Monthly Archives: February 2018

Maerewhenua Geology Camp

The University of Otago is a major party school, and the first week back from summer “O Week” is one of the biggest party times. My flat on Castle St. is in the middle of the action, meaning that it is easy to meet new people and a short walk to class, but it tends to stay loud late into the night. My flat consists of Timothy (Hong Kong), Claire (Chicago), Anni (Massachusetts), and our kiwi host Danni (New Plymouth, NZ). Something that I hadn’t realized before coming here is that over 50% of international students at Otago are American.

O Week lasts a full week, but I only enjoyed two nights of it before heading out to Maerewhenua River with my geology mapping paper. In New Zealand “paper” is the word for course. The week-long trip had spectacular views, was a great way to make friends, and I learned valuable mapping skills. Cyclone Gita delivered heavy rain the first two days, making note-taking difficult and camp life absolutely miserable. By the second day every river in the region was flooding, so our instructors cancelled the scheduled visit to a river outcrop, instead taking us to the Valley of the Whales. This limestone outcrop, in the middle of a sheep pasture, is the richest marine fossil record of the Oligocene Age, about 23-33 million years ago. Half excavated and protected by an outdoor display case are early whale bones; the surrounding cliffs are full of other ancient shells.

Valley of the Whales

The weather cleared up for the remainder of the week, giving us a chance to visit an outcrop below Benmore Dam, a giant hydroelectric dam. In New Zealand about 85% of electricity is generated by renewable energy, dominated by hydro and geothermal. Here we learned to use a stereonet and draw a stratigraphy log. The following day we visited the coast near Oamaru and were evaluated on out strat log of a great sandstone cliff. Nearby was a silky seal lounging in the sun, lazily watching us work.

Seal on sandstone cliffs near Oamaru

Near the end of our trip, we spent a day practicing triangulation near a lime quarry in Tokarahi region (incidentally Tokarahi translates as “many rocks”) . The Tokarahi Lime Quarry is on the top of a limestone plateau and, separated by small farming valleys, similar plateaus were visible all across the region. While breaking apart chunks of discarded limestone I found a perfectly intact shark tooth.

A 3cm shark tooth, about 25 million years old.

The final day of our field paper was on the pasture lands of Tokarahi. Our final assessment for the trip was to map a basalt layer across an area 2km long, and this was done largely by walking along the top of a cliff, plotting the location and elevation of the layer. Views of the surrounding country were excellent from up high, and the peaks of the southern alps were just visible above the rolling countryside.

Pasture at Tokarahi

The Maerewhenua Geology Camp has introduced me to the beautiful landscape of NZ and helped me to immediately make friends. This week I’ll be starting my other papers, and diving into the bustle of Dunedin life.

Endless Waiting & The Haka

Today I attended a reception in Waikiki with Whitman President Kathleen Murray, meeting with Whitman alumni and current parents, to communicate campus updates and the future of the college. The whole event was a bit bizarre for me because I was the only current student attending and I had to explain why I was still enjoying winter break at home in mid Feburary… to the president of Whitman! When choosing my program in September I hadn’t seriously considered the scheduling implications of studying in the southern hemisphere, but it’s really quite obvious: southern summers occur in January and their winters occur in July! While New Zealanders are enjoying their long summer off, I’m enjoying a long winter. Thankfully Dr. Kathy Murray is very understanding and promised that I won’t be expelled for skipping school.

I’ve enjoyed 9 weeks of winter break, escaping the northwest chill to be back home in tropical Hawaii. During this extended break I’ve relaxed, refueled, and refocused myself, and although I love Hawaii the suspense has made me even more excited to discover what’s waiting in New Zealand. I’ve connected with the “flatting” or student housing community at the University of Otago, read through a few travel guides on the region (I highly recommend this guide book by lonely planet) and poured over literature about the charming kokapo and kiwi, two indigenous and critically endangered flightless birds.

Adding to the excitement, this evening I received the itinerary for my geology field course which will take me up the heavily braided Waitaki River. The Waitaki is a crystal blue river draining glacial lakes in the largest inter-mountain basin in all of New Zealand, the Mackenzie Basin. Geology of New Zealand is almost completely different from anywhere else I’ve visited, and the opportunity to take this field course is a significant reason I chose this off-campus program.

A few days ago a cultural exchange from New Zealand visited and volunteered at my neighborhood loi, Ho’okua’aina. A loi is a wetland farm for taro root, a staple of the Polynesian diet in Hawaii and New Zealand. After working in the mud patches all day, these young Maori men performed a haka, Maori war dance, as a symbol of friendship between Maori and Hawaiian culture.

They chose to perform Ka Mate, a haka made famous by the New Zealand “All Blacks” rugby team. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to view another haka in New Zealand, they’re very powerful dances to watch.

During the Whitman reception today I had the opportunity to talk with alumni and parents about the off-campus experience, and I encouraged tentative parents to seriously consider off-campus studies as a valuable part of the college experience. Surprisingly, I met with the parents of a student who had gone to Dunedin last spring and had thoroughly enjoyed the field geology course. I also met with the parents of two separate sophomores considering study abroad in New Zealand; if you’re reading this feel free to reach out at any time with questions.

When I finally fly to Dunedin this Friday I’ll immediately be out in the field, digging up cobbles in the Waitaki River and taking pictures everywhere I go. My next post will have real content about New Zealand and the unexpectedly Scottish city of Dunedin, but I hope this post gives you a taste of the agony I’ve been in while waiting to visit the southern alps.