Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake.

The big one hit. 6.3, 5km depth right in the heart of Christchurch during a work day. Wes and his fiancee Alex are both ok, though their house is a mess (structurally sound though so there's that)

Anyway, not much to say about it other than to point out that the country as a whole is in shock.

Here's the best collection of photos I've found to date:

and here's the Wikipedia article that seems to be the most factual account so far.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rescued by the SLSC! Kitsurfing Misadventures...

Here's a quick post I made to the Wellington Kitesurfing mailing list about my adventures yesterday. To re-iterate, I'm ok, my gear got lightly damaged but nothing unrecoverable and it was a great learning experience.

went out at Seatoun yesterday on my 10m. Wind was dying so I grabbed my big board and went out (lots of people on 12s and a 14 and 16) Things were going pretty well until I hit a lull just beyond the rocks (think it's called Temple rock?) started kiting downwind to keep the speed up, but the board got snagged in the kelp, and I ended up pulled off of it. As I was struggling in the kelp to get my board, one of my lines snagged the small rock that juts out about 20m out of the main formation, so I couldn't relaunch. Drifted to the rock to untangle but the kite slipped in behind the big formation, all 4 lines snagged there.

The bridle snagged on the rocks as well, so I swam toward the rocks, climbed them, untangled all 4 lines, wound the lines then worked on freeing the kite. btw that rock is mostly barnacles and mussels. Not something I'd recommend.

Finally, got everything cleaned up as best I could, hopped in the water and started swimming to shore but could hear the outboard motor of the SLSC boat coming. Thank god, that was going to be a long swim.

I kept the entire kite inflated, but in retrospect, speaking to various people, it would have been wiser to deflate the leading edge and use the struts for floatation.

Once again I'm super thankful for everyone who came over to check on me, help and give me tips! Also thanks again to Brian who called SLSC to fish me out. This just re-affirms my decision never to kite alone. I'd have been right stuffed if i'd been the only one on the beach.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas miracles - part 1

For us this year we had two Christmas 'miracles'. The 2nd one was more impressive but i'll let Blaise tell that one.

I'll handle the 1st one.
We had been to Raglan earlier this year. We arrived at the end of the tourist season and we had left with a less than good impression of the locals. They all seemed cold and putting in the bare minimum of service. We thought it was in part due to being the end of tourist season and they were sick of people coming in but a small part thought that maybe Raglan was just "one of those places".

I would like to set the record straight and say now that Raglan is a wonderful place and i recommend you go there.

What happened to cause this change of opinion. Let me tell you...

It was December 25th. Blaise was on the never-ending quest to find wind. My Christmas plans involved knitting in the truck. It wasn't a glamorous Christmas but it was fine by us. Our initial lunch plans to get fish and chips was thwarted by everything in Raglan being closed. Fair enough it was Christmas day and we did have food so we headed back to the estuary to wait for wind and prepare our Christmas feast. Hard-boiled eggs, lunch meats, cherries, sprite and chips. As we sat looking at the water the British couple next to us (also waiting for wind) got a text saying "come to the town hall, they're feeding travelers". We had 2 hours at least for the outgoing tide so we packed back into the truck and headed into town.

We arrived at the town hall thinking " a plate of turkey would be nicer than hard-boiled eggs" but when we walked in we thought we might be in for something a little more grand. There were long tables laid out and decorated. Each plate had a small ornament or gingerbread cookies on it. As soon as we sat down people came around with juice, red and white wine and bubbly (and according to Blaise "not the cheap stuff"). They had 2 guitarists playing away and finally a gentleman stood up and welcomed us to the 1st annual Raglan Christmas dinner. He announced that for dinner we had a wonderful feast: a full spit lamb, mussels on the 1/2 shell, sushi, a roasted pig, a hangi, a full salmon. Our mouth's were watering and the two young German boys sitting next to me were in throes of rapture. They had been living in their car the last 2 months (a nissan sunny) and the hadn't a lot to spend on decent food. When we got in words could not describe the food laid out. On top of what he had announced there was salads, potatoes, breads, side dishes and an entire dessert table in one side of the room. Loaded with food we hurried back to our table to devour our feast while the servers who weren't serving started singing Christmas carols with the guitarists.

Just when i thought this can't get any better we heard "ho ho ho" and 2 Santas walked into the hall. We were right up by the main stage and on the stage there was a huge tree surrounded by what we thought were stage prezzies. Again we were wrong, the Santas got to work taking all those prezzies and handing one each to each and every person at the tables. I got a violet mist spray, poor Blaise got a pen and notepad. The two German boys got a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and a tape measure. A young man across from me got a bone necklace of two dolphins swimming...stunning. A very offended woman younger than me got wrinkle cream (i think she missed the point). The families were really cleaning up, the gifts kept piling up in front of the kiddies.

On our way out we asked the gentleman "what gives" (in more polite phrasing than that) and he said it his idea to get the people who were alone on the holidays a family dinner. Turns out Raglan has a poverty issue and a homeless issue. He wanted those people to have a true Christmas experience; then he grabbed all the seniors from the retirement home and figured he'd invited travelers from backpackers and the like to come as well as we were away from our families. He then got everyone in town to help, he told them he didn't want money, in fact he wouldn't accept money, he wanted donations of food, gifts and time. And boy did Raglan come through. We were blown away.

For the 2nd Christmas miracle you will have to get it from Blaise. It's a really good one!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dolphins and Sharks

One nice thing about NZ is that we have different types of animals including dolphins. Here in Wellington I've actually had the privilege to see a pod of dolphins swimming in the harbor near Soames Island. We also had Moko who was a pretty famous wild dolphin who enjoyed swimming with people in the water.

Moko passed away earlier this year and when Blaise read that he mentioned that it would be cool to swim with dolphins. Now Blaise is not a swimmer, he can swim, very well in fact but hanging in the water is not his cup of tea. I on the other hand love being in the water and couldn't pass up this opportunity. A quick google search had brought up Tauranga as the place to go for swimming with wild dolphins so on December 23rd we had a date on a boat to go out to look for dolphins.

We arrived, grabbed a set of fins (we had our own masks and wetsuits) and scurried aboard. The boat headed out through the marina heading to the other side of the harbor to pick up the rest of our passengers. It was a large luxurious boat with lots of space and cabin area. The crew was made up of Stewart, the skipper, and 5 marine biologists. The goal was to get out of the harbor, find a pod and dive in. This boat had a high success rate, they found pods 90% of the time and swam with them 75% of the time. We had high hopes.

It was the first nice day in almost a week and the whole crew was looking forward to getting back out on the water. We left the harbor and almost as soon as we got out of the entrance we encountered a maternity pod off common dolphins (they are smaller dolphins, maybe 2/3 the size of a bottlenose dolphin). It was quite large almost 30 animals and lots of newborns and babies. They were freaking adorable. Skipper Stewart explained that the babies keep up with the pod in a clever way. They hang out just behind their mother's fin and the slipstream coming off of it pulls the baby along. Stewart encouraged us to whoot and cheer and clap as it tends to make them come along and stay close to the ship. He was right, they played in and around us for over 30 minutes.

Department of Conservation (DOC) forbids swimming with pods with babies so we would have to go out to find another pod. Finally the boat headed out to sea and we all felt really lucky to have seen dolphins so early. The crew was great, they gave us a nice continental breakfast and spent the morning bringing us hot drinks. All very knowledgeable and talkative including Shannon, a young Canadian marine biologist.

The hours passed and there was no dolphins. We saw a fish work up which was pretty neat. Imagine an inverted pyramid with the huge base on the surface and the tip down in the ocean. It is full of swim swimming frantically on the surface, it looks like the water is boiling. And of course there is a tonne of birds there feeding off the little fish. Skipper Stewart and crew kept heading towards them because they are a sign of something feeding off the fish school and often are dolphin pods. Sadly there was no dolphins. We continued to circle the waters but nothing :(
Blaise saw a hammerhead shark come to the surface and much to his delight it was confirmed by a couple of the marine biologists so he felt pretty stoked about that.

Finally after about 4 hours the crew apologized and headed for home. They wondered if the storm of the last 3 days had forced the pods farther out to sea and they hadn't worked back in yet. We were all pretty disappointed, especially after that awesome morning start. Well you can't force nature. We headed back into the harbor, were offered another go out at half price (which we might take up in the future) and headed off to find wind for Blaise.

postscript: later that afternoon we found out that a shark (not a hammerhead) had attacked a snorkeller in the water at one of the beaches in town. he fended it off with his knife and minimal injuries but they shut all the beaches down in the Tauranga area. I'm kind of wondering if the dolphins knew something we didn't.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Napier: Sun, Cherries, Sharks

Carly here, as its my part of the story seems necessary that I write it.

We came out of the Rumatakas and pulled into the beach next to the Bach that we had rented last year with my parents. Like many kiwi spots the "no camping" sign is often not strictly enforced. Better yet i had remembered that site having a public toilet so we pulled in in the dark, did a drive round and no loo. We drove up to another public toilet, used it and came back and set up the bed. Did we mention how much gear we had? we ended up chucking a lot of it into the front seat.

After a somewhat sleepless night (we were both jumpy from every sound) we awoke to a beautiful sunny day in Napier. we found the loo a few feet from the truck. ah night time. We were here so i could dive in the Napier Aquarium. Last year we had seen that you could go in during feed time but sickness and a lack of a log book/NAUI card had kayboshed it that time. This time i was ready, all my gear, my NAUI card and my logbook.

We showed up at the Aquarium waaaaay to early but i was told 12:30 on the phone. I was told we would suit up and enter the pool at 1:50 to check for buoyancy and then go in and feed at 2pm. Matt, the staff person, was a nice fellow. So nice that he lent me a weight belt and weights when i realized i had left my integrated weight system at home. I paced around the back in the staff only area. Backs of aquarium smell like zoos if they smelled of fish and seaweed.

Finally the time arrived, i had had my briefing earlier.
1)what to do if the manta ray gets a hold of your glove while eating from you (you let him pull it off, hide your naked hand and swim over and get it when he spits it out).
2)how to feed the shark (take the whole fish tail first and stab it into his mouth, you may have to do this a couple of times)
3)stay off the tunnel!!!! (it scratches easily from anything)

I popped in and followed Matt and the bucket across to the feeding area. There was quite a crowd including my favourite camera man.
We fed those fish. I was not keen to try feeding the 'pet ray' though it was impressive, take a deep breath, remove regulator, put a chunk of raw fish in your mouth, give the "up" signal and stay still while he swims in your face and takes it out of your mouth. The sharks also were full and wouldn't come over to me for the 'stab fish in your mouth'. I was undeterred, i threw chunks of fish everywhere and the bigger fish came and put on a show.

i'm the one with the red stripe.

please note the fish in Matt's mouth (he's the one on the right) and thats the pet ray about to come up and grab it.

Finally when the food was gone i headed around for a bit of a swim. Had to show off a little bit, the kids were fascinated by a diver in there so i proved how strong i was with a one-finger handstand.

i continued my swim about stopping to give a fan a treat.

the only downside to the swim was that at one point i had issues with bobbing up and down, the weight belt had shimmied around to the front, when i finally got it back on right i figured out why it had slipped. remember that handstand...not my weight had slipped out. on the plus side it hit the floor not the expensive tunnel.

we ended the day by driving back down the road to find the girls who sold cherries last year. they were cheap and delicous and much to our delight they were there still so we bought another kilo and headed out to Tauranga where we had a date with a man and a boat...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Head North You Say? Part 2: Getting to Napier.

As it was raining quite heavily in Wellington, we decided to drive over the Rumatakas to the Wairapa (via the mountain pass from hell) in a vehicle that we didn't know, in winds upwards of 70kph. It all worked without a hitch and we found ourselves in the sun as the rain hadn't crossed the mountains yet.

We decided to hit up Castlepoint, a famous surfing spot that I'd been meaning to check out for a while now. Getting there was longer than expected (there's a misconception we have that 100km = 1 hour of traveling because in Canada that's very often the case. You're driving down 400 series highways upwards of 110kph which covers any traffic you might hit) Here, it's more likely that if you budget an hour for each 60 km you'll be closer to being right. Especially when you're in a 15 year old diesel that can only go up most hills at 70-80 kph.

The trip was worth it though.

(yes, this was for you Denyse)

It's a really beautiful spot. The small village around it has just enough of everything to be a nice destination for a summer weekend; The beach is long and mostly abandoned and there's a tidal flat that gets completely drained during low tide. There's actually a fairly strong trade in fishing charters, which has lead to another example of Kiwi ingenuity:

That boat's about 40 feet long, maybe bigger. The trailers are pulled by tractors with double and triple back wheels into the ocean so they can launch. Much like a system we saw for tour boats in Abel Tasman, but much, much bigger.

It was a great place to start our trip, and, luckily, didn't put us too much off course for our first major stop. Napier.

Head North You Say? Part 1: Transportation / Lodging

Wow. Time to dust off some cobwebs.

As many of you know, roadtrips are one thing that Carly and I both really enjoy. In the past, we've gone to Raglan, Hamilton, Foxton, Taupo and other exciting places. Heck, our honeymoon was one giant roadtrip! Each time, we became more autonomous, first staying at hotels, then camp sites, then, during our last trip, sleeping in our Legacy.

The legacy was a terrible experience, but the idea of being completely self-contained stuck. Combine this with an unhealthy obsession with the concept of an off-road capable mini van that I've had since we first came to New Zealand on our honeymoon and you get this:

It's a 1996 Mitsubishi Delica. Essentially, Mitsubishi has taken their off-road offering, the Pajero and slapped an L300 body on top of it. I've been looking for one basically since we got here, and, two weeks before we were scheduled to go, this showed up on trademe. I bought it pretty much outright, and, after an inspection, knew well the issues it had.

After picking it up, I drove it over to O's to get some basic work done on it to make it worthy of our trip. New CV boots and new front shock absorbers went on. The next day, (the day before we were scheduled to leave) back at home I did the oil, filter and air filter. I went to start the engine to drive the truck off the ramps. No go. Nothing. The dash lights would light up but no turnover of the engine. Long story short, two days, a car alarm specialist and an auto-electrician (both mobile btw, as it would have been impossible to tow the truck out of our driveway) we were ready to go.

We decided to keep the middle seat and build a wooden platform for the back. The plan was to use the middle seat, spun backwards (it does that :) ) and the platform for the inflatable mattress, storing everything underneath. It mostly worked.

The problem is that Carly and I are both planning on making the most of this vacation by going diving and kiting respectively. This means we have a LOT of gear. Add camping gear, clothing, chilly-bin and cooking supplies and we very quickly realized we'd overpacked. We've since trimmed down and stowed most of the cruft we are never going to use on the trip, but we still have it in the car, which makes life a bit challenging when setting up for the night. The good news is we're taking copious notes of what's used, what's not, what worked and improvements we can make for next time.

But, at least we were on the road!

Next up, Napier.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Housing In New Zealand

... From a Canadian's point of view.

As many know, Carly and I spent most of the month of October working through the purchase of a house. Progress was being made, offers and negotiations concluded and we were simply knocking out the conditions one after another. Financing: no problem, title: a few surprises, but nothing major.

Then the builders report came.

A bit of a step back. New Zealand has had a very checkered past with their housing. Up to the 1950s, construction was fairly standard. Wood siding, framed up houses on a cement pad. No insulation, no central heating and you'd be lucky if the house was more then a 100sqm. BUT! it was built properly with proper materials.

Then things started to change. People started wanting other cladding, different heating options and building became bigger business.

I'm not sure exactly when things went south (most websites point to the late 80s early 90s) but new trends and materials were embraced and a streak of houses were built. A number of issues were found with them. The monolithic cladding (stucco and the like) wasn't appropriately done, the techniques weren't modified for the weather and rain (Funny how if you take a style of house popular in Arizona and migrate it to windy, wet Wellington it may not do as well) and various cost cutting measures were implemented that ended up compromising the structural integrity of the houses.

The problem with all this is that it continued in one form or another from 1990 through to the early 2000's, when a report on the issues was put out by the government and action started.
Now it's a major issue, political and in regular life with various lawsuits, remuneration schemes from local and federal government and a lot of very unhappy home owners.

here's a whole bunch of info if you're interested:

Now back to our story. So the house we were looking at was built somewhere in 2002 or 2003.
It had some of the tell tale signs of potential issues but overall at first glance it looked like it wasn't going to be an issue. It had traditional wood siding, no stucco or the like, though it had a few accent panels that we knew were going to be an issue, but not a large one. However, the building inspection pointed out 2 important things.
  1. The weatherboarding had been left cracked and leaking for an extended period of time
  2. The house was built during the period where houses were framed out of untreated timber.
So, the house had had moisture and water in the insides of the most exposed wall and the timber was in all likelihood rotting inside. Only an invasive examination (taking down the interior walls) would prove it for sure.
On top of the structural issue at hand, the wood and other products in the wall decomposing made for a significant health concern as well.

We pulled the offer, took our losses and walked away.

I can honestly say this was the first major experience in New Zealand that had me pining for Canada. In Canada, details like central heating, insulation and proper vapour barriers are not optional extras. New Zealand has had a horrible record of complacency in their house building, with the "she'll be right" attitude leading to a developed country with inside house temperatures being well below the World Health Organization's minimums of 18 degrees C.

Couple that with more modern homes (the ones that would have insulation and "relatively" modern heating) being by and large tainted with the stigma of the weather tightness issues and it becomes a no win proposition.

So what options are left? I see two:
  1. Buy an older house (before 1970s) and reno to our standards. This was our original plan, but it's a popular option, so the older houses actually command a premium, more so if they are of a good size. Couple that with the lack of standardization in windows and you're looking at an expensive proposition
  2. build our own to our own standards. Much more complicated, much riskier. The financing is tricky, getting the section engineered, getting the house plans drawn up to fit the section's slope (because you aren't going to find a flat section in town any more) and then of course, paying a mortgage + rent while it's being built, assuming nothing goes wrong there.

So here we sit. No house, we're out all the fees for the failed purchase and we have no plan.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Whoops! video link included.

For those of you recieving this blog via email, here's a clickable link for the video:

as it doesn't look like my embedding it into the previous post worked for all users.

First video using the New Camera

So my parents bought me a GoPro HD camera for my birthday :) It's a fantastic high resolution camera that takes HD video, interval photos, is tiny and can be mounted to just about any surface or device. I've mounted it to my helmet for now and thought I'd take it out for a quick session in Seatoun. Unfortunately, the quality of the video's marginal because of the water droplets and fog in the case; both problems should be resolved now.

Anyway, there's more to come, including an exciting ride I had this evening at Plimmerton, but here's what the camera can do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Grab yourselves a coffee and get comfy, this will be a long one.

As always, better and more photos are available on my gallery page.

Since moving to New Zealand, we haven't really left the North Island much. In fact, other than a trip down to Picton and a trip to Christchurch for work, we've not set foot down South since 2005.

Every year, a loosely knit group of Kiters migrate towards a small town called Wanaka. They gather to go Snowkiting. For those who don't want to read the wiki page, essentially, you strap a snowboard or skis on, find a fun piece of terrain and get pulled around on a kite. It's a week long adventure that's been going on for close to 10 years. Like most kiting events I've been to here it's fairly low key.

Planning started last summer, talking to various friends here to get a group together from Wellington. My friend Skip volunteered his parent's house and we bought some tickets. Fast forward almost 5 months and we were ready to leave.

Flying to Christchurch was largely uneventful, but when it was time to transfer to our flight to Wanaka, things got a little interesting:

Now, I'm not the greatest flyer in the world, but I manage. The small plane (19 seats) was definitely setting the scene for how small Wanaka was.

During the flight, we got a great view of the southern alps:

You see the strange thing about winter sports in New Zealand to this North American is that you have to drive up the mountain to get to the snow. At ground level, it's 10-15 degrees warmer then where you end up skiing.

I want to take a quick second to say just how incredible our hosts Mary and Roger were. They had 2 strangers (Ryan and me) come and live in their house for 9 days and were absolutely the most inviting and friendly people I've had the pleasure of meeting. In fact, not only did R pick us up at the airport, but when we got in we were presented with a typical Kiwi BBQ Breakfast:

(all kiwi BBQs have a hot plate on one side and a grill on the other, the eggs went on about 2 minutes after this photo was taken)

The night we arrived, I was invited to go out drinking with several other Kiter friends from Wellington, Foxton, Nelson and beyond. As this blog is targeted at my family, I'll save you the absolutely embarassing condition I ended up in by trying to keep up with Kiwis. Suffice it to say Canadians can NOT drink. The next day was a complete write off and I've earned a new reputation / nick name or two. Not my proudest moment, but I digress.

Monday morning and we were ready to head out to Old Man's Range. I'm not entirely sure what the land is, if it's crown land, a farmer's field or something else, but it was the top of a chain of hills with a very dubious road to head up.

One of several gate crossings to get to where we were kiting. This photo is about 1/3 of the way up.

An aside, as much as I made fun of SUV drivers in Canada, New Zealand (and especially people who live in the more remote South Island) has a lot of justification for having 4x4. I've touched on this before with driving on the beach, but the roads to get to the snow were impressively bad; even the commercial hills had roads that required chains and trucks. This photo is of a Land Rover Discovery (definitely a very competent off road vehicle) getting stuck half way up the hill:

Driving up the hill was like driving into the clouds:

I didn't get a chance to take any decent photos at Old Man's range sadly, I was too busy struggling to figure out the basics of Snowkiting.

I'd always thought that because I was a competent snowboarder and a competent kiter, I'd pick it up simply and easily. Boy was I wrong. The wind was light, so the kites I brought weren't necessarily the best; because I had gaps in my kiting knowledge and gaps in my snowboarding abilities, they combined to make snowkiting quite difficult.

By the end of the day, on a borrowed kite, I got my first couple of good solid runs up and down the hill. Unfortunately, just as I was heading back we got hit by a massive snow squall; visibility 0 and I just about ran into an all white kite as I was cruising back down. Packing up and heading back down, I was sore but keen to try again!

The next day, Ryan and I, both still feeling quite tender from the experience, decided to play tourist instead and drove down to Queenstown. It's known as the Extreme Sport hub of New Zealand, but really, it's the closest thing I've seen to a tourist trap since moving here. Tourism is the #1 industry. It struck me as crass compared to Wanaka, but at least the drive in was epic:

Both Wanaka and Queesntown have beautiful lakes:

Wednesday rolls around and It's time to go on another Snowkiting adventure. This time we were off to the Snow Farm. Once again, New Zealand proved that the unusual is not only common, but expected. We pulled over to gather our troops and saw that a car that had parked behind us had a 2 week old baby goat as a pet:

That's Ryan in the Orange and Michelle in the background.

The Snow Farm really is a spectacular place. It's the primary training ground for various nordic ski teams and also has a vehicle testing track for winter conditions. The view doesn't suck either:

My partners in crime and I started setting up:

It was more productive than Monday, but still challenging. Part of the issue of course is that we're not kiting on a perfectly flat surface (like on the water). Rather, we're dealing with gentle hills and valleys. What happens when you get into the valley? The wind goes away. Sitting waiting for a random gust to get our kites back in the air was rather frustrating at times. But experience is experience and at the end of the day we were still cautiously optimistic.

Thursday we had a day of relaxation, having various adventures around Wanaka. A quick jaunt up Mount Iron gave us these beautiful view:

That's Wanaka at the bottom of the hill. We also hit up a movie (Inception, for the second time, highly recommended) at the Paradiso Cinema. It's famous for it's small theatre with old couches, a car and various mismatched movie chairs and it's intermission where they have fresh baked cookies. A great experience.

Finally, Friday and we had perfect conditions. A nice 15 knot breeze, bright sunny skies and -3, just cold enough to keep the snow in reasonable condition. This was the Snowkiting Day!
As always, Kiwis never cease to amaze me. This example of jandal obsession will stay with me for a while:

I borrowed a helmet mounted camera from a fellow Canadian immigrant in Wellington and finally got it working for the day.

The setup area:

The obligatory photo of my kite (i like how it looks on a white background)

A big photo of me kitelooping my way up a hill:

Look at all the kites!!!

A stunning day. The weather went south in the afternoon and quite frankly, it was a good thing as I was completely knackered. It's exhausting!! Because of the topology there's a lot of work that goes into getting the right lines to make it up and down the hills. The terrain is much more unforgiving; legs get tired very quickly, you're spending a fair amount of time getting up and falling when you're a beginner and the kites power needs much finer grained control.

Saturday, our last day before travel and Ryan and I decided we wanted to do some proper snowboarding. Off to Treble Cone we went! It's a hill unlike really anything I've boarded until now. Completely without trees and with very open runs, it's probably the steepest hill I've ever been to. In Canada, the pitch would have made most of the runs a level higher in difficulty, but because there's literally nothing to hit and no where you can really get in trouble, they rate them a little softer.

The thing with Treble Cone is because of the pitch, once you get off the chairlift it really looks like you're skiing off the top of a cliff:

I quickly remembered what I was doing on a board and proceeded to have one of the best Snowboarding sessions of my life:

Another night on the town with Skip and we were ready to head back to Wellington. The day before of course was the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, which we were worried had shut down the airport and stranded us in Wanaka. Luckily, the airport re-opened at 1:30 on Friday so we were homeward bound.

A second small issue arose on Saturday though: crazy strong winds. Wanaka had such a strong breeze that our plane had to spiral to climb to 10,000 feet before we could overcome the wind and make our way to Chch. Landing in Chch and then Wellington certainly made me nervous about the whole flying experience in New Zealand, an issue I've since dealt with .

So that's the trip. What did I think of snowkiting? To be honest, I felt that with my current skill levels of Kiting and snowboarding I was likely not quite ready to take on another variant. It's a lot more work right now then either sport; I think I enjoy them more. I'll revisit in a year or two after I get better at the component bits. What did I think of my trip? It was legendary. our hosts were fantastic, friends (old and new) were all around, I had a great time in a beautiful part of the world and was doing what I love doing.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Some Thoughts on 2 Years of Living in NZ.

September 11th marks the day we left North America. In 2008, after selling our house, our car, giving away our cats, quiting jobs, we hopped on a plane from NYC to Wellington to start a new adventure.

It's been 2 years now. On the whole, I love it here. It's absolutely been the right choice for us, despite some setbacks. I've made a few notes:
  • We will always be "the Canadians". The fact is we're both too old to pick up the dialect and speaking patterns of New Zealand. We will always have the canadian accent which makes us stand out. I'm ok with this! It really drives home what people with more than just an accent to differentiate them go through.
  • Emigrants tend to attract emigrants. Many of our friends (probably 40%) are not Kiwis. The shared experience of leaving your home country for parts unknown is a powerful shared experience.
  • We've been welcomed with open arms pretty much everywhere we've gone. We've met some fantastic people and helped us out at every turn.
  • There's nothing quite so much fun as finding something you'd forgotten you'd missed from the "old Country". This recently happened to Ryan and I when we found proper chicken wings in Wanaka of all places.
  • The number of products you import from the "Old Country" goes down as you find new and different alternatives. The ones we still bring in are more nostalgia and fun and less products that we thought we'd never be able to replace.
  • Everyone is proud of where they came from. Even people who have come from countries in the midst of war and turmoil, they love the country that it was and can still be. Similarly, I've discovered how much I love Canada and am proud of what we've done.
  • At the same time, I keep discovering wonderful things about New Zealand. Seeing new parts of the country never ceases to blow me away.
So what does the future hold? Carly and I are both in jobs we like, we've found new passions that keep us interested and we've got a great network of friends. We're thinking very seriously about buying or building our own home. I can't wait to see what the next year brings!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Snowboarding on an Active Volcano.

A month or so ago, a friend of mine J and his partner S mentioned that they had access to a place up on Mt Ruapehu. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:
Mount Ruapehu, or just Ruapehu, is an active stratovolcano at the southern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone in New Zealand. It is 23 kilometres northeast of Ohakune and 40 kilometres southwest of the southern shore of Lake Taupo, within Tongariro National Park. The North Island's major skifields and only glaciers are on its slopes.

Well that certainly sounds good. It's home to the two major Ski fields: Whakapapa and Turoa. Their accommodations were on the Whakapapa side. I really didn't know what to expect, and, as has become the norm, what I experiences was completely out of my normal understanding of a skiing weekend.

First off, Tongariro National park is a world heritage site, and for good reason. It's completely unique and epic to drive through. The desert road (which I've mentioned before) Lake Taupo the mountains and of course Ruapehu all make for a great setting.

Now, being that the hill is a national park, and happens to also be Maori sacred land, the usual rules around developing don't apply. For one, commercial space is very difficult to get. As a result there are VERY few hotels and none particularly inexpensive. Kiwis, however as is the norm, have come up with a pragmatic solution.

Various clubs (alpine, social, university) have, throughout the years petitioned the Department of Conservation for permission to build Club Huts. The one I was in happened to be one of the earliest examples, run by the Alpine Sports Club of New Zealand, however, there's probably another 30 or so Huts at the base of Whakapapa.

The way it works is that members of these clubs, after paying a yearly rate, can have accommodations for cheap. The benefits, other than a roof over your head, is that breakfast and dinner are included. This was all I was told.
When we got there, I learned the rest of the details. We were 4 to a room, in comfortable bunk beds. We all were assigned basic chores every day, some doing dinner, some doing dishes, etc. and it was all a very relaxed communal without being commune feel to it. There were families, singles, couples. I visited another Hut that a few work friends were staying at and it was all the same. After my last communal experience (Raglan) this was an great change. People were very mellow about the whole thing. it was a very convenient means to an end, and made for a great weekend.

Saturday morning I was awoken by a teen age girl and her 4-8 year old assistants delivering coffee, tea or hot chocolate in bed to all the club members. This was one of the chores :). A filling breakfast of poached eggs, sausages, toast and Spaghetti from a tin (!!!) and it was time to hit the slopes. From looking at the maps, I could see that there was a decent selection of chairs and T-Bars. There wasn't that much snow at the base, so we'd be dealing with rocks. It was then that I realized the second outcome of the national park being a sacred and protected area. None of the land the ski runs were on could be modified in any permanent way. And, as this was a volcano with giant ash boulders, lava flows etc. That meant completely alien terrain on which to ski.
The run topology changes drastically depending on how much snow is on the hill. If there's tons, you're skiing on wide open ranges with some nice undulations. Last weekend however, as there was only a minimum base, we were playing dodge the sharp pointy rocks and had to contend with some deep gulleys, icy conditions and occasional "surprise" rocks taking chunks out of the base of our gear. It wasn't unpleasant in the slightest, it reminded me a lot of spring skiing in Canada.

Which of course brings me to the weather. The mountain is fickle. We started our day around 9:00am, it was approx -2, sunny and looking great. The day heated up and in doing so changed the snow from ice to soft snow. from about 11 to 1 the conditions were glorious.

From about 1:30 onwards the clouds came and covered the mountain completely, and, being over the cloud line, the light went completely flat. So flat in fact that despite specialty goggles, I still had a hard time picking my way down the hill.

Which is just as well, because, after 5 years without snowboarding, my body was ready to pack it in after 5 hours. See, in New Zealand, despite their complaints of long lift lines, you really are only waiting a maximum of 10 minutes to get on the chair. Throughout the weekend we had to queue exactly twice. The runs were about the length of most Laurentian ski fields so we got a fair number of runs in in the end.

We headed back to the Hut where the crew prepared a 3 leg of lamb meal with roasted vegetables and apple pudding. We ate too much, had a few beers and generally relaxed.

The weather settled in for the rest of the weekend, and, by Sunday morning it was raining, +2 to +5 and visibility was about nil. As we had a 4.5 hour drive ahead of us, we decided to call it a success, having had a brilliant day on the slopes.

** An interesting side note, Ruapehu has been most active since 1995, with an eruption in 95, another in 2006, a lahar in 2007(basically a run of boiling acidic water from the lake that's in its crater) another eruption in 2008. Needless to say, they take mountain safely *very* seriously. See the wikipedia article linked above for more info.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

i'm digging the knitting

it's winter here in NZ and while we have had some glorious sunny days we also get some nasty grey wet ones that last for days on end. so after the success of my scarf i wanted to try to knit something else, learn a new skill and all that. i have a full folder on my Firefox bookmarks of knitting patterns, and hats are in that list.

3 of our friends have recently had babies, 2 were early the other waited the full length before showing. so small babies + winter in NZ = baby hats that would definitely be welcome. and i was told baby hats are quick to make.

they were right!!

in all this little hat took about 5 hours of knitting. it was all in the round, and i knew now that proper-sized needles made the job easier! the new part for me was knitting on double-pointed needles but i fooled around with spare wool and figured out the technique. so knit in the round, then transfer to double-pointed, decrease stitches...ta da!

lacking a proper model i have put it on my long suffering cat ^^ as soon as i get it onto one of the new babies i'll post a photo.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The scarf that travelled the world

in December 2006 Blaise approached me with a request to knit him a scarf. not any scarf, a scarf knitted with a binary pattern. he had found it off one of his sites and it came from a knitting website known affectionately as Knitty.

having just finished conquering the world of scarves (i had a made a few in a pattern i picked up on our honeymoon to NZ in 2005) i was keen to try it. It was knitting in the round and using two colours, both things i didn't know how to do so i was keen for both.

I foolishly promised it to him on his birthday of 2007. after all it didn't look that hard, it was a garter stitch (the simplest knitting stitch) the entire length. i could do that in my sleep.

the birthday came and went, then christmas, then the next birthday...yeah it was longer and harder than planned. I'd get into it for a month and make progress and then lose interest. it was hard, the knitting in the round was a struggle, i kept making mistakes in reading and replicating my pattern so i had to tear out a full row of binary and knit it again. for those of you saying, "why didn't you just leave it?", if you know me you know that's not going to happen.
it got heavy and in the summer in Canada i didn't want to knit it.

it became a bit of a joke, this big thick scarf which he was never going to get.
it travelled with us to NZ and same thing happened, i'd knit a bit and lose interest. but then something happened, i walked into a knitting shop and found another Canadian working there...yeah small world.

i explained the situation, hauled out the scarf and she promptly told me my needles were too freaking long, i needed a smaller round. i had to stretch and pull each stitch to knit, with a shorter round all the stitches were there at the tips of the needle ready to be knit. and with that i was back into it, i passed the halfway point on the scarf. i started down the 2nd side, even with the pattern now being knit upside down it was going fast and then (hallelujahs being sung) it was done...seriously?

i cast off and realized a) i was finished, b) it was huge.

The binary scarf December 19, 2006 - July 5, 2010 - HUZZAH!

my first model was accomodating but not thrilled.

my second model was much happier with his new scarf.

he hasn't translated the code yet, and yes there is a message in the binary, took me about a day to learn some form of binary (i'm not geeky enough to know what i learned but it was a binary alphabet of some sort). i'll keep you posted for when he does.