Emily Ford - “Otago's Adventurous Academia”

Emily  Ford

Emily has travelled from Washington State, USA to study Environmental Science and Geology at the University of Otago.  Her love for nature is sure to make her blogs beautiful as well as interesting.

I arrived back in Dunedin, greeted by the whirlwind of other eager international students’ fresh arrivals. I hadn’t even unpacked when I was invited to a barbeque next door and was soon meeting other students from around the world. It turns out that the ability of college students to accidentally light things on fire is universal.

Time for a field camp

I enjoyed settling down in one spot for a few days. But once class registration was over, I was quickly whisked away to the radical experience of geology field camp. But leaving campus the week before school started meant missing Orientation Week. Many students were bummed about this. “O-Week” is a week that most students don’t remember, full of concerts and “Speights Brewery” onesies.  I, on the other hand, was happy to be missing this for a different type of fun in the countryside.


“... the radical experience of geology field camp.”

The rocks were awesome, although I’ll try to spare you the geeky details. Most of the outcrops were in beautiful locations: on the beach, near sea lions and penguin colonies… on the riverside… in limestone quarries… (filming locations of Narnia!) We excavated multiple whales and dolphins, and a handful of us (happily including me) found a shark tooth each! Our days weren’t too long, usually 9-3, giving us plenty of time for what felt like summer camp. A zip line, swimming hole, and games of students vs. professors Ultimate Frisbee made sure we were properly tired out each day.


“Most of the outcrops were in beautiful locations …”



“… swimming hole ...”

There were about 50 of us on the field camp, half Kiwi, half international. And by ‘international’, I mean American, besides the one girl from Norway. Probably 90% of the international students go to small, liberal arts schools on the east coast. Things are starting to sound familiar. Anyway, everyone was awesome. Most of the cabins were 4-5 people, except for 1 ten-person cabin. I found myself inhabiting the largest of the cabins with nine welcoming and fun-loving kiwis…who play surprisingly intense games of Jenga. We had a good time making fun of each other’s accents and vocabulary while munching on biscuits and drinking tea. These kiwi friends have been some of my best during my time here!

Back to Dunedin

When I returned, I settled into my two other classes, ‘Popular Music and Culture of New Zealand,’ and ‘Fossils, Strata and Hydrocarbon Basins.’  The first day of my Music lecture, the young, hip professor gave a mind-blowing lecture about music and the world.  We even had famous New Zealand musician, Tiki Tanne in lecture for a visit! I look forward to attending more of his engaging lectures!

Then there is the fossils class, with a soft-spoken and enthusiastic old man, who is surprisingly shorter than me. In one of our recent lectures, he gave us the full history of the lithostratigraphers of New Zealand (most of which he knew personally). My favourite tales were of “Hochstetter and Haast.” Apparently your last name has to start with an H to be a famous NZ geologist. And then there was Hornibrook, who was machine gunned down in WWII and rescued by an Italian family. The near death experience influenced him to study microfossils for the rest of his crippled life…. And I thought having this class from 8AM til 1PM was tough! Seriously though, we sit there and look at sand grains through a microscope. The sand grains are actually tiny fossils, and look appetizingly like dip n dots, and we try to put them in hard-to-pronounce and subtly different categories. But Ewan the professor kept us interested, with what I considered the best geology field trip of all time. We took a three day field trip in Arthur’s Pass, staying at a well equipped research station in the mountains.


“Chilling on the research station porch.”

Sunny weather, braided rivers, hikes, and even some cave exploration made for a non-stop incredible trip.


“We took a three day field trip in Arthur’s Pass …”



And recently, our eccentric field camp crew was reunited on field studies part 2, to Borland, Fiordland. In six days, we mapped a whole area of basement and basin rocks, with complex folds and long sequences of strata. Our instructors were helpful, organized and engaging. And when every night ends with cake, you can’t go wrong!