Sunday, February 27, 2011

The NZ Lowdown 5: Fiordland (Part I)

After breakfast next morning, we said a sad goodbye to the lovely Queenstown scenery & drove southwest to spend a couple of days in the Fiordland National Park region.

Te Anau Was Our First Port Of Call
The weather was beautiful yet again all day - I think this was actually the warmest day of our trip, it was 80 degrees Farenheit, with an amazingly blue sky - just perfect.  We checked into our hotel - a few hours early again, but once more without any hassle from the reception desk - and then we took off into the town to explore a little.

Lunch was followed by a drive around the lake & a little walk around town. And there may have been an ice cream stop at some point too! We'd also decided to take a tour of some Glowworm Caves in the region, so that trip pretty much occupied our afternoon.

The trip began with a cruise across to the western shore of Lake Te Anau. This is the 2nd largest lake in NZ by surface area, & it is beautiful, especially on a bright, sunny day like we were lucky enough to experience. It was so peaceful cruising across & enjoying the scenery aroundabout, as well as seeing all the jet-skiers in action as they'd rush into the wake of the ship to catch some great waves.  

The beautiful Lake Te Anau

The tour company took us to their Cavern House when we disembarked on the shore - that's the only thing there, except for the underground cave world that we visited next! They had a really informative & interesting set of displays there for tourists to see while waiting to take one of the small boats into the caves. Plenty of information about the life cycle of glowworms, as well as the history of the caves. And they had the obligatory coffee & snacks that never fail to make me happy! 

The shore in front of the Cavern House

Small groups of about 14 of us at a time would then go off on a small boat with a guide to travel a little distance in the limestone caves. It's quite a spectacle - the cave labyrinth is amazing to experience as you walk through a small part of it to reach the boat. There's a fair bit of stooping & bending necessary in order to navigate the caves along the way, & the roar of the rushing water around you is phenomenal to hear. Very powerful.

Photography isn't allowed in the caves since the flash would compete with the light from the glowworms, and therefore prevent us seeing what we'd gone there to see! The glowworm lights are such simple things, but quite special to witness. At least for me anyway. And especially with the roaring water to boot. It all seemed so paradoxical in some ways - the water was so fierce & loud, and yet the glowworm lights were so tiny, delicate & peaceful. Very magical.

More beautiful scenery around Lake Te Anau

Once we returned to Te Anau we went off in search of goodies. Since it was such a gorgeous day we'd decided to make full use of it, as well as our surroundings, & so a picnic was in order. We'd scoped out a quiet spot on the lake earlier on our drive, so once we were armed with paper plates, glasses from the hotel room, wine, cheese, meats & crackers, we drove out there again. Once the wine was being chilled (in the lake!), we started snacking!

Lakeside snacking

Afterwards we decided to catch an early night back at the hotel - the next day was due to be an early start for us as we headed north to Milford Sound.

We'd had a perfect day though.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Fruits Of Our Labor

The Designated Donor
On Monday when I left NY, we packed my car full of as much of the weekend's unpacking as possible - I was the "DD".

Bags of Tricks

Usually that acronym means I'm the alcohol-free driver for the night. Or that I'm in charge of doing the Dunkin' Donuts run for coffee & hot chocolate.

In this case, however, I was the Designated Donor - a title that I'd bestowed upon myself, I must admit. Control freak that I am, I was pretty sure that if I didn't evacuate as much as possible from the house, that it would somehow find its way into M's permanent collection before my next visit.

We'd bagged clothing separately from other items like bedding, pillows, blankets & towels. Then after work on Tuesday evening I did a DD run. "Buddy Dog Humane Shelter" in Sudbury, MA are the proud new owners of 8 huge trash bags filled with the bedding & towels etc. And our local Salvation Army were more than keen to relieve my car of the other 7 bags filled with clothes.

I think it's becoming increasingly uncommon now for people to just throw away clothes - I'm sure I speak for most of us in saying that it's probably a natural thought process to donate unwanted clothing. But it might not be second nature to think that way about old bedding & towels.

As a veterinarian, I know first hand how animal shelters always cherish donations of bedding, towels & the like. So don't throw out your old stuff folks - I guarantee that even if you don't think it's fit for your bed or bathroom any more, it'll be welcomed with open arms by your local shelter.  If you don't have one close by, you could even try your your local veterinarian's office, or "doggy daycare" type establishments too - they'll be put to great use!

Don't you just love the feelgood experience when you donate things that you no longer need?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Boxed In

I was fortunate enough to have today off work, courtesy of Presidents' Day, so I'd driven up to upstate NY for the long weekend to see M. Since he has just relocated up to the "North Country" region, we'd signed a lease for a townhouse up there, & he physically moved in on February 1st, with just a couple of car-loads of belongings at that time. Sadly, however, the removal company delivered the rest of his life there last week. He warned me in advance that the whole downstairs area was completely filled with boxes, but I really wasn't quite prepared for the true extent of the carnage until I was face to face with the demons!

The floor space here was really the only free space available downstairs!

My heart sank when I walked in & saw all the boxes.  I already knew that M was a hoarder, but I wasn't quite fully prepared for the full extent of it, & I knew it was going to be a very "long weekend"! M is a total procrastinator, although he does work well when motivated, & especially when he sees rewards from his labor. 

I knew that if we were going to make any real headway here, I was going to have to find some happy medium between lighting a fire under his ass & hanging back & making the purging seem like it was his idea.

I used to think I was a pack-rat until this past weekend. Does anyone else own 3 clothes irons? And truthfully, with all the kitchenware I opened, you'd think Martha Stewart lived there - and I reminded him of this as I was trying to break my way into the kitchen through the pizza boxes & empty Arby's bags…..

Dozens of the boxes were literally filled with paperwork just thrown into them - receipts, unopened magazines & newspapers from many years ago, photos, random things like pens, pencils, notepads. You name it, it was probably there. And in multiples of multiples. I didn't know how the weekend was going to pan out. 

The first day was a hard slog. You know how it feels when you start opening boxes after a move - you work for hours, & even though you feel the physical effects of your efforts, at the end of the day you really only "see" that a little bit of space has been cleared. So, for a couple of nights, even though I was able to get to the kitchen area to cook, we had no space to sit anywhere, so ate dinner standing against the counter. It usually takes a fair bit to get me to the point where I vocalize that I'm feeling overwhelmed by something, mostly because I tend to deal with stress by digging into the problem & trying to progress to reach some kind of resolution. By Friday evening, however, I was verbalizing my overwhelmed feeling. I felt like we were getting nowhere, & although I could see that boxes were being opened, I could also see that M was merely "relocating" their contents to different rooms! I did at least find some solace in our trash run though - we filled M's car with empty boxes & on our travels late Friday afternoon, we managed to find an empty dumpster to accept them! A small victory.

Oh & I was presented with some lovely flowers for my efforts too - what girl couldn't love a man who buys her flowers?

Bigger victories followed, however, and from day 2 onwards we managed to start making some serious headway. I don't know how it happened, but the purging began. Extra woks & other pans were allowed to be placed into a box for donation. Clothes were also allowed to be grouped into bags for donation too. I've seriously never known a man who owns so many clothes. I'd estimate that he owns about 10x the amount of clothes that I own, & I'm pretty sure that is an underestimation. And shoes. Jeezy peeps…..somehow I managed to get him to donate a box of old Army boots (about 12 pairs of them). And I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase: "I've been looking for that!". Oh & let's not mention the 3 trash bags filled with (ancient) Army uniforms to donate. Many of which originated from his basic training days (M has been "Army" for 15 years).

Many of the boxes had actually never been opened in about 4 years - they'd been moved from IL to GA & never opened. Then they were placed in storage again while M was overseas last year, & there they remained until they were relocated up to NY last week. 

Sorry - I'm rambling now…...I can summarize the whole experience by telling you I was a little "in shock"! But I can also say that I was really proud of M for all the purging he did though. I understand completely how difficult it is to part with belongings, especially when you've been through life experiences that triggered some kind of "nesting" or "collecting" activity. But I could also tell that he really enjoyed seeing the fruits of his labor once he did start purging, & this kind of inspired him to continue (this shocked me too, I must say! I didn't think we'd purge half as much as we succeeded in dealing with). Although some things were clearly harder than others to part with, & were just sequestered away  - like his Boy Scout sleeping mat from a few decades ago. And what 35 year old man doesn't need a Chicago Bears lunchbag?

I suggested that the saved lunchbag should hopefully curb the fast-food runs!

Eventually we carved out enough space to be able to open up a table downstairs. It was wonderful being able to sit down to eat dinner. By this point, my catchphrase had become "Go" since I was sick & tired of opening bags & boxes of goodies with this phrase written on them. M was an Army recruiter in previous years, & still had a veritable collection of just about everything "Army" that you could wish for with that darn motto plastered on it. Pens, pencils, notepads, CDs, staplers, water bottles, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, computer mousepads, breathalizer sticks……..oh my word, I'm hyperventilating again just thinking about it…..but at least by Day 3 there were even some "Go Army" lawn chairs for us to sit on at dinner time!

Table For Two

Anyway, by the time I left this afternoon, we had made a total of 10 dumpster runs, & additionally had filled the downstairs bathroom with trash bags of clothes & bedding to donate. There were many other boxes to donate too. As well as the 3 trash bags & one huge plastic tote box filled with shredded paper, courtesy of the gazillion bank documents etc, that had been kept from back in the days pre-abacus. 

At least after 3 days of solid work we were both feeling pretty good with the results, especially as we'd managed to visit some furniture stores over the weekend too, & had chosen some things. So yesterday we did a trash run, purged a heap of boxes & trash, & then headed to the furniture store to order a sofa, some chairs & a split box-spring that will be able to make its way up the stairs.  Then we warded off cabin fever by heading out for an afternoon drive. We headed out to Sackets Harbor & watched some loonies walking out on Lake Ontario to do some ice fishing!

Walking on Lake Ontario

Ah well, if you're still with me now, thanks! There may even be some community service hours in it for you…….it's been a stressful few days watching the boy purge & not-purge, but overall I'm really proud of him because I know how stressful it is allowing "things" to just disappear from your life.

I just spent 5 hours driving back to Massachusetts, & he's playing video games & has been very quiet. I think that sums up how he's feeling about it all!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Here's To Bacchus

Eat, Drink & Be Merry
It's been a stressful time recently since M has not only had to relocate his life to upstate New York in the past couple of weeks, but he's also been awaiting his final divorce settlement. The latter finally happened this past week, so it's been a big relief to both of us. Even though it obviously wasn't me going through it, I have been amazed at how it affected me emotionally too, just as the bystander. I don't think I've ever personally known anyone going through a divorce before. Anyway, it was quite draining on me even, so I'm not only relieved for him that it's over now & he can move on to the next chapter in his life, but also that I can kind of move on too.

I picked him up at the airport on Friday & we enjoyed some quiet time celebrating at home that evening.

We didn't do anything of any real excitement on Saturday, but we did celebrate our first Valentine's Day together - two days early, I know, but we won't get to see each other then, so we fast-forwarded a little! 

We'd talked about going out since M wanted to take me out for dinner, but then I suggested staying home & cooking, & eventually we decided on a fondue night. I haven't done any fondue-ing for quite some time - I think the last time I had fondue was about 3 years ago for a birthday celebration. And I certainly haven't played fondue-chef myself for maybe a couple of decades!

For Starters
We had a merry old time anyway - we started out with a wine-based, cheese & avocado fondue. I used Gruyere, Emmentaler & Comte cheeses, & that turned out delicious. If anyone is interested in trying it out, this was my simplified version of a few that I came across online:

- Mix together 2 mashed avocadoes, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1/4 cup of sour cream
- Warm up 1/2 cup of dry white wine & gradually add 1lb grated cheese, & keep stirring 
- Gradually transfer in the avocado mix & continue stirring

Other herbs/spices can obviously also be added according to preference - garlic, black pepper etc. And you also add extra wine or cheese to the mix if you need it to be thinned or thickened. For dippers, we had beef, crusty bread & veggies, but naturally "anything goes" with fondue!

For Dessert:
When it came to dessert, I couldn't resist a recipe that was shared recently by Mommie Cooks on her fabulous site. I love all things chocolate, & you just can't beat Toblerone! Our dessert dippers included chunks of pineapple, melon & muffin! Delicious…..

We had a lot of leftovers since we were just a twosome for dinner, but I can assure you there will be no waste!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The NZ Lowdown 4: Destination Queenstown

Lord Of The Rings Country

We left Franz Josef Village early next morning, around 7am, on our way to Queenstown for a couple of days. We had a leisurely 5 or so hours drive, stopping off a fair bit for coffee, snacks & photo opportunities (of which there were very many). Interestingly our weather changed dramatically as we headed inland from the west coast - from characteristically wet with low clouds in the Glacier region, gradually morphing into sunny with blue skies as we progressed toward Queenstown. 

But regardless of the location or conditions outside, the scenery was unrelentingly beautiful en-route.

En-route to Queenstown
Still en-route to Queenstown

We arrived in Queenstown around lunchtime & checked into our hotel after grabbing a quick bite to eat. Our hotel turned out to be in a great location - and we had a wonderful lake view from our window. Then we were soon on our way again - we'd booked with Nomad Safaris on an afternoon trip called  "Safari of the Scenes" - a 4-wheel drive, off-road, guided tour of some of the local regions where scenes from Lord of the Rings was filmed. 

There were 6 of us in the Jeep in addition to our guide - a young Brazilian fella called Ugo. He'd lived in NZ for about 5 years & seemed to just love it there, and certainly loved his job. He showed us some of the most amazing scenery, and the afternoon flew by before we knew it.

Lord Of The Rings country

More Lord Of The Rings country

In the middle of the afternoon Ugo took us down by the river. Well actually, he took us into the river! At least where the water level was quite low, anyway. He Jeep'ed around on the water for a while which was quite entertaining. Then we stopped off at one location so we could all try our hand at gold-panning. It would've been wonderful to find our fortune there, but alas, it was not to be! I did find a smidgeon of gold though - just a speck basically, but Ugo kindly packed it in a little container for me to take home!

A little gold-panning!

The following morning we started out early & began our day on Lake Wakatipu. We cruised across to Walter Peak on TSS Earnslaw - an Edwardian vintage steamship. Quite a historical ship & really interesting to see - we watched the coal for the journey being loaded onto the ship beforehand too! 

Lake Wakatipu

Watching the fun on Lake Wakatipu
Yet more beautiful scenery around the lake

Across the other side, Walter Peak Station (named after a local mountain) was beautiful to see - a 25,758 hectare working, high country sheep farm on the southern shore of the lake. It has 1500 sheep & 1000 cattle, & the farm's homestead is used to host tourists like us that cruise the lake on the steamship. It's a mere 8 mile trip across the lake on the steamship, but bizarrely if you want to drive out there, its twisted route takes you for 77 miles!

Walter Peak Station

After lunch there, we wandered off to check out the animals & we got to feed the sheep, as well as watch the working dogs in action (something I always love to see) and then some sheep shearing and well as wool-spinning!

Making friends with the locals

Then it was time to head back across the lake to Queenstown. As soon as we landed & had hit the trough ourselves, we headed up to the Skyline Gondola. The views from the summit there, on Bob's Peak, were just stunning - made all the more beautiful thanks to the gorgeous weather we were having. 

Lake Wakatipu viewed from the gondola summit

More fun over Lake Wakatipu
A long way from anywhere!

While we were at the summit, M decided he wanted to try his hand on their luge tracks. I wasn't prepared for this since I was wearing a skirt, so that kind of ruled me out of the game! But I certainly enjoyed just hanging out at the top for 40 minutes or so, enjoying the gorgeous, sunny day that we were having, & taking some photos (and having some peace & quiet from M for a while, hehe, but don't tell him I said that!).

Trying out the luge at the gondola summit!

By the end of the day we were exhausted, we'd been out & on the move all day again, and although we were thoroughly loving it all, we're not as young as we used to be, so were definitely feeling weary. Thankfully though, we did at least have enough energy to find the local wine shop before making our way back to the hotel!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bottling It Up

I've been having a minor grump this evening - you could call it a culmination of "bottled-up" frustrations of quite some time. 

The Crux Of The Matter?
My apartment complex has no recycling station (well, except for a trash can for cardboard), so even though it's easy enough to stay green & throw the occasional bottle into a recycling can when I'm on the move, my attempts to help preserve the environment have been somewhat hindered on the home front.

I'm trying hard to make a huge concerted effort to recycle, but it's insane how difficult this town makes it! Since the start of the year I've been separating my recycling & just collecting it in my (miniscule) kitchen, while trying to locate public recycling opportunities. I've been checking out options online, but so far, my only realistic options are either to take a shovel-load of stuff to a large company & pay to have it taken off my hands…..or take my stuff in dribs & drabs to work maybe & offload bottles, cans, paper etc  in the public recycling bins.

So currently the trunk of my car is literally filled with recycling, & my kitchen floor is also continuing to get a bit crowded too!  

It seems bizarre to me in this day & age that an apartment community wouldn't offer some streamlined recycling station at least. I'm getting really frustrated because I'm becoming the crazy lady who collects "empties", & I'm also frustrated that my apartment complex has no recycling facility - my town apparently "mandates" recycling, so it's odd that the complex can get away without offering recycling.

I'll continue collecting cans in the meantime (I suppose it's better than collecting cats), but I'm very interested in hearing any potential resolutions that you guys can offer, especially if you've also encountered any similar obstacles in the past!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The NZ Lowdown 3: From Greymouth to Glacier Country

After 2 lovely days in Christchurch we were on the move.

First We Headed West
We took the TranzAlpine train across to Greymouth – this is reported to be one of the world’s greatest scenic railway trips, & I can believe it. The 140 mile journey took about 4 and a half hours, but the time whizzed by so quickly due to the constant sensory-overload from outside. There was even an open air viewing carriage where you could really feel the wind whipping through your hair (but hold on to your caps!) as you clung on to take photographs.

The journey takes you from Christchurch on the east coast, to Greymouth on the west coast, & you get to enjoy a whole mixed bag of beautiful scenery – from farmland to gorges to valleys, as well as spectacular mountain views as you climb through NZ’s Southern Alps, and then finally  you hit some rainforest regions, before reaching the final destination.

Seats are preassigned for you, so you may have a few carriages to walk through before reaching the open car, but we were very fortunate to be in the adjacent one.  And similarly we were only a couple of cars away from the café  - food onboard is actually very decent, as well as reasonably priced, although some folk had taken their own food along for the ride too.

Day 3 in NZ & M had already developed a taste for the local brew!

Once we reached Greymouth, we collected our checked-in luggage & headed over to find our rental car. One thing that M & I constantly bicker about is driving. More specifically, his driving. I swear he’s always in combat mode. I’m not a nervous passenger, but he is one of the most aggressive drivers I’ve ever driven with. So we’d agreed in advance that I’d be the one to start off the driving on our trip since I’m English & therefore used to driving on the left side of the road in the right side of a car.

Although it was nice to feel more independently mobile again, knowing we could stop whenever we felt like & drive wherever we wanted, I’d now lost the ability to stare lovingly out of windows at the beautiful scenes around me. But at least we were both also in agreement about the fact that we were happy to stop wherever and whenever we felt like.

Then South To Franz Josef
And so we set off in our car, headed south to the Glacier Country of Westland National Park, specifically to Franz Josef Glacier. The car journey was lovely, taking us through spectacular rainforest areas. By the time we reached our hotel in the village of Franz Josef, it was raining quite nicely, with extremely low cloud cover that looked quite eerie, hanging over the mountains. We drove out to the Glacier region & went hiking, in spite of the weather - have raincoats, will travel!

The walk initially took us through some rain forest, then across a rocky path through the glacier valley, along the icy flow of the Waiho River. Eventually we reached the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier, which remained an impressive sight, despite the weather. The top of the glacier was still a brilliant blue color, even in the grey, misty conditions – quite amazing to think that this glow represents a million tons of ice!

Crossing the glacier valley toward the icy, terminal face
Arriving at the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier

The glacier forms from heavy layers of snow that compact to produce the hard, blue ice. The combination of snow pressure and gravity force ice down the valley to within 200 meters of sea level where the face is constantly melting. Franz Josef is reportedly the most dynamic glacier in the world since its steepness & location allow it to respond very quickly to changes in temperature & precipitation.

It’s somewhat surreal knowing you are standing at the foot of an ice wall that’s as wide as a valley and has been known to be in the phase of advancing one meter each day.

We walked as far as we could, to within meters of the terminal face – the actual face is roped-off to tourists for safety reasons – to protect people from being caught by falling ice or river surges. Quite a sight though.

Eventually we realized we had soaked in more scenery during that day than we’d ever experienced in a single day previously. We hiked back to the car, & then it was off to our hotel to dry off before testing out some local cuisine & aperitifs to close out the evening!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The NZ Lowdown 2: Christchurch (Part II)

Our 2nd day in the city brought a mix of entertainment:

The Christchurch Gondola
We started our day at the Christchurch Gondola - this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, & for very good reason too. The cars take you up high over the city, 1500 ft above sea level, where the views are just gorgeous.

The tourist center at the summit sits on the rim of Mount Cavendish, the extinct volcano that had formed Lyttelton Harbour. And around the rim there are numerous walking & mountain biking tracks. 

Lyttelton Harbour from the Gondola station at the summit

The weather was beautiful when we were there, so we had some great 360 degree views out across the Southern Alps, as well as out toward the Pacific Ocean. We walked a little around part of the rim & then hit the café for a beer & some lunch before heading back down to earth again.

Next Stop Was The Botanic Gardens
This is a fantastic resource for the city. It was founded back in 1863, extends over about 30 hectares along the Avon River, & is open every day of the year since it’s not gated. It is such a beautiful environment - whether for enjoying the gardens themselves, for just  walking around in general, or for picnicking in nice weather. I especially loved their Rose Garden though - it contains over 250 different roses.

The Heart Of The Great Alone
As we were leaving, we popped into the Canterbury Museum on the periphery of the gardens. They are currently hosting “The Heart Of The Great Alone” - an exhibition of the most amazing photographs of Antarctica, taken by Captain Robert Scott’s team photographers during their last expedition, “Terra Nova” (1910-1913) in which 5 of the team tragically died trying to return from the South Pole.

This exhibition was remarkable – the photos & narratives from Scott's last diary remain vivid in my mind. Many were exceptionally poignant – especially the story of one of the team, Edgar Evans. During their return from the South Pole, they encountered life-threatening blizzard conditions which hindered them significantly. Evans also became injured, which slowed their progress even further. He realized he was a burden to the rest of the team, & knew he was reducing their survival chances. Selflessly, he left their tent one night, saying “I am just going outside & may be some time.” He walked to his death in the blizzard. A truly amazing story that still brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

The Ice Bar
Not content with a couple of hours of Antarctic ice, we hit the Below Zero Ice Bar in Christchurch’s city center on our way back to the hotel. Such a fun experience! Everything in the bar is made of ice – from the glasses for your vodka cocktails, to the seats you sit on! It’s very impressive – all hand-sculpted from about 20 tons of ice. They kit you out with a big furry jacket, gloves & furry boots before you go in though, so you get to stay relatively cozy inside.

So, another fun day in Christchurch for us. We wrapped up the day by heading to a local Irish bar for dinner before finally returning to the hotel to pack, ready for our next venture the following day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The NZ Lowdown 1: Christchurch (Part I)

It was first stop Christchurch as we began our adventure on the South Island. We landed there mid morning on Sunday & found the shuttle service that I’d booked to take us to our hotel in the city center. The hotel was also kind enough to allow us to check in very early at no extra cost – great news for us after being in transit for over 24 hours. I have to admit too, that this was somewhat of a recurring theme throughout the vacation – almost everywhere that we traveled, we arrived earlier than the scheduled hotel check-in time, yet every single hotel allowed us into our room early (often many hours early, as in this case). This has never happened to me anywhere else - a very nice bonus.

Despite being tired, we decided to keep going as long as possible so we could “get in the zone”, as it were. So after checking in, we checked out some cracks in the hotel’s corridor walls (courtesy of last September’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake), showered, had coffee, & rested a while. M discovered cricket on Sky TV. “What a terribly boring game”, he announced, & returned to the news channel.

We soon headed out though, & wandered into Cathedral Square since this was just minutes walk from our hotel. Whether you wanted architecture, street performers, food trucks, coffee, restaurants, bars, tourist information, or just a chance to sit & enjoy the sunshine, it was all right there. Along with a huge digital countdown clock heralding the upcoming Rugby World Cup, which will be in NZ this September. 

"Chalice" - the city's 18 meter high sculpture to celebrate the new millennium. 

Christchurch Cathedral

After some food we strangely decided to head straight back to the airport region - namely to the Christchurch International Antarctic CentreI’ve always been fascinated by the Antarctic, so this was a wonderful place for me to while away the afternoon. They have some great exhibit areas in general, as well as video footage to enjoy. Their 4D movie of an Antarctic cruise was hilarious – my first 4D experience - beautiful scenery & footage of Antarctica, but be prepared to be splashed in your seat!

Their indoor polar room was an experience – it’s chilled to -5 degrees Celsius with additional cycles of an Antarctic storm to “enjoy” every 30 minutes, providing 40km/hr winds courtesy of their wind chill machine. So all in all you get to be blown away by temperatures that take you down to -18 degrees Celsius! That was quite something – they provide you with warm jackets & rubber overshoes, but it’s still frigid! I just can’t imagine enduring those conditions for any length of time.

I loved the motion blur on this photo when we got into the negative temperatures - so cold I couldn't even vaguely keep the camera still! M decided that maybe his pending relocation to upstate NY temperatures might not be so bad after all.

The centre's penguin mascot was all too keen to pose for photos - but at least he was a bit more at-home with the temperatures than the rest of us.

Taking a ride in their Hagglund all-terrain vehicle on their outdoor adventure course was something else too – this little video will more quickly demonstrate it better than I can describe it.

Hagglund vehicles outside the US Antarctic Program Building

We also saw their Little Blue Penguins & were lucky enough to catch their feeding time. I love penguins & these little guys were adorable to watch – they are the smallest of all penguins & only grow to about 13 inches tall, & weigh only a couple of pounds. They are predominantly found along the coasts of NZ & Australia & their surrounding islands. The little fellas here have all been rescued from the wild due to illness or disabilities that would prevent them surviving in their natural habitat.

Some Little Blue Penguins

Prior to our trip I’d read variable reports from other people about this center – many saying it wasn’t worth the admission fee of NZ$65 (about US$51 at the current exchange rate). In retrospect, I wonder if they were mostly folk who were expecting some kind of entertainment park, so their expectations were very different from reality. Maybe the place is best suited for someone who is interested in enhancing their learning about the continent, or using it as a learning tool for kids who are old enough to participate. Very young kids might be too young to really get anything more from the experience than just enjoying seeing the penguins. For me though, I found the place good value since I spent the entire afternoon there & thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

We left the center late afternoon & took a shuttle back to Cathedral Square. After some more food, we collected some goodies in the form of NZ wine & accompanying snacks to take back to the hotel. It didn’t take long for sleep to enter the agenda though. A small glass of wine & it was all over for the early evening.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The NZ Lowdown: Getting There

It's time to document our New Zealand trip! I’ve decided to recount the trip here while it’s fresh in my mind – it’ll serve as a fun reminder of a wonderful vacation whenever I look back on it.

This was my first visit to NZ – a country I’ve always looked forward to seeing, so it felt somewhat surreal to be finally heading there. We set out late afternoon on Friday Jan 7th from Boston to San Francisco, & I was dreading the long flight out to Auckland since I don’t deal well with overnight international flights when I fly back to my native England – I never sleep, & end up horribly exhausted. The trans-Pacific flight was surprisingly ok though – I think the even longer flight enabled me to have enough time to eat, watch a movie & then snooze every so often, so I definitely didn’t feel as bad on arriving in Auckland as I’d expected to.

Air NZ were also great to fly with. Like with some other airlines, you have your own TV screen & a large choice of movies & TV programs. I found their seats slightly wider than average, and legroom was also slightly increased – definitely helpful for overnight comfort. Their food was also pretty decent, & they were very generous with complimentary wines & beers whenever we wanted them. Most importantly though, the crew was great – extremely pleasant, helpful & fun to chat to, & they even had a concierge on board who was available for the entire flight if passengers had questions about their NZ destination. 

Their Safety Video was also awesome - check it out here, I guarantee it’ll give you a laugh! 

Their luggage restrictions are very strict, but they do state this on their website, & they also reminded me of this when I spoke to them by phone beforehand. Your checked bag cannot exceed 50lb/23kg, so be mindful of this. I typically travel light, so didn’t expect this to be a problem, but my camera gear & tripod took me very close to the limit, so do weigh your bag at home as you’re packing.

Arriving in Auckland on the North Island early Sunday morning on the 9th was lovely – we’d left a cold, snowy Boston, & suddenly it’s balmy & people are wearing shorts. Unbelievably, we’d had no travel hitches, & arrived with plenty of time to navigate through customs & immigration & then on to a different terminal for a connecting flight to Christchurch to begin our South Island adventure.

It felt great to be there – but very odd to have lost Saturday in the meantime!