Kia Ora!

It’s been three incredible days in New Zealand, and I am so in love.

My nine colleagues and I have dubbed ourselves The Squad, and we have grown to be quite good friends since our arrival. We make a good mix, if I do say so myself.

Since Tuesday, it has been an absolute whirlwind of adapting, learning, experiencing, laughing, and enjoying. So much has happened:

  • We’ve hiked the Port Hills, a volcanically-created mountain range that overlooks the region of Canterbury and the city of Christchurch, as well as the beautiful snow-covered Southern Alps.
  • We’ve witnessed the kickoff of the Young Farmers Contest, which is a huge deal in New Zealand since it is a country dominated by agriculture.
  • We’ve heard a lecture from Dr. Colin Meurk, a complete expert on all things New Zealand, and with his and Dr. Hostetler’s instruction, we have begun the process of native New Zealand tree identification. Colin took us on a tour of the historic destination of Riccarton Bush, a natural forested area with a fully fenced-off, predator-free native forest. We are honored that he will be joining us as a guide and instructor for several more excursions early next week!
  • We’ve become equipped to deal with chilly temperatures and frequent stops for photo opportunities.
  • We’ve grown to love tea breaks, which occur at 10 AM and 3 PM.
  • We’ve visited the local Farmer’s Market, we’ve eaten meat and veggie pies, we’ve seen quite a bit of New Zealand’s massive sheep population, and we’ve befriended the Kiwis in and around Lincoln University, our home for the next 5 weeks.
  • We’ve participated in a restoration project with the Banks Peninsula Trust, in which we helped to weed out Barberry, an invasive and fast-growing exotic plant species. Our afternoon in the forested mountains of the Banks Peninsula was a blast, and we learned a lot about the importance of landowners’ support for restoration and conservation in ecologically recovering areas such as the Banks Peninsula.

The above list’s wonky chronology does reflect the crazy number of adventures our group has participated in since our arrival – the list goes on and on. And while I can’t detail every beautiful moment of our time here so far (for my sake and for yours!), I will say that my perspective on my life, career, and future has changed for the better, and I feel renewed and refreshed already.

New Zealand is a unique and inspirational country for many reasons. Aside from its breathtaking beauty, its natural history is evident in the landscape and culture. Since day one, Dr. Hostetler has emphasized the widespread importance of the indigenous Maori people, who are respected and appreciated throughout New Zealand. Their language has been preserved in the greetings used by Kiwis (Kia Ora, the most common greeting, is one of the very first terms we learned!), and in the names of the native plant species, which we will be learning to identify as the course progresses. The stories told by the ecological landscape of New Zealand are just as much stories about the lives of the Maori: humans shape the land and are shaped by the land.

So far, Dr. Hostetler has maintained the perfect balance between exposing us to the culture of the Kiwis and exposing us to the course material. Our class lectures on biodiversity and conservation are interspersed with discussions and fun facts, and are followed up with trips to locations that reinforce central themes (like how our trip to the Banks Peninsula reinforced our discussion about restoration and native flora vs. exotic species). Our cultural experiences have included an evening with the Hostetler family, watching Flight of the Concords as a group, eating a traditional New Zealand dessert called Pavlova, and playing the best game of charades ever (the charades game wasn’t really used to teach us about New Zealand –  it was just a blast, so I wanted to include it!). We’ve even visited Lincoln’s Farmer’s Market, the local grocery stores, and toured downtown Christchurch, which is still being rebuilt after being devastated by earthquakes several years ago. After an action-packed few days, I am feeling exhilarated and ready to experience even more. I can’t wait to see what the next month has in store for us.

My next post here will include pictures and more details on what we’ve learned thus far after this introduction to our glorious adventures in Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud (that’s the Maori name for New Zealand!). Hopefully after our long hike in Hinewai next week I will have plenty more to share!

Wishing you well,
EMM

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