Today was a free day in Christchurch. Sara, Kelly, Jordan and I decided to go and visit Mt. Cook New Zealand’s highest mountain. The guide picked us up at the YMCA we were staying at early in the morning and we began our trip across the Island. Mt. Cook lies near the west coast and is a five-hour bus ride from Christchurch which lies near the east coast. Although the drive was long, it was through the foothills of the Southern Alps which offered great views and lots of coffee stops. For a large portion of the trip we drove alongside two different but equally gorgeous lakes; Lake Tekapo and Lake Kakipo. Upon arrival, we ate lunch at the Mt. Cook hotel and visitor center. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day and the top of Aoraki (the Maori name for Mt. Cook) ascended 3753 meters into the clouds out of sight. However, for a brief moment the clouds did part and offered a partial look at the peak of the mountain. After lunch we traveled a few minutes up the valley closer to Mt. Cook where we got out and hiked a short way to an overlook point. From there we could better see the base of the mountain as well as Glacier Lake that rests at its base. Out of the lake flowed a river that contained white water rapids and was cross-able by a swinging bridge. After taking pictures at both the overlook and the bridge we began the short hike back to the van for the long ride home. Overall the long hours in the car were worth it even though we were not able to see the full mountain. The views were amazing and hiking Mt. Cook is officially on my bucket list if I ever return to New Zealand.
Early this morning, Dr. Edgar and I went on a Lord of the Rings tour.!!! It was of Edoras which is the capital of Rohan, one of the civilizations of men in the Lord of the Rings. We drove through the country side on our way there. Along the way our guide shared information about the agriculture, plant and animal species, and industry of New Zealand. We also were able to stop a few times along the way to take photos of the landscape and Edoras from a distance. When we arrived, we unloaded and divided up some replica weapons to carry to the top for pictures. Dr. Edgar and I shared carrying Gimli's Axe up the giant hill. After lots of huffing and puffing, we made it to summit. The view of the surrounding area was absolutely incredible. We took tons of photos and had a blast learning about where they constructed the set. What an amazing day!
The Antarctic Center was "the coolest fun around." The Antarctic Center isn't just an area to learn about the continent and what animals live there, such as seals, penguins and whales. Fun fact: it is one of the thickest continents out of them all as most of it is ice. As more ice forms on the land, the thin pieces on the edge of the continent flake off into the ocean. There are three countries that have bases stationed at the Antarctic Center; USA, Italy, and New Zealand and there working on research, mainly focusing on the ozone layer. The group of us that went to the center got to watch the penguin feeding. They have 13 Little Blue Penguins that have been given a second chance at life. Most of the penguins there have disabilities that would keep them from surviving in the wild: broken beak, paralyzed wing, afraid of water. As for being able to tell the gender of them, you can't by just looking, they take a small section of their tail feathers and send them off for a DNA test. Once they have the results back, a band goes on the right wing for female and left wing for a male. And if the male and female have the same colored band on their wing then they are a couple. They can live up to 6 years in the wild with their natural predators but if they are in captivity they can live up to 23 years. After the penguin feeding, we went to a short 4D film to show us about the real experience of living and working in Antarctica. One thing we did that I never thought I would experience is a summer Antarctica snow storm. The temperature started out at 17.6 degrees F and dropped down to -3 with 23 mph wind. It wasn't bad, but it was the wind that made it unbearable.
Our next stop for our tour was the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. It is a wildlife reserve for natural, wild, and heritage animals of New Zealand. It was amazing to see all the animals that have been introduced into the country and which ones are native here. It was a really open reserve, sort of like a petting zoo, where you can walk around in each exhibit and get up close to each animal and some you can even pet and feed. All but the bird enclosures were open but a fence between you and the animal. And even in the bird enclosures, the birds flew right over everyone’s heads. One of the Kea birds flew over my head and it felt like it was about to land on me, it was so close! When I come back to New Zealand, I will be visiting this place again. Willowbank isn't just a collection of exhibits, it’s a closeup New Zealand Wildlife experience.