A dissection and a trip to Oz!

As ever, the last few weeks in New Zealand have been as exciting and varied as the rest. I recently experienced the best lab of my undergraduate degree. A whale and a dolphin had sadly stranded on 2 nearby beaches, and were already dead by the time members of the public discovered them. The co-ordinator of my Biology and Behaviour of Marine Vertebrates paper amazingly organised for the class to not only witness, but also to assist, in the dissection and post-mortem of these 2 magnificent but unfortunate creatures! It was a real honour to be in the presence of these marine mammals and learn first-hand about how they have adapted to an underwater lifestyle.

I’ve also been horse-trekking and ice-skating, yet there are still so many things I haven’t done like visit the Cadbury Factory, climb Mount Cook, eaten at Fleur’s restaurant, skydived in Queenstown, visited the volcano, caves and glow worms at Rotorua… still, they’re all excuses for me to come back one day (as if the stunning scenery and relaxed lifestyle wasn’t enough!).

Oh also… I passed my driving test here in New Zealand where there are less people, the roads are quieter and it’s cheaper to do! And my NZ license can simply be exchanged for a UK license on my return!

I visited my distant relatives, Neatta and Jim, in Perth, Western Australia. They’re in their 70’s and have lived in Perth for 33 years, but it’s like they’ve never really left Scotland. Their accents are so strong that I found myself reverting back to my old slang Scottish tongue with a vengeance after almost 12 months or trying to speak clearly to other international students! We had a flutter at the Burswood Entertainment Complex which houses a 24 hour casino (Perth is not somewhere to go if you’re on a student budget, it’s a very affluent city (and a beautiful one) – luckily I didn’t realise this until it was too late and I was already there!).

From Perth, I took a coach tour up North and fulfilled my dream of making a pilgrimage to the stromatolites in Shark Bay (living structures created by one of the earliest forms of life on the planet, and in the universe!). They are said to be around 3500 million years old and are the simplest life forms to use photosynthesis to provide food and oxygen. They provided the early Earth with most of its oxygen atmosphere billions of years before plants appeared. I must admit, I took a quiet moment to thank the stromatolites, for it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today! Yes, I know what you are thinking…!

The trip also included a visit to the famous friendly dolphins at Monkey Mia. They have been coming right up to the shore for many years, they are fed a minimal amount of fish (which is closely regulated by the Department of Environment and Conservation) so that they must also go and forage in the wild to find enough fuel to survive. The seasonal volunteers that prepare the buckets of fish hand pick a limited number of individuals to offer a fish to one of the dolphins by hand. How thrilled was I to be one of them!?

But all good things must come to an end. I have just sat the worst 2 exams of my life and am officially broke. I’m seriously considering  being paid $1000 to be a hairdresser’s model for a complete head shave!!! I think I could cope with wearing a wig or a bandana for a while….

Wrapping up time

It’s almost time to wrap up, both with more clothes as it comes into winter in New Zealand once again, as it was when I arrived 11 months ago, but it’s also time to start wrapping up my study abroad year 😦

The past several weeks have been jam-packed. I danced at the Ceroc South Island Champs 2010, got through the heats and made it into the finals to perform in the filmed evening performance compered by Dancing With The Stars host, Aaron Gilmore. The following weekend I visited another Glasgow Uni exchange student that got a place in Auckland in the North Island and did a bus tour to the historic towns of Paihia and Russell (first capital of NZ) in the Bay of Islands. the bus tour took us to the most northern point of New Zealand which offered plenty of photo opportunities next to a lighthouse and a signpost with distances to the equator and various cities around the world while the Tasman Sea collided with the Pacific Ocean at the bottom of the cliff creating unique whirlpools and breaking waves in the middle of the ocean. I also swam with dolphins here which was amazing, sampled the best fish and chips in NZ and sand-boarded down giant sand-dunes – that was a lot of fun, but it was over way too quickly for the amount of time and effort it took to climb to the top of the dune! And the weekend just past it was my birthday, so I celebrated it in true Kiwi style by going on a tramping trip with the Otago Uni Tramping Club. That was another really great weekend. I visited Milford Sound, climbed a mountain, camped under the stars, swam in an alpine lake, gazed into crystal clear water from a swing bridge, got showered by the spray from a giant waterfall, enjoyed amazing scenery and weather and experienced rugged Fiordland at it’s best! Every muscle in my body now aches, but it was worth it!

In 3 weeks, classes will have finished and I’ll be on my way to Perth in Australia to visit relatives. Then I come back for a brief spell to sit my exams, then head to Asia for 2 months before coming home. What a year it’s been so far, but it’s not quite over yet… I wish it didn’t have to end at all!

Dancing for New Zealand!

Since I last wrote, I’ve become addicted to a style of dancing called Ceroc (mixture of modern jive with a bit of salsa and ballroom thrown in) since joining a beginner’s class run by the student association here at Otago Uni. This Saturday, I will be COMPETING in the South Island Ceroc Champs competition in the beginner’s section!!! Got dress, got shoes, got sparkly jewellery… got the moves? Hmmm, now there’s a question!!! I’ve only been learning for 6 weeks but  I thought why the hell not enter and make the most of this amazing opportunity?! The Champs run once every 2 years, and this is only the second one, plus it’s being held in Dunedin this year. I thought it would be a lot of fun, and something to remember my time here by as the whole event is being filmed, but I am soooo nervous now!

Apart from dancing I haven’t done anything exciting really because I have a trip planned to visit the Bay of Islands (beautiful part of NZ in the North of the North Island) in 2 weeks and will also be visiting some relatives in Perth, Australia, during the “study period” so I’m saving up all my spare cash for those trips and for my 2-month back-packing tour of South East Asia on my way home. It’s a common perception that Australia is close to New Zealand, but my flight to Perth will take about 16 hours! I’m hoping to visit the stromatolites in Shark Bay, see some native snakes and swim with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, while I’m there 🙂

May is a busy month. I have my driving test to get a full license and will also celebrate my 28th birthday in New Zealand. How weird – I’d never have imagined it 18 months ago! Can’t believe there’s only 2 months of this exchange year left. I try not to think about it, it’s been the best year of my life without a doubt! I haven’t done half the things I’ve wanted to do, even though I’ve done so much! But it’s good to know I have a reason to come back!

Semester 2 Begins

An update from me is long overdue so here it is!

After volunteering for 2 weeks on Anchor Island, Fiordland for the Kakapo Recovery Programme, I then flew by light aircraft to Codfish Island to do 2 more weeks there, home of the legendary Sirocco. I feel honoured to bear scars on my legs from when he tried to mate with me!

I came back to Dunedin in january, suffered severe culture shock being back in a town with people and cars! Dunedin was quiet at first but then the students started coming back.

Great to get back to studying again. This semester I’m doing a whopping 5 papers, so it’s intense with lots of internal assessments, but really loving it, I love my department and the staff in my department. I’m going to a zoology orientation drinks & pub quiz evening tomorrow night which will be fun. I joined the tramping (hiking) club and have done a couple of short trips to enjoy the great New Zealand outdoors. Tonight we had high tea and scones on the top of a hill. I’ve also started learning to dance Ceroc, which I’ve become totally addicted to. It’s a wonder any work actually gets done by the students here at Otago Uni because there is truly too many cool things happening on every single night of the week!

It’s only week 4 of semester 2 and already the mid-semester break is almost upon us. I was going to spend it packing and studying, but now I’m thinking I should travel and make the most of what little time I have left here in this beautiful country. I’ve yet to visit the North Island, and may try to arrange to visit some relatives in Perth, Australia.

Will try and post some photos up soon 🙂

Day 13 on Anchor Island. 5th January 2010. Leaving :-(

I’m not myself today. Working for the Kakapo Recovery Programme and living on Anchor Island has gotten under my skin and I’m sad to be leaving. Steve braved torrential morning rain to change Hauturu’s hoppers, and took a shortcut back through the track I got lost on. Tim was busy cleaning hut from top to bottom. I tried to be useful but found the best way to do this was by keeping out of the way, reading and occasionally making the odd round of tea for everyone. Jonathon came in his helicopter and dropped off Chris and his partner, the next set of Anchorians taking over from us. Chris’ partner reminded me of me when I first arrived just 13 days ago, wide-eyed and excited and not tired and exhausted at all yet! It was really nice to see and I hope she will love her time here as much as I have. Then Jonathon collected deer hunter Allan and his tracker dog Nog from Resolution Island (they were coming over to help try and locate mystery missing female kakapo, Hauturu). Didn’t have to introduce myself.  “Are you Laura?”, he asked. I guess they also got to know me through our use of the same radio channel to communicate with our fellow islanders. Nice, brief exchange of pleasantries before we went off on our way. Weather had cleared for a calm ride in helicopter over the sounds, calmer than what it was flying over. Back to civilisation on dry land and we dropped off the hut rubbish and recycling at the largest DOC office in the country in Te Anau (Fiordland is the largest national park in NZ).

Checked into LakeView Holiday Park where I was staying the night, settled in, did some shopping. Weird having to pay money for things again like food and not being able to just walk into the well-stocked pantry and take something. Also weird walking on flat pavements again! Met up with Christine, her partner, Sanjay (DOC workers), and Steve and Tim for drinks at Redcliff Cafe, had 3 beers and was tipsy! Hugged Steve and Tim goodbye. It’s been an awesome 2 weeks. Didn’t go straight back to Holiday Park, sat by Lake Te Anau reflecting on the past 2 weeks. Felt a bit melancholy and wistful. Boots are damp and really starting to smell. Bus at 7am tomorrow to Invercargill. Was supposed to fly to Codfish tomorrow but weather has forced the flight to be delayed by one day, so a free day in Invercargill tomorrow. Will visit tuatara at the Southland Museum, take boots back to Kathmandu, and RELAX!

Day 12 on Anchor Island. 4th January 2010. Last day on Anchor. Visited Luncheon Cove – Site of 1st European House in New Zealand.

Did the feedout run for JEM for the last time and scribed while Tim climbed trees to count seeds and fruiting tips on yellow silver pine (to get indication of seeding rates – prediction of kakapo breeding for future years). Steve changed Rooster’s hopper and joined u in counting seeds. Rooster turned up while Steve was changing his hopper. Jealous! Haven’t seen him for a few days now, but that’s a good thing. Noticed that finally Kathmandu boots have split after almost 2 weeks of merciless tramping on Anchor Island – they’re only 2 weeks old! Plan to take them back to the Invercargill shop when I get there on the 6th. Fly off island tomorrow (5th) around 1pm-ish, weather-dependent. Too rainy/windy and we might have to spend an extra day in the hut on Anchor. Stay in backpackers in Te Anau for the night, then early bus at 7am the next day to Invercargill, where I am supposed board a light plane at 10.30am to Codfish but weather not looking too good. Might have to stay in backpackers in Invercargill overnight. Finished reading ‘Fiordland Explored’ by John Hall-Jones. Also today in bush Tim and I stopped at Luncheon Cove – site of 1st European house in NZ, where the first sealers lived and the first ship-building took place. Quite a poignant moment, and was really hard to imagine the little cove overgrown with dense native bush as the original hub of life in New Zealand. Now there’s nothing left of the 1st European house, except the space where it once stood. It a great contrast to New Zealand civilisation as it is known now. Visiting this historic site that not many people get to see has really added a new dimension to my exchange year in New Zealand – I love learning about the cultures and practices gone by of this amazing land.

Day 11 on Anchor Island. 3rd January 2010. Feedout-free day.

No feedout of jobs to do today, weather was bad anyway so it was a welcome day in the hut . We drank lots of tea and and had an 80’s and 90’s music day, Steve on computer doing admin, Tim and I on seed count duty (important for estimating likelihood of a successful breeding season amongst the kakapo from year to year, which depends on abundance of certain types of vegetation). Made tuna pasta bake with vegetables for dinner then went for a stroll just 5/10 minutes from the hut to a ‘secret’ rock beach where the boat is kept, tasted some seaweed (Neptune’s Necklace and other types of seaweed after watching a short documentary, Sea Vegetables, produced by the University of Otago’s Science Communication department, the night before). Blew the cobwebs away after spending all day indoors, stretched legs, came back, showered, grated some carrots so Steve could make carrot cake, and watched When We Were Kings, a documentary film about Muhammed Ali and the Rumble in the Jungle.