Daily Archives: February 22, 2012

The Great North-Island Adventure: A New Zealand Road Trip – Day 2


It’s finally time – to pack up my bag again and move on from New Zealand. What calls me onward is not a new country, but instead a return to a home that I haven’t seen in months. I would enjoy staying in New Zealand for another six months, but unfortunately a lack of good job options and my non-infinite bank accounts have conspired together, and the clearest course for me is to return home to rest and rebuild my finances before starting out again on another world trip.

For now, what that means is that I am taking my leave of Christchurch. While the city has been amazing to me, I haven’t had the time to see anything of the North Island as of yet, and so I’ve planned out a road trip in order to remedy this.

Day 2

Drizzle… why does it always have to drizzle and spit when I try to sleep out under the stars? Seriously, I love the idea of sleeping out without a tent or anything, but its starting to get silly how often it rains on me just enough to be annoying. I actually ended up moving into the car to sleep off the final bits of the morning when the rain started coming down enough to worry me, which wasn’t nearly as cramped as I expected it to be… but still not anywhere near as comfortable as the nice soft grass I had been in earlier.

After a bit of stretching and popping of joints, I finally roused myself for action. After paying for the campsite I took to the road nearly immediately, not wanting to waste any time that I could be spending exploring the awesome city of Wellington. I had gotten more than a few recommendations on things I should see and places I should go, and so after a quick trip to the i-site to get a city map I started off to find myself something delicious to eat for breakfast/lunch.

And what food there was to be had… Wellington reminds me of the artists section of New York City, in that it’s full of neat creativity and amazing small coffee and lunch shops. While wandering around I saw some amazing murals and art installations, but I think what caught my mind more was the simple Feel of the city; the fact that creativity and invention was simply in the air surrounding you. Forgive my hyperbole; I know that sounds corny, but its the best way to describe what walking around Wellington actually felt like, without actually taking someone there.

After a rather nice little lunch of Nachos (Ed Note: Finally a city with actual fake-Mexican food!) I moved on the the national museum – Te Papa. The outside of the museum was impressive, to say the least, but inside it actually reminded me a huge amount of the Museum of Science back in Boston – A large open center lead out to each of the main exhibits, with amazing shapes and lights peaking out from each of the exhibit halls. My main goal for the museum was to check out two of the biggest shows that Te Papa’s known for – its Colossal Squid and its Earthquake / Maori history.

The squid itself was gigantic and more than a bit intimidating, though it was quite different from the giant squid that I’d seen in the Smithsonian in Washington DC… Colossal Squid are the heaviest squid in the world (that we know of), but Giant Squid are the longest. A small difference it seems, but it means that the Colossal squid is nearly a meter in diameter, ten meters long, and weighing in at nearly 500 kg (over 1100lbs). However, a Giant Squid is nearly 20meters long, while only weighing in at 275kg (600lbs). And yes, I do feel that this information is quite relevant to my roadtrip to Auckland.

The Earthquake and Maori history section of the museum was quite interesting as well, but didn’t really have anything that I hadn’t seen before, so I worked my way through it fairly quickly, wanting to head onwards to my next stop in Wellington – The Weta Cave! Weta is the group that does props and special effects for many of the biggest Holywood movies – notably Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia. Since so many people kept coming to their complex asking for tours, the folks at Weta put together “the cave”, or a place to showcase some of their best works and show a short film about what they’ve done and how they do it. I got to see the original statue of Lurtz (the Uruk-Hai Captain from Lord of the Rings), Narsil in its broken state, and many other props from many other movies… And even a few video games as well. The video that they showed was quite interesting as well, and did a great job of showcasing the extent of Weta’s work, and some of the New Zealand film industry too.

After the Weta Cave, I jumped back into the car and got on the highway again, heading up towards the town of Taupo. Most of the way up the highway was just what I had expected – small winding roads traveling through amazing scenery and landscapes. I did have a few fun moments and frightening situations though – I took a turnoff to explore the “Adrenaline Forest”, what I thought was a cool woodland that I could check out. Not so – it was a kids camp. Disappointment.

The rest of the drive was quick and simple, but it took forever. For every kilometer that I had to go, it seemed that I had to drive three or four, and I found myself averaging just about 30kpm… or just about 17mph. On a main highway. I seriously do not understand how that held true, but this evening was just not happening for me. My original plan had been to camp out in Taupo so that I could hit the thermal pools that night, or maybe early in the morning. When 10:00 rolled around and I had been tearing away at the last 100km for an hour, I finally gave up on the fight and pulled off at a picnic spot to set up camp.

At first, it seemed like a near-perfect spot to set up my sleeping pad and just lay out in my sleeping bag. But then the bugs started showing up. I seriously don’t know where they came from, or what they eat when I’m not around, but I found thousands of sandflys literally coating my headlamp and the light in the car. It became so bad that I could barely see the light from the car, there were so many bugs. But it was nearly 11:00 at this point, so I set up the tent in the dark, and somehow was able to keep it out of the bug-radar until I was snugly inside with the screen zipped up and my sleeping bag snuggly around my neck.

The Great North-Island Adventure: A New Zealand Road Trip – Day 1


It’s finally time – to pack up my bag again and move on from New Zealand. What calls me onward is not a new country, but instead a return to a home that I haven’t seen in months. I would enjoy staying in New Zealand for another six months, but unfortunately a lack of good job options and my non-infinite bank accounts have conspired together, and the clearest course for me is to return home to rest and rebuild my finances before starting out again on another world trip.

For now, what that means is that I am taking my leave of Christchurch. While the city has been amazing to me, I haven’t had the time to see anything of the North Island as of yet, and so I’ve planned out a road trip in order to remedy this.

Day 1

They key to this road trip of mine was a car. I obviously don’t own one, and I can’t afford to rent one, so what could I do? Car relocation was the solution that I came up with; a service where I volenteer to drive a rental car from one airport to another in a specific time frame. I don’t pay for the rental, and in return I make sure to deliver the car by a certain date and time. Not a bad deal, when I just need a way to get from one city to another, but want to actually see the space in between instead of simply flying over it.

So Sunday morning found me dragging myself out of bed before 8:00 so that Mike and I could drive out to the Christchurch Airport to pick up this car. It took us a while to find the renal agency, since it wasn’t one that we had dealt with before, but once we found it everything about the pickup went smoothly… though not quickly I’m afraid. I waited for over an hour and a half before I was finally given the keys to the car, but since I wasn’t paying for the rental I couldn’t really find a reason to complain too loudly. And so, after a quick overview of the car and a damage-check to make sure I would be getting my security deposit back, I headed out with a fancy new Sirion Daihatsu.

Mike and I met up again to have a quick going-away breakfast at a small place I had found earlier called Drexel’s (Yes, I think this is actually related to the school my sister goes to, Drexel University, since from what I can tell their both named after the same guy) where we chatted for a short bit and ate ourselves an amazing Breakfast… I really don’t know what it is, specifically, that draws me to Pancakes to strongly. But whatever it is, there is honestly no breakfast better than a tall stack of pancakes with Bacon and Eggs on the side.

After saying my final (for now) goodbyes to Mike, I headed out again to do a final round of goodbyes to the other folks that I had promised I’d see before leaving – Oliva, Spanish, Storm, and Rachel. In all my visiting took a bit longer than I planned, but I’m quite happy that I did take the time; these people (and many others that I didn’t get to see that Sunday) had touched my lives in so many ways, and I was, and still am, very sorry that I had to take my leave of them. But, either fortunately or unfortunately, the world continues to turn and I had to continue one with my adventures on the open road.

And that open road was… boring. Right outside of Christchurch I got trapped in almost an hour and a half of traffic caused by some accident that required the services of not one, but three fire trucks. The only consolation for me was afterwards when I got to really stretch the cars legs on the coastal highway… I had honestly forgotten how much I love driving manual-transmission cars, and driving this one around was reminding me how amazingly better it is than driving a normal automatic transmission.

But no matter how quickly I drove, or how much fun I had shifting gears to tear around the corners, I couldn’t shake the knowledge that I was going to miss my ferry. You see, I was on the south island, and the only way across is via an inter-island ferry that goes from the town of Picton to the city of Wellington. And it was set to board at 5:05… significantly before I was going to make it there. Thankfully I was able to rebook the ferry passage without trouble when I did finally arrive (nearly two hours late, but thats neither here nor there), and so I went from being two hours late, to having nearly two hours to kill before the ferry started boarding.

I burned up this time by visiting a small pub called the “Toot n’ Whistle” for a quick bite to eat, and then sitting and taking a nap in the car, since I had a feeling I wouldn’t be getting much sleep on the ferry. Unfortunately I was right, and the ferry ride ran into more than a few waves on its three-hour tour to Wellington. Yes, seriously, a “three hour tour”… not a cursed time-frame at all, no one’s ever been shipwrecked for decades from one of those… Has anyone rescued Gilligan yet? I don’t know.

The ferry ride itself was slow and long, and found me starting to understand how ancient sailors could have believed in sea monsters so easily. It was pitch-black outside, even with the running lights of the ship lit on the decks, but every once in a while you’d notice something in the water, some small reflection of the light that would catch the eye and cause the brain to go into conniptions trying to figure out what it could possibly be. And the result was always “something big and scary that wants to eat you”. The fact that the ship would be creaking and moaning around me didn’t help any, let me tell you. Even with my headphones and movies playing on the laptop, I was unconvinced that we’d ever make landfall, and doubly convinced that some sort of sea-serpent was waiting for us just below the waterline.

Once the ferry did finally arrive, I quickly made my way back to the car, and onto the highway looking for a place to stay. At the rental place I had commandeered a whole book of accommodations, and so I had found a cheap place that I was planning on staying that night – just a small campground about 20min outside of the city. It took a bit of searching to finally find it, thanks to the horrendously early hour, but soon enough I was laying out my sleeping bag and pad on the grass, and dozing off to sleep under the stars.

My last week in Christchurch: a series of short stories


I debated writing this as a “in the format of The Canterbury Tales” story, since Christchurch is located in Canterbury, but then I realized that writing from the perspective of multiple people might make me seem a bit insane (even more so than normal) and do some damage to my tenuous grasp of reality. That, and I’d have to think up people who’s viewpoints to use, and while most of these events have other people in them, I don’t really feel like delving into their innermost thoughts. At least not publicly.

My last two Capoeira Classes

It’s a sad thing, leaving a group of friends. Its obvious, of course, but when it actually comes down to it its quite a sad situation, and thus everyone has a different way of dealing with friends departing. Pontual’s solution was simple and straightforward – give the person who’s leaving something to remember, and give everyone a chance to “say their goodbyes” the Capoeira way.

And so, I found myself in the Roda for 5min or so, playing against every single person in the class. Twice, since I went to both the Wednesday class and the Friday class. Most of the times, a single “game” of Capoeira will last 30s to maybe a minute, and afterwards the players will be pretty well winded… so when I say that I could barely breathe halfway through the game please let that sink in. 5 minutes… ten times as long as a normal game will last. And that, of course, is just playing against the students.

Pontual wanted to make sure that I got a good sendoff, and so he made sure to play against me last, so that I’d be a bit slowed down. And since I was a bit slower and more tired than normal (Ed Note: It’s strange, but while playing Ben wasn’t nearly as tired as one would expect – the power of Adrenaline in one’s system is an amazing thing, and Ben only really noticed the true depth of his exhaustion after the game was over, and he had stopped focusing on his opponents), it was easier for Pontual to bring out the big guns – pulling kicks inches from my poor chin, and sweeping my legs out from under me more times than I can count. The thing is though – I loved it. Not in a masochistic way, but in a “wow, I’m playing someone who’s not holding back, and starting to understand how amazing people’s reflexes must be”. It was fun, and honestly? The best going away present I could have been given by the group.

Well, the cool uniform that I got was pretty good too, I guess 😛

Watching Pokemon with Acacia, Lorna, and Johnny

I don’t watch cartoon’s often… but when I do, they are awesome. Recently I’ve been on an “Adventure Time with Finn & Jake” kick (Ed note: For those who don’t know, this is a cartoon that was originally a short flash animation on Youtube. Then Cartoon Network decided it was awesome, and hired the cartoonist full-time to make a TV show. Awesome!), but a friend of mine just fell deep into the evils of Pokemon, and invited me over to join her for some epic catching ’em all action.

Normally, I would pass on this offer, since… pokemon. Just… no. But, this was a unique situation: Acacia is freaking awesome (I’ve met drunk people at parties who wouldn’t let me leave until I agreed that she’s amazing), and she cooks up a mean pasta-bake – pasta-bake that she was offering to cook up as a going-away present. So, I had to bus myself on over and hang out for a day and a half, relaxing and drinking, eating pasta-bake and watching an annoying kid throw balls at small animals.

In the end? Strange, annoying, but totally worth it Although the stupid theme-song was stuck in my head for at least two days afterwards.

Harriet’s housewarming party

The danger of attending a party that you don’t really know much about is that it could be a theme party, and you can easily find yourself not dressed for the occasion. Now, this isn’t always too bad, since you can just play it off as being the “cool guy”, or making up some costume excuse (“seriously, I’m dressed as a software pirate! No, its just coincidence that its exactly what I wear normally!”). However, when you’re at a “period costume” party with friends who love costumes and dressing up, and happen to have a large closet full of costumes… life can get dangerous.

And this was how I found myself at a party, wearing a fancy Victorian-Era masquerade mask and a long flowing dress. Yes, you read that right – a full-length ballgown. Harriet, one of my Capoeira friends, had seen that I wasn’t wearing a costume, and hauled me upstairs to put one of her dresses on me. Thankfully I wasn’t the only guy going drag at the party, since our other Capoeira-buddy Nick had also forgotten a costume, and it did end up having some unique benefits…

A bit into the party, I was talking to a girl named Emma who loved my “costume”. She loved it so much in fact, that she wanted it. We agreed that she would look significantly better in it than me, since I didn’t fill it out at all, and so we ran into the bathroom to swap outfits. Again, yes you read that right – I was that person, the one who keeps swapping costumes throughout the night with other people.

Nearing the end of the night it was getting a bit colder, and so I did end up swapping back into my own shirt (I had kept the pants on all night, thank you very much)… but until that point Nick and I were the clear life of the party; eclipsing even the cheerleading squad who showed up a bit after I did.

After the party I got a ride home with a girl that I had met there, who had one of the best costumes that I had ever seen. It was a take on a plague-doctor – long beaked mask, but with about a dozen small eyes added around it and a wicked cool chaos staff that she had attached a ram’s skull onto. Amazing. But after she dropped me off I realized that I had to wait a bit for Sara to get home so that I could get into the flat – and so I spent nearly an hour relaxing outside stargazing from a small school playground across the street. An excellent ending to a most-interesting party.

Sampling with Mike

My buddy Mike is the reason I came to Christchurch in the first place. I’ve mentioned him before, but the depth of how much he helped me out cannot be overstated – it was his flat that I sublet, and his car that I used to go adventuring up Mount Hutt, to Paynes Ford, and Castle Hill. So when he asked me if I was up for helping him gather samples for his graduate thesis before I left, I jumped on the chance.

The sampling itself was a bit simpler than I expected, though it took a lot longer than I had envisioned, simply because every drop of water that he took needed to be run through a 4-micron filter, and then neutralized with a special acid, administered 1ml at a time.

Each sample took nearly 45min to gather, run, and sort, but it was a great excuse to hang out and shoot the breeze with Mike. I hadn’t really had much time just relaxing with him since he had gotten back from the USA, and so this was a really nice chance to catch up and chat about random stuff – from Politics to Science, and rock climbing to hiking. It was a good day – slow and relaxed, but really a nice chance to chill out.

I think thats the key to “guy time”… having some small mindless project to keep your hands busy while you chat. Fishing, painting, fixing a car, even smoking a cigar. As guys, we need something to keep our hands occupied, and something that we can use as a convenient conversation break when we need one.

Hanging out at Tika St

I had been staying at my friend Jen’s place (actually the place of many of my friends – Jen, Oliva, Sara, Michael, and Timmy) for the time between Motueka and when I picked up the relocation car. The flat was in one of the worst area’s of Christchurch, but they had made it quite homey and fun, and since we were right near a school, the immediate area itself wasn’t actually that bad. Overall we just relaxed and hung out a bit, but I did get to sample the upside of staying at a flat with someone working on their PHD – while Jen was definitely a stress-bunny while working on her thesis, she also liked distracting herself every so often. And since both her and Sara are quite excellent cooks / bakers, this meant that we had a nearly limitless-supply of cakes, brownies and pancakes at any given time. And as a man who enjoys himself some pancakes, this was pretty much the best thing ever for me.