Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

Aotearoa New Zealand: Sweet As!

Eighteen students, thirty-thousand sheep, two Kiwis, twelve days, and one incredible experience in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

These numbers only begin to describe the study abroad I recently participated in. This trip was organized for more than two years by two Kiwis: Dr. Ross Stewart, SBGE Dean and Professor of Accounting, and Dr. Daniel Schofield, Professor of Chemistry.


Daniel and Ross at the Waimangu Inferno Crater Lake. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.

After Fall Quarter finals, eighteen students studied abroad in Aotearoa New Zealand. We focused on aspects of environmental and cultural sustainability from both accounting and chemistry perspectives.

“Aotearoa is the [indigenous] Māori name for the country of New Zealand. The literal translation of Aotearoa is ‘land of the long white cloud’” (Māori Tourism Lmtd.).

Dr. Stewart instructed nine students in a three-credit International Accounting course. Methods of sustainability reporting were surveyed for various organizations. Dr. Schofield led five students in a five-credit Intro to Science course and four students in a five-credit Advanced Chemistry course. These students investigated the science behind climate change as well as implications for New Zealand’s private sector and government policies.


Students get an up-close look at the life cycle of the kiwi from the farmer’s point of view under the fruit canopy. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.

There were quite a bit of preparations to be made before the group’s December departure. IFSA-Butler was chosen as a third party provider and acted as a host organization to coordinate airport pickups, transportation, accommodations, food, and excursions. Students read case studies and other literature about their respective topics. Each excursion destination was looked at in-depth by a couple students, who in effect became resident experts of each site or organization.

The twelve day trip covered both the North and South Islands. The first half of the trip was spent up North in Auckland, Tauranga, Rotorua, and Hamilton.

A couple of North Island highlights included:

  • surveying the export of lumber at the Port of Tauranga
  • eating kebabs on the beach after a hike and swim at Mount Maunganui
  • touring the Tūhoe Living Building with Māori activist and artist Tame Iti
  • exploring the agriculture industry’s footprint at various kiwi, sheep, dairy, and avocado farms, along with a tour of Comvita, a Manuka honey company
  • inner-tubing in very cold water and jumping over waterfalls in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
  • journeying through Hobbiton where the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed

Lumber (New Zealand’s largest export) at the Port of Tauranga. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


Rachel Johanson and Courtney Perine pose for a quick photo on a hike through an old mine on the North Island. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.

Along the way, we got to learn about the Māori history, culture, and worldview at the Tūhoe Living Building and during our visit with the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao Iwi (tribe) in Rotarua. After being led on a tour of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Buried Village, we swam in one of the many lakes in the region and then headed to Whakarewarewa, the Living Māori Village. Here, we were led on a tour around the village and to various geothermal sites by Gran Chris, a village elder and seasoned tour guide. Next, we got to watch and participate in a traditional concert and haka.


At the Whakawerawera Māori Living Community, Gran Chris explains the history of the geothermal sites and village life of her tribe. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.

After the concert, we enjoyed chicken and veggies cooked geothermally within the ground and then headed to the tribe’s wharenui (meeting house). Gran Chris explained the architecture, carvings, and customs observed in the wharenui. The wisdom and insight that Gran Chris shared about the natural world and geothermal activity in her tribe’s area was fascinating. The Māori worldview sees the earth as an organism in which all of creation participates in interdependent relationships, meaning humans are to live with the land. It was helpful to have this background when reflecting on the Te Kura Whare, or the Tūhoe Living Building, and what that place symbolizes for Tūhoe, other Māori, and all of New Zealand’s sustainable future.

Stay tuned for my next post about this incredible trip and our week on the South Island. For now, enjoy a few shots capturing our time on the North Island:


A rewarding view from the top of Mount Manganui overlooking Tauranga and the beach. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


After harvest, these kiwis will either be exported abroad or sold domestically through Zespri International, the major entity that markets kiwifruit all over the world. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


Ross shares a laugh about the realities of operating a small-scale dairy, kiwi, and avocado farm with one of the farmers. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


At the same site, the group learns about the farm’s land use, water consumption, and estimated greenhouse gas emissions. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


Daniel gets his hands dirty at the dairy farm. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


Tame Iti shares his work with students in a gallery showcasing local artists. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


Tame Iti and Owen Dippie’s mural of Hokimoana Tawa, a kuia or Māori female elder, as the face of the nation. This collaborative piece lives near the entrance to Tāneatua and is entitled “Ma mua a muri ka tika” (the people of the past have things to say to the people of the future). Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


A group shot of the SPU Environmental students and professors at the Whakawerawera Māori Living Community concert. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


An enthusiastic picture before the hour and a half spent underground inner-tubing the Waitomo Caves under the dazzling light of the glow worms (really just larvae that glow through bioluminescence). Photo courtesy of Black Water Rafting.


A picturesque Hobbit hole in the Shire. Students had a blast touring Hobbiton, the set where the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.

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