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

New Zealand: Part II

One post could not contain the fullness of the study abroad trip to New Zealand that I recently embarked on. So I gladly made another one!

After a long week of activity, learning, and way too many french fries, our group of twenty flew to Queenstown from Auckland. While on the South Island, we were based at the Lakeland Park Christian Camp (across the lake from the main area of Queenstown) and took day trips to the surrounding areas.

Memorable experiences include:

  • touring the enormous Clyde Dam Power Station, experiencing the privatization of energy in New Zealand, and comparing the trade-offs of hydroelectric power and the environmental impact of dams
  • learning about air quality measurements and international research and policy collaboration at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)
  • bicycling the Cromwell countryside alongside sheep, cows, rolling green hills, and a couple really dark tunnels
  • walking the grounds of Mt. Nicholas Station, a historic 30,000 Merino sheep farm on the shores of Lake Wakatipu
  • donning hard hats for a tour of the unfinished Glenorchy Campsite and Living Community
  • exploring Doubtful Sound and relishing in its silence, lush mountains, seals, and dolphins on a day cruise through the majestic fjordland
  • bungee jumping 134 m or about 440 ft (only a brave few did this)
  • zipping through the Shotover River Canyons on the iconic Shotover Jet  (the one Prince William and Duchess Kate rode in 2014)
  • playing Around the World table tennis and lifesize Jenga into the wee hours of the night
  • taking a Skyline gondola ride up the mountain for an incredible view of Queenstown and a delicious buffet send-off


    Students enjoy the famous Kiwi Burger at McDonald’s. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.

I really enjoyed the cross-cultural aspect of this trip. Food wasn’t too different in Kiwi Country. We ate quite a lot of mince pies, pastries, and grass-fed beef (think the McDonald’s Kiwi Burger or world-famous Fergburger). Our Chip (french fry) Challenge to eat chips everyday was successfully completed by a few students and professors. Flat-whites (similar to lattes) were consumed frequently, as was the soda L&P (Lemon & Paeroa). A variety of Kiwi lollies (candies) were passed around on the bus including Minties, Odd Fellows, Pineapple Lumps, Jaffas, Wine Gums, and Milk Shakes. Additionally, the accent and sayings in New Zealand were pretty fun to be around. Some of my favorite were “Sweet as” (cool or awesome) and “She’ll be right” (it’ll be alright). Interested in learning more sayings? Check this list out.


A view of Queenstown from atop the Queenstown Hilltop trail. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.

The trip wasn’t all fun and eating though. Over the course of this study abroad, we encountered the following recurring themes:

The complexity and interdependent nature of sustainability. As a trans-disciplinary trip, we ran into many situations that required Chemistry students to explain the scientific significance and Accounting students to describe the financial elements of a site we visited. We found it paramount for companies, agencies, and other groups to make sustainability decisions and policies based on scientific data, and for the community to keep these groups accountable to such commitments through measurement and reporting. In this way, communication across sectors is key.

The asymmetry of sustainability commitment and action. Marketing on websites and annual reports often varied significantly from what we encountered at the sites we visited. There weren’t actually sheep grazing the vineyards and fertilizing the soil at the Villa Maria Winery. The Sustainability Coordinator at the Clyde Dam expressed disappointment at his station’s lack of sustainable activity, whereas the company that owns the dam, Contact Energy, proudly touted that same work being in their financial report. As a country in general, we found New Zealand was not nearly as “clean and green” as it appears. The country does less environmental damage than a more populated country like the U.S. due to their population size (only 4.5 million). Although lush and beautiful, the country has much work to do in the way of sustainability cultural change and policy design.

The innovative sustainability work being done. Although we encountered some discrepancies in word and action, we were also privileged to see some of the most cutting-edge sustainability research and innovation across the country. Examples of this include the important work being done at NIWA, the integrated approach and expertise of farmers running Mt. Nicholas Station, and the Living Futures-centered Tūhoe Te Kura Whare and Glenorchy Living Community. These sites and many others in New Zealand are changing their country’s “clean and green” profile from the bottom up; such practitioners are inspiring transformation in their communities, companies, industries, and abroad.

Overall, the trip was a blast and a meaningful learning experience. This study abroad will be offered again in December 2018, so be sure to check in with the SPU Study Abroad office for more details. Last, check out a few of my favorite shots from the South Island:


Students consider various aspects of Clyde Dam’s operation and its effect on New Zealand’s private energy sector, the local ecosystem, and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


A shot of the Clutha River and surrounding area from atop the Clyde Dam. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


Students tour NIWA’s operations and learn about their instruments to measure weather and atmospheric chemicals. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


Students bike over 9 miles along the Cromwell countryside. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


On the ferry ride to Mt. Nicholas Station, Chemistry student Liz Knodel sketches some of the scenery. Photo courtesy of Sara Derr.


The stunning view from Mt. Nicholas Station, which spans 100,000 acres, or 10 miles of lakefront property that extends 20 miles back. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


Students learn about the sustainable management of the Mt. Nicholas farm station which cares for over 30,000 Merino wool sheep and 10,000 cattle. The group found this visit particularly relevant as the owner Kate had extensive background on the chemistry of agriculture as well as experience in agribusiness and banking. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


Students practice their stone skipping skills on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


Environmental Accounting and Chemistry students learn about the complex construction of the Glenorchy Living Community: a self-sustaining, net zero energy campsite, general store, and education center. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.


Silence, majesty, and the occasional fishing outpost can be found on the Doubtful Sound cruise through fiordland. Photo courtesy of Daniel Schofield.

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