I personally believe that EcoQuest saved the best field trip for last. Our final excursion of my study abroad program consisted of 3 nights on Rangitoto-Motutapu, two adjacent islands connect by a only a short causeway. So some geographical history for you- Rangitoto is the youngest island in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, and is in fact a volcano, that is believed to only have stopped erupting 600 years ago. Thats not that long ago folks. What's even more interesting is that it is thought that this volcano began erupting some 6,000 years ago- that's over 5,000 years of volcanic activity for you. On the other hand, Motutapu is a very old island which makes an interesting juxtaposition to its neighbor. Anyways, enough of that. So why was this then best field trip you may ask? Well basically, class consisted of tramping around the 2 islands stopping to draw pictures of trees and plants while listening to an occasional short lecture from our instructor, Chris. How could that not be totally awesome?
While on these two islands, I began to become very sentimental as it was my last week of the program before all of my assignments were due and the final exam. EcoQuest and New Zealand had changed me forever, and for the better I think. Here is an excerpt from my journal:
I am looking forward to my South Island adventure but I will be sad to leave EcoQuest. The staff are amazing- I feel like I am just getting to know them. They have kindled in me a love for the environment beyond the benefits it serves to humans and our health. I am inspired to live more sustainably (within my means) and learn more about native species and conservation efforts back home. I love being outdoors- I feel so content and peaceful.
It's amazing how much you can learn and grow in just a few short weeks when you step outside of your normal routine and surroundings. It challenges you to broaden your thinking and reevaluate your perspectives.
My fun on the North Island wasn't over quite yet- I still had an awesome weekend ahead of me. A friend and I decided to spend our weekend near Rotorua, which is known for its geothermal activity and stellar mountain biking. Basically, I did all of the things I dreamed I'd be doing in NZ- it's great when it works out that way.
After getting back from Rangitoto and Motutapu, we picked up our rental car in the town closest to the EcoQuest field center and were able to arrive in Rotorua for a late dinner. I didn't see much of the town of Rotorua but I will say that they have a sweet strip of road called "Eat Street" where it is pedestrians only and there are lots of cool restaurants with outdoor seating. After dinner, we drove to our campsite on a lake called Lake Okawera. The next morning we went mountain biking for about 3 hours in the Rotorua Redwoods. Redwoods are not all native to NZ, however the mountain biking trail system there is apparently world renowned. I'm not going to lie, mountain biking was a little freaky and very challenging, but I had a ton of fun. After sufficiently burning out my legs biking, we proceeded to the next activity of the day- a 3.5 hour hike along Lake Tarawera to a campsite we'd stay at for the night. We got a late start because we did some extra running around going to the grocery store and camp store getting the supplies we needed for an overnight trip (gotta roll with the punches). Because we were crunched for daylight hours, (it would get dark around 5pm) we basically hiked non-stop up and down some pretty intense hills. With my big pack on and my legs being already shot from mountain biking, this hike was one of the most physically demanding things I've done. Let's just say I was very, very, VERY happy when we arrived at the campsite, set up, and had some dinner.
Calling it a night at 9pm, I awoke the next morning to a beautiful sunrise. I spent a few minutes in my sleeping bag looking out across the water with my tent door open- reveling in the beauty of it all. After breakfast, we packed up and hiked back to the carpark. Unfortunately, my legs were still rather tired but eventually I was able to get in the rhythm of hiking and it evolved into a very pleasant experience. My mom used to tell me that I was made for backpack- to that I'd always roll my eyes. But, alas! My mom was right (as they often are) I felt perfectly in my element. We made good time back to the car where I promptly proceeded to stuff my face with chocolate. Our post-hike daze lasted for about an hour (post-hike daze = sitting on a curb blankly staring at whatever there is to stare at because your body can't handle dong anything otherwise). Upon arriving back to EcoQuest, the realization that I had 4 assignments to complete plus a final exam to study for set in, but I didn't let me bother me too much. I had an awesome and rewarding weekend, plus I was looking forward to an entirely new adventure that awaited me on the South Island.