The Heart of New Zealand Pt. 1

Let me start by saying that I am well aware that Queenstown is a very touristy town in New Zealand.

That being said, to me, my experience in Queenstown encompassed all that I wanted New Zealand to be.

So here’s how my two days in the coolest place ever went:

I allowed myself to sleep in on Tuesday morning, knowing that I got to do whatever I wanted for the entire day. (Perks of solo traveling!) However, since I’ve been waking up so early every day for the last month, I woke up at about 8:30 anyway. Not my idea of sleeping in.

I woke up to some bad news from another girl sharing my room at the hostel. She had traveled all the way to Queenstown for an interview at a horse farm, only to be told that they couldn’t come & get her because it was raining. Charlotte & I were very confused as to why rain would prohibit them from driving to get her, but it was out of her control at this point. So seeing that she was in poor spirits, & I was about to spend the day by myself, we decided to go for a walk around the lake together.

Charlotte is from the UK & was fun to talk to. One of the most amazing parts of traveling is the opportunity to meet people from around the world, share, compare, & acknowledge one another’s ways of life. Also, luckily she didn’t mind my obsession with taking some photos of the beautiful scenery.


Luckily during our walk Charlotte got a phone call from the horse farm that they were in fact coming to pick her up so we walked back to the hostel and she was on her way! (Charlotte, where ever you may be, I hope you got the job!)

So now my solo time actually started. Kim (another hostel mate) asked my if I wanted to go up the gondola (enclosed ski lift that goes up one of the mountains) so I knew that I needed to go purchase my ticket. I set up in that direction, but was quickly distracted by some hot chocolate from Bob’s Weigh.

If you’re ever in Queenstown, Bob’s Weigh is a must. It’s a small cafe, but well worth it.

This was my BOWL of hot chocolate. YUM.

IMG_2547  IMG_2548







Yes, I did get hot chocolate from Bob’s Weigh three days in a row… It was that good.

After I read my book and finished my hot chocolate, I walked the rest of the way to the gondola station, bought my ticket, & even found a cool trail that I planned on hiking the next day when the rest of my friends got to town.

I still had some time to kill before Kim was ready to do the gondola ride (she was busy Canyon swinging – like bungee jumping, except swinging over a canyon). So I found a dock & grabbed my book.



I could have sat in this spot reading for hours. Queenstown gave me the same feeling that Duluth does. A homey vibe, with a spark of adventure. (Or perhaps a flame of adventure in Queenstown’s case). I was 100% content.

But, I bought a gondola ticket, and nothing was going to keep me from the top of the mountain, so Kim & I headed up at 1:30.


Not only was the view at the top gorgeous, but included in my gondola ticket, were also a couple runs on the luge at the top! I also had a blast on the luge. At one point it started to drizzle, so the track got wet and slippery. The wipeouts made it even better! It reminded me of something both my dad & my brother would have had a blast doing! (go pro videos to come)


We took the gondola back down, & I waited to have dinner until Emily, Jack, Kelcy, & Ro arrived in town. I was very happy to see the four of them as they got off the bus from Fiordland, & they came baring lots of stories from the Keplar track.

Much to my surprise, Kelcy didn’t arrive with the others, but I quickly learnt that she ditched them to go & see Milford Sound. Okay, ditched was perhaps an exageration, but none the less she showed up about 45 minutes later, with quite the tale of her past 24 hours.

We went to Fergburger again for dinner, & this time I decided to get a hamburger (still going to only eat fish from here on out). After dinner we went to a place called the Beer Cafe for some drinks.

New Zealand has some really amazing heat lamps outside everywhere (like at Tavern) so even though it was a bit chilly, we enjoyed our beers (& Ciders) outside, as we swapped stories from the past week since we split up in Auckland.

We were all very tired, so with full tummies, rosy cheeks, & good spirits we turned in for the night, knowing that Wednesday would hold just as many laughs that would turn into fond memories.

Dunedin to Queenstown

When Kaitlyn & I woke up yesterday (Sunday) we went to a place called Tunnel Beach with two of her friends, Leah & Angela. In order to get to tunnel beach we took about a twenty minute bus ride, & once we got off the bus we walked about 30 minutes to the ocean front.

What a view. I’ll let the photographs speak for themselves.


Our time at tunnel beach was limited because we bought tickets for a Brewery tour. Speights is New Zealands largest brewery, & the Speights location in Dunedin is the largest on the South Island! The 2011 earthquake in Christchurch took out the Christchurch location, & Dunedin picked up the slack.
The tour was mint (prime/awesome/on point). It lasted about an hour & went through the history of beer in the world, Speights beer, & ended with a half hour all you can drink “tasting”. Yum. Their 5 Malt Dark beer was good, but The Brewhouse’s Beaver Bay Brown still has my heart.
After the tour we were quite exhausted so we walked back to Kaitlyn’s house stopping at some shops along the way, & getting some take away pizza.
We basically relaxed, ate food, & watched shameless for the rest of the night. For the record, this was exactly the kind of night I needed, as the last 3 weeks have been pretty go go go. We did however go out at around 9pm to get real fruit ice cream/yogurt. & man was it good. I got a raspberry yogurt, & it’s the best frozen yogurt I’ve ever had, raspberry chunks & all.
This morning (Monday) Kaitlyn woke up to go to Uni, & I hung out at her place while my laundry dried, so that I could pack up my things.
*Side note: Let this be the official record that I will never use a suitcase again. If it doesn’t fit in my 50L backpack, it doesn’t need to come with.
After I had showered & repacked my luggage, (Man did I overpack for this trip.) Kaitlyn returned from class & we walked around the botanical gardens. The gardens were beautiful & also had an aviary we could walk through.
Unfortunately [most] good things come to an end, & that includes my time in Dunedin. I’m currently writing from a coach bus that is bringing me from Dunedin to Queenstown where I will be spending the next three days before I’m off to Christchurch, & then Sydney, Australia.
Kaitlyn walked me part way to my bus stop before going to her next class, we bid farewell & I continued on my way to the bus station. I’m so thankful that I was able to visit her while in New Zealand! It was a great weekend, & it was fun to see the place she studies, & meet some of the people she spends her time with.
*Side note: if you’ve been thinking about studying abroad (or traveling) in New Zealand, or anywhere for that matter, stop thinking & just do it. It’s amazing. If you’re worried about the money, a wise woman once told me that your 20’s are the best time in life to be broke. Maddy was right, I don’t regret a dime I’ve had to spend on this trip. It’s been too incredible, & money can always be made.
The view on my bus ride has been awesome as we progress westerly across the country we have gone from rolling hills with sheep everywhere (like most of NZ) to beautiful mountains with mountains & rivers cutting in-between. Oh & snow. Damm that white stuff, I thought I was rid of it.
Upon arrival in Queenstown I checked into my hostel & got settled. One of my hostel mates actually has a friend studying his Phd at Goat Island Marine Reserve, which is where we stayed for the last 2.5 weeks! Small world!
For dinner I met up with & old friend that I know both from summer camp in middle school & Bemidji State. Ryan & I walked around the city center & then got Fergburger (famous burger joint). Per my trying to eat less meat, I got a fried tofu burger, & it sure was tasty!
For now I’m just chilling at my hostel planning tomorrows adventures. Since my bus got in after dark today, I’m looking forward to stepping outside tomorrow & being “wowed” by Queenstown.
Since I’ve forgotten to do them for a few days here’s another translation:
Flipflops = Jandals

A piece of home, in a land far, far, away.

This morning I rose at 4:00am in order to catch a 4:30 shuttle to the airport. I was set to fly from Auckland to Dunedin, & luckily my excitement made it quite easy to wake up so early.

It was a pretty quick flight, most of which I spent alternating between reading & a state of unconsciousness. Upon arrival in Dunedin I easily found my shuttle which dropped me off at Kaitlyn’s front door on Castle Street.

Castle street is hoppin’. & that’s no exaggeration. Filled with international college students it seems as though theres always a party going on. As I’m writing this (11:12pm) I can hear the bass thumping across the street, & the mulling about of college students… I mean, Uni students.

Today was fun exploring the city center of Dunedin with Kaitlyn. First off, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, so it was great to catch up, & meet some of her friends.

We started off by grabbing some Mcdonalds & checking out an old bookstore/antique shop with Kaitlyn’s kiwi friend Taylor. Afterwards we headed back to Kaitlyn’s flat, I had a shower, & we got ready to explore the city center. The city center is modeled after another city in Scotland, called Edinburgh, & is in the shape of an octagon. Even all of the street names are the same!

First, we walked through the campus of The University of Otago, where Kaitlyn is studying. The campus is quite beautiful, & because it is autumn here, feels very similar to the beginning of the school year in Minnesota.


We explored a church that had beautiful stained glass windows.


As well as a train station, & the near by Chinese Gardens.

*disclaimer: we didn’t even pay to enter the Gardens, we just walked in, took a picture, & left.



At the train station there was an open art gallery going on, so we also took a peak at that! There was lots of very beautiful artwork on display, but unfortunately being traveling students, far far far out of our price range.


After the train station we walked to the Cadbury Factory for some hot chocolate. YUMMM. This was the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had. (:

*side note: this place was exactly like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

After we finished our hot chocolate we headed across town for Baldwin Street, which is home to the worlds steepest residential hill.



We returned home from the hill, & got ready for dinner. We met up with Kaitlyn’s friend Jamie from DC & went to Mac’s Brew Bar for dinner. We started out sitting outside, but got cold so we tried to move inside. We accidentally took a gentlemen’s table, but he was willing to share. Unbeknownst to us, we got to have dinner with the live musician, for some good conversation, good food, & even better beer. He tried explaining the game of rugby to us as we watched the Highlanders play, & his music wasn’t too bad either!


Baby get your [glow] on, [glow] on.

Today was our last day on the north island & it was well spent in the Waitomo Caves black water rafting, & viewing the glow worms.

Glow worms are in fact fly larvae, & not worms, but they look pretty amazing none-the-less. They are actually pretty vicious creatures as they produce a webbing that hangs down from the roof of the caves & grabs hold of anything that flies into it. This webbing has paralytic properties, & allows the larvae to feed on live food. Pretty fascinating that such a gruesome little larvae can also be so beautiful when you turn out the lights.


Lexi & I



Lexi & I again!
The exit of the cave.
The group post-Glowworm caves!

The caves were really cool,  but sadly GoPro’s aren’t allowed, & all the photography is done by the company guides.

Speaking of guides, we had three great guides with us. Brendan was quite funny, & knowledgeable about the caves & the Maori significance of them.

The caves were in fact used as sacred burials many years ago, as they believed the glow worms symbolized the stars, & the caves were a portal to the underworld. Don’t worry, we definitely weren’t tubing near any of the burial tombs.

After leaving Waitomo we ventured back into Auckland to a hotel near the airport. For dinner some of the group headed into the heart of Auckland, but Lexi, Maddy, Kendra, & I opted to stay at the hotel. We walked to a near by liquor store, got some Feijoa Ciders (seriously you have to try these), & proceeded to watch Frozen until we were hungry enough to head to the hotel restaurant.

I am very sad to leave so many of the group from UMD, but also very excited for the travels that tomorrow brings. I will be meeting up with my friend from high school,  Kaitlyn, in the city of Dunedin where she has been studying for the last three months.

Again, I wanted to say how thankful I am for my time on the north island of New Zealand, all the opportunities we had as a class, & the amazing TA’s (Ros & Jenni) we had while we were there. I met so many wonderful people, made some great memories, & friendships that I really do think will last a long time. It feels as though we just arrived, & yet our course has come to an end. Thankfully, the rest of my travels are just beginning.

E noho ra (goodbye) Leigh

Today we said goodbye to our home for the last two weeks. The people at the Marine Lab were so welcoming to us, & we enjoyed our time there so much, we are sad to leave.

As we left Laura said, “We all have to come back here at some point in our lives.”

& although New Zealand has been an amazing place, I find myself thinking of all the other places there are out there to travel to. Being torn between coming back to an incredible place, & going somewhere new. Truly, when the travel bug bites, it’s hard not to crave to see places you haven’t yet.

Anyway, thankfully, my time in New Zealand isn’t over yet. We left Leigh & made our way to Auckland to drop off some of our group at the airport. Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to five of our classmates today, because their flights left a day earlier than ours. Thankfully, I have the chance to explore Queenstown with Emily, Jack, Kelcy, & Ro in a few days, so it was just see-ay-later.

After we dropped them off we continued into the more southern region of the North Island for our second excursion. Our first stop was at the Kiwi House, a bird sanctuary in  Otorohanga. We stopped here because on our original Kiwi hunt, there were a few people that didn’t get to see the unique nocturnal creatures. I saw the first kiwi, so I enjoyed looking at the other birds in the park.


We left the bird park & continued to the Holiday Park we are staying at. Holiday Parks are like a glorified campground with cabins & such. We unpacked, & took advantage of what little daylight we had left by going to a nearby water fall & cave.

When it got dark we ventured back to the Holiday Park & walked to a nearby bar for some fish & chips. After stuffing our bellies with deep fried Dory (the type of fish we ate) we walked back to our cabin, & jumped in the hot tub.

Right now we are chilling out before bed. Tomorrow we are going black water rafting in glow worm caves! All of us are pretty jazzed to explore the Ruakuri caves.

Sea time. Seal time.

My morning started abruptly when Kelcy grabbed my foot to wake me up. Last night we decided to do an early morning hike up the hill to watch the sunrise over the ocean, but I was still in REM when Kelcy was ready to go. I groggily got out of bed, brushed my teeth, & put on my hiking boots. At the top of the hill we ran into LJ & Madel for some good conversation, & beautiful views.

After breakfast we hopped aboard the Hawere, the labs marine vessel, for the second time. Jenni & Ros showed us how they collect under water acoustic data.


We collected data at four different distances (other students will be using the data in class later on in the winter when the weather is not good enough to collect new data), & then set off for a cruise down the coast.

Today’s boat group! (Minus Roland & Chayse) (PC: Ro)

On our coastal cruise we were lucky enough to see a pod of six dolphins!

Bottlenose Dolphins we saw today. (PC Lexi)
Bottlenose Dolphins (PC Lexi)
The Dolphins saying goodbye after they got bored with us & swam away. (PC Lexi)

After returning to the bay we went back to the lab for lunch. Because our course final is tomorrow morning, we began to study as we ate. After lunch the other half of our group went out onto the Hawere, & we stayed back at the Lab.

Looking for any excuse not to study, Kelcy convinced me to go snorkeling one last time before we have to return our wet suits, & boy am I glad that she did. On our snorkel we saw loads of Snapper, Red Moki, a couple jelly fish, & many Rays (both Sting Rays & Eagle Rays).  Last, but certainly not least, after exploring a cave, Kelcy & I were lucky enough to sea a New Zealand Fur Seal!!!

Unfortunately, for the first time on this trip, I had a mishap with my GoPro, & did not manage to record any of these awesome sightings, so you’ll all have to take my word for it. Just so you get an idea of the incredible marine life we saw, here are some google images.

This is a photo of a New Zealand Fur Seal.
& This is what it looked like when we saw it today, except there was only one.
Red Moki: Usually seen in pairs because they mate for life.
New Zealand Snapper: Beautiful sparkly specks on their backs.
One Sting Ray pictured on the far left, & two Eagle Rays on the right.

In all honesty I do not like snorkeling very much. I get freaked out about what is around me that I can’t see due to the limited peripheral vision & tend to feel very vulnerable. Regardless of feeling uncomfortable, todays snorkel was well worth it. Between all the marine life we saw & the cave we got to explore, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that swim. & that is why you should always push yourself out of your comfort zone. If I wouldn’t have, I would have never seen that seal today.

We finished the day with delicious stir fry, courtesy of Megan of course, studying for our exam, & more cards.

Todays US -> New Zealand Translation

Garbage = Rubbish

Father of the Forest

Today marks the beginning of our weekend excursion to the Far North.

The Far North is the northern most region of the north island of New Zealand.

We packed ourselves in to the vans & began the four hour journey to Ahipara, a costal city that is near the beginning of 90 Mile Beach.

About two & a half hours into our journey we stopped at the Waipoua Forest.

The Waipoua Forest is home to massive Kauri trees. The name Kauri comes from the Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand), & the trees are thought of as a great tie between the modern world, nature, & the spiritual world.

According to the spiritual stories, Maori believed that the ancestor of the Kauri tree created life. When Sky Father & Mother Earth were locked in a passionate embrace, it was the Kauri tree that separated them, creating space for light.


We visited four different viewing points of these magnificent trees. One of which, my favorite, was actually four trees growing from the same point, called the Four Sisters.


Unfortunately, a disease called Kauri dieback was discovered in the 1970’s & puts these beautiful trees at great risk. The most rapid spreading of Kauri dieback is facilitated through dirty shoes. To combat the Kauri dieback there are stations at the entrance & exits of each of the trails so that hikers can wash their boots to minimize spreading.

After a couple well spent hours in the forest we jumped back in the vans to continue our journey to the North. Our next stop was in Rawene. We needed to catch the ferry across the Hokianga Harbour. This ferry cut at least two hours off of our travel time, & reminded me of the ferry I once took across Lake Michigan, it was pretty fun!


We finally arrived in Ahipara around 8pm. We then went to the local Pack n’ Save (grocery store similar to Aldi) to get food for the weekend, & returned to the Holiday Park, where we had a cabin that sleeps 20 people all to ourselves. We ate dinner & bonded via Pear Cider.

Garden of Earthly Delights

Today we had the morning off to recoup, & then we ventured to a nearby sculpture garden & winery.



Being that all of the students on our trip have a focus on science we struggled to see the “point” of some of the sculptures, but it was still fun. We were all mostly there for the wine anyway!


After we finished our wine tasting, we headed to the he local bar (The Sawmill) for half off pizza & drinks. Some of us left after dinner, & some stayed at the bar for trivia.

As for me, I was trying not to spend oodles of money on drinks, so I went back to the lab knowing a game of cards was sure to happen. Sure enough we spent the rest of the night playing up & down the river.

Plankton, Reptiles, & The Walking Trees

Today we started out in the lab again. This time we were looking at Zooplankton we collected under the microscopes.

Crab Larvae
Skeleton Shrimp

After lab we ate lunch!

The delicious Sushi that Megan made for lunch!

Because of strong winds & swells we couldn’t go in the water today, so instead we headed to the local reptile park!

Tuatara Reptiles found only in New Zealand. Although they look like lizards, they are actually part of the Order Rhynchocephalia. Tuatara are the only remaining species of this order, as the rest of the species flourished around 200 million years ago, & are now extinct.
This free fella is called the Day Gecko. Because unlike most Gecko’s, he is not nocturnal. (Creative name isn’t it?)
Leopard Tortoise
Tarantula Molt
This monkeys name is Harrison. He is the only non-reptile at the park, & only resides here because he is too old to be put back into the wild. Sadly his partner died about two years ago, so he is now alone. He’s about 40 years old & healthy, which is extraordinary for his species!

It was interesting to hear the owner speak about why they have this Reptile Park. Like many others, I am not a fan of raising animals in captivity (zoo’s), but the owner raised a very good point. All of the species he keeps are native to New Zealand, & many of them are very hard to see in the wild because of their declining numbers, & nocturnal nature. Because they’re so hard to see, many New Zealanders do not understand that the reptiles need to be protected because they don’t actually know they’re there. This reptile farm heightens peoples awareness to the reptiles around them.

After leaving the Reptile Park we went on a hike at Ti Point. It was beautiful & muddy, & I loved every second of it.

The whole gang (minus Ros & Jenni, our Ta’s)
A selfie from Ros & Jenni


We were all in awe because we felt as though we were walking through a scene from the Lord of the Rings. It’s easy to see why the trees can walk in the Lord of the Rings, because these massive trees are amazing in real life. 


Climbing in a large Matakana Tree

Satisfied & muddy we returned to the Reserve for dinner & our minute talks! We were each given an animal & a cultural/landmark subject to research & give a small presentation on. I was assigned the Kingfish & the Southern Alps. This is the link to all of our information.

After our minute talks we turned in for another round of cards. Up & Down the River seems to be the game of choice (Thanks Uncle Rob for teaching me!). Slowly everyone started to walk back to the dorms to go to sleep for the night, but Kelcy, Madel & I stayed up gabbing for a while.

New friends & New places.

Gettin’ Gro(o)vey!

Since half of our group set up the light traps for zooplankton last night, it was my groups turn to gather the traps this morning. Unfortunately, because it is winter here (southern hemisphere) we did not collect as many organisms as we would have liked, but we will work with what we have! The collection will be used in lab tomorrow.

After collecting the traps we all set out for the nearby mangroves. We put our gear on and snorkeled around for about an hour. Even though most of us are used to the chilly temps of Lake Superior water & we had wetsuits on, we all got very cold. Regardless, we saw some pretty cool stuff!

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 5.25.39 AM.png
It’s hard to see, but this is a still photo of some epifauna we saw in the mangroves.

My favorites were the crabs crawling around on the bottom, the sea slugs crawling on mangrove sprouts, and some of the juvenile fish swimming around near the sea floor. Two of these benthic fish were called triple fins (native) & blennies. It was also pretty fun to do a little free swimming in the water as another former swimmer from Denfeld, Kelcy and I swam a little butterfly! (Mostly just me reliving some glory days.)

Unfortunately, many people in New Zealand find mangroves undesirable in their backyards, so there is a lot of removal of mangroves occurring in the area. This is HORRIBLE for the environment as it increases costal erosion & takes homes away from tons of organisms.

We didn’t spend much extra time in the water as we were all very cold, so we went back to the Reserve for lunch. After lunch our school work started back up again. Today we dissected 5 native New Zealand fish, & the native urchin (Kina). It was pretty fun since I haven’t directed anything since the Fall of 2016.

*side note: these fish were taken from waters that are outside of the reserve that we are staying at. You can not take from the reserve, even for scientific purposes.

Evechinus Chloroticus or Kina is a local sea urchin that is a crucial organism in the balance between the Snapper (pictured later), & the kelp in the reefs on Goat Island Marine Reserve. The picture above shows the inside of one after we dissected it.
This is what a fully grown Kina looks like in the ocean. Kina’s main source of food is Kelp forests.
Snapper Pagrus Auratus: These fish eat the Kina pictured above, this further supports the balance between Kelp, Kina, and Snappers in the Reserve.
Tarakihi Nemadactylus
Kahawai Arripis: The name of this fish is pronounced COW-EYE so originally we all thought that was the name of it.
Trevally Caranx
Gurnard Chelidonichthys: I forgot to take a picture of this fish during the dissection, so I stole one from the internet. In New Zealand children would cut the beautiful fins off these fish & dry them to use as bookmarks, so naturally so did we!

I figured I would spare you the gory details of the dissection, but it was pretty interesting. Emily decided to try and fillet one of the fish, so I got a quick lesson on that. Hopefully, I will become a pro at filleting fish this summer & be able to feed myself while on Courtney & I’s road trip to BANFF in August.

We cleaned up from lab & turned in for dinner. Unfortunately due to the weather we were not able to do much else after we ate, so we played a few hours worth of cards. I have been battling quite the phone issue with my SIM card, & become increasingly frustrated with the carrier, so cards were a welcomed distraction. (If you’re trying to get in touch with me & I’m not answering, that is why.) Thankfully, I can survive without cellphone reception. I’m mostly frustrated with the waste of money, but as we all know, money comes & goes.

It is supposed to rain throughout the night & all of tomorrow, so it looks like more lab work & less field work on the agenda.

US –> New Zealand translation of the day:

Ut = Truck