Study Abroad in New Zealand 2015


The UNA Department of Communications sponsored its first study-abroad course in New Zealand.

Instructors: Dr. Beth Garfrerick and Dr. Bruce Gordon

Location: New Zealand

Students: Communication majors Amandalyn Dorner, Caroline Bobo, Kristen Goode and Savannah McKinney joined entertainment industry and business students.

Dates:  May 11-27, 2015

Activities: Immediately upon arrival in Auckland, on the North Island, after a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles, the group enjoyed a sightseeing tour of the “City of Sails” including panoramic city and harbor views from Bastion Point, and drives through Parnell Village and the Viaduct Harbour area. Auckland has a population of roughly 1.5 million and the total population of the North Island is around 3.5 million (with only 1 million on the South Island). The group also visited the Auckland Botanical Gardens before being the special guests of a presentation/reception at Auckland University of Technology, co-hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in New Zealand. Presenters included U.S. Consul General James E. Donegan and Mike Hearn of the Chamber.


Experiences in Matamata included a visit to a sheep farm and real Middle-earth, or the Hobbiton Movie Set, the setting for The Shire featured in the Peter Jackson-directed movie trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, and more recently, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The ten-acre movie set was carved from a 1,250-acre sheep farm with views of the Kaimai Ranges. The Shire contained Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn and Mill and other structures created for films.


The following day the UNA group ventured on to Rotorua, located in the heart of New Zealand’s famous thermal region, which forms part of the geologically active “Pacific Rim of Fire.”  The town of 20,000-plus is also renowned for Maori cultural activities. 


Many enjoyed a day at Rotorua’s famous spa, featuring relaxing massages and mineral springs baths. Another Rotorua attraction is the Agrodome, where the group learned about sheep, cattle, wool, and working sheep dogs. At Te Puia, Maori guides escorted the group through geothermal activity in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley, featuring boiling mud pools, steaming silica terraces, hot springs, and geysers, including the famous Pohutu Geyser, which can erupt up to 98 feet high. 


At Te Puia, the group also visited the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where young Maori are learning the traditional carving and weaving skills of their ancestors. The evening’s entertainment consisted of a Te Po (the night) experience, which is an immersive feast of indigenous cultural storytelling, entertainment and food. The Te Po begins when visitors are welcomed onto Te Puia’s fully-carved traditional marae, through the customary powhiri (welcome) process. A Maori performance group presented a concert featuring the haka, a traditional Maori war dance, weaponry, song, and taonga puoro (musical instrument playing). A buffet followed the concert, including foods from the hangi (traditional Maori method of cooking).   


From Rotorua, the group traveled by coach through vast pine forests to Taupo on the shores of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Brief stops were made at a geothermal bore field at Wairakei and Huka Falls on the Waikato River. From Taupo, the excursion continued south across the Tongariro Volcanic Plateau, passing the volcanoes of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, through the Mangaweka Hills and across the Manawatu Plains to the Kapiti Coast and Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.


Interesting signage could be seen and observations made while passing through the many rural towns and villages. For example, traffic signs read, “Merge Like a Zip,” or “Remember to Indicate.” Signs reminded pet owners that dogs must be kept under “effective control.” McDonald’s restaurants feature the Georgie Pie, a steak and cheese or chicken and vegetable crust pie. Restaurant takeouts are takeaways. Property lots are sections. Spain has the Running of the Bulls. To attract tourists, the small village of Taihope has the Running of the Sheep. Many churches have been converted to cafes. One promoted its “heavenly coffee” in a display window.


Campers or camping trailers are called caravans. Freedom camping is a big deal in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation offers some 340 sites where folks can park their caravans for free. Signs also indicate where FC is not allowed. The DOC also operates a number of camping grounds costing $10 per night. Toilets (restrooms) are provided. Payment is on the honesty system.

The first stop in Wellington was a trip atop Mt. Victoria for panoramic views of this harbor city.

The next day, Georgia Beamish-White, policy and advocacy advisor for the Wellington Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, escorted the group for a full day of business/tourism visits. The group visited the offices of Positively Wellington Tourism and heard a presentation from Events and Partnerships Manager Jessica Beyeler. Then it was on to Weta Workshop for a behind-the-scenes viewing of everything Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit and other New Zealand film projects. Following was a tour of Weta Cave for viewings of more screen icons.


UNA Film and Digital Media student Amandalyn Dorner wrote of her Weta visits: “We learned that a lot of the people who work for Weta are sort of misfits in the real world and that a good percentage of them have learning disabilities--some even with Autism. Weta was a place for them to all come, scholarly degrees or not, and create something beautiful that millions of people all over the world see. Also, I got to see the other student’s reaction to all the details that go into making a movie. As a film major, I understand all these concepts … but getting to see the reaction the other students had as to how carefully every single detail of a movie is planned and created and thought about was very satisfying. Plus, we got to see real props and prototypes from the movies.”


Probably one of New Zealand’s “coolest” work spaces was seen at TradeMe, NZ’s answer to eBay. Creative spaces for brainstorming included a caravan (brought onto the upper floor before construction of the building was completed, a bar featuring draft beer on tap, a floor-to-floor circular slide, and a room full of creatively stacked pallets for pondering.


A trip highlight and the final Wellington stop was a visit to the U.S. Embassy in New Zealand for a warm greeting from U.S. Ambassador Mark Gilbert and an economics, culture and public diplomacy briefing from First Secretary (Economic) Dorothy R. Mathew and Country Public Affairs Officer Robert J. Tate. Tight security prevented bringing any belongings into the embassy, but a staff photographer provided a visual record of the visit. Ambassador Gilbert presented challenge coins to professors Beth Garfrerick, Bruce Gordon and Bob Garfrerick. In return, Dr. Garfrerick presented a Shoals/UNA gift to Ambassador Gilbert including UNA memorabilia and a copy of the documentary, “Muscle Shoals,” about the Shoals music scene in the 1960s and 1970s.


The second-half of the UNA’s group time in New Zealand began with a 32-minute flight from Wellington to Christchurch on the South Island. Christchurch is the country’s second largest city (roughly 370 million) and the location from which flights to the Antarctic originate. New Zealanders refer to a big city as “the Big Smoke.” The first stop was the International Antarctic Centre featuring rides in a hagglund (the vehicle used to get around in the Antarctic), penguins, experiencing the chill of Antarctic snow and ice in an area with wind chills up to -18 degrees, and viewing a simulated 3D cruise around Antarctica.


A drive through downtown Christchurch revealed plenty of remnants of the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 20011. However, the city’s rebuilding program is well underway. One striking symbol of the rebirth of city centre is the construction (only took two years) of what has become known as the Cardboard Cathedral (the transitional home of the Anglican, Christ Cathedal, which was heavily damaged). Japanese “emergency architect” Shigeru Ben designed the beautiful structure made of cardboard, local wood and steel, with a concrete slab floor and strong polycarbonate roof. The coach tour also included views of the RE:Start “shipping container” retail mall, the Catholic Basilica (also heavily damaged),  the Bridge of Remembrance, and panoramic views of the city towards the Southern Alps from Port Hills.   


Leaving Christchurch, the group traveled over the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass and the beech forests of Arthur’s Pass National Park. The route followed the Taramakau River to the west coast, and then north through Greymouth, the largest urban area on the West Coast, to the small settlement of Punakaiki on the edge of the Paparoa National Park.  Punakaiki is renowned for its wild, rugged coastline and the famous “Pancake Rocks” and blowholes.


Things New Zealand learned along the way: There are many deer farms. Rarely do the deer jump the fences! A scarce population on the South Islands means mostly one-way bridges. The only things that back up traffic on the South Island are sheep/cattle crossings and rock slips! Pigs are called “Captain Cookers,” named for early explorer Capt. James Cook who brought them to the island. “Septic” is another word for angry. The country has many braided rivers, so called for their resemblance to the pattern of braided hair. Hikers are called “trampers,” and they leave shoes, shirts, bras, hanging on fences around popular tramping paths to mark their passage.


After a night’s stay and visit to a greenstone jewelry factory in Hokitika, the group traveled to the villages of Franz Josef and Fox. Rivers of snow and ice of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers flow from vast snowfields high in the Southern Alps almost to sea level, which is unusual in a temperate climate. A rainy walk around Lake Matheson, famous for reflections of the Southern Alps, Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman on clear days) was followed by a journey to Fox Glacier, stopped short along the path because of recent rock slips.


The Maoris have fascinating stories behind the names of places. The story behind the Franz Josef Glacier follows: (Wikipedia) The Māori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'), arising from a local legend: Hinehukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover, Wawe, to climb with her. Wawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept Wawe from the peaks to his death. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.

The journey along the West Coast featured native rainforests, wetlands, bush-fringed lakes, sand dunes and surf-pounded shingle beaches from Haast and Bruce Bay, through Haast Pass, the lowest of the South Island mountain passes crossing the Southern Alps. The group enjoyed views of Mt. Aspiring and Thunder Falls, and followed along Lakes Wanaka and Hawea into Central Otago. After passing through Kawarau Gorge and seeing the historic gold-mining town of Arrowtown on the Arrow River, the group traveled into Queenstown, New Zealand’s premier four-season lake and alpine resort. 


In Queenstown, the UNA group enjoyed a downtown Arts and Crafts Fair along Lake Wakatipu. The more adventuresome bungy jumped off Kawarau Bridge at the oldest and most famous bungy jump site, Hackett Bungy Jump, while others bungy jumped off towers or mountain-top structures in Auckland and Queenstown. Others enjoyed speeding across the Shotover River on shotover jets or taking luge and gondola rides in Queenstown.


A final journey took the group across Southland farmlands to Te Anau and through Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound. An unexpected bonus was an early, and record, snowfall, which made spectacular scenery across lofty mountains, waterfalls and deep valleys carved out by Ice Age glaciers even more spectacular. Fiordland National Park, part of the UNESCO Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area, is one of the great wilderness areas of the Southern Hemisphere. Bottles of cold, clear, glacial water were collected and savored along the way.


A scenic cruise down Milford Sound featured views of Mitre Peak to the Tasman Sea. Snow? No rain while cruising around Milford Sound? Dolphins in Milford Sound? The likelihood of all three happening this late-in-May day was rare, but we experienced it all, in one day!


That evening in Te Anau the group embarked on excursion to the Te Anau Caves, home to thousands of glow-worms. After walking along paths crossing over rushing waters, the group boarded boats while drifting in silent darkness to view the luminous shimmer of glow-worms.

Re-tracing the journey through ice and snow to Queenstown, the UNA group flew back to Auckland and boarded a plane that would return them to the states, in Los Angeles. After two more connections and driving home from Nashville’s airport, these weary travelers clocked 36 hours from Queenstown to the Florence area on their return home!

Worth the long flights, carrying one’s own luggage getting increasingly heavier by the day, and traversing through snow and ice in the month of May? An enthusiastic “yes!” One professor reflected on a recent study-abroad excursion and a photo taken of his students as they were about to embark on the trip this way, “This photo was taken just before we started our journey, and it’s a special photo because, in a certain sense, these people no longer exist. They have new experiences, new perspectives, and new knowledge.”

For more information about the many international programs at UNA, check out Study Abroad.  

Study Abroad with UNA