Spoiler Alert: I made it to New Zealand, and this is the story of how I got here, and what I did for my first five days (long blog post ahead!).
Day one: I met a girl named Claire at the Houston airport, as well as a Kiwi (New Zealand native) man. We had small talk for a while, but it was nice to make friends so quickly, and also for the convenience of watching each other’s bags, for instance. I sat in the middle seat on the flight, but I did not mind because the plane was so spacious and all of the flight attendants were incredibly hospitable. We were informed that not only was the plane on time but that we would be shaving off almost an entire hour from our original itinerary, making a fifteen-hour flight more like fourteen hours. Each seat was equipped with its own personal tablet-like screen, which was ideal for watching movies or listening to music. We were served dinner (chicken pesto, a roll, some veggies, mashed potatoes, and a square of cheesecake), and I was more than impressed. I slept for a total of around six hours and watched three movies. Once we got going, it was not too terribly long until we were ready to land. They served us breakfast (fruit, yogurt, and a muffin). We could see the lights from Auckland through the plane window. Once landed, I talked to some girls who were sitting around me and found out they were all heading straight for university! We left the plane and went on to claim our baggage. Claire’s luggage was right beside mine, so we left for customs together. I had to declare my hiking boots, but I got through easily. Then I was in the international arrival hall and had to wait around for two hours for Jane, Libby, Liv, and Caitlin to pick us all up. So, I contacted home and sat with Claire. This was about 5:30 AM, and I hadn’t taken a shower in almost thirty hours, so I was looking kind of gross, but I felt amazing! I could finally enjoy a sigh of relief. I had finally made it!
So Arcadia found all of the students who were to get on the buses with them, and we traveled to the Kiwi International Hotel in Auckland. We had quick introductions and some tea. We also had a session on NZ history and some basic safety, but then we were off once more. We had to split into multiple groups since our total reached around seventy students. My group walked around town and then we split, even more, to go grab some lunch. I went with a girl named Casey who actually stayed for a second semester this time around. We went to a local restaurant and got steak and cheese meat pies (cheap and very yummy!). The buses picked us up and took us to Cheltenham Beach, where we hiked about fifteen minutes to the top. The peak was magnificent– we could see all of Auckland! The weather was perfect, incredibly sunny and warm. So you could imagine that when we hiked back down, we all threw on our togs (swimsuits) and sprinted into the water. The water was cool, blue and very clear. There was a floating dock that we swam to and did flips off of. I swam even further to some rocks and standing on the rocks, it finally hit me. This was not a vacation. I didn’t have to be sad to leave. I was going to be living here for the next nineteen weeks. This was my home. And boy, did it have a view. So we left the beach and FINALLY got to take showers at the hotel, about forty-two hours after my previous shower. Arcadia took us out for an Italian dinner, and then we were on our own for the night. A group of us went to a karaoke bar and met some kiwis. We had a blast, and we really bonded over the terrible singing and tired faces. We left the bar and got some much-needed sleep.
Day two: We had breakfast at the hotel and then had an hour-long health and safety briefing. We then loaded our luggage onto the busses and headed to Rotorua. We stopped in Matamata (where the Hobbiton set is located) for lunch and I got another meat pie, but this one was even cheaper and it was full of buttery chicken. We drove another hour and stopped at the Agrodome to see a farm show. The farm show was lovely, it introduced us to nineteen different types of sheep, and the kiwi man who was hosting sheared a five-month-old sheep for us. We then walked outside and got to see the sheepdogs herding the sheep into the enclosure. The buses then took us to Rainbow Springs, where we had an hour-long guided tour. We got to experience some of the flora and fauna native to New Zealand, and even got to see a live Kiwi bird! We checked into the Sudima Hotel, and we smelled exactly why the area is geothermal. The springs beside the hotel were full of sulfur, so we got to experience rotten eggs for the next two nights! Then we had a couple of hours to find some dinner. A group of us went to order food to-go and ate it at the Rotorua Lake. It was a gorgeous day and we had a lovely picnic dinner by the water. We grabbed our togs again and headed to the Polynesian spa for some well-deserved relaxation time. My roommate for the night, Katie, and I went into each pool at the spa; each pool had a different temperature, ranging from the temperature of bathwater to the temperature of a hot tub. We went back to the hotel and did cheers for Valentine’s Day.
Day three: The Sudima hotel offered a huge breakfast to us, and we gladly accepted. One interesting thing was that baked beans are a staple breakfast food in New Zealand, along with kiwi fruit and marmite spread. Our group went to see Waiotapu Geothermal Wonderland and stopped along the way to see a hot spring filled with boiling mud. The Lady Knox Geyser was next, and it erupted with a bit of help from some soap. Naturally, it would erupt every two to three days, but the workers regulate the eruptions to 10:15 every day with the assistance of the soap so that we are able to experience it. Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity, and the Wonderland showed us exactly why. The minerals in the rocks and the hot temperatures combined to allow for beautiful scenery, but we obviously could not get too close or we could get hurt. Our guide showed us around and made us stay on the marked paths for our safety. Grabbing our togs once more, we headed to a local zorbing place. Zorbing was quite an experience; it is where three people get into a giant inflatable, clear ball, with another clear ball inside with some water at the bottom. We got in and they released the gate for us so that we rolled down the hill for about thirty seconds. It was almost like a water slide but more intense! We then got on the ground where the track was so that a ball could roll over us! We had some free time afterward, so we went to Pak'nSave to purchase from snacks for the flight the next day.
The local Maori tribe (indigenous peoples of New Zealand) then picked us up and took us to their land. They greeted us formally, and we all had to nominate chiefs for our groups. The Maori peoples then showed us around the village and taught us their customs. The women showed us their poi and the games that they teach their children. The men taught us about the tattoos they receive and their war dance, the Haka. We were treated to a performance by the village of many songs and dances, ending in their very own Haka. Finally, we were served dinner. They had carrots and potatoes, lamb, chicken, mussels, and an amazing traditional Maori bread. Our dessert consisted of ginger pudding and Pavlova. Everything was too good to describe and the experience was overwhelmingly positive.
Day four: Sadly, our time in Rotorua had come to an end. We packed up and drove back to the Auckland airport. Security was relaxed and everyone was friendly. We landed in Dunedin, got our flat keys, and were dropped off at our streets. Everyone in my program has been assigned to a different flat, so none of the friends we just made would be actually living together. I made my way to my flat and met my fellow US flatmate, Ashley, and my Canadian flatmate, Emily. I then went to meet up with Arcadia students for our final orientation event and had some pizza for dinner. A group of us then went to get ice cream and get our bearings. We visited each other’s flats and met so many flatmates, kiwis, and international students along the way. I really loved doing that because now I know how to get around and I can find where my friends live. There was a huge party right across from my flat, and hundreds of students were partying in the street. Campus watch was just observing, making sure everyone was ok, but everyone was just having the time of their lives! There were people twirling double ended fire sticks, everyone was dressed in all white for the theme night, and the music was blaring. I unpacked my bags (what a relief!), made my bed, took a shower (finally looking fair, too), and fell asleep.
Day five: I slept in pretty late, and then met up with some friends for lunch at a café. We walked around and found a bagpipe competition in a park near the university. We then went to the mall so that I could get a New Zealand phone and they could go grocery shopping. The workers at the 2degrees store were incredibly helpful and were full of tips and recommendations. Later that day, I walked down my street, Castle Street, and entered the Botanical Gardens. I went grocery shopping at New Way and then across the street for some dinner. I hung out with my flatmate Ashley and then walked around and met some first-year students.
I feel so at home here already, and I cannot wait for university orientation this week. My itinerary has been so full, and there are so many places to go and sights to see. I finally have the morning off to slow down and reflect. It has been amazing being able to go to all of the places we have already been to and to have so many connections. I know my way around the city really well, and I will learn the university soon. My excitement is through the roof and I cannot wait for more story time. For now, I will be taking each day as it comes, going with the flow and loving every minute of it.