Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Recreational Day in Akaroa, New Zealand

By this morning, the ARISE team was ready for a bit of adventure. We all wanted to see a bit of New Zealand before deploying for the ice. So the 7 of us rented a car, and the one Kiwi (meaning a person from New Zealand) among us offered to drive (a good idea, since the driver sits on the right side of the car and drives on the left side of the road – the complete opposite from the U.S.!) Bob Williams, our resident Kiwi, masterfully navigated us up through the foothills, where we climbed above Christchurch for a beautiful view of the city with the snowcapped views of the Southern Alps behind us. We then meandered our way up a narrow mountain road, up over the mountains, and down the other side to a lovely peninsula on the eastern shore of the south island called the Banks Peninsula.
This peninsula is an ancient volcanic crater, perfectly rounded. Hillsides were covered with sheep where, being spring, baby lambs were chasing their mothers to and fro. In New Zealand, there are approximately 50 million sheep. (That is compared with a human population of approximately 4 million.)

We drove out to a beautiful town called Akaroa which was purchased by the French whalers from the Maori people, who were the original inhabitants of New Zealand, as a place of respite from the rough Pacific Ocean. It later became a French mission. It was later the scene of a very bloody battle between the Maori people. It is now a quaint town filled with art galleries, restaurants, and boating excursions. 5 of us went on a wildlife cruise on a catamaran that took out out through the Akaroa Sound and into the open ocean. There is a very rare species of tiny dolphin found here called the Hectors Dolphin. We were fortunate enough to see a few of them feeding in the water with their little black and white dorsal fins poking out.

Further on, we came to a few Blue Penguins. There are small penguins that live throughout this area but are not adapted to the colder climate further to the south. Like other penguins, they are flightless birds that mostly live in the water and, indeed, they are blue.

We also came across New Zealand Fur Seals sunning themselves up on the rocky slopes above the water. It is calving season, and there were many newborn seal pups learning the ways of the world as well.

What a treat to see all of those animals!

After our return to shore, we enjoyed a wonderful meal in the French restaurant called C’est La Vie – the last thing I expected to be doing in New Zealand! For the first time in my life I tried escargot!

It was an idyllic day and a much needed bonding time with the rest of my teammates. We talked, hiked, watched the sunset, toasted our upcoming adventure… On the circuitous journey home through the mountains, we got to know one another even better by playing a game where we each told things about ourselves: two of them true, and one of them a lie. The others had to debate which statements were true, and which were a lie. What an entertaining and enlightening way to get to know your teammates! The kilometers sped by as we learned about the personal and professional lives of our cohorts, the life accomplishments and failures, stories from childhood, and life dreams. We came back to Christchurch warmed by the sun and by the new bonds we had forged with our team.

It was a perfect day. C’est la vie, indeed!

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