New Zealand 18 – Concentrated Yeast Extract Challenge

I’m finally back in the swing of things – no more jetlag, caught up on projects, and this time around I’m a bit more careful on attempting to order meals without bacon (hard considering bacon is on almost everything).

We had been discussing doing an office challenge of the ___mites —Marmite vs Vegemite. Now, if you had been following the dramatic story of Marmite in the news at all, you would know it’s in high demand. The factory is in Christchurch and was vacated after the earthquake; therefore, New Zealand Marmite production has been halted. Considering several New Zealanders rely on Marmite for a “tasty” spread, the country has gone into a bit of a frenzy. You could probably relate it to the United States running out of best brands of peanut butter. Here’s Graham Henry, national hero, former coach of the All Blacks rugby team, telling the country not to freak out about the Marmite shortage –

Vegemite is Marmite’s Australian cousin – also created of yeast extract (tasty right?). There’s a lot of opinion on which is the superior spread. Therefore, we figured we should put it to a taste test as an unbiased group of Americans. One coworker happened to get his hands on some small, ketchup-like, packets of Marmite (it is near impossible to find it in a jar anymore without paying $$$) and we formulated a blind taste test.

A vs B

Unless you grow up on it, yeast extract is not quite the best thing you’ve ever eaten. Refer to reactions below…

The Faces of Yeast Extract

Nevertheless, the 9 taste-testers unanimously chose Spread “A” which happened to be Marmite. I believe I can conclude that this does not mean anyone actually  admitted to liking Marmite, just that it was slightly more appealing than Vegemite.

Once the work week was over and the yeast extract challenge was complete, it was time to decide what the weekend had in store. On Saturday a few of us went for a hike (or “tramp” as the New Zealanders would say) up nearby Mt Sinclair. After rock scrambling up a steep and muddy woods trail, we arrived to an open path and took in some great views on the way to the summit.

Ocean in the distance

Colleagues at the Summit

The hills are alive…

Unfortunately, Sunday was full of consistent and heavy rain. However, that didn’t stop me from driving with a coworker out to brunch in Governor’s Bay – a small town on the water with some beautiful views. The restaurant’s background was in chocolate. This made for a great mocha and an equally great coffee photo of the week —

Yes, that is a chocolate spoon.

Next weekend looks like it will involve adventuring out of Christchurch again. Stay tuned…


New Zealand 14 – Where the Destination is the Journey

“Where the Destination is the Journey”–It sounds cheesy, and I completely stole it from the ferry-that-I-took-this-weekend’s motto, but it fits. Actually, most of what’s amazing about New Zealand is the journeys we take – the car rides, the plane trips, the ferry, the hikes. Okay, before I fill this blog with too much corniness I’ll share my past week’s adventures and let you decide.

As for a short work week blurb, the office decided the drip coffee maker wasn’t so bad and have managed getting used to throwing as much grounds as possible into the filter. I do not doubt that New Zealand has given me the most extreme caffeine addiction I’ve ever had (and that includes grad school, quite the feat!).

On Friday one of our coworkers was giving a presentation in Wellington (Capital of New Zealand – located on the south of the north island); I decided this made for as good excuse as any for a bunch of us to journey there for the weekend. Four of us decided it would be a good idea to catch the 10:30am ferry Saturday morning. This equated to waking up at 4am to leave by 4:30am. Or in my case, forgetting to switch my alarm to “on” and getting some very furious knocking on my door at 4:30am. We then had to drive 4.5 hours to Picton — one of the north-most towns on the south island. The route was along the coast which made for a lovely view of the Pacific once the sun rose. In Picton we caught the ferry which brought us 3 hours across the Cook Strait to the north island. To get out to the strait you pass through the Queen Charlotte Sound, which left us with an hour of gorgeous views–

Queen Charlotte Sound

A bit windy!

Don’t let that nice looking weather fool you, the strait was quite rough. After 5 minutes of watching waves crash over the bow of the boat, we immediately grabbed our belongings, headed to the back of the boat, each claimed a couch to turn into our personal sick bed, and attempted to sleep the rest of the rough ride out.

Wellington is a city of the arts.  Christchurch was actually a bigger city pre-earthquakes; but considering the circumstances, this was a nice chance for us to visit a city full of tall, intact buildings for the weekend. Fun fact is that Wellington was always the city assumed to have a life-threatening earthquake event. It is a city obviously located near a fault, whereas the large earthquake in Christchurch was very much a surprise.

Once we regrouped with two other coworkers the six of us went to Te Papa – the waterfont museum. An extremely friendly guide met us at the door and once he managed to get out of us that we were all structural engineers he almost burst with excitement. He instantly showed us the door and directed us to the “base isolator” viewing exhibit. The museum is built on top of base isolators, which (for us engineers, at least) meant a pretty sweet viewing opportunity. I’ll leave you to read more about that if you wish. We all headed down to the viewing exhibit and one of our colleagues started giving us younger folks a lesson in base isolation. The other exhibit viewers actually thought he was a guide which made for fun conversation.

Base isolator nerds

The next morning we hopped on a cable car (after we actually found it, I may have gotten everyone slightly lost during my first attempt at directions) and went up to the city’s botanical gardens. This made for a great view of the city and a pleasant walk.

Wellington from the Botanical Gardens

Eventually, we had to walk back over to the ferry for a ride we hoped was less bumpy than before. Upon ordering my token afternoon flat white coffee, I discovered a box of crayons packed in a ferry souvenir tin. I did actually think about pretending I had a small child for a few seconds but just ended up asking the cashier if the crayons were available. I probably should have come up with a pretend child story because I got the response “well, they are supposed to be for CHILDREN, but you are welcome to take one if you would like.” Oh well, I can add it to my work pencil collection (we are lacking in mark-up pencils in the office), and I got a chance to decorate my very own sick bag at our ferry table.

Barf Bag Decor

The ride was far smoother than before. Once we reached the south island sounds we met up with at least 20 dolphins that thoroughly enjoyed showing off for us. I wish I could have captured a good photo of this but they were just too quick.

Back home in the South

Overall, Wellington was a great 24 hour getaway. However, the journey really did make the destination!

I’ve been lacking on coffee photos lately, so here’s to making up for that. This one was courtesy of a free voucher we received with our ferry boarding passes.

Coffee Photo of the Week

Get ready for next week — it will be all about our week-long office “Half-Christmas” festivities. Yes, we’re getting sick of winter; therefore, we decided to celebrate Christmas…

New Zealand 13 – Coffee Wars

Remember the last post where I said snow was in the forecast? Well it actually did snow.  In fact, it accumulated quite a bit (not for New England standards, but maybe for Washington DC standards).  And yes, our Kiwi intern did show up, albeit a bit late 🙂

Our office was still up and running but, as I mentioned before, the rest of Christchurch decided to shut down! I tried to call a couple clients in the morning and I’m pretty sure they thought I was crazy for thinking they had made it to the office. It’s an ongoing tradition (started during a couple snowstorms last year) to go out for fish and trips on “snow days”–the fish market is the only place that remains open (along with KFC) during inclement weather.  Therefore, we all stopped around noon, gathered round the meeting table, and thoroughly enjoyed a bunch of fried goodness.

Parking Lot Blizzard

Wishing we owned ice scrapers…

Friday night we were due for another office outing. We discovered the small local community of Lyttelton was celebrating it’s annual Festival of Lights. I found a local restaurant that managed to take our 14-person reservation and we headed to the port.  The festival was a great time–the street was closed with your typical fare food venders,  performers (including a blue grass band much to the delight of some very excited coworkers…), hot mulled wine and fireworks! After watching the fireworks and listening, perhaps a bit too long, to the blue grass band we headed to dinner and kicked off a great start to the weekend.

Fireworks over the Harbour <-I’m getting a bit too used to New Zealand spelling

Not up to par with the Soggy Bottom Boys…

Saturday I met with a new cost estimator friend for a spa day. If I had to complain about one thing here, my Kryptonite is the hotel bed.  Luckily a trip to the spa managed to untie the past two months worth of knots.

Sunday was…SPORTS DAY. With the NHL in the Stanley Cup Finals, our Kings fans borrowed the office projector to stream the game live in the apartment. Unfortunately, the Kings didn’t pull through but at least they still have a chance. Luckily the game ended early enough for me to catch the last couple minutes of the Celtics/Heat game…I probably shouldn’t have even tried to watch considering how depressing the last quarter was. Oh well, everyone left the apartment a bit depressed that day.

Thank goodness for the projector

To conclude, I leave you all with…

~~Coffee Wars~~

I mentioned previously that New Zealand does not have drip coffee. Therefore, the TTNZ office has been utilizing a french press since it’s establishment. There’s always been a lot of grumbling around the office about the french press–especially the finely ground sludge it leaves at the bottom of your mug. Well something happened last week, because one coworker had finally had enough and he sent our intern on an errand to find a drip coffee maker. We all gathered round and collected our first drip coffee cup in several months to savor the taste. And you know what? It wasn’t that great. Maybe it was the coffee maker, the fact that we used a mesh filter versus paper, or perhaps we didn’t use enough ground coffee. I can tell you that there was not a bit of sludge at the bottom of my mug though.

So who wins the war? French press or drip coffee? I think I’ll stick with shelling out the $4 for my morning latte…

New Zealand 7 – Sweet As

“Sweet As” is to New Zealand as “Wicked” is to Massachusetts. It’s a phrase that catches you off guard but is used everywhere. In actuality it catches us foreigners even more off guard, because add an extra “s” and we get a bit offended. But no worries mate, Kiwis are just trying to express a phrase that means “Great!”, “cool”, “yeah”, or “no problem.” As hilarious as we once thought it was, they are not trying to comment on one’s behind. Just another phrase I’m attempting to incorporate into my NZ vocabulary.

Work Ramble:

This week, I finally felt that busy bit of pressure everyone kept talking about before I arrived. I got rolling on a couple big projects that are always due “as soon as possible.” Additionally, another veteran engineer flew in from California who started teaching me about seismic assessments and how to do all these types of calculations using the New Zealand code system. Wednesday was a holiday but I ended up going into the office for a bit to get some things done, and I was in the office on Saturday for a short stint as well. All sounds good to me, the faster we can get the work done, the faster these businesses and families might be back to normal (and the faster I can pay off my loans, positives for everyone!). In reality I got a bit of a scolding on Friday, by a priest of all persons. At a brief site visit, he came out to see what we were doing and began venting about how we were the 20th engineers he’s seen look at his building over the past year and asked where his insurance money was. Unfortunately, this is the case all over Christchurch, all we can do is be sympathetic and do our job. I have no clue about who gets paid when and how much. I hope everything will work out okay in the end, but this seems to be a long road to agreed settlements for every person in Christchurch.

Speaking of Christchurch, after work on Saturday I headed down to Cashel Street which has literally transformed into a shopping center since the CBD has been closed down.  Several businesses that were closed due to the red zoned section of CBD, got a temporary container and are now setting up shop directly next to the red zone. These containers resemble large trailers you would find on the back of a truck, but are outfitted with windows, paint, and are overall really nice looking.

Container Mall (

I grabbed a delicious ice cream and headed over to the red zone “pedestrian viewing” area which definitely holds a cloud of somberness over it. As I walked to the fence I realized getting ice cream was a bad idea, I looked like a happy teenager who was waltzing through Disney World, not an adult come to look at devastation. There were several areas of fence with flowers, poems, well-wishes, & a few angry statements.

Red Zone

I walked further down the sidewalk before getting to another fence and checking the year-long unused sidewalk beyond.


As for other weekend activities, I organized a movie outing to see The Avengers. Yes, we got to see it a whole week before it comes out in the States! I can be excited about this because 99% of the time the U.S. has movies far before they ever reach NZ. I had to call ahead and reserve our seats–in New Zealand and Australia you have to pick your seats ahead of time like going to a musical or concert. Tickets were also pricey (~US$14), but the theater was VERY nice. Most comfortable movie theater I’ve ever sat in.

This past Sunday was relaxing after our fast-paced and epic glacier hike last weekend. I went for a run. Got asked by a tourist what species of tree was in Hagley Park.

Hold Up.

This is typically my exciting moment of truth–short-term living in a foreign place and finally getting asked a question by a tourist/local. It means I haven’t completely stuck out as a goofy American. Unfortunately the second I open my mouth to expose my psuedo-Massachusetts accent that all changes, but at least I can look the part. Onto the question…I typically find the moment of truth when someone asks me for directions. BONUS POINTS if I know the answer. But a species of tree?! No joke, the couple was staring intensely at this tree. I stopped to stretch and the woman came over and casually asked me what kind of tree that was & what kind of fruit it produced. Well apparently I not only look the New Zealand part, I also appear like I would know some intelligent facts about trees.  I guess I’m okay with that.

After cleaning up and trying to look somewhat presentable for my working visa photo shoot, I headed over to another different cafe for Sunday breakfast. Coffee could seriously take up an entire post while I’m here. It is so fabulous. Proof–


Starbucks will seriously never be the same. I actually did breakdown and go to the Starbucks here ONCE, and even that was better than any Starbucks I’ve had back home. I will be excited to get back to drip coffee; however, this is more than great for now.

In the afternoon I headed out of the city to pick up some local wine from a vineyard (wine–another drink that will never be the same back in the states), went grocery shopping, and cooked a fabulous salmon steak on rice. Not too shabby for a girl who can’t cook and only has 2 hot plates and a microwave to work with.

This may have been my most rambling post here yet, I’ll attempt for a more consistent one for this upcoming weekends adventures!