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Summer Trip to New Zealand

Barb Milosch

Students visited New Zealand for their Island Geology and Ecology trip.  Their Māori tour guide made their stay memorable and magical. 

Students began their expedition whale watching in Kaikōura.  They saw several sperm whales, humpback whales, dolphins, albatrosses, and fur seals. 


They paddled in a Waka (a traditional canoe) and headed to Lake Takapó.  Students visited the Dark Sky Project Base and learned about the creation of stars and the differences between the visible stars in the Southern Hemisphere and those in the Northern Hemisphere.  By the time the sun set, they were ready to begin looking for the stars like Centaurus, found only in the Southern Hemisphere!  Lake Takapó is one of only eleven International Dark Sky Reserves worldwide. 

On the way to Queenstown, students bungee jumped at the Kawarau Bridge, the birthplace of bungee jumping.  The picturesque town of Lake Wakatipu offers a view of the Southern Alps.  A gondola ride provided a stunning view of these mountains, known as the Remarkables, and was a beautiful backdrop for an exciting ride down the luge on individually controlled carts. 


A visit to the Fiordlands included a three-hour tour of Doubtful Sound, home to many beautiful waterfalls and clear, calm waters.  These waterfalls create a layer of fresh water over the saltwater streaming in from the nearby Tasman Sea.  Whales come into the sound to rid themselves of parasites that do not survive in the freshwater layer.  The darker freshwater layer allows deep-sea organisms, like black coral, to live at shallower depths. 

On Wanaka Lake, students met with a local Maōri man who taught them steps from a traditional haka dance.  He explained many cultural customs, including the hongi greeting, where two people press their noses and foreheads together while clasping hands to share breath.  A local woman helped students create a Pounamu necklace or bracelet.  Pounamu is a greenstone similar to jade, only found on the South Island of New Zealand. 

Students visited Franz Josef Glacier as they learned about glaciation (also important in the formation of Doubtful Sound).


During the trip, students saw kiwi birds, tuatara, and the smallest penguins in the world - little blue penguins!  In Christchurch (Ōtautahi in Maōri), the group visited the International Antarctic Center to learn about the research going on in the Antarctic.  The center was across the street from the United States Antarctic Program Station!


While on the south island of New Zealand, students documented the science learned in a daily journal.  Journal entries are graded based on the quality of writing, including demonstrating a proper understanding of the science taught on the trip and referencing a required podcast.  Before the trip, students were required to listen to the History of  Aotearoa, New Zealand Podcast by Thomas Rillstone.  Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand.  Gaining an understanding of and respect for Māori culture, including learning Māori names for the places visited, was an essential part of their trip.

Island Geology and Ecology is taught to students who travel with the Science Department faculty.  Students learn about the geology that forms islands and the unique flora and fauna that evolved there.  The course is taught biannually, and locations of previous studies have included Dominica, the Galapagos Islands, and Iceland.