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Friday, October 16, 2009

Going Native

I forgot to tell you all about my experience post-busting my butt on Mount Taranaki! (From blog post: The Big One)
Remember my 3 hour hike down Mount Taranaki, and my butt-busting experience on the rock? After I got down off the volcano, I drove 2 hours south to Wanganui to stay in a great YHA hostel there for the night, and have a Sunday on the Whanganui River (“wh” is pronounced “f” like “ph”). First person I see? The same gal that I shared a room with the previous night outside Taranaki, and we are sharing a room again! (love this small country!) Turns out she is a transplanted doctor from Pakistan that has been in England and Ireland for the past 6 years, and now practicing in NZ. We are also sharing a room with another woman, whom we’ll call “Sue”. Sue is a very tall New Zealand native with a curious nighttime ritual.
The night winds down as the three of us chat on about our weekend adventures and other NZ plans. During this, Sue has prepped us for her middle of the night ritual, and has placed a banana and box of raisins next to her bed.

Sue:           “I used to eat chuppies and biccies, but now I try to eat something healthier…”
Jessie:        HUH? (trying to stiffle language confusion)
                   Um, what are “chuppies and biccies”?? Wait, What? What are you eating?
Sue:           Ohhh… It must be my accent. Chippies and biccies…
                  (Translation = chips and cookies)
Jessie:       When?
Sue:           Ohhh, sometime during the night.
Jessie:       Whaaaaaat?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Leaving the Kiwis… Gimme the Aussies!

I’ve decided that being back in classes at Georgia Tech (all summer, now Fall semester) definitely does not encourage much in the way of extracurricular writing. GT? Go figure! Ha!!

The last of New Zealand (in and around Wellington):

Who rises at 5:30am to go see, smell, taste and photograph raw fish, crustaceans and bugs? I do! I do!
The Sydney Fish Market Tour adventure included donning bright orange reflective vests reminiscent of roadside workers…
First stop on the tour…learning about fish markets, fish mongers, fish, Dutch auctions, fish, cold slurries, more fish… In brief, the industry was deregulated about 50 years ago, and thanks to Sydneysiders preference and love from fresh fish, the Market has grown and grown! The SFM ranks as the second largest in the world, only outsold in volume by the Tokyo fish market. This, however, seems close in size by statistics, but the Tokyo market sells in two weeks what Sydney sells in one year. WOW! Interesting point, however--- the SFM uses a silent reverse (Dutch) auction that allows about 1,000 sales / hour versus the Tokyo fish market still uses traditional voice auctioning and is limited to around 200 sales / hour. Imagine the Tokyo possibilities.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Big One

With only two weeks left in New Zealand, and I decided to go for broke: Mount Taranaki.. I planned on getting to the summit of that beast. Have you seen The Last Samurai? This is the volcano used in that film. It is truly a beast at 8,260 feet to the summit!

The week prior 7 guys from my program also made the summit their goal, all physically fit, but half way through two had to turn back at the half-way point. It is a 7-8 hour total return climb for a fit hiker, and you need every bit of light that you can scavenge. Mount Taranaki, aka Egmont, is the most fatal mountain in New Zealand; many of these deaths occur due to unprepared hikers and quick (alpine) weather changes.

I arrived at the parking lot base early that Saturday morning with lots of winter-ready clothes, food and water in my pack. I took one step out of the car, and realized that half of my clothes needed to get put on immediately! No layers were shed the entire hike up until I stood atop the summit and smiled for the camera!

The beginning of 1000s of stairs!
After a steep but relatively flat 1.5 hour 5000 feet climb from the carpark, you reach an overnight hikers lodge. After you leave the lodge (nice rest stop and views across the country), you hit a series of steps. The steps, at least on the downhill, are a welcome (structured) addition to the climb. There are about a million steps, but hey, who’s counting? After all the million steps, you are at decision point. You hit about 2200 feet of scoria (“scree”); this is the point that the 2 guys earlier had to call it quits. Scree--> Think pumice stone (also volcanic formed), but slightly heavier. Now picture 2200 feet of this stuff, all shapes and sizes from the size of a dime to half dollar, all layed out on a 35 degree climb up it. Basically, “one step forward, two steps back” is the trend, so you can either try to take lots of steps quickly to lose less in the end (quickly tiring), or take one step, try your best to plant that foot, and swing the other foot up the incline. Repeat a thousand times, give or take a hundred.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Halloween, Rugby Style

(As some of you may know, I have made my way back to the States, and am back in Atlanta now. I will continue to send out these fun stories and pictures (slow and steady wins the race), but just let me know if you’d like off the list!)

Let’s get to it!
Fact: Kiwis (i.e. New Zealanders) do not celebrate Halloween.


Walking to a cricket match in Wellington . See three bananas standing on a balcony, one of them eating a banana. Chiquita banana lady close by.
Watching cricket match. Twin Jesus’ pass by me in the stands, big smiles on their faces. Mario & Luigi were right behind them, bouncing like balls.
Eating dinner at an outside café, and at least a dozen hot pink flamingoes pass me by.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

From Middle Earth to Mount Doom

Growing up I had an impression that volcanoes were dangerous locations containing enormously deep craters at the top in which a person could disappear whole. They were unpredictable and could swallow a person on a whim. Volcanoes were NOT something that you purposefully sought out.
Ski lifts to the top of Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom!)
Toss all of that out the window! The entire Georgia Tech students and faculty of the Pacific program headed to the Taupo Volcanic Zone, which (technically) lists 22 volcanoes in the region!!! 50+ persons later and we had all taken a few ski lifts to the top of an active volcano, Mount Ruapehu, which erupted as recently as last year. Who in their right mind does this?

An impromptu classroom!
  Well it turns out that volcanoes are not such menacing creatures that I had invented. The next day I even purposefully hiked a few including – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – billed as the best one-day hike in all of New Zealand, and listed as one of the Top 10 one-day hikes in the world. Simply amazing, a 19km hike that with 2 million years of volcanism below foot, passing by some of the most spectacular sights and glowing cones all around. This hike, friends, explains why Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand. Some of the formations, colors and scenery looks like it came straight out of a movie. Or some other alien planet! I saw Emerald Lakes that possessed the color of brilliant (manmade bright!) emeralds! And craters so deep and colored by red that only a 64 box of crayons could have made the hue so rich.

Hiking down the scree with Mount Tongariro and the Blue Lake in the background

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Marine Lover’s Paradise

Wellington --> Picton --> Queen Charlotte Sounds --> Kaikoura --> Blenheim --> Wellington

Second weekend in New Zealand gave me a chance to reach exploration adventures of mammoth proportions! By mammoth I mean a heart the size of a VW Beetle, and hiking tracks that go on for days and days. However with the term “weekend”, only sampling size proportions were possible. Oh well.

Queen Charlotte Sounds
First stop: Queen Charlotte Track in the northern sounds of the South Island. The entire track is 70 kms or so, usually done in 4 days. I tackled 15 kilometers (around 9 miles. Uphill. Both ways.) , and threw in the proverbial towel. I’d have to say that this was really my first big “hike”, so there were lots of new experiences… Packing all my food on back. Packing weather-change clothes. Eating for necessity every hour, drinking more frequently (all in, no out!). But long-haul hiking virgin, I am no longer!! Man it was awesome. Step one, Queen Charlotte Track. Step two, the entire Appalachian Trail! Yeah right.

15 kms down, and one beautiful coastal drive to go! Destination: Kaikoura, New Zealand
Dusky dolphins (smaller than the common or bottlenose)
This drive was one of the most scenic and gorgeous drives I have ever observed, and I hope you might someday have the opportunity to see this as well. I literally had difficulty not pulling the car off the road every 15 minutes. This town’s tourism is really the only reason I planned this trip though – the drive was simply a bonus. The tourism industry? Marine, marine, marine! Whale watching (yes, I paid the exorbitantly overpriced tourist rates), dolphin swimming (skipped this one, but was on the verge), hiking (another fur seal colony!), coastal relaxation, cold brews (definitely), just bliss.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Three Lighthouse Weekend

Who knew New Zealand and Australia would be so busy? As the sole TA for 45 study abroad students, plus designing and teaching two 3.5 hour biology labs every week, I have been busy trying to cram in personal time. Have no fear, I have made plans for weekends on the North and South Island galore!
After the beauty of the gannets, then the soothing Art Deco town of Napier, I wandered to a NZ brewery! TUI is kind of like the Miller of the US, complete with lots of funny advertisements in the form of “yeah right” slogans on everything from billboards to buses:

Summer is more than just beers, BBQ’s and bikinis. Yeah right.
I was reading her t-shirt. Yeah right.
I want to hear all about your day. Yeah right.
I’m really keen to see your mother again. Yeah right.
Beer doesn’t really go with that. Yeah right.
It’s getting too cold for beer. Yeah right.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This is just the beginning!

My first weekend in New Zealand I found myself with a rental car cruising the North Island. You have already had the pleasure of reading the many farces and many first (unnatural) moments of left-side driving (PS- The steering wheel is on the right side too...) with curbs hopped and windshield wipers turned on every 5 minutes. Silly, exhausting, and SO well worth it.

View from on the trailor
Friday morning I drove like lightning from Wellington to Cape Kidnappers (rental car company “forgot” to pick me up Friday morning!) to see the world’s largest gannet colony (it is a bird, by the way). I arrived just in the nick of time to catch my tractor trailor coastal tour along the South Pacific. An hour and a half tractor and trailor pull down the Cape Kidnappers coastline yielded a several “get out and walk” moments to lighten the load as we got massively stuck between rocks and sand (and birdshit). I'd like to think this was the fault of the drivers, and not the overindulgence of any passengers...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stay Left, Look Right

Here is the summary of my first 3-day driving adventure on the opposite side of the road:

(Number of times…)

2: Honked at and/or flipped off for driving slow in the fast lane. They are switched.
3: Turned into the wrong lane. Obviously switched.
3: Curbs hopped. Oops!
4: Attempts to get in on the passenger side of the car to drive.
25 or more: Turned on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker. Switched too.
Every single time: Reached with left hand to put on seat belt. Came up empty every time.

I don’t know how many of you have had this joyous experience, but it is one that leaves you very uncertain at all turns. And there is always the extremely menacing feeling of a car traveling directly at you in your lane, but it is actually in the correct “right” lane. Oh man.

Now I just look left and right at least 5 times before turning or even crossing...

Picture below was written on the blackboard by the program director to the students (and staff!) for their first weekend away. By the end of the day it had been partially erased, resulting in my (mock) motto for the Pacific!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Book of Kiwi

And so I have begun my trip to the other side of the world in the wonderful South Pacific!

There is a saying amongst New Zealanders of their country: “God’s own.” It only took me about one week before I was sure of my thoughts on that reference: Yep, I agree. My first thoughts upon stepping off the plane in Wellington were (after thinking I would need about 5 more coffees to make it through the time difference…), “Oh man, pinch me again!” I have stopped pinching myself and have fully settled in to the luscious surroundings and relaxed culture. I am getting used to this in a hurry.

New Zealand is a small country made up of 2 islands, which they have skillfully named the North Island and South Island. I am living in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, located at the southern tip of the North Island. Wellington has a very special climate in the world; it is pretty much the first city that interferes with the winds blowing off from the Antarctic. Yes. Special indeed. And chilly, particularly by the summer season!

No worries, I have managed a weekend trip or two in shorts and tank tops, reappearing with pink cheeks!  Summertime in the southern hemisphere – this is awesome.

All of my previous moves overseas have involved foreign languages, so this English-speaking land is a delight. One small snag though… I have this association of “foreign country = foreign language,” which in the past has predominantly been French. To my delight I find I am transcribing my thoughts and phrases into French. Every time someone answers a phone, I expect to hear, “Bonjour!,” and I read and french pronounce random words to myself. HA! Not so much… However, there is a strong presence of the founding tribes of New Zealand, the Maori, and the culture is strong and present here, not stifled as in so many lands, including the US. I am learning much more than just the European-based Kiwi society.

Lake Hawea
My work here is much busier than I had predicted, but I do have 3-day weekends. every. single. weekend. hot damn! Basically I put in ~45 hours per week in 4 days, then take off for 3 days and leave it all behind, exploring all the nooks and crannies of NZ by foot, boat, car, ferry… Right now it is a busy and lovely way to live!
Lake Matheson and Mount Cook
I have more pictures for you all than I can organize currently, but expect wildlife and beautiful scenery soon!
A short “PS” to thank all of those that helped me move out of Atlanta, which was a huge feat: Mom, Rob S, Mike R, Bruno F, Michael McD. I could not have done it without you guys, mentally or physically.