Monday, January 7, 2013

A Weekend of Thrilling Sport

Last weekend I participated in some very British sporting - I played a round of golf, and watched a match of cricket. Good show!

On Saturday, while my new Chinese housemate was settling in, I walked the 5 minutes to play 18 holes at the Hagley Park Golf Club. Don't worry, I invited my new housemate, but he wasn't interested. For its location and surprising quality of the grass, I'm rather surprised the course isn't way more busy than it is. I strolled up to the club house where 3 guys were chatting. I paid my ~$40 for the green fees and the club hire, and that was about it. The attendant was impressed I immediately started sorting the rather beat-up set of clubs - "I see you've done this before". No tee-off time, no line-ups.

I sort of improvised with the golf attire: T-shirt, climbing pants, and barefoot running shoes. It all worked out great, though. I shot a 99! Not bad for not having played in about 2 years. Ok, I'm rather guilty to admit I took a *single* mulligan. So really I shot a 101. It probably helped that it was about the fastest game of golf I've ever played. My routine was lightning quick - one practice swing, then hit. Also critical to my seemingly good score was the fact that it's really hard to lose your ball in a wide-open park. The course is extremely flat, and there are strategically placed trees around the edge of the park to protect both pedestrians and motorists alike. I think the trees saved my bacon about 3 times, but were also the reason for my 5 on a 142m par 3. That was another oddity - everything was measured in metres, not yards. It's not complicated to convert - just add 10%, sort of like adding the HST (13%, whatever), but it threw me off at first.

The scorecard of a liar. I think my 11th or 12th tee-off was retaken out of frustration.

On Sunday my Kiwi boss (i.e. my boss in New Zealand, who is a Brit) invited me to a cricket match. The Canterbury Wizards were set to play the Wellington Firebirds. I had done some studying to ensure I knew roughly what was going on, and it paid off. By the end of the game I had stopped asking naive questions, and was getting into subtle issues of strategy and planning in cricket. You see, in a Twenty20 format with only 20 overs for each side, the batsmen tend to be more aggressive and less defensive, often trying for 4s and 6s. Alas, Canterbury played so poorly they were 'all out' by the 19th over, which is really rare in the Twenty20 format. As this article put it, "There's bad, there's really bad and then there's how the Canterbury Wizards played yesterday."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Week Off

I took a few days of vacation during the last week of December to enjoy a little time in the mountains. I planned to do some climbing with a copule of Brits I had met - Garreth, the Welshman (I shouldn't call him a Brit), and Matt, from somewhere in the south.

There was a work party on the Saturday night, which I stayed for, but I had also promised Gareth and Matt I'd catch them at the French Ridge Hut on Sunday night. The plan was to climb something very early Monday morning. That meant driving from Christchurch to Aspiring National Park in the morning (5-6 hours), and hiking in to the hut in the afternoon (between 6 and 8 hours, according to the Department of Conservation (DOC) guide). The drive went fine, I got to the trailhead by 1pm (sharp), and made it to the hut at 7pm (sharp). However successful my plan was, I wouldn't want to do that combination again. Needless to say I was rather fatigued.

Hiking in alone for 6 hours was actually one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip. Even with a huge pack of supplies it was just really nice to go at my own pace and take the occasional 10 minute rest/nap.

Monday morning we climbed to Mt. French, having decided we were a bit too tuckered out for the more technical Mt. Avalanche. It was a perfect day, and I don't use that word lightly. No wind, really warm, but chilly enough that cramponing was pretty easy for most of the climb.
Mt. Aspiring in the background.

After our climb I immediately napped. During this lazy afternoon some other climbers strolled into the hut - a Czech couple, and a lone Austrian guy. The Austrian guy was especially friendly; he offered us all wine, and given that he carried it ~15km and 1500m uphill, that's quite generous.

Posing in front of the hut with our Austrian friend.

The long way down...

There was truly incredible weather that night, so I attempted to sleep outside until the Keas started pecking at my sleeping bag, at which point I went back inside. We headed back down the valley the next day (Christmas!) to our cars and camped in Wanaka. A delightful Indian restaurant made for a terrific Christmas dinner.

The following day we didn't have much of a plan except for recovering. I decided having such a free day was perfect for Skydiving! With the easy of a phone call I booked a spot and showed up at 3pm sharp. By about 3:30 I had been up and down, it was quite well organized. Sign forms, watch 5 minute instruction video, put on suit, jump in plane, make smalltalk with jump-mate, jump, land. Ticked off the list! Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence I actually did it, so you'll just have to believe me.

We did some rock climbing the next day, then drove to Mt. Cook village, where the New Zealand Alpine Club's swanky "Unwin lodge" is located. For an NZAC member like myself, it's basically the world's greatest hostel for $20 a night. It's just a bunk, but *what* a bunk!
Rock climbing near Wanaka amongst the Manuka flowers. There was an apiary across the road.

On the way there, however, Gareth had car trouble. Gareth and Matt had been driving Gareth's "NFA wonder" as I liked to call it, i.e. "No Fixed Address". It's a 1994 Toyota Townace tricked out with a mattress and stove in the back, perfect for mobile New Zealand living. Needless to say I was quite jealous of it.

Matt had been driving and got the engine a little too hot. I was driving behind them when all of a sudden brown liquid exploded out the side of the van. They quickly pulled over. It turned out that the radiator hose had come unseated from the engine block, so it unloaded the rusty coolant all at once. We got it towed to the nearest town, but had to cram all three kits into my car.

Alas, we got to Mt. Cook just as some nasty weather was coming in. We did some rock climbing on Friday, and attempted to hurry up Mt. Kitchener before the weather rolled in, but our morale just wasn't there so we bailed early. As it was only 7am by the time we got back to Unwin lodge, I decided to do a little day hike to the Ball Shelter. Hiking on one's own is a really enjoyable experience, as I guess I mentioned earlier.

Don't worry, mum, quite rare in summer.

I met one Kiwi when I got to the shelter who said he had a picture of his dad taken somtime in the 60s in a 60-something Toyota truck parked next to the hut. Back then they maintained a road all the way to the hut, but since the glacier has receded the lateral glacial moraine is less stable, and avalanches have presumably made maintaining the road prohibitively expensive.

The final day it rained. Back to Christchurch!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In the thick of it

My my, nearly two weeks of neglect! But it's the most positive kind of neglect, that which is caused by excessive activity and exhaustion. On the weekend of December 8th I went to climb at a crag in the Banks Peninsula called Mount Bradley, and on the weekend of the 15th I went for another great tramp with the Christchurch tramping club.

The Mt. Bradley day was pretty funny. Gareth (a Welsh friend) and I were both keen to experience what the guidebook describes as some of the best climbing near Christchurch. Unfortunately, it's also 800m vertically up, and at least 5km of walking. It was also extremely sunny and hot, so by the time we actually made it to the top of a climb, we were so dehydrated it was clear the next objective was to just get *down* without collapsing.

 The vegetation was ridiculously thick all around the climb, both at the belay and at the top. I have a feeling about 10 people climb there in a year. Perhaps it was due to the earthquakes that the vegitation is so thick. The worst part was that it was almost all this prickly shrub called gorse. Bushwacking through gorse is basically hell; I can't imagine it without pants on. To get a feeling for our sun exhaustion at the top, here is an enthusiastic Gareth posing for a picture:

The top. Oh joy.
Last weekend (15-16th) was so nice, I guilted myself into going on a tramp, because I knew I'd regret it if I didn't. I joined a group heading to Arthur's pass to climb "The Dome". I'd just be repeating myself if I went over all the details. Great views, wonderful company, yada yada. Interesting bit: got to descend a ~500m scree slope, which was *mostly* good. I can't forget to include the crummy photos, all taken with my phone unfortunately:

Skiin' the scree

I'm so bad at selfies I can't even look at the damn camera.

I was so damn happy to reach the bottom after 10 hours of walking.
I have some more kiwi-isms for you, too:

  • They call street racers "boy racers" (e.g. Vin Diesel is a boy racer)
  • A classic: "Man, that trip was sweet as!" means "That trip was sweet!" but it's used for any adjective, e.g my hiking pole was described as "light as"
  • "What are you after?" is a retail equivalent of "how can I help you?".
  • You don't chug a beer, you "skull" it.
  • Subaru is pronounced "su-BAroo", as in this famous SNL sketch

In other exciting news, I finally made a half-decent looking latte. However, I quit coffee, this being the second time I've quit since I've been here.  I assume I'll be back on the wagon in no time, though. I call this one "the onion":

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Santa Parade

This weekend was the Christchurch Santa Parade! Indeed, it is not the Santa *Claus" parade. No, here in New Zealand we've simplified things - Santa Parade!

Also, the roses at the Botanical Gardens are in bloom. Yes, I spent the afternoon stopping and smelling the roses. They were spectacular. Rather ironically, I took pictures of the best smelling ones.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mt Adams

My second weekend in New Zealand I went on a Christchurch Tramping Club trip to Mt Catherine, and was fortunate enough to meet Cristina Zablan, a wonderful, friendly accountant originally from Manila. After about 15 minutes into the car ride she had already encouraged me to come along on a trip to Mt Adams on November 24-25th organized by the New Zealand Alpine Club. I think my first thought was dread at requiring a third alpine club membership - AAC, ACC, NZAC, aaack! I say "requiring" with dire seriousness, because what the hell would I be doing in New Zealand if I didn't join their alpine club? Surfing? Canyoning? Skydiving? None of these boring things appeal to me.

With the ease of an email and a trip to my plans were set. The leader of the trip, Nina Dickerhof, informed me of the overnight plans; I had my tent, sleeping bag etc., so I felt set. I had taken a quick glance at the height of Mt. Adams (2208m), and having done the similarly moderate Mt. Catherine (2083m) I felt I had an idea of what to expect. It wasn't until a week before the trip, during a drive out to the west coast, that I realized what being on the west coast of New Zealand meant. Wikipedia reads:
There are no rainfall gauges on Mount Adams, but a gauge in Whataroa valley at the State Highway 6 bridge 10 km south-west of the summit at 60 metres above sea level, records a mean annual rainfall of 5690mm (224 inches) and daily falls of up to 320mm (12 inches)
Ok. Weather is key.

The plan was to drive from Christchurch to a roadside campsite on Friday, then climb above the bush line to camp on Saturday at about 1500m. Thus, the summit day was originally going to be Sunday morning. Nina had been checking the forecast, and though it looked perfect 3 days out, closer to Friday it was predicting "nor'-westerly gales" for Sunday, not exactly the kind of weather you want for mountain climbing, let along camping. Nina wisely suggested a change of plans: we would climb to the campsite, drop our packs, and try to summit on Saturday evening. We could then leisurely take all of Sunday to get back down. "I know it'll be a slog, but I think it's best". As it turned out, she was quite right.

The crew:
From left to right:
Lorraine, Wellington policy advisor extraordinaire
Yours Truly, being an idiot
Nina, fearless leader
Nina, not to be confused with Nina
Kat, Barrie, Ontario escapee
Hannah, prospective Oxford alumnus
Cristina, lighter accountant
Rae-Anne, resident city council super athlete
Silvia, mountain gear aficionado
Rob(not pictured): Scottish photographer

All 10 of us eventually made it to the roadside campsite on Friday, some having travelled longer than others. Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin were all represented (though Canada, Germany, Philippines, Scotland, England, Slovakia and New Zealand is perhaps more accurate). The roadside campsite was uneventful, except some douche decided to pull off the road at 3am, do a donut, then scream off. The following morning we managed to find the short road off of Highway 6 leading to the trailhead. I had been warned that wearing my mountain boots would be a back idea, since the first stage of the climb involved a lot of river crossing. Good advice, Rob!

Ford #1523

After following the river for about 2km, we managed to find the trail leading up a steep, heavily forested ridge. For a newcomer, the flora is quite magical; it's a true rainforest, and quite interesting since it's chilly and lacking in any dangerous fauna. Everything is wet. As Silvia put it, "this is the real west coast!" or something like that.
This is a trail. It's totally obvious.
Travelling up the ridge required some serious use of tree branches, roots, and at times just grabbing at 'stuff' in front of you. The heavy packs we all carried didn't help. Having hiked in places where the locals throw a fit for so much as breathing on anything outside the marked trail, it was pretty sweet to travel a trail that was obviously marked, but definitely rugged. Perching plants, ferns, and other prehistoric-looking things make for really interesting climbing, but are often ignored when all you're thinking of is "how much further!?". Eventually we reached the bushline after looking at my altimeter about a thousand times. Travelling up ~1000m with a giant pack is a rather rare experience for me (I usually have a day pack on). It was sheer joy, I swear.
Just below the ceiling of cloud. It was about 50m above us.

Lunch at the bush line (~1200m)!
By lunchtime spirits were a little low, since we were traveling in the layer of cloud we had just been traveling under. Visibility was about 50m for several hundred meters of altitude, so hiking along what appeared to be a steep cliff was a bit of a tease.

Lunchtime brought some comedy as well, when Nina lost her water bladder down a rather deep hole. Rob dove in after it, literally:
3 girls, 1 Rob.

Soon after lunch we made it to our campsite. Given that the terrain was fairly rugged, we managed to find some decently flat spots to drop our gear. At about 1400m, just above the snow line, we started to see some breaks in the clouds above us which became bigger and better as we climbed. Morale instantly became high; three cheers for Nina! "See, *guaranteed* good views! Didn't I predict it!?" Nina clearly has a bright future in the mountaineering psychic industry.
Slowly making our way along the ridge, just above where we broke away from the clouds.
Hitching a ride. Wait, no, just putting on crampons.
Mt. Cook!
The rest of the climb was a long but moderate snow climb in mostly wet snow. Lucky for us, the weather kept getting better and better so that around the summit we had a setting sun and gorgeous views. By the time we made it to the lower summit, we agreed that it was a fine goal, as we were all pretty exhausted by this point. It had been a formidable 2100m day (~100m up to 2194m).

Summit! Cristina is taking the photo.
Top (l to r): Hannah, Lorraine, Nina, Robert, Rae-Anne, Kat
Bottom: me, Silvia, Nina
The original Walter.

Doing "the Walter"

The way down went quite well. Perhaps it was a bit slow due to the stunning scenery that began to open up as the clouds dissipated. I'll let the photos speak for themselves:

Ugh. What a gross place to camp.

A long sleep combined with a lazy sleep-in made for a relaxing start to day #2. It was a blur getting down. One of the larger blunders of the trip occurred on the way up when I decided I no longer needed my hiking pole somewhere along the thick forest path. The only thing that would have made my placement worse would have been to paint the pole with camouflage. On the way down I didn't see it, so Rob kindly volunteered to help me find it. It was actually quite refreshing to dash back up the trail with no pack on, since you feel like a monkey swinging on trees, vines, and anything else that's within reach. Magically I found it, and was quite thankful that I had it for river crossings. Lesson learned.

I'll end the trip report with this (yet again) poorly-shot, shaky, lame, but dearly treasured video:
Thanks go to all the members of the party for making my first Kiwi camping experience really fun, their company was a true delight. Particular thanks go to Nina and Lorraine, who treated me to hot water, soup, and taught me what Milo was (as well as offering me some).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

South Island Tour

Last weekend (Nov. 17th) was the Canterbury A&P Show! The show is such a big deal, Canterbury has its own long weekend devoted to it, so I got the Friday off. I had been hemming and hawing about weekend plans involving Queenstown the whole week prior, but I didn't plan very well and had to make some last-minute plans.

As friday approached I didn't have any plans, so I ended up going to The Show with my housemate Ann, who happened to be leaving that day. It was convenient for me to accompany her since she wanted to go to the show, then catch a flight at about 7:00pm. We drove over to the Canterbury Agricultural Park and queued up to get tickets. After considerable (and frustrating) delay, we managed to gain entry. The whole thing seemed like Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition 50 years in the past - more agriculture, less midway. I managed to get pictures of some of the champs:

The look of a supreme champion

The highlight of the show was definitely when I got to see a round of sheep herding competition. This sounds really ignorant of me, but I think the only reason I knew about shepherd competitions was from the movie Babe:

After Friday's Show, I still had an entire weekend to use, so I decided I'd drive to Queenstown. To make it a little more interesting, I thought I'd take the long way around by driving to the West Coast via Arthur's Pass, then south to Queenstown. It's a drive of about 500km, and being Canadian I figured distance as well as Google's estimate would give me a good idea of how long it would take. I planned to have tons of time to stop for little activities here and there, but I quickly discovered my progress was quite a bit slower than I had been anticipating.

The reason, of course, is that most of the way through Arthur's Pass and pretty much the entire west coast is really mountainous, filled with winding roads often requiring you lower your speed to 30-40 km/hr on the really tight hairpins. It was probably the best driving of my life, even if it was in a little Nissan Tiida. I ended up using the (unfortunately) automatic transmission as a sort of tiptronic transmission, constantly turning off the overdrive and putting it into 2nd gear (it was a typical 4 gear automatic).

The two places I stopped at were Hokitika for some pizza, and Franz Josef village for a coffee and a little peak at the glacier. I decided to run the trail to the glacier, so I was able to go there and back in about 20 minutes, saving precious time. Driving out I gave a lift to a couple of German girls who were hitching a ride back to the village. They were quite certain it was 8 hours to Queenstown from where I was, which seemed *really* out of whack with the distance I needed to cover (something like 300km). Fortunately they were wrong, it was more like 5 and a half, but again I underestimated the ruggedness of the roads.

In the words of some guy I talked to in the village: "you can't go the west coast and not see a glacier!"
I stayed the night at a backpackers hostel for lack of any real plans or desire to sleep luxuriously. I decided that night that I should probably do something the next morning. Remembering a Lord of the Rings DVD extra about Orlando Bloom doing crazy crap in Queenstown, I figured I should do the big bungy jump he did, which turned out to be the Nevis Bungy. The short story is that I was really nervous the whole morning, then I jumped. Did I mention I'm good at telling stories? Since a million people have done it, every short crummy video of the jump looks the same, so I'll just post this generic one and you can imagine it was me:
Proof I jumped. Well, quasi-proof.

The ride back was quite a bit more "boring," at least in terms of what I had done the day before. Like so many things in life, you quickly get used to something when there's a lot of it, including mountains. Not a bad problem to have, I guess.
What a boring drive.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Settled In

You're probably wondering, dear reader, where did those frequent updates go? Indeed, like so many a travel blog I've neglected to post now that I feel fairly settled in. It feels like less of an adventure now, and more like I'm just living here. However that doesn't mean it's ok to neglect updates!

Lets see, some Kiwiisms:

  • Very little concept of how large Canada is. Even people who've been to Canada rarely realize there's a massive distance between our mountains (e.g. the rockies) and where I live.
  • Growing basically anything except pineapples (citrus, grapes, olives, whatever)
  • Mandatory roadside breathalyzers on city streets
  • Saying there are "heaps" of things
  • Sheep shearing competitions
I also went on another tramp this weekend to Peak Hill. I took a tumble on my bike last week and hurt my shoulder, so wanted to take it easy this week. Certainly a nice easy tramp, and the view was stellar to boot!
New Zealand. Yup.
Movember silliness 

Since we all ended the tramp by about 1:30, the group decided to stop by the Hororata Highland Games. The whole scene could have easily been in small-town Ontario with all the local Scottish heritage and full-on paraphernalia being worn. There were highland games, which I somehow  remembered have a pretty solid worldwide following. Indeed, the wikipedia article on highland games athletes describes it pretty well. There also seemed to be a manual sheep sheering competition going on which I took a video of: