Monday, December 19, 2016

Happy Holidays

It’s that time of year again, where our birthplaces are covered in ice and snow and we’re going into summer break. It’s been a great and busy year, starting with an end to our trip with my parents, Betsy and Bill, and a beginning of our trip to Fiji with friends Helen and James. In Fiji we spent a few days diving, went kayaking, and drove around the island. One of the great highlights was seeing a police foot chase right in front of our car. Guy ran out of the police station, which we were parking in front of as it seemed like a safe spot, with 2 policemen close behind. The criminal gave us a cheeky grin as he ran right in front of our car. Kaleb later spotted him in police custody again. Guess his escape plan was foiled despite the obvious lack of conditioning of the police. Despite diving with sharks, we came back alive from Fiji.

At the end of January, we were lucky enough to go diving at Whakaari/White Island, an active volcanic island. This was some of the best diving ever! We once again ran in to our friend Paul on this dive. He gets around to different dive sites as well. We swum through kelp forests, dove on shallow reefs with volcanic bubbles bubbling from the bottom, and did a night dive with countless eagle rays. The dive company wasn’t great and the boat was barely seaworthy, but there was great diving.

February, we went to India to see our friend Shiv (now a Kiwi) get married to Ravneet. Kaleb worked with Shiv back at the council in Thames. We flew into Delhi and headed to Karnal, our first stop for wedding festivities. After a great deal of food and celebration, we headed to Chandigarh for more festivities. Shiv’s sister and sister-in-law were nice enough to take me shopping so I had appropriate wedding wear. There was so much tasty food, we were never hungry. Shiv’s family was awesome and so hospitable. Kaleb even got to go see a wheel of death with a motorcycle rider and a car at the local fair. I’m not sure we can ever attend another wedding, as everything will pale in comparison to the 5-day Indian wedding. After the wedding festivities were over, we visited the sights of the Golden Triangle, including the Taj Mahal in Agra and Jaipur. We also survived a death defying bike rickshaw ride through Delhi with Dave and Sarah, before leaving for the now-seemingly excellent driver filled roads of New Zealand.

We started March by volunteering for Ironman New Zealand, held right here in Taupo. We were kayak marshals and herded the swimmers along the correct course. As we were on the water, my friend from Minneapolis, Angi, was landing in Auckland and coming to Taupo via bus. After she recovered from the flight for a bit in Taupo, we headed to the South Island, driving from Christchurch to the West Coast, down to Queenstown, and back up via the Eastern route. We stopped whenever we saw an interesting hike and had a great deal of fun.

In March, we joined the ninjas for a 4-day canoe trip on the Whanganui River for just over 100 kms. Kaleb and I paddled our kayaks, while the other 6 ninjas took up paddles in canoes. The water was higher than normal, as it had rained a lot in the previous weeks, and most of the nights we were on the river, though luckily it generally started after the tents were up. It was great fun and we managed to only have one canoe swamping, on the very last rapid. I think next time, we will look for better canoe parking spots so we don’t have to carry our gear barrels up cliffs.

Easter weekend, we hiked the Abel Tasman Great Walk (55 km). This time it was just the two of us, camping, rather than utilizing the huts, along the way. It was a beautiful walk, though a slow one as I was recovering from a hip injury and Kaleb an ankle injury. We made friends with a curious weka (native NZ bird), who hung out with us at our private campsite. We even had the beach to ourselves for a wonderful sunrise.

Over the winter months (summer for you Northern hemisphere dwellers), I did a lot of trail running and Kaleb did a lot of mountain biking. I ran a race in pouring sleet and decided to skip any future races where hypothermia is a guarantee. We did a few weekends away over the winter, but nothing major. One of the weekends away included a night trail run down in the bush of Wellington. We also did 2 fun relay races with the ninja team and even squeezed 15 ninjas in one house. A few of us joined forces again to run in the annual Lactic Turkey P6 Adventure Race.

On Thanksgiving we went to Hawaii to visit my sister and her family. My mom was also there, overlapping with our trip for a few days. We spent some time on Oahu and then traveled over to the big island of Hawaii. We were able to see some of the volcano, a green beach, and a black beach. We also went diving and saw some octopus and sea turtles. We even manage to sneak in a quick run on Ali'i Drive.

In March I left my job at Datamine seeking anything else. I worked on getting clients for my own business, 3 Sheep Analytics, and lifeguarded on call for the Taupo pools for 6 months. In October, I accepted a position as Chief Data Scientist for Quotable Value, headquartered in Wellington. I’ve traveled to Wellington and Auckland for work a few times, but will not expected to be in the Wellington office full time until February or March of the new year. Kaleb is still working for BCS doing BI development.

This month, we are heading to the South Island once again to meet up with my parents and do a whole lot of physical activity. The plan is to first do the Milford Great Walk (53 km), a 4 day hike through mountains and rain forest. After a day of rest and travel, we will start the Raikura Great Walk (32 km) on Stewart Island. After that, we head a bit north again to do a 3 day bike ride on the Otago Rail Trail (150 km). My parents will then head back to the states, no doubt needing a vacation from their vacation, and Kaleb and I will continue our insanity. Kaleb plans on running the Routeburn Great Walk (32 km), which he missed out on last year due to injury. We will then both do 2 days on the Kepler Great Walk (60 km). After this trip, we will have 8 of the 9 New Zealand Great Walks done. The last one on the list is Heaphy, which is a logistical nightmare because the end points are not connected by road. It is also a dual purpose trail outside of the summer season so Kaleb wants to ride it.

We’re loving life here in New Zealand and have only 540 days until we are eligible for citizenship. We welcome any visitors to our house and will show you around as much as we can. Hope everyone is having a safe and happy holiday season and will have a happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

P6 Adventure Race Recap

Its been awhile since I did a post, but we have been busy. Beth has taken a role as Chief Data Scientist with a company out of Wellington. That does mean we'll be moving from Lake Taupo in the future. We are trying to delay it until after summer though. Any way, not to bore you with pointless logistics of our daily lives.

Race Recap:
A wet morning greeted us while waking up in Auckland. We grabbed our few things and got on the road to Waitama Regional Park at 7am. The park is located about 45 minutes from South Auckland. The drive out was uneventful, but taking the curvy back roads just means slow drivers. We pulled into the park and there were a lot of cars already there. The Lactic Turkey RV was stationed by the registration tent and Shaun was running around with last minute prep. Some of the young kids were riding their bikes through the cars without their helmets while others were busy unloading gear. We parked our car and started to unload our gear. Mike and Paula arrived shortly after we did and pulled up right behind us. Beth and Paula went and got our registration stuff, which consisted mainly of advertisements and a chocolate bar apiece. The Ninja Tortoises would be #205 for this race. The day was broken down into the following segments:
Initial Puzzle:
She said a phrase starting with 'This is the cup game' while tapping the cup to her hand and table to a pattern. You had to be able to repeat it in order to get our score card.
Stage 1: Pedal
I believe this was by far the most challenging section for us. We quickly realized that the scale of the map was super small. We felt like we hardly went any where, but we blew past our predetermined course that we were aiming for. So we had to make some on the fly adjustments, which meant riding some of the track backwards and throwing our bikes over a few fences after riding through a paddock. Also I may have been a little short with Beth, but she was a champ with me yelling at her for check point descriptions while trying to hold a map, check point descriptions, attempting to shift, and riding a mtb. I believe it was her 4th time on a mtb. Also it was too big for her so it made getting back on it while on a hill impossible. When we do another, we'll invest in a map clip board that attaches to your bar in order to keep your hands free, but still be able to have the data at your finger tips.
On this stage we had a series of mandatory check points to keep the flow of riders in the same direction as there are actual mtb trails at the park with other users. These trails looked like fun and I wouldn't mind giving them a crack at some point in the future. However, there was one track I would be scared as hell to ride down. Super steep, very bumpy, switch back corners with no berms, and comprised mainly of clay. We spent about an hour getting the mandatory check points and a couple others before ditching the bikes. Beth also ended up taking a pedal to the shin during this stage. Giving her a bloody shin.
Stage 2: Plod
We dropped the bikes off at the cars, stopped for a bathroom break, and then got our new check point descriptions. We set out to a part of the course we hadn't been to yet, the beach. On our way down, we had a couple take a picture of us laying down in the shape of P6 to text to Shaun for some mystery points. This was comical as the woman didn't really understand English, but she managed to snap pictures with Paula's camera as Beth's camera app stopped working at that moment. So here you have 4 people laying down on the ground trying to contort their bodies into the shape of a P and a 6. The woman wanted to give us a good background, but just went with our craziness and snapped the photos. At the beach, we quickly performed the get the ball out of the pipe game. Then we proceeded up a big hill past a bunch of tourists that were probably jealous of us and wanted to play the game with us. The hills would give Beth's hamstring a fair amount of grief. She has been nursing an injury since our night time trail run in Wellington back in August. This section of the race probably wasn't her favourite, but we had some great views from the top of a couple different look outs. This stage had lots of up and down as we worked hard to get points and be back to the staging area for a quick Stage 3. Another mystery activity we did was riding the all-terrain Segways around a slalom course. Fast time got a 100pts but we got some for trying.
Stage 3: Plod
This involved us wondering a small section near the staging area looking for 20 small wooden spoons with a 2 character code written on them. All of them were found, but there were some tricky ones even though they were all located next to or on something. During this stage, we completed another mystery event: match the country outline to the country name. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then head back out to do the coastal challenge. We also dig a physical challenge of walking with a 50cent piece between your knees for a short distance, but we lost points as someone kept looking at their knees and losing the coin just at that moment.
Stage 4: Plod (along the coast)
The coastal challenge was an out and back as the original way down to the start was closed off to protect some farming. So we had to descend a long hill that was pock marked with hoof-made holes. I'm glad I didn't see anyone twist an ankle during this section, but it was more than probable given the terrain. We made our way to the water and had to traverse the coast while other teams were coming back. This was made more dangerous with the narrow slick rock we were traversing really only allowed 1 person at a time in some places. All the while you were looking for letters along the course. We managed to find 5/6 of the letters so we were unable to decipher the scrambled word. 
Stage 5: Plod
We probably ate some more food at this point and hit the bathroom up again before setting out on the last plod of the day. Prior to leaving Paula grabbed us some points by completing the mystery activity of cup stacking. She got us over 30 points just for doing the activity in under 15 seconds. We then started off following the same course we took for Stage 1. Down the main road to the first check point then jumping some fences to pick up a couple more check points and a mystery activity before getting back on the road. For the mystery activity, we were able to solve 2/3 match stick logic puzzles and could have figured out the 3rd if she hadn't pointed us in the wrong direction for the last one. I could tell that soreness and pain were creeping in at this point and our pace slowed down quite a bit. We did manage to get better at judging the distances and looking at other key identifiers on the map later in the day. So we could get a pretty good approximate location by a glance. We started back to the staging with 45 minutes left thinking we would get the easy points from Stage 6, but with our slow pace we would have gotten back after the 6 hour cut-off and lost 30 points per minute. Instead we took a little round about way back and got 220 points, which appears to be 20 more points than people were getting for Stage 6.
Stage 6: Splash
So once again we didn't manage to get into the water. We bought these 4 inner tubes 2 years ago and they have been transported, blown up, and deflated multiple times, but never used for the purpose of a floatation device. Instead they manage to gather lint in our garage.

Looking at the results we tumbled from our inaugural Ninja outing of 1st to 7th (last), but we had fun with the event once again. We got lots of compliments on our costumes and managed to get our photos on the event FaceBook page right way. Beth and I tried to wait for the awards, but the event started late and awards were pushed back past 4. As we had over a 3 hour ride back and had to stop off for some food along the way we decided to leave early. So Mike and Paula were able to claim the one spot prize that the team won, a glow in the dark drink bottle.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Timber Trail recap

So I went out with the Taupo MTB Club and rode the Timber Trail, an 85km ride or tramp. For the recap you can read about it here. This is a new site that Beth has started dedicated to exploring the New Zealand Trails.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New Venuture: 3 Sheep Analytics

What is this new venture? Well its not exactly new as it was formed back in 2013, but Beth is focusing her efforts on expanding the business of 3 Sheep Analytics. This includes working on the branding, creating a web presence, and procuring all necessary software. As well as networking with the Not-For-Profit arena here in New Zealand. In addition to all that, she is also creating presentations to take to some of the local fundraising conferences. These will focus on the need for analytics and data insight for small and Not-For-Profit companies that currently aren't being catered to. 3 Sheep will provide anything from post campaign analysis to a reoccurring monthly full solution.    

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Abel Tasman: 4 out of 9

Over the last year, I've managed to complete 4, Beth has done 5, out of the 9 Great Walks. These are the Northern Circuit, Lake Waikaremoana, Whanganui River Journey, and now Abel Tasman. I should have had 5 completed, but my little mishap climbing in December prevented me from doing Routeburn last Christmas. However, its looking like I might run it this Summer if my ankle is co-operating by then. We have already booked for Milford and Raikura for this summer with Beth's parents. We may even do the Otago Rail Trail while we are down there. Any way I digress from the story I was meant to be telling: Our tramp across the Abel Tasman.
It starts with us heading to Auckland on Wednesday evening and staying with our friend Shiv and his wife Ravneet. I worked from his house, while Beth got us Mexican food for lunch and went to Martha's. We then flew to Nelson on Thursday evening, where I worked from a hotel room on Friday. While I was busy coding, Beth walked into town and purchased our last few supplies. For the most part we had flown with our tramping bags ready to go, but we had to top off our gear with a fuel canister for the stove, some lunch snacks, and to fill our water. While checking our packs they were already weighing in between 12-14 kilos without a couple liters of water. They were a little heavier than we usually go out with, but we were carrying our tent and sleeping pads which would usually not accompany us as New Zealand has a robust hut system, but it being a holiday weekend the huts go fast. Like I said, we've already booked for Christmas on the first day that the huts became available and things were already filling up.
We were picked up by a crappy shuttle service and were charged a price that was more than we were expecting. It should be noted that there were a series of emails going back and forth and we were under the impression that since more passengers were coming in the shuttle that the fares would be reduced for each of us as per the emails were always talking about per person, but they only discounted our grand total by $35. A lot of arguing back and forth occurred over the phone and we simply said to charge to our credit card as the shuttle can only accept cash. If we were to stop along the way to get cash we would get charged. If we use the credit card, we get an extra charge. Lets just say there was a bitter taste in our mouth right away and we weren't even out on the trail yet. Love people's mentality, you're a tourist I can probably milk you for more money. We've seen it all over the place, but it still grinds my gears.

We were dropped off at the Southern start in Marahau and walked North to Bark Bay. We covered 23.9+ km the first day including a few side trips. One was to Cleopatra's Pool, I think it would be fun to ride the rapid slide, and the other was to a scenic overlook. We were amazed by the number of day walkers heading South with little or no gear. I'm talking about just basics like food and water. They also just seemed to flounder across the trail making it difficult to continue without stopping to let them past. The tramp wasn't difficult, but with my ankle injury back in December this was the first real test. After about 15km any downhill became excruciating. I was able to soldier on to the campsite, but needed some ibuprofen. We set up our tent right off the beach. Beth organized the sleeping gear while I went and prepared our dinner. We had either canned chicken or tuna with cheesy mashed potatoes with Fritos. This campsite was pretty booked and there were a few bigger groups that liked their alcohol. For one group, I counted no fewer than 8 bottles of wine and a couple of 2lt bottles of cider. This didn't include what they had at their campfire. We just managed to get into the tent after dinner prior to it starting to rain. Having had looked at metservice prior to leaving in the morning we were expecting some severe weather for Saturday Night. However, it was only a short light shower.

The next morning, we broke down the tent and had some breakfast, oats with fruit for me and a pop tart for Beth, prior to heading off to Anapai Bay. We left early knowing that we would have to wait at Awaroa Hut for low tide to cross and it would be a prime spot for lunch. My ankle didn't bother me during the morning section as I stretched it pretty good at breakfast. I did several sets of the alphabet with both ankles to get them ready for the trail. Once the again the actual trail itself wasn't difficult. They are wide, well graded, several sites that provide filtered water, have ample stocked flushing toilets, and for the most part devoid of any mud. This is a departure from the other Great Walks we have done where they are a little more rugged. I definitely wasn't expecting this, but it was welcomed departure from tramping grade tracks given my ankle issues.  However, it means that people don't go in being prepared for when things aren't handed to them on other trails. 
Prior to the hut, was the first time we actually ran into other people heading North. Mainly we were seeing people doing day walks after being shuttled around by a water taxi and heading South. The weather was phenomenal unlike the last year when we did Northern Circuit where we had frosts and a hard cold rain. We walked up and down ridges, across beaches, and across a few bridges. We had a good lunch, pulled out some wet gear to dry in the sun, and chatted with some other trampers heading North. We waited until about an hour and a half before low tide to trudge through the knee height water. However, we had a good laugh at a couple we decided to brave the deeper water to get to our side of the bay. They had to put their packs on their head in order to keep them dry. When they got to our side I could see what a water line high on their chests. Guess they were in a hurry to get to their final destination. After our crossing, we joked with the DOC ranger about forgetting something back at the hut. As he followed us over in order replenish the toilet paper in the flushing toilet opposite the crossing from the hut. We proceeded to make our way to Totaranui the last place to get filtered water prior to our campsite at Anapai Bay. In heading into Totaranui the track had a detour, because of landslide, which seemed to go straight up which wasn't very fun. The downhill section really hurt. I think I just shuffled as best I could as to limit the movement in my ankle. Still it was like an electric fence shock each step I took.

As I was limping into Totaranui, we saw a sign saying that Anapai Bay was over 4km away. We were expecting it to be around 2km, so seeing that sign took the wind out of our sails as it would mean we would be walking with our head torches for a long time. We saw our first cars as we walked through the campsite in order to top off our water and use the toilets. As we walked along the road to get back on the track, we passed another sign just outside of the campground that said 2.2km to the campsite. I like that DOC gives you signs, but when they are conflicting or inaccurate they really piss you off. Am I right Rachel? For the previous distances, we had a map with known points. However, Anapai Bay doesn't have a distance from a major point, so Beth estimated based on the known distances and referencing the map. We soldiered on from Totaranui and after about 20 minutes we were back in the bush and had to turn on our torches as it was past sunset. We walked in the dark with only our torches to guide us. After a long time, we started to hear the ocean, which to me represented the campsite, as all the campsites are next to the ocean. We were slightly concerned when we came to a beach after a long time and there was no sign for the campsite. After walking down another 100m we saw the sign for Anapai Bay campsite. Distance wise, we ended up doing just a little less than day before, but with a long lunch break in the middle.

We walked up the trail to the see who else we would be sharing the campsite with, but we found that we had the campsite to ourselves! This was drastically different from the night before or even the Totaranui campsite we passed hours before. We pitched the tent close to the beach and while making dinner we were treating to a large blood red moon coming over the ridge and illuminating the bay. I tried to take some pictures, but they didn't turn out. We did have a guest weka that night and next morning. We called him matmit after his cousin we saw earlier in the day while talking about timtams. So while discussing timtams a weka popped up around the corner and said "What's up Cuz?" This is part of the backstory for timtam, the weka, I created. He thought we were calling for him, as his name was timtam, not to be confused with the delicious Australian treats that come in a variety of flavors. Yours are on the way Bri. That story continued to evolve the next morning when matmit, you know like the Crimson Twins from G.I. Joe, was checking out our tramping gear. Anyway, Beth and I created a pretty good story about the cousins going by the time we reached Whariwharangi Bay. If only I had recorded this conversation, it could have lead to an epic cartoon series.
While eating breakfast and drinking my morning tea, I set up the camera to record the amazing sunrise that you can see at the beginning of the video. You might notice, that I keep learning more about filming and editing. I might end up investing in a gimbal so the camera isn't so shaky as I basically just shoot while holding on to the gorilla pod. Anyway, I hope to improve at editing the videos and pictures we take into something that is enjoyable for you to watch. Who ever you might be.

So the final day, we had roughly 13km to the trail head in Wainui. Our shuttle was scheduled for pick-up at 1:30 so we figured we would get out around noon and have some lunch as it isn't a short drive back to Nelson. We made our way down the beach with a short stop to marvel at some rock formations that looked awesome for bouldering. After about an hour we had our first South Bound travelers. We deduced that they left from Mutton Cove as when we got there we could see a fresh set of tracks with poles coming from the campground. There was a fair amount of movement at the camp for 8am. There were even a few kayaks, which if you read DOC's brochure you shouldn't go further North than Onetahuti Bay because of remote and exposed coastline. We decided to cut inland toward the final hut, Whariwharangi, instead of walking the coastline to separation point. That detour of about 1km was supposed to add an additional hour to our tramping time and wasn't accounted for in our 13km for the day. We arrived at the hut about mid-morning and had a snack. We also ran into one of the other passengers in the shuttle. She had just started her trip South Bound. We talked about her itinerary for NZ in general and found it to be very weird. She was zigzagging all over the place, but after she said she was flying to some of the locations it made a bit more sense and that she wasn't going to rent a car. That just put her at the mercy of whatever company was doing the activity she wanted to do. Like after doing Tongariro Crossing, she was heading to Auckland to catch a shuttle that takes people to Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and Hobbiton. Both of which are hours South of Auckland and hours North of Taupo. So she would have to pass them just to come back to them. All because she thought she couldn't rent a car here. You can if your driver's license is in English. It's just that you drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right. Then again, I didn't drive for the first 4-5 months we lived here.

Leaving the hut, we got a big kick in the teeth, the dreaded hill that the hotel owner warned us about. It is 3km up and 3km back down. By this time, Beth had some pretty wicked blister on top of blister action that we drained and tried to apply moleskin to. It didn't help. So her paced slowed drastically. My downhill pace was even worse than hers. My ankle basically felt stuck and every rocking step down was a jolt of pain. I had minimal flexion and absolutely no rotation at this point. We kept making our way down. We were passed by a few runners heading out on the trail. What I would give not to be wearing a pack right now and running up the hill with a good ankle. It reminded me a lot of the track up The Mount, a fire road that is over-grown and a points just single track. We finally arrive at the trail head around 11:30. We take off our shoes and have a bite to eat and are eaten alive. We must have sweated off our sand fly spray as both our legs were savaged. Even after applying it, they would still land on you and your previous bites start to burn. Not much fun there kids. I proceeded to give our can of fuel to the first tourists that come by. They just happen to be from North America. I would say the US, but they also had a Canadian in their mix. The shuttle driver, the actual owner, arrived around 12:30 and we departed early. This worked in our favor as he had a bunch of stops to make on the way back to Nelson. The guy kept antagonizing Beth, who pretended to be asleep. The guy was/is a tool. We worked our way back to Marahau to pick up a couple families and even a couple of randoms who just needed to catch a bus less than 10 minutes down the road. They just so happened to be the remaining passengers on our way out. He charged them $25 a piece. We still had about 80 minutes before getting back to Nelson and we were surrounded by kids singing about doing cocaine, smoking weed, drinking vodka, and hitting people with the car. The parents didn't say a word. One of the kids started to feel car sick, so they said sit next to this stranger, Beth. We thought that at least on of the parents would have switched seats with their kid, but no. The shuttle dropped a family off on the side of the road about 30 minutes outside of Nelson and then dropped the other family off at the airport. I can't imagine the stench they brought on to the plane with them. Take an extra couple of hours or even a night to bathe before flying on a plane. No passenger should be subjected to trail hygiene or lack thereof. We were the last to be dropped off. A warm shower, a biscuit, and a hot cuppa tea greeted me at the hotel. Unfortunately we didn't plan well and had to walk to dinner that evening. Our feet weren't happy with us. I'm just glad there was a place less than 1.5km away that offered shuttle rides. We got them to drive us back as their driver didn't start until 6, but we were starving and were there by 5:30 as hobbled as we were.
So in review, we did 3 days of tramping for about 19hrs in total covering from Marahau to Wainui. We camped at Bark Bay and Anapai Bay. I highly recommend Anapai Bay as it was the highlight of our trip. It is just a very nice beach and the campsite has only a few spots. If you happen to be walking through or lucky enough to spend the night please say hi to matmit, but don't feed him. Unfortunately I have to say that so far that this is my least favorite of the Great Walks. There is a lack of variety in the scenery, noise from boats and water taxis, this includes the PA Systems, and the day walkers who don't follow any sort of trail etiquette. However, I would like to go back and see it from a kayak at some point.

Friday, April 8, 2016

NZ Bucket List: Revisited

So its been 4 years since we moved over here and we've done a lot, but looking back at my list. Here is what we've done that I set out to do. Granted my list has grown and maybe I'll spend some time revising this after today.

These are things I think I have to do and the list can grow.  They are in no specific order. 
Find some sort of job (This list may be a full time job!) Working for BCS now for over 2 years.
Find a place to live (besides out of my backpack) We are lucky enough to call Kinloch home. Granted we've moved around a bit.
Find a bike My bike stable looks pretty good.
Eat lamb I eat a fair amount of lamb.
Learn to surf (Still haven't learned to Surf)
Swim in Sea of Tasmania
Swim in Pacific Ocean
Explore the South Island: There is more to explore, but have been there several times.
Visit Australia Been there a few times for work and another for a vacation. Still have more to explore.
Go snowboarding  I've hit up Ruapehu, but need to get to the South Island at some point.
Find BBQ or make my own  I've got a Weber, but during the Summer I'm having to get a fire permit every 2 weeks and there are some periods where there is a complete fire bans.
Finish my coding project: I've got several that I'm working on, but never finish up.
Go tramping on one of the multi-day walks We have done several of the Great Walks and have plans to do several more this year.

Bike the Otago Trail: We are talking about doing this ride over Christmas this year.
Black-water rafting We did this awhile ago and I liked the walking tour more.

I've got a whole heap of things that I want to do and maybe I'll add it to this list as it looks pretty bare now that I've actually crossed things off.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ninjas assemble: Whanganui River Journey

After our last Great Walk excursion, Lake Waikaremoana, we started planning the Whanganui River Journey. It is a 145km paddle down from Taumarunui to Pīpīriki with a few sections of class 2 rapids and a lot of flat sections. As we have been planning this since last October, we have a lot of logistics to figure out. How many people were going? How many nights? Were there huts available? Or do we camp? What gear did people need? Which company to rent gear from? Would they transport our kayaks? So we started another legendary email thread.

There ended up being 8 of us on the trip as Banu had to pull out late because her parents decided to visit. So there was a large contingent of Americans with Raf, Laura, Beth, Peter, and I. Followed up with the 2 Kiwis, Mike and Paula. Rounding out our group was Rachel representing Ireland. Little did we know that Irish would be descending upon the river in force. We encountered no less than 4 large groups of her people. Good thing they didn't her all the grief we gave her over the long weekend. Our itinerary involved us camping each night and paddling from Ohinepane to Whakahoro on Day 1. Day 2 was Whakahoro to Mangawaiiti. Day 3 was Mangawiiti to Ngaporo. With the final day being Ngaporo to Pipiriki. So it would be roughly 123km with a short 5.4km return walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. The journey down the river was an awesome experience even with the weather not being the greatest. We were treated to some pretty epic views on the journey: early in the morning there was the mist rising revealing the fern and pine trees. All day long we were treated to ducks and birds flying around, but not a fish to be seen. With all the rain, the waterfalls were in full display.

We finalized our plans the week before Easter with hiring 3 canoes and booking transport for our 2 bigger kayaks. We met up with the rest of the Ninjas at Taumarunui Canoe Hire late Thursday Evening. We ate at a little take away spot in town with Mike and Paula, that had some pretty decent onion rings and a fried chicken and homemade stuffing. We had to wait for Rachel and her crew to arrive as there was some paperwork to be done, but while we waited we got to play with 2.5 week old kittens. Matter of fact one of the boys working there just picked one up and put it in Beth's hand without uttering a word. All I heard was the little mewing escaping it open maw and I saw Beth as she looked around partially dumbfounded at the kid's back while starting to pet the kitten and shrugging her shoulders.

That evening, we camped at Taumarunui. The next morning we were driven to Ohinepane after given a very lengthy briefing. Beth and I had used this company back in December when we did day 1 with her parents and our briefing was significantly shorter. We didn't get on the water until close to Noon and we had 37km to paddle. Beth and I paddled our kayaks and the others were paired off as couples, except for Rachel and Peter. After getting the gear loaded and the 'Ok' from the staff that they could paddle the canoe effectively enough we went through our first section of swift water. We paddled for about a couple hours and then pulled over at Poukaria for lunch. This campsite is right after the remains of a car in the river. Beth ended up getting stung in the arm while we were eating lunch. It was low enough that it didn't rub on her life jacket while paddling. We pulled into Whakahoro after about 5:30 hrs and we had to navigate a very steep, muddy, and precariously placed landing spot to unload our gear before walking another 400m to the campsite. This crazy landing experience would be the start of a trend for the remaining nights. This campsite happened to have horses roaming around the site which were not too impressed with us. If it wasn't the first night, we might have ventured next door for some cafe food and a $4 shower. Instead we made the food we brought with to lessen our load. Which Peter and Rachel needed to do a fair bit as they brought a lot of fresh produce to eat.

Leaving Whakahoro was probably more difficult than unloading as we had a little bit of rain overnight and the landing seemed even muddier. We ended up paddling 47km which was the longest section we would be doing this trip. Raf had to bandage his hand as he had gotten a blister on his thumb. It ended up ripping open so Laura would do medical each night. A few others had sore hands, but I don't think anyone else had as much issues as Raf. The landing at Mangawaiiti was pretty gnarly. It was pretty packed when we showed up and it was a slick, muddy mess with a 5 minute walk up to the top of the cliff. We ended up bringing each canoe into a small section that allowed for the easiest place to unload which was still difficult. Then we moved them out of the way. While we were doing this, we were told by another camper that the water in the tanks was very low and that we should use only what was necessary. We set up our tents where there was available space, which meant we were spread out as the camp seemed pretty full. While eating dinner, the rain started to bucket down and a bunch of people showed up. There was a group of 4 Irish guys and a group of 10 from Auckland. Some of which thought they could wait out the rain before setting up their tents, but that wasn't to be. It rained late into the evening.

We left Mangawaiiti early to beat the crowds at the Bridge To Nowhere, which surprisingly also had a crappy landing. We had very little room to try to tie up and it was very muddy. For being a tourist destination with lots of jet boats the landing was very rustic. We walked the 2.7 km to the Bridge To Nowhere, where Rachel was stung in the leg. We took in the view and read about the history of the bridge before turning around and starting to see a bunch of people being dropped off by jet boat and a dozen of canoes showing up. We left the cluster that was the loading area and went down to Tīeke Kāinga to eat lunch. There is a marae here that we chose not to visit. Instead we rather get to our camp site at Ngaporo earlier and try to get some stuff dried out. While we were leaving, the jet boat operators played the game 'Can I knock the paddlers off their boat?', but they didn't win. On our way to Ngaporo we saw a bunch of bikers being picked up from the end of the Bridge To Nowhere. The part we walked didn't seem to be a great trail as it was wet clay and a steep drop off on the side.

Arriving at Ngaporo appeared significantly different from the previous other landings. In the place of the mud and steep terrain there was a loose jumble of various sized loose rocks. The comments about it were how many twisted ankles we were going to sustain. I told everyone who said that to shut up. Beth forbid me from walking on the rocks more than necessary. So I was in charge of setting up the tent and making food. The camp site was the best of the bunch. We had a spectacular view and there were very few other people there. Rachel, Paula, Mike, and Peter went for a dip in the brown river, it was up a meter with all the rain we had received the week before. We had a relaxing night and a lazy morning as we only had 9km to Pipiriki, where our pickup was scheduled at 13:30. On the way down, we encountered several jet boats. They were banking on someone going over during the rapid sections, but we didn't give them the pleasure. Instead of waving back, they would raise their tablet in front of their face and either take photos or video. We (Mike and Paula) fell over out of sight from everyone except for our group. They lost only 1 water shoe in the ordeal. So the 50/50 rapid only claimed 1 out of 5, but Peter and Rachel took on a lot of water as well. Mike and Paula modeled the latest in low profile canoes until we were able to get them to the nearest beach and get rid of all the water they took on board.

Arriving at Pipiriki we were surrounded by some of the 92 other people that Taumarunui Canoe Hire sent out over Easter weekend as well as all the other outfitters. Trucks pulling trailers started to come down the boat ramp and load up gear, but they were slow to pull out and we our loading didn't start until about 2. We didn't leave until 3ish and we had 2 hrs back to Taumarunu, but we got to watch the movie 2012 while eating banana muffins with chocolate icing and chips while drinking orange juice or water. Once we got back to Taumarunui it was a mad rush to find our gear and boats and get them loaded. After that we met up with the Ninjas for a bite to eat at the same take away place. We then played host to Peter, Paula, and Mike for the evening as they took a detour on their drive back to Auckland. Rachel, Raf, and Laura headed straight back as Rachel had to work like me on Tuesday morning.

Now we are planning our next adventure: The Nugget. This is a multi-sport race that we participated in last year. While on the trip we hashed out who would be doing which event.

There will be some pictures and possibly a video posted so we can remember and share this trip soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Indian Adventure

Beth, Shiv, Sarah, and David

Back in December, we were invited to our friend Shiv's wedding. Well at first he told me he got engaged while he was recently back in India. Only after checking our calendar and saying we could make it up to Auckland for the event, we were informed it was going to be held in India. So there was only one option for us. That left us a few things to do: apply for visas, buy tickets, and sit on a plane for a long time. Our travel time from Auckland to Delhi was 18 hours including a couple hour layover in Sydney, otherwise it was about 15 hours on a plane. We were greeted by the hotel driver who navigated the streets of Delhi for us and dropped us off at The Met.
Wedding outfit

Driving in India was an experience by itself. First the painted lane lines are ignored. When you see 3 lanes along the pavement, there is somehow 7 lanes of cars, carts, bikes, trucks, tuk tuks, and animals executing the most intricate dance performance ever. All the while you have people playing the most intense game of Frogger. Where if you fail, you will most likely be going to the hospital. Second, you hear what I would expect to be the national anthem, the disjointed chorus of competing car horns. You may hear a single beep, a double tap, a long beep, or a melodic tune (novelty horns) to alert of you or others that there is a vehicle wanting to come past. At night this is replaced with flashing the high-beams from point blank as the following distance is more like cuddling than the recommend safe distance. However, we only saw 2 accidents while we were there.  We were glad that we did not have to attempt to drive here as we had a driver, Jassi, to deliver us safely to each of our destinations. I could probably write more about just the driving behavior, but I'll leave you with this. On our first night, we saw a driver not on 1 but 2 phones while navigating what they call Office Hour, aka Rush Hour, Traffic. I'm a firm believer of wearing my seat belt regardless of the law.
Entrance into the house

Shiv booked us the driver and the hotels for the duration of the wedding. We stayed in a lot of places and all of them were concerned with security. We had to pass through gates, but prior to being allowed to pass we were examined by security. This included a mirror to examine the undercarriage of the car, opening the hood to examine the engine, and some times opening the trunk. Once past the gate, we would have to have our bags x-rays while we went through a metal detector, just like the airport. Then we were allowed to enter the hotel. The first hotel was the Met in Delhi. The 2nd hotel was the Noor Mahal in Karnal. The 3rd hotel was the Regent in Chandigarh. The 4th hotel was the Taj in Chandigarh. Then we stayed at his family's house. After that, we stayed in the hotels that Beth booked for our trip to Agra, Jaipur, and Delhi before heading back to New Zealand.

The wedding was amazing. It was quite the experience. It was several ceremonies over several days in 2 different cities. We started our journey in Delhi along with Dave and Sarah, another Kiwi connection. We were driven to Karnal by Jassi. Karnal is where Shiv's family lives. We were shown around the house and school, which his family runs. All the while there were lots of people running around. Some from the school, some from government, and some setting up for the festivities. Shiv's sister, Taran, and sister-in-law, Bani, took Beth and Sarah out shopping for wedding outfits. They came back with 5 outfits and Beth was even offered to get her ears pierced while on the shopping excursion. I ended up getting a pair of dress shoes during this time at a different shopping area.

Wedding Reception and Wedding
The first ceremony that we attended was the Bride's family and friends came down from Chandigarh to mingle with the Groom's close friends and family. They also brought down gifts. During this period of time there was food and drinks being paraded around by servers. All of it was tasty and they were only to happy to come by us. There was live music during this time as well. This went on for hours, before we adjourned to the food tent through the gate. We were now treated to a large buffet of salads, breads, curries,  drinks, and desserts. We weren't even hungry, but we had to try it.

Henna party
The next ceremony that we attended was just for the Groom's close friends and family. It was a dance party that went from 7pm until 3am. We retired at midnight as we were still dealing with the time difference. The live music from earlier was back for the start of the evening and was replaced by a DJ later on. There was a series of formal dances that the musicians called for. I could only equate this to a mom's dance, a siblings' dance, a friends' dance, and then an open dance. It was during this time, that someone got her faced licked by someone's mother and it wasn't me. All the while, we are being served food and drinks while being blasted by the large amplifiers sitting close by.

Waiting for hands to dry
The 3rd ceremony was for the ladies. The guys got to lounge around, eat, and drink wearing comfortable clothes. While the ladies got dressed up and had henna applied to their hands and some got it applied to their feet and back. It was a hot morning and while Beth waited for her hands to dry I got to carry her new bangles. She got gold and silver bangles from the Bangle Man. Once again the musicians were playing while food was being served. Lunch was served shortly after all the girls had their henna applied.
Christ Church

We had a day off from ceremonies and we took a ride up into the hills to Kasauli. The road was under construction as the government is widening the road from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. This made for some very tight areas to weasel vehicles through. We went to the local market where we witnessed a monkey attack after being there for about 10 seconds. Beth picked up a few scarves to accompany her outfits. We also saw Christ Church and tried to see Monkey Point but it was closed. Upon returning to Chandigarh we went to the Rose Festival, which was across the street from our hotel. 

Monkey, my nemesis
The next day was the actual wedding ceremony, which we attended the after party. Shiv was escorted in by his family while he held up a sword to keep aloft a square of fabric. The newly weds sat in swanky chairs on a stage while photographers snapped photos of the couple. It was during this time that friends and family could sit next to the couple or stand behind them for a photo that will go into their wedding album. We were also treated to another large lavish lunch. We got to say a few words to Shiv and Ravneet. People commented a lot that they make a good match. I have to agree.
Another temporary structure

The next night was the wedding reception and the final ceremony. We walked through a series of rug covered hallways, past dressers with flowers, chandeliers hanging from the "ceiling", and a band welcoming the guests. The main reception area was a lavish arena separated into a few different areas. There was dinner tables set up, the stage for the couple, a DJ booth and dance floor, a bar area, a buffet, and several couches for lounging. All the wedding structures were temporary. They were metal scaffolding with colorful fabrics wrapped and draped over it. Then rugs were laid down, lighting ran, and even windows hung so the feeling of a permanent structure could be perceived. The night ended with only a partial first dance by the newly weds. I guess Shiv was wore out from the dancing a couple nights earlier.

Courtyard at our hotel

Wheel of Death
The next day we traveled back to Karnal where we stayed at Shiv's house. Prior to leaving we hit up Rock Garden. The guy who started this had way too much time on his hands. There were tons of sculptures, buildings, and waterfalls created all with rocks. We must have spent a couple hours wandering around it. We then drove back to Karnal where we were put up in the guest quarters on the first floor. That evening we had a lovely meal with his family where we ate a variety of treats inspired by local street foods. Shiv's mom kept placing bowls of these dumplings in front of me. It was a hollow hard shell of bread that was cracked with a spoon then filled with a mixture containing lime and other things that escape my memory. Then there was a pancake type thing with yogurt and a green sauce. I must have ate for an hour. It was so tasty and hearing the stories of the family it was easy to just keep snacking away. After we finished, we went into the lounge and started talking. Randomly we were asked if we had ever seen a car drive perpendicular to the ground. We said no. Ravi, Shiv's brother, said he was going to find his keys and take us. Beth stayed back as she was really tired and was going to bed early. So Dave, Sarah, and I got in the car with Shiv's brothers. Ravi drives like a race car driver. I am in the habit of buckling my seat belt as soon as I get in a car, but Sarah and Dave hadn't been wearing theirs in India. But after about a minute, they both clicked in. We raced through the streets of Karnal to a temporary carnival/market. We walk in and Ravi is quickly greeted by a policeman. We are then escorted to what I call the Wheel of Death. Basically a hampster wheel set perpendicular to the ground. While we listened to the guys rev the motorcycle engine we witnessed a car on the Ferris Wheel break. We had a little chuckle as there were people about 5 cars away. In walks a guy wearing jeans and a blue flannel shirt and hops on a motorcycle. He starts it up and starts to rev the engine. After about a minute, he takes off riding around the circumference of the Wheel of Death. He then gets off the bike and leans what looks like a pallet across the door. He gets back on the bike and within 2 rotations he is at the top of the contraption. He is joined by another guy where they both ride no handed, hold hands, force the bike to wobble, and chase after each other. The guy in the blue shirt loses his muffler while descending to the bottom. He puts the bike away and gets in a small car. He guns it and starts to ascend to the top again. He opens the door and holds it open. After a couple rotations the door closes and he pops out the window. He must be driving with his knee as he is waving while sitting on the door. The motorcycle creeps up and he holds on  to the opposite window. We can't believe what we have just seen. No safety equipment like a helmet and it was performed on a rickety structure that we questioned its ability to hold 2 of us at a time. Afterwards, it was another break neck race through the streets of Karnal. Once we got back, we were asked if we wanted dinner now. Dave bowed out as his belly wasn't feeling that good. Sarah and I took one for the team and went upstairs to eat with some of the family. We had buttered rotti, a slow roasted mutton curry, and a vegetable dish.

We then went back to Delhi before venturing to Agra and Jaipur. Dave and Sarah took us to the underground market. If you feel like being hassled and yelled at to come into a store this place is for you. You can even get a tattoo in a sketchy stall. I was hit with a scam while leaving. Someone flung crap on the top of my shoe and a shoe cleaner appeared out of nowhere. I was in the process of trying to wipe if off in what little grass I could find when a stand appeared and a guy was already  starting to clean it. He ended up asking for $15. We gave him $4 and walked off. I was already tossing the shoes at the end of the trip as I had a new pair arriving with Angi a couple days after we returned. We then ventured over to Old Delhi and took a bicycle tour through the area. We got to see Spice Alley and a variety of other things. After that we drove to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Then we went to Jaipur and happened to stumble across the local Sunday market. It stretched on and on. You could buy produce, clothes, cooked food, and even some electronics.

Rock Garden

 Prior to leaving, we stayed in hotel close to the airport. We just so happened to drive past the Ameriprise, my former employer, Indian Headquarters. It is located maybe 40 minutes from the airport and we just happened across it. I wonder if I have interacted with another of the people on the street as we drove past. It was almost exactly 4 years ago that I quite and moved to New Zealand.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Summertime blues

So my ankle still hasn't come around. I've had a 2nd set of x-rays done and nothing new was found. They saw swelling, possible soft tissue damage, and all the old stuff  I've racked up. So I've been scheduled for an ultrasound right before we go to India next month. I hope it starts feeling better soon, but I'm not very optimistic. I really don't feel like having more surgeries. I've still got a very painful  spot to touch, it gets painful after walking for a short time, and my physio exercises definitely aggravates it. However, I'm doing my exercises until I'm told otherwise. So what does that mean? Well I'm not biking as the range of motion and going up any incline hurts. I'm not running as walking bothers it. I've been belaying Beth at the climbing wall and I've done 2 routes, but that killed my ankle. Ian says I should focus on the finger board and just get stronger. I may take him up on that. I was doing pull-ups last time we were in. Swimming is a pain and I've tried doing just pulling sets, but doing 800m or more of pulling is asking for my shoulders to hate me. I've been doing some kettle bell workouts, but lifting in the summer heat is not that fun. So we've taken the kayaks out for several jaunts on the lake. Here is some information on that.

Today, we drove over to Acacia Bay and dropped in our kayaks for a paddle out to Mine Bay and the Maori Rock Carvings that are out there. It was about a 10km round trip paddle. We saw a couple of large groups coming back from the carvings. One of which was the Bay of Plenty Paddling Club. The others we were guessing were paying customers. It was a fairly uneventful paddle out, except for when I deemed it necessary to produce ramming speed. Beth was not happy about that. If you watch the video of the paddle out you may see her do her best Tusken Raider impression. The carvings themselves were very cool. We didn't get out of the kayaks to inspect closer, but from what I could see from the water they were impressive.
Besides, my lack of activity we've hosted a couple Americans and  a French cycle tourer this past week. I've been a part of a website called Warm Showers for awhile now. I joined years ago when I was preparing to cycle back to the States. Instead of doing that we stayed in New Zealand. I still have the plan of doing the ride when its time to pack up from here. Anyway, I was contacted last weekend if we would be able to host. This is awfully tricky for us as we aren't always home. I've had to turn a lot of people away as we were out enjoying life. So my first ever guest was Sofiane. He came to the house just after 5pm. It had been a pretty miserable day with high winds and driving rain. I wasn't too envious of him to be riding in that weather. Knowing he was to arrive around 5pm, I timed it so I was pulling chocolate chip zucchini bread muffins from the oven shortly before he got here. I also made pesto with basil from my garden. I then roasted a chicken, steamed zucchini, and made some pasta for dinner. We talked about his previous tours and where he was heading next while cleaning his drive train. I told him about the Japanese Odyssey, which I would love to ride as well as the Great Divide. He did the Great Divide in 2014 and thinks he'll be back this summer to race it. Who knows we may see each other at one of these long events in the near future.
The next night we had Alexander and Katie from NC staying with us. The night that Sofiane stayed with us, they were at another Warm Shower host down the road. So they spent the day in Taupo. We agreed to meet in town and give them a ride back to the house, with a quick stop over at their previous host to pick up their gear. While in town, we took them to Pauly's Diner. Katie being a vegetarian, had their vegetarian option and gave it her seal of approval. That makes 2 vegetarians who gave it their approval. I'll stick with my beef burger or fried chicken though. Once we got back to the house, we let them settle in for a bit before talking about where they were heading next. They were heading to the Timber Trail, about 55km away, to tackle the 85km trail over a couple days while camping out. After that they were heading to Tongariro National Park to do the Northern Circuit Great Walk.

These 2 sets of guests setups couldn't have been more different. Sofiane's was a sleek, fast setup with just a handlebar bag and a large seat post bag. While Alexander and Katie's were fully laden beasts of the road. However, their purposes are also different. Sofiane has 8 weeks to blitz the islands, while the others are going to do things off the bike as well like tramping. I know that my setup that I was planning on using is in the middle. I've got a rear rack and was looking for a handlebar bag. Who knows, I may invest in a frame bag and start going places on my mountain bike like Old Ghost Road or the Heaphy Track.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Christmas Break Travels

Our break this year was from Dec 18 to Jan 8th. What did we get up to? I believe we maximized our time away from work with a trip to the South Island with Beth's parents, who came over for their 3rd visit, and a trip to Fiji with our friends Helen and James for scuba diving. Within this period we had a couple nights in Auckland where we met up with some friends.

South Island Adventure:

The plan was to fly into Queenstown and spend a couple days there prior to heading up to do the Routeburn Track. With my recent ankle injury, I had to pull out of the tramp, which was good as I could only walk for about 20 minutes on uneven flat ground before my ankle was in a lot of pain. So I dropped Beth and her parents off at the trail head and drove to Te Anau to spend Christmas in a hostel. I was in a room with a German couple for one night and then we added a French guy the 2nd evening. I spent most of my time reading books punctuated with short walks around town. I then drove up to the trail head to pick up Beth and her parents on the 27th, but thought I would try to meet them on the trail. So I left early, as I was to meet them around 2pm at the trail head. I was there shortly after 9 and I put on my ankle brace and proceeded to walk 1km in about 20 minutes before turning around. I could go up fine but coming down the tricky loose rock wasn't going to be fun. Especially as my ankle got sore and tired. I proceeded to sit in the car for a couple hours reading. They made it to the end at about noon. They were happy that I was early as they didn't feel sitting around for a couple hours for me to show up for the original meet up time. I then drove back to Manapouri, about 20 minutes from Te Anau, where Beth had secured a Bach for us. A Bach is a cabin or holiday home that people will often rent out. It was a quaint little place that had beds for 7 or so people.

We headed back into Te Anau for groceries and to eat out. We also watched a local film about the Milford Sounds at the 1 movie theater. I tried to see Star Wars again on Christmas night, but they had the 2 worst seats available. Either corner in the front row. I opted to finish yet another book. I finished 7 and I'm 84% through my current book. We did a boat tour out to Doubtful Sound where we were treated to some fine weather. They hadn't had rain in 6 days, so many of the waterfalls were not flowing. In this region, the rainfall is measured in meters. Typically it rains 2 out of 3 days, so they were experiencing a bit of a drought.

On New Year's Eve, we woke up early to drive to Queenstown to catch our flight back to Auckland via Christchurch. We were met/picked up by Peter, who was trying to get the most visits to an airport without being a taxi in the span of a week. I believe his tally was going to be 6. Of course that has to take into account that his parents were flying in a couple days later. Then spending a few days utilizing our place before heading down to the South Island. Even doing the same boat trip out to Doubtful Sounds as us.

Our plans for New Year's was to meet up with some friends for dinner, chin wagging, drinks, and possibly fireworks. This was changed when some of our friends decided to eat dinner with family. Then we said to another friend go ahead and hit the BBQ with your mates. We'll meet up later. Well later happened to be after 10 when we got the text. We were already snuggled in bed. We were boarding a plane to go to Fiji for 9 days.

Prior to leaving on our trip, we dropped Bill and Betsy off at the museum in the Domain. This would be their 2nd visit to the museum, but it was a good way to spend a very rainy day. The next day the were starting their return trip to WI with another short stop of in HI to see Mike, Sara (Beth's sister), and the grand kids. They packed a lot of travel in their short time here, but its not very often that they visit.

As we were loaning our car to Peter, while we away he dropped us off at the airport again. Little did we know that on the first day of this trip, the battery would die. He replaced it for us, but we'll be taking him out to dinner after his parents go back to the States as a form of repayment.

Fiji Bound:
We met up with Helen and James in the check-in line. I had to look around to see if our cameraman Karl was anywhere around. Why do you ask? It was very similar to the dive trip that Beth won the previous year, where we had Karl documenting the entire thing. We flew into Nadi, with the worst child in the history of the world in front of Beth. I think the only person more furious than us was the person sitting in front of the little Beelzebub. This thing was probably 2-3 years old. It only knew how to use high pitch squeal, violent kicks, taunting/movie pausing finger jabs, and waiving a tea cup around as what could be constituted as communication. The parents put cotton in their ears and watched movies while ignoring the beast as it went nuts. It stood on the seat, reached around the headrest and frequently paused Beth's movie. The hands would then proceed to linger there until Beth shooed them away. All the while the squeal would be emanating from its maw. When its butt could find the seat, it was unleashing Chun Li's Lightening Kick to the seat back in front. Otherwise, that passenger had the sweaty hands of death itself draped over his headrest with the shrill sound 'eeeeee' in his ear. We were treated with the look of utter dismay, but the flight attendant when the child presented its cup for hot tea all the while doing what looked to be the pee-pee dance. The father tried to hold the cup still and nodded his head for the drink to be poured. I guess he has hoping to be severely burned by the hot beverage so he could spend some time away from the ball of destruction he created.

Upon arrival in Nadi, Beth went to get our rental car while I got accosted several times by cabbies looking to take me somewhere. Helen and James were slow to meet us as they had to get all their gear. We were finally united and walked out to our rental, a Nissan Note. What was noteworthy about the vehicle? The fact that it survived the week. We all felt that the car was less than roadworthy, but then again the road conditions were pretty island like as well. While driving to Pacific Harbor, every little village we drove through had a series of high speed bumps that I can only assume took huge chunks out of the bottom of the car.

We got to the resort about 9pm just in time for the kitchen to be closing. We had a quick meal before heading up to our lodgings for the week. We were on the 3rd floor with a 2 bedroom apartment with a pretty nice view. The sunrise above is from the deck. The resort is next door to a very fancy resort, the Pearl, that we were able to utilize as well as ours. We had lunch over there a couple times throughout the week after diving as we were too spent to make lunch.

Everyone, but Beth, did 3 days of diving while she did 2. The dive shop is located in a decrepit resort on the back of a golf course, but their shop is in good order. The first day we did an organized shark dive, but it was in jeopardy because of Cyclone Ula. We wouldn't know until the morning of if the dive was happening. We showed up to the dive shop and were giving the thumbs up. We walked out back and grabbed our rental gear from the shed. I was given a 5.5mm suit, which was very warm. The water temp ended up being 27C. The following dives, I was able to get a 3mm suit which was still too warm.

The 2 dives that took place at the Shark Reserve consisted of taking a 15-20 minute boat ride from the Pearl, but 30 minutes from the shop as we had to go down a river at 5km/h. The shark dives consisted of a very structured dive experience. We descended to 30m for the viewings of the Bull Sharks. Here they hand feed the sharks and as well as dangled a wheelie bin full of fish heads that would drop occasionally. Here the sharks would get within a meter of you and the only protection you had was a guy standing behind you with a metal pole. As I knelled on the ground filming, I would see the pole appear over my shoulder right as a shark was getting close. From there we ascended to about 15-18m and saw a few more species of sharks. Here we were gathered on a rope while the feeder dug food out of a wheelie bin. We also go to see a Moray Eel.

We had about an hour long surface interval where we had a very sugary and milky tea and cookies. Our dive plan for the 2nd dive was taking us to about 20m where we would be laying on the floor while the sharks were feed above us. This is where I felt the most scared. I remember seeing their eyes darting back and forth looking for food and then with a quick flick of the tail snatch it out of the water right in front of me. I was trying to turtle my head back into my BCD to get away from the edge. Not that a few inches would have mattered if they wanted a larger meal.

The morning of the 2nd dive, we drove into Suva to get some groceries as the local market wasn't all that big. The drive was about an hour through small villages. We stopped on the side of the road so Helen could get her coconut. She also proceeded to tell us about her dream of Beth and I get her bags back from a thief not once but twice. As we pulled into Suva, we were looking for a parking spot. We were driving around aimlessly when we spotted a parking sign. Then we noticed some free spots in front of the police station. As we were about to park, a guy comes running out of the station. Beth not knowing exactly what to do just stops in the middle of the road as the guy flashes a smile as he runs past. He is followed by 2 out of shape and out of breath officers. They were already probably 20m behind the guy and losing ground fast. We parked the car in front of the police station and were amazed by our first impression of the city. The officers had by now jumped into trucks and were canvassing the neighborhood. We think they got their man as they were pulling up as we about to leave. 

We spent some time wandering around Suva, but not too much as my ankle can only take so much walking. We went to the waterfront and a couple parks as well as walking past their government building. We then proceeded to drive through town to the grocery store, where we picked up our supplies for the week. Its interesting to see what people eat for breakfast. I was doing eggs and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Beth did nutella on bread, and Helen and James often did beans on toast. We ended up making most of our meals, which was nice as there wasn't too many places to eat nearby. I also did a lot of eating out on the South Island when a kitchen wasn't always available.

For the 2nd dive day, we went exploring the coral around the same reserve. This was an afternoon dive, that left very late as we had to wait on 2 Russians who dove in the morning then left on a long lunch. We were told 5 minutes, but it was like the 5 minute conversation in Snatch. It turned out to be about an hour. We went to the same dive site, as a German guy lost his GoPro there that morning. Why don't people tether their expensive camera to their BCD? I have a carabiner that I use, but I'll be switching to a locking carabiner in the future. These 2 dives were very organized as well with no venturing off as we were still around sharks. I had about 20 seconds of panic as I felt very lite all of the sudden and felt like I was ascending rapidly. I was breathing heavy, until Beth signaled to let air out of the BCD. I thought it was empty, but evidently there was enough so I was ascending. I dumped the air and descended back down. This caused me to hit the air limit while on the dive so I ended up swimming next to our guide and used his secondary regulator for the next few minutes. On the 2nd dive, Beth and I were supposed to stay near the other dive guide in case I used my tank up again, but with Beth's recognition skills and trying to communicate underwater this didn't work out too well. The air wasn't a problem the 2nd dive as I sorted the equipment out during that first dive. Got to see 2 sea turtles during this dive. What shocked me, was that there was a Swiss girl doing her Open Water certification there and she is doing these drills with sharks around her.

Beth was in a fair amount of pain after diving and decided not to do a 3rd day of it. The 3 of us however were keen as they were going to take us out further into a big reef. The diagram during the dive briefing showed a lot of coral reefs that could be explored as well as a wreck. We ended up diving with a brother/sister or married couple from Australia again. I just called them the Lannisters. They were on the shark dive with us earlier in the week. They weren't very talkative, but the guy had left his GoPro handle at the resort as the dive charter handed them out the first day. They hadn't brought any this time. I thought I was being nice and gave him mine, but said just don't lose it. I figured I would just get photos and videos from Helen and James. The first dive of the morning was down to 30m to swim around and above it. During this dive, I ended up seeing a lot of cool things as I wasn't preoccupied about holding my camera. I just enjoyed looking at marine life and diving. We all grouped up for our safety stop before heading back to the boat. On the boat, the guy noticed he lost his camera and my handle. He is apologetic and visibly distract. He jumps back in with his mask and snorkel to see if he can see it. The Swiss girl during our surface interval had to do her 10 minute tread water and her 200-300m swim. The guy ends up putting a $50 (Fijian) bounty on his camera. We descend again to about 20m and work our way around some different reefs. I see a couple sharks, as well as a couple giant clams. There were a couple scorpion fish, aka camo-rock fish. There were 2 massive cray fish hiding under a ledge. You could tell the guides know the area really well as they knew where things were going to be. I'm first back on the boat and the captain has a big smile as he is dunking a camera in the freshwater. I recognize the carabiner on the handle. I asked where it was found. Jonny, the dive instructor for the Swiss girl's cert, said he found it right by the mooring line on the bottom of the ocean. The guy was super ecstatic to get it back. It had all his vacation videos and pictures on it and its also expensive. It was the newer model with an LCD screen and extended battery pack. I wonder how many cameras have been lost. I'm thinking of making a tether to the case just in case it comes off the handle. Which happened to a girl we dove with at Goat Island.

The remainder of the trip we, ended up renting kayaks as the jet ski place didn't actually take our reservations. We had booked a self-drive tour around the near island with a snorkel and lunch on the beach before returning. It was to be about a 60km ride over 4-5hrs. It looked like a lot of fun as we saw them shoot past the day before while heading back in after the morning dive. Instead we ended up doing 3km up river and then 3km against the incoming tide. We started in a downpour, which felt great because soon as it stopped rain it was like wearing a wet flannel blanket in 36c degree heat. Helen drew the short paddle, as she and James were in the tandem, but we had a paddle that was missing half of its blade. Our journey down the river took us past the local golf course and past some pretty flash houses. Our final night in Pacific Harbor, we made our way over to Uprising Resort to eat. I had the lovo, which is the traditional form of cooking, an underground bbq. While I believe the others had pizza and burgers. I got to sample fish, chicken, pork, as well as interesting salads and tubers, similar to cassava, but different. Thursday night, is not only lovo night, but they put on a traditional dance and fire show. It reminded me a lot of a luau, but it was still fun to experience.

Our last full day was spent driving back to Nadi, where we stayed in a pretty run down hostel. James and Helen had a private cottage, which in hindsight we probably should have slept in. They had AC, while we stayed in a private room with a shared bathroom. Our cottage only had a fan. We spent part of the afternoon walking through The Garden of The Sleeping Giant where we admired a ton of flowers and were bothered by mosquitoes. We then had dinner in Denarau, a gated community, which felt like we were sitting back in Auckland. We were surrounded by boats, tourists, and kids with braids. We were all glad that our entire trip wasn't spent there. I think just having dinner there was enough.

The next morning, our flight departed at 9. We were a little delayed leaving, but we were eager to get back home. We said bye to Helen and James at the airport, but said we would be in touch soon. Our car was waiting for us over in the domestic terminal as Peter, who was borrowing our car, had gone to the South Island with his parents the day before. We weren't able to go home just yet. We had originally booked our hotel room through a special, but then ended up going to Fiji, so we had another night in Auckland. We made the most of it and met up with Mike, who recently broke his hand and had surgery, Paula, and Irish Rachel over in Takapuna for dinner. Most of us ate at El Humero, which is Colombian BBQ. It is similar to El Sizzling Chorizo, which is Argentinean. While the vegetarian of the group had a VPN pizza from Dante's. After dinner, we wandered over and had an ice cream. The next morning we were up early and drove back to Kinloch.

Our lawn and garden was crazy. The cilantro had flowered, the spinach had dried up, the zucchinis were massive, and the peas were plentiful. I spent some time tidying up the garden and mowing the lawn. I'm glad it was really dry while we were gone or our weed lawn would have been even more ridiculous. Now we are getting settled back in with work and routine. My ankle is still bothering me and I may have an ultrasound scheduled if it hasn't come right in the next 2 weeks. This puts me in a little bind as we got things planned. I was supposed to be doing the 85km Timber Trail on the 16/01, but have already bailed on that. We are diving White Island at the end of the month, but that shouldn't prove problematic. The following we were doing a 4 day MTB trip to Hawke's Bay with the Auckland crew. At the moment, I don't know if I have the range of motion to ride. I'm going to test it out tomorrow with some flat pedals on the road. Then in February, we head to India for Shiv's wedding. Beth is also busy planning our next Great Walk adventure. We haven't even finished doing the Whanganui River yet, but we are already booked in for Abel Tasman at the end of April. I hope my ankle comes right soon as I've been feeling lazy with no biking or running.