Twenty one students and staff had the trip of a lifetime over the April holidays when they travelled to New York and Washington DC to witness the culture, history and technology of the financial and political centres of America.
With eight days in New York and five in Washington DC the trip was a full on adventure with over forty separate activities completed. Though very busy, our stamina mostly held and we have a host of memories and photographs for our future reflection.
New York provided the must see highlights of the Statue of Liberty, 9/11 memorial and museum, Empire State building, a boat cruise around Manhatten Island, the art and natural history museums as well as Central Park, a “Chicago” Broadway show, a Yankee’s baseball game and a visit to high tech Google industries, and finally a full on shopping day at a three hundred plus store hub called Woodbury Village.
Washington DC saw us visit the White House and Senate buildings, as well as several famous museums including the famous Air and Space Museum, Holocaust and Spy institutions and the outdoor National Mall monuments to famous past presidents. We even saw the new President’s motorcade twice!
The real highlight however, was the mixing with actual American people, ten pin bowling, riding the subway, the skyscrapers, navigating the streets, eating the local food, the pandas, getting to know our two guides and teaming up with students and staff from our sister school Southside High from North Carolina for three days.
Special thanks to David Smith from Hello World who helped organise the tour and who travelled with us as tour manager and who helped make everything run so smoothly. The school leaders of Paul Fielding, Sandra Whipp and Teresa Mackay worked superbly as a team to plan and deliver a varied and enjoyable programme. Our other staff and parent helped make the tour much easier by allowing us to divide into easily managed small groups. And finally special thanks to our two guides Anne in New York and Robert in Washington who enabled us to learn so much in a short period of time and who both got to know us so well.
Check out some of our photos from the trip and read Louis Whitburn's blog below:
Day 1 (Thursday)
Today the trip starts. We met at the airport at 08:30 to catch our 10:00 flight to Auckland. This was rather uneventful, which, when traveling, is probably a good thing. After a few hours in Auckland, where we did little more than eat lunch and shop in duty free, we boarded our 13 hour flight to Houston. Luckily, the in flight entertainment system had a feature where we could order food and drink and the flight attendants delivered it to us - which kept us entertained for a few minutes.
We landed in Houston early in day two, which was also a Thursday.
Day 2 (Thursday)
After extending our Thursday by about fifteen hours, we landed in Houston, about two hours before we left. We then proceeded through immigration (where we were fingerprinted and photographed), through customs, and then through security, where we had to remove our jackets, belts, watches, shoes, etc. and go through a full body x-ray (in the process learning why the TSA has a bad reputation). Following more lunching and shopping, we boarded our third flight to New York, where we landed at around 20:00, and met our tour guide.
The next day, the fun started.
Day 3 (Friday)
After breakfast at a local restaurant, we started our first proper day in New York with a visit to the statue of Liberty, and the Ellis island immigration facility.
Using out MetroCards, we entered a nearby subway station, and boarded a train to the Southern tip of Manhattan.
After waiting in line (the first of many), we boarded out boat to Liberty Island. We were given a few minutes to take photos of the statue and the Manhattan skyline, before continuing to Ellis island.
The statue itself was somewhat large, and it's distinctive copper green colour was very noticeable in person.
The Ellis island immigration centre was very large, as it was the main immigration facility in the US, before it was closed in 1954. In 1986, it was reopened as a museum, as a part of the larger works to restore the statue of Liberty.
When we returned to Manhattan we took the subway to the Empire State building, where, after a quick lunch, we went up to the 86th floor observation desk. This was a good opportunity for a very good look at the Manhattan skyline, and allowed us to orient ourselves.
We returned to the hostel for a quick rest (after taking many photos) before heading out for dinner, near Times Square. After a lot of negotiating, we ended up going to Applebee's, as they were the only place that would take all 21 of us.
We then walked through Times Square, which was extremely busy and bright as expected. We slowly made our way to the surprisingly large M&M store, which was full of M&M related merchandise, and was a bit excessive.
By about 23:00, we were back at the hostel.
Day 4 (Saturday)
We started our day with a bus ride to Pier 83 for a cruise around Manhattan Island. This was very good to do early on, as we learned about the history of Manhattan, and, more importantly, the geography. We saw parts of the five boroughs (Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and The Bronx), as well as some of the more well known suburbs / areas in Manhattan such as Harlem and SoHo (South of Houston Street). We also learned that Wall Street was named for the wall which was built there, to protect the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam from the British.
Next was a lunch stop at Grand Central Station, before a subway ride to the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked along the crowded walkway to the centre of the main span, where we got good views of the East River. Nearby was St Paul's chapel, which we had a brief look at while we tried to take the best picture of Mr Fielding's name. At our next stop, Wall Street, we saw some famous landmarks such as the New York Stock exchange and Federal Hall. This part of the day went quite quickly, and we were soon back at the hostel.
Dinner was at a local burger restaurant called the "Shake Shack", which was very well received because of the good food and friendly staff. We were then given a choice to go back to the hostel, or visit Madame Tussaunds, a wax museum of celebrities.
Day 5 (Sunday)
Today was the first museum day, but first, we went to the Easter Parade. The Easter Parade is an annual tradition where people walk along Fifth Avenue wearing creative hats, and, if you are Mr Fielding or David Smith, get photographed by the New York Times.
Near the Easter Parade was the Rockefeller Center, which was a large complex built by John D Rockefeller during the Great Depression. We had a look around the courtyard, which had an ice skating rink and collection of flags.
The first museum we visited was the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which had works that ranged from white canvases with a thin line on it to Starry Night by Van Gogh.
The second (and much larger) museum was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, near Central Park. This was huge, and featured works ranging from Roman Sculpture to Picasso.
Dinner was at a nearby buffet restaurant, before heading back to the Rockefeller Center to go to the "Top of the Rock", which is an observation point at the top of the main building, where we were able to get a view of the Manhattan skyline at night.
Today was very tiring because of all the walking. It also included a brief and accidental viewing of Trump Tower, and the associated protests.
Day 6 (Monday)
But first, we saw Strawberry Fields and the "Imagine" plaque, a memorial located in Central Park, set up by Yoko Ono after the murder of John Lennon. We also got to briefly visit the Metropolitan Opera Centre, however we could only visit the foyer.
This time, we visited the American Natural History Museum, which was setting of the film "Night at the Museum". We were able to see famous exhibits such as the dinosaurs and the Hayden Planetarium. This was another large museum, which we were all happy to spend a long time in.
After the visit to the ANMH, some returned to the hostel, while nine people stayed behind for a Central Park bike ride, which was rather relaxing.
The highlight of today was "Chicago", the Broadway musical we saw after dinner.
Day 7 (Tuesday)
More museums, part two.
Today was a relatively quiet day. Breakfast was normal (nothing exciting ever happens at breakfast), and we were quickly (barring some alarm failures) on our way to our first museum of the day: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the memorial was opened. It consisted of two large pools of water, which are in the same location of the towers, and have the same footprint. The memorial was built to remember the 2606 people were killed in the attacks on the twin towers, although the total amount of casualties rises to 2996 when the attack on the pentagon is counted as well. At the same time as the memorial was opened, the cavernous museum was opened. The museum was very holistic, and included information of every aspect, from the lasting impact (including an art section), to the immediate effects (the grounding of all flights / Operation Yellow Ribbon) and some information on the casualties (such as Ladder Company No 3 of the FDNY, and the NYPD casualties). We also get to see the new One World Trade Centre (which is 1776 feet tall, in reference to the Declaration of Independence) although we didn't go in.
The next, more cheerful activity was lunch, at a newly constructed subway station / mall.
The next museum was the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. This is build in / on the Intrepid, a decommissioned US Navy aircraft carrier. The highlights from this were the first space shuttle (which never actually went to space), called the "Enterprise", and the Concorde. Both were really large in person.
We had dinner at a local Turkish restaurant (which was reminiscent of the Crossroads of Empries tour in 2015), but before that, we had to farewell our guide. We were quite sad to see her go, a feeling that was mutual. We all thought she did a very good job.
Day 8 (Wednesday)
Today was the first day in recent memory that we did not go to a museum. Instead, we started our day with a bus to the Google New York building, where we met with former New Zealander and Google employee Patrick Leung. We were show more of the social side of Google, including the recreation room, the cafeteria, Lego room and "museum" (so we did go to another museum after all), which was a collection of old computers. We then had the opportunity to ask questions, which were answered with a collection of interesting information and useful advice, and included such topics such as how he got into Google, and the Dot-com bubble. We finished by giving Patrick some familiar New Zealand food.
Next, we walked the "high line" (a former elevated railway re-purposed into open green space) to Sidewalk Labs, another Alphabet company, located in the largest real estate development in US history, Hudson Yards. Here we met with Craig Nevill-Manning, another former New Zealander. One of the projects Sidewalk Labs (and another sister company, Intersection) are delivering is the "Link NYC" project, where phone booths are replaced with kiosks with phone facilities, as well as USB charging and free WiFi. We also had another Q&A session related to urban issues.
We then had lunch, which was routine by now.
That was all that was planned for the day, so we went back to the hostel. A group of four visited the UN, and had an hour long tour (including getting to view the Security Council and General Assembly meeting rooms), and some went to a baseball game. Luckily we were able to have an early(ish) night before our free day tomorrow.
Day 9 (Thursday)
Today is the long awaited shopping day. Most people went to Woodbury Common, a "premium outlet store" about an hour away. This mall was extremely large, and best expressed with pictures.
A secondary group instead of shopping, continued to explore Manhattan (plus a brief trip across the Manhattan bridge via subway to Brooklyn), going to Trinity Church, Macy's, the Nintendo Store, the Lego Store, and Central Park. At Central Park we saw the Balto Statue, a statue to one of the dogs who helped deliver diphtheria medicine to the Alaskan town of Nome.
We then regrouped to have our final dinner in New York at a local Italian restaurant.
Day 10 (Friday)
White it's fun to stay at the YMCA, having to get up at 05:00 to leave at 06:00 isn't. Luckily, it all went rather well.
Our first leg of the bus ride included a Karaoke session, which provided at least an hour of entertainment, before our first stop at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
This was the site of the most famous (and deadly) battle of the American Civil War, which lasted three days. We were taken around the (rather large) battlefield by a "licensed" guide, who was very interesting, and related it to World War One, which bore some similarities. We then had lunch (and went to the gift shop), before continuing on to Washington DC.
Washington DC is much less dense than Manhattan, partially because no building is allowed to be higher than the Washington Monument. It is also more quiet. After arriving we checked in, then some people headed out for a quick wander to the White House, which was only a few blocks away. We then had dinner, and another group went out after tea, to have a look at the White House at night.
Today was relatively relaxed compared to the busy New York days, but we were all very tired by the end of it, and a few people are sick by this point.
Day 11 (Saturday)
Haka day. After a half hour long practice the previous night, and one this morning, we were getting pretty okay at it, and getting excited for the arrival of the Southside students.
But first, more museums. We were introduced to our guide, Rob, who was an ex Barrister, who retired six years ago. His experience in law meant that he has a wealth of knowledge, and is good with words.
We first visited the old post office building, of which only the clock tower is accessible to the public (the rest is a hotel). The top of the clock tower is the highest point in Washington that was open, and we were able to take some photos and get our bearings.
Next, we went to the "International Spy Museum", where we went through the exhibits, while also having to complete "challenges" (that weren't that difficult) based on aliases that we had to adopt. Many people were interested in the James Bond section.
The place we went for lunch was extremely busy (partially because of Earth Day protests), and some of us ended up in lines for over half an hour. In addition, we had to walk through the protest to get to our next destination.
The next place of interest we went to was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which is the first of the Smithsonian museums that we visited. This included sections related to not only American history, but also American culture. Unfortunately we only had about an hour, so we didn't get to see much.
After returning to the hotel, we had a brief wait, then met with the Southside students.
We played some icebreaker games, to get to know the other students, and then performed the hoodie exchange (with bonus hongi). In addition to the hoodie exchange, Ms Whipp gave the Southside students blessed bone carvings, and Mr Lake (from Southside) in return gave the LPHS students shark tooth fossils from their home state of North Carolina. Then, it was the big moment: LPHS with the haka, and Southside with the cheerleading. We then had (a lot of) pizza for tea, and celebrated a birthday.
We were all pretty happy with the haka, as it went better than expected.
Day 12 (Sunday)
After a brief breakfast at the hotel, we departed at the relatively late hour of 09:00. Our first stop was the Washington Monument, which is the tallest structure in Washington DC (although it is currently closed for repairs), and has 50 flags around it, one for each state. Something that can be observed is the colour change about a third of the way up. This is because of a funding freeze, so construction was paused. When it resumed, the original quarry was closed, so a new source, with a slightly different colour was used.
Next was the World War Two memorial. While we were there, some veterans were also visiting, so we were able to talk to them. This memorial had 56 pillars around it, one for each state and territory (e.g. Puerto Rico) during the war.
Only a short walk away was the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, however, Ms Whipp had other ideas about what to do, which involved a rather loud motorcycle. The MLK memorial has the appearance of only being partly finished, to represent how the fight for civil rights is never over.
One of the highlights of the day was the Roosevelt memorial, which covered his four terms as president (the most of any president, and lead to the two term limit). The memorial was designed to be accessible, to represent how Roosevelt was confined to a wheelchair because of polio.
Next was the Korean war memorial, which at the time, involved some pioneering laser engraving work. The engraving was reflective, and was a collage of actual people and images from the Korean war - with one exception: HawkEye from M*A*S*H was also included.
Next was the Lincoln memorial, which was the biggest by far. In includes 48 pillars - one for each state when he died in 1865.
Finally, we went out the Vietnam memorial. This was, for a while, simply a wall of names, however after public pressure, another part was added - a statue of three soldiers looking at the names of the fallen.
On a lighter note, we then got to go to the zoo and see pandas and other animals.
Our evening activity was bowling, which was another opportunity to get to know the Southside students. Some of the people were quite good, and Mr Fielding managed two strikes and a spare.
Day 13 (Monday)
Compared to yesterday, today was relatively quiet. Many were happy that we got to sleep in until 07:00.
We spent about two hours at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This featured a large number of unique and exciting exhibits, such as the original Wright flyer and a Minuteman-III missile. This is best expressed in pictures.
Next we had lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, and had a very brief look around. We then said goodbye our tour guide, Rob, who had been very helpful.
The next stop was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This was very interesting experience, and was rather saddening. Like most of the museums, it would have been better if we had had more time.
We ended the day in a lighter note, with recreation activities with the Southside students, while PEF attempted to perform some magic tricks.
It is slowly starting to dawn on many that tomorrow is our last full day, and some are looking forward to getting home.
Day 14 (Tuesday)
After our half hour sleep in yesterday it was back to normal, leaving for breakfast at about 07:00.
Our first destination for the day was the White House, where we only had minor security problems. It was more of a gallery than anything else, however you could buy a plush toy of Bill Clinton's cat from the gift shop, if you so wished.
After dropping off our assorted items from the gift shop, and having lunch, we got to visit the Capitol Building. We saw the famous rotunda, a lot of statues, and a short video about Congress. Disappointingly we didn't actually get to see the House or Senate Chambers, however our tour guide was very entertaining.
When we got back to the hotel we all did some packing, and more importantly, weighing, with bags ranging in mass from 12 to 29 kilograms.
We then prepared for the formal farewell dinner, which was at a local Italian restaurant, where we began to reflect on the trip.
Day 15 (Wednesday)
We started our day with a luxurious sleep in until 7:30 - a whole hour. After breakfast and the usual baggage shenanigans were were on the bus to Reagan International Airport, for our flight to Houston Intercontinental Airport. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way that our baggage weighing implement was slightly defective, so more baggage shenanigans were had.
Our flight was only 3.5 hours long, so that was okay.
When we landed in Houston, we learned that we didn't have to go through security again, so we left for dinner on a positive note, and let our phone charging desire manifest in a strange contraption that resembles a robot.
Day 16 (Friday)
After repaying our loan of a Thursday we got from the bank of time zones, we landed in Auckland two days after we left. Because if the timing of the flights, we had to race through immigration and customs to the domestic terminal, to try and make our flight on time. Luckily, by 07:30 we had all boarded, and were on our way back home to Dunedin.
Our landing in Dunedin was interesting, with heavy turbulence, a go around, and paramedics.
We were all relieved to be home after 31 hours flying, and looking forward to some proper sleep.
Although we are home, it's not all finished yet - watch this space.