Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What to do when grounded

As anyone can tell who reads my blog, I'm a pretty active individual. I like to keep both my body and mind busy, and my recent enforced grounding due to eye surgery has stopped me in my tracks somewhat. Not only can't I drive or fly, I am limited to less strenuous physical activity until the retina looks like it is well and truly adhering well. Negotiating the world with vision in only one eye also takes a lot of getting used to!

Everything that happens in life can be viewed through many different prisms. When an obstacle occurs in my life's trajectory I've always tended to look for the opportunities it creates rather than dwell on my personal misfortune. Fact is, shit happens. And I'm pretty sure feeling sorry for myself doesn't make that shit go away.....

So, after the initial shock of having to undergo a second surgery and the prospect of an even longer recuperative period, I returned from my review appointment with some clear ideas about when and what I could and couldn't do. I could fly at the end of the 8 week period post operatively, I could walk up Mt Iron, and I could cycle as long as it wasn't too strenuous. Driving is still out of the question.

David, my landlord, has an old mountain bike in his back shed that he has let me use. It's not too shabby a bike, so after dropping the seat height I took it for a little run around the local streets to see how it felt cycling with one eye. It's a little weird, but doable. So a day later I rode into town along the Outlet Track! Now that was quite an experience: narrow track, cliff one side, river the other, am I crazy?? Overtaking people is still a problem, and going downhill is terrifying, but otherwise, I'm nailing this one eyed cycling gig. And there are so many bike tracks around here I'm spoilt for choice.

To keep my brain busy I've enrolled in an online TEFL course. I'd been thinking about the idea of teaching English in a foreign country as an option for some time, and having the down time right now to complete the course is an opportunity worth taking. It's quite interesting too, especially as I've never learnt much phonetics or grammar in the past.

Finally, the food one. I thought of this when Kathy was still here because the seed of the idea began in Sapporo City a few years ago when we decided to do a gyoza crawl. Gyoza are Japanese fried dumplings, and are particularly popular in Hokkaido. The plan was to head out from our hotel and order a plate of gyoza and a beer at the first restaurant we came to, consume, then move on to the next gyoza joint. We sampled quite a few varieties that night, and got quite drunk as well... but what's that got to do with New Zealand?

I was thinking how this idea of sampling an individual dish could be transplanted to New Zealand and I immediately thought of seafood. Being an island country it certainly has a surplus of the stuff, but what dish could be used to sample the bounty? Good old seafood chowder of course! It's a basic, home cooking type recipe, which is also quintessentially Kiwi, so the NZ Seafood Chowder Trail was born!

Go check it out! I've had friends and flatmates join me on this quest, and as I travel further in NZ there'll be a lot more entries. It's a bit of fun, and chowder is both inexpensive and not too filling, so it's an opportunity to eat out without breaking the bank.

Since I began writing this post I've had yet another trip to Dunedin for my one month post surgery review. The retina is healing well, so aside from scaling mountains (because of the altitude) I now have no exercise restrictions at all.

After 6 weeks of relative inactivity from skiing 5-6 days a week for the previous 2 months, I'm pretty keen to get my heart pumping and regain my fitness. And with awesome sunny Spring days here in Wanaka you can bet I'm going to be out getting a few hours of cycling or walking done. So you chaps can look forward to some spectacular Kiwi scenery coming soon.

That's next...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Going blind for a while

One Sunday mid August I went up to Cardrona for the day to volunteer on the adaptive snow program. Our groups weren't starting until 11 am so we volunteers headed out for a few free ski runs. The weather was cloudy with poor visibility, but it wasn't complete pea soup, so we headed down to the Whitestar Express lift. Only I didn't quite make it.

I had followed one of my buddies on the cat track just above the lift, thinking he might have wanted to jump into the line from the other side. He stopped just above a small stretch of ungroomed snow that forms a triangle between the cat tracks as they turn a right angle down to the lift line.

The positive of what happened next is what I wish to dwell on: First, I happily threw myself off the cat track into this little bit of ungroomed snow, made a few nice turns then straightened out to arrive on the cat track. This shows a complete lack of trepidation and a lot of confidence in my skiing given the conditions weren't perfect. I've come a long way...

The next bit I still have no recollection of: I dropped about 2 feet onto the cat track, dug my skis in to the snow and ejected out of my skis hitting the snow face/head first. I also landed awkwardly on my right arm. I was knocked out, and as the others came up to me, they found me groaning, incoherent and trying to get up. After the ski patrol came, which took a few minutes, I began to talk again and stopped scaring the shit out of my fellow volunteers. The positive I take out of this is that I was still keeping my weight forward despite the poor visibility. Win! Not seeing the drop and not reacting to it was my downfall. Oh well. As I have no recollection of the accident I don't really know how I reacted anyway.

I was transferred up to the medical centre by ski patrol and checked over. By then I was fully oriented, and aside from some bruising and facial abrasions, and a sore arm, I was OK. I noticed a little bit of blurring of my peripheral vision in the left eye, but that resolved. However I also noticed a weird jagged shadow in my left eye, known as a floater. After a few hours David and Kathy came up the mountain and took me home, where I spent the rest of the day resting.

The next day I walked down to the local cafe to have coffee with a friend, and after walking home again I noticed that that floater was still there. With a medical degree and the knowledge that I was a high risk candidate, I rang a local optician to get an urgent appointment to exclude a traumatic retinal detachment.

A retinal detachment is where the retina at the back of your eye separates from the eyeball. If nothing is done about it you go blind. Risks for retinal detachment include eye trauma, but if you are significantly myopic (which is caused by having a long eyeball) then you could have one even without trauma. It's probably the main reason I would never bungy jump, though there are a few other reasons! But I didn't expect my little faceplant to have the same devastating effect!!

The optician confirmed I had a retinal detachment in the non bruised, left eye, and that my macula was thankfully still attached so I was referred straight to Dunedin Hospital for emergency surgery. I got home just as Kathy arrived back from skiing the mountain, I packed some clothes and she drove me the four hours south by road to Dunedin. I am eternally grateful to her for doing that, ending up missing out on a day of her training as a result. Also to my friend Sue who let her stay at her place whilst I was admitted to hospital.

We arrived at the hospital emergency department around 8:30pm, where they were expecting us, and I was taken straight up to the eye clinic, seen by the on call eye registrar, and prepped for theatre. There is only one retinal surgeon in the entire Southern region, and he had agreed to stay back from his holidays to operate on me. Otherwise I would have needed to go to Christchurch!

I had a short admission to the ward before going straight up to theatre and being operated some time before midnight. The eye surgeon didn't like the look of my retinal tears and decided to insert what is known as a scleral buckle. This is a piece of silicon that encircles the outside of the eyeball to pinch it in a bit, taking the tension off the retina so that it can reattach more easily. It appears my retina was just waiting for a wee head blow to detach itself!

For some seriously gruesome youtube videos of the type of surgery I had,  the first one explains the causes of retinal detachment and how scleral buckle surgery is done, the second explaining the vitrectomy surgery as well. You have been warned!!

By the way, my surgery was done under local anaesthetic without any sedation! My surgeon apologised for the lack of jungle juice as the original surgery was only planned to be vitrectomy. Putting in the buckle is somewhat more uncomfortable. Lucky for me my pain threshold is rather high!!

I returned to the ward at 2 am and had a fairly uneventful night. The following morning my eye patch was removed, I was reviewed by the eye registrar and discharged home in the afternoon once the paperwork was done. Kathy, who had driven me down and spent the night at Sue's, picked me up, we got my discharge medications and eye drops, had some noodle soup, then began the long drive back to Wanaka.

As mentioned in the videos above, I have a gas bubble in my eye, which means the affected eye is completely without vision until the gas reabsorbs. It expands at altitude, which means I can't fly anywhere, and I certainly couldn't go up a mountain, not even to watch the Winter Games in action. I also can't drive, so I am left at home to twiddle my thumbs whilst Kathy goes off skiing every day. She does ply me with cans of Sapporo beer though!!

I went for a lovely walk along Lake Hawea one day.

Two weeks later, after a slight mix up involving being given the appointment time 12 hours earlier than actual, I turned up for my review. I am extremely fortunate that my eye surgeon happens to run a six weekly clinic in Wanaka, so for this visit I didn't have to go far. I am less fortunate to discover that the surgery has not been successful and some of my retina is still detached.

Kathy had just returned to Australia that afternoon, and I can't drive. And I have to return to Dunedin for more surgery the next day. But of course so does my surgeon, so the next morning he picks me up and we drive back to the hospital. We have a pleasant conversation about medical training, skiing, living in Wanaka, and how much it rains in Dunedin! He takes me up to the eye clinic where I am processed yet again by the same charming young registrar Dr Hong and prepared again for theatre. This time I am having a retinectomy, and having a much longer lasting gas put in my eye.

I couldn't find a video which explained the procedure I had, but the best way to explain it, is a portion of retina was cut to release the traction on it, so that the gas would help it flatten out and reattach. I stay a night on the ward, alongside a poor lady who has been waiting 4 days for hip surgery post fracture, and across from a dear demented soul who can't remember that she has had ankle surgery so keeps calling the nurses to tell them she has a sore foot. I had a lot more pain post operatively this time, and was thankful for a little codeine to dull it. Not much sleep was had....

The gas in my eye this time takes much longer to reabsorb, so I am blind for even longer and my altitude restriction was reduced to 300m. That caused me a little consternation, as Dunedin is at sea level whilst Wanaka is at 300m ASL. Dr Hong came to the rescue, suggesting I stay in Dunedin for at least 3 days, then take a tablet to reduce my eye pressure before attempting the drive back.

Sue and Graeme again extended their hospitality, with a warm bed and the offer to stay as long as I liked. I took the opportunity to visit the nearby Botanic Gardens, catch up with my friend Heather, and do a little retail therapy.

I found this ingenious little gadget for the off grid camper. A plastic bag will suffice, but this keeps your toilet paper clean, dry, off the ground, and most importantly not rolling away out of reach!!

I stayed in Dunedin until Thursday when all three of us returned, via the lowest altitude route, to Wanaka. Then came a nerve racking week, of using my eye drops religiously and continuing to sleep on my left side, before my next eye review. Meanwhile, the skies opened and it puked down snow. I tried to ignore that....

Unfortunately I had to travel back down to Dunedin for my review. Fortunately Sue and Graeme were able to take me again, and the next morning I fronted for the verdict. This time the news was good, although I need to keep sleeping on my left side for another two weeks to allow the gas bubble to work its magic of keeping the retina attached.

Have you any idea how hard that is? I'm using pillows and various sleeping positions to do as the doctor ordered but it doesn't make for uninterrupted sleep. Since I have no routine or obligations I can keep strange hours so I'm not averse to a mid afternoon nap!

Taking my own excellent professional advice, I fronted up to my specialist with a list of questions. Seriously, I used to always tell my patients to do this as it's easy to forget what you wanted to know when in the presence of someone who you feel incredibly indebted to for their medical expertise. My surgeon is a wonderfully personable chap without an ounce of arrogance, not to mention his kindness in bringing me down to Dunedin for my second surgical procedure, so he happily answered all my queries about what physical activities I could partake in and timeline until I could fly again. Given that the average infirmity of most of the waiting room patients was somewhere between hobble and full wheelchair bound, I suspect he doesn't get those sorts of questions all that often....

Since my macula is intact, it is expected that I will recover full vision. I can fly in 8 weeks, but the side effect of my surgery and the gas in my eye is I'll have a very thick cataract and will have limited vision until the lens is replaced. Which means I'll need more surgery sooner rather than later. Until all of this is sorted I'm in a bit of limbo regarding touring more of New Zealand, which I'd planned to do post ski season.

So I've booked myself a flight home late October, because I have a few things I need to get done back in Australia. I'll be returning back to NZ to await surgery and then once the cataract surgery is done I can start exploring the nooks and crannies of this place, do lots of those walks I've been eyeing for a few years, and check out those ancestors of mine up in Nelson. I'm thinking it might be too soon to get back windsurfing this summer, so I'll take a rain check on that and think about a trip to Japan in February instead. I mean I'll have earned myself some powder points by then!!

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to go on bike rides on Dave's old mountain bike, have started a TEFL course, and have started a new venture involving food. Eating food that is!

Intrigued? That's next....

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ski goddess returns to Treble Cone

Once Treble Cone opened I've been getting in quite a lot of skiing. Not only am I volunteering most weekends at Cardrona on the Adaptive program, I'm also doing some advanced skiing training with Rookies.

This time has been a real eye opener as Dean and Garrett have brought in some new trainers to provide a fresh insight into the mechanics of skiing. In my first week I had Reilly, an expert boot fitter and a former member of the Australian ski demo team. He taught us a lot about positioning our stance and bodies for maintaining a stable ski edge and to execute a basic short turn in all terrain. By the end of the week I was doing javelin turns down terrain I never would have thought possible five days previously! And I was pretty happy with my short turns, something I had comprehensively failed to demonstrate accurately during my Level 2 ski exams last year.

My second week got better. Tom Gellie, another Aussie demo team member, has taken his interest in anatomy and biomechanics to quite another level and has pulled apart the movements required to ski well into functional body movements that show you how to get edge angle, or flatten your skis, or angulation and separation at the absolute extreme of your functional movements. And about 3 or 4 ways to get yourself forward and leaning down that hill!! Having a highly tuned awareness of body positioning, and then moving body parts so they align your centre of mass into the correct position, allows the body to ski efficiently. Knowing how to get the body into those positions is something few ski schools ever teach students, or rather they teach generalisations rather than very specific biomechanics. A knowledge of anatomy definitely helps, but a good kinaesthetic awareness is crucial. The brilliance of his teaching is you not only can feel when you get it right (or wrong!) but you know exactly what movement you need to do to get yourself back in the right position when all goes pear shaped. The latter being a not uncommon occurrence!

At the start of the week I had woken a bit too early so decided to work on another aspect of my skiing: the psychological component. I've come a long way since my days of complete paralysing terror, through the use of a tool called EFT. Also known as "Tapping", this technique frees negative emotions that restrict personal growth. In my case I am still feeling apprehension and low grade fear when attempting to ski steep bumpy terrain, and it's much worse when the visibility is limited. Although this is understandable, dealing with the fear helps me to tackle the slope without an involuntary holding back. This holding back leads to physically leaning back in my skis, directly affecting my ability to face down a mountain and tackle bumps with the relaxed athletic approach required. So for a few minutes before getting up I recalled the emotions I'd felt a week or so ago when heading over the roller into the top section of Cloud Nine and tapped my way to a point where that emotion had dissolved. Then yesterday during training we went over that roller and I absolutely smashed a fast awesome run down that face to my beaming trainer below. I had completely forgotten that Monday session, but I knew when I got to the bottom of that slope that the EFT had worked. Zero fear, I just threw myself forward down that hill and smashed turn after turn. Oh what a feeling!!

The week with Tom has been a real eye opener, because I now feel, through his approach, that I understand much more clearly the physical blocks I have to becoming a very good skier. Through video analysis, I can now see where in my turns there are weaknesses, and what parts of my body and movements need to occur to correct them. Part of my physical limitations are due to a lack of flexibility in my hip joints and lower back, but whether I can correct this through stretching and off snow exercises only time will tell. But there is nothing like a challenge to get me motivated....

The third week I had Jonathan Ballou as my coach. Jonathan has over 20 years of experience teaching in both NZ and the USA, where he heads up ski development at Aspen. He was able to really tap in to the problem I had getting my weight onto my left leg when turning to the right, through making a very conscious movement with my hip, to essentially unweight my right leg. Simple, but totally effective. It took all week, but on the final day we nailed the problem and solution, and I was able to take that away and work on it.

My biggest problem with my skiing is having a very weak right turn. My left turn is actually very good, but if one side works badly it just sets you up wrongly for the next turn. Fixing this problem has been my focus this year, and Jonathon's guidance has allowed me to at last shift my weight effectively so I am not being thrown off kilter continuously. Almost everyone has a good and bad turn, but my legs were poles apart. Prefect vs reform school!


After my three weeks of training I spent the next 2 weeks very consciously working on the new movements. I know they are cementing in to my skiing because I feel so much more centred and controlled, and when I ski off piste I can feel the discomfort of skiing differently. Off piste terrain that I used to be able to ski easily has now become more difficult, simply because I am learning to ski it anew. The old way was wrong, the new way is right, but it's yet to feel "normal". This may be a weird concept for people to understand, as the vast majority of skiers think if they just keep skiing a lot they will eventually get better. Not true if your technique is wrong, you just get more comfortable at getting down the mountain, but you can't progress because your technique limits you.

Last week my ski buddy Kathy, whom I met first in Japan, turned up to do 3 weeks of training with the Rookie Academy as well. She's loving it.

I have continued to be involved with the volunteer adaptive program at Cardrona 1-2 days a week, and then last Sunday I had an accident and everything went pear shaped.

That's next....

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I'm adapting

Back in Wanaka for the season and it's another waiting game as the snow gods refuse to deliver enough natural snow to get the ski fields cranking. Most of the main commercial fields are open using artificial snow to create enough cover on the trails, but it's poor pickings off piste. Treble Cone, despite having more snow guns this year, still relies on the natural stuff to make its mostly off piste terrain rideable. So for the second year in a row, it's opening day has been delayed....

Last year, during ski instructor training, it became increasingly obvious that a Level 2 qualification would not get me employment in the Northern Hemisphere ski fields. The initial plan had been to supplement my income with instructor employment whilst exploring more ski fields, but the big problem is visas, or rather the lack of ability to get a work visa once you are over 30.

The ski industry relies heavily on acquiring young staff travelling on working holiday visas. No sponsoring required, and the seasonal nature of ski field employment means that the working holiday visa requirements are fulfilled. (Mostly, employers cannot employ someone on a working holiday visa for more than six months). This situation feeds a good little industry in training and qualifying new instructors each year, many of whom may never work in the industry, or will do one or two seasons before pursuing a more lucrative professional career. Which means the vast majority of instructors teaching beginners to ski tend to have minimal experience themselves.

To work in the Northern Hemisphere ( at least, being Australian I can work in Oz and NZ no problems) I need a sponsored work visa, which doesn't happen without many years of experience and at least a Level 3 qualification. This essentially means making a commitment to taking on ski instructing as a career rather than as a sideline income. I'm not sure I'm prepared to do back to back winters to achieve this....

Last year I met an Alaskan ski tourer who suggested adaptive ski volunteering as an alternative way to supplement my northern hemisphere ski trips. Not being paid circumvents the visa issue, but there's likely to be a season pass or at least some free skiing thrown in. Many North American ski fields, in particular, have large adaptive programs, and getting a US work visa: forget it!!

Adaptive skiing is skiing for people with a disability, be it physical or cognitive or both. Having been a paediatrician and GP I've a vast experience with most disabilities and certainly don't suffer from apprehension of the unknown like most of the public might. I've also often railed against the negative thinking of bureaucracies that limit less abled people rather than look for opportunities, so this field actually ticks a lot of boxes for me. And I can even get a qualification out of it!!

So this year I have joined the Adaptive Volunteer Program at Cardrona. We started with a weekend of training, which involved learning about the equipment as well as the types of clients we would be accompanying around the mountain. Learning how to guide a blind person required us to pair up, then take turns at closing our eyes and trusting someone else to guide us through a lift queue, on and off the magic carpet and ski down a gentle slope. Then there was loading and strapping people in to sit skis, loading the sit ski onto and off a chairlift, and finally, guiding a sit ski down a mountain. Depending on the client's level of disability and experience, this can be anything from the client having full control, to tethering, where the sit ski is guided using ropes, to bucketing, where the sit ski is guided by holding on directly to the back of it. There are mono-ski and bi-ski set ups for the sit skis, and they turn differently, so there are a lot of new skills to learn. But bucketing a bi-ski is hellishly good fun. Those things turn on a pin!!

We also learnt how to use outriggers, used by one legged skiers and abled sit skiers, to provide lateral stability and control, and also techniques and strategies to manage clients with cognitive impairment. School kids with ADHD, Aspergers, Autism or Down Syndrome, are the most common impairments seen, and it's the volunteer's job to help the ski instructor in a school group to keep the kids all on track and skiing together as a group. And deal with the fallout if the kid loses the plot!!

There were a lot of people at the training weekend so although it was fun, there was a fair amount of waiting around for your turn to try the gear. There's more training available throughout the season but the best way will be to get the hours in. For my Level 1 certification I only need to have 4 days of volunteering but I'd rather get a lot more hours under my belt. Luckily, I have the time to do it, and with TC still closed, there's no time like the present.

So at the first opportunity, I jumped on it. This week I've had more training at tethering and bucketing, as well as loading onto the chairlift. I'm not yet fully confident with the bucketing and loading but happy to do more practice before letting me loose on clients. So after a couple of half days of further training I accompanied a couple of volunteers with an adult client with cerebral palsy and limited verbal communication. She required full bucketing but can do some steering by leaning her body, and turned out to be quite the speed freak. As a disabled sailor she sails independently using just a toe to control the boat (must be some awesome electronics involved) so she wasn't scared of adventure so we took her down to Captains and over a few unscheduled bumps! I helped block, which means skiing behind creating a triangulated barrier to protect the disabled skier from the other punters on the hill. Not an easy task with the myriad out of control skiers and boarders on that mountain now its school holiday season!!

What was really interesting was our feedback to each other after the session. Both the other two volunteers, despite both being ski instructors themselves, said they weren't comfortable with the small talk, whereas when I joined them and immediately built up a rapport and conversation with the client that really helped them. Although they did all the physical work, I provided the light entertainment!! Of course I have years more experience communicating with people with disabilities than they do, and zero apprehension about doing so, so I was really glad I could be so useful given I wasn't doing the lifting and steering work. It really is a team effort.

By the end of the session we had all had an awesome time, including our client who was grinning from ear to ear and even heard to chuckle loudly when I sussed out that she was a girl who loved speed and adventure. All of us volunteers got such a thrill out of the experience, and I'm sure the rest of the volunteers helping her out this week will have as much fun as we did.

Later in the week I will be volunteering with a lass with Down Syndrome. I'm looking forward to that.

In the interim, we've had more snow and Treble Cone is scheduled to open tomorrow.

At last!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Road Trip to Dunedin

With almost 3 weeks till opening day at Treble Cone I've a little time on my hands. So rather than spend my time just hanging around Wanaka I decided to go on a tiki tour to Dunedin.

I had planned to visit the Catlins as well, but with so much to see around Dunedin, and the need to be back in Wanaka on Monday to open a new bank account ( I know, a bloody interview FFS!) I decided to explore this southern city and surrounds over 4 days.

I drove down via the Maniototo. I've driven this way before when travelling up from Oamaru last year, but this time I took a slightly different route and then headed south through Middlemarch and Hyde to arrive in Dunedin Wednesday afternoon. Lots of narrow windy roads and thousands of sheep! As I descended from the hills above the city I was mesmerised by how picturesque a city Dunedin is. Sorry I haven't a photo to share, I was driving at the time!

Let me introduce my new steed. I bought this sporty version of a Toyota Corolla from a Taswegian friend a couple of months ago, sight unseen. It might seem a little incautious, but I trusted Emma, and I've met and taken her mother skiing. I knew I wouldn't be buying a lemon, and so far, he's been fine, though I'll probably need new brake pads before the season is out. So many hills!! But he needs a name.....

So, back to Dunedin. Little sister to Christchurch and very much a university town, it has a great vibe. There's a mixture of old stone buildings and utilitarian 50s and 60s eyesores, and a spanking new sports stadium that is just plain ugly. But then rugby isn't meant to be pretty is it? It's more the layout of the city that makes its architecture interesting rather than the buildings themselves. There's the central Octagon with municipal buildings radiating out from it, and some seriously funky laneways. The steep streets and dark alleyways remind me of Edinburgh, which isn't surprising given the strong Scottish link this end of Ao Tea Roa.

And then there's the street art. Hidden down alleys, or spread across huge walls in parking lots, some overlooking major intersections, they are a real delight and worth spending an hour or so wandering around finding them. Photos speak better than words...

A visit to Dunedin isn't complete without visiting a few icons. Number one would have to be the Dunedin Railway Station. Unfortunately the rail line to Christchurch no longer runs a passenger service, although there is a thriving tourist train to Oamaru and Taieri Gorge, both trips I'd love to take one day. The Station itself is quite an architectural statement itself, complete with stained glass windows and tiling.

Next door to the Station is the Otago Settlers Museum, well worth a visit as it chronicles local history from Maori times through British settlement from whalers to farmers and gold miners, through to today. It has one of the best collections of 20th Century gadgets I've seen in a museum for a while. And I was particularly taken with the list of possessions each emigre had to bring with him or her when taking 3 months to sail out to New Zealand from the old country. I've been known to bring half that for a 3 month trip myself!

Leaving the Settlers Museum you turn the corner and there is the Dunedin Chinese Garden. This is  the result of a close collaboration with the city of Shanghai, where the garden was designed and constructed before being shipped and reassembled in Dunedin. It is an authentic Scholar's Garden, similar to those I visited in Suzhou many years ago, though with a little more variety and colour in the plantings. Even in early winter it is spectacular, and for a garden addict like me it's a must see.

Getting out of the city to explore the Otago Peninsula was high on my to do list. The drive out hugs the western coastline and is not only extremely scenic, it is narrow, windy and beggars belief that someone could negotiate it at the legal 70km/hr speed limit. I stuck to a much more comfortable 50. Plus I'm looking after those brake pads....

I wanted to combine a bit of rigorous exercise with some sightseeing and a little wildlife encounter, so decided to tackle some walks from Sandymount, approximately half way along the peninsula on the eastern side. This required driving on some dirt roads up and down hills and valleys to a glorious parking spot overlooking Hoopers Inlet and Allans Beach. It's hard to go anywhere in NZ without encountering drop dead gorgeous scenery.

From the carpark the muddy track entered a stand of macrocarpa (big ugly pine trees), past a shed, and then onto open land above cliffs. Green grass dotted with the ubiquitous NZ fluffy sheep.

There was a detour to The Chasm. I wasn't daring enough to lean right out over the railing to see the very bottom of the huge split in the cliff face, but apparently there is water at the bottom. Next along the track was Lovers Leap, another geological formation in the cliffs below. This one looked inviting but there was no obvious track down to it, so the only choice was to continue following the peg line along the cliff top to where it joined the path back to the summit of Sandymount and the carpark.

But that wasn't strenuous enough a walk, so I continued straight ahead for the path down to Sandfly Beach. And the operative word here is down. A sandhill. A very big steep sandhill. Of course it was a breeze, but I knew the return trip wouldn't be quite so easy.

Down on the beach were a number of Hookers Sea lions sun bathing. Mostly they just ignored me and I kept my distance whilst walking the length of the beach and back. I was blessed with glorious warm sunny weather, with only a slight icy breeze.

And then I tackled the sand dune. I'm not sure how high it was but I'd hazard it was at least a 200m climb up damp sand. Without a heavy backpack it was actually quite easy. After tackling the dunes of the south coast of WA this dune might have been steep but it was a whole lot easier than dry slippery sand. Plus it was only one dune, not multiple ones...or I'm a lot fitter than I thought I was.

Another day and another outing, this time north of Dunedin to Aramoana, along yet another windy road hugging the coastline. Out at the end of the road it was blowing a veritable gale, but rugged up in my jacket and beanie it was a very enjoyable stroll up an empty beach under huge cliffs. Really, do yourself a favour and come visit NZ, it is beyond beautiful.

Well that's it. After 3 days and 4 nights I drove back to Wanaka to sort out a bank account and maybe find a job. A big shout out to Sue and Graham for letting me stay at their Dunedin house whilst they were away on the Gold Coast. I reckon they deserve a little treat from me when they get to Wanaka for the ski season. It's certainly cold enough to crack out the sticky date pudding.....

It would be nice if it started snowing though....