I was very fortunate this past week because my boyfriend flew all the way from Wisconsin to Christchurch to visit me for nine days during UW-Stevens Point Spring Break. We were able to travel to all kinds of places on the South Island of New Zealand around the Christchurch area. The first place we went to was Hanmer Springs, which is about two hours away. It is basically a town of about 1,000 residents but they have a lot of hiking that you can do around the area, as well as a natural hot spring spa. We stayed there for three days and it was awesome! We had perfect weather for the hot springs – cold and rainy. The spa was not as I had expected though. I thought when they said ‘natural’, they meant the actual springs like you would find on a mountain, but they were ‘natural’ only because there used to be hot springs there and they are heated geothermally. Regardless, they were awesome! Just huge hot tubs everywhere, a water slide, and some other pools.
One of the days we went hiking up to Conical Hill which only took an hour to get to, and it was an incredible view! You could see the entire village of Hanmer Springs, plus more mountains behind you. When we got back down we walked around the little town and got to learn some of their history. Another day we hiked up to Mt. Isobel (about 1,750 meters elevation) to see a 41 m waterfall on the top of the mountain! Talk about incredible! At first I said I was going to be brave and go under it, but then I stuck my foot in the water and it was ice cold. Next time!…maybe.
Christchurch has this extremely awesome wildlife center of rescued animals called Orana Wildlife Park. This has been one of my favorite places I’ve been in the world. I learned so much about native and non-native New Zealand animals. Plus (and this is my favorite part!), all of the workers are volunteers, and they care so much about the animals! It made me so happy. And then knew so much about every animal. It was also the first, and probably only time that I saw some kiwis! Since kiwis are common prey of land mammals, they are extremely rare and actually endangered, so I was pretty excited that I got to see some. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures since they are nocturnal animals, and camera flash can damage their eyesight.
We got to hand-feed some giraffes and learn about different species of giraffes that exist around the world. One of the giraffes even let us stroke its neck – best day ever! But that day still had more awesome left! We decided to do a “lion feeding.” I say “lion feeding” because the lions want to eat you. Basically they put you in a giant trailer with metal caging all around it, and the lions chase after you and jump on the top of the trailer to try and get food. Of course, they are then fed, but I never realized how big lions were! I think there head probably weighed had of my body weight. Orana is the only place in the ENTIRE WORLD that offers this experience! It was so incredible, and I was willing to lose a finger to feed a lion. 😉
Another interesting learning experience we had was at the International Antarctic Centre. This museum is devoted to informing the public about Antarctica, their wildlife, weather patterns, I’m talkin’ anything you would ever need to know! It was so funny because they have a “winter storm room” that is supposed to mimic Antarctic winter weather. So here I am in shorts (but they offer you a jacket and silly rubber shoe coverings) waiting for this storm. Before it even began everyone in the room is shivering and some even left because they were too cold. We just laughed because it was only 17 degrees F – that is a heat wave for a Wisconsin winter! It only got to about -10 F with 20 mph winds, and the rest of the people ran out immediately after it was over because they were so chilled. So not only did I learn that Wisconsin is colder than the Antarctic winter, but we also watched a few documentaries on penguin species native to New Zealand and how they are currently endangered. We even got to see some little penguins!
Overall, we really enjoyed learning so much about New Zealand (and Antarctica!). It is always fun to discover new things about new places, especially when you get to feed giraffes and lions! If you ever come to New Zealand, I highly suggest visiting these places! You will learn so much, and who doesn’t love to learn?! 😉
Emily Jakusz is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point majoring in health sciences-health care administration. She is blogging about her study abroad experience in Australia and New Zealand.