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Hobbit holes, underwater caves, and volcanoes: TGS explores New Zealand

Kia Ora, everyone! Our fifth year is officially underway, and judging by our students’ reaction so far, it’s poised to be a stellar one. Where as last year we began the school year in one of the most densely populated countries in the world (India), this year our adventure begins in a land where sheep and cattle both far outnumber the inhabitants: Yep, that’s right, we’re in New Zealand!

Being here provides us with the best of worlds: Auckland, where our partner school ACG Senior College is located, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with people from more than 200 different cultures calling it home. That diversity in human makeup is matched by the sheer amount of amazing landscapes that combine to make New Zealand one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth. Its nickname “small country, big destination” is no joke: a striking array of activities are available mere hours from Auckland in any direction.

Over the next week, our students and faculty are setting out to explore many of these destinations on our first full-fledged weXplore trip of the new school year. The trip is comprised of two completely separate itineraries, each with their own unique set of destinations and activities: half of our students will explore the Bay of Islands while the other half will explore the Bay of Plenty. Like all of our weXplore outings, the trips are designed to build a sense of community among our students as they engage in a series of recreational outings and place-based learning activities. It certainly doesn’t hurt when they are taking place at some of the coolest places on earth. If you’d like to follow along with our students’ adventures in real time, you can search for the hashtag #tgsnz on Instagram. Additionally, a feed of their photos can be found below:

Itinerary Highlights

Bay of Islands

Those students embarking on the Bay of Islands trip will venture to the furthermost northern region of New Zealand’s North Island. The Bay of Islands is aptly named: it consists of a staggering 144 islands, which our students will have the opportunity to make the most of through activities like dusk fishing, night kayaking, biking, snorkeling, and island hopping. Other activities planned for this trip include:

The Kauri Museum — this award-winning museum tells the story of New Zealand’s pioneering settlers through the lens of the kauri industry. The Kauri Museum specializes in the legacy of New Zealand’s kauri forests, specifically the strong durable timber and the highly prized kauri Gum.

Jim Taranaki’s Bone Carving Studio — Jim Taranaki is a Maori artisan living his dream. He welcomes our students to his home overlooking the breathtaking Hokianga Harbour to learn the Maori craft of bone carving. Jim has become renowned for his craft of taking cow leg bones and turning them into beautifully carved pendants and sculptures, which when completed resemble ivory. Our students will have the opportunity to work in his studio, either creating something of their own design with raw materials or finishing off a pre-cut carving.

Twilight Tour — Our students will set out by coach from Hokianga, where a Maori guide will brief them on the protocols for their visit to the mighty Waipoua Forest. Stepping into this special world will allow our students to walk under the same stars that guided the Maori’s ancestor Kupe from legendary Hawaiiki to New Zealand. The paths of the forest are lined by trees that were already giants long before Kupe’s arrival, and that were standing before the birth of Christ. The early Maori’s deep affinity for the forest and the spiritual respect that they continue to hold for the giants still growing there will no doubt instill a new-found appreciation for nature in our students. As day transitions to night, the twilight tour will also provide us with the opportunity to observe New Zealand’s unique bird life as it comes out to feed.

Dune Ride up the Ninety Mile Beach — While New Zealand’s South Island is known for its incredible mountain ranges, the North Island’s beaches receive similar acclaim from travel aficionados fortunate enough to spend time relaxing on them. Our students will have the opportunity to do the same as they make their way up the coastal highway to the lighthouse at Cape Reigna. They’ll do so in style aboard the dune rider — a 36 seat off-road vehicle with sloping floors, designed to travel across the sand. The day will provide the rare opportunity for our students to witness the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide in a tidal race, and for the more adventurous at heart, the chance to test their balance as they sandboard down massive sand dunes.

Bay of Plenty

A completely different experience awaits our students on the Bay of Plenty trip, one filled with hobbit holes, underwater caves, and the opportunity to shear a sheep or two. Here are some of the activities we have planned for them over the next week:

White Island— Students on the Bay of Plenty trip will have the opportunity for some science in action as they explore New Zealand’s only live marine volcano, White Island, or, as it is known to the Maori, Whakaari — “that which can be made visible.” Trained guides will escort our students through the remains of an old sulphur mining factory, allowing them to examine bright yellow sulfur deposits up close. The tour of White Island will be capped off with a trip to the top of the main crater’s edge, a perfect vantage point to watch as hot gases, located far below, explode up from the earth in spectacular fashion.

Black Water Rafting — One of New Zealand’s most popular and thrilling activities, our black water rafting trip will see our students descending with experienced guides into the stunning underworld of the Ruakuri Cave. The cave is home to millions of glowworms, whose tiny beads of phosphorous light bring to mind a wondrous new galaxy when viewed collectively in the dark. Getting to that point will be an exhilarating challenge, full of abseiling, jumping, climbing, and rafting. No doubt the highlight of the trip for many of our more adventurous teens!

Hobbiton — Wait…Hobbits really exist? Not quite, but after filming concluded on the Hobbit trilogy, the Shire was left intact for fans of the books and films to revel in. Our students will receive a guided tour of the area filled with trivia pertaining to all things Lord of the Rings, before capping things off with a drink at the legendary Green Dragon Inn.Photo ops abound here, so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of Hobbit-themed Spot profiles in the near future!

No. 8 Farm Tours – For many of New Zealand’s residents, farming was the way of life for their parents, farming is a way of life for themselves, and farming will be the way of life for their daughters and sons. This laborious, yet rewarding lifestyle will be explored by our students during their visit to the No. 8 farm — a stunning rural property situated across 1,000 acres of rolling green pastures, native forest, truffle orchard, and abundant birdlife. Sheep will be sheared, deer will be fed, and two of New Zealand’s most popular farm dog breeds, the Huntway and the Eye Dog, will be seen in action. It’s all part of a hard day’s work for our traveling teens.

Stay connected with TGS all year

We’re truly excited not only about our time in New Zealand, but about our upcoming terms in Istanbul, Turkey, and Athens, Greece, as well! If you’d like to follow along, we’ll be posting lots of photos, videos, and updates on our blog and Spot, as well as on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Flickr accounts. Until next time, as the Maori say: Hei konā rā!

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