Sunday, June 5, 2011

Taking a Break

I have been in New Zealand for over four months now. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that I arrived, but so much has happened since I have been here that it sometimes feels like I have been here forever. The initial high of travel, orientation, the Future Partner Forum, and a return to Dunedin, has worn off. Now I am back to life as life is – sitting at a desk all day “working.”

Yup, my life has taken on a similar routine to being in the States, the only difference being the lack of Trader Joe’s. One person in the States said to me, “I thought you were just traveling around.” Nope, I am no longer a tourist, at least not now. And just like at home, the routine sets in. Things have been difficult to say the least. Writing a thesis is hard, the weather has been cold, there is no insulation, and yes, I miss Trader Joe’s.

So, just like I do at home in the States, I spend all day sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen, though if we are friends on facebook, you may have noticed that I have recently learned about legal resources in paper, but that is a story for another day. I should also mention that my desk is within a room with about 40-50 other postgraduate thesis students, and although there is a window, my desk faces away from it. Do I need to mention the florescent lights, or is that already part of your mental picture of the place?  

As someone who teaches Stress Management workshops, I knew I had to get away. I had to get away from the routine, away from the energy of the room, and away from my cold house. So I decided to head to Victorian New Zealand, also known as Oamaru (or Oamuru as Google Maps calls it) for the weekend. Oamaru is only about 1.5 hours from Dunedin, and like nearly every other city in NZ, it is right on the coast. What makes Oamaru unique is two-fold. First, and less well known, it was one of the first cities to boom in New Zealand, and at one point was the same size as Los Angeles. The city boasts the first shipment of frozen meat. But then it crashed, and it crashed hard. Some thought it would never recover, and the buildings sat in disrepair for years.

That is where the second point comes in – the one for which Oamaru is best known. All the buildings here are built in Oamaru stone or Whitestone. Better known as limestone to those of us not from New Zealand, Oamaru stone is everywhere in the city. Interestingly, the history video (did I mention I love museums?) said that one of the reasons Oamaru grew so fast was because there were no trees here, so farming was easy, but that also made building from timber difficult – thus the stone! Well, with a booming economy, unlimited (or so they thought) limestone, and an architect who loves all things classic and beautiful, you get historic Oamaru.

The main street in Oamaru with all the limestone buildings.

A beautiful sunset over the sea!

And you cannot be on the Otago coast without another friend – PENGUINS!! I was so excited when I learned I would be living in Dunedin that they have penguins. But Oamaru has more, many, many more. One kind are called Yellow-eyed Penguins in English, but their Maori name – hoihui – literally means noise-maker. I tried to video the noise, but alas, when I ran the video the penguin stopped. Oh well.

A sign for the penguins. These signs are all over the city. 

Yellow-eyed penguin drying itself. 

Then I went to see the colony of little blue penguins. There are over 500 penguins who live in the colony, and in the winter (which is now – we are upside down, remember?) there are usually about 30-60 who come home on any given night. We saw 126! It was absolutely incredible! What is most incredible is how they come ashore. The waves are intense (especially the night I was there), and these little penguins ride those waves into the rocky shore, get thrashed against the rocks, then come out standing and running, yes running, up the rocks to their grassy haven with a wee stop to dry and oil themselves. Who knew that penguins could climb so well? They truly are beautiful and amazing, and apparently slightly mean, little birds. Half the size of the Yellow-eyed Penguins, they are the smallest penguins in the world, and they are social, and oh so cute. Unfortunately, the staff at the colony do not allow photos, and they are nocturnal, so when I went the next night just to the beach to see some, and I did, the only picture I got is, well black. Yes, I was the person on the beach informing other people not to use their flash. I’m that person. If you are interested, there is a link below my black photo to some online photos.

They are serious. They want to protect the penguins.

Sad. This is all I could get from the blue penguins. But click here to see them.  

So, this trip was just what I needed. It only rained on Sunday morning, but cleared up in the afternoon. I walked from one end of the city to the other, visited museums, saw Victorian garb, saw the Steampunk festival participants (folks who dress up in punkified Victorian garb – I don’t get it either, but the photo below is a woman in Victorian dress with Medieval additions because normally when she dresses in costume, it is Medieval costume). And I visited the Whitestone cheese gallery (everything here has whitestone in its name). I love Whitestone cheese. It is sold throughout the country, and apparently is distributed in the States as well, so I visited their factory. So cool and super yummy!

A view of the street with some dressed-up people.

And on my walk back to town yesterday evening, I was talking to myself. Don’t judge, I find this is when I have my best ideas. Crazy? Perhaps, but who writes a thesis that is not a bit crazy? And I had a great insight into my thesis while talking to myself. That insight will be shared in November when I turn it in. Ironically it was right in front of the whiskey tasting room where I had tasted some of the only whiskey ever made in New Zealand earlier in the day. But it made me feel like I could go back to Dunedin on track. I guess I just needed to get away! So, I cannot say that Oamaru is a typical tourist destination in New Zealand, except to see penguins, but it truly is a great place for a weekend, and a great place to rejuvenate.

My point of inspiration. It had nothing to do with the whiskey, I promise.

Oh, and happy Queen’s Birthday! Today is a holiday in New Zealand celebrating the Queen’s Birthday, which is not today, but at least it is a day off.


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

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