Posted by Robyn Ingram
As many of you know, Isi was the last Rotary Youth Exchange Student left in our District, with the usual July intake from Europe cancelled thanks to Covid. Our South American students exchange from January, so come July of last year we just had Isi from Chile, with South American exchanges running January - January.
Isi has experienced a year of contrast! Hosted by Tuakau Rotary Club, she attended Tuakau College and lived in Tuakau. This was a HUGE change for city-girl Isi, who grew up in Santiago, one of the largest cities in the America's. She exchanged with our Club's sponsored Outbound student, Lachlan Kerr, who very happily left for Chile in January 2020 (just as Isi arrived her), but as you will be aware, Lachlan returned to NZ in June 2020 after only six months on exchange. Like many around the world, Lachlan's exchange was 'different' and totally disrupted by Covid. He spent around four months in Lockdown in Chile and with no improvement in sight and that countries healthcare severely overrun, the decision was made to return to NZ, luckily via an Australian repatriation flight. Via Zoom, Lachlan presented to us while travelling the South Island and is very much looking forward to presenting to us 'in person' once our meetings resume this year.
Although all of our RYE events and excursions were cancelled last year and we endured two lockdowns in the Auckland region, Isi's hosts and the RYE committee worked hard to ensure she had the best experience she could; with continued background work evaluating whether we needed to look at repatriations flights to get her home early - or not. Thankfully for Isi, she has been able to enjoy a full twelve months in NZ - some at school, some in lockdown, some being a good RYE Ambassador giving presentations to Rotary Clubs, and (Yeh) some sightseeing! Despite having to cancel our usual Rotary organised South Island trip for RYE's, we found another safe, student-orientated trip option for her to enjoy, and she has had lots of other excursions with her host families here and there, including quite a few train trips up to big-bad Auckland.
About 10 months into an Exchange we always check with our Inbounds about anything on their 'Bucket List' they hadn't achieved and then see if we can work out a way to 'tick' a few more 'things' off that list. When I heard Isi had not been to Wellington, I was delighted to make this an opportunity for me to revisit my 'almost' hometown and take her on a whirlwind weekend trip to our beautiful Capital City.
Top of the Cable Car - super on a fine day!
In Parliament grounds - tour of Beehive, Parliament House and Library.
We had a super weekend mid-January and in two quick days managed to: walk the waterfront; go up the Cable Car; walk the Botanical (hilly-puff-gasp) Gardens; then (highlight) do a night tour at Zealandia. This is the first urban, completely fenced ecosanctuary, where the biodiversity of 225ha of forest is being restored and where over 40 rare native wildlife species are protected. At dusk, thanks to a great guide we watched Kereru's divebomb to show off their fat white chests; saw Kaka swooping and feeding; watched some Takahe feeding up close and spotted four Tuatara coming out of burrows, one even yawned for us to show he was alive. Once night fell, armed with red flash lights we nearly tripped over another sizable Tuatara ambling along our path and further into the tour, (carefully) spied the backend of Weta's in their natural holes in trees; saw banks shimmering with glowworms and identified quite a few different spiders in webs. Our guide got us to tune into Kiwi calls and then (drum roll) helped us to see little spotted Kiwi - at four different locations in the bush. WOW, so very cool - a must do if you have time when you visit Wellington.  Spotting Kiwi not guaranteed - we had an exceptionally lucky night for seeing so many.
The next day we hit the Museums, Wellington Museum (on Jervious Quay) and Te Papa (Cable Street, near the waterfront) with a break in-between to walk to Cuba Mall and Courtenay Place. In the afternoon we strolled to Parliament grounds and did a surprisingly interesting tour of Parliament Buildings. We then nipped across the road to the National Library to see the Treaty of Waitangi and Kate Sheppard's Petition - which were both available to see in especially darkened rooms, and supplemented with clever audiovisuals to educate us further. We followed this up with 'refreshments' and a meal at the famous (?) Backbenchers Gastropub.
Our final day we enjoyed more exploring of Lambton Quay checking the 'Shoreline was previously here' plaques, then we Ubered to Weta Workshop in Mirimar to do a combo tour. Part One covered the original Weta Workshop, where you learn about props, costume and creatures created for films e.g. District 9; Avatar; Lord of the Rings; Hobbit. This was followed up with a 'Miniature Effects Tour' where you can learn some filmmaking techniques of miniature effects - with a new version of 'Thunderbirds Are Go' currently filming the third series. Super fun for me (growing up with Thunderbirds on the telly) and fun for Isi to see Hobbiton in miniature (used for those whole village wide shots).
PP Ainie (super happily now residing in Wellington) then scooped us up to have lunch at her Apartment and then walked us back to Te Papa so we could do the Gallipoli exhibition, which we hadn't made time for the day before. Weta workshop made all of the exhibition models for this display, so having just done their tour, we appreciated even more, the amazing models. If you haven't seen this display, put it on your 'list'. It is so popular and so incredibly moving that our Weta Workship guide told us Te Papa has extended it for a further three-plus years.
Ainie then drove us to the airport, ensuring to go around the bays so Isi could take in a bit more Wellington architecture, Oriental Parade, the odd private cable-car, and the Hollywood style 'Wellington' sign blowing apart on the hill. Just time for a quick ice-cream before we flew back to Auckland.
The next day, lucky Isi was picked up by Muriel and Phil and whisked off to Waitomo Caves for a day of tours! Isi reported to me on WhatsApp that Waitomo Caves was AMAZING and sent this really lovely photo. Thank you Muriel and Phil for taking special time out to provide this unexpected experience for Isi.  
Isi was due to leave NZ on January 26 and should be back safely in Chile by the time this story goes to print. What a memorable year to spend in NZ? We wish her all the very best for her next adventure, now that she is safely back in Chile.