Letters home: Wallowa native explores the land of 'down under'

Nora Hawkins of Wallowa hikes with friends in New Zealand, where she has been attending the University of Otago. Submitted photo

Greetings! I am the third child of Merel and Carol Hawkins of Wallowa where I lived until I was 7 when I moved with my mother and sisters to Portland. For the next 10 years my summers, vacations and one year of high school were in spent in Wallowa, while the school years were spent in Portland. After graduating in 1999 I took a year off and backpacked around Central America for four months to the distress of my family and most of those who knew me. In the fall of 2000, I started attending Smith College in Massachusetts where I will complete my degree of Religion and Biblical Literature with a minor in History.

Since February I have been studying abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. I am now off to Thailand and India for a few weeks before I head back down-under for a semester spent at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

This letter is an attempt to share with you a little about life across the Pacific. To begin, I think it is only appropriate to remind everyone that New Zealand is not really all that close to Australia. Indeed over 1,400 miles of temperamental ocean lies between these two "island" nations that were once the farthest reaches of the British Empire. Now, though still technically under the sovereignty of the Crown, New Zealand is mostly independent. (although 200 years of the Brits bland cooking is sadly still very evident). For the most part our cultures are the same. Both were colonized by the same empire and populated by the same European countries.

That said, the differences are certainly there: They play rugby instead of football. They drive on the left hand side of the road. They eat "tea" instead of dinner and they use the metric system. They play cricket instead of baseball, which is dreadfully boring and requires a guide book the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is interesting to note that nearly the whole world from Sri Lanka, South Africa, England, New Zealand to Turkey play this game and rugby. I had no idea how out of the athletic loop America was; dozens of people have asked me to explain why we only play our own games with ourselves. I have no answer.

While my classes were interesting the real fun I've had in this beautiful land has been non-academic. As the mountains have always been a large part of my family's interaction with our surroundings I have hiked around the most spectacular scenery I have ever laid eyes on. Even The Lord of the Rings trilogy that was filmed here does not do it justice.

Bungee jumping and kayaking are among the many adventure activities that were invented and perfected in New Zealand. In my stay here I have tried to sample a few of these options. I did a bungee swing (this is where you jump from a platform and are caught in a pendulum swing by the bungee rather than just bouncing straight up and down). I have done a fair bit of kayaking and had a taste at river sledging (in this sport you dawn a hockey mask and fins to propel yourself head first down up to class IV rapids holding onto nothing but your breath and boogie board). I have also tried my hand at glacier climbing. And, last but not least, canyoning (to do this you hike to the top of a steep water cut canyon, buckle up a harness and make your to the bottom by a series of jumps into bubbling pools, repels of all lengths, and slides down fast smooth water shoots).

For all these great activities, the extremely nice laid-back people, and for the opportunity to study abroad I have come to love New Zealand more than any other place I have traveled to. Moreover, I am endlessly enchanted by the importance of agriculture to this nation. Taking a lower of the many figures I have heard and read New Zealand has 28 sheep per person. I've never seen so many sheep in my life! The whole country has less than four million people (that is just a little more than Oregon) and agriculture is central to their well-being. Farms operate at levels I have never seen in the States (granted I am a child of new times), young people work tirelessly for their ranches and most stay in the rural environments they came from to continue the industry. Deer farming is the second largest industry. Fields have hundreds of grazing deer (about four different kinds) that are kept in by fences that are between six and eight feet high. Venison is sold in supermarkets here and exported to Asia along with the velvet. I have befriended a family that farms about an hour from where I live on the southeastern coast of the Southern Island. Much of the systems are the same, though because they run less cattle they do almost exclusively straight wire fencing using a 'triplex' system I was previously unaware of. They also put up a lot of silage that ferments in three walled tilted holes in the ground under plastic held down by tires. It is then rolled into long round bales to sit along the edges of fields in think plastic wrap until they are needed. Most amazing though, besides the gentle climate that is never too hot or too cold, is the fact that because New Zealand's largest native mammal was a bat, they have no predators and they have virtually no bugs. Indeed their largest threat is possums that have been introduced and multiplied uncontrollably and can potentially carry TB.

Studying abroad as an American during the war was interesting, though at no time did I ever feel threatened (even though harassed a little). Ask me about it when I get home, I won't go into it now. For that matter, I won't go into anything more. It is winter here and today is a warmer day than we have had in weeks I am going to go enjoy it outside of the computer lab. I wish you all happy and eventful summers. Cheers.

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