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nelson lakes national park


lake rotuiti at nelson lakes nat’l park

After a series of one-night visits at various places along NZ’s west coast, we made our way to Nelson Lakes National Park where we would be staying for three nights. Previous EcoQuest groups had gone to Arthur Pass National Park, but this was a change brought on by the proximity to Christchurch and wanting to avoid any aftermath that could have come of the September earthquake (the infrastructure of the area is still fairly damaged). The lodge we stayed at was situated right in the middle of the park in a village with a population of only 80. The theme of this trip was assessing the beech forests of the area and looking at potential sustainability in the forestry industry.

kaka chilling in the tree

Another theme of the week focused on the composition of beech forest and looking at how the honeydew cycle and how it plays a major role in nutrient cycling. Honeydew is actually the excrement of the beech scale insect. You can collect the honeydew from different insects on each tree and eat it. There could be thousands of insects on one tree alone. It’s super sweet and tastes like a lighter version of honey. It is sold in specialty shops around New Zealand.


that's honeydew (insect excrement)

After our stay at Nelson Lakes, it was back in the vans! Our field leaders drove us to the town of Nelson to drop us off for our 5-day mid-semester break.

back in the vans


Our first destination on the South Island was the coastal town of Kaikoura, located on the East Coast. Kaikoura is a unique town where tourism equates to much of their livelihood. Due to factors such as the sea floor topography, currents (ocean, wind), latitude, nutrients, and upwelling, the waters surrounding Kaikoura bring a variety of marine mammals, such as dolphins & whales, and seabirds, like albatross, to the area. While here, we stayed on the local marae, a traditional Maori meeting house. Previously, we had been to a marae near campus, but this would be the first time we were going to sleep at one. You can’t simply walk on to a marae. You must go through the powhiri, which is the equivalent of a welcoming. There are speeches and songs and then we “hongi” with the people welcoming us. Here is an example of the hongi:

At the marae, we all slept in the main room, called the wharenui. It was so beautifully decorated and painted, all the weavings and art telling Maori ancestral stories. We all spread our sleeping bags out on individual mattresses, lined up like sardines, even our field leaders. It was a lot of fun, especially story time and laughing before lights-out.


photo cred: paul wanzek

photo cred: paul wanzek

We stayed here for 5 days and 4 nights. Our theme for the week was ecotourism and assessing its validity. We used Kaikoura as an example as $28 billion is brought there through tourists each year. The entire stay at the marae was enjoyed by everyone. We felt completely welcome and at home. It was really tough to leave. The weather was beautiful and it was hard to get back in those vans knowing we had a 6+ hour drive ahead of us.


sunrise at kaikoura

We headed over the mountains and to the West Coast. We drove to the ocean that night and stayed at Greymouth, a somewhat dismal town that relies mainly on the mining industry. It’s often compared to Appalachia in the States, but it is not quite to that scale. The next day we headed to the town of Reefton and visited a little area called Waiuta, an abandoned coal mining town.


After Waiuta, we headed down the mountain to Reffton and the Black Points museum. We met Billy who showed us how the gold used to be processed. It was a pretty simple system that effectively got the job done by constantly slamming down on the rock. After this visit we were on our way to Nelson Lakes National Park for a couple nights’ stay.

More pictures & stories coming soon!

I recently got back to the technological world after three weeks of solid traveling on the South Island. We covered a lot of ground down there while assessing our theme of ecotourism. We have now visited more of New Zealand than most New Zealanders themselves. The drive down to the end of North Island usually takes about 8 hours, but with our caravan, bathroom stops, and other stops at cool places it took about 12. We stayed outside of Wellington for the night and got up bright & early to catch the ferry. This is like the ferry of all ferries. It has something like 10 floors with multiple outlooks, restaurants & cafes, a even a movie theater.

The 3-hour ferry ride to Picton, in the South Island, offered awesome island views and chances to see unique seabirds.

After departing the ferry, we hopped back into the vans. We nicknamed our van, Xena’s Van, after our professor/driver, Ria, who we call Xena. As soon as the van hit South Island ground, we did any sort of call/cheer that we thought was appropriate! We had a 4-6 hour trip ahead of us. Traveling with EcoQuest means lots of bathroom stops and radnom stops at cool places without notice. It makes traveling go by much faster. Our lunch stop was at a beautiful black-sand beach with views of the snow-capped mountains and seals chilling on the rocks.









More stories to come about my South Island adventures!

This week we spent 4 days in a town called Opoutere, which lies on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula. It was about a 2-hour drive from Quest. It is a super popular holiday spot for many Kiwis. Our hostel was situated right on the beach and the view couldn’t have been more fantastic. Down near the mudflats of the estuary you could see eels at night time (with ample head lights). The eels live there for their whole lives (~70 years!), reproduce a couple of miles upshore, and then die. Their offspring then come back to the same estuary and the process is repeated. Up the street you could see glow worms on the ledges besides the road. They were pretty fascinating.

We took part in a Shellfish Monitoring Survey that benefits the local estuary in Wharekawa Harbor. Each morning we woke up for low tide in order to get our surveying done. We had to dig up a small area of mud and put all of it into a sieve. We then measured each variety of shellfish (cockles, wedges, pipi, etc). Some of our sites had under 10 shellfish while others had over 200! Two of the three days were fantastic weather: nice and sunny, and minimal wind. The other day, however, was miserably cold and WET. It wasn’t the sort of rain that just gets you wet. Nope, it was raw to the bone. Our feet and hands were exposed the whole time, which made it that much worse. We only stayed out for about an hour before the leaders called it quits. It was starting to rain horizontally…

When we weren’t kayaking in the estuary, we hiked up to an old Maori pa site to get a better view of the estuary, and that we did. The view was awesome and it stayed sunny! We enjoyed our lunch up there and then headed down.

That evening, we took a walk down to the beach to look do some bird watching with Wendy. We were looking for the Dotterel, which is a threatened species. This particular estuary is a protected breeding grounds for these birds. There are only 1500 left in the world, all located in New Zealand.

photo credit: chris dorich

tapapakanga beach

Last week we headed about 14k down the road to Tapapakanga Beach which happens to be another Regional Park right down the road from us. The goal of the day was to reflect upon what we had seen and experienced thus far in New Zealand.

We were able to explore the beach and just ponder. This particular beach was pretty rocky with loads of organisms to see. A lot of the rocks had little crabs hanging out underneath and they would scurry away when you picked the rock up.

After this, we gathered back under one of the Puhutakaua trees (NZ “Christmas” tree) and were given a little assignment. We had to each draw a tree that basically represented our life. Each part had a different meaning: the roots being people, events, places, and experiences that have shaped you, the trunk being your core values/beliefs, the branches being where you are currently and how you use those values day-to-day and the leaves were aspirations or goals for the future. It was a great-thinking exercise and it was nice to be able to write all this stuff done and sort of assess where I am at this point in life. After that we formed into small groups for another little brain exercise. We had to come up with a way/symbol to represent our idea of sustainability. I was with Cara, Abby, Sarah, and Amanda. We decided on  a hermit crab because of the way it uses its shell as its home and then leaves it when its done for another hermit crab or organism. It is a nice closed-loop cycle that enforces reuse. We called him Bernard, the sustainable hermit crab. Everybody loved him!

After we all explained our ideas, we sat down for lunch and just hung out at the beach for awhile. A couple of people went swimming, but it was a little too cold for me. I was in fleece and my wool hat…

flying into auckland

Well, I’ve almost been in New Zealand for a week now and it feels like I’ve been here for months. I’m totally adjusted to the 16-hour time difference, thanks in large part to the 12+ hour flight which totally threw me off. The EcoQuest campus is located about an hour southeast of Auckland near the Firth of Thames in the village of Whakatiwai (fauk-uh-tee-why). EcoQuest emphasizes living in a way that makes as minimal of impact as possible. We grow a lot of food right in our yard! Lemons, limes, mandarins, grapefruit, tangelos, olives, figs, persimmons, broccoli, garlic, swiss chard, rhubarb, and we even have a banana tree! Our living situation consists of cabins spread out around campus with a communal bathroom/shower/laundry area, called the ablutions. Then there’s the wharekai, or house of food. Our kitchen and eating area is here, but it also doubles as our classroom when we’re not in the field.

Our first excursion off-campus was to the Hunua Ranges about 45 minutes away. It was like stepping back in time, very reminiscent of Jurassic Park. The ferns were like nothing we’re used to, some growing up to 30 feet tall! During the first part of our hike, we had to cross a stream as part of the trail. We were up to our knees in water, but it was a lot of fun!

More pictures: