New Zealand Volunteer Adventure with IVHQ and Sustainable Coastlines March 2018

After my first IVHQ volunteer trip to Guatemala, I knew I had to do another one. For this trip I chose New Zealand, I've always wanted to visit Aotearoa "Land of the Long White Cloud" and the project was something I am seriously interested in, which is Coast and Waterway Conservationism.
I paid my registration fee, booked my airfare and shut down my business for 2 weeks. After a looooong flight (13 hours), I got my first glimpse of the island.
Next stop was the hostel where I would be living for 2 weeks. Now I've heard interesting stories about hostels and have even seen the movie Hostel, so I was not sure what it would be like. Luckily, the Oaklands Lodge was clean, quiet and fun. I settled in and started meeting people from all over the world and hearing their many interesting stories.
We met on Monday for orientation and had an early morning breakfast on top of Mount Eden and got to know each other. Then to the Flagship Education Center to learn more about conservationism, New Zealand, the Maori, Sustainable Coastlines and the projects ahead of us. The building is beautifully designed, created with a re-purposed shipping containers, reclaimed woods and metals with a compostable toilet and solar panels. They have a goal to be completely sustainable for a year straight and I'm sure they'll do it.
Our project coordinator, Amy Klitscher, was informative and extremely supportive. She made us feel instantly welcome and comfortable. And she was rockin' the best messy bun on the island :) We learned much about New Zealands colorful history and the notables from this area are the singer Lorde and the first man to summit Mt. Everest, Edmund Hillary.
I asked Amy what 3 big takeaways she would tell anyone that wanted to know more about Sustainable Coastlines and conservationism and she shared with me the following:

  1. In the last 10 years we have had 58,000 event participants, picked up 1.23 million litres of rubbish, planted 45,000 native trees, and educated 163,000 individuals through our presentations. We're just a small team so a lot of this is done with the help of incredibly generous and passionate volunteers.
  2. If you love something, you should take care of it. Jacques Cousteau one said - "people protect what they love". So if you wanted to start anywhere, just go and spend time at the nearest beach or river, and just enjoy it.
  3. Education in schools and community groups is really important to us, it's like being the fence at the top of the cliff, as opposed to the ambulance at the bottom. So the more people we can spread the message to the better!
      We also learned so much about the original people who inhabit the island, the Maori, since we will be working closely with them in the nursery on their protected lands during the project.

      We then headed to the bus station to pick up our Hop cards (to hop on and off the bus to get around), I had to find a bank and convert my US dollars to NZ cash and back to the hostel to get a good nights rest before our work started on Tuesday. Their money is so colorful.
      On day 2 we drove to a rainy and cloudy Bastion Point where we were greeted by one of the elders, Merv, and welcomed onto the land. As I came to find out, the New Zealand weather was mercurial and the sun soon came back out. Always carry a raincoat. We worked with Nadia Cooper and she was wonderfully patient and informative, making us instantly feel like one of the family. Her knowledge base about plants, the lands and caring for both was comprehensive and her love for it was immediately apparent. We all worked hard and the day flew by quickly.

       Nadia! ↓

      The next day was spent doing clean-up at the Matuku Link. We first learned a little bit about the land and projects, they are trying to reclaim the native forest plant and wild life. The Kauri tree which was once plentiful on New Zealand was almost wiped out by ship builders, because they grow straight, strong and tall and made very good ship masts. Many birds in New Zealand never developed wings, so when the cats, rats, possums and other small predators were introduced, the Kiwi birds and the like were easy pickings. So they are trying to remove the predatory non-native animals to preserve the native animals.

      We started with some general rock moving and ended with raking straw into big piles. There is so much satisfaction in working outside in a beautiful place with your own two hands, getting sweaty and hot and knowing you are making a teeny tiny contribution. And you are surrounded by people who work as hard as you and have such amazing, interesting stories.

      Afterwards our coordinator, Amy, piled us into the van and treated us to a few hours on Bethells Beach. This was my first time playing in the Tasman Sea and I loved the sparkly black sand beach. Just don't try to walk barefoot on it in the hot sun. We were all tuckered out on the ride home.
      The next day was spent at the Bastion Point nursery again. Time was starting to speed up, so I tried something new and booked a ticket to see a play in downtown Auckland. It was based on George Orwells 1984 book. On the way to the theater, I saw Obamas motorcade, which was quite exciting. I talked to a few locals also standing by the barricade and the general consensus was that they really liked him when he was president and still do.
      Friday (already?) started bright and early with a ferry ride to Motuihe Island. Before we could enter the island, we had to brush off our shoes so we didn't carry in any extra plant seeds or bugs that would be dangerous to the natural balance of the island. We started our beach clean-up and were hit by a quick and heavy downpour. There was not alot of trash on the beach (good), but I did find some plastic straws, the kind you get with juice boxes. We really need to pay attention to the little and micro plastics that are in our waste stream, these are so dangerous since they are small. As they break down further, fish eat them, the birds eat them and then it goes into our food stream.

      Early to bed for a 5am wake up to do a full day of sightseeing. I booked a full day package with FlexiTours to visit Hobbiton, Te Puia mud pools and geysers in Rotorua and the Glow Worm Caves in Waitomo. I can only say it was a magical day and everyone should do it at least once in their lives.

      The next day we (my new volunteer friends Sara, Johanne and Alyssa) hopped on a ferry and made our way to the Rangitoto island for a day of hiking. For 11 miles we explored the volcano, lava caves and even made it over to the adjoining Motutapu island for a shady, relaxing lunch.

      Monday brought us back to beautiful Bastion Point and working with our fun and fearless leader Nadia. Afterwards some of the guys (Dennis, Mark & Nolan) were headed to Piha black sand beach about an hours drive and invited me to join them. Watched an amazing sunset and the surfers trying to catch some final waves before the nightfall.

      On Tuesday we spent the day at Hunua Falls doing some gravel relocation (moving rocks) for the day camps rope climbing gear setup, some weeding around the waterfall and a promotional photo and video shoot. Then I met up with my brother Jasons friends that live in Auckland, Chip and Alex, and they took me out for dinner, which was a real nice treat!

      The last 2 days were spent working at the Ancient Tamaki Makaurau Basalt Rock Forest pulling up non-native plants. I learned so much about the native and non-native, invasive plants. Weeding is done by hands or tools and no chemicals are ever used. Big composting bags are left at the site with all the clippings. We got hot, sweaty and dirty and loved every minute of it.

       Since Friday was a holiday, Good Friday, we didn't work, so I flew out early to LA to visit family. I could have stayed another month and still would have found more to see. New Zealand is a wonderful country with friendly, happy people where I could feel safe exploring it from end to end. I learned so much and met so many friends for life, it truly was all I dreamt of and more.

      Some takeaways:
      1. I should have stayed longer.
      2. Sustainable Coastlines does an excellent job of giving us a variety of different projects so we are doing something different and interesting every single day. And they were always teaching us new things about the oceans, our earth and all the critters around us.
      3. Most of the volunteers were in their 20's doing a gap year. This generation really gives a shit about what we are doing to our planet and are not just talking about it, but actually putting in the work to make it a safer, cleaner place for future generations.
      4. I am part of the problem, I'm also part of the solution. I learned so many ways to reduce my plastic use, especially single use plastics, that I am incorporating into my life right away. It's not enough to recycle, we need to reduce the amount of plastics created to keep them out of our waste stream. Once it's created, it's here forever, it does not break down or get destroyed. It can sit in landfills seeping into our soil and eventually into our plants and food stream.
      5. It is everyones responsibility to take care of our planet. We are all affected by it and no one is exempt. If we do not do this, we are choosing to pass on a death sentence to future generations and all of human kind. We think we are the most important creatures on the planet but the truth is our planet is the most important thing. Without it, we will eventually become extinct.

      Sounds serious, right? It is.

      If you are thinking about trying an IVHQ or Sustainable Coastlines project, I'd love to help you in any way I can! Feel free to comment below with any questions.

      Now to choose my next adventure, hmmmm, Costa Rica? Madagascar? Nepal? So many choices....


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