Looking at Rocks for Fun Instead of Work

Rather than going home for the holiday break this year, my parents decided to come to me instead (I’m happy to provide a similar excuse for any of you to take a vacation). After significant planning, we arranged their visit into two parts, a week first on the South Island and then just less than a week back up North.


What did I do first thing when they arrived on Christmas Eve? Take them to a volcano, of course!

Besides that, I took them around the city a bit–we had a day and a half to kill before flying to Christchurch. So we walked around CBD, went to the beach, and had a fun Christmas Eve dinner with some friends, etc. We even stopped at another volcano on the way to the airport!

And then, wearing our lack of Christianity on our sleeves, we flew down to Christchurch on Christmas night (appropriate city, eh?).

Arthur’s Pass

Our first goal was to get to the South Island’s west coast. That’s where it all goes down. Or something. Anyway, it meant driving through the Southern Alps to get to the coast on the other side.

Castle Hill (also Kura Tawhiti) was formed over millions of year from deposits of limestone back when New Zealand was under the sea. Years of deposition and then later erosion after the land had been uplifted led to the remaining limestone boulders stilling on top of the hills. Or, to you geologists, karst!

Apparently it’s a popular place for climbing, as evidenced by dudes climbing on stuff when we were there.

Once we were more solidly into the mountains we hit Arthur’s Pass, the area right in the middle of the Alps. The fact that they made a road through this place is pretty impressive (though there were even more impressive roads to come…). We also took a short hike to see Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall, and another nature hike that turned out to just be a walk along the highway…oh well, can’t win ’em all.


After not too long, we’d already punched all the way through to the west coast. Our aim was to head south towards the bottom of New Zealand (can I call Invercargill NZ’s butt? Sounds mean, I guess, but I do it with love!), but we first took a worthwhile detour a bit north past Greymouth (Westland’s biggest town) to see Punakaiki, also called the Pancake Rocks (and for good reason). While generally I’m not much of a limestone fan, I’ll give it a pass if it makes awesome rock formations like these.

After that we headed off to Hokitika, a first place to stop along the way.

The next morning we headed to Hokitika Gorge, which is…a big canyon thingy carved out by erosion? And there’s water in it? Maybe a bridge over or something? Cut me some slack, I’m no South Island geological expert (nor limestone or karst for that matter)!

From there it was on to the South Island’s famed glaciers…but that’s where we’ll pick up next time! Leave them wanting more! That’s what someone always said…


The Kiwi Has Landed

Kia ora from the southern hemisphere!

After 20 hours of flying and 3 days of volcano hiking, I’m finally in Auckland, where I’ll be living for the next three years. It’s a really nice, modern looking city, and it gets suburban/residential pretty quickly as you move out of the central district, which makes it less overwhelming. Since I didn’t have a place yet when I arrived, I stayed with a nice airbnb couple who live a short walk from City Centre. After arriving late last Friday night after my initial field trip to Ruapehu, I walked around the city for the first time the next day.

After walking down Queen Street, the main street with lots of restaurants and shops on it, I ended up near the harbor.

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The city also has some nice parks, including the absolutely massive Auckland Domain (which used to be a volcano!), Auckland’s oldest park that sits just east of the university. I happened to arrive on Anzac Day, the NZ/Australian Memorial Day with particular focus on the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI, so there were a number of celebrations of that as I went around.

I also had a chance to walk around some of the suburbs to get an idea of where I wanted to live, though I didn’t take many pictures, except for a nice Anglican Church in Parnell, a suburb on top of a hill east of the city.


Unfortunately, the aforementioned celebration of Anzac Day meant that lots of stuff was closed all weekend, and people were away on vacation. As a result, I couldn’t actually start most of the things I need to do to get settled in NZ, like start a bank account, register at the university, and make housing inquiries, until Tuesday. And also I got sick, jet lag kicked in, and the weather turned nasty, so I decided to stay inside and write this instead of exploring further.

Nonetheless, I got all those things done over the course of this week, and even found an apartment to boot, which I move into tomorrow! It’s in a really nice suburb called Parnell on a hill just east of the city. The neighborhood is really nice and pretty with lots of shops and pubs, and it’s just a 20-30 minute walk through or around the previously mentioned Auckland Domain, which means I can walk to the university every day if I want (or still take the bus if I’m tired or the weather is bad).

I think that’s enough for now. I don’t like writing too much without photos to go with it. I’ve got fun pictures to share from my trip to Ruapehu right off the plane, but I’m already going back next week (yay fieldwork!), so I’ll save it and do it all at once. And I’ve already got some interesting impressions of the department (hint: geology in NZ involves just as much, if not more, beer than it does everywhere else!), but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Back in a Geoff

Important note: Title must be pronounced in a New Zealand accent.

So, the big day has arrived. Today I’m going to Auckland.

Or, more accurately, in two days I’m going to New Zealand. Due to the 20+ hours of travel time (6 hours to LA and 13 hours to NZ with a short layover) and the +17 hour time difference, I leave Monday evening and don’t arrive until Wednesday morning. I like the “time travel” aspect of the trip–as I fly west, it gets earlier and earlier until suddenly…WHOOSH! A day vanishes and it’s 24 hours later. (WHOOSH is the sound of an airplane crossing the International Date Line.)

When I arrive at 7:15 am on Wednesday, I will go take a nap straightaway. And by nap, I mean go to a volcano. And by that I mean my adviser and a couple of his students are picking me up from the airport and driving straight to Mt. Ruapehu, an active volcano in Tongariro National Park. (Maybe I can nap on the way to the volcano.)

Tongariro National Park

Mt. Ruapehu

I don’t know what exactly we’re doing, but I can’t think of a much better way to start than diving in headfirst. And since it’s not my fieldwork or my volcano, it should be a fairly low stress (except for the possible sleep deprivation thing) way to get acquainted with the nature and geology of my new home. And also quickly get some nice photos so I don’t have to steal stuff off the internet (without claiming credit, of course) just to show you what the places I talk about are like.

After a couple days of that, I will actually get to Auckland, where I will get to do all the fun stuff one does in a new place, like finding a place to live, getting a bank account, registering at the university, etc. That part should be a little more stressful than sleepwalking around on a volcano. Still, it should be easier than when I did all the same things in Italy without speaking any Italian.

For now, I’ll leave you with a pretty cool map I found that shows the relative size of the US compared with NZ and Australia. NZ isn’t very big, but it is actually a lot bigger and farther from Australia than I expected. But that just means more country to explore!

It’s probably going to be a while before I see a lot of you again, but send me an email or message every now and then–I don’t want us to lose touch just because I’m far away! And NZ is a pretty sweet vacation spot. *hint hint*

See you guys on the other side of the world!

Let’s Start With a Thought Experiment

Let’s role-play. Not like that! You are the CEO of a major multinational corporation and also an astronaut. You are monumentally successful, earning vast sums of money at every turn. You are now looking for was to spend the large amounts of free time your success has earned you. I am a plucky wannabe blogger looking to make his mark, parlay it into a book deal, and maybe run for state senate somewhere down the road. Obviously, we have never met before. You do not know me. You do not know why I am in your office. Your assistant tells you that you invited me for tea, but you really don’t remember. I compliment your taste in flannel shirts. You tell me to cut to the chase, that you are a busy man or woman, and you are already late for your daughter’s piano recital. Why should you read my blog, or read at all for that matter? I get up and close the door. I return to my chair. I take out a pair of maracas and tell you to shake them. Then I make my pitch.

The Background

I do geology. Specifically, I study volcanoes. Last year I finished my masters in geology, which I split between Milan, Italy and Houghton, Michigan.

A short visual summary of the first year:

And the second year in a nutshell:

Also, this mostly explains what I do in just a few minutes:

Why am I doing this again?

In a month or so, I will be starting a three year-long PhD program at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, where I’m going to be researching volcanic hazards and hazard communication. Basically, I’ll be wandering around in the woods looking for stuff that came out of a volcano and then trying to make other people care about it. But more on that later!

When I was in Italy this was a great way to keep in touch with people far away about what I was up to. In Michigan, not so much. Based on my sample of two blogs, there is a direct correlation between distance from home and blogging success. Since New Zealand is pretty much as far from home as I can get, this should basically be the greatest blog ever made.


Figure 1. Graph of actual/projected blog success for New Jersey (no blog), Houghton (a little), Milan (a lot), and Auckland (the most).

What’s in it for you?

I hope that most of the stuff I post will be funny, interesting, pretty, or educational–maybe even more than one of those things at the same time! For the low low price of some of your valuable free time, you get:

1. Culture – Based on previous experiences in other countries, I assume some stuff in New Zealand will be different from here. Like maybe they call cookies “biscuits” and butts “bums”. I don’t know, do you? I’ll tell you if I find out.

2. Pretty pictures – I like having an excuse to take pictures of random interesting crap. And naturey stuff. And hopefully a kiwi bird.

3. Science – I’ll try to explain what I do in a little more detail than the description above. Volcanoes are cool (that’s an undersell–they are super-mega-awesome), and I hope I can make you like them, too.

4. History – I like learning about the places I go, so when I write about what I ate for breakfast, I’ll tell you not only the supermarket I bought the eggs from, but the name of the chicken that laid them, the location of the farm it lives on, and what Josephine the chicken had for breakfast the morning she laid the eggs. (Note: I promise not to actually write about my breakfast barring unusual circumstances.)

5. Puns – Geologists have to like puns. I think it is part of the International Geologists’ Code. If it is emotionally difficult for you to handle bad puns (and even the occasional good one), you should probably not read this. And also I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.

In conclusion

I like you. You like sarcasm and pictures of stuff. It’s like we were made for each other. I promise I’ll try to make the time you spend reading this worth your while by doing stuff like spending way too long in Excel making a graph about the success of my blogs instead of doing actual work. And be honest, if you don’t read this, you’re just going to spend that time watching cat videos anyway.

You open your eyes. Turns out you are not a billionaire CEO or an astronaut (well, I guess you could be. If so, congrats!). But you can still read my blog. So, there’s that.