Friday, November 20, 2015

I think this whole town is high...

Phil, Amy, Thomas and Keona 10,400 feet up
It is unquestionable that when living in Colorado in 2012/2013 we had the time of our lives. Since we left all those years ago, we have always longed to return. With our friend Phil now living in the true mountain town of Breckenridge, that's where we headed on Halloween night with a $19 flight from Milwaukee. We knew it was going to be a challenge trying to set up life out here, as we knew all too well that housing is a real issue at the beginning of the ski season. We started out planning and researching early and had some leads. Jobs were plentiful, as the ski season was weeks away. However, to find a place to rest our wary heads was neigh on impossible. We stretched our invitation to crash on Phil's couch for as long as was comfortably possible but in the end, our winter season was to be spent elsewhere. However we did get a great long week in the High Rockies, with a great mate. 

In between job interviews and looking at houses, we got out on a few small hikes and immediately we knew we were back at elevation. With two dogs in tow, Phil led us up Mt. Royal from the town of Frisco. What a remarkable welcome back to the mountains. With perfectly clear and crisp blue skies, we were surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks, lightly snow capped, suggesting the imminence of winter to come. The deep breaths were worth it for the chance to do some clifftop AcroYoga. We stopped in at the Backcountry Brewery for a well rewarded pint afterwards. 
Surprise snow storm in Beaver Creek
With the weather still acting like late summer, we were able to really stretch our legs about town. We would skate and ride bikes from Phil's mountain side log cabin into town for a beer at Breckenridge Brewery, grab some food for dinner or swing by the bottle shop to make sure we kept well lubricated. All accessible by the cycle path along the creek running into town. We we spent two Mondays at the potluck dinner the locals organize at Broken Compass Brewery, and once even slaved over making Amy's family's Greek Pastitsio dish with hopes with winning a prize. No such luck, but we filled our bellies with a plethora of incredible food that ranged from all genres and cultures. Caught out by the changeable autumn weather, after being parked up in a downstairs bar for a few hours our stunning sunny day turned into a a snow covered evening. The journey home was slippery but a memorable, laughter filled adventure. We spent another day driving over the Vail Pass back to our old home in Avon and our beloved ski field Beaver Creek. The area was eerily deserted, but we walked around reminiscing and stopped in to have a few tasters at the newly opened Vail Brewing Co. We sipped our beers while the smells from the marijuana dispensary next door wafted in and snow fell soundlessly outside. 

So the scenery had taken a dramatic change that is nothing short of magical. Witnessing a scene change in such peaceful serenity in such a soft and quiet manner is what really captures us, time and time again. What it made for us also was some awesome scenery to venture through while we had a rental car for a few days. With our temporary transportation being the iconic Suburban, we accidentally entered the interstate headed east only to realize that we just got on at the last exit for 21 miles. So we made the adventure under the continental divide through the Eisenhower Tunnel and then back again, although we had only intended to just go down the road. We eventually made it to the summit of Loveland Pass, and the continential divide. Life is pretty epic from up that high, just walking a hundred metres to the viewing platform at 12,000 ft is a real effort. Over the next couple of days we made a nice trip around the back roads of Summit County. After swapping out the Suburban to something more appropriate, we made it just over the back of Breckenridge to the true area of South Park, where we rummaged through an antique store in Leadville and drive on roads that just twisted around and hung off the cliffs of these mountains we so dearly love. The recent snow fall tested my driving with bare road surfaces on the southern slopes and packed and icy surfaces on the north. Slow and steady I got us there, to Hot Sulfur Springs, where the appropriately named town had just that. We soaked our souls, and got dusted with a perfect evening snow shower.

Turing into winter

With the ski field gates still closed, we had to find ourselves another "ski lift" to get some runs on all that fresh snow. Taking advantage of friendly locals who offer lifts, and baked goods, in spare seats or the backs of their trucks, we lapped a section of glades from the summit of Loveland Pass down to a lower section of road. This behavior epitomizes the spirit of Colorado, away from the stereotype, there is more than one way to get high in the Rockies.

Getting "high" in the Rockies

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Land of Big Sand Dunes - Michigan

Thomas with Lake Michigan 450 ft below
We boosted off from Milwaukee with a rental car for three days for an unexpected gem of our travels. We hadn’t really planned on visiting Michigan and therefore didn’t really know what to expect. But it turned out to be an amazing three days. It was lot of driving, but with some more remarkable American scenery along the way. 

Stunning late autumn foliage and winding local roads.
We set off south on our circumnavigation of Lake Michigan off past Chicago and at some point in Indiana, in a not so sharp looking area, we decided we needed McDonald's. We pulled off the highway and got some 99c cheeseburgers. While we sat and ate, I slowly realized we were the only white people about. Just then, Amy looks at me about to talk, and I say, “don’t say it”. Once back in the car she confirms what she was about to comment. Later, Matt and Sarah claimed that we were in one of the the most dodgy areas possible. It definitely was a tad rough looking, but we had no problems. From there on it was open roads, stunning scenery and we were back among the majority.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore- its a long way down.
Heading north along the Eastern Michigan Coast, tagged the 'third coast' of America, we got off the interstate and drove on beautiful snaking roads through the stunning late autumn foliage. Making a few stops in quaint historic summer vacation villages of Saugatuck and Muskegon along with others and turning off onto the scenic route 22. The weather was a bit rough but it really highlighted the awesome ruggedness and exposure of the wild coastline, a character I love in a true landscape. The wind was howling and waves were pounding. We constantly were forgetting that this was only a lake, but even so, I would have done anything to have had my windsurfer.

We made it that night to Grand Rapids and stayed with Sarah’s mum. We jetted right into town to check out the very reputable Founders Brewery, and I was blown away with how big and shiny it was. It took up a complete block with a purpose built craft beer factory. We grabbed a bite to eat and had a couple of beers in their enormous tasting room. I was particularly stoked with the array of nitro beers. We couldn't resist ordering their famous dip and were in cheese and beer heaven the rest of the night.
A long undulating climb across the dunes
Historic fishing village
Along the whole East Coast of Lake Michigan are sand dunes. The winds tend to blow westerly so over time they have blown all the sand from the now cliffy/rocky Wisconsin side gathering in some absolutely enormous formations here on the Michigan side. You might have thought you were in rolling hills but they are just old dunes that extend a long way inland. Then, in some places, the dunes just drop right into the lake. The dramatic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was like a Martian landscape and a joyful place to explore. A long dune walk led us over the endless false peaks finally making it to the calm crystal clear morning Lake Michigan.

Art's Tavern

We camped for the night at the National Park, with some basic borrowed camping gear and stayed remarkably warm for the weather. That night we enjoyed some tasty local beer and classic American burgers from Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor. A must do recommendation by Sarah in the sleepy off season lakeside town.

Our drive further north over the Mackinac Bridge to the Northern Peninsula was stunning and remote. It was such a pleasure just to pass through this place. With a lot of ground to cover, we didn’t stop much, but just seeing the landscape change as we passed by was great. The drive was very long and we only got back into Milwaukee around 10pm traveling over 1100 miles in the three days. But we can now confirm what they say is true, this state is rugged and dramatic and it sure does live up to its nickname of "Pure Michigan."

Thomas and Amy at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hellooooo Wisconsin

Milwaukee over looking Lake Michigan
Leaving Hawaii was a bit of a bummer, however we were headed to Milwaukee to attend our good friends Matt and Sarah's wedding. These two had met only a few years earlier in a slightly arranged manor. Sarah and Amy met in New Zealand when they were both there studying. They became good friends and have stayed in touch and if you've followed our blog for awhile, you'll remember Sarah came to visit us in CT in 2012 and then again came to visit us out in Colorado in 2013. Low and behold, while she was visiting, she and my mate Matt hit it off like a house on fire. Now due to our involvement in their coming together, we were treated like we were celebrities, getting multiple mentions in wedding day speeches, one even requiring us to stand as everyone toasted to us! Throughout the night we kept being thanked by everyone for introducing them, and Amy even got cornered in the bathroom by a gaggle of girls.

Amy, Thomas, Matt and Sarah
Their wedding was a very well put together affair. With the ceremony at a local church followed by an impressive reception at Turner Hall, a historic Milwaukee venue. The grand building has been some what restored to a structural level however the design and decorations have been left as original. Flaking paint, cracks in the walls and wonky floors, the place had so much charm and character. Cupcakes and pretzels caped off the reception, before the party headed of to a local bar. 

The Milwaukee skyline, on a very windy day.
We had nowhere to go and nowhere to be, so we sort of house and cat sat for Matt and Sarah while they honeymooned. We took full advantage of the situation we found ourselves in. We biked everyday on the city's lakeside paths, played Frisbee golf, practiced AcroYoga and explored the expansive but sleepy historic city. Our usual nights entertainment was finding ourselves immersed in the rich beer heritage, new and old that the city is know for. Lakefront Brewery, MKE Brewery, Water Street Brewpub and the giant MillerCoors. Along with the breweries there in the city, there were also countless establishments serving the regions finest ales and some more of those giant pretzels. There was a definitive Germanic atmosphere to the region, with the Germans being the predominant settlers back in the day. 

Where beers come by the pair and the pretzels are pizza sized. 
One interesting outing we had with Sedge, Matt and Sarah's flatmate, involved a pub crawl with the Pedal Tavern- a large 12 person, pedal powered bar. BYO and legal to drink while aboard, with a sober driver manning the steering wheel, we pedaled in the rain to multiple bars. It was a tad bit bizarre, but great fun, sorry to all the traffic we held up, though. And those infamous Milwaukee cheese curds, I had to mention them somewhere, yummy, we had a good few!


With Matt and Sarah back in town a week later, we were back on the couches, but their lovely cat Arthur kept us company. Their honeymoon was over, but we were still on holiday. We continued to enjoy the fine autumn weather, and particularly the use of their indoor swimming pool and spa. Beers and catching up in the evenings, it was good to spend some time with old friends after the madness of their wedding was over. In the end, I told Amy she was right. Two of our best friends got married to each other. How could we have missed that? 

Back on the road again.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Aloha Hawai'i

Sunset at Waikiki Beach

A stopover in Hawai'i on the way back to mainland America, yeah why not? In reality for me, I was hoping it was going to be the first and last flight to America. Ever since we started the visa process, I have said to everyone that we are moving to Hawai'i. My visa got accepted and straight away we booked our flights there, with no further connections. I wanted to make our way to the windsurfing mecca of Maui and never leave. Well, I couldn't quite twist Amy's arm for right now, so we did end up booking connections on, however it is still firmly a goal of ours to one day make the Hawaiian life happen!

Haleiwa Beach, the real Hawai'i
Our time on the Island of Oahu was not your standard resort vacation, but are ours ever? We were staying with Amy's mum's goddaughter Corinne, her husband Brett, who is an officer second in charge of a submarine, and their two adorable daughters Veronica and Cecilia on the Naval base Ford Island at Pearl Harbor. There they lived in modern 1950s style housing set out in an odd fashion which ensured the 'historic concrete', runways etc. containing bullet holes from the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, was not built upon. We had special access passes and had free range of the whole island which is restricted to tourists. We could wander to the Aviation Museum and the memorials of the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri. The complete center of the island was open and set aside, the site of the runway strip creating such an open and sun-baked walk when heading anywhere. Here we enjoyed their company with family outings, dinners, nighttime walks and even a board game or two. The girls quickly warmed to us, referring to me as "Thomas the Train" and wanting Amy to teach them to play the ukulele. 

Historic concrete

Besides the pink eye that I somehow obtained during the 8 hour plane ride from Auckland, we had a fantastic time with the family. They packed in activities for us. One day we were taken to a private military beach and got a good vibe of the good life that those posted there would have. Corinne and I got out with some surfboards while Amy and the girls had fun in the waves and sand. On another family outing, we were brought to the Hanauma Nature Preserve where there was some great snorkeling to be had and a mandatory video upon entrance, encouraging safe practice on the reef. A bit bizarre, but doing what they can to help the fragile ecosystem and probably protecting themselves from a lawsuit, too. This cove was absolutely stunning. The water everywhere on the island was crystal clear as you would expect, so mild and doused in swell. There were little fish darting around everywhere you looked. 

Hanauma Nature Preserve
While the girls were at school and the parents at work during the week, we managed to get out on our own a bit. We were a little disappointed with our day trip into Waikiki Beach which started with a bus ride in from the naval base. We passed through overdeveloped neighborhoods with strip malls, poverty, urban degradation and multi-lane highways that the great American legacy has left on the southern part of the Island of Oahu. It was disappointing to say the least. Once we were on the promenade in Waikiki, there was more of an image of wealth and tourism. To top it all off, we weren't even impressed with the Waikiki Brewpub. But one can still understand the draw for many. With 30+ story hotels right on the beach, shopping to the hearts content, all the good fast food and oh yeah that crystal clear Pacific Ocean is still right there, not much sand to sit on though.  

Looks miserable, right?
My favourite little adventure of our time in Hawai'i was a refreshing day trip to the North Shore. Despite suffering an arduous multi-hour bus journey with transfers to make the seemingly short trip over the mountain, it was paradise. As soon as we stepped off the bus in Haleiwa, it was obvious we had arrived in true Hawai'i. A few friendly locals struck up a conversation with us as we were getting lunch from a food truck and invited us to eat with them nearby in the gardens of an eco-sanctuary that they manage. They were such warm company and so happy to have us as their guests. Afterwards, one of them insisted that she drive us across town so we could get a couple of Maui Brewing Company beers and walk back through the quaint town, ending at the beach and the bus stop.  We did that, also grabbing some famous Matsumoto Shaved Ice along the way. It is well worth the hype. We camped ourselves down on the beach for the afternoon enjoying the surfers and having a beer, which this time, DID impress us. Very much so.

The girls had a particularly hard time saying goodbye to us the next morning, as did we. Although we wish we had more time to explore the islands properly, we are thankful that we got to catch up with Corinne and her family. It was just a quick taste of Hawai'i and we are ready to head back there soon. For now, we'll take the pink eye medication and our tans on to the mainland, where the adventures continue. 

North Shore Paradise

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The End of NZ

Kaikoura - Pure NZ
There was a fast paced change coming for us, our little life in Christchurch was coming to an end. We had been working toward getting my green card for America for the whole year and all of a sudden it was all finalized. Amy's New Zealand visa was expiring in 10 days, our friend's Matt and Sarah were getting married in 16 days in Wisconsin and I had a little adventure up to the U.S Consulate in Auckland and just like that, I had a permanent resident's visa for America. We booked flights and set upon packing our bags. 

It was obviously quite the relief to get the big 'yes' from the Americans. We were growing very tired of the process and at the time it was looking like there was the possibility that I may not have been accepted. My trip to Auckland was smooth accept for one little mess up I made with my hostel booking. On arrival at the YHA I didn't have a booking for that night and they were full! I had booked my bed for a few weeks later somehow! So along with a German fresh off the plane, we walked across the CBD and found alternate accommodations. It was quite the introduction for the young man walking down Queen Street at midnight, there were a few creatures out for sure.
Hole 13 of disc golf.
We definitely kept busy those last days. I invited people over every night, not that I didn't normally do that anyway. We had beer to drink and things to catch up on, and goodbyes to say because unfortunately we likely won't see many of these friends for some time. We enjoyed a few final Crazy Mountain Nitro Rye's at the new Dux Central as well as a pint at our other favourite bars and breweries. Finishing up at work was very sad for both of us. We had truly become members of the 'whanau' at our places of employment. We had a nice dinner out with my boss Paul at Cookin' with Gas and Amy got thrown a 'Red, White and Blue' America themed going away party at the preschool and a bit of a bigger extravaganza out on the town with workmates from the restaurant. She had also recently won the first inaugural staff member of the week at Mexico, with an embarrassing photo framed by the door and all. 

We had gone a bit rugby crazy the last while in NZ. We had the world cup starting soon, so I made sure we went to a local game before the RWC kicked off and we got rugby fatigue, but you can be sure that that never happened. As it turned out I also got given some more Canterbury tickets and we went to another game right in the middle of the RWC. On that day I believe I woke up watched a couple of delayed games on TV, we went to the live game and then watched another one or two games that evening. RUGBY!!

We had been practicing AcroYoga for a few months and with good weather about, we practiced in the garden, experimenting on any friends that were willing to try it out. One obliging person was our good friend Henric from Sweden who made himself at home on our couch on and off for a few weeks. He was a fast learner! Knowing that I would not see a crappy fish n chips establishment in some time, I really lived off shark and potatoes for my last days. But plenty of frisbee golf and cycling kept me in balance, not sure what offset the beer though. A trip up to Kaikoura was the icing on the cake to our end of our year in New Zealand. It is depressing to think that in over a year we nearly hadn't even made it there. A place we both truly love, where the mountains meet the ocean and the empty beaches are raw but breathtaking. Being able to dip my toes into the freezing turquoise ocean after a day of selling the finest alcoholic beverages to a willing audience at the 'Kaikoura Seafest' was a perfect sendoff. Until next time NZ, ka kite ano, we will see you again.

Thomas and Paul proprieting. More like, 'give me your glass and I'll fill it quick.'

Monday, October 5, 2015

Crazy Mountain Rye Pale Ale

Thomas' creation, Thomas' design, Thomas' baby 

The best part about working at Wigram Brewing Company was the true opportunity I have had to play a large role in how the company takes direction over the near future. I found myself as the third in charge, as there is only three of us. The learning I experienced goes far beyond just brewing practices. I took over a part time sales role and had established several new customers, aiming more for the younger hip bar scene, where Paul the owner has successfully utilised my endless passion for craft beer. I have established a presence in social media and have pushed the idea of creating a new vibe for the business.

Sparging Crazy Mountain Rye in the Mash Tun.

My main driver to create this buzz was getting some new beer in the line up. Paul was easily convinced over my Rye Pale Ale and I brewed a 600L batch of it to be released at the Great Kiwi Beer Festival in March. I also wanted to test the grounds at dispensing the beer via nitrogen rather than the traditional carbon dioxide. We did this at the beer fest despite it pouring a tad foamy. Fair try for the first attempt. 

From Avenues Magazine, Thomas pouring the first Crazy Mountain Rye

Now we have installed a Nitro beer tap at our favorite beer bar, the Volstead Trading Co. on Riccarton Road and the first beer to be dispensed was our Crazy Mountain Rye. This was received with much excitement, as it's the first Nitro tap dispensing craft beer in Christchurch. Having already established a solid following since being dispensed on the traditional hand pump, it's quite amazing that the one beer served on the three different formats: CO2, Nitro and hand pump shines in each it's unique ways. I will drink any of them any day, everyday!

One of my arty Facebook posts, kegs loads of Crazy Mountain Rye.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The last tramp to Casey's Hut

Thomas, Amy and Josiah 
The ski season had just finished up so we figured it was time to check out a couple of the mountains on the opposite side of the road. So we jumped in the Barina with our flatmate Josiah and made the drive into the mountains. We departed Highway 73 and headed across the Waimakariri River on a rickety looking, but reliable bridge over to Mt White Station. We spotted the Trail head area, so we parked up, sorted our gear and headed in what we thought was the right direction. 

Unfortunately, we were so engrossed in what must have been a very good discussion and missed the actual trail head and jumped head long into the bush up the creek bed. We were suspicious that we may have been not quite where we were meant to be, but pushed on criss-crossing the steam, getting into denser and denser forest, up steeper and steeper terrain. Thinking we might need to redirect, we decided to scramble to a ridge line and get a better view and work out where we were on the map. Yup, we were not where we should have been, so keeping up a confident front for Amy's sake, we forged a new path through the idyllic but thick beach forest and we just all of a sudden popped out on the trail. Don't ask me how, but it was lucky, as a hundred meters or so along the trail it took a sharp right and had we been a bit further into the bush, we would never have come across it. All in all, we were only an hour or so off course, no harm done. 

One could say the rest of the tramp was less exciting after that point, however it was stunning. Just being out for a quick weekend trip with perfect tramping weather. We made it over Binser Saddle and and proceeded along the Poulter River to the hut. We met some usual outdoorsy characters and just chilled out in a beautiful place, not bothered too much by just a few sandflies. We did some AcroYoga and got a well deserved nights sleep. 

The last anyone ever saw of the old Casey Hut
The following day, we had another really nice days walk with an early start getting back to the car after crossing Casey's Saddle and passing some beautiful alpine flats, with tarns and streams, along with views off to some larger surrounding mountains, a glacier and some waterfalls. A slightly sad note, that afternoon once retuning to Christchurch, we headed off to play an evening game of frisbee golf, however that was the last drive the Barina would ever make. A deficiency of oil caused some nasty sounding engine failure. Also the following weekend, we learned that Casey Hut burnt to the ground, so it is quite possible that our trip to the hut truly was the 'last tramp' ever. 

The Barina, the finest stallion a couple could ask for.