One of the best things about my job is getting to travel all over the world and meet all sorts of wonderful people and places – one of the worst things about my job is leaving these people and places before I feel like I have really got to know them. This is the feeling I have leaving New Zealand. I know there is so much more that I would like to see in this country but time and obligation made that impossible. What we did see was astounding.
First off, it seems New Zealander’s will leap off anything, bridges and towers being a couple favorites – in fact they were having an off season two for one special for folks wanting to jump off the Sky Tower (the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere) unfortunately I couldn’t talk anyone into the adventure so this remains on my to do list. The country is the bungee jumping capital of the universe as far as I can tell – and if there isn’t anything sufficiently tall enough to fling themselves off of nearby they will reverse bungee from the ground up.
Indeed New Zealanders exhibit more than a few traits that might be considered quirky by those of us who have not had the privilege of growing up on a collection of islands at the bottom of the world. Like Darwin’s Galapagos fauna – this bit of isolation has allowed for some interesting evolution. Considering the seed colonizing population was that of convicts I think things have turned out quite nicely. Today’s New Zealander not only respects the culture and traditions of their indigenous peoples (the Maori language being one of three official along with English and signing) they also have environment and human rights high on their list of priorities. The country is also renowned for their education system, especially their research and approach to reading and literacy, which brought us to Auckland in the first place.
Before the conference Sara and I took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing. We hopped a 9:15am ferry ride to Rangitoto Island, a half hour off the coast of city. Rangitoto is a new island – relatively speaking, having erupted from the ocean floor only 700 years ago. This event occurred much to the horror of the residents of the surrounding islands and may have played a part in the naming of the new smoldering land mass, Rangitoto means blood red sky, although the official story is that the island is named for a Maori chief who was injured on the island during a battle. Things have pretty much settled down on the island nowadays with the major conflict now being the eradication of non native species like wallabies and possums.
Speaking of Maori warriors though – I was able to catch the NZ Rugby team’s match against South Africa and the traditional war dance performed by the boys in black – a lively little spectacle called the Haka is a rather intimidating bit of choreography. Later at the opening ceremonies for the literacy conference Sara and I got to witness the Haka being performed by a bunch of twig thin bare-chested elementary school boys. I’ve got to admit – even they were a little bit scary.
Another spot we visited was Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater Adventure. What had all the trappings of a tourist trap turned into one of my favorite excursions of my visit to Auckland. The aquarium and penguin exhibit wasn’t the grandest thing I had ever seen – but it was done very well and the whole complex was really geared for young folks and I think done in a very good way. What impressed me most about the joint was the man behind it. Kelly Tarlton – an explorer – treasure hunter- obvious proponent of education as well as a Jacque Cousteau aficionado had taken what were giant city sewage tanks snaked a Plexiglas tunnel through them – filled ‘em up with sea water and stocked the thing with sharks, rays, giant crayfish and dozens of varieties of fish with a slew of interactive and educational exhibits documenting ocean life, penguins and Robert Scott's doomed quest to the South Pole aimed at school aged kids. Like most dreamers Tarlton died before seeing his vision completely realized at the age of 47 and only weeks after the aquarium / museum opened.
The literacy conference that we came to New Zealand to speak at was one of the nicer conferences we have been to. We were well received and I think it is not going to be our last trip down under. One of the major highlights was the opportunity to hear David Pearson deliver a keynote address. His talk was on assessing – or grading – students work. The comment that he made that will stick with me as long as I work with kids is this, he said that The questions a kid asks after reading a text are more important than the ones that student can answer about the text.”
I think that’s where I am at with New Zealand – I have more questions than answers, the least not being, how does one keep from running away when they see this…