Study Abroad

The views from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Michaela’s story

A blazing orange sun hovers over a beach on the far horizon. The clouds above are pick, orange, and grey.

Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Michaela Shea-Gander will be HECUA’s student blogger for the New Zealand program this spring semester. Michaela is a junior at Denison University, majoring in Communications with a narrative non-fiction concentration. Read on for Michaela’s first post, a whirlwind walk through her first weeks in New Zealand.

Our five-week journey had a rocky start, with five of student flights cancelled due to a cyclone storm. Though our group coming together was delayed, and involved us introducing ourselves many times over, we quickly learned that patience and adaptability would be two vital traits on this trip. With weather and plans shifting constantly, a rigid schedule like we’re used to at our various colleges is just not possible, a fact that has been refreshing.

Over the past three weeks, my group and I have visited various sites and met incredible individuals on the North Island of New Zealand who shared their wisdom with us. We started at the Waihoanga Center, a retreat center on the Otaki River. Here, we learned about Māori perspectives of the land and water from one of our leaders, Ngarangi. The concept of mauri (life force) whenua (land), and rangatiratanga (sovereignty) were just a few of the concepts we discussed in great depth. We learned about the Treaty of Waitangi, as the 6th of February was Waitangi Day. The Treaty was passed in 1840, and promised coexistence and the same rights for Māori and European settlers.

a long and slender rope bridge hangs over a minty green river.






Hiking on the Otaki River. 

At Otaki, we had time to bond, reflect, and learn traditional Māori songs before starting our extended road trip. From there, we drove to Cambridge, where we visited the farm of Jeanette Fitzsimons, a former Member of Parliament and co-leader of the Green Party of New Zealand. Before venturing to our next location, Raglan, we stopped at Maungatautari Ecological Island, where we learned about conservation efforts in New Zealand. Throughout this trip, we learned about both Māori and Pakeha (European) perspectives on complex issues such as farming, conservation, and world views.

In our next location, Raglan, we stayed at Kokiri Center, which is the site of a former golf course built illegally on Māori land. Thanks to a protest staged in 1978 by Māori activist Eva Rickard and her supporters, the Center is now a farm, with a marae and training facility. Here, we learned about activism, farming, and sustainability while staying next to the ocean. In Raglan we visited and learned about a permaculture farm, as well as Xtreme Zero Waste, an initiative to eliminate waste in Raglan.

a white capped mountain squats in the distance. Shrubby bushes dot a grassy plain in the foreground.


Mt. Ruapehu

After Raglan, we visited the Tirorangi Marae (a Māori meeting place) hosted by the Wood family of the Ngati Rangi iwi (Māori tribe). In my opinion, this was the most powerful and inspiring part of the road trip thus far. With Mt. Ruapehu looming over us, surrounded by nature, it was a stunning place to learn about Ngati Rangi perspectives as well as each other. A group of students from an art school in Auckland called Whitecliffe were staying with us. Being able to interact with students our own age from New Zealand was a rewarding experience, and many of us made connections that we hope will carry on in the future. At the marae, we visited various rivers and took a hike up near Mt. Ruapehu where we had time to reflect. At night, each person had the opportunity to share about meaningful experiences that were on their mind.

A startlingly green lake dips into a mountainous plateau.

Views from Tongariro

We have less than a week left of the road trip section of our trip. For the past week, we’ve been staying at a lodge in the Tongariro National Park, learning about the history of the land and the effects of tourism. During this time we completed a two-day, 37 km hike called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which had the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. This trip has already changed my perspectives and given me the ability to learn in ways that I’ve never learned before, and I am forever grateful for my leaders and the other students in my group. Though it is hard to believe that this month has gone by already, I am looking forward to the adventures that await us in Wellington after the break.

a large group of kitted-out students cluster and smile in front a a conical mountain peak wreathed in clouds.


The crew at Tongariro.

To learn more about HECUA’s program in New Zealand, click here.


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