Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anzac Day in Wellington

Today is Anzac Day. Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corp, and it's similar to Memorial Day that we celebrate in the States. Anzac Day is 25 April, the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Aus and NZ in World War I. The battle was in Gallipoli in Turkey.

This year's holiday is particularly sad, as we just learned that a military helicopter crashed just 30 km north of Wellington this morning and three of the four passengers have been killed.

For us, we know it's Anzac Day when you see men in military uniforms standing around the city handing out red poppies and raising money for their cause. We'd normally get a day off work for the holiday, but this year it lands on a Sunday, so I will honour those who served from the comfort of my pajamas and living room couch.

New Zealanders remember their veterans not only through this day of remembrance, but through several monuments and memorials Jake and I have seen around NZ. Gallipoli and WWI holds a special place in NZ's heart. The image above depicts the cenotaph, or Wellington Citizen's War Memorial, which is among the most prominent in town. But another one in particular that stands out in our mind is the Atatürk Memorial that sits high above the shore on the eastern walkway, a beautiful hike that Jake and I have taken a couple of times.

Here's a bit of history, which comes from Te Manuatu Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage about how NZ now has a special bond with Turkey:

The Atatürk Memorial is situated on a ridge above Tarakena Bay, Wellington. The Memorial looks out over Cook Strait and the site was chosen for its remarkable likeness to the landscape of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

The Memorial is an outcome of an agreement between the Turkish, Australian and New Zealand governments. In 1984, Australia asked Turkey if the cove on the Gallipoli peninsula could be renamed Anzac Cove in memory of the Australian and New Zealand troops who died there in 1915 during the Gallipoli Campaign of World War One. The Turkish Government agreed to change the cove's name from Ari Burnu and also built a large monument to all those who died in the campaign. In return, the Australian and New Zealand governments agreed to build monuments in Canberra and Wellington to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who served as a divisional commander at Gallipoli and went on to become the first president of modern Turkey.

Today we are thankful for all the service men and women who sacrifice so much to keep us safe, with a special shout out to our grandparents, dads, cousins, friends and brother.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

This swing bridge is made of rust and zip ties?

We just love how the New Zealand government mandates the Friday and Monday around Easter as public holidays. We took advantage of our four-day weekend by lounging around, going to a dinner party and Jake going to a Wellington Hurricanes rugby game. We also had the opportunity to go camping for a night.

We chose Otaki Forks, near the Tararua Forest Park because it's only about an hour and half from Welly and we haven't been there yet. So we threw some stuff in the car and headed out. The weather was looking a little like it wanted to rain but it held out rather well.

Jake was excited to get to use his New Zealand bird identification guide that I gave him for his birthday. There was a bird here but I was too slow to get him in the shot. So I forced Jake to pose for this reenactment. I had planned to PhotoShop a bird in it, but I'm too lazy.*

For me the highlight of this trip was this swing bridge we found on one of our walks. Just big enough for one person and constructed in a way I've never seen before. I took a few steps out onto it before I realised this bridge seems to be held together by some chain-link fencing, rusty cables, some torn basketball netting and a few sturdy zip ties.

Jake didn't seem to mind at all, but I took the trek a bit slower.

Not sure why I was scared though. If the entire thing had failed and dropped me, it would have been a fall of about 10 feet into a little stream that seemed to have the faintest current. I think it was only a few feet deep anyway.

And while I joke about the lack of maintenance on this swing bridge, it is just a joke. Jake and I continue to be impressed by how well kept all the NZ camping and tramping grounds are. Everything seems to be in excellent shape, well marked and carefully planned. Even the toilets are consistently nice -- and that will win you points in my book any day.

*Disclaimer: I'm just kidding about the bird. While I may occasionally remove a double chin or colour correct a landscape, I aim to avoid changing the meaning of any photo.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My first (and last?) experience sailing

Things have been so busy around here that I haven't been able to tell you the story of the giant storm that came through Wellington a couple of weeks ago. This one was pretty fierce. And I happened to experience it from a little sailboat in the middle of the harbour.

The day started out fine. A few of us from work had been invited to go sailing as part of a corporate event. So we left around noon and found ourselves on deck shortly thereafter. Each boat had it's normal crew (ours had three guys) and a few guests. Above from left are Lisa, Tania and Stacey. The girls and I were given the responsibility of sitting on the side of the boat. Every time we tacked -- turned the boat right or left -- we girls would crawl over to the other side of the boat, carefully staying clear of the boom. It was all very exciting and harmless.

Above is a shot of our captain on the right. There were maybe 20 boats in the event, and I learned they can really lean against the wind.

We had a fun little tour of the harbour and we were making very good time, since the event is something of a race with the other boats. It was quite a rush to see the Interislander ferry pass by us so closely. One of the crew said it was maybe 30 meters away. This is the giant ship that Jake, Jim and Adena and I rode back from the South Island that carries 1,600 people and 600 vehicles. Made us feel pretty small on our little sailboat.

I sure wasn't much help to the crew, but I was still having a great time.

The next boat that came by, about two hours into our trip, was some sort of freight ship. Quite large, but that's not what was concerning me about this view. Take a look at the sky behind it. We'd all known there was a southerly coming, just had no idea it would be anything like this one.

Within just a couple minutes of shooting the photo above, we were hit by a violent storm. Our boat was getting pushed over at extreme angles and bouncing around randomly on the waves. They ushered us girls down below, as the boat was big enough to have a little area below with seating, minimal kitchen area, life jackets and gear. The boats was being tossed around in every direction, and all the stuff down below was flying around and falling off the shelves. We were leaning so much that one of our two little windows was under water.

With the adrenaline pumping, I watched the captain (that's him above) struggling for control and saw the giant waves out our one good window. I'd taken a couple of photos from down below until a couple things occurred to me. Number one, some of our people were scared. Scared in a serious way. And number two, I was getting motion sickness. Ugh.

For the next 30 minutes or so the crew struggled for control of the boat while maneuvering it into a safe part of the harbour -- Kau Bay -- that was protected from the brunt of the southerly winds. Things calmed down while we were there waiting out the weather and the crew came down and made us coffee and tea and listened to the boat's radio. Apparently someone had gone overboard on one of the other boats but had been rescued. Before long, the others started giving me strange looks and asking why I was blue and shivering. I'd been shivering for a while, but except for my uneasy stomach, I was feeling fine and not really that cold.

We heard the radio asking about our health and safety among all the boats that were still out on the water. I think everyone on ours looked up at me, and the captain radioed back that we "had a cold girl." I felt like the biggest wimp ever.

But on the bright side I got to ride back on the small rescue boat with Lisa and Stacey. It was the fastest boat I'd ever been on, we were hitting every wave hard and the three of us were holding on for our lives. But my stomach was already feeling better after leaving the cabin of the sailboat. Back on shore we thanked our rescuers immensely and ran into the yacht club where I immediately jumped into a fabulous hot shower. Got out and put some wonderful dry clothes on, was feeling pretty awesome until Stacey gasped at me -- apparently I was blue. She ran out (into the bar area wearing nothing but a towel -- I owe you a big thanks Stace) to get help, and a couple of lovely ladies came in with water and hot chocolate and lots of medical questions for me.

After lots of compassionate questioning, they decided I was recovering from being cold and sea-sick (although I never threw up -- just for the record). They kept a close eye on me and walked me out to my car when Jake picked me up.

We went home to find some extremely relieved in-laws. Apparently they were watching the sailboats out our apartment window when the storm blew in. They had no idea if I was on one of them, or whether any of the boats had cabins that would give us safe shelter. I hadn't taken my phone. Adena was so sweet to cook dinner that night. I snuggled up in lots of clothes and a blanket and shared the story with the family over spaghetti and meatballs. Wow, it was good to be home.

The storm made big news in the paper, and there's even a video of it on YouTube. Three separate folks in the yacht club who'd been sailing all their lives told me they'd seen storms like that out in the ocean, but never in the harbour. For my first real sailing experience, it was definitely one I'll never forget.