Sunday, June 28, 2009

Now What?

Well, it has been two weeks since I said farewell to my New Zealand family. And ya know, it was one of the hardest goodbyes I have had. You spend 24/7 for a month straight with these people and just like that you never see them. I think the hardest part is that we all live scattered throughout North America, so the chances of us seeing each other are pretty slim...and that's a tough reality.

On the plus side, I now have fantastic friends all over the country and Canada, and together, we know so much now about a country overseas. Sure we know a thing or two about our country and how we work, but to say you know more than a thing or two about another country far away says something.

But with all the going, going, going that we did in NZ, I knew coming home was going to be completely different. For one, I am not with people at every waking moment so there is actually some down time. Two, I am not partaking in any environmental initiatives at this point in time, which is killing me. And three, I am not doing any crazy activities, like bungy jumping. What a drastic change. Not only that, but it is whole new thing not living in the same four outfits anymore. I came home to a room filled with clothes and just started going through things that I could sell or give to reuse stores. But going through everything has given me...WASTE ANXIETY!

I look at all the STUFF that I have and think about perhaps all that I actually use, they don't equal up. But I am not the only one. Everyone throughout this country goes through tons and tons of clothing throughout their lifetime, and where does it all go?! Surely it is not biodegradable fabric, so it doesn't break down. There are those people who send to reuse stores in hopes that it will actually get reused, but I know that a good majority of people just as easily toss them in the garbage when they have had enough. Garbage means landfill. Landfill means land. Land means habitat. And habitat means something is people taken away from the little untouched land some of these animals have left.

Yes, my friends, that bit of rambling is WASTE ANXIETY. Not something that gets to everyone, but I have it and I am on a track to counter it, be it sending old clothes to reuse stores, or giving them to younger family friends.

I wonder if I would have this or think this way if I hadn't gone to NZ...I am going to go with no. Thanks NZ. You're an eye opener.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Last Hoorah

So, we traveled to Waitomo, our final destination in New Zealand. People started getting hard to look at, since we would soon be saying our goodbyes, but besides that bit of pain, there was happiness. We had one more day to spend exploring this amazing country and we were going to make the best of it.

7:30 am on Thursday, eight of us left to embark n our final activity for the adventure tour: BLACK WATER RAFTING!! It was an early morning, but we all had no doubts that it was going to be outstanding. Well, we were right. We got to The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company and geared up for our next five hours underground. Once again, wetsuits, thermals, booties, wetsuit jackets, and cave boots. After getting ourselves situated, we got into our harnesses and grabbed our helmets, snapped a jumping picture, and we were off.

Before we could go down, we needed to learn how to repel. So, we did a real quick course on how to repel and just like that it was time to go 70+ meters below the surface to start the cave tour of the glow worm caves. The repelling was amazing, through a small shaft down to the abyss. After we all got to the bottom, we followed our guide over a grate, that ended quite abruptly.

"Turn your headlamps off," our guide told us.

Uhhhhhhh...I was first. I was the one standing there with my twos hanging over the end of the grate peering into the black in front of me. We turned them off and I was again hooked up to a cable. Just like that I was zooming through the pitch-black, peering ahead of me into the abyss. A quick stop later and I was to another section of the cave. I turned my headlamp on and I had just zip lined in a cave! One by one the rest of my group went and one by one we were in awe of this amazing, hidden treasure deep below the earth.

We all sat, feet dangling over a rock edge, with a cookie and cup of cocoa in our hands. It reminded me of smoko when we were at the volunteer site. After we were finished with our cocoa, and finished deciding whether or not that was water below us, we were each given a black tube and one by one jumped. Yup, it's water. Thank the Lord. I was first as we followed our guide, led by a rope on the cavern wall. We looked all around us at the setting we were in and just couldn't believe our eyes.

At one point, we turned around, linked ourselves to one another, turned our headlamps off, and just watched above us, as our guide pulled us back to where we jumped. What I saw was unlike anything I had seen during the trip. I just sat there, warm in my wetsuit, starring and thanking everything and everyone in my head that I was there. The glowworms were beautiful. It's quite ironic though, because glowworms are actually not worms at all, rather fly maggots. And the things we see glowing are actually their feces at their tail end that secrete a chemical that glows. How beautiful that maggot feces was. It looked like stars in the sky, except they were sometimes in reach.

After getting rid of our tubes, we started trudging through the water, into shallow areas and deep pools. We crawled through tiny holes on our stomachs and under hangovers with only enough room for our heads. After taking another smoko [!!!] it was time to climb some underground waterfalls. No harnesses, just climb. It was fantastic. After five hours of peering through the abyss, 70 meters underground, the trip was over and we had to head home. It was the perfect amount of time and the perfect way to end the trip. We had the day left to pack and spend with friends.

That night, we had a big celebration down the road. We were celebrating all of the work we accomplished at our volunteer sites, a mere two weeks before. We were celebrating the new friendships we had made all throughout the trip. We were celebrating memories that we would never forget.

With that, ISV New Zealand 2009 was over. Finished. Complete. I had been successful with my volunteer work and successful in truly experiencing NZ for all it was worth. I

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Giant Hamster Ball Anyone?

After visiting the Kiwi Encounter, we ventured another 20 minutes down the road to partake in another fun activity. Ok so it wasn't a community planting day, visiting my old volunteer site, or learning about kiwi, but by God was it a riot. We went ZORBING!!

So, for those of you who don't know what zorbing is [and most probably won't] it is essentially this enormous ball, filled with a little water, that you get in and roll down a hill! Can you say fun?! I think I can! Two at a time we went and two at a time we laughed and giggled as we fell all over each other in, well, a giant hamster ball. Heather and I went together and boy did I have a blast. Another one of the amazing things invented here in NZ. [I swear there are so many genius's here, it isn't funny nor fair.]

Others could even lay down on the hill as you ran over them with the ball! We got to run over Jono, which we didn't find out until after, but it was tons of fun. Unfortunaly, we only got to go down once, but boy if I ever got the chance to do it again, I would...over and over again.

So, if you are ever in NZ...ZORB. There isn't anything like it.

Whiturau..My Little Kiwi

With the smell of sulfur a thing of the past, we headed to Waitomo, eager for our next activities but sad that we had a mere two days left with volunteers from across North America. The travel day was anything but boring though. Katie and Jono made sure that every long travel day we had was broken up by visiting natural habitats, national parks, heritage points, and quaint towns, but this days stops by far topped them all.

Our first stop was the Kiwi Encounter. Besides the fruit and besides that fact that NZers are referred to as kiwis, the kiwi is New Zealand's national bird. It is a medium sized, nocturnal bird that is seen on anything and everything NZ. It is one of many flightless birds found in this fantastic habitat. The unfortunate news, however, is that the kiwi are endangered. Just imagine having a part of your national identity being threatened by extinction. It is something that cuts deep into the heart of all those in NZ.

When the Maori people were originally the only ones to live on the islands, they kiwi thrived. They had no land predators and as a result there was never an idea that the bird could be threatened. It was the arrival of the Europeans that brought the problems for the kiwi. The addition of livestock and other land animals took the habitats and the life from these precious little birds. The most threatening ones were the dogs and the much hated animal in NZ: the stoat. The stoat was brought over to control the rapidly growing rabbit population [also caused by European introduction]. The stoat's specialty? The kiwi egg.

The kiwi are unique in the fact that the size of the egg they lay is the biggest in relation to their body size. We found out it would be the equivalent of a human having a 35 lb child! Yeah. Not feeling that. In any case, the kiwi egg was and is the stoat's specialty. After the female kiwi lays her egg, it is the male's job to sit on the egg until it hatches. Originally, the male might leave the egg to go get food and know the egg would be ok since the kiwi had no predators. When the stoat was brought over, the same practice was carried on by the male, but this time with negative results. The stoat will wait up to three weeks waiting for the male to move, so that it can have its meal! Not cool stoats, not cool.

We have seen stoat traps all over NZ trying to rid the land of this harmful predator to their native, national bird, but the kiwi are still endangered and are still being harmed. Their numbers are lingering and only 5% of their eggs survive. Clearly, these poor birds were in need of help. That's where places like the Kiwi Encounter come into play.

We got to take a tour of their facilities and see just what exactly they do to help. After the eggs are laid, the kiwi encounter goes around and retrieves the eggs once the males have left. They bring them back to their base where they care for the kiwi from when it hatches until it turns 6 months. The kiwi are most vulnerable during that period. They are cared for with little human contact and at the end of that period are released back into the wild where they are able to defend themselves. The Kiwi Encounter relies completely on donations, so clearly people are getting the picture. It costs them nearly $5000 to do this for each kiwi. That's a lot of money.

We were able to raise a sum of money between all of us to sponsor a kiwi. Whiturau is its name and he or she is going to be released back into the wild on the 16th! Whiturau was found on Maori land, so when it gets released, there will be an enormous Maori celebration for it. Wish we could be there, but unfortunately we are back in our homelands then. We can still say, however, that we helped the national bird while we were there, and gave it another chance at life.

Here's to you little kiwi. Cheers.

Hell's Gate

Rafting took a lot out of us and we were really looking forward to our next day where we would not only get to relax, but see even more of NZ's unique landscape. Over we went to Hell's Gate, a thermal reserve with mud baths and spas. It was a little drizzly that day, but it surely didn't cool them down. We got a tour of the reserve and found out that some of the geothermal pools were over 90 degrees Celsius! Now that's what I call hot.

The reason for such amounts of this type of activity is due to NZ's tectonic plate motion. NZ rests above the edge of the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate. As a result of the plates colliding with each other, NZ's south island has the Southern Alps and it's north island has high amounts of volcanic activity. The thermal reserve is just one example of how the plate movement is severely affecting NZ's geography. It's really interesting stuff!

After we got our chance to take a test of the mud baths and spas, we headed out to the bus to head back to the Kiwi Paka, where we were staying. And what should we see when leaving Hell's Gate but three enormous [and beautiful] peacocks just hanging out on the fence. A few of us went outside to take pictures and they didn't even move. It was just awe-inspiring how many natural things surprise me about this place. It doesn't matter if we are in a commercial area or not, the natural aspects of this country draw your attention away from whatever we get ourselves wrapped up in. It makes me wonder how I look and treat my own natural environment in my town at home.

With this in mind, we spent the rest of the day just enjoying the area and each others company and got ready for our last day of travel to Waitomo, our last stop for ISV 2009.

Friday, June 12, 2009


After our outstanding gumboot throwing contest and getting to take in the views of the Tongariro National Park and World Heritage Area on our way, the next day in Rotorua was one full of excitement. We headed to the Kaituna River to brave the cold waters and rapids for some white-water rafting!!!

We would go in two groups, in boats of six people. We watched as the first group went down their rapids, yell at their first touch of the cold water, and drop down the seven meter waterfall at the end. Minus the fact that a few mates went overboard at the last waterfall, all of us in the second group just could not wait to get our hands on an oar and gear up for our own adventure.

The groups came back and as they shed their wetsuits, it was our turn to get geared up and head out to be trained super quickly about rafting. The one drawback about waiting was that we had to wear already wet wetsuits, but hey we were going rafting, we were going to get wet anyway. So off we went. Bathing suit. Wetsuit. Thermals. Leopard print fleece [yes I just said leopard print]. Waterproof coat. Booties. Life vest. Helmet. Oar in hand I was set to go on my next adventure. We walked down to the water edge and got the 411 on how to paddle, how to adjust ourselves for the waterfalls we would go down, and what commands to listen for. And just like that, we were off!

My guide was great, continuing the tradition I have had of having an incredibly knowledgeable and fun-loving guide for whatever I have been doing in NZ. He told us the most important thing was to have fun. Yes, I do believe that goal was accomplished. We went down the rapids, rowing forward and back, bracing ourselves for falls. Every time we would go down one we would clank our oars together, high above us and yell some battle words. We weren't really battling the waterfalls, but it made us feel brave anyway. That first drop was a chilly one. Sitting in the front of the boat with my friend Lee, we basically got dunked under a small fall. It came as a shock due to the cold, but it was not that bad.

Then we saw it. The seven meter waterfall, right ahead of us, the one we had seen a few minutes ago fall out of their raft, and an entire raft flip, but we were determined. With oars in the air, we yelled "COWABUNGA!" and went off to conquer the rapids. Listening to our guide make his calls, we tucked our bodies in the boat, held on to the sides for dear life and put our heads down to brace the impact. Done. What?! No flipping?! Everyone's still in the boat? Fantastic. We drew our oars up in the air as almost a celebration for not flipping. We all ended up jumping in [or getting thrown in] anyway with our wetsuits and life vests.

My guide even let me be captain for a bit! I was making calls and steering to the best of my ability. When all was said and done, I was asked to participate in a familiar activity: cliff jumping! My favorite pastime in Ithaca, NY, so why wouldn't I want to say I did it in the great NZ? In we went, once again in our wetsuits, and with that, rafting was complete.

Once again it was another incredible activity on ISV's adventure tour. Yet another one I have never done before and one I'll never forget. I continuously find it astonishing how NZ has so many fascinating areas to discover, tucked away in small towns and hidden like buried treasure. No matter what you do here, you end up with a ridiculous amounts of candids and a handful of memories.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Gumboot "Stadium"

To Rotorua we went on Sunday. It was a long travel day for all of us, after having been living large in the big city for a few days. We took tons of stops along the way, which was nice for some us, but you could tell some were getting ornery as the trip lagged on. My favorite stop though, and I am sure everyone thought the same was the gumboot throwing contest. Now as you may recall, gumboots and simply rainboots and one would traditionally use them to, well I don’t know, maybe…wear! Not this time.

The entire trip, Katie and Jono, our fearless leaders, had been telling us that there was a couple hundred thousand dollar gumboot throwing stadium on our drive to Rotorua. Some were skeptical about it, but others, like me, couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about at the stadium. Well needless to say, it was not a stadium. It was just a small plot of land, with tall fences on either side. As we gathered around, Katie and Jono demonstrated to us how to throw a gumboot. Ummm….they were siting on the bus too long, that must be why one or two may have gone our of the fences. Then it was our turn.

We all took our turns, as gumboots went every way except the way they were supposed to go. One flew backwards, one almost took of a head, one didn’t even make it past the start line, and mine, well…it may or may not have gone really far over the side of the fence. At the end, awards were given out for farthest thrown and most stylish throw. I was not a winner, but I stayed strong and didn’t let it get me down too much.

Finally, a day long bus ride and one Lord of the Rings movie over, we made it to our destination: sulfur-smelling Rotorua, or RotoVegas as Jono called it. I must say it was an interesting place. Stores seemed to close rather early, like 6 pm, and some people weren’t to friendly, but I suppose that’s anywhere you go. The night was left to our exploration and some much needed rest for what the next day would bring.