Kia Ora and welcome to Middle Earth! After flying through multiple time zones, 15 new students finally landed in Auckland, New Zealand for the start of the first Summer Session. Still in the airport, students were already asking questions about the animals, plants, and fungi they were hopeful to see. Their instant enthusiasm and curiosity was contagious and a great welcome sign. Despite all of the jet lag, students stayed awake for the hour drive from Auckland Airport to Kiwanis Lodge in Huia Bay (our home base in New Zealand). Upon arrival at Kiwanis, students met the rest of the SFS staff and were again welcomed to the beautiful “National Geographic-esque” views of New Zealand—from Kiwanis, there is a beautiful view of Huia Bay. After going through a bit of orientation, and being fed by our lovely cook, Iris, it was time to sleep.

After getting adjusted to the time difference, classes began. Our three wonderful faculty members introduced themselves and their courses to the students and it was time for the academic semester to start; however, since SFS is a school for FIELD studies, we immediately found ourselves outside of the classroom… on day one! There is no better way to learn than out in the field, learning by seeing and doing.

After students were introduced to the geology of the area and the Gondwonan separation, we went to the Arataki Visitor Centre. Dominated by nature, the visitor centre was built around surrounding trees. At the front of the building is the pou, a dominantly carved Maori post. This whakiro (a carving) was carved out of two giant Kauri trees taken from the Waitakere Ranges.  The inside of the building is constructed like a telescope, with one end highlighting Maori culture and the city, while the other end focusing more on the bush and the rainforest.

Then, we ventured into the rainforest to explore some of the Arataki nature walks while Siggy (professor of Rainforest Ecology) and Catherine (professor of Natural Resource Management) talked about different forest types, the trees, epiphytes, and animal signs. Every direction you looked in had a fascinating fern or animal sign to awe over. If only we could look in every direction at the same time! It was summed up perfectly by a student who said, “Sometimes, I wish I had more eyeballs.”