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

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New Zealand 6 – Possum Socks

This past weekend marked the first getaway weekend I’ve had in New Zealand, and it was an amazing trip to start out on. There’s anywhere from a few to 15 people in the Christchurch office and we’re typically here for a few months to indefinitely. Therefore, especially for the shorter term employees, weekends are spent exploring all New Zealand’s two islands have to offer. There is A LOT! One of my coworkers is heading back home to California in a few weeks and the last item on her “NZ bucket list” was to hike a glacier. Most of the veteran NZ employees have done this, but the 4 new office employees (including myself) jumped on the opportunity.

The five of us woke up early Saturday and packed ourselves into 2 of our lovely ford focus rentals, paid a ridiculous amount of money for gas (New Zealand is climbing to almost $7US/gallon), and headed across the island to the west coast.

Typical Driving View (it never gets old)

We stopped in the small town of Hokitika for a lunch break and some quick shopping. I was given an extensive tour of the best shops to purchase jade jewelery (a native New Zealand stone, that can only be collected and sold by the Maori people) and found a great necklace. We also stopped in a possum fur shop. Possum hunting is encouraged since they are not a native species and are continually endangering the Kiwi bird. We figured we’d check out the fashion and were told possum socks were the way to go (versus wool).

The deer helped make this photo.

Our coworker/guide extraordinaire expressed interest in checking out a short hike to Lake Matheson, we obliged and were not disappointed.

I'd like my vacation home on this plot of land please.

We continued on to our hostel which was outfitted with giant community kitchen and back porch hot tub. Sleeping was a bit uncomfortable, but for $26NZ/night, I’m okay with that.

The next morning we awoke early and gathered at the Fox Glacier guide building. We were outfitted with crampons, hiking boots, and any other clothing accessory we may have needed. We signed up for the “all day hike”, meaning we all assumed we were in “great physical condition” (Not a hike meant for the Mature Tour bus we saw pull up. Yes, it was really called Mature Tours. It looked like the minimum age requirement may have been 75).

We had our choice of three guides — the Minnesotan, the Icelandic female, or the Kiwi. We choose the Kiwi–he seemed he knew what he was doing. He took us for a fairly (almost too) slow hike through a mountain pass to get some good views of the glacier from above, and then spent a good 5 hours tramping over the glacier itself. I’ll let the photos speak for me.

Showing off our crampons. The Captain Morgan pose works in so many life situations.

Just filling up at a glacier stream.

The bottom of the Fox glacier.

Our team (plus our friend from Sydney we insisted stay in our photo) chilling out in an ice hole.

Alone on the ice

Our trek starts to get more intense.

No such thing as a bad view

Coworkers + Kiwi guide Joe. Note Joe does not look happy at all. Definitely more of a "I-just-want-to-hike-guide" versus a "lets-sit-in-a-circle-and-talk-about-where-were-from" guide. He was great.

As for our next trip, I can’t even decide. I’ve been trying to get out of the veterans what their favorite experience has been but no one can pick one, or even a few–everything is great. I’m thinking either a low key wine tour day or maybe a trip to Queenstown may be in my future. For now back to the work week!