Its been a while, aye? I’ve been having quite the time with my Skidmore email account, and unfortunately it impacted my ability to update my blog for the past few weeks. Basically, I had to complete the annual password change, but the hotel I was staying in was not as secure as I assumed, and someone managed to grab my password and hack my account. Flash forward a week and I realize that none of my emails are sending and my account has been shut down because it has been used to send spam. Sorry if I spammed you. Anyway, IM BACK. NANANANANANNANA.

FOR ALL OF YOU LOVELY READERS! I want to thank you for all of the awesome feedback, its so nice to hear! Because I am so thrilled, and because I love procrastination, if you send me a message via medium of your choice (my email is ibennett@skidmore.edu)  I will happily send you a postcard from gorgeous New Zealand! As Kevin Wang knows, I write sub-decent prose, but I will try for you!!! Looking forward to hearing from you!!!

Look out for an intensive update soon (I’m in class right now, so this is probably not the best time to write about the crazy-awesome adventures I’ve been taking recently. More on that soon for sure though!

Update from Auckland!

Hello out there! I have finally recovered physically from strep and mentally/emotionally from midterms. I was pretty sure the strep was going to be my undoing, but midterms may have been worse. I learned that I haven’t learned how to discern which mineral is which under a microscope. So I guess its all for the sake of learning! That poor misidentified rock out there though, feeling lost and confused.

Regardless, New Zealand continues to get better with time. Like a fine wine. A fine wine I will be tasting in the days to come! My dad is visiting and you best believe we’re going wine tasting. My wineducation is about to begin! Even on my three week fall break I am still committed to my studies. I’ll recap all of our adventures as they come; he only just arrived in Auckland today, and I’ve already supremely worn him out. Granted he flew something like 12 hours to Dubai and then another 16 here, and then spent the day listening to me chatter on about everything I think is cool about New Zealand (which is pretty much everything I’ve learned about New Zealand in the past three months, which is kind of a lot)… Anyway, I met him in the Auckland airport this morning around 10 and we’ve succeeded in finding a superb hotel here, had a fabulous dinner near the harbor at a great place recommended by a fellow guest of our hotel, and now he’s asleep (its 9:30, so I guess that that is acceptable) and I am planning the rest of our three weeks worth of shenanigans. Tomorrow we’re off to the small volcanic island of Rangitoto, which popped up out of the sea about 600 years ago. The restaurant-recommender informed us that it took about 200 years to form to what it is today. My guide map says there are already 200 native plant species growing on it. Flora travels fast around here. More to come about that place once I’ve actually set foot on it though!

*Spoiler alert: I’ve read that there are lava tubes you can explore!


Recap of midterms week (in which I did not spend as much of my time studying as I should have…)

Sheila (my ever-present bestest pal) (usually present because I go find her in Dunedin) stayed for almost a week with me in Christchurch, following my plague days. The Great Kiwi Beer Festival occurred during that week, so naturally we had to go. It was a great lesson in entrepreneurial prowess. We went for the snacks and stayed to study the marketing tactics, obviously. That being said, New Zealand does have a great selection of craft brews and ciders, and there was a rickety ferris wheel that I insisted we ride. Sheila says we’re lucky it didn’t collapse and she’s always right, so I’m sure its no different in this case.

After she left I had to buckle down and get some work done. I tried my best to buckle down. I tried to get work done. My fabulous Frenetic AF field group got together one night to crush and powder 35 rocks. That was a long and rewarding evening. Who knew powdering rocks could be so fun? Those machines are really wild. If you ever have the opportunity to cut, crush or powder a rock, definitely go for it. After that I didn’t give myself as much time to study for mineralogy as I’d hoped I would. Sorry again minerals….

Last weekend I went to an event called the Christchurch Food Show. It was in a stadium and my housemate and I spent the better part of the day walking through isles of vendors eating free samples and making friends. It was great! Probably one of the largest lunches I have ever eaten (and most varied) but also one of the greatest. There were so many hot sauce people and chocolate varieties. Multiple people were handing out smoked salmon while others offered up desserts. A few of the people from the beer festival were there as well. It was actually an incredible array of local food options. After that fun day I got up at 4 am and hitched a ride to Dunedin (Dunners, as the Kiwis tend to refer to it) with my awesome housemate Paige, (Thanks Paige!) and hung-out in Sheila’s house with all of the lovely people that inhabit it for two days. (Thanks for letting me be an honorary member of your flat guys!!)

I got back to Christchurch Tuesday (yesterday) night, packed up my tent and the majority of my belongings, and flew out to Aukland this morning! Gotta make the most of the time I have here!!!! I cannot believe I’ve already been here for three months! What a ride. Anyway, more to come soon! Sheila and I (yes, of course she’s coming to the North Island to hang-out with my dad and I) may or may not have booked skydiving on Saturday… Weather permitting, I’ll be free falling before you know it!! Stay tuned for photos!




Hello to all of my fabulous followers!!! Love you all! (Hello, anyone out there?!) If you are out there, its your lucky day, because my friend Georgi Stoj made the coolest video of the adventures we were on last week when she and the rest of my new and wonderful friends had break from University of Otago and I just kinda left UC to travel with them. If you’re going to go abroad, you cannot be as committed to classes as you are at your home university – otherwise you might as well have just stayed, right?! That’s what I’m telling myself as I frantically try to catch up in all of my classes and complete all of the assignments that are now due… Anyway, I returned back to Christchurch on Tuesday after the best trip, with super intense strep throat symptoms, and proceeded to rot in my bed for the next day and a half until one of my favorite people in the world, Katherine Stuges Dorr, forced me to go to the health center via text. She can be very stern, probably. Anyway, the road to recovery has been Popsicle filled, so I cannot complain. Check out this sweet video if you want a taste of what we’ve been up to! 

EDIT: It has come to my attention that this video above is not actually accessible. I know this because I just tried to click on it. If you’re reading this, you can always comment and yell at me for posting faulty links! I can take a bit of sass. Really, any form of interaction would be appreciated. I often wonder, DOES ANYONE READ THIS?!

Thanks for being here, you rock.

Check out this video, its super rad. Do people still say rad? They should. IMG_3844 IMG_8239.MOV 

P.s. Apparently this just downloads to your computer if you click on it. So I guess you can have it forever? Merry Christmas!!

Chilling in Christchurch

Happy belated St. Paddy’s Day, friends! After an entire month at UC, I finally spent a weekend in Christchurch! As far as I can tell, Christchurch is small and very much still in the rebuilding phase after the impactful 2011 earthquake. There is even a storage container shopping mall downtown that I have heard great things about but have yet to make it to. There is also a lot of cool street art, a few quiet bars and a gorgeous park and botanical gardens (both of which I also haven’t seen myself…) Instead of seeing these great things this weekend, I went to the local farmers market on Riccarton Road, walked about 12 miles on a quest for a used jumpsuit, watched part of a surf competition, tried french fries (chips, here) dipped in garlic butter at an annual, traveling “Gypsy Fair” and waded in the cool, Antarctic waters at New Brighton beach.

To make sense of all of that, here is a bit more context. A few friends and I planned to leave for the farmers market at 9 (one even suggested we arrive at 9). Naturally, my alarm went off at 9, we rallied and met up by about 10. The girl that wanted to be there at 9 didn’t show up until before 10:30. The farmers market isn’t too far of a walk from campus, so we sauntered over just in time to get some tiny Swedish pancakes for breakfast. There was also a chai tent, where I experienced probably the best chai of my life. I then proceeded to blow all of my grocery money for the entire week on fresh raspberries, kale, beets, carrots, the best tomatoes from the nicest vendor, and yummy handmade chorizo. It was totally worth it. We also elected to buy an adorable, delectable little chocolate cake for one of our friends who couldn’t join us due to an injury. She said it was the best cake of her life, and after tasting the frosting sample that the baker kindly handed me, I believe it. After the fair, my friend Molly and I embarked on a journey to find a well used jumpsuit that she’d purchased on TradeMe (New Zealand’s Ebay equivalent) for $10. We walked all the way across town the long way. It was a grand adventure, characterized at first by almost constant laughter, climaxing in front of a drugstore when we noticed that the frosting holding the two layers of cake had melted, and the top had slid off to one side, and punctuated by the blisters we both sustained toward the end of the trip. After incorrectly interpreting the address of the former jumpsuit owner, and harassing several neighbors (there is no 222 Springfield rd…)  we finally found the place, Molly purchased her newest prized possession, and we wandered back to campus, the long way.

Sunday proved to be another day of intercity adventure. My friend Ben and I boarded a bus to New Brighton in search of the intriguingly titled “Gypsy Fair” around noon (after I made myself probably the best breakfast in the universe, more on that later) and found ourselves in a little beachside suburb sometime later. We made our way to the dunes and walked along a raised path, from which we could see the surf to the left and the suburban community to the right. After a while we elected to walk along the road, so as to ensure we hadn’t somehow missed the fair. Eventually we began to see little spray painted signs, and finally we stumbled into a little park filled with buses converted into living spaces and people selling things. It was smaller than I’d expected, but charming and intriguing nonetheless. We opted not to get tattoos from the guy offering to do them on the lawn outside of his trailer, and instead bought french fries, which the vendor so kindly topped with a dollop of garlic butter. I’d never before had grease on my grease, but I can’t say it wasn’t good. After we surveyed the ten or so tents and listened to a talented musician play about five instruments at once, we crossed the dunes and walked along the beach back to the pier where we’d started. The water was at first exceedlingly cold, but as the 90 degree day got to us, (there is still a massive gap in the ozone layer above New Zealand, thanks chloraflouracarbons.) we came to enjoy the frigid water more and more, gradually letting our shorts get soaked in the process. (Learn about the fun reasons behind the hole in the ozone!) We found meandered onto the pier, which is really an incredible work of engineering, as it balances on concrete posts that don’t so much as wince as ten foot waves crash against them. From a ten meter vantage point we watched a surfing competition for a time, before wandering into town, checking out some street art (some intriguing, some disturbing) and bussing it back into familiar territory. Back on campus, Ben (pronounced “Beeeeen” by the Kiwi’s; ahhh how refreshing it is to be told I’m the one with the accent.) and I parted ways, both to go make soup. I got creative and added beets to mine, which was delicious and slightly unnerving, as even the chorizo that I threw in at the end is now a deep red. Ben came back around nine with a bucket full of plums he’d pulled off a tree outside our building and we made an awesome fruit cobbler in our microwave that has an oven setting. Microwaves are foreign to me, so I rely on my housemate from Connecticut, who is here studying engineering, to turn it on and assure me that no, putting the metal container into the microwave (in this setting) will not make our building explode.

All in all I found it a successful weekend, aside from the small fact that I chose to stay in Christchurch in order to get some school-work done for once. I suppose that’ll have to happen at a later date. I’m lucky that all of my courses are really interesting, so most of the work is exciting enough, I just need to make the time to actually sit down and do it.

Now for the most important portion of this update. My Sunday morning breakfast. Have you ever tried pan roasted tomatoes? If not, you must. I bought these tart little gems at the farmers market and, inspired by a brunch I’d shared with my favoritest person, Sheila McHugh, chopped them in half and sautéed them with garlic and olive oil. Right as they were ready I threw in a splash of balsamic vinegar, and gave them a good glazing. Then I mixed a few stalks of kale (super finely chopped) with two eggs, salt, pepper, chili flakes, diced onion and probably a few other random things that Im forgetting, and made eggy kale patties. Thats a terrible way to describe a great thing, but its midnight and I’m exhausted and I have to be up at seven to skype my dad so I don’t have anything better wording-wise to offer you right now. My condolences. I suppose you’ll have to try this snack for yourself and come up with a better description. If you do, please let me know. Anyway, thats all I have energy for right now, but if you have any questions about anything, please feel free ask, the comments bar is just a stone’s throw away!

…I’m trying to think of a clever pun to end this with, as this blog is supposed to be somewhat geology-centric and I’m wholeheartedly distracted by everything else New Zealand has to offer. I’d say its not my fault, but I really should be able to dig something better up.

**EDIT: I almost forgot to give a birthday shout out to my girl Casey! Although 21 might be slightly anticlimactic in a country where the legal drinking age is 18, you’re a champ and it was great to celebrate with you!



Whirlwind weekends

Last weekend (the weekend of the leap day!) I visited one of my oldest friends, Sheila McHugh, in Dunedin. I met her at the bus station Friday afternoon and we basically giggled until she dropped me back off on Sunday afternoon. It was so great to catch up, and we ate so many great things along the way. I definitely recommend the chips, guac, and margaritas at Cantina in Dunedin (incidentally, I also recommend everything at Cantina in Saratoga) as well as brunch at Good Earth cafe. Who knew food could be that good. We were stunned. The university of Otago is certainly a more cohesive, party-oriented school than UCanterbury, so it was fun to experience the culture there. Maybe if I find the time to stick around UC for a weekend I’ll experience the culture here, too. For now I’ve got weekend trips planned for the next few weeks!

This past weekend me and my friends Hannah, Krystina, and Mack went on an adventure to the northern portion of the South Island. It was a really incredible weekend. We had a great 5.5 hour road trip along the east coast (so gorgeous I actually managed to stay awake during a prolonged car ride – which is somewhat of a first) passing Kaikoura (we most certainly stopped for pictures) and then entering wine country around Blenheim. We drove past kilometer after kilometer of strung up grape vines. They weren’t wily in the way I like to think of grapes growing, but very tamed. Interestingly, deer are the same here. Instead of being wild, sprightly, shy creatures, they’re enclosed in grassy pastures alongside cows here. In herds right out in the open along the road. Its a really strange concept for me, I can’t get over seeing so many deer just standing around in fields, it feels so wrong… Yet still so much better than the livestock situations in the United States. I cannot believe that we still support/rely on CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) in the US. Probably the least humane thing I’ve ever witnessed. Not to go off on a tangent or anything… But in the event you have the means to, it is certainly worth buying food (meat especially) that you know the origins of, and supporting local farmers along the way.

Anyway, back to distracting myself from my homework and you from… whatever more important thing you could be doing… The weekend adventures began without a plan. Beyond knowing that we wanted to get to Mount Richmond national park, we didn’t have plans as to where to camp or anything. Instead we drove until we found a long dirt road, and then we drove for another long, slow hour and a half down that road. We found the best overlook from the road (on which we saw nobody else) and set up camp right there, just in time for the sunset. It was gorgeous and we made noodles on Hannah’s stove and ate them while the sun went down. The stars and the milky way were incredible that night. Its funny, Orion is upside-down down here, and they call it the kettle, because the knife hanging from his belt looks like a spout upside down. Mack showed me where the Southern Cross is. My grandparents sailed around the world for somewhere between 15 and 18 years after retiring, during which time my grandfather insisted on only using celestial navigation. It was exciting to see the southern cross and know that he must have spent a good deal of time looking at it as well.

When we got up the next day, I welcomed the bright, glorious day by promptly sitting on a grounded wasp and getting stung on the arse. Not an experience I would recommend. I’m lucky that I’m not allergic, but it was still embarrassing telling the woman at health services about it as she was inspecting the welt two days later.

We hiked a good six or seven miles that day. It was really gorgeous and sub-tropical. There are so many ferns it really feels like a dinosaur could just lumber out of the bushes at any point. None did. After skittering back down the way we’d scrabbled up, we found a pristine dipping hole and rinsed off. We then drove to a much larger river that we’d passed on the way to the trailhead and set up camp on the bank. After eating dinner and settling to watch the sunset with a swarm of heinous sandflies targeting any available skin, we were visited by the land owner. Ooops. A truck pulled up and a man asked, “Do you know where you’re camping?” Obviously we didn’t. Obviously it was his land. Obviously he shooed us off. By the time we reached the nearest campground it was dark and we set up our tents in the dark and lounged about on our sleeping mats under the stars. In the morning we set out on our return journey to Christchurch. We only made it about an hour and a half away before we decided that we needed to stop and jump in the sea. Unfortunately that never happened. We got t-boned pulling off the road. Thankfully were all okay, but it was terrifying. If not for the kindest tow-truck driver ever, we could still be stranded somewhere between Blenheim and Kaikoura. Marc the tow guy picked us up midday Sunday, drove us back to Blenheim, offered to keep the car for us until we know better what to do with it, and then went out of his way to drive us to the airport to pick up a rental car afterwards. Thank you 100 times Marc.

Getting back to Christchurch was our main priority after that, and we did so safely, thankfully. This week so far has been mostly about relaxing, catching up on work and being happy to have faired safely through that scary experience. Accidents certainly happen, and we were lucky (as was the other driver) but it definitely served as a good reminder that we are not invincible.

Next weekend I am supposed to travel with the UC ultimate club back to Dunedin to play a few games against the University of Otago team, stay tuned for updates on more Dunedin shenanigans if you wish! In the meantime, I’ll just be here faking my way through three geology courses and learning a bunch on the side. Fake it ’till you make it may not be such a bad motto after all…

Rock on my good people, and be safe out there.

P.s. Here are some photos.

Update from Uni

My first week at Uni is going swimmingly! I’ve already managed to play ultimate frisbee with the Christchurch women’s league (for the second time!), make it to all of my classes on time, make awesome meals for myself (predominantly soups, as they are my favorite!) begin working on my semester long research project, sing up for a bajillion clubs at the UC club fair, and find and attend a boxing class! Being that it is only Wednesday, I’d say I’m doing pretty well. The women’s league is attended by an array of awesome frisbee ladies, including a few on the New Zealand national team, and they’ve all been super welcoming to my friend Krystina and I, despite my incomplete understanding of the game (especially concerning where I should be on the field at any given time).

Despite my initial aversion to being fully immersed in geology, I’m taking three geology courses this semester, and one Maori studies course to mix it up a bit. The geology courses concern minerals, geothermal exploration, and research methods with a focus on data that we collected in Bank’s Peninsula two weeks ago. When I’m not in one of these classes, I’m likely wondering if there is someplace that I should be (I have yet to even begin to memorize my course schedule, and there are multiple labs and tutorials for each class to add to the struggle) or cooking. So far I’ve made some pretty great meals, and will continue to do so until I completely destroy my budget, at which point I will likely be forced to subsist on the two (currently frozen) loaves of discounted bread that I bought as a precaution on my first shopping trip and have yet to touch. In the meantime, I will continue to make great soups and salads and such! In the event that you’re curious about what I put in my soup, here’s a little rundown:

I like to start almost everything I make by sautéing garlic and ginger in olive oil in a large pot with a generous sprinkle of chili flakes. Then I add sliced onions and let all the flavors meld to the point right before the onions caramelize. Next, I throw in a bunch of sliced carrots, celery and leeks. I never measure anything, but these ingredients usually fill up about 1/3 of the pot. When everything begins to soften up a bit, I pour in chicken broth and add tomato paste before letting it all simmer. Next, white beans are a great ingredient, and, as this soup is vaguely based off of a recipe created by a close friend, Tina Miller, (find it in her cookbook Vineyard Harvest) Kale is the finishing touch. This being said, the only kale I could find at the store the other day was frozen into little circular ice cubes. Instead, I opted to use chopped spinach, which worked out great. I also found a package of local sausages, which I cooked and sliced and threw in at the end. It was an incredibly hearty soup, and likely better suited for winter dining, but despite the 80 degree day, I really enjoyed ending it with a bowl of soup. I used to love canned soup before I realized how easy it is to make soup (you can make soup out of almost anything) and now I revel in throwing lots of things into a pot and seeing how it tastes, especially since we don’t have ovens (only convection microwaves… who knew that that was a thing?) to properly cook anything else with… Anyway, enough about soup.

This weekend I’m heading down the coast to Dunedin on a 5.5 hour bus adventure to visit one of my oldest friends, Sheila McHugh. We’ve been friends since kindergarten, and I can’t wait to see how she’s adjusting to life in New Zealand! Prior to my trip however, I need to begin writing a formal research proposal. I’m studying the meaning behind the Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, which translates roughly to Land of the Long White Cloud, and the geologic implications of the name. It should be a fascinating study!

Have a rockin’ weekend!

A month of adventure

After more than three weeks without internet access, and seven weeks without the use of a computer, I’m somewhat unaccustomed to typing. That being said, even if I had had the ability (and more importantly, time) to use a computer, I think that I’d have forgone it in order to do all of the crazy-awesome things we did. Its hard to know where to begin really…

I suppose chronologically we left off almost exactly a month ago (holy moly does time fly!) in Punakaiki. Since then, as the unordered photos that I posted sometime last week show, we have spent time in Westport, (which is about an hour north of Punakaiki up the west coast), on the North Island on the active volcano Ruapehu, and finally, on the lovely Banks peninsula, before ending our field study at the exact time a 5.9 earthquake shook Christchurch. Because I am attempting to be a more organized person, I’ll start with the highlights of Westport and save the more earthshaking details for the end, if you catch my drift.

Westport is not my favorite area of New Zealand, despite the intriguing geologic structure of the area (various outcrops reveal very clearly the stages in which granite is metamorphosed, which is incredibly cool to look at, as the minerals often become elongated and there are lots of exciting, nerdy clues to look out for that indicate how close or far a rock was from a body of magma). I went on an early morning run one day (classes were delayed from the usual 7am to 8am because one of our vans got stuck and our instructors had to go meet a farmer about towing it) and while I tried to memorize a few key landmarks at each turn I made; the house with palm trees that looked just like giant pineapples, the traffic sign without writing on it, the blue pickup truck parked beside the park, etc. I soon decided that I would just wing it, as that usually ends up working out for me. As I ran down a long flat street (Westport is excruciatingly flat) in no particular direction, I noticed that the properties around me were quickly changing. The University of Canterbury field station where we stayed is located in a very cute suburban neighborhood of mostly one storied homes, however less than a mile away, these homes gradually give way to horse pastures and public fields. A few more steps and I was surrounded on either side by small herds of grazing cattle. Finally, I ended up at a beautiful beach just in time to watch two extra-fluffy corgis parade about in the sand.

Beyond this run, I spent the rest of my time in Westport, as I did in every location, in essentially constant contact with my group. Thankfully, the more I got to know everyone, the better I liked them, so it was a great crew to be around 24/7. Our nights in Westport were jam-packed with assignments and lectures, but during the day we traveled via van to a bunch of great beaches. Despite my suggestion that swimming aids learning, we stayed ashore and looked at rocks. They were great rocks, but when I travel back to Westport later this semester, it will be solely for the beaches that I have yet to dip more than a hand or hiking-boot clad foot in.

After Westport we traveled to Christchurch and stayed in our semester apartments for a night before flying out to the North Island. We’ve all been housed in this great international student village called ilam, which is about 3 minutes from campus. After having slept in bunk rooms of no less than 4 people for a month, returning from dinner out at an awesome local Indian restaurant to an empty five person apartment was surprisingly lonely, and I was excited to regroup the next morning. After landing in Aukland, we drove five hours, through Hobbiton, to the base of mount Ruapehu. As I mentioned earlier, Ruapehu is an active volcano, and the lodge that we stayed in was about halfway up the flanks of the volcano, situated on a mass of uneven, unforgiving volcanic rock. In the winter (our summer back home), Ruapehu is also a ski resort, and I plan to return for a long weekend to check out the slopes. Not surprizingly, we spent the week studying volcanology. In doing so, we got to hike a 20km swath of the infamous Tongariro Crossing, which was gorgeous, and spend some time studying Tolkien’s Mt. Doom, otherwise known as Mt. Ngauruhoe. A great group of UC (University of Canterbury) students also joined us for this week, so we had 11 new comrades to chat with during our adventures.

In order to keep this within the bounds of a blog post, and not within range of a autobiographical novella, I’m going to attempt to get to the point more quickly…

It was awesome spending a week on an active volcano. We didn’t have time to see much of the North Island, but I have faith that I’ll make it back up there at some point, maybe to visit my fellow Skidizen Melissa Flack, who is studying on the southern most tip of the island, in Wellington. We returned to the South island just in time for Waitangi day (February 6) which celebrates the signing of the treaty of Waitangi by Britain and more than 40 Maori chiefs in 1840. The treaty is considered New Zealand’s founding document. We were able to participate in the Okains Bay celebration, which included a traditional hangi feast (much like a clambake – minus the clams – some forty chickens, five sheep, a lot of veggies – including the New Zealand staple kumara – and the meat of an entire cow were cooked in a large pit covered by earth). We certainly partook in the feasting, and watched as a group of more than twenty men gathered to row a traditional waka – a Maori rowing vessel carved entirely from one tree. Later in the week, we too were permitted to row the waka, which is a priceless artifact from the 1800’s owned by the Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum. After the celebration, we retired to tents no more than thirty meters from the beach, where we would spend the next week sleeping and swimming in the time that we were not in the field.

Our field work in Banks peninsula was very cool, because it felt like it actually had a purpose other than educating us. We split into groups of four students and, accompanied by an instructor, spent the better part of the week mapping areas that have yet to be geologically mapped by anyone! My group was assigned an area within Ellangowan, and most of the area was privately owned farmland, which meant that we spent a good portion of our time crawling between prickly underbrush and prickly trees on sheep and cow paths in order to reach outcrops. We collected and carried a lot of rock samples, which we will spend part of the semester looking at more closely to better understand the relationships of all of the outcrops within the area. Each year students from Frontiers abroad partake in this activity in different parts of Banks Peninsula, so before long the program will be responsible for providing the first in-depth geologic map of the area. How cool is that?!

We also got a chance to harvest these giant mollusk-like shellfish called paua, which are hard to find outside of privately owned areas, as the New Zealand law allows for an individual to collect 10 per day. Lucky for us, we were taken to Pa Bay, an area of great Maori significance, where paua are plentiful. We collected quite a few (remaining well below the limit) and sautéed them with butter and garlic for dinner that night. They were incredibly good; chewier than steamed clams, but with the same rich flavor.

Speaking of flavor, as some of you may know, I am somewhat of a chocolate addict. Last semester, for example, I received at least 9 bars of chocolate from various lovely people for my birthday. Its no surprise then, that I brought a bar to Banks Peninsula to snack on during our week of camping. What was surprising, was returning from a long day of hiking to find the chocolate melted all over the floor of the tent. Ladies and gentlemen, never leave your chocolate unattended somewhere that I, or the hot New Zealand sun can get at it.

Soon after I finished washing the viscous stain from the tent, we went to bed. I must note that we had large glamping (glamorous camping) tents in which eight to ten could sleep, and you could easily stand. My friends Nathaly and Anny and I slept in a portion of the tent that was meant to be an entryway. In the interest of ventilation, the floor and walls of the this part of the tent are not attached, and a space of about six inches of open air hangs between. We didn’t have a problem with a bit of extra fresh air, but we that night we found that we did have a possible possum problem. I woke up to scratching and an odd coughing sound around 4am, and before I could place it, something skittered in through the side of the tent about a foot from my waist and, rubbing up against my sleeping bag, proceeded to run down the length of the tent and scrabble out the entryway. Alarmed and excited, I had trouble sleeping that night. Two days later, we headed into town for various provisions, and I bought another bar of chocolate. We ate some on the way back to camp, and I left the open bar well hidden from the sun the next day before leaving to attend field work. Our final night, a group of us decided to move our sleeping bags to the beach, and sleep under the stars. Sleeping close to the ocean has always been one of my favorite things, and I was so excited that I dismissed my irrational fear of spiders and happily plunked down onto the sand. Sometime before the sun began to rise I woke up to the feeling of things crawling on my hand and neck, and while simultaneously throwing the creatures off of myself and closing the cinch at the top of my bag to make myself inaccessible, I reminded myself that there are no spiders in New Zealand. This is a lie I tell myself often.

In the morning, I found what was left of my bar of chocolate outside my tent covered in gnaw marks and scratches.

We were on our way from Banks Peninsula to Christchurch, stopped at a cafe somewhere in between, when the earthquake occurred. I was sitting beneath a grape arbor with friends, when all of a sudden the earth began to roll beneath us. The table shook and I watched water splash from a dog’s water dish on the ground in front of us. My first thought was that someone was playing a prank on us. It was my first earthquake, and at 5.9 it was significant. Some glasses left shelves and shattered on the floor in the cafe, and though it was short, many people were quite shaken. The 2011 earthquake along the Alpine Fault (which we were lucky enough to go see) killed over 100 people in Christchurch and left a lot of serious property damage in its wake, from which the city has yet to fully recover. The quake we witnessed is considered one of the many aftershocks of the one in 2011. Being that I was with a group of geologists, we were more giddy and curious at this moment of being a part of a geologic process, than we were scared, which was a relief. When we arrived in Christchurch an hour later, we were informed that the apartments were evacuated and had to be evaluated for any damage before we could move in. We didn’t move in until hours later as the sun was coming down, around 9pm. It was a surprising welcome into the city.

My friends and I about 10 minutes before the earthquake. Photo by Casey McQuire.

My friends and I about 10 minutes before the earthquake. Photo by Casey McQuire.

More surprising is the amount of earthquakes I fail to notice on a daily basis. Since the initial quake, I installed a phone app that notifies me when all quakes classified moderate or worse, occur. New Zealand has had about 5 weak quakes already today, the most recent in the Christchurch area being 10 hours ago. It was only 2.7, and I didn’t feel a thing, being that I was sleeping. Regardless, this city is well built to withstand quakes much larger than these weak ones, and they’re more exciting than scary at this point. Its better for the fault to have lots of small movement than a big built up of pressure resulting in a much larger quake, so I will continue to revel in the consistent small quake alerts (of which I receive more than I do texts) and hope for the best!

Since the quake, I’ve played ultimate frisbee with some of the girls on the New Zealand national team (they even invited me and my friend Krystina to come back!), made my favorite soup recipe, gotten to know my housemates, experienced the joys of orientation week at a big university, bought a seven dollar used ripstik at a second hand store (one of those silly skateboards with a swivel in the middle that you have to wiggle on to make it move – my favorite!) and gone swimming at the beautiful Sumner beach. I’ve also learned that Netflix in New Zealand features an exponentially better selection than that of America, so in the off chance that I have a free moment in the next six months, I may have to take advantage of that… All in all it has been a great few days of getting to know the area and I’m really excited about the semester to come.

On a more recent note, today was the first day of classes at the University of Christchurch, and while the school is much larger than I am used to, classes are inspired and interactive and I think it is shaping up to be a great semester!

Rock on, friends!



Pitching tents in Punakaiki

Campsite at 14 Mile Beach!

Our campsite at 14 Mile Beach!

After spending a week bushwaking and wading (so many knee-deep streams and wet feet for days… It took three days to dry out my leather hiking boots afterwards, but so worth it!) through beautiful Cass mapping the major formations, we spent two days camping on Punakaiki’s 14 Mile beach. It was so glorious! The beaches here rival those of Martha’s Vineyard (where I grew up) which is really saying something. There’s everything from super fine sand to coarse pebbly beaches. Some of my peers have taken to bottling the sand from different places. That’s geologists for you. I personally just fill my pockets with rocks that intrigue me, and then wonder how my backpack could possibly be so heavy… Hmm.

Anyway, we were able to hike to a cave in punakaiki which was very cool. There is only one type of poisonous spider in New Zealand, but the low odds of encountering it haven’t stopped me from being on vigilant watch for many legged creatures. That being said, the allure of running through the subtropical forests, up streams and across grassy plains has helped me to get over some of my irrational arachnaphobia. You can’t say no the opportunity to adventure in New Zealand, even if it may mean encountering a furry spider or two.

The frontiers abroad program has 23 students including me, and we all get along really well, which is super great! I suppose a hardcore geo trip is somewhat self selecting though. I can’t believe we’ve only been doing this for two and a half weeks – we’ve seen so many incredible places and really gotten to know them in ways that I’ve never really known an area (aside from Saratoga after taking geo101 and field studies of environmental studies). The one thing we haven’t really had an opportunity to do yet is meet people outside of our program. I’ve met a few couples in their mid to late sixties and been told about bucket list trips and the great whale watching of cape cod (my homeland!) but aside from the odd other travelers, we’ve been pretty secluded at field stations. Luckily our stations are great and even in close quarters ( 8 bunk beds in a double dorm sized room really makes having one roomate seem like a distant dream) we keep it lighthearted and fun. We also keep it super academic. We get up for breakfast at 7, and were usually out the door and on our way to a field location by 8am. We then work through the day (mapping, sketching, measuring, taking notes, discussing and pondering rock outcrops and formations) and return to the station by 7 at the latest. After dinner were often rewarded for our hard, tireless work with more work! Im learning a lot about rocks though, and geologic processes, which is the real reason I came. I like the big picture stuff, and the instructors here are really good at sitting down with me and telling me the probable story of how this rock formed or why it looks the way it does. I didn’t realize how conceptual this field is. Next week we head up to the North Island to study volcanoes (and hike Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings) so that should be exciting. I’m also really excited to get to Christchurch and begin classes and meet lots of new people! The school has around 15,000 students, so it should be a bit different than Skidmore, which I believe only has 2,600 students. We also get to cook for ourselves at UC, which I’m looking forward too (though I’ve just been told that there aren’t proper ovens in the apartments, which could rule out about 76% of my favorite dishes. Goodbye roasted veggies, lasagna, pie, cookies, and all things baked and delicious! I suppose I’ll just have to befriend some locals and borrow their kitchens. In the meantime, food on field camp is surprisingly good and everyday is a long, tiring, glorious adventure.

I was reading about the storms in the northeast this morning while applying sunscreen (this is the first time in my life I’ve ever worn it on more than the bridge of my nose) to avoid being scalded by the unruly UV rays (the ozone is still wounded in this hemisphere) I can’t say I really miss the winter weather. That being said, have a wonderful, bright-eyed, learning-filled first day of the semester at Skid tomorrow everyone, and enjoy the snow!