New Zealand 25 – Born to Run

Today was one of the first times all year I left the office and it was still light out. It may have been 40F degrees outside, but the light made all the difference.

As for this past weekend–after the Christchurch Marathon & 10k in June, several of my coworkers got the running-itch. We immediately looked up future running races and found a team event in Rotorua, New Zealand. The Rotorua Ekiden race consists of running a marathon around Lake Rotorua in six legs. Rather than carry a baton, each runner wears a Japanese tasuki sash that became quite sweaty by the end of the race. Our weekend through photos–

Friday afternoon – fly to Auckland, because it was far too expensive to fly to Rotorua, and rent a van. The van immediately becomes nicknamed Shamu. The van has way too many kilometers on it to even be considered a safe personal car in the States, let alone a rental vehicle. Insurance is purchased…

Chilling in Shamu

5 minutes after leaving car rental central – make a dangerous left hand turn in the name of Dunkin Donuts. As a Massachusetts native I am quite passionate when it comes to my Dunkin. There are no DD’s on the south island and only 7 on the north island (yes, I have asked).

Dunkin obsessed?

8:30pm – Had to deal with some traffic–things we’re not used to living on the south island, but finally made it to Rotorua within 4 hours. We rented a “bach” (fancy name for a vacation rental in NZ, can be anywhere from a cabin to a mansion, see http://www.bookabach.co.nz ) which consisted of 5 bedrooms, a whole lot of beds, and a flat screen t.v. with optional projector and 100″ projector screen. The men instantly gravitate towards the video game system. Rock band…check.

T.V. Scoping

9pm – Pre-race meal–pasta, chicken, pesto, salad, and  ice cream. Enjoyed the luxury of sitting at a large dining room table and cooking in a big fancy kitchen.

carbo-loading excitement

Pre-bed: As weekend organizer, I may have looked a bit geeky with my clipboard. However, we were easily able to review who was doing what leg and keep everything in order for the long day ahead.

Race Manager Props

Saturday, Race morning – we prepare for the day by learning how to work the in-house espresso machine (most residences in New Zealand own one of these), and doing some last-minute adjusting of our bib numbers. “Is this level?”–statements that make us realize we’ve been assessing earthquake damage for far too long.

Getting ready for race day

9am – the race begins! What a fun way to spend 4:01 hours–rushing around a beautiful lake, getting some exercise, and cheering our teammate on driving around in Shamu.

Rotorua Runners

Post race – after an exhausting morning we headed back to the bach and grilled up a fantastic dinner. As much as I’ve enjoyed exploring several NZ eateries, we’ve found that we tend to make the best meals in-house.

Grilling up dinner, “Step away from the BBQ”

Espresso Night Cap – being espresso machine novices, we spend the entire weekend attempting to perfect our flat whites…

Espresso Machine Confusion

Post Dinner – Rock band…obviously… Single handedly worth renting this bach. (Zodiac Bay Lake Retreat, highly recommend)

Rocking Out

Sunday morning – cooked up a big breakfast and checked out the lakefront right in our backyard.

Beachfront Property

Before heading back to Auckland airport – Rotorua is a bit of a tourist town (also known as “Rotovegas”), we attempted to drive a bit out of the central city to check out the more natural tourist traps. We ended up at the Waimangu Volcanic Valley–home of the world largest geyser and world largest hot pool. It was quite a beautiful hike (despite us all being a bit grumpy that we paid $31 for it).

Waimangu Volcanic Valley – largest geothermal pool

Here I’m standing in front of echo crater – a geothermal pool that continually rises and falls. This day the pool was low and a “cool” 40 C, in a few days it would rise in temperature and elevation and overflow into the nearby lake.

Inferno Crater

Overall a really fun weekend and great excuse to check out another city in New Zealand. I leave you with my coffee photo of the week – my first homemade flat white. I believe you can tell that it was less than perfect; however, still tasty.

Coffee Photo of the Week

I really can’t believe I have less than 3 weeks left. It’s a bit unreal how fast 6 months can fly by. It is sure to be a very hectic but very fun & entertaining next few weeks…

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New Zealand 16 – At 10:30 we break for tea…

I really enjoy site visits – not only do they get me away from my picnic-table desk, they involve true hands-on learning. Being in Christchurch, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of interesting buildings and, more importantly, how they react when they’ve been slammed with lateral loads. Before I geek out my blog too much for family & non-engineer friends I’ll share one of my top site visit experiences from this past week–

We arrived early at a local college dorm to take a damage survey. I met with the very friendly staff who showed us to the rooms we needed to look at. Upon getting ready to leave, the staff member exclaimed “oh, and at 10:30am we all break for tea, so I’m assuming you’ll join us?!” How can you say no to that? We hurried with our work, went to tea time where we received some homemade banana bread, warm coffee, and tea. After our short break we received our next invitation to join everyone for a fresh lunch. Lunch consisted of homemade muffins, tasty soup, and an amazing salad bar. My colleagues and I had a short discussion about trying to slowly move into the college campus or at least keep coming up with excuses to need to come back, but alas, we finished our survey and drove back to our banana-bread-less office. By far tops my list of friendliest site visits I’ve experienced in Christchurch! (we try not to assume that this is just a bribe for us to write a favorable report…)

Onto the weekend. Remember that it’s nearing mid-winter here? Therefore, we took full advantage and woke up at 6am on Saturday morning, packed our layered merino-wool selves into the ford focuses (foci? <–we’re still debating on the plural form) and headed to the ski slopes. They tend to avoid plowing the roads in New Zealand and salt is a definite NO. Therefore, chains are typically required when traversing the mountains in a tiny-front-wheel-drive car. I had the pleasure of snapping this blackberry sunrise photo while I let my coworkers deal with the tire-chaining process.

Sunrise on the slopes

Mt Hutt

The crew had a long and fun-filled day on the mountain. It was no Colorado, but it definitely helped us make some fun use out of this cold weather.

The crew enjoying the winter weather

Rather than sleeping in on Sunday I volunteered to journey to the west coast, back to Hokitika, to finish up souvenir shopping with two coworkers. The west coast is an “easy” 3 hour drive away. Arthur’s pass is in the way, so despite swerving around some dodgy roads you get a pretty nice view. Again, my blackberry camera can barely capture this–

Highway 73 never gets old

Time in Hokitika was short — purchasing gifts, eating lunch, and walking along the beach for a while. It made me remember that my State-side friends were all enjoying warm beach trips this past weekend. However, what is going on with the U.S. east coast?! If Keith hadn’t mentioned the debris all over DC’s 495 highway I would have found out by watching the New Zealand T.V. news this morning. Yes, obviously New Zealand was having a slow news morning, because I learned all about the small population of the U.S. without power in the greater D.C. area. They even had a local correspondent on-the-scene discussing the power outage crises.

West Coast

Well, power-outages or not, I have approximately 65 hours until I’m back in the D.C. area and I couldn’t be more excited. I received a small taste of home this Monday morning when one of my coworkers arrived from vacation with 3 bottles of ketchup and several bags of Dunkin Donuts coffee. What a great way to start the week off 🙂

A lil’ bit of home

New Zealand 10 – The A-Team does Auckland

Cold has overcome Christchurch. July 4th cannot come soon enough just for the chance to experience a few weeks of summer back in the States! It’s luckily not “Massachusetts cold,” but just cold enough that I have to utilize my electric blanket (New Zealanders don’t believe in central heating).

I had the “fun” experience of being in a red-carded (=can’t be occupied due to damage) building during an earthquake this past week.  Everything ended up being fine, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared at all inspecting a deteriorated structure when a >4 magnitude earthquake hit. Last night we missed a 4.9 while flying back from Auckland. Earthquake magnitudes really don’t mean too much when it comes to what the individual feels. It all depends on how deep the origin is and how far away you are from it along with a few other factors. Apparently this 4.9 last night was just enough to make a few coworkers debate for a few seconds if they should jump underneath their desk, but ultimately they just rode it out where they were standing.

EARTHQUAKE LESSON – if you ever find yourself in the middle of an earthquake, PLEASE “duck cover & hold”–this means jump under a desk/table/chair and cover your head. Don’t go running out the door or to the stairwell. Unfortunately this is how several people died in Christchurch. They had the building exteriors/canopies fall on them upon exiting or the stairs fell down.

On a less morbid note – let’s discuss Auckland! What a great getaway weekend! I flew with 3 other coworkers that we quickly dubbed the “A Team” (A for Auckland) to the biggest city in New Zealand.

Geographic Representation

We arrived in Auckland right around dinner time Friday and headed to a very quaint bed & breakfast owned by a sweet German couple. The night was packed — we headed to Ponsonby Street for dinner and actually ended up with a burrito. We’re in a constant battle to find good Mexican food in New Zealand and it is not an easy task. We luckily found a NZ version of Chipotle that produced fabulous burritos! Afterwards we headed to Parnell for dessert – an upscale suburb of Auckland with several cafes and designer stores. We stumbled upon an AMAZING chocolate cafe.  The night was young which left us to follow the lights and end up on top of a hill at the grand-looking Auckland museum. I liked the quote along the top of the structure, so here it is for the record:

The whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men, they are commemorated not only by columns and inscriptions in their own country but in foreign lands also. By memorials graven not on stone, but on the hearts of men.

DC look-a-like

Afterwards we headed to the center city and found ourselves underneath the giant, tourist-trap sky tower. Originally we thought it would be a good idea to go grab a drink at the top, but it was going to cost us $25 just to ride the elevator up and the restaurant was closing. Not really worth it if you ask me!

The next morning we caught the first ferry to Devenport. Here we sipped on coffee in a local cafe and checked out the local shops.

City view from Devenport

After coffee we hopped on the ferry once again to Rangitoto island (I’m slowly getting used to all the native Maori names across the country). Rangitoto is actually a dormant volcano–one that was formed only 600 years ago. Auckland is a city literally SURROUNDED by volcanoes! They are dormant, but most scientists warn to watch for eruption in the future.

Chilling out in the lava rock

Smiling despite hanging high over the edge of the volcano cone

My attempt at a panoramic photo from the top of Rangitoto, just another moment where I wish I had my dream Panasonic Lumix LX5 camera 😉

After Rangitoto we ferry’d our way back to the big city, showered, & headed out to dinner at the Occidental Belgian Beer Cafe. We made friends with our Swedish waiter who told us his story of traveling to NZ for a working holiday, met his girlfriend, they moved to Sweden, and then she eventually made him move back to NZ with her. He recommended a Belgian blond beer called “La Chouffe” — it was fantastic.

Once dinner was done I found a Dunkin Donuts. Considering I can rarely even find Dunkins in Washington DC this really made my trip.

Our night ended, and the next day started with breakfast in Parnell, a visit to the Auckland museum (where we learned everything we wanted to know about Maori people, Kiwis in the World Wars, NZ dinosaurs, & volcanoes), for lunch we grabbed some fresh fish from the harbor fish market, & then begun our journey on Tamaki Drive. We timed this just right considering the sun was going down.

Looking over Auckland

We had another hour before arriving to the airport. So what do we do? Find another Mexican restaurant. I finally found a somewhat decent margarita in New Zealand!

Overall, a wonderful weekend spent in the big city!

This upcoming week is looking like another busy work week, training for the 10k race I signed up for on June 3rd (so soon!), enjoying a bowling outing, and brainstorming what the next weekend adventure will be.

As always, Cheers!