Monday, December 27, 2010

Celebrating two years in New Zealand

Amongst (that's not a typo - Kiwis say "amongst") all the holidays and merriment, Jake and I have something more to celebrate.

This Tuesday, 28 December, marks our second expataversary. Can't believe it's flown by so quickly! Five years ago I would have thought the idea of moving to New Zealand was ludicrous and unattainable. But thanks to my amazing husband (and his mad accounting skills), it's our reality. Although it sometimes still feels a bit like a dream.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A rematch with the Skyline Track

It's been nearly two years since I shared the story of my solo hiking trip on the Skyline Walkway. I was still fairly new to New Zealand, and still fairly new to hiking to be fair. It was a long, sweaty exhausting day.

I'm proud to say that last week I retraced my steps, in the other direction this time, and it was great! I'm in better shape and my time was much faster. I even giggled a bit as I passed the section in which I got lost the last time.

I still saw some beautiful scenery and friendly farm animals.

For some reason last time I'd chosen the windiest day of the year to go, and when you're walking on the highest ridges that separate the city of Wellington and the South Island (as well as Antarctica), it makes a bit of a difference. This time I enjoyed a surprisingly calm and nicely overcast day.

The view of the South Island (above) wasn't the clearest I'd ever seen from up there, but I think the clouds and weather gave it something of a mystical appearance, like it's not even real.

A bit later I took a shot (above) in the other direction to capture Wellington and the harbour.

The walk took maybe four hours or so. This cow was not the slightest bit concerned when I walked within a few feet of him to pass by on a narrow part of the track.

And my reward at the end of the track was my familiar and beloved lookout platform at the top of Mt. Kaukau. From here it's a downhill walk to the village of Khandallah and a stroll through the neighborhood to our house.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Yanks vs. Routeburn (by Jake)

Last weekend I had an opportunity to sneak out of Wellington with my friend and fellow KPMGer Brett to Queenstown en route to the Routeburn track.

The Routeburn is a one-to-three day walk – and we were perfectly happy with sticking to the three day plan and enjoying our time and the awesome huts along the way. You might recall that Jamie and I have recently completed the Milford track and we have tackled most of some less challenging tracks (Abel Tasman & Queen Charlotte), so I was keen when Brett was wanting to complete the Routeburn.

The weather on the Friday was about as good as it gets for New Zealand, both here and in Queenstown, so it was nice to say goodbye to the office and get out amongst it. It wasn’t long until we got sorted in the lodge and had our hut passes in hand, so the beer was quickly flowing like wine. We were joined in Queenstown by Blake, an American friend of ours that is completing a secondment over in ‘Stralia (Sydney, Australia).

The first day was a little rough at the beginning based upon the volume of beers from the night before. In order to get to the Divide (our starting point) we had arranged a transport to drop us off there and it is a pretty long trip. Once I had determined that I was on solid ground again we were off. Early in the day we had some really amazing views from the Key Summit and a much needed rest as we ditched the bags on the side of the trail for this side trip.

One of the highlights for us was taking an ice cold swim break under one of the falls after taking on some relatively fun up hills. After thirty minutes, my frozen fingers began to take on color again and I was both refreshed and relaxed. Night one was an extra special treat as there was a massive group of high schoolers and their chaperones staying in the other bunk house.

The second day was definitely the most challenging and the first hour was a real treat as we pushed to get ahead of the group and we worked upward towards the Harris Saddle. We were a bit unfortunate in that the clouds limited our views of the other ranges and the side trip by the saddle was closed due to likely death by snow. We made it to the top in one piece, which was a minor miracle as none of us had thought to pack an abundant supply of peanut butter that, as anybody can tell you, is the core ingredient to any successful hike.

There was a huge lake up near the saddle that spit out a river that lead us towards the night two hut that was appropriately named the Routeburn Falls Hut. It had the best view that I have ever had from a DOC hut and we were welcomed in by the coal burning fire in the kitchen to warm and dry our rain soaked stuff / selves.

Blake was off extremely early on the third day to catch his transport and plane, so Brett and I were left to enjoy a less challenging long, slow down hill walk to the end/beginning. The weather was generally nice and it was very scenic with all of the river crossings (these tend to offer some of the best opportunities to capture photos).

Overall, I was really impressed by the Routeburn track. I suppose that I was incorrect in thinking it would be a lot more like the Milford track. It was different, but really nice in its own way and perfect for a nice trip with the guys.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Our mystery weekend revealed: Waiheke Island

Many thanks to the entries we received for our latest (and only) trivia question about the destination of our mystery weekend. Gisborne was an excellent guess, and I'm happy to say Jake was convinced we were heading to Gisborne all the way up until we practically stepped on the plane.

But in fact, our destination was Waiheke Island (why-HEE-kee), a beautiful little spot that's just a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland. We've been here once before for a very quick afternoon, and have always talked about going back for a full weekend.

To get there after work on Friday, we drove our car to the airport, then took a plane, then a bus, then a ferry, then a taxi to finally arrive at our accommodation. All together about five hours of transportation to arrive on the island, which is a popular destination for wealthy Aucklanders. The weather there is certainly much warmer and sunnier than Wellington.

On one day we spent hours lying in the grass near this beach in Oneroa. We lay on a blanket and read books and enjoyed the sunshine. We tried not to stare as one couple made out for about two hours straight. That's them above Jake's shoulder in a rare moment of not making out.

The island has some interesting plants. Not sure what these are but they were so colourful I couldn't resist snapping a photo.

The photo above shows our three favourite New Zealand plants. The tall cabbage trees (we have one outside our window at home), the flax on the right with tall spikey branches, and of course the beloved grape vines. If you ever see any greeting cards or artwork from New Zealand, you're likely to see flax or cabbage trees represented.

The island has several little bays and lots of boats parked in each.

Our goal for the weekend to take it easy and enjoy the sunshine, and we did a pretty good job.

We hired bicycles to pedal around the island and let me tell you -- Waiheke is a bit hillier than Martinborough! To borrow a kiwi phrase, my hammies were burning! But well worth it as we found some amazing views and beaches and wineries.

The two wineries we visited were Mudbrick (above) and Cable Bay (below). The are both perched on a beautiful hillside overlooking the harbour and on to Auckland in the distance.

While we were there, a helicopter landed on the lawn and dropped off some folks for a wine tasting. Still sweating from the bike ride and patting down my helmut hair, I thought that was quite a fancy arrival.

We're so glad we've had a chance to come back and get the full Waiheke weekend experience.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Let's maintain a little mystery, shall we?

Our American friends and family will be gathering around large plates of turkey and stuffing this Thursday in celebration of Thanksgiving. I'm giving thanks in my own way this year.

I'm thankful for my hard-working husband, and I've decided to take him on a mystery weekend away. He has no idea where we're going - only that we'll be in New Zealand and that our flight leaves on Friday afternoon.

Check in next week when we have the big reveal, and we'll see if I was really able to keep it a mystery or if he figured out our destination ahead of time.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another post about wine

Weather's warming up, winds are dying down and the sun is coming out. It's springtime in New Zealand.

And the perfect destination for a Sunday in the spring is found in the heart of the Wairarapa region, just an hour and a half north of Wellington. It's an annual wine and food festival called Toast Martinborough.

Even though the sun wasn't shining much on this day, we joined some friends in a stroll between the vineyards and a few wine tastings.

Event organisers are well prepared for the day, providing convenient neck holsters and glasses that are the perfect size.

A day of friends, wine, food and even entertainment and dancing (for the record, I'm not in the photo above) makes for a pretty long day. Add in a bus ride up and over the Rimutuka hills at the end, and I'm not ashamed to admit I was in bed by 8 pm that night.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Napier in November: Wine tastings and golf

Napier is quite a town. It's hip art-deco culture is balanced nicely against its down-to-earth vibe and its silly tourist draws (the main street's "Opossum World" comes to mind.) It has a nice little rocky waterfront and a comfortable atmosphere.

It's about a four-hour drive from Wellington - perfect for a short and relaxing weekend away.

Even though we were tempted by the sign at the local liquor store (that was actually advertising Kentucky State products - whiskey and cola combos I think), you'd be a fool to visit Napier and not enjoy the wine.

We've been here for a weekend once before but of course it's hard to see it all in such a short time. This time we visited Askerne, Ngatarawa, the Black Barn, Salvare and Craggy Range wineries.

Askerne had a wonderfully knowledgeable gentleman offering our tasting and asking us what we smelled and tasted with each variety. He walked us through from viognier to syrah and even desert wines. I tried to remember the food pairings we discussed (salmon and chardonnay is one) but I'm afraid I enjoyed the wines too much to remember all of them. I loved the pinot gris there.

The Ngatawara winery is involved in a rather brilliant community collaboration. Each variety in its Farmgate series is designed to pair with the product of a local grower.

We couldn't live without a bottle of the Pinot Noir, which pairs well with Te Mata mushrooms that are grown locally in Hawkes Bay. And I find the series labels just as irresistible.

On Sunday we fit in a bit of golf - my first game ever. Napier has a beautiful well-groomed golf course not far from the coast. We went to its slightly less sophisticated public cousin next door, which was perfectly fun. I'm certainly not going to complain when I'm only paying $10 to play nine holes of whiffs and shockingly bad shots.

But Jake and Brett were doing rather well.

The entire weekend was just as relaxed and enjoyable as this charming little golf course. I'd love to go back to Napier again soon. Until then, I'll have to reminisce with the three new bottles of wine we brought home.