Monday, 30 July 2012


This weekend I went on a trip with the Otago University Tramping Club to the beautiful Mount Aspiring National Park. On Friday afternoon, we all crammed into 12-passenger vans with our huge tramping backpacks - it was a fairly cozy trip. We made several stops at tiny bars in various towns along the way. At one of the pubs, there was a very patient cat sitting on a barstool that put up with about twenty of us crowding around and petting it. That is something I doubt you would see in a bar at home!

We arrived at the park around midnight. Everyone was fairly tired from the drive, so we quickly set up some tent flies in the carpark and climbed into our sleeping bags. It was a cold night, but I was fairly comfortable in my three layers of long underwear. We were woken up in the morning by the shrill sounds of a bugle and the chilly nip of frost. Since it was dark when we arrived, I hadn't really been able to see our surroundings, so I was amazed when I stood up and was greeted by this view:

After some breakfast, we packed up and headed into they valley of the park. The trail went through a farm, and there were cows and sheep dotting the mountains around us. It was quite a beautiful and relaxing trek; we stopped several times to rest, have some snacks, and throw a frisbee around. About 60 people went on the trip, so we had quite a large group hiking through the mountains.

our group heading out on the trail
the river that we followed to the hut - the water was so blue!
we crossed several bridges like this on a hike later in the day

We arrived at the hut in the middle of the afternoon. The hut was very nice - it had two large bunkrooms and a common room with many tables and room to set up our camp stoves. (Although I must admit, anything would have been a step up from sleeping outside in the gravel carpark the night before.) After resting briefly and claiming a spot for my sleeping bag, I headed out on a short tramp around the hut with my friends Maddie and Ryan. The trail took us through a beautiful forest and out to Pearl Flat, where there was a beautiful view of some glaciers and Mount Aspiring, for which the park is named.

Mt. Aspiring is straight ahead - it was so tall that most of it was hidden in the clouds!
The "ball in the bush" part of Bushball occurred on Saturday night. This year's theme was "Into the Wild," and everyone got dolled-up in their leopard and zebra print dresses and suits (yes, one of the guys had a full leopard suit - pants and all). We had a lovely dinner of spicy pumpkin soup, pasta with marinara sauce, and chocolate caramel bars. We then pushed all the tables to the side and had a lively dance party! Although most people crashed and went to bed fairly early after the day of hiking, it was still a fun night.

Sunday morning, we had a large breakfast of pancakes, eggs, hash browns, toast, and bacon. I helped crack and cook over one hundred eggs, and I got a special chocolate pancake for helping out! We cleaned the hut and then headed out. I don't have any pictures of the hike back because it was raining pretty heavily, and my camera was strapped safely inside my rain-covered bag. We didn't stop on Sunday at all, and made it back to the carpark in less than two hours. After changing into some dry clothes, we packed up and drove home. I slept most of the way back (surprise, surprise!). This weekend was quite an experience - I never thought I'd pack heels in my tramping backpack, but they were put to good use at Bushball! I'm hopeful another tramping trip will happen soon!

(courtesy of Maddie Smith)

(courtesy of Maddie Smith)

Monday, 23 July 2012


OUSA, or the Otago University Students' Association, holds classes each semester in everything from aerial silk aerobics to ukelele, cheese making to beginners' Russian. Today, I began salsa dancing and kickboxing classes!

The salsa class was fun - we just learned some basic steps and listened to sexy salsa music! We switched partners about once a minute, so I got to dance with almost everyone in the class. It is a fun group. We learned the simple meringue step with some spin moves, and then the basic salsa step. One, two, three, rest, five, six, seven, rest. There are more girls than guys in the class, so I got some experience dancing the male part and leading! (I'm not sure if that will ever come in handy, but oh well!)

...And kickboxing. It is going to kick my butt. The course is an hour and a half twice a week; it is the perfect way to get back into shape! We started with a rigorous warmup of skipping rope, push ups, sit ups, squats, lunges, and shuttle run relays - but we were reminded to "pace ourselves, as we still had an hour and fifteen minutes left!" Today we just practiced the proper stance and some basic punches - the jab, the cross, and the hook. We even got to pair up and practice with boxing gloves and pads at the end! I must say, it is quite fun (and a great stress reliever) to punch something! I am so excited about this class - you all better watch out, because I am going to be so tough by the end of it! Ha!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Botanic Gardens

"my" entrance to the Gardens
 My apartment backs up onto the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, but until today, I had never been in the gardens except to walk to the grocery store on the other side. I decided to explore a bit, and though it is winter here and nothing is in bloom, it was beautiful! The garden has sections for plants from different geographic locations - the Mediterranean, South Africa, local New Zealand plants, and everything in between. I'm sure it is going to be quite spectacular when it all blooms in the spring!

the Leith, for which my street is named
part of the South African exhibit

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Velvet Burger

There is a place on George St called "Velvet Burger" that has a 2-for-1 deal every Tuesday. My friend Philip and I have been there every Tuesday thus far (if you are keeping count, that is three times already!). What you see above is my lunch today, the Big Bro. According to Velvet Burger, "I guess if we had a Kiwi Burger this would be it. It's good times. Beef Pattie, Salad, Bacon, Egg, Portobello Mushroom, Beetroot and Cheese with Aioli and Velvet Relish." 

Previously, Philip and I have also tried the Homegrown Hero: "All that is good about this country can be found in the Homegrown Hero - Lamb, Salad, Kumara Chutney with Aioli, and Velvet Relish;" and the restaurant's namesake, the Velvet Burger: "It has Venison, Salad, Grilled Pineapple, with Chilli Mayonnaise and Velvet Relish. You definitely want to try this one with a bit of extra bacon." 

Each and every week I look forward to these Tuesday lunches, because these burgers are some of the best I've had in my life. (It might be due to the aioli (garlic mayo). They put aioli on everything here.)

On deck for next week is the Velvet Lady: "Everybody wants her but she keeps it classy just like your mum back in the day - Grilled Chicken Breast, Salad, Bacon, Avocado and Cheese with Aioli and Velvet Relish." I can't wait!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sandfly Bay

I had quite an adventure today! Several days ago, some friends and I met another Otago student at lunch named Inky - he was born in America but has been living in New Zealand for several years and is incredibly knowledgeable about many of the country's sites and trails. He offered to take us to Sandfly Bay, and we gladly accepted. The bay is about 30 minutes from campus in Dunedin, and there are some spectacular views that continued to stun me even after spending hours at the beach today.

This first photo is the view just from the car park for the site; we hadn't even begun "tramping" (hiking) yet!

We started by tramping around the cliffs surrounding the bay, which were full of grazing sheep. There were two lookout points called "The Chasm" and "Lovers' Leap," both of which gave beautiful views of the ocean. At The Chasm, we climbed down to a little rock ledge with straight drops down on two sides and a wide open view of the ocean. It was hard to get a picture of the experience, but the surroundings from that view point literally took my breath away. The water was so blue, and I loved watching the waves crash against the cliff faces 60 feet below.

the lookout point at The Chasm (we climbed down to those rocks below it)
rock wall by Lovers' Leap where people often rock climb
The trail then led to the dunes, which are huge and begin fairly far from the ocean. The dunes were created by the volcano in Dunedin (now extinct), and there are many bright blue volcanic rocks on the beach.

the dunes
blue volcanic rock
There is a trail through the dunes down to Sandfly Bay, but Inky doesn't like trails, so he led on a "bushwhacking" expedition. We literally pushed and climbed our way through the New Zealand bush. It was quite an adventure. We crawled under low trees, slid down steep hills, got covered in mud, and all had mild brushes with some stinging nettle plants. We eventually ended up climbing over the incredibly dense tree branches - we were 6 feet above the ground in some places! It was quite exhausting, but it brought us to the top of a large dune sloping down to the bay for several hundred feet. We all ran down the dune - it was such a freeing experience. Most of us fell once or twice (I may have face-planted into the sand at one point), but it was incredible to run over the fresh sand untouched by other trampers.

this is what the bush looks like - we climbed through, under, and on top of it!
 We got down to the bay in the early afternoon, which is apparently when sea lions like to come ashore and nap in the sand. At one point there were six or seven of them lying on the beach, and we got within several feet of them before they roared at us! It was amazing to be that close to such a large animal in the wild! They would occasionally waddle around and then flop back onto the sand - I think they were very tired!

a group of 4 sea lions, the closest only about 8 feet away from me!
Our group then headed up to the "viewing hide" in one of the dunes. The bay is home to a colony of penguins, which come ashore in the late afternoon after fishing in the sea all day. They are extremely scared of people, though, so the hide in the dune allows you to look out the windows of a cabin so the penguins cannot see you. Unfortunately, we were a bit too early to see the penguins, but we still took advantage of the cabin and had a delicious lunch of PB&J, chips, cheese and crackers, fruit and wine. While we were eating, a beautiful rainbow formed over the ocean - it was such a perfect moment we all thought it must be a joke!

the rainbow had all seven colors visible!
We went back down to the beach and walked around a bit, and then headed back to the car park. The trail back was incredibly difficult - it was several kilometers of a steep, uphill, sandy mountain! This portion of the tramp was punishing; we all collapsed in the sand for about 5 minutes once we made it to the top!

I could not have asked for a better first tramp in New Zealand. I saw spectacular landscapes, laid down at the edge of a cliff over the ocean, went bushwhacking, forged my own path, sprinted down sand dunes, and met some sea lions! This has inspired me to go on more trips in the upcoming weeks, and I'll be sure to tell you all about them!

Sandfly Bay
the dunes in front of the bay

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Taieri Gorge Train Trip

a photo (from the internet) of the Taieri Gorge train
Last Friday, all of the international students went on the (touristy) train trip to Taieri Gorge. The scenery was beautiful! The gorge was filled with trees and a beautiful river - the only signs of civilization were the train tracks and a vacation house many miles into the gorge that belongs to a New Zealand family. There were also many sheep and wild ducks along the way. I was sitting on the wrong side of the train to get the best pictures, but I was able to get a few good shots from the platforms between the train cars. I hope you enjoy!

Farmers' Market

Every Saturday morning, the Dunedin railway station hosts a farmers' market. Rain or shine, dozens of people set up stands and sell fruits, veggies, cheeses, wines, meats, fish, baked goods, jams, nuts, and many other delicious treats! It was quite rainy today, but the lot was still packed with eager, if somewhat cold and wet, shoppers.

the market is open and busy even in the rain

Last week, I tried a pear and vanilla crepe from one of the stands. It was magnificent - warm and sweet and deliciously spiced. Unfortunately, the crepe stand is taking two weeks off from the market, so today I tried a curried lentil samosa from another stand. I'm sure you won't be surprised when I say that it too was wonderful! 

I also bought some apples and pears at the market, and my flatmate Sophie and I are going to do some baking with them later today. It is quite an adjustment going from a full-service dining hall at home to having to cook every meal for myself here. Since that's still a novelty to me, I do not much mind cooking, and hopefully it'll stay that way through the semester. It is fun to cook with others and look up recipes online. And though I'm not a great cook, I do love to bake. I've already made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and they were quite a hit in my apartment complex! I've also tried some delicious restaurants around town, which I'll have to fill you in on later!

Friday, 13 July 2012

First Week of Class

I have now finished my first week of classes here at Otago! I am taking Genetics, Abnormal Psychology, Intro to New Zealand Politics, and an anthropology class called Conceiving Reproduction. I've gotten to see quite a few of the lecture halls here - for genetics, I have class three days a week at three different times in three different places! Why would they do that?! Despite the strange timetable, I've enjoyed the class so far.

For my politics class, my professor said that the course assumes no prior knowledge, but we did a mock election on the second day! I could not tell you anything about the candidates or political parties' platforms, but I still had to "vote" for one of them. Hopefully the people who actually voted in the election were better informed than I was! (As a side note, my prof mentioned that 2011 had 74% voter turnout, the lowest number in over one hundred years! If America had a turnout of 74%, I'm sure we would give ourselves a big pat on the back for being so involved in the democratic process.)

I haven't gotten into much work yet since it is only the first week (and my nights have been taken up with re-orientation festivities), but I'm sure there will be more to come about my classes. For now, enjoy some pictures I've taken around campus and in town.

the (often-photographed) clock tower on campus
church on George St

the rugby stadium

and some New Zealand sheep

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Leith Street Nth

So...I'm a bit late starting this blog, but I will soon catch you up. I've only been in New Zealand for about two weeks, but I've already had a few adventures and met a great group of people. My time here started with Air New Zealand losing one of my suitcases and my shuttle to the flat leaving without me. It was okay, though, because then I knew that my trip could only get better from there.

And it did. I met a kid named Philip who was also missing one of his bags, and we split a taxi into town. I was the first one to arrive at my flat, but luckily the "kiwi host" (New Zealander) next door pointed me in the direction of a supermarket. The path to the store is through the botanic gardens, so it's a beautiful walk every time I go to get food. There's also a great little Asian grocery store through the gardens - their mochi is very good.

Well, my flat is cold. You really take for granted the little things at home, like central heating and insulation. I remember standing in the middle of my kitchen cooking eggs that first day - I could see my breath and could not feel my hands, and I just thought, "why did I think New Zealand was a good idea?!" I thought I knew how to dress warmly since I go to school in Maine, but this is something else altogether. It has gotten better, though that may be because I finally figured out how to work the heat pump in the living room. Speaking of which, here are a few pictures of my flat:

My apartment
The aforementioned living room
My kitchen - it's small, but I'm not a master chef anyway.

My cozy bedroom (that fan is a heater, and my new best friend!)
the view of the garden out of my bedroom window

I'm living with an American, Chris, a German, Marvin, and my kiwi host, Sophie. Our apartment is part of a complex, so there are always people around to talk to and cook with. Also, most of the houses on my street and the few blocks around it are student flats, so there always seems to be party within reach. It's re-orientation week, and people are celebrating before the workload picks up. I'll write more about that later, but for now, enjoy these pictures and another post will soon follow!