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!

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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

The Kiwi life is the life for me.

Today after breakfast 7 of us went to the Local dive shop to get suited for gear & go on our first Scuba Dive off the shore of the reserve.


The dive was amazing. Everything went very smoothly & we were in the water for about 75 minutes! We saw lots of different species including: goat fish, eagle ray, snappers, red moki, spiny lobsters, kina, & others. I enjoyed this dive so much.

The group of seven of us that dove!
Eagle Ray that we saw.
Kelcy & I scuba diving.
Schools of fish.
The group swimming (I’m in the middle).
One of us in the group looking at the school of fish.
Another shot of us swimming, me being in the middle.

Scuba diving is wonderful & I highly suggest it to anyone that is comfortable swimming in water that they can not touch in. There is an entirely unique world under the water. One that not many people get to experience, & today I got to submerge & emerge myself into the fishes home. & my what a beautiful home it is.

While the sting ray, pairs of red moki (a fish that mates for life), snappers,  & lobsters were awesome to see, my favorite part by far was being surrounded by schools of fish. I can not wait to get back under the sea. (Commence Little Mermaid theme song.)

I found myself contemplating dropping out of college & moving to a tropical coast to work at a dive shop. That way I can scuba every day! (Don’t worry Mom, I’m not going to.)

On our way back to the shop after the dive our van ran out of gas when we were only feet from the top of the hill. (I found this funny.) After getting picked up from another shop worker, we rejoined the rest of the group and headed for Pakiri Beach. Our main goal here was to collect some species. We found a flatfish, yellow eyed mullet, crabs, an 11 armed sea star, & various other animals. The tide was very low, so our group was able to collect a bucket full of mussels that will be eaten soon! The species that we collected will be used later this week in the labs, & are currently being kept in tanks.


In this photo I’m pointing at sea anenomies. Unfortunately you can’t see them from this view. Kelsey told me this is my “teacher photo”.
Courtney Anderson this picture is for you because I thought the rock weathering was super cool, but have no idea what caused it geologically speaking, & I think you probably do.


The class gathering mussels.


Megan outdid herself with yet another delicious meal, after which half the group went to set up a lighted night trap for phytoplankton. Tomorrow the other half (my group) will wake up early to retrieve the traps.

Todays translation:

Parkinglot = Car Park

Parking Spot = Car Park

It’s a bird, it’s a fruit, it’s a person… It’s a KIWI!

We had a much welcomed late start this morning which allowed us all to sleep in, walk along the harbor, hammock, or go to church. IMG_2152.jpgunnamed-2.jpg

Leigh Harbor

After we ate delicious black bean breakfast burritos for brunch we set off for Tawharanui Sanctuary. Tawharanui is a sanctuary that keeps predators out so that the native birds may flourish. Most of these birds do not fly so it is important that land dwelling predators can not harm them in these forests.

* side note: in New Zealand there are no native land mammals except for two species of bats. The predators the sanctuary protects the birds from are possums, rats, & rabbits.

We spent about 7 hours at the sanctuary. The time here included about 10 miles of hiking, searching for animals in the intertidal, a beautiful sunset, & a kiwi hunt. By the end of the day we were all very hungry & sore.

Kiwi is obviously a fruit, but in New Zealand it is also the name of the national bird, & a nickname for New Zealanders. The bird is endangered & nocturnal, so seeing them is not common place. We heard many calls between the females & males, & were lucky enough to even see two of the little fellas.

Remnants of a Kina that Madel found in the intertidal.
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Such a beautiful forest!
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& Beautiful Grasslands!
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Sunset over the ocean.
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Sunset over the grasslands.
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We did see two Kiwi during the night hike, but they didn’t show up on the footage. Sooo, here is a slug that Laura found on a fern branch!

The other use of the word Kiwi is to describe New Zealanders. It’s also normal to hear the phrase “kiwi mentality” which is similar to “tico time” in Costa Rica. It basically means that the people here are pretty laid back, & here to enjoy life, not be stressed & rushed. I’m happy to embrace the Kiwi mentality from here on out, but unfortunately, you can never be a true Kiwi, unless you are born here.

Today’s NZ–> US translation:

 Chilly bin = Cooler

Food, ocean, & beer.

Today when we woke up we walked up the hill to catch the sunrise over the ocean before breakfast. Something we will most definitely do again during our stay.


After breakfast we gathered our things & headed to Makatana for the market. At the market there were lots of fresh fruits, cheeses, wines, & all sorts of other foods. I tried muscle fritters (delicous), oysters, & a couple less adventurous treats.

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Mussle Fritters
I also took this touristy photo in front of a sculpture I thought was cool, but was soon told that the cool sculpture was actually a public restroom. Whoops!

We retured to the reserve for lunch & then headed to the local dive shop to get our snorkeling gear. Once back at the reserve we hopped in the water for the first time.

Our group right before getting in the water for the first time.

Unfortunately still due to the cyclone there was too much sediment in the water to see much, but in a few days time the visibility should clear up significantly!

This is what most of my goPro videos look like because the visibility was so poor. Hopefully it gets clearer soon!

After snorkeling we cleaned off & played some cards while waiting for dinner. After yet another delicious dinner we all changed & headed for a local brewery! This made my hear happy, as I thought I would miss being at the Brewhouse while I was gone. (Don’t worry, I’ve been enjoying myself so much I do not think about work AT ALL.) After the Brewery we headed to the Sawmill (a local bar) for a few tequila shots. I could continue with how wild of a night we had, but in truth we were back at the lab by 10, & I passed out quickly.

The flight I got at the Brewery. My favorite was Peach Fuzz, a beer brewed from peaches!

New Zealand –> US translation of the day:

Boot = trunk

Tomorrow we are Kiwi hunting!

The Bee’s Knees

As I’m writing this I am sitting on a balcony, in the dark, listening to the ocean splash against Goat Island. Be jealous.

Today was filled with many different interesting events.

After yet another great meal (breakfast) made by our wonderful chef Megan, & no chef is not an exaggeration, we took off for the day.

Due to continuous rain, our first stop was The Honey Centre. The Honey Centre is a local honey shop, shocking surprise due to the name isn’t it?! Anyway, while at the honey shop we went on a tour of the facilities, learned lots about honey bees, the journey of  production from pollen to honey, & got a sample of honey meed & a free jar of organic honey! It was a pretty cool tour, I learned a ton & found myself much more interested in honey bees than ever before. A few students on our trip either raise their own bees or have family members that do, so I think it was a hit all around. & how could anyone complain about a (free) sweet treat?!

My free jar of honey & a mural painted outside of the shop!

After leaving the honey shop we stopped to explore in the town of Warkworth. Warkworth is larger than Leigh, but not a city by any means. Being the outdoorsy students that we are, we naturally found a river to walk along & did some window shopping. We also found some cute dogs to pet. (: Amongst the boutiques Alayna was adamant that she had seen a chocolate shop, but we all thought she was lost. Good thing we listened to her because there was a chocolate shop, & there were lots of (free) samples.  YUM.

As we walked back to our meeting place we wondered upon this little food trailer. Unfortunately, even though we were all quite hungry, we knew that Megan had another great meal waiting for us back at the lab. No one got anything to eat, but it still smelled delicious & looked pretty cute.


We got back to the lab ate lunch, which was delicious & headed to the discovery center for a traditional welcoming from the school children of Leigh.

The Welcoming Ceremony consisted of traditional Powhiri songs that the school children sang before us. Traditionally when foreigners landed on the islands of New Zealand the local tribes would offer a fern as a peaceful gesture. If the foreigners picked up the fern it was considered an acceptance of the gesture, & the traditional songs were sang. If they did not accept it meant war. We weren’t actually offered a fern, but you betcha we enjoyed the songs & the kids’ traditional dance moves & attire.

Many of the kids in this performance were children of people that work at the reserve, including Megan, so it was pretty cool that their community welcomed us in this way.

After the Welcoming Ceremony we had the opportunity to spend some time at a touch pool with the kids. I don’t know who was more excited, them or myself!IMG_2093

This is a Chiton & was my favorite organism in the touch pool! They date back all the way to the Oridivician (400 million years ago!) Thank you Latish Brengman for the Earth History knowledge!
Another favorite from the touch pool, a Sea Hare! Other wise known as an Anaspidea for the more scientifically inclined. This marine animal had the most interesting texture. (Imagine a squishy slimy stress ball.)

After the children left it was all school work in the discovery center. Followed by another delicious dinner & bonding with fellow students.

It’s amazing that the 19 of us live in the same city, but many of us didn’t meet until we traveled all the way across the world & were forced to spend time with one another. The world works in weird ways my friends. Incredible, weird ways.

Tomorrow, the weather is supposed to be nice enough to get our snorkel equipment & hop in the water. FINALLY.

New Zealand is the Bee’s Knees.


Don’t worry, I did arrive in New Zealand, not Greenland (also greenland is icy, not grassy).

Well, in my last post when I told the Universe to throw whatever it had at me, the Universe answered.

Midway through my second flight of the day I woke up to a message from the captain on the loudspeaker:

“Well folks, we’re going to have to land in Ontario. The winds are too strong to land in LA, & we don’t have enough gas to stay in the air.”

Now, I was half asleep & slightly disoriented. So the first thought that went through my mind was, WTF CANADA?! Little did I know about 30 miles from LAX (my intended destination) lies Ontario, California. So no, no I did not go to Canada today.

Anyway, slight panic quickly ensued because I was quite sure that if I missed my flight from LAX to AKL (Auckland, New Zealand), Southwest Airlines was not going to pick up the bill. Thankfully, a wonderful Urban Planning professor & her husband sitting next to me distracted me with tales of Typhus outbreaks caused by contaminated water before the industrial revolution, & the beginning of today’s municipal infrastructure in the United States (light topic ‘eh?).

After about an hour & a half of listening to a screaming baby (bless those parents) & not knowing how I would get to LAX in order to catch my next flight,  the pilot announced that we were cleared for takeoff & would be arriving at LAX within a half hour. The flight from Ontario, Cali to LA was 15 minutes take off to landing. Fastest flight of my life. From there I went to claim my baggage, go through international security and sit at my gate.

At the gate I finally found a familiar face, or rather a familiar backpack. Spotting the only Duluth Pack other than mine in the airport I found a few fellow Duluthians. As we shared excited/anxious laughs the anticipation to finally arrive in New Zealand grew & grew.

Not only is LAX the biggest airport I’ve ever been to, but it’s also the most expensive. In three hours I managed to burn through a hundred bucks. One $20 salad, one $12 beer, & one $70 international sim card later, I was ready to hop on my 13 hour flight.

This was the coolest/largest plane I’ve ever been on, & as I boarded I most definitely resembled a kid in a candy store. There were 9 seats across, a huge first class, polarized windows, plenty of movies to watch at my fingertips, two warm meals, & and a complementary blanket & pillow all for the cheap price of 900$. Luckily our flight was 2/3 empty so I was able to sprawl out & get a decent nights sleep.

Upon arrival in New Zealand we went through customs without any hiccups, found showers at the airport to clean up in (thank god), & found the rest of our group from UMD. We then boarded a bus & drove to Leigh. The drive was beautiful & not too long as the very small community of Leigh is located just north of Auckland.

After arriving on the reserve we were let loose to explore. The Goat Island Marine reserve that we are staying at is beautiful! It is a no take marine reserve, which means you can not take anything from the environment. Not even sea shells. Because it is a no take reserve the marine life is thriving in it’s seemingly unaltered environment.

*side note: when my professor told us it was a no take marine reserve I had a shell in my hand I was going to take with me. Sheepishly, I dropped it.

Small cliff on the edge of the beach. *A large amount of rain fall (due to a cyclone off the coast) has created lots of run off and some small waterfalls on these rocks.

The beach is beautiful & I will most definitely be posting lots of pictures of it later (today’s photos were very poor quality via snapchat), but the best part about today was the coastal hike we went on. The hike wasn’t too long (about 45 minutes), but it covered grasslands, coastal bluffs, and jurassic rainforest terrain. Even on an overcast day, New Zealand does not disappoint with it’s luscious green scenery and breathtaking views.

The small white building in the middle of this picture is the Marine Reserve Laboratory and is where we will be living and studying for the next few weeks.
The end point of our costal hike and one of the most beautiful views of the Oceanside.

After a long day of traveling with ups & downs, I am so thankful to be here. The scenery is beautiful, the food is good, & the people are better. Most of the students  from UMD knew one or two other people going on this trip, but not all. We all seem to be meshing well with one another, & even finished up the evening playing a few card games.

*We also went over our course syllabus: too bad because I had kind of forgotten I was here to study.

This morning I woke up at 5am because of heavy rainfall (another gift from the cyclone). No worries though, because I’m enjoying listening to the rain & excited for whatever lays ahead.

Airports & Anticipation

Here I am again.

My favorite place.

The one place that truly makes me feel as though I have the entire world at my finger tips. (Because I do)

Reporting to you live from MSP.

The decision to post publicly about my travels is due to 3 main factors, & are as follows:

  1. My friends & family asking for pictures & updates.
  2. The hope that updating this blog will decrease the lame responses I’ll inevitably give when I return to the US & people ask, “How was your trip?”
  3. & Mostly due to the fact that bringing my personal journal along would have been extra lbs. in my suitcase, & that is a luxury I can not afford. (Seriously, it’s like $75 extra for anything over 50lbs worth of luggage.)

With that being said these posts will be important travel updates, random thoughts that I have along the journey, & the occasional rant. Most importantly, as I do with all my blog posts, I will try to include all the sarcasm, nerdy jokes, and abstract thoughts I have so that you may get as close to the experience of traveling with Ori as possible, without you know, actually traveling with Ori.

So, you may ask, how are ya feeling? Are you excited?

Well folks, after months & months of planning, weeks of feeling as though this trip was merely something I could talk about for hours, but vaguely distant & more similar to a dream than real life, it is real life. & I AM PUMPED.

–Side note: I’m a little disappointed in myself because the moment in which this trip became very real to me, & I became very excited was not when I got in the car to go to the airport this morning, it wasn’t the moment at which I realized I forgot my scuba certification in Duluth (yes, I’m an idiot), it was not when I checked my bag, got my boarding pass, or went through security, & it wasn’t when I reached my gate. The first time I felt a true surge of excitement today, was when I posted a flipping’ Instagram photo of myself at the airport & got a bunch of “likes”. If you’re not rolling your eyes yet (you should be) don’t worry, I am rolling my eyes at myself enough for the both of us.

So in the coming month I am looking forward to living a bit more in the moment & a lot less on the inter web.

Other than being annoyed with myself for getting so much self satisfaction from social media, I’m busy licking my fingers to get the dirt off my hiking boots (NZ customs are really picky about outdoor equipment being clean) while I anxiously await the arrival of my plane, so that I can board & begin the first leg of my trip.

Today, Tuesday May 9th, I will be flying from MSP to STL to LAX & finally arriving in Auckland, NZ on Thursday May 11th. Quite the time change, huh? I’m exhausted just thinking about the next 24 hours, 48 hours? Who knows.

The weirdest part about sitting in the Terminal waiting to leave for a month is the idea that I am about to embark on a life changing experience. Life changing experiences happen to people every day, & usually arrive unexpectedly. Anytime that someone embarks on a new adventure we tell them, “That’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.” “It’s going to change your life.”

Well, that’s a lot of pressure don’t ya think? I’m sitting here waiting for a plane, but in a broad aspect I’m waiting for my life to be changed? Don’t get me wrong, there are people all over the world doing a lot scarier things than I am right now. I’m not moving to another country, I’m not getting on a plane preparing for war (or other various things people embark on cross oceanic flights for), but hey, I am stepping out of my comfort zone, & that is where growth happens. So universe, this is my official letter of acceptance, throw at me what you’ve got.

Peace out Duluth, Minnesota, US, I’ll catch you on the flip side.

& hello world.

Okay, that was dramatic,

Hello New Zealand. (: