Friday, April 24, 2009

Big City Weekend

Last weekend I went to the big city. Well, "big" for this part of the world at least. With a population of around 130,000, I doubt Dunedin would even crack the top ten in the DFW Metroplex, but here it makes it the largest city in the Otago region. I went there to visit two particular Dunedin-ites--Brooke and Aaron. Brooke, a Texas girl, and Aaron, a Kiwi guy, met at a wedding my dad officiated last year between another Texas girl and Kiwi guy. What is it with these Kiwi guys that they think they can just saunter over to Texas and make off with our best girls? ;-)

I had actually first met Brooke and Aaron, I think it was my third week in New Zealand, when they came up to Auckland for a friend's wedding. We had lunch together then went to a preseason rugby match. I really enjoyed my afternoon with them so I was quite looking forward to my weekend visit.

I set off for the three and a half-hour drive after work on Friday afternoon. With daylight-savings now over, the light fails pretty early in the afternoon, so most of the drive was in the dark. Much to my consternation, I discovered that the Chariot's headlights are not tip top, so much of the hilly, windy journey was spent in white-knuckled terror. Okay, so not really "terror," but there were a few spots that were of more than just a little concern. But ultimately we came through unscathed and I arrived at their apartment at a little past 9:00pm. I was greeted with a hearty handshake (from Aaron), a nice hug (from Brooke), a cold beer, and what turned out to be music to my ears--Brooke's Texas accent. As much as I enjoy the lilting Kiwi accent, I hadn't realized how much I miss hearing a good ol' familiar Texas drawl. I was also greeted with an unexpected little boost to the self esteem. The first time I met Brooke and Aaron was during the height of my quest for Auckland's best gelato, and was before seven weeks of good, hard, manual labor at the vineyard. Since then I've lost close to twenty pounds, and I have to tell you, when Brooke asked what happened to the rest of me, I couldn't help but smile.

With our Steinlagers drained, we moseyed down to The Octagon--an area of town with several restaurants, cafes, and bars--to check out the goings on of the Friday-night scene. We bar-hopped to three or four different joints, all of which were playing Kings of Leon over their sound systems. The Kings of Leon are huge over here. They had a concert up in Christchurch three weeks ago that I unsuccessfully tried to get a ticket to. Apparently the tickets sold out the first week they went on sale--last November!

Around midnight, our rumbling bellies led us to The Dragon Cafe for some late-night deep-fried sweet and sour pork (and chips). There was a table of about ten people sitting near us and Aaron knew a few (if not all) of them. Over the course of the weekend I came to realize that Brooke's nickname for Aaron, "The Mayor of Dunedin," is quite apt. Everywhere we went, it seemed Aaron knew everyone there.

On Saturday Brooke had to work until 3:00pm, so I cruised with Aaron down to the Saturday-morning Farmer's Market (the largest in New Zealand, I believe). Aaron owns a fish-supply business and has a stand at the market. Oh, and he also knows everybody there--did I mention he is the "Mayor" of Dunedin? Next we were off for a tour of his factory. Didn't care much for he smell--even though it was closed on Saturday and no fish were being processed at the moment--but it was quite an impressive facility. He has contracts with about a dozen boats that fish for his operation, and he told me if I came back in July or August, he could probably get me out on one of them for a day's worth of crayfish (lobster) fishing. You can bet that I'll take him up on it!

After the tour, we headed down to Port Chalmers where he plays rugby with the Harbour Rugby Football Club. While he was getting ready for his match I took the opportunity to explore this charming little port community. I hiked to the lookout point over the bay where I discovered a fantastic little sculpture garden and a commanding view of the harbour. After admiring the outstanding pieces of art, I just sat down for about a half an hour to observe the operations of the port below from my eagle's-nest-like vantage point. It's quite a fascinating sight to see one of those huge container ships being unloaded no more than 150ft away. I knew Aaron's game was about to get underway to I strolled back towards the playing field, stopping into a corner store for a Bundaberg's Lemon Lime and Bitters soda on the way. It's my favorite New Zealand soda. Followed closely by Bundaberg's Ginger Beer then Bundaberg's Sarsaparilla. Basically, I'm a big fan of anything made by Bundaberg's. With my Lemon Lime and Bitters in hand I cheered on Harbour as they cruised to a lopsided thirty to nil victory over I forget who. After Aaron had showered up from his match, we bought a couple jugs of Speight's and stayed to watch Harbour's premiere team play against I forget who's premiere team. The "Premes" didn't fare as well as Aaron's team and ended up losing to I forget who. But, I don't know that it matters because, win or lose, both sides end up afterwards in the clubhouse to drink beers together anyways. I have to tell you, of all the experiences I've had thus far in New Zealand, I don't know that I've had one more "absolutely Kiwi" as drinking jugs of beer in a Rugby Football Club's clubhouse with two opposing teams that just finished beating the hell out of each other for 80 minutes. It was fantastic!

We met back up with Brooke, now off work, and went and had Turkish food for dinner. I don't know if the number of Turkish restaurants in Dunedin constitute an inordinate amount (Neil), but I have learned that Kiwis like kebabs! We stayed in to watch a movie that night, and I think all three of us fell asleep halfway through "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Weeooweeoooo, woaw, woaw, woaw.

Sunday morning, Aaron tells me that we're going for a "wee walk" before breakfast. What he fails to mention is that by "wee walk" he means we're going to scale a mountain! Alright, so it wasn't really a mountain, but The Pineapple Track traverses some rather large, steep hills. Aaron just strolls along like it's nothing. He looks back every so often toward Brooke and me, breathlessly trying to keep up, and tauntingly asks "No hills in Texas?" I certainly don't remember any on the Katy Trail. Our planned after-walk breakfast morphed into a light snack as we were heading to a friend's barbeque soon. At every New Zealand barbeque I've been to, it seems the rule is to cook enough food to feed twice the number of those in attendance. This one was no exception. That's no complaint, mind you. Just an observation.

With our bellies full and the day getting late, we said our goodbyes to their friends and headed back to their apartment so I could gather my things and get on the road back to Wanaka. We took one small detour on the way, to drive up, then back down, Baldwin Street--the Guinness Book of World Records record holder as the steepest street in the world! It was pretty cool.

I thoroughly enjoyed my big city weekend, and my hosts were positively top-notch! I'm greatly looking forward to visiting them again. I just need to get used to climbing mountains before I agree to any more of Aaron's "wee walks."


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Naseby Camping Trip (Continued)

Easter Sunday morning. I was awakened by the the most glorious sunrise you ever saw, set to the soundtrack of the warbling sing-song call and response of several local magpies. After everyone had been equally roused from their slumber, David gave us the skinny on the best rabbit hunting area on his land and a complete gun-safety lecture. Having a bee bee stuck in my nose for the past 19 years from when my friend shot me in the face with his bee bee gun, gun safety is something I take very seriously, so his lecture was most appreciated. Having been thoroughly briefed on the workings of the safety switch and what not, we were off to shoot some bunnies. I mean, could there be a better Easter morning activity than bunny shooting? As it turns out, the local rabbit population had little to fear from our lot. Dead-eyes we certainly are not. Still, it was fun to pop off a couple of rounds, even if they had little chance of hitting our intended targets. Next time, you silly rabbits! By the time we made it back to camp, David had a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, venison sausage, bacon, toast, and of course, some of that marvelous chutney from the day before, waiting for us. Ummmm, chutney!

Sufficiently sated (read stuffed), we were in no particular hurry to get out and about any time soon, so we spent the next couple of hours just lounging about camp, reading and talking. When our breakfast comas finally subsided--well after lunch time--we went for a nice walk down in the Black Forest. Passed a spectacular-looking swimming hole that we would have been more than keen to strip down to our skivvies and jump in were it only a wee bit warmer than it was. After about three hours trekking through the woods, we were decidedly hungry again (we had forgone any type of lunch, having had such a big breakfast) so we went back to David's house to check on the roast mutton he had put in the oven first thing that morning. Ummmm, mutton! It was fall-off-the-bone tender, and went very well with our roast potatoes, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Yes, Brussels sprouts. What? They're good. We roasted marshmallows for dessert, and good times were had by all. It was another good day.

Once again, on Monday morning, we were serenaded at the dawning of the day by our magpie friends. After a not so hearty a breakfast as the day before (there was still some chutney to go on our toast though), we went for a little drive through Danesby's Pass and St. Bathans (both old mining towns built during the great gold rush in the 1860s). David owns a little piece of land in St. Bathans where he recently felled a huge pine tree. With winter looming, the gathering of fire wood was of pressing concern, so David asked if we wouldn't mind helping him cut up his downed tree into fireplace-appropriate size chunks. We didn't mind in the least, because it meant learning how to use his chainsaws--following the requisite safety lecture of course. Chainsaws are fun, I have to admit; and I'm happy to report that I still have all my fingers and toes.

With the firewood cut and split, it was getting late, and we Wanakans needed to start heading home, so we said our goodbyes to our dear friend David and set off, back through the Kingdom of Rohan, toward our little berg? burg? burgh? (I still don't know). It was a fantastic weekend filled with good food, great friends, and gorgeous scenery--all well above worry level.

I'm looking forward to my next visit to David's little piece of paradise.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Naseby Camping Trip

Last weekend three of my coworkers and I went camping at our friend (and former coworker) David's little piece of paradise. I've talked about David before in a previous post. He was the know-it-all, one-upper from my first week of work. As it turns out, he toned down the 'know-it-all'ness considerably the following week and quickly became one of my very favorite persons. David worked at Rippon for a total of two weeks, no out of necessity (he's actually quite well-off) like the other temporary workers, but simply for an experience. When he left, he extended an open invitation to everyone on the crew to come and camp on his seventy acres in Naseby anytime we wanted. With Monday off (the Monday after Easter is a national holiday off work) Amy, Shannon, Simon, and I decided it was the perfect time to take him up on his offer.

So, on Saturday morning, we loaded up the Chariot with our tents, sleeping bags, bedrolls, cook stoves, fishing poles, frisbees, camping dishes, a supply of food (complete with marshmallows), a case of beer, and a couple bottles of vino and off we went. It was about a three hour drive, much of it through what Lord of the Rings fans know as the Kingdom of Rohan--gentle rolling golden fields peppered with thosands of gnarly craggy rock formations. I half expected to run headlong into Prince Eomir and his Rohirim around every bend in the road.

Upon arrival in Naseby, "2000 ft above worry level," as proclaimed by their welcome sign, we stopped in at David's house. He was busy in the kitchen cutting up all manner of vegetables for the stew he was making for our dinner. A half hour later, with the stew set to simmer, we were off, but not to our camping spot just yet. Nope. We headed down to the local pub for quite a special treat. Over Easter weekend, the population of Naseby virtually quadruples
(from it's regular 180) for the annual "Bards, Ballads, and Bullshit" festival--three days of folk music, poetry readings, and tall tale telling. We grabbed a few jugs of lager and settled into a cozy little booth and proceeded to enjoy a couple of bards, a few balladeers, and one very amusing bullshitter--the cutest little old man you ever did see (looked to be about 90 and with a big, red, bulbous nose indicitive of a lifetime spent keeping the pub in business) regaled the audience with a story, he says was relayed to him many many moons ago by a farmer from Marfa, Texas, about a duck who goes into the grocery store to inquire of the shopkeeper as to the availabilty of duck food. Maybe you've heard it. I admit, I had before. But never have I enjoyed the telling of what is actually a rather lame joke so much. The excitement in this little fellows voice as he built ever so slowly to the punchline--with the entire audience, I'm sure, having figured out where he was going long ago and parked there patiently waiting only for our dedicated story teller to finally arrive--was of such unbridled enthusiasm you could have lit up a Times Square billboard with it.

With our jugs empty and the marathon duck joke finally told, we decided to go set up camp. David's little slice of heaven sits on a hilltop overlooking a dense pine forest, with a snowcapped mountain range providing a most majestic backdrop. From a small shed, David pulled out the most comfortable camping chairs there ever were--a mix and match collection of living room chairs procured from various garage sales over the years--and arranged them around the waiting firepit. We spent a few minutes collecting kindling and firewood and in no time Shannon had u a nice little blaze going. David ran back home to collect the stew, while Shannon threw the venison sausages on the grill. After a delectible dinner, it was marshmallow roasting time! Too bad we didn't think to buy graham crakers and chocolate bars prior to departure.

We sat and talked and laughed and drank wine for a couple more hours then decided to turn in. While we all packed tents, they never even made it out of the car. We spread out our bedrolls and slept right there on the gound under that biggest tent of them all--the star-filled night sky. It was a good day.

Speaking of turning in, I'm tired and I want to go to bed. So it looks like this will be an installment piece. Stay tuned for Naseby Camping Trip Part II coming soon.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kiwi speak

I've done a couple of posts now on the subtle differences between the American and Kiwi versions of our common mother tongue. Today, I'm going to talk briefly about one particular similarity. There's one word used quite extensively here that I'm already well acquainted with. That being "reckon." And, I reckon anyone with family from west Texas is equally as familiar with it. It's one of my favorite words, and I can't help but smile when I hear it--especially when it's spoken by an older gentleman. Because, you see, of every word in the English language, there is no other that I associate with my late Granddaddy more than reckon. I reckon he'd have gotten on famously with the kindly Kiwis.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wonderful Wanaka Weekend

This last weekend was my best yet in Wanaka.

Thursday: went to Cuzy Corner for a Brewski after work with my coworker Shannon. While there, one of her flatmates, Mark, and another of her friends, Jen, dropped by. One Brewski turned into two, and two turned into three. Then our rumbling bellies convinced us that an impromptu barbecue back at their flat would be aces. I rolled with Shannon to the grocery store for the necessary supplies; Jen ran to her house to make a couple side dishes; and Mark went straight home by way of the beer store. At Shannon's I met another of her flatmates, Dean, and another of her friends, Simon. While the burgers were grillin, the conversation somehow turned to geographic trivia, with Simon playing the role of quizmaster. He was sufficiently impressed by my ability to name six of the seven "stans": Paki-, Afghani-, Turkmeni-, Khazakh-, Uzbeki-, and Tajiki-. Only Kyrgyz- eluded me. But the icing on the cake was when he asked me if I knew the only world capital that starts with the letter "U." When, without a moments hesitation, I answered Ulan Bator, Mongolia, Simon burst out of his seat, ran over to shake my hand, and told me I now had a friend for life. Shannon asked him why he was so impressed that I knew that, and Simon replied, "Who wants to hang out with stupid people? I don't." I liked Simon, instantly. The rest of the evening was filled with yummy food, cold beer, great company, and lively conversation.

Friday: After a shower and a quick bite to eat after work, I cruised down to Woody's to meet up with Shannon, Simon, Dean, and Mark to watch the evening's Super 14 matches. Mark is the manager there. It's never a bad thing to be friends with a bar manager, is it? I'm not saying they were, because how would I know?, but it might have been possible that our drinks were just a wee bit cheaper than the other patrons'. We ended up closing the place down. Thankfully, I live within walking (read, stumbling) distance from the bar. I crawled into bed around 2:45am.

Saturday: Didn't leave the house. Was a slug all day. See Friday night's activities for possible cause.

Sunday: Given my previous day's sloth, I wanted to get out and do something active. I recruited Shannon and we hiked up Mt. Iron--a good little hill nearby with some commanding views of the town and the lake. It's only a 1hr hike to the top from my front door. I had done it once before a couple weeks ago, but I had forgotten my camera that time and I wanted to get some pics. Shannon was a sport to accompany me. It was a great hike. The skies were clear, there was a nice cool breeze blowing, and I got the pictures I wanted. When we made it back down, she invited me to come back over to her house a little later for dinner and game night. I arrived to find the night's game of choice was none other than Monopoly. Sweet as! Don't these silly Kiwis know that real estate empires are where Americans shine? And shine I did. My new little group of friends are quite the competitive lot, even when just playing Monopoly. You should have seen the absolute creativity involved in some of the deals being done. I stuck to my tried and true strategy of doing whatever I could to acquire and develop the three red properties. I'm telling you, if you own those, you're golden. My strategy proved to be a winning one, as my trusty reds bled each of my opponents, one by one, to insolvency! It was a great night. Oh, and dinner was yummy too.

I met some fun people, drank more than my fair share of cold tasty beverages, ate lots of yummy delicious food, hiked a mountain--in name at least (Mt. Iron), impressed a few folks with my knowledge of the globe, and kicked some ass in Monopoly! It really was a fantastic weekend!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just Foolin'

No, unfortunately there will be no Antarctic adventure for me. I just couldn't resist having a bit of April Fool's fun with my last entry.

Being so far south, New Zealand is in fact the jumping off point for almost all personnel and equipment bound for McMurdo and other Antarctic stations; and I did actually look into what it takes to get there in a support personnel capacity. For Americans, all personnel are hired through Raytheon Corp., the contractor for the McMurdo Station support functions, and all hiring is done back in the states at various Raytheon job fairs. It turns out there's no shortage whatsoever of willing applicants, with even PhD's willing to scrub toilets for their ticket to the south pole. And as for the Kiwis, they only hire New Zealand citizens or residents, of which I am neither. So, for the time being, my Antarctic dreams are quite assuredly on hold.

Additionally, there is no such person as Ty Webb, except of course in the movie Caddyshack, as played by the then incomparable Chevy Chase. Good on ya, Jason, for picking up on that! And I knew I certainly wouldn't fool my friend Brandon with that moniker...again. ;-)

I hope everyone had a fun-filled April Fool's Day (I know I did) and didn't get suckered into believing too many tall tales.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March of the Penguins

When I was back in Auckland staying at Andrew's house I met a gentleman named Ty Webb who is the Assistant Director of Station Operations for the New Zealand portion of the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. Mr. Webb is a friend of Andrew's and he was in town for a few days and dropped by for dinner one night. I made an offhand comment to him about how much I'd love to go to Antarctica and would be willing to do anything, including cleaning toilets, if it meant I could go to McMurdo.

Well, I must have made an impression on Mr. Webb during dinner because two days ago he called Andrew looking for my number. It seems one of the guys they had lined up to be a cook in the research station's cafeteria for the winter season backed out of the deal. Andrew gave Mr. Webb my number and he called me yesterday offering me the open cook position.

The job lasts for three months, and would be during the antarctic winter, so that means I wouldn't see the sun the entire time I'd be there. As much as I love New Zealand and my job at the vineyard, I decided I'd have to be a fool to pass up on this once in a lifetime opportunity. So I accepted. I leave on May 1st, exactly one month from today's date.

Next stop: Antarctica. I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or keep a thought in my head.