Today was a LONG, action packed day. We started with more orientationy details and then walked from uni (yes, this is what they call college here. University of Canterbury ---> UniCant ) to downtown. It ended up taking about an hour. We went through this historic region where a very prominent Kiwi family homesteaded back in the day. They're original house is still right next to the Riccarton House which they built when they became wealthy. It's BEAUTIFUL! In fact, the host parents I'm with now got married there. I think it's as good of time as any to mention that New Zealand has THE most unique trees I have ever seen in my life!!!! I can't describe them, and pictures do not do them justice. They all look straight from a fairy tale book, and each type has serious personality. I know you think I'm crazy, so you should come visit and see for yourself. On the way to town, we also tramped (hiked/ walked) through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. WOW! Everything was SO colorful I couldn't believe they were all real. We ate lunch at this cafe right in the middle of the gardens. It was really great to sit and talk with the other IES students. Our group is really cool. Everyone is very different, and brings so much personality. After lunch, another scavenger hunt commenced.. I must say that TCU Hazing folks would be quite appalled to know that we've done 2 "hunts" and the semester hasn't even begun. (for those of you who are not fellow frogs, it's illegal to hold scavenger hunts on campus… it's obviously hazing.) This one took us to several iconic spots of Christchurch. The Museum was awesome!! One exhibit is called WearableArt. It's all these crazy outfits designed from common or super bizarre things. My favorite was a full ball gown made from copper scraps. The glow in the dark Monarch dress was certainly a close second. The other really cool exhibit was one that had thousands of hearts arranged all around a big room on the walls like a rainbow. They were sent from all over the world after Christchurch suffered its big earthquake in Feb. last year. The anniversary is coming soon actually. There will be a big memorial that i'm pretty sure the whole town will attend. The final super crazy thing I learned about at the museum was Pavo Shells. There was a couple from Bluff, NZ (south of me) who were arguing because the husband was leaving his collected and shinned shells on the floor where his wife could not vacuum. They decided to put them on the walls where the vacuum does not venture often and before they knew it, the entire "lounge" (living room) was covered with Pavo Shells. So logically, they decided to open their home to the public 7 days a week 8 hours a day, and people actually came to see it! It takes quite an eccentric couple to be able to handle living like that. [Pictures possibly below, and for sure on Facebook if internet is finicky] They became an icon of Kiwiana, things completely kiwi like Pavlova (like merengue with kiwi fruit on it), rubber sandals, fish and chips and the kiwi bird!!!
Anyways, we then headed towards the center of town. It is really interesting to see how things literally stood still after last years Feb. earthquake, and stayed that way all this time. There are restaurants still with food on the tables, bars with broken glass everywhere. It's really crazy to see. So because Christchurch is awesome, they started this RE:start initiative. Just off the center of town, they arranged all these shipping containers, and now they're little coffee shops and stores. It's really cool! The picture will help you picture it. They're all brightly colored and with glass on the front. I love it down there!
I know this is long, but i'm getting close to the end!
After RE:start we rode the bus to Willowbend Wildlife Park. It's a neat place as well. This where we learned/ were exposed to Maori culture and traditions and some native animals. It was this interactive tour where we were approached by a "maori tribe" and our elected chief had to accept the peace offering from this intense maori warrior. Then they preformed for us, and had us all participate in some funny maori activities. It was pretty cool to watch. The main observation I had from the experience was that they make CRAZY EYES!! again, come visit so you can see yourself. I'll try to post a video at some point. We also had a traditional Maori feast. It was complete with muscles, salmon, lamb, pork, stuffing, carrots, kumara(like sweet potato), salad, and Pavlova with Hokey Pokey ice cream. The main course is cooked in the traditional manor called hungie…. I think that's right. It's basically a giant under ground steam cooker with hot volcanic rock. pretty cool! I bet Charley could help me dig a whole to give it a try when I get back to HVAP in July….. not sure where i'd get the volcanic rock though…. before i forget, hokey pokey ice cream is a flavor. it has sort of butterscotch bites in it. It's really good!!
After dinner, we went to see the kiwi birds! if you're not aware, they're the national animal of NZ. While I think the birds are pretty interesting creatures, they certainly have nothing on the bald eagle. They're native to NZ, so they were here before all the Eurooeans showed up with their predators. (cats, dogs, ferrets, possums, rats, and the list goes on and on) The long and the short of it is, they have no defense mechanism, because it was not previously needed. Now, on the other hand, they're having a tough time surviving in the wild. In fact, the (DOC) Department of Conservation is actually dropping 10-80 which is a chemical that kills land mammals. it's quite controversial, but they're trying to completely eradicate rats, possums, etc.. some islands off the coast had been completely cleared of other land mammals and the kiwi birds have done just beautifully. While there are still predators, the DOC runs a program that takes kiwi eggs once laid by the mother and protected for 70 days by the father to places like Willowbend to be incubated and hatched, kept alive and trained to survive in the wild until they're 6 months old. (kiwi bird boot camp) Currently, only 5% of the Kiwis that hatch make it to 6 months. & oh by the way, the kiwi egg is 20-30% of the mothers weight. They actually showed an x-ray where her poor organs are all crammed into this tiny place, and the rest of the bird is FILLED with egg. The guide said that's like us giving birth to 15lb babies. YIKES!!! When we went through their habitat area, it was indoors and really well set up. It simulates being in the wild quite effectively. I got a couple really cool pictures even though the birds were just trying to find hiding places to sleep for the day… they're nocturnal. Anyways, they're pretty cool and I could go on an on with new facts i learned about them.. i'll spare you.
tomorrow i'm headed toward the southern alps (no, not alps as in Austria). It's an overnight field trip, and i anticipate it to be BEAUTIFUL. I'll update soon! Hopefully next time I write i'll be all moved in with my permanent host family!!!