiton (it’s where scenes that take place in the Shire were filmed). As we got off the bus, it started to pour. Total soakage, it was awful. A couple girls and I braced ourselves to get wet as we took pictures with the Hobbiton sign and a statue of the Gollum, and then we ran inside to a sushi restaurant. What’s great about New Zealand is that the price you see is the price you pay; there is no extra tax on anything, and it is not customary to pay tip—anywhere.
- We then continued on to Rotorua, where we stayed for two nights. Rotorua is known for its sulfurish smell, which comes from the hot springs that are all over the town. While there, we sat under the stars in hot tubs fueled by the hot at a local Polynesian spa. We went to a kiwi bird reserve, where we walked through a nocturnal environment, where kiwis are raised until they are big enough to be set into the environment on their own. Because they are flightless birds and tend to freeze up when they sense danger, and because their beaks are long and delicate and not much good if they are getting attacked, they are endangered and in danger of being attacked until they reach a certain weight.
- In Rotorua, we also saw a farm show, where a man demonstrated how to sheer a sheep (Mom, you would have loved it—it was just like sheering Lucky, except this sheep cooperated!). There was a stage where the farmer introduced more than a dozen breeds of sheep and showed us how to milk a cow and how sheepdogs round up a group of animals (sheep and ducks). Before the show, we got to mingle with the sheep and baby lambs. I tried to pick one up, but he ran away when I tried, so I gave up a couple of tries later.
- We went to a park with geysers, where we learned the geology of the land surrounding the hot springs. It’s one of the five geyser parks in the world (along with Yellowstone, and those in Iceland, Russia, and Chile). Besides the geyser, we saw a couple of pools of “boiling” water, where the hot springs caused the water to bubble; a neon green pool, which was green because of the concentration of sulfur mixed in; a white terrace; and a couple of multicolored craters, which were colored because of the mineral content in the gas and liquids near by.
- Now imagine you are rolling down a hill in a giant hamster ball with two other people and some water inside. The plastic of the ball is translucent, so you can see general colors on the outside, but you can’t really see where you’re going. The door leading outside the ball is fastened, and you are told to push on the side of the ball facing down the hill. And then you fall. You and your two mates are at the mercy of the hill and the ball, and though you are upright the whole time, you fall on top of each other and can’t really change that. You laugh the entire way down. That is zorb balling, and it is fantastic.
- Then we went to a Maori village. Our bus driver was particularly notable; he told us “hello” in 63 different languages, each with an accurate accent. At the Maori village, we were greeted with a welcome performance. Then we walked through a narrow path into the forest. It was gorgeous. The trees were more than a hundred feet tall, and the birds, high in the canopies, were chirping. In the forest were little wooden Maori houses, where we were shown how they weave baskets, train for war, and build weapons. At one of the stations, a man taught us the basics of the Haka, the famous war dance a tribe would do before they went to battle. The Maori can make their eyes and tongues bulge far past where most people can put them, and if you’re not intimidated by that, you are made of stone. When we were done at the stations, everyone gathered into a wooden house, similar to the longhouses of the Native Americans, and the Maori performed a few songs and traditional dances for us, followed by the full Haka. While this was going on, they prepared dinner for us. There was lamb (of course), chicken, some kind of white fish with a light coconut sauce, and vegetables, and the bread was fantastic. We also ate traditional NZ sweat potatoes, called Kumara.
- I have not laughed so continuously as I did on the bus ride home. Remember the driver who spoke in 63 languages and 63 accents? He was back. On the ride home, he sang “traditional Maori songs” like The Wheels on the Bus… except at one point, he went, “The driver on the bus has no license, no license, no license. The driver on the bus has no license, thought I’d just slip that in!” He honked his horn to the tune of the song and we bounced up and down when he said, “the people on the bus go up and down…. ”And as he sang a part about going in circles, we entered a roundabout, where he took us in circles and circles and circles around it. By the end of the trip, he was all of our hero.
General observations: THIS PLACE IS SO [environmentally and physically] GREEN! Seriously. In the supermarket, they charge you 10c extra for a plastic bag; heaps of people bike (that’s the Kiwi way to say “lots of”); the toilets have two flushing options: one for less water, and one for more water; some guy at the hotel asked our bus driver to turn off the bus while the driver was loading our luggage into the bottom—they don’t idle here!; houses are generally smaller, and it seems like material goods just aren’t that important to people here—I have a feeling it’s because they spend more time outside and less time behind their televisions than the average American; and it’s really only tourists who drink bottled water. The butter is bright yellow because all the farm animals are grass-fed, and the carotin in the grass makes yellow butter. There are switches next to the outlets so you can turn them off when you’re not using them. There is no nuclear power anywhere in the country, but it does run on a bit of geothermal power. Furthermore, there is very little pollution (noise, sound, and litter).
Anyway, I have to run… gotta start unpacking before I meet my group or a tour of the school. I’m in a rush, so I haven’t read this over for typos or grammatical faux pas, either… don’t judge!! But I’ll fix it and update you with more and with photos later!