It's first thing in the morning, still dark outside and Jane, Kate and I are bouncing with excitement at the arrivals gate of Auckland international airport. We are decked out with ArcadiaNZ t-shirts and big Arcadia signs, ready to wave down our students as they make their way through customs.
Day one of orientation is really an exercise in staying awake until 8:00pm. From the airport, we bus into central Auckland to unload the mountain of luggage at our hotel, scarf down snacks, learn each others' names and a bit about this new country. From there, students get the opportunity to explore Auckland's vibrant inner city, find lunch and hike up several dormant volcanoes, to be rewarded with stunning vistas over the city and ocean both. The day ends with a pizza dinner, by which point, most are nodding off into their plates.
It is amazing what ten hours of sleep, horizontal in a bed can do for a person, as the next morning sees everyone bright eyed and bushy tailed. Day two has us drive south of Auckland to Rotorua (a Māori word meaning “Two Lakes”). First stop of the day is Matamata (known internationally as Hobbiton), before our journey takes us to the Agrodome for a farm show. Agriculture is a huge part of New Zealand's economy. At one point, the sheep population here far exceeded the human population. This fun, interactive show gives students an insight into farming in New Zealand, not to mention a petting zoo type area where baby lambs can be cuddled!
New Zealand's unique flora and fauna are explored next at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park. This beautifully preserved area is run by the local iwi, giving students a unique chance to see some of NZ's endangered species including kiwi and tuatara (the worlds oldest living reptile). Students also learn from knowledgeable guides about the threats to our native plants and animals.
As the bus pulls into lovely Rotorua, it's impossible to ignore the wafts of sulfur in the air and the steaming ground. Rotorua is situated in the rim of fire and is one of the most active geothermal fields in the world. The day is therefore finished with a hot soak in the beautifully presented Polynesian Spa, sitting on the shore of Lake Rotorua.
The morning of day three is spent in the incredible Wai-o-tapu (sacred waters) Thermal Wonderland. Here students explore a land of erupting geysers, boiling mud and neon green sulfur pools just to name a few. It is a humbling place as you gain an appreciation for how powerful mother earth is, especially when you discover the earths magma, usually far below the earths crust, sits a mere five miles below the surface in the Rotorua area.
After a break for lunch, students are hustled out to zorbing. In short, groups of three students climb into an enormous plastic hamster style ball along with bucket of warm water and race down a hill. It sounds ridiculous, and it is... ridiculously fun!
The day is finished with a very special experience at the Tamaki Māori Village. Local iwi have created an experience for visitors to discover what life would have looked like for the Māori people before European influence. This includes demonstrations of song and dance as well as a traditionally cooked (and utterly delicious) evening meal.
The final day of orientation starts early in order to get everyone back up to Auckland and on a flight to Dunedin. Things start to feel very real as the plane lands and students realise they are about to see their new flats and meet their other housemates. A well practiced routine of key pick up and house drop off commences and in no time, students are dragging their luggage into their new homes. It's a time of nerves and excitement. As Arcadia's orientation ends, and the university international orientation starts. Class enrollment, campus tours... the semester begins!
Orientation is a really special experience. Not only is it a chance to see some of New Zealand, it is also the start of life long friendships and an amazing semester abroad.