Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Final count down...7

Today marks 1 week until I return to the States.  My contract ended today and they were sad to see me off.  I almost made my manager cry as I was cleaning up my office.  The time has flown by and I think I accomplished a lot, but there is so much more that this organization could benefit from.  It is a shame that I wasn't kept around as I could have delivered the plan that I devised for a centralized platform for data gathering and reporting.  It would take time and patience, but now I'm free to pursue other opportunities.  I've filled in my application for an expression of interest in a skilled labor visa.  What does that mean?  From my understanding, I've lodged an application with immigration saying I have skills and I want to work in your country.  They will vet this application and if I am approved, I can then move on to the next step of vetting before obtaining a skilled labor visa.  What is the next step?  FBI Background check and a medical check.  From what I read, it generally takes 2-6 weeks to complete. 

What does that mean to me?  I'm coming back to New Zealand after a short stay in the States.  How long?  I don't know exactly.  I'm busy applying to jobs and talking to a lot of recruiters who put me forward to a company only to be turned away for this or that.  Most of the times I have to follow up with the recruiter to be notified that I wont be interviewed.  It is definitely different working through a recruiter.  I did have an interview a couple weeks back and should know the outcome of that next week.  However, I'm not holding my breath as I talked to Nici and she was never contacted for a background check.  I am going to email my other reference to see if they weren't contacted either.  I have lots of leads on opportunities and I know I could rock the jobs, but need an interview.

Other news?  Well my bike was in the shop for a harsh metal grating noise I heard while pounding up some hills, but at the shop it went away.  Then there was a creaking noise when you started to ride.  So Phil loaned me his single speed to ride for a couple days.  They found that a small screw that holds the derailleur hanger on was working its way out.  They also found a crack on the non-drive train drop-out.  I wonder when that could have happened?  Oh maybe when I was hit.  Great.  So they are seeing if a warranty or some other replacement can happen.  I don't want to shell out for a new one.  Makes me almost wish I got a police report.  Thought I got off lucky with just a tire needing to be replaced, but here the frame is cracked as well.  Good news is that I got a new bike waiting for me in MN.  Bought a Disc Trucker for some touring. 

My time in Tauranga is about over, but not my time in New Zealand.  I don't know where a work opportunity will present itself or if I will get the visa, but I will be coming back and after all I just may be doing my bike tour.  This has been a strange, but fun experience and it hasn't even been the full year abroad.  Didn't know this was going to happen when I left the States, but we are glad we did.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Journey to Middle Earth locations

Who is home at Bag's End?
A trip to New Zealand wouldn't be complete without a peek at some of the locations used to bring to life Middle Earth.  We visited a couple of these locations while my father was on vacation.  We hit up Hobbiton, Mt Doom, and Weta Cave and Studio over the 10 days my father spent visiting.  I think he was rather impressed with Hobbiton and the amount of detail encapsulated there.
Are we in time for lunch?

We left Tauranga early one morning for a quick drive over the Kaimais to a little town of Matamata.  From a Hobbit hole themed i-Site we boarded a bus bound for The Shire.  We ran into a little trouble with the online booking system, but after calling we had been charged but not given a booking number.  A quick fix and we are on our way.  The tour is $75 and worth it if you like to wander around a very detailed set.  It is located in the middle of a sheep farm in between Hamilton and Matamata.  There is a bunch of history of the property you will hear on the tour so I wont recap it here.  You are after all paying for that part of the experience as well.  Having just seen the Hobbit, I was able to recall some of the scenes and guess where they were shot from.  It is a stunning location and we were fortunate to get a fine day to go see the tour.  The previous days were overcast and rainy.  At the end of the tour you are treated to your choice of drink at the Green Dragon.  A local brewer from Hamilton brewed some special selections only available at the Green Dragon.  This building had only been completed 5 weeks earlier and still had that new wood smell.  We are talking of having my dad's one hundred and eleventh birthday here.  We joked about it along the tour, but the seed has been planted.
AKA Mt Doom

A couple days later we slogged our way past the shadow of Mt Doom.  We left our hostel at 7 am to do about half of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which has a side route up the side of Mt Doom.  We packed a lunch and I carried a first aid kit, extra (warm) clothes, and rain gear if the need should arise.  It wasn't my first time doing the Crossing, but the first in the Summer.  I still like to be prepared as I know what it is like up at higher elevation.  The entire route is only open to the Northern Circuit walkers, which should take 3-4 days.  All day walkers have to turn around right before the Emerald Lakes which is a stunning view on a fine day.  Technically the sign is at the top of Red Crater, but if you walk another 10 meters you get some good views of the lakes below.  I can't say I'm surprised by the idiots around us.  I had made sure my dad was dressed appropriately as I didn't want him to be any more uncomfortable with the day than necessary.  We saw several people in shorts and hoodies going up to the top.  The wind was howling and there was definately a windchill not to mention the hail that we received.  The only other time I've seen legs that red before was from sunburn not cold.  I just had to chuckle and think what the paper and news would say when they got rescued.  Oh yeah, I've seen some awesome articles and reports from the rescuing of silly tourists.  Its not called Alpine for nothing.  I actually got into it with a guy who was wearing cut off jean shorts and a nylon pull-over.  He didn't think it got that cold up here.  I tried to point out that we weren't that far from the snow covered Mt Ruapehu and that weather often changes quickly on a mountain ridge.  He didn't want to buy it.  I'm proud of my dad being able to experience this with me even though we got passed by several groups.
Yup Shorts.

A couple days later found us in Wellington and a short drive away from Weta Cave.  This was established to allow people to view collectors items and some behind the scenes footage of projects they are working on.  Beth and I went there with her parents back in July so I knew what to expect.  However, they changed the store around a little for the release of the Hobbit, had a different DVD, and had opened up the boat making room for a display of artifacts presented by Weta employees.  We were lucky enough to get a girl named Nat that is an industrial designer.  She spends her time making guns, swords, and armor. As she put it, anything hard/physical falls into her realm.  She walked us through the different phases of creating a gun.  From conceptual design to aging of the physical item.  It was very interesting to hear about the different things that go into making a prop.  I wish I could have taken pictures as there was a really cool prop from District 9 that wasn't used in the movie and several items from the Halo 3 commercial that would have made some of my friends jealous.  I did get to lean up against the warthog and check over a lot of the little details on it.  So many little warning labels and identification tags on that thing.  This was the first time they did something like this and I'm glad we got to go.  It was very nice touch to have a designer telling us about her job.  She illuminated many different aspects of her role and knew just enough about other roles to give you a high level.
The outhouse is through this hole?
We didn't make it to the South Island where a lot more scenes were shot.  When we make it back, we'll spend the bulk of our time down there as it is the bigger of the islands and I've spent less time there.  There are several books available that give out the locations including the longitude and latitude for specific scenes.  They are a bit pricey in my mind, but if you are a huge fan and already booked a ticket to New Zealand spending another $50 on a book probably wont phase you.  Or just see if you can't exchange your Wheel of Time series for it.

Weta Cave

Te Papa Museum

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hauraki Rail Trail

End of the Hauraki Rail Trail

Over our Christmas Holiday, my father and I tackled an easy rail trail across some of the stunning views New Zealand has to offer.  We left Mount Maunganui early in the morning and arrived in Thames around 10 am.  I had contacted the folks at the Hauraki Rail Trail before my dad left the States and they organized the bike situation, lodging, and return transport.  We were met with a detailed packet of goodies including an itenerary, map, points of interest in Te Aroha, and other rail trails in New Zealand.  I thought they could have included points of interest of Paeroa and Waihi as well as those are the logical over nighting locations.  It is a new trail and they will work out these things with time. 
The leg burning hills of the lower Coromandel Peninsula

We were given Specialized 29ers, a helmet, and a lock as well.  We departed Thames after making a quick detour down the street to the place I interviewed with the week prior.  Nice to know that I have a good gravel path ride just out the door from where I could work.  I also have a wicked 200km ride around the Coromandel Pennisula that I can do if the urge takes me.  We had a little difficulty finding the trail as we lost it around the wharf, but we quickly found it again and were on our way. 

Leaving Thames you were treated with splendid views of the Coromandel Forest Park to the East and familiar looking farm yards to the West.  The grade of the ride is crazy easy with no noticeable elevation change.  I imagine, if you wanted to you could rip fairly quick over the ride, but that defeats the point of riding a rail trail where you are meant to meander and rub elbows with the locals in each locale.  You head South running parallel to Highway 25 and there are numerous little road or paddock crossings.  There are signs saying you must dismount and walk your bike across.  In practice, I did not follow that.  We had on and off again rain on our ride and we were both decked out in the Traverse eVent rain jacket from macpac.  Mine had just gotten back from repairs and my father bought one for the bike ride and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. 

On our way to Paeroa, the home of the World Famous in New Zealand L&P as well as nicknamed Antique Town, we passed through several small settlements.  These were Kopu, Matatoki, Puriri, and Hikutaia, but we didn't stop in them as our target was Paeroa for some good eats.  We were plenty hungry as I had baked a halved avocado with an egg in the well from the stone and topped with a small slice of brie for breakfast many hours before.  We ended up eating in the restaurant located in the same building as the i-site.  It is also the one with the giant L&P Bottle sculpture in front.  We both got a large (12 inch) pizza.

We then walked around town for awhile to allow my dad to stretch his legs and to digest the meal we had just eaten.  We passed a lot of 2nd hand stores and places to go antiquing.  We didn't do that for long and wandered back to our bikes as we still had another 14km before Waikino.  From there we were to catch a train the last 7km to Waihi, our final destination for the day. 

This next section I wanted to be a surprise to my dad so when I picked him up from Auckland days earlier, I drove out of my way to take a different route back to my flat.  I'm talking about the Karangahake Gorge.  I believe this to be the most scenic part of the ride and one that allows you to go explore if you have the time.  There are several trails to wander and these are included in the packet that the organizers hand you before setting off.  We spent some time biking along the stream and the sky opened up and the trampers were all huddled under a small canopy.   We were already wearing our rain jackets to block off a chilly wind, we just kept on riding.  I asked a DOC employee how to get to Waikino as the gorge had several signs for the Hauraki Rail Trail.  We passed the recommended path and had to back track.  It was an interesting route that had us riding under a mountain in a 1000+ meter tunnel that was at roughly 2%.  The tunnel has electric lights, but having bike lights would have made it a bit easier to navigate.  We passed several bikers and walkers going both directions and popped out to the rain still coming down.

We were a few short kilometers from Waikino where we were going to board a train for a short 7km ride.  We rode along a river and parallel to Highway 2 and even amongst the ruins of an old gold mining operation.  We reached the end of the trail as it is known today, but they envision the finish to be 7km farther in Waihi.  I walk into the Cafe/ticket shop to ask about the train to Waihi and was told that they are done running for today.  I then asked how we get to Waihi from Waikino and I was told by walking.  I gave the bad news to my dad that we had to ride another 7km along the highway.  I should explain that roads here are narrow and traffic is often traveling at 100+ kph.  Drivers here are like most drivers I've encountered in other places as they don't really like bikers on the roads.  The bikes we were given also didn't have lights and it was raining.  We did have reflective material in our jackets though!  We rode on the shoulder from Waikino to Waihi with a short stint of walking over a railroad bridge as there was no shoulder to be had on the bridge over the stream. 

We arrived in Waihi without incident and made for a chemist.  I was in search of ibuprofen for my father and directions to the Waihi Motor Camp.  I had seen a billboard giving directions from the landmark of the hospital, but I never saw it on the way into town.  The nice lady at the chemist gave me a map of the city and I was able to navigate back to the camp ground.  We rode over there and checked in and quickly tossed my bag down and then biked back into town in search for food.  We ate a really good Thai place and we had awesome service.  Something that doesn't happen often in New Zealand.  We then biked back to the campground for an early night.  We had some lady watching tv outside our door and smoking on the deck until midnight.  I had gotten up to use the bathroom only to see her flick the tv off and wander out of the building to her campsite.  She wasn't even in this building, but was using our amenities.  Ugh. 

We woke up fairly early the next morning and ate an avocado and some fruit.  We had until 10 am to kill if we wanted to take the train over to Waikino.  We said screw it and rode the 7km on the highway again.  It was before 8 am and very little traffic.  We made good time and fewer stops the 2nd day up until Paeroa.  We ate a tasty pie at a bakery and an unremarkable caramel slice.  We then had turned south to Te Aroha our final destination and pick-up spot.  We were able to ride on the West side of the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park which I've played around a little.  Its a great long ridge that separates the Bay of Plenty from the Waikato Region.  It is home to some good trails and waterfalls.  Te Aroha is a town that Skog and I stayed at back in August.  So I knew my way around and a great place to eat.  We had a lot of time to kill as we weren't going to be picked up until 4pm. 

We killed time by eating at Ben's Roast.  We both had the lamb roast with potato, kumara, and carrots.  We then wandered down to the Te Aroha Museum, which employs a very knowledgeable man.  He is also very friendly.  We found out a lot of interesting facts about the town and the one that sticks in my head is that it used to be the cultural tourist spot long before Rotorua took over the mantle.  People used to come from all over the world via Thames to take their spring water and see their soda geyser.  We also did a little trail walking behind the Te Aroha YHA.  I kept talking about how we had an interesting experience while hosteling there.

Overall the experience was very good and I'm glad I got to share it with my father.  We did I think roughly 90km in 2 days, but I wasn't concerned about the distance or the time it took to do it.  I was showing my dad what I've been planning on doing for many months now.  It was a real gentle introduction and what I plan is more intensive, but similar principle.  You ride your bike from point a to b over multiple days.  It was his first experience doing a multi-day ride and a good way for him to see the country that I've been living in.  My suggestions?  I would make a points of interest for each of the possible overnight towns and then work with local businesses to stock bike supplies.  I heard about flats and some riders had to call their ride short as they couldn't find a replacement nor did the person have time to fix the flat.  Ok what rider doesn't know how to fix a flat?  I think the answer should be none, but I know that isn't the case.  If I owned a lodging business, I would look to capitalize on the trail and offer pick-up services to my lodge if riders have a mechanical and offer to service their bike before the next day's ride.  I may arrange some sort of local entertainment and in the morning I would make breakfast and send them away with a snack.  Its all about having a great experience and getting people to enjoy doing a multi-day ride with a stunning backdrop.