South of the Equator

It’s been a week since I landed in the Southern Hemisphere, and so far I have almost nothing to complain about.  And flying away from a rainy winter to a warm, almost humid summer certainly helped with that. Some parts of Auckland felt very much like Hawaii.

After the first day, life really got rolling.  Students in UCEAP (University of California Education Abroad Program) gradually trickled in on Monday and eventually met each other at dinner that day. Met yes, but as nobody clicks with everybody, all of us left the orientation still not knowing a few of each others’ names. I speak for myself at least, but with that being said, the week was still a blast.

I won’t dive into the week’s every detail and risk boring you to sleep. But to any of the UC students out there, I recommend trying to do a UCEAP program (so far).  Though the rest of the semester we are on our own, our lovely coordinators created an excellent week for us, with plenty of free time to roam on our own in combination with talks about interesting topics like New Zealand politics or kiwi slang.

One of my highlights was Tiritiri Matangi, an open scientific reserve on an island with beautiful beaches and birds. I haven’t decided which I liked more.  My favorite bit of bird watching (definitely the wildlife biologist in me) was watching albatross dive for fish and seeing the New Zealand pigeon, or the kererū in Maori.

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Almost missed the kererū, New Zealand’s native & prettiest pigeon

We got a tour of the reserve’s walkways, stopping frequently to peer into the fern-filled forest to see the other birds of the island. Of course, there was no better way to end the day than at the beach. The water wasn’t Hawaii-warm, but it certainly wasn’t NorCal-cold. Enough to feel like heaven after a cloudless day of cruising through the forest. I understand the phrase “island paradise” now, as I wouldn’t have been too disappointed to be left by the ferry on the island.

Another highlight was the War Memorial Museum in Auckland, which we actually went to the day before Tiritiri. A friend and I hung around after a Maori cultural performance and stayed until close.  I’ve been to a few museums in my lifetime and I have to rank this one near the top.  All of their displays were impressively detailed and it would have taken me days to read everything.  Naturally, I stayed the longest in the natural history sections. But going back to the birds, I was most impressed by the moa, a massive bird that used to roam this fine country.

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Even if you don’t like birds, you have to admit this guy is a little impressive.

The final stretch of the week concluded with the true cherry on top: dinner on the beach. We had most of the day off so we hitched a ride on the ferry to Devonport, an adorable section of Auckland (it’s not an island–just a peninsula). Maybe I’m just a small town person but I loved Devonport.  We walked up Mount Victoria to a 360 view of Auckland and Devonport. Though I adored that view, there was also a fantastic view of Rangitoto, the active volcano just across the bay from Auckland, and I’m partial to a geological feature over the city (but so far, Auckland tops the list of my favorite cities).

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The rest of Devonport had a tiny island town’s vibe. Cute shops, clean streets, houses with antique charm. Perhaps that’s why I decided if I ever stay in New Zealand (sorry mom), I would want to live there thus far. We walked to our dinner destination along the beach and literally collected handfuls of sea glass. Not wimpy fragments either, but substantial chunks. At some point I had to stop myself from being too greedy. Now that’s something that never happens in California (or it did and now there’s hardly any 😦 ).

So, on to dinner. Here was our view of my favorite volcano:

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The restaurant: img_8947

Not a bad way to end the week. An all you could eat buffet too! The food was honestly the best buffet food I’d ever had.  The best part: we left dinner on a party bus. Rented by the program.

Fast forward to Saturday and I was on my flight to Christchurch, ready to start school! (Well, still getting there).  In the wise words of Bilbo Baggins: “I think I’m quite ready to start another adventure.” Tackling a whole other education system is already quite the experience, such as different term usage, different grading scales, different expectations. I’m curious to see how it compares to the UC’s system (funny enough, University of Canterbury shortens to UC). Meeting a whole new set of people and friends is also quite the adventure. It’s a good adventure but also a tiring and intimidating one when you fall on the introverted side of the spectrum. I’ve met so many people over the past two days, all of their faces start to blur together. Fortunately, all of my flatmates are easy going thus far.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end up with a lot of locals or even different nationalities in the apartment (4 out of 5 of us are American). However, if that’s all I have to complain about, then I don’t have much of a problem.

But already it’s working out just fine, as my Kiwi flatmate invited me out to play netball last night.  Of course, I’d never heard of the game until I came here and still am fuzzy on the rules. I mostly ran around trying to be useful but I still had a blast meeting some locals and looking like a confused American.

Cheers,

Alexis

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