donderdag 29 september 2011

Goodbye for now

So here it is, the dreaded day that has been looming ahead for a while. I am currently at Sydney Airport, where I am waiting to take my flight back to Belgium.
It's strange. I knew this day was coming, and still it came as a shock. I realized I don't actually want to leave. Not the life in New Zealand, and not the life I have with Alex. I guess the next adventure is waiting around the corner ...

My coming here hasn't been very smooth though. Of course, what did you expect.
Upon arrival in Christchurch Airport, the lovely lady from Air New Zealand informed me that my flight to Sydney (flight number EY 6049) didn't exist. "Excuse me, what?" Yes, yes, it didn't exist. Not in the computer, not on the screens, not anywhere. OK, I did not want to leave in the first place, but what with all the sadness hanging around Alex and me, there was really no more space for extra stress.
The lady then informed me that that flight was actually scheduled for Friday 30 September instead of Thursday. Once again: "Excuse me, what?" And even so, I was not booked on that flight. So basically, I was not getting out of Christchurch, officially.
Lastly the lovely lady informed me that Air New Zealand did not have any other flights going to Sydney today, "but maybe we can try somewhere else. There is nothing more that I can do for you, sorry."
So, Alex and me wended our ways to the Jetstar desk. "Nope, sorry. Maybe try Qantas."
Qantas it is then. Stress slightly increasing.
"Nope, sorry. Maybe try Emirates."
With a thumping heart, we arrived at the Emirates desk, where they - hallelujah! - had a spare seat on their flight. I would arrive in Sydney after all. Obviously I didn't book this flight after getting in touch with Etihad (who is the main operator of my flights) to ask if I was actually booked on my ongoing flights.
Dear Alex Ramish needed about half an hour to explain to me that yes, I am booked on both ongoing flights, and no, he doesn't know what could've gone wrong, and if he was me he'd take it up with his travel agent.

So, finally, check-in, and a tearful goodbye (although I was not crying, it was just raining on my face ... Insider :-)).
When I arrived in Sydney, they told me to go to the transfer desk. I wanted to have a hearty word with someone. Unfortunately, nobody was there. How do airlines work?! So once again I called a number to ask Etihad where I should get my boarding passes and to explain the problem. Luckily, the second lady was very friendly and listened to my 'hearty word' and, after telling me that they'll have to investigate as to what could have gone wrong, she was nice enough to give me extra leg space and a window seat. I was hoping for a business class flight, but ah well, this will do for now.

So, my departure was not easy. It seems that I am getting back in one piece, although I will still have to pick up some pieces and try to get back on track soon, with no clue as to what to do now. But I guess we will see that in due course -  first I'll have a hot bath, a good night's sleep and a lovely wedding to go to. After that, we'll see what the road brings. This is not the end.

maandag 26 september 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011

For my last weekend in NZ, Alex and me took a plane to Auckland to go to a Rugby World Cup game. Because after all, when the RWC is held in NZ, and the All Blacks are 'favorites', and you are in NZ, and you have any chance to see the All Blacks live in their home country - why wouldn't you do it?
Of course, we didn't go to just any rugby game, oh no. If you have followed any of this blog, you know by now that we always go for higher, bigger, more. So we bought tickets to the All Blacks vs. France, which is in rugby terms a big hit.

Our plane was just about filled with rugby fans. The atmosphere in Auckland was definitely much more "All Black" than in Queenstown, where there are almost only tourists so allegiances lie just about everywhere.
We settled in our hotel and went on a little trip through Auckland - the only thing we had to do was kill time before the big game the day after. We decided to go on a little shopping spree and to my great frustration, there was hardly anything that could please me. Luckily, Alex came home with 3 new t-shirts and a pair of shoes. What do they say about girls again? ...
After that we watched Australia vs. USA in the hotel, and were very pleased to learn that Australia has gotten back on their feet again after their defeat against Ireland. This was followed by a dinner in a lovely Mexican restaurant. A fun day :-).

On The Big Day, which had blue skies again (although Metservice predicted rain), we continued our shopping spree (I finally found a t-shirt I liked - yay!) and after a nice warm up in the hotel, we set out for Eden Park. What an amount of people! I do have to say though, everything was organized pretty well, and there were no problems like the ones Eden Park had encountered before (the public transport failing and the likes of it). Our seats were pretty decent, although they were at the back of the goal posts, so it was a bit of a one-sided angle. But hey, do you hear me complain? No!

The match was cool, but I do have to say it is nicer to see a rugby game on TV. It is hard to follow from only the one side. The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing though, and if you're in NZ for this long and witness the Rugby World Cup, it counts for a lot if you have seen the All Blacks perform the haka live :-). We saw only their backs, but still I got shivers down my spine.
What struck me as most peculiar, is that supporters of both teams are mixed together. I don't really remember how it works with soccer games, but I could imagine that in some games, mixing up the supporters could lead to a tiny civil war. But I could be wrong, of course :-).

Well, anyway, in the end the All Blacks won, of course, and it was time to go back to the hotel. Transport was again without any problems and the day after it was back to Queenstown again. Different atmosphere, different temperatures (it felt like going from summer to winter!), but home.
It was a cool experience and a nice getaway!

woensdag 21 september 2011

The Remarkables as seen from above

Having seen the Remarkables so many times from the bottom, I wondered how they looked like from above. Therefore I booked a skydive.
I did book a skydive, but that's because I have been wanting to feel the kick and talking of doing it since last year (come to think of it - I'm already gone for over a year... -ish) so why not? After all, who knows when I'll be back in NZ next. I might be old and broken by then :-).
So I gathered up all my courage and headed straight for the NZone office. The dude there was so good (him with Alex) that they convinced me to go higher: at first I wanted to do 12,000ft, but "why not go to 15,000ft, it's really so worth it." So, again, why not?

I was pretty ok for the rest of the day, but then the next day loomed and I started to go really quiet. I didn't seem to want any breakfast (what if it came out again?) so just settled for a tea and a hairy lemon (for the curious among you - a hairy lemon here is what we call Omnivit ;-)).
Off we went to the NZone office, where we got our first briefing. I was happy to see that there were a lot of other people signing away their life, so it couldn't be too bad, right?
We jumped in the van (by that time I had gone completely mute) and drove to the drop zone, Alex following in the big white truck. The drop zone was a place somewhere between the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu, so the jump must be amazing for views!

The whole group got split up in 2 groups ("2 planes") and I was to go in the second one. For some reason, though, a girl called Julie couldn't be found, so they asked me if I could go in the first plane. Squeek! But of course I could - once again, why not?
We went into the hangar and received all clothing (jumpsuit, harness, helmet, goggles), all the time followed by Alex with the camera. We got to meet our tandem master; mine was called Greg. To be honest, we didn't really get a lot of explanation as to what to do, except for the fact that you had to dangle your feet out of the plane and hold your body like a banana with your head held high (that's for the camera, folks). After that - go, go, go, to the plane!

We were about 8 in the plane, all equipped with a tandem master and a photographer, so it got pretty crowdy. The plane took off and went higher and higher. The view over the Wakatipu basin was truly amazing, but it was hard to really enjoy it, since you knew you had to jump out in a few minutes.
After a while (when it was already getting very high) the 12,000ft people were getting ready. Suddenly the door opened and hop hop hop, one by one everybody 'left' - or jumped, is more like it.
Dan (the other 15,000ft-er) looked at me as if he wanted to die right there and now. But hey, no turning back ...
After another few minutes, the door opened again, and I felt Greg strapping me to his harness; suddenly  we were crawling forward and even more suddenly, I was dangling about 5km above the ground. *glups*. My photographer asked me if I was ready, and ignoring my "nooooo!" he jumped and a second after that it was our turn.

Oh dear god.

It was the most amazing sensation I have ever had so far. Everything was going so fast, the wind was whacking in my face, I couldn't hear anything, but the views were incredible. Queenstown, Kelvin Heights, The Remarkbles, Lake Wakatipu, ... All the places I love so much, right there below me, and I could just enjoy the ride, everything a big whirl.

After about a minute free fall, Greg released the chute. I felt a big shock and was suddenly just dangling quietly in the air. Time for our few minutes of paragliding, calming down, taking in the landscape, savouring the feeling. Man, that was a ride and a half!

After a few minutes, Greg told me to lift my feet and we would land on our bum. This went smoothly and he released me and released himself from the chute.
Mission accomplished.

I ran to Alex in a complete buzz, a smile from ear to ear, slightly faint, but ever so happy. Pictures were payed for and we went back to Queenstown.
Breakfast, anyone?

maandag 19 september 2011

Mount Olympus: playground of the gods

Since it is my last few weeks in NZ, I am trying to fill it with cool things. Therefore, while we were staying at the station once more, Alex took me out snowboarding on Mount Olympus, literally called "The playground of the gods".

Mount Olympus is a ski field that is known here as a "club field". This basically means that it is a non-commercial ski field, hence it is much smaller, much more basic and much more fun :-).
The trick with the club fields, which are by the way "100% Pure NZ Experience", is that the lifts are not normal lifts. Some of them have platter lifts (what we call the pancakes) or T-bars (what we call anchor lifts), but most of them work with nutcrackers and rope tows.
Well I don't know about you, but I had never worked with nutcrackers and rope tows before - I had never even heard of them, come to think of it. So Alex gave me a few warnings, saying that it is difficult to learn but the snow is worth it. But, if I couldn't be bothered, we could go to Porter's, which only has platter lifts and T-bars.
You know me, of course. I couldn't say no to a real NZ experience. So we ventured up the access road of Olympus ski area.
The road in itself was already worth the effort. It wasn't something I would've taken Tony, the old camper van, up, so that says enough I guess. After about half an hour of the sketchiest - but most scenic - drive that we have done so far, we finally reached the snow. What a difference with The Remarkables or Coronet Peak! For starters there was no car park. You just drop your car somewhere on the side of the road in the snow, and hope that at the end of the day you can get out again. By the way, most people don't come there for only a day, but stay for the weekend or a week in the lodge somewhere on the mountain.

After you've parked your car, you get your "nutcracker" and rope tow belt. These belts are made of old car seat belts. You strap one around your waist and this will help you get up the rope tow. Your nutcracker is attached to your belt. The only thing you then have to do is to swing the nutcracker over the moving rope, and hop you're going - "easy peasy".
Wellll ... Let's say it will take you a few goes, to be honest. The funny thing is that the learners rope tow is on TOP of the access rope tow, so ironically enough you have to get up that one first.
Once you have succeeded in throwing your nutcracker over the rope, the trick is to keep it tight, hold on to it and get it over the pulleys (the wheels over which the rope moves). Now these pulleys are vicious.
I did fine at the start. The lovely liftee had stopped the rope for me so I could just position my nutcracker right and I would "just" have to hold on to it. The first few pulleys were fine and I had a little hope of actually accessing the ski field in the first go. But then my bum caught up with a pulley and I got thrown off the lift, head first. Now-that-hurt! I have a nice purple bruise now on my hip, and it hurts to move and sleep :-).
But, no matter, we try again. Second try I fell off after about 3 seconds.
Third try I fell off halfway, again. By then I was slightly losing hope. Alex suggested that we go to Porter's, so I could still have a fun day. I have to say, I was in a dilemma, because I didn't want to be thrown around all day ... But the snow looked so good.
Luckily, there was a nice fellow who offered me a "ride" up - basically instead of hanging my nutcracker around the rope, I attached it to a rope hanging from his belt and he just pulled me up. Much better!

The ski field itself really looks so much better than any other commercial one, so I decided to stay there for the day and get the hang of those damn rope tows. I fooled around all morning on the learners rope and got a few tips and tricks from the liftee digging a tunnel there. I was rather jealous of everyone who seemed to have the hang of it like it was nothing!
After a few tries it worked though, and I got my nutcracker over the one pulley. In the afternoon I decided to have a go on the main lift. That worked fine for a few pulleys, but about halfway I lost my balance and fell - hard - on the side of the lift. Key is then to crawl away as fast as possible, since there are people coming behind you ... So I boarded back down and tried again. This one lasted again about 5 seconds, and I had to go back down. Third time, I really thought I had it. But again, somewhere over halfway, I lost my balance, released the nutcracker and fell - unfortunately with a big kick from the nutcracker to my head. I have to say I was spinning around a bit, as those things are pretty heavy metal.  So on top of my bruised knees, bruised bum and painful wrist, I now had a massive headache. So I decided to just call it a day and turn back with Alex - who was a bit dark because his touring binding - just new - had broken off somewhere on the mountain. What a day!

Although it is really hard work, it is good to have experienced the club fields - so much nicer than a commercial field. That is why I bought the Mt Olympus hoodie. Because after all, you are allowed to  be a bit proud of mastering the nutcracker over the rope tow and pulleys after a few tries - and to have reached NZ's famous Mt Olympus :-).

donderdag 15 september 2011

Some fresh powder and a new home

It has been a while since I last updated you, so I think I owe you.

With the start of September, and so the start of Spring, the snow was slowly starting to melt. Alex and me got very busy temping (me) and arranging the house (Alex), with in between going on little trips to Christchurch to find decent furniture for the new house. We didn't have a lot of time for skiing / snowboarding. The one day we did go up to the Remarkables, though, all the rocks and tussocks started to show through the thin layer of what was unmistakably spring snow. I have to say, after that last storm cycle and the mad powder days we'd had in August, my heart started to bleed a bit, and as I told Alex, I was "literally very, very sad."
"It's gone faster than it came," the liftee said to us at the bottom of the chair lift, and sadly we had to agree.

We kind of accepted the fact that the season was almost over. Luckily the house sucked up a lot of our time. We moved in on 9 September and are absolutely in love with it. So much better than where we lived before!
The house is situated in Fernhill, which is one of the nicer "suburbs" (if you can call it that) of Queenstown, with a lot of parks, greenery and views. Add to this a whole tangle of mountain bike and running tracks, and you have created yourself a nice living environment.

As by a miracle, though, another storm cycle hit the country these last few days, and up we went again to another decent 30 cm of snow.
The first day, a certain someone forgot to take his skis up, which made me chuckle for the rest of the day. Luckily the weather was very bad and he rented a snowboard and we did some runs together in what was a real blizzard. In the end it got so bad that our goggles froze over and we literally were pushed over by the wind and snow. No matter, no matter, the more snow there is, the better.

In the evening we were joined by Jack, a friend of Alex, and Hardesh, Jack's friend, and also Luke, someone Alex met through the ski instructor course. We had a very nice dinner evening and of course made plans to go up the next day.
Which we did, of course. Hardesh had never snowboarded before, so I stayed with her in the morning to try and get her started off, and I am pleased to say that I don't think I put her off it :). Teacher Marie-Anne on the roll!
In the afternoon though, I wanted to go for some runs myself, so Jack (who is also a snowboarder) took me up for a few runs and in the end, convinced me to go for the Homeward Bound.
Now, the Homeward Bound run is the one that was my goal for the end of the season. Alex had told me so much about it and I could see it looming on the drive up - it is a bit off piste - but I had never dared to attempt it. Luckily, Jack made me push my limits a bit, and I had so-much-fun. It wasn't scary at all, on the contrary - it was just nice and cruisy, soft on the bottom (although for some reason I have a big bruise on my bum), perfect to catch some long lost powder. You can imagine my pride when I got to the bottom of the mountain face and got to wait for the bus back up with all the other Homewarders for the first time :).

After that Alex, Jack, Luke and me ventured on one more run, which was off piste as well and required a little hike. We were all tired as it was the end of the day, but the views were unbelievable at the top of the ridge line. Worth every step! And again, I am proud to say that I caught my first powder line without stacking it :). I think I'm getting the hang of it haha.

Now we are in Christchurch once again, where we are meeting Alex' mum to do some house shopping. We are expecting another decent amount of snow to fall around Queenstown by the time we get back there, so we want to get some more runs in. And next weekend we have the France vs. All Blacks game in Auckland to look forward to. What a month!

maandag 22 augustus 2011

Chasing the powder

As mentioned before, we were expecting a big storm cycle to hit the country. And hit it did! In no time we were covered by a thick, soft, powdery snow blanket, even in Queenstown City. This meant that the mountains were seeing the best snow of the season. Of course, being true snow bums, we couldn't let this pass, so we hit up Coronet Peak after getting up at the break of dawn to listen to the snow report. Coronet, unfortunately, seemed to be a mistake since visibility was nil and we got literally blown away.
The day after though, we went to The Remarks, which is a ski-field that suits us better, after listening to the snow report that morning ("We have champagne conditions here, so eh, what can I say, strap your skis and boards on and sink into it!"). The Remarks turned out to be gooooooood! I have never seen so much snow on a groomer, let alone outside it. Alex had fun going everywhere out of bounds, while I tasted my first powder on the 'safer' spots. It was amazingly good fun and as if it was a miracle, in the afternoon the sun started shining bright and the conditions were amazing.

On Wednesday we left for the station once more, because cousin Jack (who had been stuck in Christchurch until then, poor bugger) would arrive there the day after with his friends. We obviously took our gear and rode Mount Hutt on Thursday - again bluebird conditions and a lot of fun!
We escorted Jack and co over the river and had a few drinks, and hit the mountain again the day after. By then the snow started to become already a little hard packed. But hey, improving is all we want :).

After going so hard, Alex and me decided to have a break on Sunday, so we stayed on the station and took the truck (and Larry) out to some paddock, where we put a rope to the back of the truck and took turns in swinging behind it on either skis or snowboard. Larry enjoyed the chase very much. All good fun! :)

Now it is back to Queenstown once more, where hopefully work will pick up, the house will become available soon and the sun will keep on shining!

zaterdag 13 augustus 2011

A break from a break

Although the snow bum life is a good life, as stated before, people do get tired sometimes of being in the same place all the time.
Not much has changed lately, although I finally got through to the temping office and they have started to give me some work here and there. Not much, bits and pieces along the way, but a little bit of money is better than no money, I think.

Because of the work, I haven't been on my snowboard the last week, and I have really missed it. Alex and me also live in a very small room, so a few things combined made that we both wanted to get out of Queenstown for a short while. So we packed our bags and headed for the station again in Canterbury High Country. Unfortunately there was no snow over there, but we thoroughly enjoyed all the space, the company of the Smiley family and the dogs. Not to mention Mrs. Smiley's delicious cooking ...

We haven't really done anything, except go for the occasional (short or long) run, watch the Australian series Underbelly (about the Gangland Wars in Melbourne from 1995 till 2004), read, spend some time with the dogs and of course spend some time with Mr. and Mrs. Smiley.
We only stayed a few nights, but they made a world of difference. Everybody needs a little space sometimes :-). And space, that is to be found on the station.

Now we are back in Queenstown. We have attended the Burton Open Sessions, where a few of NZ's favorites played (Kora, Shihad, Tiki Taane ...) and which left us with a hard day the following day.
In the mean time it has started to snow again - which we can only applaud! The snow front is supposed to be as hectic as the last one, only longer, and is supposed to hit tonight. This should be goooood! A bit unfortunate for Jack, Alex' cousin, though, who is supposed to fly into Queenstown tomorrow. Let's just see if flights get in or out ...
I know what I will be doing in any case!