Things I've learned during my second week in NZ:
You can completely eradicate islands and mainland areas of pests and predators (but not without a lot of hard work and money)
Bellbirds are by far my favorite native New Zealand bird species
I'm a nube and need to actually learn about native species in my own country
My middle school fears have come true- I've turned into a nature geek
I can get by on only a couple of showers a week (maybe TMI but hey at least I'm conserving water)
How to drive on the other side of the road
I love camping- even when I have to wear every single piece of clothing including a scarf and hat to bed
I found Narnia and didn't even know until my brother informed me afterwards
New Zealand is basically awesome
Week 2 in NZ was quite a steep learning curve as you may have guessed (judging by my extensive list)- but in the best way possible. It was quite an exciting week as it was the first time really venturing outside the bounds of EcoQuest for an overnight field trip to Shakespear Regional Park and Tiritiri Matangi Island (my particular favorite). Both locations are open sanctuaries that have been completely eradicated of pests that are harmful to New Zealand native species- which is pretty nuts. The benefit of having these predator/pest free areas is that endangered or threatened species that would otherwise eventually become extinct can be translocated to places like Shakespear and Tiritiri to restore their population while also allowing visitors to come and experience a restored native habitat with rare or endangered species. I had a blast spending a day at each place, learning about conservation and education strategies contributing to the success of pest control and native species reintroductions. I had to keep reminding myself that I was getting credits to go and explore and learn about a couple of really cool places in New Zealand- how lucky am I? At this point in my program I was already gaining a fresh and new perspective on environmental issues. Most of my education in environmental science has focused on the social and human aspects, so getting exposure to more of the conservation and ecology side of the coin has been really enlightening. I've come to appreciate nature in an of itself aside from the benefits it can offer humans.
The weekend following our field trip to Shakespear and Tiritiri Matangi, a group of us went to the Coromandel Peninsula to hike to the Pinnacles (a volcanic rock formation), check Hot Water Beach (more details to come), and see Cathedral Cove. I had the fun/slightly scary of driving the rental car- I can now say that I feel competent driving on the other side of the road (can I add that to my resume?) I also got the chance to test out my tent for the first time since arriving to NZ, which just happened to be the coldest two nights over the duration that I've been here. Regardless, I've never been so stoked to camp in my life.
The hike to the Pinnacles was amazing. We started in a densely wooded forest in a valley and worked our way up to the summit. Fun fact for LOTR fans, the Pinnacles is where the Dihmolt Road was filmed. My favorite part of the hike was the last stretch to the summit where you basically had to boulder up the side of the mountain. The views from the top were stunning- to the left you could see the Firth of Thames in the distance and to the right you could see the Pacific Ocean, with lots of mountains in between.
The next day, we went to Hot Water Beach (not pictured, I unfortunately left my phone behind in the car). Basically Hot Water Beach is a geothermal area where hot water literally seeps from the sand extremely close to the ocean. People bring spades and dig themselves little hot pools to relax in during low tide- I've never seen anything quite like it. After spending some time at Hot Water Beach, we headed over to Cathedral Cove which is father north up the Coromandel Peninsula. Cathedral Cove is a beautiful rock formation on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where apparently a scene from Prince Caspian was shot. Of course I failed to recognize that while I was there- what sort of Narnia fan am I?
Overall the weekend was a success- Sunday I was able to explore the area a little more and drink some delicious coffee at a cute cafe in Hahei (near Cathedral Cove) before heading back to EcoQuest. It felt a little bit like coming home, which is always a good sign that I've settled into a new place and feel comfortable there. Week 2 in New Zealand left me slightly tired from all of the activities, but thoroughly excited for more adventures to come. Stay posted for my Week 3 blog post- not sure when that will be as I am headed off to the South Island this Friday (the last official day of my program is tomorrow- holy moly). Until next time!