Sunday, January 22, 2017

Kia Ora! A trip to Aotearoa

Happy New Year, friends!  Every once in a while in life, you get an opportunity that’s just too good to pass up.  This year, it was the chance for me to tag along on another department’s two-week travel course to New Zealand.  With the promise of sharing the company of two great colleagues, twelve splendid students, and three terrific alumni as travel companions, and a title like “The Psychology and Theology of Lord of the Rings,” how could I possibly say no?

A view from the Interisland Ferry into Picton
Now, New Zealand isn’t exactly an obscure destination these days (though it does take more than 20 hours of flying to get there from South Carolina!), so rather than give a day-by-day laundry list of places we visited, I’ll leave the itineraries to the guidebooks and just share some highlights from my time there.

A view of Auckland’s Sky Tower from the ground…

and from the top of the Sky Tower itself:

 A view of a tourist who paid a lot of money to jump off this perfectly good building…

…to land on that little blue-and-white target pad some 200 meters below.

A kea at the Auckland Zoo:

(These native parrots attack and eat living sheep.  One wonders why it’s okay for them to wander about freely in the aviary….)

A pukeko in the zoo parking lot:

(We kind of figured it was a zoo escapee, but it turns out we saw them a lot throughout New Zealand.  Their stride reminds me of the way cats walk when they have boots on their feet.)

A group of tourists getting off the boat as they leave the Waitomo glowworm caves.  If you think the cave mouth looks cool, google images of the inside!  (We couldn’t take pictures ourselves, but I’ve never, ever experienced anything like it.)

Black swans on Lake Rotorua:

Napier’s black pebble beach…

…and Art Deco architecture, courtesy of the 1931 earthquake that necessitated almost total reconstruction of the city:

Maori performing the haka at the Tamaki Maori village outside Rotorua.   

This evening was honestly one of the highlights of the trip for me, interested as I am in history and other cultures.  To see people so passionately engaged in preserving traditions that were on the brink of extinction less than a century ago—it felt somehow like a completely unearned privilege, a particular honor, to see, speak with, and learn from these amazing people.  And yet, when they weren't doing the haka or engaging in the formal welcome ceremonies, they shared the humor and sarcasm that seems to have been bred into every Kiwi we met. 


Think what you like about my maturity level, but I thought Hobbiton is absolutely splendid.  Every detail is arranged with such care, down to the washing on the lines and the Hobbit portraits inside the Green Dragon.   

It was a little surreal to be there—not just because it felt like stepping off the bus and into Middle Earth, but because at every turn they could say, “Here’s where Frodo rode in the wagon with Gandalf,” or, “Here’s where Bilbo and Gandalf smoked their pipes while watching the sunset.”  

I love films and everything having to do with the making of them, so walking in the footsteps of such well-loved actors was just as exciting as exploring the Shire itself!

And do you recognize this setting from a Fellowship of the Ring scene filmed here, on Mt. Victoria in Wellington?

That's right:  “Get off the road!”

(I hope it won't be pursued as a copyright infringement if it's a photo of a photo, and a bad one at that.)
And finally, just a sampling of New Zealand’s stunning, varied, and completely unpredictable natural beauty:

Lake Wakatipu
Cloud formations in the Marlborough area over the Spy Valley winery…

 …and Moa Brewery:

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes in Punakaiki:

The forest below Franz Josef Glacier:

Lake Hawea:

The swimming-pool blue of the Clutha River:

Queenstown from the Skyline Gondola:


And Milford Sound:

I keep saying that every time I visit a new place, I don’t cross things off my bucket list: I put more things on it!  I’d love to go back to New Zealand to explore places we didn’t have time to see—Picton, Christchurch, Doubtful Sound, Mt. Cook.  But I can’t express my gratitude to my two colleagues for providing this amazing first look to students and alumni—and for allowing me to tag along and enjoy the fruits of all their hard work!