Rotorua: the smelly city

As our time in New Zealand is gradually drawing to an end, Jake and I wanted to make Rotorua one of our last destinations.  When we planned out the trip, Brittany, Tom, and Christy decided to come along with us to see what “Roto-vegas” was all about!


A path through a hot-lake. The water was jacuzzi-temperature and teeming with colorful bacteria.

Rotorua is a smelly city.  But that is the city’s history – it’s character.  Rotorua grew from within the rim of an ancient volcano, situated near a large lake and a river.  On the surface, Rotorua is no different than any other city in New Zealand, but under it’s skin the city sits on top of active plates of the earth’s crust that produce extreme heat which escapes in the city’s many geysers, mud pools, and hot springs and lakes.  Some of these hot springs boil at over 200 degrees Celsius.  The boiling water and mud nurtured a unique life style for the Maori who lived in Rotorua.  Maori people used the natural hot water and steam to cook food, wash clothes, and many other things.  As the Pakeha came from around the world, Rotorua’s hot springs earned the reputation of being “healing,” and the old pink-and-white terraces were a must-see sight.  A huge castle of a bathhouse was built to offer all suffering first-class citizens the healing and therapy the Rotorua hot springs could offer (complete with electric-shock therapy during your bath…).  Thus, Rotorua became a world famous tourist destination centuries ago.

A devastating earthquake took the pink-and-white terraces away, but Rotorua still attacks tons of tourists every year.  Hot spring spas are still one of the major tourist activities offered.  And Rotorua still has a proud and prominent Maori population, who offer the public hand carved crafts, authentic meals, dances and chant-performances, and tours of old-time Maori villages.

ImageOur trip started off with dinner at a lovely wee bar called the “Kurious Kiwi.”  It was actually a very nice place…a little nicer than our wallets were anticipating.  The food was delicious, and we all sampled a “Green Kiwi” drink and a Baileys ice cream drink – both super good.  Our hostel was called “Cactus Jacks,” and was everything you could hope from a place with a name like that.  I wish I took pictures – it stuck out like a sore thumb, with it’s bright yellow pueblo-style front and a garden of oversized cactuses.  Inside, the halls were shaped kind of like a “U” with a courtyard in the middle.  The courtyard had over hangs, benches, Southwestern-style signs and everything.  It was awesome.


That little bird is a Pukeko! I got better pictures of the Pukekos (they were everywhere) but I liked the steaming background of this picture.

After a loud and restless night full of strange, randomly undressing Asian girls and drunken hostel guests we went to park in the middle of Roterura to see the hot springs and mud pools.  The park was full of sporadic fenced areas to protect people from falling into hot pools or walking on unstable ground.  Some of these areas were very small, with only a barrel-sized hot pool, but others were very big.  Very stinky, very cool.


Go ahead. Try not to laugh.

We even found a cute little kitty that was probably retarded…he was cross-eyed and his nose was smooched at a funny angle.  He also didn’t walk right; he hopped everywhere.  And he fell in a hot pool – but he was ok.  Special kitty.

ImageOur next stop was a colonial-era Maori village.  The village was beautiful; it only consisted of a church, a meeting-house, a restaurant/other purpose building, and a few other small buildings.  Everything was a burnt red color and a creamy white color.  Everything was intricately carved.  There was a fishing canoe as well, which was also carved in a very traditional manner.  We went inside the church, which turned out to be a small one-room building.  The interior was absolutely stunning, just beautiful artwork and carvings from floor to ceiling, and a back window with an amazing view.  Unfortunately no photography was allowed, out of respect.

ImageThe last tourist stop of the day for us was the Rotorura museum.  The museum was inside the building that was once the world-famous bathhouse.  It was here we learned about the history of Roterua, and learned about the history of the Maori tribes who occupied (and still do occupy) the Rotorua area.  Everything from the first Maori sailing over to Aoteoroa (Maori word for New Zealand) in canoes from their ancestral land of Hawaiki, to Maori in WWII, to modern-day Maori was described in the museum exhibits.

Because we happened to be in Rotorura during the Queen’s Birthday holiday, we caught the “Blues and Jazz Festival.”  Downtown Roturura was bustling in the evening, and we stopped by a couple places and listed to some blues and jazz.  Ended the trip on right note!


I thought I’d throw in a picture of some nice, boiling mud

Well I’m sad to say that my adventures in New Zealand are coming to an end fast.  It’s hard to believe that I only have 21 days left here.  And worse, I’ll be preparing for finals during those 21 days, not traveling.  But on the bright side, I’ve seen a lot of New Zealand, met some awesome people, and gotten in the habit of starting sentences off with “yea nah.”  I’ve also picked out some sweet-as gifts for my folks back home (including the cutest baby sweater EVER for Jessi and Edgar’s little boy, don’t tell them).  I’ve put together a recipe book full of all the tasty things I’ve learned to make while I’ve been over here.  Aaaand, since a college girl’s life wouldn’t be complete without Pintrest crafts, I’ll be putting together a travel scrapbook with all of the pictures, pamphlets, ticket stubs, beer bottle caps and other random memorabilia I’ve collected when I get back to the states.  But I’ve still got a few weeks left in this beautiful country, so check back in for a couple more blog posts in the weeks to come!


That’s right, it’s fall-time here!

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A Little While in Wellington

Wellington, the windy city, Kia Ora!  This last weekend I and most of the folks at Atawhai went on a two-day trip to New Zealand’s capital city.  The school sponsored part of the trip was a day-trip that included a museum trip, shopping stop, view point, the Weta cave, fish ‘n chips at a war memorial, and tour and show at an observatory.  And the unplanned part of the trip…well!

Hurricanes vs the Chiefs

Hurricanes vs the Chiefs

Seven of us skipped our afternoon classes to catch the 2:35 bus to Wellington.  Our friend Tim has lived in Wellington for some time now, and knows the city.  Wellington had Friday evening Rugby game (Hurricanes v.s. The Chiefs) that we saw after finding a delicious Chinese restaurant.  The Chiefs kicked our butt, but that’s ok.  It was probably the rain’s fault anyway.

Afterwards we went downtown to explore Wellington’s night life.  Tim used to work (and possibly manage) a bar called Mishmosh, so after hopping around to a couple other places we headed to Tim’s bar.  Tim literally knew the town, it seemed like every other bar we passed he stopped to chat and laugh with the bouncers or passer-bys.  But Mishmosh was the place to be!

Chilling at Mishmosh

Chilling at Mishmosh

The bar was full, but not insufferably packed.  It smelled vaguely of cinnamon, and had tasteful décor.  The wall opposite the main entrance sported a large plaque saying, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”  There were three bars in the one bar.  The basement was called the “Madame Peacock room” and had pictures of vintage swimsuit models framed in chunky frames all over the walls.

At the end of the night we all headed over to the local Burgerfuel for a midnight snack, and then made our way back to the hostel.

The hostel was interesting.  The whole place was pretty smelly and dirty and someone dropped a sheet-full of puke outside my room.  I was in a 4 person bunk room with Jake and 2 random guys.  One of the guys slept as peacefully as dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant (to quote Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation).  He was the loudest snoring, German sleep-talking, bunk shaking, fidgety person I’ve ever met in my whole life.  And the room next to me had a loud quarrel in the middle of the night because someone had taken someone else’s bed…

Cuba street in Wellington.  Fidel's is on this street.

Cuba street in Wellington. Fidel’s is on this street.

Anyway, Saturday started off at 8am when we all headed out to search for “Fidel’s,” a Cuban café that Tim raved about.  Fidel’s was a super cute, super hipster café with really good coffee, tasty breakfasts, and jaw-dropping Snickers shakes.

We met up with the rest of the group at the Te Papa New Zealand Museum.  We only had and hour and a half to spend at the 5-story museum.  If I get to go back to Wellington, that would be my number 1 stop.  It was so cool!  And we missed so much rushing through it.

A Maori carved meeting house.  The inside was stunning, but photography was prohibited.

A Maori carved meeting house. The inside was stunning, but photography was prohibited.

We did get to go into an authentic Maori meeting house, take a look at the Treaty of Waitangi, and get a glimpse of preserved kiwis, giant squids (bigger than the Smithsonian’s squid), fossils, tree rings thousands of years old, and some of New Zealands most famous birds.

We later moved on to shop and eat on Cuba street, and view Wellington from a hill-top view point.  Next stop…Weta workshop!

The creature Gollum arguably was the one who made Weta famous

The creature Gollum arguably was the one who made Weta famous

I previously only knew about Weta from Lord of the Rings, and I had thought they were strictly a prop-making company.  I had so much to learn.  Weta was a company started in the 80’s in the back room of a 20-something couple’s flat in Wellington.  They did freelance work for random drama companies and whatnot until the young Peter Jackson stopped by their place because he heard they made cool puppets.  From then on their company grew and grew, and they’ve worked on hundreds of movies – everything from cheesy no-name movies to LOTR, Avatar, King Kong, The Avengers, I Robot, and more.  The Weta cave is a mini museum about 0.5k away from Peter Jackson’s house.  They museum is designed to give eager fans a glimpse of what Weta does without interfering with their work or giving away the secrets of movies-in-process.

Lastly, after some fish ‘n chips, we headed to the Wellington observatory.  The observatory was pretty neat, and a little informative.  One thing you’ll learn in New Zealand: The first thing kiwi’s do with everything – news stories on TV, museums, books, whatever – is find fellow kiwis who had a part in it and let you know about it.  For example, when the Boston bombing aired on kiwi news for the first time, the first thing they did was talk about the 2 kiwi runners who were there and find one in the crowd to interview him.  The observatory was the same.  Granted, New Zealand southern skies are a stunning site and unique in many ways.  And New Zealand scientists have had an impressionable impact on astronomy and physics.  The show we watched in that big domed room was pretty cool as well, a little show called “We are Aliens.”

Murals abounded in Wellington, some of them were very intricate

Murals abounded in Wellington, some of them were very intricate

Jake and I are planning on going back to Wellington, two days was not quite enough!  Wellington was interesting, full of culture, clean, and active.  It didn’t even smell bad :)

A cute dog we found in our wanderings

A cute dog we found in our wanderings

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The True New Zealand Natives

I was born in the desert of California, where my parents met, married, and lived for a number of years.  While we lived out there, our family didn’t visit much – Ridgecrest was out of the way and awfully hot and dusty, and not an ideal vacation spot.  But everyone came to my parents wedding, of course, and I believe that was the only time my Grandma and Grandpa McGahern visited the Mojave Desert.


The ducks on campus are very friendly!

My mum and dad told me that when Grandpa came to Ridgecrest, one of the first things he noticed was how few birds there were.  “I can’t hear any birds,” he said.  Gramps was from Long Island, NY.  He lived on the water, and ducks, swans, and seagulls were regular breakfast buddies for him.  He loved birds!

And he would have loved New Zealand!

Birds are, in many ways, the true “natives” of New Zealand.  They were here long before any people, and filled most of the animal ecological niches all on their own.  There were tons of birds of all shapes and sizes – many of these ancient New Zealand birds were totally and completely unique.  Not only unique by lineage, but unique by behavior as well.  Everyone knows about the famous Moa…but what about the giant eagle that preyed on the Moa?  The one with talons the size of tiger claws that could crush bone?  There was everything from tropical birds, to flightless browsing birds, to sub-antarctic birds.  Birds that were adapted nearly as well for swimming as there were to flying across entire oceans without stopping.

Its a blurry picture, but this is a little bird that flew in to check out the school library.

Its a blurry picture, but this is a little bird that flew in to check out the school library.

Most of the ancient birds are long gone.  Tourists don’t have to worry about tiger-talon eagles when they hike around New Zealand, and no one’s eaten Moa steak for over six hundred years.  But many awesomely unique birds are still around.  Many birds that call New Zealand their home are actually from Australia, or another part of the world, but plenty are natives as well.  And certainly less awesome birds are around too – New Zealand (as much as conservationists would argue with me) is chock FULL of birds.

Meet the Morepork.  He’s a cute little owl that looks like a baby for his whole life.  He’s always hungry, his “hoot-hoot” call literally sounds like “More pork!”  He’s the only surviving native owl in New Zealand, and at Atawhai we’re lucky enough to have our own little Morepork living somewhere off in the nearby bush.  We heard him almost every night when it was warmer, and even now we still hear him asking for pork now and then though.

Meet the Tui.  He’s a brad of beer.  No, really, Tui is a beautiful bird marked by his white bow-tie and his complicated, noisy, unusual call.  Sometimes it’s call sounds like R2-D2.  The Tui is an iridescent turquoise color.  We have them all over campus, all over New Zealand really.  There’s one in particular I’ll miss – he squeaks and honks and sneezes every morning in the same tree up at Atawhai when I have 8:30 classes.

Meet the Spur-winged plover and the Magpie.  The Magpie is like the crow around here.  They walk all around campus and gather in fields and such.  Except the magpie sounds like wind chimes.  The plover is usually seen in the fields in the morning when the grass is still wet.

Meet the Kereru, the New Zealand pigeon.  This hefty pigeon is found mostly on the South Island.  His call sounds like “Hmm,” (some New Zealanders think the bird doesn’t even have a call because it’s so quiet and weird).  Sometimes he’s called the drunken pigeon because he kind of flies all wonky.

ImageMeet the Albatross.  It’s a bad picture, I know, but it’s one I actually took myself.  Google the albatross – impressive creatures.  This one was circling around a hilltop on the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin that happened to be one of the few “inhabited” places Albatross nested.  The great Albatross are the largest flying bird (though not the heaviest, I think) and have a wingspan of 3.7 meters.  Many species of Albatross are endangered, and many are declining, but the ones that are left are quite incredible birds to watch and learn about.


This Kea was in a zoo-park thing. He was climbing around upside down to impress us, then posed like this.

Meet the Kea.  The Kea is a surprisingly intelligent parrot.  So smart that he figured out how to live in alpine regions when no other parrot has done so before.  And he learned how to worry sheep – there was once a bounty placed on the Kea because they were killing and eating sheep.  These parrots don’t mind people at all.


A curious Kea greeting a tourist. Picture from wikipedia

In fact, they’re rather curious birds, and they’ve happen to think rubber is tasty and have discovered that people have a lot of it.  They also like to take smaller items like sunglasses and stuff – one Scottish guy apparently blamed a Kea for stealing his passport.

This is by no means an extensive list of New Zealand birds.  Rather, this is just a collection of the birds I’ve found most impressionable during my visit.  I’ve seen all of them, even though I didn’t manage to get a picture of them all myself.  After seeing all the amazing birds New Zealand has, I’m not sure why the Kiwi is the national symbol, but we all have a soft spot in our heart for that funny little special kiwi!

And of course, the little brown kiwi.  This here is a picture of a Kiwi holding a kiwi.  From

And of course, the little brown kiwi. This here is a picture of a Kiwi holding a kiwi. From

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Rugby and Cheesecake in Palmy

There’s something about attending a live sporting event that really makes you feel like you’re a part of the culture.  Maybe it’s the eager crowed all cheering for the home team and sporting team colors.  Maybe it’s the sport food – the “American” hotdogs and chips and beer and coffee.  Maybe it’s the collective roar of the crowd when the team scores and the groan when they lose the ball.  Maybe it’s the mother of four sitting behind you that periodically shouts out things like “SMASH THE LITTLE C***!”

Hurricanes vs the Stormers

Hurricanes vs the Stormers

Last Friday Jake and I and seven other friends had the opportunity to go to a Hurricanes v.s. Stormers (Wellington, NZ v.s. South Africa)  rugby game.  It was a super cool!  We all cheered for the team, waved at “Captin Hurricane” when he came by, sang the “Hurricane song,” (which sounded a lot like “ghost busters”), waved our Hurricane flags, and generally enjoyed ourselves.

Captain Hurricane!

Captain Hurricane himself!

And the fact that the tickets and food were reasonably priced made it all the better!  The Hurricanes lost, unfortunately, but seeing the game live was very cool – way better than just watching it on TV.

Another pretty exciting thing happened this week…but unfortunately I could not partake and was only able to reap the benefits.  A bunch of Atawhai kids, including my flatmates Moses and Katie, left at 6am last Saturday for a fishing trip on the beach.

Katie with the catch of the day

Katie with the catch of the day

The fishing trip took about 15 hours, but I was told that it was a blast!  You need a permit to fish inland, but not on the coast, so beach fishing is a pretty popular pastime.  The number of fish they caught wasn’t astronomical, but it’s quality not quantity that matters, and the fish were delicious!  We gutted and cooked up 2 rather large fish (maybe like a foot long or a foot and a half) and a handful of smaller fish.  Everyone came over with various side dishes, and we made a night of it.  Tasty!

Red Gurnard.  He's a beaut, no?

One of the first catches – Red Gurnard. He’s a beaut, no?

I also whipped up one of my all-time favorite desserts this week – Pumpkin Cheesecake!  I didn’t quite anticipate the improvisations I’d have to do…but it ended up delicious and was enjoyed by many!  The first speed bump was the pumpkin itself.  I was at the store searching the canned vegetable isle for some canned pumpkin, but couldn’t find any.  I eventually asked the nearby store guy for help (I seem to always run into the SAME story guy when I can’t find something so he probably thinks I’m the stupidest American ever).  I asked him where the canned pumpkin was.  He said he didn’t think he’d ever seen canned pumpkin before.  I couldn’t believe this, so as we walked around the isle I pressed further.

“So what do you make pumpkin pie out of then?”

He paused for a second, “Um…with pumpkin.  You cook a pumpkin.”


Long story short, after making a complete idiot of myself, smashing cookies with salsa jars because of a lack of a rolling pin, and settling with a chunky pie texture because of not having a beater, we all enjoyed a deliciously creamy cheesecake last week!

This is not my cheesecake.  Close enough though!  Photo credit:

This is not my cheesecake. Close enough though! Photo credit:

You know New Zealand is a small country when…

You watch New Zealand’s “X Factor” on TV for no more than a half hour and

  • someone in the room recognized a contestant because they taught the contestant math in school.
  • You go to watch “Ironman 3” in theatres and realize you’re sitting two seats away from your Physics professor.
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South Island Adventure Part II – The West Coast

Since my last post, I’ve spent a lot of time studying for midterms, taking midterms, sorting out my life, and getting back into the regular swing of school and life.  Frankly I haven’t thought about the south island trip in a while.  But this is nice, the second half of our south island trip was definitely my favorite.  Mainly kayaking was my favorite, really…


              After we left Dunedin we made the long trip to Te Anau, with a pit stop in Queenstown.  We were picking up our friend, Donnie, in Queenstown, but we figured we could have lunch at the “world famous” Fergburgers (none of us had heard of it before we came to NZ) while we were there.


The one and only Fergburger!

Apparently it really was famous.  We were only in Quenstown for about an hour total, and we saw at least six or seven other Massey kids just by stopping at Fergburgers!  My Fergburger was a pineapple-burger with bacon and cheddar cheese.  Mmmm.  New Zealand cows are delicious.

            Queenstown was pretty awesome though, if I had to pick the #1 thing I regretted about the South Island trip, it would be that we didn’t hang out in Queenstown longer.  We kind of avoided it because it’s a tourist hotspot, and activities there are expensive.  But it was a really cool town.

            Te Anau was our next stop.  Te Anau is a rather tiny little town nestled in grassy, pondy, cavey bunch of mountain foothills.  After a little juggling of our accommodation plans, we settled into Te Anau feeling quite at home.  Ready for super fun horseback riding the next day.


A short break from riding

            The trail rides were run by a father and his daughter, both locals to Te Anau.  They were perfectly nice people, except maybe a little weird.  He was fond of ranting about the government and all she really talked about was horses.  But they were very nice.  We were doing English riding in Australian stock saddles.  Both completely new to me, so my riding wasn’t superb in any way and about half our group caught themselves neck-reigning from time to time.  My horse was named “Rolly-Polly” and the guides called him the “wee horse!”  We were a cute couple, Rolly and I.  Our trail ride took us up the hills onto a plateau that overlooked nearly all of Te Anau.


Te Anau as seen from the trail ride

Our guide told us about the area.  “We have a legend here,” he said, “about the Big Man up there.  You know how he created the whole world in 6 days and then rested?  Well he was so used to being busy, that halfway through the 7th day he got bored.  So he started throwing wee rocks at Te Anau.  That’s why we have stones everywhere – farmers find em’ everywhere all the time.”

            Our last real stop on the trip was the wonderful, magnificent, Milford Sound.  Milford Sound is one of many fjords in the “Fiordlands” of New Zealand.  To be clear, Milford Sound is a fjord, not a sound.  In fact most of the “sounds” in the Fiordlands were misnamed and are actually fjords.  A fjord is a “U” shaped inlet carved out by glaciers, whereas a sound is a “V” shaped crevasse made by rivers.  To make matters worse, after New Zealand had misnamed almost all of its fjords as sounds, it misspelled the over-arching area name “Fiordlands” (it should be “Fjord lands”).


The beginning of the kayaking trip – paddling through the forest

            But anyway.  We stayed at the Milford Sound Backpackers, which is about an hour or two away from ANYTHING except a pub and kayaking place.  So we went to the kayaking place, then the pub.  Adam, our fjord guide, picked us up at the backpackers place in the morning.  He turned out to be a super cool guy – really funny and REALLY kiwi.  We all got outfitted with pippy-long-stockings style striped leggings and long sleeve shirts, and then put on sweaters, splash jackets, spray skirts, and the works.  We piled into our yellow, two-person kayaks and took off.  These kayaks, unlike white-water ones, had a little rudders on the end, and the back seat kayakers had foot pedals to steer the kayaks.  Our safety talk was short and sweet:  We haven’t taught you guys how to roll kayaks, so if you flip over just fall out of the kayak.


Bowen Falls from a distance. We did get much closer, but the spray made it difficult to take a picture.

            Our first destination was a jungle-like inlet, and then we made our way out into the open water towards a waterfall.  The waterfall was Bowen Falls, or Lady Bowen falls, and drops 161m – making it the larger of the two permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound and three times as large as Niagara falls!  After battling the wind, we then kayaked around for a few more hours, learning about the geology and history of the area.  Apparently “tree avalanches” are quite common because of how steep the mountains are, and how the trees cling to the mountainside.  About 1 in 10 trees actually anchors itself to the rock face; the other 9 trees just root themselves to the root network of other trees and plants.  During storms, one tree blowing over could trigger a whole section of mountainside trees to peel off in an impressive and exceptionally loud “avalanche.”  When we knew what to look for, we could see the aftereffects of tree avalanches everywhere in the mountains.

Unfortunately no dolphins or whales were around, although they do make their way up into the fjord periodically.  A seal did visit us, and casually rolled around in the water about 4-5 feet away from us.  Life is good.  Adam finished off the trip by telling us the Maori legend for how the fjord was created – a story I’ll write about in a separate post.  Overall it was an awesome day!


The pinky-toe of Fox Glacier

            The very last bit of our trip involved sending Brittany and Donnie off on the Routeburn track, and backtracking through Te Anau and Queenstown to make our way up to Greysmouth.  We briefly saw the Fox Glacier, but it was a long drive that day.  On our last day we drove through Arthurs Pass and flew home via Christchurch.


A friendly, old-fashioned train that blew it’s whistle at us as it went by.

That was the New Zealand I wanted to see.  That’s what I had been waiting for!

Trip stats:

Number of days: 6

Milage driven: about 1500 k

Photos taken: 153

Alcoholic beverages consumed: 4

Souvenirs bought: 2

Games of gin rummy played: about 30

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