Friday, July 31, 2009

Bad weather ends trip

Well you can't have a ski trip to New Zealand without a wee bit of bad weather. I've one day left and it's not looking good for getting a final blast on the slopes. Both nearby fields are closed today which means that the retailers in town are rubbing their hands with glee and the video shops are doing a roaring trade. But by 11 the rain has eased and the sun is out and it's quite pleasant to go for a walk along the lake edge looking over to the nearby snow capped peaks.I am sorely missing my camera, as the scenery is drop dead gorgeous and there is no way that my little point and shoot can do it credit. I try anyway, including a few arty shots with the built in macro setting. Next time I'm bringing the "proper" camera!And there will be a next time. These two weeks have been awesome, with mostly excellent weather, great snow and no crowds at all. It turns out that these are the quietest two weeks of the season, between the end of NZ holidays and the start of the peak ski month of August. I am determined to return again same time next year, so if anyone wants to join me, I'm now officially on the lookout for ski buddies for 2010.

Wanaka itself is a lovely little town, much bigger than last time I was here but still retaining its friendly small town charm, unlike its brash neighbour down the road at Queenstown. From the ski shop staff who were always friendly and helpful, to my shy but generous ski instructor Lara, who kindly invited me up to the Oakridge Estate to use their pool and spa for free and whose flatmate, another of the ski shop staff, drove me home again. And the two Treble Cone bus drivers: Thierry with his infectious gallic laugh, an ex ski instructor only too willing to take us for a few runs on the mountain and throw in a few tips for free, and kind Ken, an ex-shearer who when he heard I came from Geraldton asked me if I windsurfed; those boys got us up and down that muddy mountain road every day and were kind enough to let me keep my skis in the bus overnight.

I'm looking forward to coming back next year, just got to stop spending money in the meantime!!


Saturday, July 25, 2009

How to spend money: Lesson One

Go on a ski holiday. Despite my best efforts to get the best deals : cheapish flight, early bird price on the lift tickets, staying in a dorm at the backpackers, and the 10 day bus ticket up the mountain, there's just no getting away from the fact that skiing costs money! Luckily, it's NZ dollars, which are weaker than a soggy sponge so the pain isn't quite so bad.

Day one I turn up on the slopes to discover that my skis are hopelessly outdated and I'd enjoy life just that bit better with a pair of skis that are easier to turn and therefore easier to control. Definitely an issue when hurtling down a slippery mountain at high speed.

No problem, they have demo skis so I sign up for a pair and have a lovely day, but then I have to give them back, bummer!! Come and buy a pair they say, but no, I'm not buying skis, much simpler to rent and keep up with the improvements that way.

Day 2 it's windy and rainy and the mountain is closed. I have a day off. Day 3 there's 5-6cm of fresh snow and it's beautiful clear skies and it's my first lesson. First way to spend money: get private lessons. Aside from the cost (offset by said saggy economy) there are only pros to this spend; my technique improves dramatically and I work out how to use my rather old skis quite adequately.

Day 4 sees 20cm of fresh snow and appalling visibility. I discover that it is possible to get snow sick! Similar to motion sickness, where without visual orientation I get hopelessly dizzy and wobble all over the place, that's when I'm actually capable of moving without my head spinning!! Luckily I am with my instructor, who manages to get me off the mountain and we finish the lesson doing exercises on the beginner slope. She also casually mentions that my skis are too long and I'd benefit from shorter more modern skis. That does it, I'm off to the shop to hire skis for the rest of the trip! Another expense.....

After lunch the clouds clear and I get 2 hours on beautifully fresh snow before the skis get retired to their new role as an interior design item somewhere round the house. Back in Wanaka I visit the shop and order hire skis, planning to bring my boots in for fitting in the morning.

Day 5 (Day 4 on the slopes) I discover that my boots are stuffed!! OK they are over 15 years old and the plastic has deteriorated such that the base plates on the heels have completely broken away. A quick boot substitution for the day sees me on my bus and up the mountain but it is now time to bite the bullet and purchase myself a new set of boots.

Unlike skis, boots are personal. A boot that fits properly makes all the difference to both comfort and ski control. There is no way I would hire a boot, ever!! But the lovely boys back at the shop will refund me my ski hire if I buy some boots so it's not so bad afterall!! And the sweet Japanese chap who measures and fits me has 20 years experience and really knows his stuff! A true professional, I am in capable hands. And the best thing?? My new boots are about 200% more comfortable than my old ones, and that's only on the first day!!!! And they don't half look flash as well.

Day 6 (Day 5 skiing) is my first day in the boots and my first lesson with Lara with both new boots and skis. She is suitably impressed and after a few exercises on piste we hit the lumpy stuff. All my style immediately goes out the window as I somehow manage to get down almost vertical slopes in thick soft snow. I am instructed not to notice that we are now on a black run, I am already so freaked out such trivial details hardly matter. Apparently I do extremely well and even manage to regain some style. Boy I'm really starting to get this palaver!!

I take it fairly easy in the afternoon, just doing a little off piste practice as I have all of tomorrow to practice before my next lesson Monday. I'm enjoying the lessons so book up for a few more : hey it's only money right?? And when I get back to Wanaka I make one more purchase, again recommended by my instructor.

This one's a no brainer (pun intended) : I buy a helmet!!

More photos added

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bad weather day

Day two in southern NZ and the weather has closed in and closed the mountain. Hopefully this means a big dump of fresh snow, and cross fingers it only lasts a day.

Meanwhile, down here at the lake it's a cold rainy blustery day, gee it must be winter! You forget about this weather living in the Mediterranean climes of Geraldton when even the winter rains aren't that unpleasant, but at least I'm prepared with all the winter woollies.

Today the jetlag has hit proper. Perhaps the adrenaline of yesterday's rush masked it all, but after a fitful sleep last night, I was glad to return to bed for a few hours after finding out my trip up the mountain was off. At last I dragged myself out (at 6:45am WA time!!) and hit the shops for not one, but two, double shots of espresso. I now feel half normal and that caffeine headache has disappeared for a while.

Ellie, one of the couple I trekked Tiger Leaping Gorge with in China last year, is campervanning around the South Island and is meeting up with me for a few days skiing. But first I'm off to explore the cinema, apparently an institution around here with a bar, wacky seating and an old fashioned intermission. Can think of worse ways to spend an evening!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jelly Legs

Day one. Slept in! Woke at 8:10 and had to hightail it straight to the shop to pick up my newly tuned skis and jump on the 8:30 bus up the mountain. Almost forgot my lift pass so had to sprint back to the hostel for that. Exhausted, hungry and haven't even got onto the snow yet!

The day is clear blue skies, no wind, just glorious. Treble Cone has big long runs and a spectacular view down to Lake Wanaka and its many islands. You just have to stop a while and admire the view.First run was a little wobbly after five years away, so I kept to the baby run. Some friendly Kiwi chap made some disparaging comments about my ancient skis - well at least they're parabolics - then proceeded to suggest that I snaffle a demo ski for the day, off the chaps by the chairlift. So yours truly spent the day skiing in the latest and greatest, and well, tomorrow I've got to go back to mediocre!!
Since I'm here for a while I just stuck to the nicely groomed blue trails, most of which have a gradient close to 45 degrees or more so hardly baby slopes. Only had one spectacular, ski losing, crash, but mostly discovered that my ski legs are in fact still there.

I called it a day around 3pm, when the legs started feeling like jelly. I've done some yoga stretches and am all ready for tomorrow, hopefully with enough time to breakfast first!!

Photos so far

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jetlagged in wonderland

What a mammoth effort to get over here to Wanaka in New Zealand. First stop, after a final massage from Brad, was Perth, where a quality 24 hours was spent with my mate Naomi and her two mostly gorgeous children. The selfishness and temper tantrums of a 3 year old would definitely put most people off having kids altogether. Luckily they went off to sleep and we enjoyed a roast chicken over a nice bottle of red wine and fell asleep watching Le Tour de France.

The second leg involved taking the 6pm plane to Melbourne, then finding a sleeping spot for a few hours before my flight to Queenstown in the morning. Unfortunately they wouldn't let me check the luggage the whole way through so there was me, on a wooden bench down the backend of Jetstar check-in, trying to get a bit of shut eye. Despite the annoying shriek of the XRay machine conveyer belt, which they could have turned off given the terminal was closed overnight!, I actually got some sleep. Those months in SE Asia have really worked wonders!

Once checked in I went through customs and bought myself a simple point and shoot camera. I just couldn't justify bringing the usual SLR rig with me on this trip, let alone trust myself to not smash it hurtling down a mountain around here. It's aqua green, just bigger than a credit card and doesn't take bad photos either. Once I work out all the buttons, I'll start uploading them.

Arriving in Queenstown it's a necessity to have a camera as the scenery is gobsmackingly gorgeous. The plane flies along the river valley, at the same level as the nearby snow covered peaks and lands in the middle of this wonderland. Welcome to NZ!

From Queenstown there's a bus service to Wanaka, but due to a delay departing Melbourne because of a late passenger, we missed the connection. Luckily for me there were 3 of us in the same dilemma so we ended up sharing a cab over the Crown Range to Wanaka. Gorgeous blue skies, sun, and snow capped peaks, what a lovely trip. I'm now staying at the backpackers and catching up on a little sleep.

My biggest concern is that I'm going to sleep in in the morning and miss my bus ride up the mountain. And that the time difference makes watching Le Tour almost impossible, bummer!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Harvesting chicken greens

This time of year my garden is a gorgeous green, full of healthy happy plants and soil pretending to be loam. There's even the occasional earthworm to be found munching through the decaying bougainvillea mulch that coats most of the garden paths.

Trouble is, most of those healthy happy greens are known in gardening parlance as weeds! But I prefer to see them in a different light, in my attempt to create harmony and positive karma in my largely organic garden. You see labelling these opportunistic chaps as unwanted intruders is a largely negative concept, which may have well, largely negative repercussions.

Having done some reading about some of the more wacky gardening communities around the world, like Findhorn in northern Scotland, there seems to be some value in respecting all plants and animals that visit your patch of earth, even the less savoury ones that some people call pests. Instead of creating monocultures, allowing shared use of the resources seems to lead to healthier, more productive soils and gardens. It's a challenging concept, but hey, I kind of like getting a bit weird from time to time!

My neighbour, who heads up quite a large local NGO involved in climate change, water management and agricultural issues, seems to think that the best approach is poison. This seems to be a very non organic and destructive way to view things. I prefer to find a useful alternative, with the emphasis being on the word useful.

So I harvest my "excess greens", being those plants growing in places where I'd rather they weren't, and using them as chook food or garden compost. The real challenge is keeping up with the burgeoning supply that threatens to swamp my paths and verges. It's easy work, with the ground being soft from all the rain, and as I harvest I think positive thoughts about how useful these little plants are in their next job of yellowing up my eggs, or providing nutrients to my impoverished sandy patch.

And just maybe I'll get them harvested before they flower and set seed, as much as I appreciate them, there's just no room for reproduction on my patch chaps!!

Another trip on the cards

Good old New Zealand for putting out the bunting for my first ski trip for years! The recent snow should mean I'll be in for some awesome fun on the slopes at Treble Cone in 2 weeks time. I've lost the required centimetres from around my butt so I fit nice and snugly in the bright red bunny suit without any fear of ripping a seam on a difficult descent. Must remember to pack the matching lippy!! Who ever said skiing wasn't about looking good??

Following this trip I'll have to spend a few months rebuilding the coffers, but then along comes an Air Asia deal too good to refuse and well, Indonesia here I come - again!

This time I'm flying into Jakarta and out of Bali, with the plan to explore the heavily populated island of Java, and yes climb a few volcanos. I'm not going till March next year ( something to do with work commitments and holiday entitlements) but have already realised that one month is just not going to be enough time to do the sort of exploring that I like to do. Plus it'll be the tail end of the wet season which might make some climbs out of the question due to mud slides and such nasties that seem to occur far too often due to excessive deforestation.

So I have to hit the books and internet and start researching just what places I really really want to visit.

I have also done something really stupid, having booked my flights in and out of Indonesia to make a total of 31 days, meaning I'll need to get a 60 day visa instead of the 30 day visa on arrival. Because the day one arrives is Day 1, regardless of time of day, a visa really only lasts 29 days. So that's an extra 30 bucks for two extra nights, hardly going to break the bank, but annoying all the same!

It also means scrubbing up on the Bahasa Indonesian, which I'm looking forward to returning to, like a familiar old friend. Helps with some of the websites too, though the Jakarta slang on the forums can be a bit difficult to navigate. Nothing a bit of practice can't remedy...

Am not mentioning anything to Hazel just yet......