Moeraki Boulder Beach
Moeraki Boulder Beach

Rocks are just rocks… what’s so interesting about that?  Before signing up for an Earth and Ocean Science class here at the University of Otago, I had never before taken interest in the subject of geology.  As an English literature major, I mostly stick to reading lengthy novels and writing lengthy essays.

However, as part of my study abroad experience, I decided to take a walk on the wild side and sign up for a natural science course that I had zero experience in.  I figured that looking at rocks in New Zealand had to be more enthralling than doing so back home in Pennsylvania. 

Geology at Otago

It was the first day of class at 12:00 noon… five minutes through lecture, and I was already dozing off.  What is so interesting about petroleum systems?  What is so interesting about the properties of soil?  And how in the world am I supposed to learn to differentiate types of rocks?  They’re all just rocks!

This was my attitude for the first few lectures of Earth and Ocean Science.  My interest level was fairly low and my level of concern for my success in the class was the exact opposite.  Things weren’t looking so well until one day… everything changed.

Parkside Quarry
Parkside Quarry

It was a Sunday morning, the sun was shining, and the time was 8 o’clock.  As part of the class curriculum, all students had to participate in a class field trip to explore North Dunedin.  Looking at rocks outside in New Zealand has got to be more interesting than observing samples in a lab, right?

Right!  I had one of my most productive days since arriving in Dunedin on this unexpectedly informing and captivating field trip.  Starting early in the morning, we travelled to five locations: Pleasant Valley, Shag Point Beach, Oamaru Harbour Beach, Parkside Quarry, and Moeraki Boulders Beach.  Each place was so unique and distinctive from anything I had ever seen before.

Shag Point
Shag Point

At Shag Point Beach (not a hot hookup spot or a place to get your groove on), we climbed over beds of rocks right at the edge of the shore and got a close look at the characteristic cliff formations.  To my surprise, our trip leader asked us to pick up a sample of sediments and rub it on our teeth in order to distinguish the type of rock.  Mudstone, yum!  Tasty and educational.

Oamaru Harbour was also a captivating experience—this is a popular sight for penguin viewing!  Although we didn’t arrive at the right time to see the funny little birds, we did get to observe the ever-so-peculiar basalt pillow rocks while trudging through heaps and heaps of perfectly round pebbles of all different sizes—it sure gave my legs a workout!  The diverse geological formations were beautiful enough before we spotted a single bird perched picturesquely on top of one of the larger rocks.  What a sight!

Birdlife Otago

The scenic landscape of a dried up river at Pleasant Valley, the blinding whiteness of limestone at Parkside Quarry, and the strangely spherical rocks at the Moeraki Boulders Beach were all remarkable sights to see.  You definitely don’t see this every day back home in the States!

Tired after a long day of fun and education (who knew you could have both?), I rode the bus back to ‘uni’ with a newfound appreciation of rocks, geology, and of New Zealand’s amazing ability to never fail to amaze me. 

Emily Yu  is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Emily is currently studying abroad with TEAN in Dunedin, New Zealand.