Made It Alive To The Other Side Of The World!
At the very beginning I woke up at 3:30 in the morning on a Sunday in a hotel room an hour outside of Providence, Rhode Island. I was so excited to begin my adventure that I woke up with ease, practically jumping around the room. Three time zones, three flights, the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, and very little sleep later, I landed in New Zealand at 5:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. To keep us from the full rath of jet lag the people at IFSA-Butler and Shakespear Regional Park set out a full day of activities for us. I really thought that I would pass out from exhaustion, but I should have had more faith. It ended up being a splendid day.
After arriving in Shakespear Regional Park and settling into our bunk bed filled rooms we went for a wander around the grounds. Most people wandered in a large group, but I was lagging behind so I ended up strolling with just two other girls. It was nice to have some time away from the group. I got beautiful pictures and a shoe filled with mud.
After making a giant sandwich for lunch we went kayaking, then to hot springs, and a drink at a pub. The day was packed and there was an undertone of simply powering through the whole time, but it was certainly amazing. There was almost too much to absorb.
While the first day was a big pile of overwhelmed, the next day was filled with little moments that sunk in with ease. It might have been the endorphins that all the running around stirred up, but I found myself unable to smile big enough.
We started the day with competition, a quiz to get through health and safety information and a scavenger hunt type game that had us running all over the grounds of the park. We went up and down hills and through the mud. The backs of everyone’s legs were completely coated by the end.
After some tea and kai (the Maori word for food) we had options for our activities. There was archery, rock climbing, mountain biking, and tramping (hiking), but I decided to go off on my own. There is a long beautiful beach down the hill from the lodge. I walked down there with my camera and a big scarf around my neck, as it was quite windy. I spent an hour and a half walking all the way to the end, onto the rocks, and back. I treasure time spent alone, so walking on the beach was a really good way to get some.
Later in the day they taught us to play rugby. It was so much fun and with the Rugby World Cup happening here in a few months, it was perhaps the most useful thing we learned at orientation. I had so much fun playing, but I could not catch the ball. I am very competitive, so I was completely ashamed of myself. Hopefully opportunities to redeem myself will be plentiful.
When the day was nearly over and many were finding their ways to bed, I ran into a few folks heading down to the beach. The stars were out, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join them. I got down to the beach a few minutes after them and they had already scurried up into a large beautiful tree at the edge of the beach. I could see their headlamps flashing light from the tree, causing shadows of the limbs to dance on the sand. Next to them was the ocean, behind them was a cliff, far in the distance were the light of Auckland, and above them were the brightest and most beautiful stars I have ever seen. It remains the most beautiful sight so far. Thinking that I was not much of a tree climber, I wandered down to the ocean. As the waves crashed around my feet the water sparkled with phosphorescence, because apparently I could be surrounded by even more beauty.
The tree turned out to be much easier to climb than I had expected, after a little encouragement I found myself in it. We sat on the branches and felt the wind fly past our faces. We chatted a bit, but also just sat there and existed in the beautiful place and moment we had found ourselves in.
On our third and final day at the Shakespear lodge we spent the morning packing up, learning about university in New Zealand, and savoring our last moments in the midst of the green rolling hills, as well as savoring the delicious food that we knew wouldn’t be present later while attempting to cook for ourselves in our flats. After a quick stop at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, we were off to the Marai, a sort of Maori meeting place, where we were treated to the most amazing performance. A group of Maori people, whom are apparently award winning, performed traditional songs and showed off weapons and whatnot. The whole performance was done with great humor and ease. The highlight was when they brought all the boys from our group up and had them perform a shirtless Haka. Nothing is quite funnier than a bunch of skinny white boys trying to look intimidating. To top it all off they had a delicious feast waiting for us. I stuffed myself silly. I even went back for more chicken after devouring dessert!
The next day, with orientation coming to a close, we said goodbye to the Victoria University of Wellington kids we had shared orientation with and hopped a quick flight to Dunedin. Driving from the airport into town in the afternoon was beautiful. The low sun hit the rolling hills and farmland just right. The excitement amongst our group was ridiculous. Stopping in at the Uni Flats office to get our keys and blankets one kid, Alec, commented, “I’ve never seen people so excited for bedding.” I think that perfectly summed up that first day in Dunedin. Everything was exciting. One of us could have picked a pebble up off the street and it would have been the most fascinating pebble in the world.
Now I am settled in my flat and in Dunedin. I am still waiting on a flatmate, but the three that are here are wonderful. The first night I went out with my Kiwi host and her friends and was introduced to Dunedin in a tornado of unfamiliar streets, faces, and accents. I couldn’t have picked a better first night if I tried. The next day I got lost walking around and, therefor, now know where everything is. Having figured most things out at least little is making me so excited for what is to come. Soon the city will fill up with students and the semester will be off and running. I can see that this is going to be a good place to call home.