The hour might have been late at Hong Kong International Airport, but the energy among the students that had gathered there was high.
“I can’t wait to visit the airline academy,” enthused Joshua Fung Chiu-wah as he checked in his luggage. “I’ve always had an interest in planes, so I’m really excited to try out the flight simulator.”
Joshua, a 14-year-old student from Sing Yin Secondary School, was one of eight Hong Kong students who visited New Zealand, thanks to the Hong Kong Airlines Embrace the World Student Sponsorship Programme and Sunflower Travel Agency. The programme offers experiences to students that might not be available to them otherwise. In previous years, the programme took students to Beijing and Australia.
Plenty lay in store for the students once they touched down in Auckland. The moment their feet were planted firmly on New Zealand soil, they were whisked off to the summit of Mount Eden – the city’s highest natural point. The short hike up the 196-metre tall volcano was breezy, but their enthusiasm carried them onwards to the crater of the long-dormant volcano, which was edged by a 360-degree view of the city. Even on a cloudy day, the skyline was a sight to behold.
From there, the trip only got better, with a visit to the tranquil Westhaven Marina – the heart of boating in Auckland, known as the City of Sails, and home to more than 2,000 boats.
With its slower pace of life, its agriculture-based economy, and livestock-to-people ratio (there are seven sheep for every New Zealander!), everything in the country seemed wildly different to what the students have known for all of their lives.
“The environment here is what stands out to me,” Leo Hung Ling-ho said. From the low-rise buildings, to the air quality, the 21-year-old Baptist University student said everything in New Zealand was starkly different to that of Hong Kong’s. “The pace of life here is much slower,” Leo added. “I feel like I actually have the time to enjoy and explore a new place.”
One of those new places was the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial Park, a park dedicated to the country’s first Labour prime minister. The students were able to walk around and soak up the calm atmosphere in their own time as their first full day drew to a close.
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From there, the Embrace the World students went on to the Museum of Transport and Technology, where they looked at the evolution of New Zealand aviation since 1911, before stopping at Hamilton Gardens in Hamilton. The gardens are split up into numerous sections, each representing the lifestyles and traditions of different cultures around the world.
A visit to the L3 Commercial Training Solutions Airline Academy in Hamilton followed, where they learnt what it takes to make a person a qualified pilot, and got to try out a flight simulator – which was just as exciting as Joshua had hoped it would be.
“It felt as if I was flying an actual plane,” he grinned. The visit to the academy was a pleasant surprise to 18-year-old Jojo Kwok Ka-po who said, before the trip, she had been most looking forward to visiting Mount Eden.
“It wasn’t just about seeing what the pilots do in the cockpit – which was great,” said the Chinese University of Hong Kong student. “I got to talk to the cadets about what they do when they aren’t in class, and I tried out the flight simulator – which I feel is a brilliant example of practical learning.”
For two lucky students, a chance to actually take to the skies in a tiny, single-engined plane lay in store, which – as Samuel Tsui Chung-hang, 18, enthused after touching down – was “so much fun”.
“We were taught how to make the plane [go] up and how to make it dive using the control wheel,” the Hong Kong Polytechnic University student beamed. “It’s not like we’ll ever get the chance to do something like this in Hong Kong.”
Another thing the students will never be able to do in Hong Kong, but were able to in New Zealand, was see the glowworms in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves – where they gazed in wonder at the thousands of tiny, glowing worms that studded the cave ceilings. The bioluminescent insects are native to New Zealand, and can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Another animal species that can only be found in this country is the kiwi bird – a small, flightless brown creature. The students were able to see one hop around an enclosure at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park in Rotorua. The eight Hongkongers also got up close and personal with a whole bunch of other animals such as llamas, cows, and sheep (oh my!) at the Agrodome.
“Well, I got to milk a cow,” Leo laughed, when asked what his favourite moment had been at the farm – and, he added, he now has the certificate to prove it. The students also watched a sheepshearing show, during which Stephanie Wu Ka-ka, 16, even got to feed one on stage.
“I think that’s got to be the highlight of the trip for me,” the Yuen Long Public Secondary School student smiled. “You don’t get to interact with animals like this back home. Here, cows and sheep are everywhere – especially in roadside fields.”
There was a lot of driving along the country’s roads throughout the trip, which is why the students had so much time to animal-watch. But the constant travelling was worth it, said Stephanie’s classmate, Vinus Wong Tsz-tung, because the destinations were so pretty. One of New Zealand’s most scenic spots is Huka Falls which, along with Lake Taupo, was one of her personal highlights.
“We had blue skies and white clouds, and every photo we took looked like something out of a painting,” said the 16-year-old. “I feel like sites like the falls and the lake only exist overseas, so I’m so happy I get to see these places in person.”
Later that same day, the students visited Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where they learned all about the history of the country’s native Maori people. The Maori culture, language, and traditions have hugely influenced how New Zealand has evolved over the years, from food, to commonly used phrases, to place names.
The students watched a demonstration of the powhiri, a ceremony performed by a tribe to see if a visiting tribe is a friend or a foe, as well as a kapa haka – a medley of Maori songs and dances. When men from the audience were invited up on stage to take part in the haka, a war dance, the five male students of the group bounced up from their seats to give it a go.
Rex Lam Tak-cheung said taking part in the dance on stage was a lot of fun.
“We had to open our eyes really wide, and stick our tongues out really far,” said the 14-year-old Jockey Club Ti-I College student, referring to the expressions Maori warriors pull to intimidate their enemies.
You certainly can’t say that hobbits, practically on the other end of the intimidating spectrum, would be able to terrify their enemies by pulling faces the same way. Hobbits are a race of peaceful, short, human-like creatures that come from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series. Much like Hongkongers, hobbits are fond of eating, sleeping, and a good party. They live in a place called the Shire, full of rich soil, good food, and rolling green hills. Sadly, this place isn’t real – but an elaborate set was built on a 1,250-acre sheep farm in Matamata for the films. The students rounded off their tour of the set with a feast fit for a hobbit, where second (and third!) helpings were encouraged.
“I’ve seen the films, but not read the books,” Rex said afterwards. “But I think I’d be interested in reading them now.”
After a week packed with fun-filled experiences in the land of the long white cloud (or Aotearoa, which is the Maori name for New Zealand), the students were ready to head home.
At the airport, Samuel Tse Shing-him, 15, said his favourite moment of the trip had been when he and Samuel Tsui had got to fly in the Cessna.
“When in my life will I get to say I flew a plane, even if it was just for a little bit,” the Sha Tin Methodist College student said. “I can now say that I know what it feels like to be a pilot!”
For Leo, it was much more difficult to pick one moment or occasion as being the most memorable, because the entire trip had been.
“It’s not like any of us had been to New Zealand before, which means it’s all been new for us. From learning about the Maori people, to finding out about the country’s politics and way of life … it’s all been great.”
And, with that sentiment fresh in their minds, the students trooped onto their Hong Kong-bound plane, with souvenirs in their suitcases, smiles on their faces, and lasting friendships to take home.
This trip was sponsored by Hong Kong Airlines.
Edited by Nicole Moraleda