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.
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!