Flanders in NZ 14 – Such Great Heights

I recently submitted my timesheet clocking in a little more overtime than my social life appreciates; so to continue the theme, I’ve been piecing this blog together from Friday night through this past weekend to finally get it out.

The past month I’ve been working on a project with many hours of construction site time and monitoring. I think Keith officially hates my alarm clock. Despite the hours, the project is quite fun, and I got to ride in my very first crane basket last week! Doing bridge inspection pre-my current job, I found myself in bucket trucks and cherry pickers, but never dangling off of a crane. New experiences in conquering vertical elevation last week!

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Crane over Christchurch

I couldn’t resist the Queen Elizabeth parade wave on our ride back down to earth…

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Float Parade

Last Saturday the Crusaders (the local favorite in Super Rugby) played the semi final game against the Sharks (from Durban, South Africa). Despite the tiny temporary stadium, 2 cheap seats were still left and we snagged them right away. It was fun to see another rugby game and eat another meat pie :). Whats great about the Crusaders is that a good portion of the team are also on the All Blacks–quite the stacked team! The Crusaders crushed the Sharks. But spoiler alert, they played in the finals last night versus the Waratahs (NSW, Australia) and lost by one point–32 to 33. Definitely a lot of disappointment in Canterbury last night.

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Crusaders Rugby @ the “temporary” stadium

Last Saturday I worked in the morning and Keith and I were talking about what we should do the rest of the weekend. Aparently our neighbors were thinking the same thing, as they then knocked on the door asking if we’d like to join them on their Sunday trek to Mt Hutt (popular ski field near Chch). We live in a duplex and really couldn’t have ended up with nicer neighbors. They hail from the U.K. and recently purchase a pretty intense 4WD van. So at 6am we climbed in their van (which may be the most pimped out van I’ve ever been in–skylights everywhere, curtains, and glowing sound system included) and headed to the mountains.

If you haven’t been following for 2+ years I was at Mt Hutt in this post in 2012, and was excited to bring Keith back and teach him how to ski. Despite only being on the downhill slopes a few times in my life, learning to walk on cross country skis has appeared to make me an adequate downhill skiier. We signed up for an all-day package which included a lesson, spent some morning time on the bunny slope teaching Keith what a pizza was, and then headed up the chair lift for the first time right before lunch. Keith did a great job, and the more comfortable we both got with the trails the more we rushed back into the lift line. By the end of the day we even started talking about doing a weekend trip to Queenstown to check out the slopes there (although with the heat waves we’ve been having this winter not sure how feasable that is!)

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(from top left clockwise) – Chair Lift Fun and view, Keith skiing, Kea parrots attacking a truck, Jen skiing

I was surprised to learn, this time around, that Mt Hutt is over 7,000 ft high–far larger than Mt Washington in New Hampshire. The cold elevation definitely helps when there is no snow ANYWHERE else in the plains. It’s been an extremely mild winter over here thus far. Looking at Mt Hutt’s webcam this weekend all the snow we had previously is already gone.

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View down to the Canterbury Plains

I’m currently already sitting within the next weekend so another new post will be up shortly and then…Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

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Flanders in NZ 8 – “Into the Hole”

After meeting a deadline on Friday, I hopped in the car with Keith & coworkers and headed to the land of Speights Ale, Cadbury chocolate, and the next All Blacks vs England rugby game (aka Dunedin). When you talk to any Kiwi about Dunedin they’ll tell you “Dunedin is a hole!” (the fact that the accent makes “hole” sound like “ho” makes this even more amusing). This statement becomes fact as you drive down into the city which is, quite literally, a topographic hole.

*Quick Break* to remind myself of a great dinner pit stop –> On our way down from Christchurch we stopped in Timaru for dinner. After slowly rolling around main street for a bit we came across a restaurant wedged on a side street, yet filled with people. Obviously we ate here — Saikou — for tapas and whiskey. We are doing quite a good job about winging it with food options, this place was fabulous! We wish we had one of these in Christchurch.

Around 11:30pm we finally got to Barnett Lodge. I took on the task of finding housing for the weekend and it was challenging. When the All Blacks play in Dunedin the city books up MONTHS in advance. When I called around to every hostel, motel, & hotel in town over a month ago I got a lot of laughs when requesting a booking for this weekend. Luckily, Barnett Lodge showed up on airbnb that week and the owners were more than accommodating when I mentioned we’d like to squeeze 9 people into their house. It was a bonus that this place was an eclectic and fascinating place to stay–an old Tudor mansion that had been in the family for generations. We saw a lot of photos and heard a lot of stories from the owners. Plus we got breakfast set up for us each morning!

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Barnett Lodge B&B, going clockwise starting with top left–outside view, fireside in the living room, colored photograph of the owner before her big high school dance, view out of the dining room during breakfast.

Saturday morning I really wanted to get out and see Dunedin. Keith, a few coworkers, and I hopped in the car and headed first to Tunnel Beach. We had to make a fairly steep descent to the beach but it was worth it. There was an actual tunnel that was dug out in the 1800s so some girls could get to the beach below. The tunnel still exists today and of course we walked through it to get to the beach! I’ll let the photos do the talking now…

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Descent to Tunnel Beach

Flanders Hike Photo of the Week…

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Christmas Card Option…##

A couple coworkers literally ran down the path and got out to the lookout point first. Which just allowed for a great photo opp.

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One big rock!

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Keith emerges from the tunnel

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Can you spot Keith?

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Beautiful morning at the beach!

After tunnel beach we drove around the big peninsula to the east of Dunedin. At the suggestion of the owners we drove out on the high road, stopped in Portobello for lunch, and then returned back on the low road. If we ever go back, I’ll be sure to check out the penguin and albatross sanctuary at the end of the peninsula.

Then it was GAME TIME!!! We walked to the center of town, grabbed a drink, then took a shuttle to the nearby stadium.

You thought that beginning-of-game chant in Remember the Titans was cool? Then you will love the haka! The haka is a war chant of the Maori people (New Zealand natives). It’s a cultural tradition and opposing teams have to stand a certain distance away and watch. It was a rather big deal during the World Cup (yes, soccer isn’t the only sport with a world cup) a few years ago when France literally “crossed a line” while the haka was being performed. They eventually had to pay a fine. To conclude, I was pretty excited to see the haka live!! Keith and I literally ran to our seats after we grabbed our beer and the last meat pie in the stadium to watch. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the field, but here is my video anyways to give you a small glimpse into how epic this was–

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We were way too happy to get the LAST meat pie at the beer stand

The game was incredible. Very exciting and close the entire time! The All Blacks, of course, remained victorious. We all went back into town and celebrated in the Octagon–the central part of the city.

Sunday morning was spent cleaning up and watching some World Cup (football!) games before checking out. My car made a few tourist pit stops. First was Baldwin Street — the steepest street in the world. It’s located in the suburbs and follows an average slope of 1:5. Not going to lie, it is actually a little frightening to walk up it! Keith got caught on the non-stairs side and had a suspenseful time crossing over due to the wet & slightly slippery conditions.

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(Keith may have been terrified in this photo)

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Some perspective for you!

Then it was off to the Moeraki boulders! The boulders are a huge tourist trap in New Zealand; however, quite interesting! On a beautiful large beach there is a small area with several completely spherical rocks. We looked up the facts (obviously! – engineering problems) and discovered these rocks are called “septarian concretions.” This basically means they are hard formed sedimentary rock formed in voids within the earth. These rocks were eventually exposed due to the ocean eating away at the shore. What we still can’t answer though–why are they in this ONE spot along the whole beach? hmm…

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Moeraki Boulders

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Running Man

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Money Shot

We got some great photos on the rocks…but don’t be fooled, climbing on these rocks with the tide rolling in is a complicated process!14 - Moreki Boulders

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I’ll just wait here while the water recedes….

The last stop of our weekend trip was lunch at The Last Post in Oamaru. This may have been the best fish & chips I’ve had in my life, so I definitely wanted to log this place on the blog. A great little find for being a random pub stop. This gem used to be the old post office, but the community wanted a big greek-esque structure, so they abandoned this building and moved into a new giant building beside it. Good thing, because a pub moved in and makes some great food.

Luckily, winter has been fairly tame thus far which will help us with planning more outdoor activities over the next few months! This Friday we’re headed to the annual Lyttleton Festival of Lights, then most likely finding another local hike on Saturday or Sunday. Until then…

New Zealand 20 – Sunshine & Rugby

I was out and about Christchurch again this weekend; however, this time I barely did any work. Additionally, my field camera finally died on me this past week, so at first thought I wasn’t quite sure what I’d share in this week’s post. Once I actually sat down in front of my laptop and scanned my iPhone photos, I realized I managed to fit in a lot of fun in one packed weekend–

Friday night we gathered at a friend’s apartment, ate some of the best barbecue chicken I’ve had thus far, sat around a backyard fire, and drank whiskey. It actually reminded me of being back in New England for the summer, minus the fact that I was wrapped up in my giant fleece jacket outside.

Saturday morning I reluctantly woke up for 10am to drive with a coworker and another colleague out to the Lyttelton farmer’s market. They sure do love their farmer’s markets here — all the farms are in our backyard, it’s an easy ride to sell fresh goods every weekend. With it being such a beautiful day, it was a no-brainer that we’d go to Governor’s Bay afterwards for brunch at She Chocolat (remember that chocolate spoon from 2 posts ago?). It appears that winter is finally moving out of the Southern Hemisphere. This past week the sun showed itself quite a few times and automatically started to brighten everyone’s moods.

Breakfast w/ a View @ She Chocolat

Sunday was a great personal day. Imagine the office you work in and your relationship with your favorite bunch of coworkers. Now imagine you live with all of them, spend most of your time in the office, eat most meals with them, and go on weekend trips together. Our New Zealand office is a bit unconventional, yet it ends up working really well. BUT, alone time is still a very necessary requirement of our lives. This can be a bit difficult (remember we all live in the same place and work plenty of hours together), but after a month you tend to be able to read cues on when coworkers start to need their own time & space.

Sunday I managed to get to the gym — my personal-time haven. On the walk out I realized I haven’t quite shared too many “red zone” photos here yet. The red zone is the central business district (CBD) that has been fenced off and off-limits (except for us engineers/contractors/others with appropriate badges) since the earthquake in February 2011. The gym I joined actually used to be in the red zone, until a few months ago when they petitioned to open the road to get you there (the gym is actually an earthquake fortress – I have far too much fun working out and checking out the steel bracing connections in that building). Anyways, when you step out of the building you literally find yourself surrounding by fencing and abandoned buildings. Here’s some photo sampling. Hopefully before my New Zealand duties are up I’ll have another red zone site visit to share more photos–

Christchurch Central Business District – “Red Zone” (from top right clockwise – ribbons for remembrance, ribbon close up, large empty lot due to several buildings being torn down,  permanent crane adjacent to the Holiday Inn–just another building slated for demolition very soon)

The day was really too nice to go back to the hotel (this has been the first time in a while I had felt comfortable walking around in a t-shirt); therefore, I drove up to Victoria Park. I can’t believe I haven’t been here yet. The park is at the top of the Port Hills and you can see down onto the plains where the central city is and to the mountains beyond. This photo doesn’t do the actual thing justice, therefore, I conveniently labeled the snow-capped mountain range you’re missing out on.

Alps view from Victoria Park

I had just enough time to run/hike around for an hour, and cut short my personal day just in time for our very own Fantasy Football draft. Something about being in New Zealand has made many of our Stateside friends forget about inviting us to our typical home leagues, so obviously we just decided to form our own. Several of us gathered in our office meeting room (can you tell it’s called the Chess Club? refer to below photo) with beer, snacks, our laptops, and for some certain coworkers, their organized spreadsheets and highlighters–

Hard @ work for “The Draft”

Afterwards, somehow we all got roped into playing Rugby. This, in fact, was all we really needed. Nothing like de-stressing after a long week by sprinting around playing a fun-filled sport you still don’t quite understand. Thanks to one of our coworkers for joining only to be our personal photographer–

Rugby in the Park

Today is August 28th, which means only 4 more days until September 1–Spring in New Zealand. I believe I can speak for everyone when I say we can’t wait for the sun and warm weather once again!

New Zealand 15 – Still the Youngest in the Office

I will officially be back in the States for a short stint in 10 days. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like to eat/drink once I get home. What I’ve broken it down to is have a proper Margarita (limes are not good in NZ), make some guacamole (see previous comment, I may have a lime addiction?), and eat Velveeta mac & cheese (I think NZ puts a ban on extremely processed cheese). I’ll also be finding the nearest Dunkin Donuts for a large iced coffee. It’s come to the point where I’ve mapped out Dulles airport and found Dunkins in gates A & D; however, the tricky piece is that I’m sure they will both be closed by 11pm when I arrive. Luckily I have 3 trips “home” to Massachusetts planned out during the 3 weeks I’m back in the states which will, I’m sure, involve lots of Dunkin Donuts pit stops.

Onto the weekend –

The entire weekend was filled with the great celebration of Half-Christmas (& my birthday, but a bit more of that at the end). If you didn’t catch an explanation previously–

One of my coworkers decided that Autumn & Winter in the states come with tons of goodness–football, Thanksgiving, Christmas, vacations, etc. In New Zealand winter comes with nothing. Therefore, we decided to throw a Half-Christmas extravaganza. (Little did we know that this is actually a thing in New Zealand, several northern hemisphere imports have felt the same way for a while. Therefore, it wasn’t too hard to find Christmas decor and wrapping paper in June…)

Friday night we gathered in the apartment to cook pies. Considering my pie baking is lacking, I took on the task to create decorations. Utilizing some old graph paper, I managed to make some nicely engineered snow flakes. Continuing with the movie night tradition, we appropriately watched Christmas Vacation. The night was still young, so somehow we ended up watching Goodfellas afterwards. We justified this with the fact that one scene in the movie takes place during Christmas… Nothing like a mob movie to get you into the holiday spirit.

Our colleague hosted mid-Christmas in his “off-campus” apartment (he’s one of the few that are not a part of the company’s hotel take-over); therefore, I headed over a bit early to decorate my Christmas corner–

It does the job

First order of business that night was the cookie decorating competition. I never expected everyone to get so intense about it but there were quite a lot of great cookie outcomes! I went for simple elegance which managed to get me third place. Considering the senior vice president (cheated?) and entered 5 different cookies to take home 1st and 2nd place I’m pretty sure I should have won. I’m not bitter or anything 😉

1) Decorations, 2) Tools, 3) Finished Products, 4) Third place finish (still convinced I should have been #1…)

Then came Secret Santa. I have to say, this was the best secret Santa I’ve ever been a part of. You’d assume a bunch of coworkers would just buy a token $30 bottle of wine for each other, but not with this crowd. Each person got a really individualized gift and managed to guess their gift giver fairly easily. This concluded that we spend far too much time with each other and therefore know way too much about each other.

1) Scarf clips for the engineer who brought 5 different scarves to NZ, 2) guide-book for the newbie with camping gear, 3) beer brewing materials for the beer aficionado, 4) Nando’s sauces for the woman obsessed with Nando’s chicken, 5) a white board for the VP who constantly explains everything through expo markers, 6) guide-book for newbie #2 along with his favorite drink of choice.

Then came time for food, fun, & rugby…

Pigs in a Blanket (UK Version) The U.S. residents quickly coined these “Pigs in a Pig”

Half-Christmas Dinner

No Half-Christmas dinner is complete without watching the All Blacks do the Haka

Group Shot

Sunday was my birthday. I turned 25, which basically made everyone else in the office cringe every time I answered the “How old are you?” question. Needless to say, I was very careful to not make any “I feel so old now” statements. Being the youngest in the NZ office, I tend to be aware of not mentioning my age too much–statements such as “Oh you graduated college that year? I was in kindergarten then” don’t always go over well.

The day concluded with a pretty intense rugby match before a BBQ dinner. The game was supposed to be one-touch rugby (think backyard touch-football), but considering the wetness of the grass, touch sometimes turned into shove and involved a lot of sliding through mud. This just made for a good photo-of-the-day to send Keith. Yes, I send him photos-of-the-day (no I don’t just take photos of my muddy-jeans for my blog). That could turn into a long cheesy newlywed paragraph so I’ll stop there.

Dove head first into 25 – there just happened to be a lot of mud in the way

I managed to write this whole post without mentioning any work updates. Let’s just leave it at – I finished inspecting my last church (could you have guessed Christchurch has a lot of churches?…), finished some report writing, and came to the conclusion that the next 10 days are going to be a lot of work. So on that note, I’m posting this and doing some quick report reading before bed.

Cheers, and Happy Half-Christmas!

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!