Saturday, March 31, 2012

reviving my inner 11-year-old

When I was in junior high, I was hopelessly obsessed with The Lord of the Rings. I drew pictures of dragons and people weilding swords. In seventh grade I had my mom sew me a gray woolen cloak so I could dress up as a hobbit for Halloween. Drunk with power, I hunched barefoot around the neighborhood that evening, brandishing my gold-plated One Ring before my neighbors faces. I threatened to turn them into my goblin-slaves if they refused to submit to my will and fill my hobbit satchel with Snickers. Needless to say, I didn't get invited to any Halloween parties that year.

I wish I had a photo to share with the Internet.

Yesterday I lived out one of the wildest dreams of my awkward preteen years. We took a trip to Weta Cave, the tourist-friendly part of Weta Digital. They're the folks who did all the special effects and costume work for LOTR trilogy, The Lovely Bones, and Xena. They've also had a hand in District 9 and Avatar. Right now they're working on The Hobbit.

But you can't see inside the studios, since the new hobbit capes are top-secret material. Instead, Weta lets people into their gift shop and lets them watch a promotional video about how awesome they are. (Which is, to be honest, pretty damn awesome).

As always, the trip started out with some coffee n' cake at a cafe hidden inside a home and garden store.

Then this guy greeted us at the door.

I geeked out for a couple seconds and nearly started hyperventilating at the sword display. I held myself back from buying a $99 woolen hobbit scarf.

Thankfully the video show killed my buzz. I managed pull myself together and share a moment with some of the Weta locals.

Ahhh. Life is cool.

Friday, March 30, 2012

friday bus trip

Today I did a blissfully smooth long run on the road. After last weekend's trail debacle, I'm okay with some concrete.

The sun was still shining bright at noon, and there was a 0% chance of rain. I couldn't make myself go to school. So my friend and I hopped on a bus in Wellington and rode it to the end of the route. We ended up a couple miles south of the city at a place called Island Bay. Here's what we found:

A long coastal track goes around the bays. You can either walk it or take a 4WD vehicle up the gravel path. We saw a few burly Jeeps and a whole bunch of dusty station wagons. Apparently the gravel branches off into a trail that winds up into the hills by my house. We didn't quite make it that far.

There's an official name for this place, but people call it Red Rocks. Creative.

We barely had time to check out the rocks before it started getting chilly and I started feeling guilty about the homework I didn't do. Whatever. Talking about Little Women doesn't quite take priority here.

I'm planning on taking my bike out there on Sunday.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

a most pleasant evening

I can't help it. I'm just such a sucker for roses... and ducks.

The Wellington Botanical Gardens.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

speaking American

"You're an American, right?"

I hear this question at least twice a day. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Do they mean to squish me into their idea of how Americans act? Am I fulfilling my own stereotype?

In my opinion, I'm not a horrible tourist. I'm polite to strangers. I don't talk loudly. I think it's embarrassing to walk around in a big group of Yanks. I don't like Toby Keith or rusty vehicles, and I try not to drink Starbucks' coffee unless it's free.

I figured I'd get along swimmingly with the soft-spoken Kiwi folk in their happy little country. People are really friendly. They love to ask what state I'm from and then pretend to know where it is. They love laughing and talking about the weather. They make great desserts.

But here's what I didn't realize: things would actually be different here. I'm not used to people who act like Kiwis.

Sometimes I feel like there's a barrier. I hesitate to call it a language barrier, because I can understand about 93% of Kiwispeak (except when people talk really fast about fish n' chups n' jandals on yer mates). Maybe it's more of an ideological barrier.

Next to the quiet, chilled-out Kiwi, I feel like a loud-talking ball of East Coast American nerves. I can't quite get a handle on the dry humor either. Most of the time I feel un-funny and tacky.

And you can't sue people here. In other words, shit happens. Unprepared backcountry hikers and whiny students who can't figure out the library printers before their assignments are due get no sympathy (although the former might get an emergency helicopter ride if they really need one).

There's also less immediacy in business transactions. You want your latte faster? Tough shit. Everyone else is waiting too. But nobody will actually say that to you. They'll just suggest it with their eyes.

The passive-aggressive Kiwi is a sight to behold - the texting girl who charges down wrong side of the the narrow sidewalk until you move out of her way; the driver who zooms through a pedestrian crossing without flipping the bird or shouting obscenities; the clerk in the expensive trinket shop who refuses to acknowledge you because you and your strappy hippie sandals clearly can't afford a $75 Pirates hat. Their brand of rudeness is so polite it's almost invisible.

Still, these are little things that only bother me on bad days. I can usually cope with having to ask the waitress to translate the menu. I'm used to getting lost a lot. I understand that they can't have Thanksgiving because there aren't any turkeys. I can even forgive their liquor prices for being so high. There are few things I dislike about the lifestyle in NZ.

Mostly I'm just surprised to realize how very American I am.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

down the rabbit hole and what we found there

Another Wellington weekend's come and gone.

This one started out on a low note. After a month of falling in love with the (mostly) beautiful city, I think Wellington was testing the power of our relationship. Last Monday the rain started. I got soaked walking to class. The southerlies blew. My skirt was ripped from my legs a la Marilyn Monroe on multiple occasions. Luckily, houses in Wellington are built with poor insulation and no central heating - so I didn't have any incentive to sit at home and feel sorry for myself. I trudged out the door every day for runs and attempted to enjoy myself.

I didn't take any pictures. I was too depressed.

On Friday morning, my friend and I tried to get tickets for Flight of the Conchords. They sold out in five minutes. So we went to get coffee instead. Holding a steaming cup of espresso, while delightful, doesn't quite feel the same as gripping a crisp new ticket voucher. We were a little sad. Later my friend Lauren and I tried to drag ourselves out of the funk. It was raining. We didn't care. A dingy one-room sushi bar in town sells their rolls for half price every day after 4:00. It wasn't glamorous. But it was delicious.
 OM-NOM picture. Note the rain jacket.
Then we decided to do one of the most popular Kiwi activities: go out drinking. Wellington is full of tiny, cool bars hidden in back alleys. We wandered down one of them and found a rabbit hole.

Alice is the coolest bar I've been to yet. It's a small, dim place crammed with stuff from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The book's original illustrations are displayed on the walls underneath an array of funky clocks and blown-glass lamps. On one side of the room, the furniture is slightly too small and the ceiling is a little too low. On the other, the stools are tall and the ceiling is high. The bar itself is cluttered with teacups and teapots and books. And you can order drinks for two served in your own personal teapot. I believe they also have a few kinds of cake on the menu.

 There's just something inherently awesome about sipping an absinthe cocktail from a teacup.

Saturday rolled around cloudy and rainy. The climbing trip we'd planned was cancelled. I took it as a sign that I should go meet up with the local running club instead. I'm glad I did - I finally connected with some runners in Wellington (no more lonely long runs!). I even managed to get a ride to a race the next day. I walked back into the wind with my skirt whipping around my legs, feeling almost content.

On Sunday morning, one of the club captains picked me up for the Mt. Lowry Challenge, a 12 km trail race. I squinted into the sunrise. The weather had finally broken.

"It's a flat 4k on the road before the trail starts," a runner said as I was waiting in line to register. "The trail might be a little messy and it kind of undulates when you reach the ridge trail. The descent's a bit steep after that."

I nodded. I've done some trail races before. It couldn't be too bad.

The race started flat and fast, winding around the road by the bay. I tucked in behind a group of five girls and blazed along as well as I could. Then we turned up a gravel road and crunched uphill for a while. People started walking. Ha! I don't walk. I run cross country. I surged past, feeling smug. And then we turned onto the real trail. I don't have pictures from it yet, but here's a preview from the event website:

See those people? Do any of them look like they're running? No. Because it was nearly impossible. "Kind of technical" was a gigantic understatement.

The term "trail" only loosely applies to the ridge trail. It was steep and technical, covered in slimy, muddy roots and rocks. I lost sight of the leaders immediately. The climbs were endless. I stopped caring about running fast and started caring about keeping my ankles in one piece. As I picked my way down the descents, little kids bombed past me. Whatever. The last bit of the trail was basically a cliff face covered in roots and gravelly dirt. At least twenty people passed me going down.

I managed a shaky sprint to the finish line and staggered to the water station. I won zero prizes. Eight miles has never felt so long.

Wellington rewarded me for sticking with it in the bad times. The day was still beautiful and sunny. After I washed the mud off my legs and shoes, I went to town to watch the National NZ Barista Competition. The passion for coffee was palpable - you could actually taste the freshly ground espresso in the air.

Wellington's baristas nearly swept the competition. I've made a resolution to visit their cafes. And finals are in Vienna, Italy. If only I could go.

Then I meandered down to the harbor and took some touristy pictures. 

This guy is called "Solace in the Wind." He stands alone every day, facing into the wind at the waterfront. Sometimes I think he looks like he needs a friend.

Then I sat in the grass for a while and read a book. After an atrocious week, it was a perfectly delightful weekend.

Friday, March 23, 2012


The most rewarding thing in the world is probably finishing a long, sweaty run and finding a package labeled "candy" sitting on your porch.

Parents are the best.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Amazing Abel Tasman

Ok, I've given myself three solid days to recuperate and remember how to blog.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, last weekend our wonderful Arcadia guides took us on a trip to Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman's an area on the tip of the South Island, near Nelson (a.k.a. NZ's sunshine capital). Maori used to live there, until some Dutch explorers came along and tried to conquer them so they could re-name the land after themselves. In the 1940's a progressive-minded lady campaigned for the area to be turned into a national park to preserve its natural beauty. She bullied the government into agreeing with her.

We'd catch a sea-shuttle out onto a point on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Then we'd hike - ahem, tramp - a section on the first day. On Sunday, we'd do a guided kayak trip back to where we started. 

But before all that fun, we had to get an early start for our traveling day on Friday. We had to catch one of the the Interislander ferrys to get from Wellington to the South Island. 

The folks at Interislander seem to have a monopoly on the island to island transportation. But they do a darn good job. This was more like a cruise than a ferry ride. There was a full bar with fresh espresso (duh, because it's NZ), a food court, and a terrific motown band on deck 7. Check out their page. It's worth it.
Plus the scenery along the way was simply incredible.

The trip was pleasant enough. Something about being on a 3-hour ferry ride before 8:00 in the morning makes everything seem more mellow and slow. I chatted about tramping and rugby with a Kiwi guy sitting next to me. He was a scuba instructor with a passion for Arc'teryx jackets. He drank three beers before 10 and said "sweet as" at least twenty times. 

We landed (docked?) in Picton, a sunbathed little seaside town with a couple bakeries. We piled onto a tour bus and drove around the bay and through the hills to arrive in Marahau, a tiny beach town right next to the park. I'll spare you the pictures of roads and sheep.
Just kidding. I had to sneak one in. Sheep are too great.

We explored the area a bit. I went on an amazingly gorgeous run on the Abel Tasman track. Infinite jade water and white sand all around. I joined up with the rest of the group, and we hung out on a sandbar until it was time to consume massive quantities of carbs lovingly prepared by Mother Jane and Alex, our Arcadia support guy from Wellington.

We annihilated heaps and heaps of pasta and salad and dessert.This picture doesn't do it justice.
We spent a star-studded night in these adorable wooden huts and got up early the next morning to start the first leg of our hike. We caught another little boat that dropped us off further up the Coast Track.

I took at least fifteen pictures of the same water and trees. I had a hard time believing anything was real.
The ferry dumped us out on a beach and started pulling away before we could scoot off the gangplank.
The trail was easy - gently rolling, clean, and sandy. We had a leisurely hike, stopping for photos, lunch on a beach, and swingset breaks.
During this photo, the boys were busy looking at rocks. Typical.

Mother Jane at Cleopatra's Pool
Eventually we strolled to the sun-soaked bay where we'd spend the night in the hull of a boat.
It was cozy.
After we shoved all our stuff into our little beds, we found out that the roof of a katamaran is an excellent diving deck. 
Then the captain and crew grilled us a manly dinner. We went to bed sunburned, exhausted, and full of lamb. 

The next morning came around drizzly and gray. A great day to not get sun poisoning in a kayak. After we squished into the boats, we weren't dry for the next five hours. We paddled around the bay, stopping to look at fur seals hanging out with the seabirds.
Our guides acted like raft guides, telling lewd jokes and flexing their muscles under their lifejackets. Like all my friends at WV, they really got a kick out of telling me how small my arms are. I focused on looking bigger.

We paddled back to Marahau and realized that we had to go back to Wellington. There was another long ferry ride waiting for us.  We killed off most of the trip with card games and tried to pretend we weren't seasick. 

And now we're back in windy old Wellington, waiting out the rain until we can go on our next fantastic adventure. Unfortunately Arcadia won't be organizing anything else, so we'll have to pay for it all... and it probably won't be quite so seamless.