A happenstance meeting with a sea lion

Brian Merewitz is a senior Natural Resources Management major and is currently studying abroad in New Zealand.

[Originally posted September 18, 2013]

So here’s a rare mid-week blog post! I started playing touch rugby last week and we got our first win this week, but let’s back up to 9am. Yes, on my day off, I got up at 9am. If that’s not exciting enough, my friend Will and I went scuba diving at Aramoana Mole, about 30 minutes from town where the harbour meets the ocean. I did bring my camera, but forgot my sandwich that I made and left on the counter.

All suited up and going down!

All suited up and going down!



Will is a dive master (the highest certification besides instructor), so I felt comfortable going out alone with him. We went and picked up our gear and headed out and were all dressed and ready to go in the water by 10:30am. It was pretty sunny out, so it was all good. There are 3 wrecks, two of which are dive-able, out there. The water was a brisk 11 (50) degrees, but we were all suited up in a two piece wet suit with boots and a hood! So, I’ll summarize the first 2 dives together. The first two were both on the same wreck, but different areas. I was a little unsure what it would be like after diving the Great Barrier Reef, but it was incredible! Not nearly as many fish (and really no colorful ones), but there is so much stuff growing on the rocks and ship parts. It was covered in nudibranchs, nudibranch eggs, some blue things that I’m not sure what they were, we saw a Conger eel, heaps of starfish of all different sizes and colours, kelp and corals. It was amazing! One part in particular was like a cage, almost, of boat pieces. They were large enough to swim through but it was just poles covered in plants and things all around you! Kind of claustrophobic, but not as bad as kelp forests!

Now, dive three. The infamous one. We were really enjoying the day and it was really nice out, so we went in to the new (and closer) wreck and planned to swim back. I had the camera, so we dropped down, all good. We were swimming around, just as planned, and I was happily taking pictures of the side of the boat. Then it happened. I saw it coming right at me, at full speed, jaws wide open! This sounds unreal, but trust me, it was real. Surreal, but real! No, it was not a shark, though, but enough to scare me. Instead, as I turned my head, maybe 10ft to my left was a full grown sea lion coming straight at me, maybe 20ft underwater. In case you weren’t sure, it was bigger and a faster swimmer than me. And yes, its mouth really was wide open. So, just like you’re taught to do, I panicked! The sea lion quickly shot straight up to the surface then back down, circled me twice, and left. Will is from California and has over 200 dives, so he is kind of familiar to these ferocious creatures, but not me. I yelled, or at least, the best yell you can do with a regulator in your mouth and went straight to the surface and on the rocks. Not sure what that was going to do because sea lions can climb on rocks way faster than me, especially with fins, but I did it. However, he was gone, or so I thought. Will couldn’t find me under water, so he came to the surface, all excited and yelled, “Did you see that sea lion?!” Of course I told him my dramatic story and he had a similar one and then I saw it swim right along the rocks just in front of me, then stop, pick its head out of the water, give me a 5 second stare down, then it was gone. This time for good. It was incredible. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture.

After talking to Will, some people on shore, and the folks at the dive shop all said that it’s common for them to come up and play with you. Also, they are very curious, so they will sometimes even put their teeth on you to see what you are, but not actually bite. Guess I know for next time to stay calm and video it–just like you’re taught. Anyway, we went back down and finished our dive and had an incredible time. We also saw Paua, which is an edible, big shellfish, but we it’s illegal to take them with scuba gear on and you need a knife. Moral of the day–I, in fact, CAN survive from 9am-5pm without eating (although I desperately missed my sandwich)!

One of the sea stars

One of the sea stars

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Aotearoa!

Lake Wakatipu from the Queenstown Gardens

Lake Wakatipu from the Queenstown Gardens

Brian Merewitz is a senior Natural Resources Management major and is currently studying abroad in New Zealand.

[Originally posted August 18, 2013]

Aotearoa (goodluck pronouncing it) is the Maori name for New Zealand translating to “The Land of the Long White Cloud.” How does that relate to this blog? It doesn’t, but I thought a foreign language would get your attention. Well, I guess there were long white clouds in the blue skies, but they were great (except for picture taking).

Anyway, first of all, I jumped! 134m (440ft) off a perfectly good ledge for no reason other than because I wanted to (and paid tons of money to)! It was incredible! Such a rush as you free-fall for 8 seconds head first to the ground! It really was so much fun and totally worth it, plus I got a free t-shirt for doing it! Oh, and it’s the highest bungy jump in Australasia and owned by the guy who invented bungy jumping.

We also stopped at a few wineries on the way, as we were in the heart of Pinot Noir country with heaps of vineyards everywhere–plus they have free tastings of actually good wines!

However, Queenstown is an awesome little town! Very touristy, but sits on a beautiful lake, with tons of shops, food, a garden, ski resorts, bars, and is the “Adventure Capital of the South.” Oh, it’s expensive too… But, they have a place called Fergburger, known for massive, delicious burgers. I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to know I devoured it with no problems.

Then, Saturday night (after bungy and Fergburger), we drove the “Gateway to Paradise” to the start of the Routeburn Track. What an amazing drive along the shore of Lake Wakatipu (pronounced just how it’s spelled)! Bright blue water with huge peaks behind it! We hit a traffic jam though – sheep were being herded across the road…

Then, we went to go hike the Routeburn Track–one of Lonely Planet’s top hikes in the world! I see why. First of all, you hike along the river with the clearest, turquoise water imaginable. We stayed at a hut next to some falls and the night skies are incredible here but I can’t get them in a picture, so you have to believe me! We got up at 5:45am and walked up to the Harris Saddle at 1277m to watch the sunrise. There is also a lake up there and it may have been the most beautiful place I’d ever been!

The colors are so vivid here! The water is so blue, the grass/forests are so green, the mountains are so picturesque and gray with some snow! This experience has been so incredible so far! I know every blog says “this was the coolest place ever” but I think this one may have actually been, but around every corner here there’s new mountains, rivers, lakes, etc that are all so amazing! The land down under the “Down Under” has been absolutely amazing, but I can’t wait to see what Australia’s get in store next week!!

Lake Harris on the saddle  just after sunrise!

Lake Harris on the saddle just after sunrise!

Toryn says Kia Ora to New Zealand

I am now in New Zealand! The 12-hour flight went faster than I had expected! I watched Pitch Perfect and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Pitch Perfect never gets old. Then I fell asleep and when I woke up we had less than 2 hours remaining. Then, we experienced the scariest turbulence in my history of flying. :/ Other notes about the flight: airline food is good (at least on Air New Zealand) and I had my first “legal” glass of wine. :] 

The lady that drove me to the campus pointed out the town to me and kept saying “bits and pieces.” I’m not sure if that is a Kiwi thing or if that was just her. She would say oh that place you can buy such and such and bits and pieces. When she got a phone call, she said I’m pretty busy doing bits and pieces. 

I have moved into my flat now. It is cute. :] When the wind blows, the whole place creaks. And none of my flatmates are here yet so the noises keep freaking me out a little! The campus is pretty desolate. I guess I got here a little too early… I thought I would be jetlagged pretty bad and just want to sleep, but it’s quite the opposite feeling. I want to get out and PARTAY. Lol

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Flat at Lincoln University

So today I walked around. The campus is cute and small. The library is this old building with a clock tower. It’s pretty awesome looking. I walked to the town and went to the grocery store. It’s called New World. The prices are high, because New Zealand has a pretty high cost of living. I haven’t bought any alcohol yet, but the thought that I can is weird… It feels like cheating. I did buy some kiwis, however. I felt it was appropriate.

I walked into the little town of Lincoln right when all the kids were getting out of school. A bunch of them were wearing like these yellow crossing guard vests. It was strange. I walked down by a creek and watched some ducks. I haven’t checked my bird guide to see what kind they were. There was one white one, like the Aflac duck. I think they might have been released domestics. The creek had a lot of litter in it. I was shocked. New Zealand is known for their environmentalism. I guess not every Kiwi is perfect. :]

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ReStart Shopping Area in Christchurch

Things don’t seem that foreign here, but I definitely feel foreign. The cars drive on the left side of the road… I got a ride to my flat from the pest control guy… I know weird, but the shuttle lady had to ditch me and he offered. I set all my stuff in the front seat without realizing that it was actually the driver’s seat… Thankfully I realized it before I started to get in. The money here is cool. It all has pictures of birds on it. Money works the same here, of course, but I got this weird feeling handing it over to pay. Like I could somehow mess it up or that the way I pay would give away that I’m an American. Silly I know. Also, all the temperatures are in Celsius and I feel like there is not easy way to understand that.  

There are lots of mountains. :] New Zealand kind of is a mash up of all the places I’ve ever been too. A lot of the trees and plants are the same as back home, but then they are mixed with like palm trees and tropical looking things. There are lots of flowers and birds. I keep reminding myself that I won’t be seeing any squirrels on campus. 

I did meet up with a girl from school tonight, Rita. Tomorrow we are going to take the bus into Christchurch and hopefully take another bus to a beach! 

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Sumner Beach

Toryn is a senior studying fish, wildlife, and conservation biology at CSU.  She is attending Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand for the spring 2013 term.