FiNZ 41 – Pats Nation

It’s rare we find other American’s in New Zealand let alone people from Massachusetts. So it was especially special to have some other local faces in town leading up to the Superbowl. Keith’s mom, Kathy, arrived with Don on Friday and we went right to work as tour guides. I don’t think they knew what they had gotten themselves into when we decided to drive them 2 hours outside of town and down a 40km long dirt road to get to Mt Sunday… (reminder – they had just gotten off the plane!). Unfortunately it was a little cloudy, but the views were still pretty “epic New Zealand.”

Mt Sunday is more like a little bump in the middle of a beautiful landscape–

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On the path up to Mt Sunday

Despite it being off the beaten path it was a pretty popular filming location for Lord of the Rings – Edoras! Helms Deep was also filmed here as well. Some of the outer parts of structures were actually built on top of the hill (only for the movie) but most were CGI’d in. Check out the photo from the film below–

Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week –

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Taking in the Views

At the summit trig, Don made sure we were all monumented there forever!

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Spot Marked!

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Jetlagged Troopers!

On the way back our visitors got a true New Zealand welcome. A farmer was out herding sheep so we got a good “only in NZ” experience of waiting for the sheep to cross the road…

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Traffic Jam

Saturday the weather started getting better so we went on a wine tour throughout Canterbury. We were able to hit up some of our favorites — True & Daring, Lone Goat, and Straight Eight — all before dinner at one of our favorites — King of Snake!

Sunday was GORGEOUS. Therefore we picked that day to bring the crew to Akaroa. We did a lot of scenic driving to get the best photo opportunities.

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Akaroa Bay Photo Opp

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Summit Road Views

Then we continued to do a lot of relaxing, drinking, eating, and wandering along the shore.

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Mother Son Bonding

Monday morning we said our temporary goodbyes to Kathy & Don until we see them again this upcoming weekend! We can’t wait to hear their stories of traveling around the island in a campervan over the next few days.

Pretty much the rest of Monday was devoted to the Superbowl. Being in the future we have to deal with work on Superbowl day. So luckily, as Americans we have a bit of lee-way with taking some personal time 🙂

Keith, a few coworkers, and myself headed over to The Carlton at lunch for their Superbowl party they’d been advertising all month. The actual party room was a little overcrowded so we just made our own private party elsewhere.The Carlton provided Budweiser “specials,” aka $30 for 4 bottles…along with corn dogs and hot dog sliders.

And what a game am I right?! That was easily my favorite Superbowl ever. It was a fun environment to be in and the game just kept everyone entertained (including the non-Patriots/Seahawks fans) the entire time.

PicMonkey Collage

Superbowl Monday!

What a week thus far! This weekend is a 3-day weekend so we’re excited to meet up with Kathy & Don once again and have some more fun exploring.

Cheers!

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FiNZ 35 – Holidays Part 1

I’m currently writing this when I’m not distracted by the mountains, sheep, lake, and nice breeze just outside on our house rental’s north-facing, unobstructed-view, porch. I may not get this up for a bit, the one downside of this rental is no wifi and a wired connection that doesn’t appear to be working…*5 days later*…

Keith and I finished our last work day of 2014 on 19 December and spent the night packing for our first half of our 2 week New Zealand adventure. Our plan was to drive to Queenstown Saturday afternoon and start our 4 day Kepler Track hike on SUNDAY. When I was printing out our week of confirmation emails, I had a major freak out when the Kepler Track booking said “thanks for scheduling your track journey, starting MONDAY.” It turns out the booking we made several months ago was for Monday instead of Sunday…oops. Well our Christmas house rental started on Wednesday (Christmas Eve) so we HAD to end our hike by Wednesday. After confirming from the Dept. of Conservation (DOC) there was NO WAY we could change our booking (the Great Walk huts book up MONTHS in advance especially during Christmas time), we decided we would hike almost all of the track in 3 days instead of 4 and skip the last night in the hut. Looking back, this honestly made our holiday even better — 1) we had a full day to just relax in Queenstown and leisurely drive to Te Anau (the jumping off town for Fiordland national park where the Kepler Track is) 2) the weather was more perfect a day later and 3) we were super tired by that third day and ready to relax.

Ok let’s back up and start from Saturday—we actually went swimming with dolphins! Pretty random, but I saw a GrabOne deal (New Zealand’s version of Groupon) a few months back and thought it looked like a cool experience. I think this is probably one of the few places in the world you can swim in the wild with dolphins, or at least with the rarest dolphin in the world. The dolphins in Akaroa are also the smallest dolphins in the world (the Hector Dolphin).

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Keith & his friend

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More Friends

Apparently the dolphins are typically even more friendly, so Akaroa’s Black Cat Cruises gave us all some money back (even though we already got a discount to begin with)! I was impressed with their honesty – I’d recommend them!

Then we drove the leisurely 6 hour drive to Queenstown, enjoyed the night and day there, and then headed to Te Anau to spend the night. Te Anau is a nice quiet town that caters to all the tourists visiting Milford Sound etc.

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We found a tree swing on Lake Te Anau

The next day we were up bright and early to eat a big brekkie at Bailiez–which definitely doesn’t look like much from outside, but was very cozy and served us great food and coffee on the inside. We then went to the DOC visitor center to pick up our hut tickets and we were on our way! The weather was great–my first trek with NO rain! Taking from my co-workers’s example during the Routeburn trek, we decided to take several video clips throughout and splice a quick video together. Feel free to watch below for a 3 minute overview of our 3 day journey. We picked our background music wisely with Keith Urban’s “Days go by”–

“We think about tomorrow then it slips away
We talk about forever but we’ve only got today”

 

If that didn’t cover enough, read on…

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Luxmore Cave explorations

When we got to Luxmore Hut it was another 1.5 hrs to Mt Luxmore’s summit. If it’s one thing you should know about hiking in New Zealand, when the weather is good – TAKE ADVANTAGE. We knew it could easily be miserable the next day, so we sucked it up and hiked even farther up.

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climbing to Mt Luxmore

This may be the oddest photo ever, but I really wanted to share what a great view the track bathrooms have…

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Bathroom with a view

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The second day of the Kepler Track was the most challenging day of I’ve done of the Greak Walks thus far–lots of up and down, up and down, crossing a ridge line for a bit and then a whole lot of down. The views made it all worth it!P1060473 P1060494 P1060496 P1060497 P1060499 P1060516

Warning…stepping on the soap box now…I’ve checked off all the Great Walks in Fiordland (3 of them–Milford, Routeburn, Kepler). It’s quite bittersweet. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past week and I can’t pick a favorite. They each have very unique qualities, and I had very different personal experiences hiking each of them that make them all amazing.

MILFORD (post here) is super popular. Some people don’t do it because of the popularity…however, you have to figure, they only book 50 people/night in a hut, and that spreads out throughout the day of hiking. I am always so amazed about the lack of people we run into on these trails even if it is the height of tourist season. It is a heck of a lot of work to get to it…taking a shuttle, taking a boat, walking, taking a boat, taking another shuttle. However, that just means you’re walking through one of the most remote places there is. The valley views are incredible, topped with the drive back on Milford Sound road. It was a lot of fun hiking with my big group of coworkers in the off-season. I don’t think I’ve ever been so worried in my life with all the avalanches coming down the night before we crossed the McKinnon pass, but it ended up being quite the epic experience. Milford = a big valley with huge mountains & waterfalls.

ROUTEBURN (post here) I think is the easiest to do in terms of time–it’s the shortest distance–however is a bit of a pain to transfer your car or figure out the bus schedule. Going down over that pass is another beautiful view. I honestly have no idea what this hike looks like from the highest point due to the blizzard I walked through while doing it. Luckily I wasn’t quite as worried as Milford, but still made for an awesome story and experience. Routeburn = a mix of terrain with a beautiful view on each end.

KEPLER is the most accessible being a loop track–no car transfer, boat, or bus required. Kepler, in my opinion, is the most physically challenging. I was so glad the weather was perfect (FINALLY!) for this hike, especially since we were on the mountain ridge for most of the second day. I could see this hike being far less enjoyable in dodgy weather. It was also nice hiking with just the two of us for once. Kepler = most accessible, with epic ridgeline views.

Alright, that’s my schpeel! Another blog post to come (probably within the next day) on the next adventures we had shortly after Kepler!

New Zealand 23 – Case of the Mondays

Last week was the first time I skipped a regular post. I typically really enjoy chronicling my travels on a weekly basis, but last week I just wasn’t feeling it. I’ll make up for it with the next 5 weekends of chaos before I leave New Zealand — Auckland, a relay race in Rotorua, a possible Hooker Valley day trek than wine tour, Milford Sound trek, and I’ll be saving my last weekend for whatever last bucket list item I feel the need to get in. All the while fitting in 10+ hour work days to finish up several different projects that are on the verge of settlement.

The previous weekend was a break, Friday night was movie night with wine + cheese + Spaceballs–what an interesting combination.

“I always have my coffee when I watch radar, you know that!” — How I feel when completing document reviews…

On Sunday I escaped work & Christchurch and drove myself out to Hamner Springs–the South Island’s spa capital. I found a great lunch at Chantellinis (highly recommend) and got a massage at Hamner Springs Spa. It was really just an excuse to take a drive away from Christchurch and enjoy the scenery.

Road to Hamner

Road to Hamner

My office cabin fever was cured on Friday with an all-day site visit to a local department store that has been closed since the big quakes. My colleague and I spent most of the day examining how the structure was built so we could do some further analysis on it. This ended up with us on the roof for a while and finding where “the bodies” were hidden. Before we left, I made sure to catch up with some new friends…

Raising the roof

Bodies found in the attic…

Shining my high vis glow with my new friends…

This past Friday was, you guessed it, another movie night with great chicken + great wine + Office Space–a great combination.

“I deal with the customers so the engineers don’t have to”

One of our senior principals is in town for two weeks which ultimately means doing some great tourist activities over the weekend. On Sunday we went over to Castle Hill–an outcrop of giant limestone rocks and background to movies such as the Chronicles of Narnia.

Path to Castle Hill rock outcrop

Get a sense of the large scale of these rocks

This would never be allowed in the States. Or if so, there would be several additional fences and warning signs.

What’s great about Castle Hill is that there are no “trails.” You make your own path, or just climb around the rocks. Further away from the main outcrop there was a large grassy hill. As much as us engineers kept mentioning we can eat our lunch at a low elevation the bosses kept pressing us on. Everyone ate their words a bit when we ended up taking a break every few steps in an attempt to scale this steep, grassy, and slippery hill. However, it was worth it, there was a pretty incredible view at the top–

We climbed to the rock. You’ll see my colleagues in the foreground taking a break.

Luckily the view & perfect lunch seat was worth it

Failing at not looking exhausted and disheveled. At least the mountains look pretty.

Sunday was a first for me. Several coworkers woke up early to go fishing in Akaroa all day and this marked the first time I declined on a group outing. Not that I didn’t want to go fishing or enjoy the sun with everyone else, rather I realized I’d be waking up to my alarm clock everyday for the next month and figured it may be healthy to take a day of rest. I spent the day waking up when I felt like it, getting brunch, doing some work (real restful right?), going to the gym, and cleaning–I’ve noticed by the end of the week my hotel room looks like it has had a clothing bomb set off; therefore, it’s a constant cycle of cleaning up on the weekends because there’s no time during the week. Luckily, later that night, the fishermen came back with 18 fillets of fish and were willing to share for an amazing dinner.

This Friday evening I’m flying up to Auckland with two other female colleagues for, what we’re calling, a girl’s weekend in the city. More to come…

New Zealand 4 – First Weekend

This first weekend was busy! Just the way I like it. Friday evening started with a dinner hosted by a couple of my coworkers. Our office has practically taken over a motel near where we work & conveniently one of the rooms is an apartment suite–so while three people live together they have a very nice entertaining and living space for the rest of us to gather. It was a great chance to just chill outside of the office and finally get a chance to meet everyone. There are engineers from all over California, Chicago, Dallas, New York, & I solely represent the DC office. If not for everything else, this trip has been a really great chance to meet my fellow employees from across America. I’m sure anyone in a multiple-office company can relate–sometimes it’s a bit hard to visualize your network outside of your office walls, especially as a newer/younger employee.

After waking up this morning and getting breakfast and my new favorite Flat White espresso drink from a local cafe, I decided to take an adventure. Typically the employees here try to do a trip most weekends; however, this weekend seemed a bit more laid back/relaxing. I was told that Akaroa was a nice scenic town within a 1.5 hour drive from Christchurch. So I hoped in the Ford Focus with my brand new road map and went for it. Luckily, there’s really not too many roads in New Zealand, and once you get out of the city there’s only one road to take you to where you need to go.  My view was the same the whole car ride. Not complaining–

Passenger Side View

To get to Akaroa from Christchurch there’s a bit of a mountain range in the way, and as I heard someone cleverly describe – New Zealand isn’t idiot proof like America. There were some very steep and hairpin corner turns on this drive that did not have anything resembling a guardrail. When I started the climb up and over the hills I actually got a bit dizzy just looking to my left and seeing the steep drops. Although the crazy ride just meant crazy nice views. I made it to Akaroa and this is the view from the bay in front of most storefronts–

Akaroa Harbour

The town of Akaroa is a small, originally, french settlement town at the base of some old volcanic rock. When I say small, the population is 500. However, it’s still a popular, quaint little town to visit. I wondered along the beach stepping into a few shops to take a look. I didn’t plan on staying too long, I really just wanted to go for a drive and see a bit more of the country. I stopped in a cafe by the water to soak in the view with a lemonade and carrot cake before deciding to head back to the car.

French Influence

On the ride back to Christchurch I made sure to stop at a hilltop cafe to capture this photo–

Pit Stop

The plan for Saturday night was to go to a Rugby Union match. Christchurch’s team–the Crusaders–are quite popular and have done fairly well the past several years in the league. It doesn’t hurt that they have the famous All Blacks player Dan Carter on their team. Don’t know who Dan Carter is? I didn’t either, but my coworkers said I’d eventually see his Jockey underwear ads all over the place. Think Tom Brady of New Zealand?

The Christchurch stadium, like most other things in Christchurch, is in a bit of disrepair; therefore, they popped up a makeshift stadium in a few months as a temporary fix. It was kind of like going to a small college football game, but still provided a lot of fun for everyone. One thing I’ve come to learn is that the Kiwis are a pretty tough gang of people! They’re resilient and they make it work.

Pop-Up Stadium

Now it’s Sunday & I’m off to find another cafe for breakfast. I also have to do some typical housekeeping things like buy some laundry detergent considering I only brought a weeks worth of work polo shirts (the best part of this job is wearing jeans + polo to work everyday). I’m still getting used to the fact that I get a whole new set of fresh towels everyday and my dishes are always done for me. I have to make sure I don’t get TOO used to this for when I get back to the States!

The team is planing on grilling up some lunch and playing Rugby in the park this afternoon, so I’m sure I can look forward to a lot of fun and probably a lot of soreness later.

Cheers!