Monday, October 28, 2013

Winter Games

Skiers warm-up run on the halfpipe
Due to Amy and my lack of working or as society would put it, "doing anything useful with our lives," we decided to help out and volunteer at the Queenstown Winter Games. This was a world class event for international skiers and snowboarders being part of the qualifications for the upcoming Winter Olympics. A bonus of volunteering was to get the best seat in the house, a free lunch and some extra day passes to Cadrona Ski Field. Amy did one day at Cadrona and one at Coronet with me and I did a few additional days on some very snowy days at Cadrona. Our duties varied but Amy mostly enjoyed her role as Start Marshall for the Ski half pipe qualifiers, while I was a slipper. Basically, Amy called for the athletes up next to get ready and line up and I slid down the pipe smoothing out the tracks every so often. At Coronet, in appalling snow conditions we were gate judges on the Slalom ski racing. We had to ensure the skiers passed correctly through the gates. With no second chances, we felt very uneasy that our call could end their chances to the Olympics. Luckily, neither of us had to record a missed gate.

Amy and I in our fluro volunteer vests.
Having the games in town was a very cool experience. The opening ceremony was legit with athletes coming into the ceremony on jet boats and all the usual hoo-haa associated with a big event like this. There was a 'Village' set up in the centre of town where each evening they awarded medals, had bands playing and had snowboarding films playing. This was also where we could get a free drink for each day of volunteering we had done. 

We used one of our free days sking to go to Cadrona and see the Snowboard half pipe qualifiers and have a good ski around the field. We were very inpressed with the snowboarding and I even headed out into the back country for some powder and a few hits on the big booter formed by a windlip.

Getting gnarly with a 360 tailgrab off the booter

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dana Down Under

Dana and Amy at Hobbiton Movie Set

While we were spending time in Connecticut in May, we were telling our friends about our plans to head back to New Zealand. My friend Dana got the brilliant idea that perhaps she would come with me (Amy)! Being a high school English teacher, and having summers off, she really wanted to relax and treat herself with a well deserved holiday. So when I got back to the states, we set about planning our trip down under.  Taking advantage of Thomas' generous and hospitable relatives all over the country, we did a fantastic job seeing and experiencing heaps in just under 3 weeks.

We departed New York in the early afternoon and enjoyed 19 hours of flying. With a bit of a long delay through customs in Auckland and a hilarious conversation explaining "Fashion rainboots" vs gumboots to the customs guy, we shuttled our way into Auckland city to catch our immediate bus to Matamata.

As a Lord of the Rings fanatic, Dana insisted she needed to go to Hobbiton and tour the set there. I was indifferent, but tagged along and had a fantastic time. The set was so impressive, and with a gorgeous, sunny day we couldn't believe it was winter. A surprise pint of our choice at the Green Dragon Tavern at the end made the whole experience unforgetable. The bus continued us on to Rotorua where we were to be met by Alan Deverson. Having never met him before, I chose a "Deverson" looking man in the crowd of waiting people and hoped it was him! Luckily, it was!

Dana and Alan
 We were absolutely blown away with Alan's hospitality. He drove us around Rotorua on our way to his house, and the tour didn't stop till he dropped us back at the bus the following evening. Having been up since 3am NZ time, we were nearly about to crash, but were pleasantly forced to sit through an amazing four course meal, complete with Alan's own caught and smoked trout and homemade limoncello. The following day was completely scheduled for us, with a drive down to Lake Taupo passing Wai-o-Tapu mud pools, Aratiatia Dam, and Huka Falls. Alan dropped us off at Te Puia Maori Village on the way  back into town where we saw their kiwi birds, mud pools, gyesers and a traditional Maori performance. The afternoon included another tour to lakes, the Redwood forest, and Buried Village, until dinner and then off to the bus stop for a 12.35am overnight bus to Wellington!

We had a gorgeous Interislander Ferry ride through the Queen Charlotte Sound, and once we arrived in Picton we picked up our rental car, and Dana easily convinced me to head to the waterfront. Once there, I was shocked by seeing Thomas sitting on a bench, and after not seeing each other for five weeks, it was a bit of an emotional reunion. The two of them had planned this surprise, and thankfully Thomas could drive the rental car all the way to Golden Bay! (With a stop in Nelson for a craft beer pint of course!)

It took us more time than we thought it would, but we drove through the dark up and over the terribly windy Takaka Pass, and made it to our accomodation in Collingwood and went to an awesomely local and totally Kiwi pub for dinner and a pint, watching the replay of the Crusaders Rugby, and trying to teach Dana the rules. A fantastic idea to wake up super early the next day, we ran to the beach in time to enjoy the most magnificent sunrise we've ever seen.


Whakariki Beach
We drove 20 minutes further north to Whakariki Beach, and the scenery didn't disappoint. Not a sign of human life what-so-ever, we got to enjoy the entire beach to ourselves, and we did as we ran in the surf, played in the caves and took heaps of pictures. We spent the rest of the day driving back to Picton, stopping for delicious pizza in Takaka, saw the 3rd clearest water in the world at Pupu Springs and stopped again for a pint in Nelson, and let Dana drive on the other side of the road for the first time!

The next day we bused down to Kaikoura and spent 3 hours exploring. We met a man from Estonia and invited him to join us on a walk to the seal colony. The views were spectacular as always, and the seal pups playing in a pool was the highlight of the day. We then caught the next bus to Christchurch where Thomas' Gran was waiting to pick us up, with a delicious home cooked meal waiting for us. We didn't have much time in the city, but we caught up with a few friends, showed Dana the beaches, enjoyed fish and chips, walked through CBD and even went for a drive through the porthills with Tony Deverson! And enjoyed a delicious dinner and some craft pizza with him that night too!
Thomas' favourite place, the Port Hills

A long bus ride through some of the most gorgeous parts of New Zealand, left us in Queenstown. We enjoyed a meal with John and Kathrin, but prepared for our immediate departure the next day to the Catlins! Renting another car (thanks Dana!) Thomas drove us through Otago, and we made it early enough to check out some sites before heading to Malcolm and Carolyn's house. We stopped at Kaka Point, where we collected paua shells, Nugget Point and went for a walk through Tunnel Hill. We were able to really teach Dana some rugby that night while we watched the final match, and to Thomas' great surprise, there was a Rally Car race on the next day! We got up early, headed over there, and watched as the cars zipped along the gravel roads that we had such a hard time driving on the day before! We made the most of the rest of the day, heading to the highlights of the Catlins: Slope Point, Porpoise Bay, Petrified Forest and many waterfalls.

The next day we left reasonably early, and drove up the coast to Dunedin. Dana and I went on a tour through the Cadbury Factory, and the three of us enjoyed a VERY kiwi lunch of fish n chips, with tomato sauce and L&P while watching the surfers at St. Clair Beach.

We finished our little road trip with a stop at Moeraki Boulders, which are always such fun to play around.

Dana spent the rest of her time down under bungy jumping and enjoying some days shopping and nights out in Queenstown, and she even did a two day trip to Milford Sound and a two day trip to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Without a doubt she had the time of her life in New Zealand, and will have stories to tell her kids at school this year for sure! Thanks to all those who helped make her time in New Zealand most memorable and for helping show her around this gorgeous country.

Dana, Thomas and Amy at Kaka Point

Queenstown - The Life

My favourite view in town
Getting into Queenstown from London was nearly a bit of an issue. The snowstorm did cause some dramatic scenery to arrive to though. The snow was right down to lake level and just blanketing every inch of the surroundings. This was absolutely the arrival I had dreamt of. Rocking up to the Rainbow Cabin, our home for the next few months, was a real different experience, but a time I will treasure and look back on with so many good memories.
Keeping warn in the Rainbow Cabin
It was a wicked time being back in Queenstown, mostly to hang out, drink beer and go snowboarding with my bro. It was numbingly cold for the first few weeks, cold like I have ever experienced before. Despite it being only -5°c, much milder than what I experienced in Colorado, there was no escaping this cold in the Rainbow Cabin. With the fire cranking the cabin was good, once it cooled overnight, getting out of my tepid bunk bed was slightly difficult. We partied it up with frisbee golf, homebrew, happy hour and got an epic welcome home party with the opening of the Queenstown Winterfest, with fireworks and a concert on the lake with Dave Dobyn. 
At the top of The Remarks with John
Of course this was the first time I had attempted to snowboard since my incident in Colorado only a few months earlier. I thought I was going to be all good, but I was surprised however how niggly my broken leg still was. So what was I to do about that? Ride through the pain and continue to roll with the theory of 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' I am happy to announce that my theory was correct. And off we were, a big season of snowboarding ahead, the mountains packed with snow: The Life.

Ready to rock at the Remarks

Monday, October 14, 2013

London Town

This is England
We had a pretty quick and painless bus ride from Sheffield into London arriving at 11am to give us just two short days before flying out the following evening. Each of us however flying out of separate airports heading to other sides of the world. So it was sad to know we only had a few more days together before more time apart and that our travels in Europe were coming to an end. We didn't let this get on our minds though, we had the whole of London to see!

New London Town
We stayed in the Fullam area at a nice enough backpackers for a very reasonable price of £9 a night each, and they even had a bar where I could have my last British beer. Coincidentally, like most English bars, they don't actually serve any English beers, so a Guinness it was which is technically British at least. From there we whizzed about London town on the Tube and red double becker buses. We got ourselves a unlimited day ticket for transportation at a reasonable price, just cheaper than our nights accommodation. We were able to make the most of our time seeing as much as I believe we possibly could have during our two days of wonderful English spring weather.

Big Ben all light up
The main highlights were you guessed it, the typical highlights of the London area: Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Convent Market etc etc etc. All were great to see, especially for Amy. A few of the more memorable places we visited were the British War Museum. This spiraled up from ground level going through the many and various fights, battles and wars that England and Great Brittan has faced. It was a great place to spend the morning, even had some dress up for us to try on. The London Museum was another highlight of our free attractions. It again went through the ages of the settlement of London Town. It had great displays and information through time of the original settlment, through to the kingdoms, Roman occupation and events like the great fire. 

Playing dress-ups at The War Museum
The final of my highlights was to take Amy to the Tate Modern Art Gallery. I have fond memories of this museum from when I visited in 2008. Modern art can sometimes bring the question, is this really art? There were many and various examples of this on our visit but once again, we did truly love what was on display. Some very strange, graphic and purely brilliant pieces. 

Amy with a double decker bus in Piccadilly Circus
Once again we utilised the services of the local free walking tour to run us around a quick loop of town and give us the usual humorous stories and history. These tours are really a great starting point for any visit to a new city, or even one you have already visited before. Even repeating the tours, which I did on this trip after already having done some of them previously while in Europe, they were still fantastic, with new history, stories and locations.

A highlight for Amy was definitely the British icons of the red telephone boxes and the red double decker buses. For me it was the final pint of ale which I shared in the company of my favourite person in the world. Nestled in a hidden little pub, dating back from who knows when, sitting in some big old chairs next to a very wonky table.

Trafalgar Square at sunset

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sheffield with the Devos

Amy, Toby and Thomas
Coming into Sheffield we were looking forward to the fine weather that we had experienced recently to continue. It would become nice at times but more often than not it was four seasons in one day the entire week. That very changeable weather did make for some interesting excursions. Not to worry we as were just mostly looking forward to meeting young Toby Deverson and spending some good time with Rod and Louise as well as the new Sheffield locals, Louis and Sarah.

I had really been looking forward to being able to try some of Rod and Lou's homebrew and we even got them set up with an all grain brewing system and also had time to put on a couple of brews. A pale ale and a very robust stout to get them started. I was very happy to impart to them any and all of my brewing knowledge, Amy did however get annoyed with me as once I get talking beer, its hard to stop me.

I was very excited to get back out into the Peaks District National Park to show Amy where I had spent a lot of time climbing and biking while living in Sheffield in 2007. Again, we had a good weather affected day out with Lou. We walked round Ladybower Reservoir, stopped for a walk around the cute country town of Castleton and swung by spots like Stanage and Curbar where I used to climb. Everywhere was a fun little adventure with Toby.

Toby, Amy and Thomas
Thomas, Toby and Lou
We enjoyed so much of the week where we could just play and interact with Toby. He is such a bright and well mannered boy and we were so glad to be "His visitors" for the week. He would come in with a "wakey wakey" each morning. I'm pretty sure as well that it was the four of us that did enjoy building his train set potentially even more than he did playing with it afterwards. I just hope by next time I see the wee fella he does forget the few bumps and knocks I may have caused him involving a soccer ball or two. Sorry Toby!

It was fantastic fun spending the time with Rod and Lou. We had some tasty dinners accompanied with some good beers, we visited a restored knife makers workshop from the 1800's, Rod and I mountain biked into the Peaks and we all played lots and lots of evening board games. Annoying to Rod and Lou, Amy and I enjoyed a good amount of 'beginners luck', as they put it. We managed to meet up with Sarah before she went to work two mornings, one day checking out their lovely flat and the other for a walk around town on a surprisingly charming day. We even had a chance to pop into a few stores with her, which Amy was pleased to do. Both Louis and Sarah came over for a dinner prepared by Amy and I, and although everyone else seemed to enjoy the food, Toby did proclaim it was "just a little bit yucky!" Amy's birthday fell over our time in Sheffield so the two of us went out to a nice local Indian restaurant. We went all out with papadams and chutney, onion bajis, some delicious curry and naans, yum. Louise even made Amy the most delicious Guinness chocolate cake, and then made a couple more for us all to enjoy throughout the week too. 

Toby and Amy
The day before we headed off to London we jumped over to Manchester with Rod, Lou and Toby to visit Louise's brother and family. Lou's parents had also come so it was great to catch up with everyone with a good English/Welsh BBQ. The only thing that was missing though, was the rain. Lou's nephews enjoyed playing a bit of backyard badminton and football with Amy and I. It does seem we didn't have our cameras in hand all that often though, with no photos of Rod or the five of us all together. Plenty of good memories though.