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Lyon students discover adventure, environmental lessons in New Zealand

New Zealand lived up to its reputation as “the adventure capital of the world” for Lyon students this May.

Professor of Political Philosophy Dr. Scott Roulier led 16 students on the New Zealand Nichols Trip, learning about the unique evolutionary history of New Zealand and how the country has adapted its laws to promote both environmental and cultural sustainability.

“Because of its isolation, New Zealand had tons of indigenous birds with no natural predators,” Roulier said. “As the Maori people, and later European immigrants, arrived to the island, they brought invasive species like rats and stoats with them.” 

“These predators started killing off all the flightless birds. As a result, New Zealand developed a greater awareness and sensitivity to conservation issues and made more robust environmental laws.”

He said New Zealand has also worked to repair its relationship with the Maori people, returning at least some of the land and political power to the native tribes.

The group explored diverse landscapes and cultures, visiting the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, Cook Strait, Abel Tasman National Park, and the Milford Sound fiord. 

Senior Gracen Ratliff said Milford Sound is full of amazing views, such as rainforests and waterfalls.

“My favorite sights were as we were dangling from the canyon swing in the Kawarau Gorge,” she said. “Literally everywhere we went there was something spectacular to stand in awe of.”

“Its nickname, ‘the eighth wonder of the world,’ holds true,” said senior Kendra Kelley. “The towering mountains made a 160-meter waterfall look small.”

Senior Riley Caraway said Milford Sound, the Cook Strait, and the view of Wellington from the top of Mt. Victoria were the most amazing sights on the trip.

“There was an abundance of amazing things everywhere we went. New Zealand has such a wide variety of landscapes, from tropical beaches with rainforests to the snow-capped Southern Alps that could be seen at any given time on the trip.”

While the students had studied New Zealand all semester, Caraway said “getting off the plane 8,000 miles from home and experiencing it all firsthand was a once in a lifetime experience.”

Kelley said getting a real life glimpse of Maori culture was very enlightening.

“It was special that they were willing to teach us the Haka and the Poi dance,” she said. “I saw how different yet similar people across the world can be.”

“We studied the culture before going to New Zealand, but it’s very different compared to what I’m used to,” said Ratliff. “They are very passionate about their culture, and it runs deep in New Zealand’s roots.”

“I found a new appreciation for my own family’s culture by seeing how proud the Maori people are of theirs,” said Kelley.

The students were also impressed with how the country made its environment a priority.

“It was inspiring to see even the small acts that New Zealand does to sustain their beautiful environment,” said Kelley. “Each rubbish and recycling bin in town was universal and clearly marked. On hiking trails, there weren’t any rubbish bins, which meant less chances for litter to be blown into nature.”

“All of the straws were paper, to-go containers cost extra, and toilets had the option for more or less water,” said Caraway. “Since returning home, I have been more conscious of this aspect in my own life after seeing how it can be a cultural norm with no problems.”

Roulier said one of the most unique moments from the trip was floating on inner tubes through a cave filled with glow worms.

“It was almost surreal. It seemed like the night sky, but you were in a cave. It was very cool.”

Although the Nichols Trip had a large group of students, he said their positive attitudes made for a successful journey.

“They were willing to engage with the trip at every stop. 16 students is a lot, but when you have a good group it works out,” Roulier said.

Ratliff said New Zealand is unlike anything she has ever seen.

“This trip definitely spiked my interest in traveling,” she said. “I hope to return someday.”

“Even with a 16-hour flight and travel complications, this trip opened my eyes to the adventure that awaits in this world,” Kelley said, “and I am ready to experience more.”