Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Zealand

I recently returned from an eight day adventure to Queenstown, New Zealand. For those of you unfamiliar with New Zealand, the country consists of a North Island and a South Island. Queenstown is in the South Island. I went along with seven other guys. Two were my roommates (Jeff and Steve.) And the rest were friends of theirs: Lockey, Ben, Ash, Simon and Tim.

I'd love to go into more detail but all eight of us came home with some form of a cold after living in a small house together for eight days, so my energy to elaborate is low. But thankfully I wrote a little bit everyday while on the trip. So here are my journal entries that I've edited a little in order to make more sense.

Check back in tomorrow for all the pictures I took.

Saturday, August 8

My travel day to New Zealand was an exciting one. It’d been awhile since I could say I entered a new country. The flight over was only two and a half hours. It was the first time I’d ever flown Qantas before. I sat next to a nice young woman from Sydney. The approach was one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. And I thought flying into Sydney was special.

Good Group. Steve, Jeff, Lockey, and myself (The older four) and Simon, Ben, Ash and Tim (The younger four.)

Six hour drive to Queenstown from Christchurch in car number two with myself, Jeff and Lockey. Nothing too exciting. Great views. In fact, beautiful views. Maybe better than all those other road trips I’ve taken. At some points I had mountains in four directions.

First night not bad, couple of drinks of wine and to bed.

Sunday, August 9

First morning I nearly overslept for my first day of skiing. Went and spent nearly $600 in about 20 minutes on lift tickets and rental gear, so I was in a bit of a dark mood especially not having my coffee yet.

Our first day of skiing was a great day. We drove about 25 minutes up to a mountain called Coronet Peak.

The ski lift was fun. A local woman gave me some advice about how to ski. Also a little boy told me, “Maybe you shouldn’t go off the jump” after I told him it was my first day. Jeff and I decided against buying an $80 lesson. We decided to “learn as you go” which worked out great, although it may not have been the smartest. But after $600, we didn’t want to spend much more that day.

I fell down a couple times in first few tries on bunny trail. Was scared to go at first. Much like scuba diving day except I could breath here. Going from edge to edge was the toughest part. Once I got that, I was fine. The last run of the day was on a tough trail, steep. I only fell once or twice and felt pretty good about the way I ended the day.

After skiing, went to grocery store, bought food, went back to apartment and had a few drinks with the guys. We went out to a couple places.

And the next day I intended to have another great day.

Monday, August 10

Woke up early with Lockey and went to The Remarkables, another ski mountain nearby. It was just the two of us, everyone else was hungover. We were two of the first 20 or 30 people on the mountain. It was a 14 kilometer drive up the mountain on very dangerous dirt road. It contained only a few guard rails and cliffs that drop off hundreds of feet. I was on somewhat of a tight budget that day, so I only brought five or six granola bars I'd bought and a couple energy drinks and ate them throughout the day. It was a good plan.

I started out on beginner trails, only fell a few times, and really got the hang of things fast. Visibility was tough due to no sun, yet it was still beautiful. I was on the intermediate trails before long.

I started the day on chair lift number 9, then 63 and knew it was going to be a good day (because of my fixation on the number nine.)

After lunch hour, I found the third chair lift and loved that trail. It was intermediate, but the danger of falling off a cliff was very clear. I did that run five or six times before going back to where I was in the morning.

Also I ventured to this part of the park that said “warning, we’re not responsible for you after this point” in so many words. It was a little scary. I found an area with impressive jumps for skiers and snowboarders. To get down from that point I’m pretty sure I had to go down an “advanced” ski hill. All I know is it was pretty steep but I handled it pretty well.

The biggest fear of course is falling, going edge to edge. I often said to myself, “lets go you wimp, you can do it” and then I seemed to be able to, but that fear of falling on those steep hills was intense.

The chair lifts at the Remarkables were painful, unlike the nice padded ones at Coronet Peak.

On my 3rd or 4th to last run, I took a really good fall. My leg was trapped behind me. It reminded me of those situations you hear about where people break legs. There were a couple of witnesses who looked a bit concerned as it took me a couple minutes to get up and going again. But I did it. I thought afterwards maybe I’d done some muscle damage, but nope, I was just fine.
That intermediate trail with the cliffs is amazing. If I made one wrong move, seriously, I could have fallen a great distance. I think I must be a bit nuts because I enjoyed it!

At 20 to 4pm I asked the woman at the bottom of the ski lift how much time left, she said 20 minutes. So I said “Good for one run right?” and she says “No, be fast and you can make two”…. So I made it down those last two runs down the intermediate trail without falling once. It was a good feeling.

I mentioned earlier talking to people on the chair lifts. That's one of the fun parts about skiing, meeting random people from around the world. At Remarkables I met some nice people, one American man, a pair of girls from the UK, Scotland and England. Its fun talking to people on the chairlift.

That night the four older guys were in bed by 10pm. The younger ones went out. Did I mention I was one of the older ones?

Tuesday, August 11

Tuesday was a pretty fun day. The guys all woke up around 8am. We had a breakfast then headed into Queenstown to explore. We booked a tour for the “Shotover Jet” which I will explain in few paragraphs. Then we realized we had about five hours until our tour started so we headed separate ways. A couple of the guys went bungee jumping, everyone else went back to the house, but I decided to just spend the day exploring Queenstown. I checked my Internet for the first time in three days which for me, is an eternity. I had a couple coffees, some Belgian waffles (with a bit of chocolate sauce), then saw that the movie theatre had a movie that started and ended before my tour. So I went to see Public Enemies. Good flick about John Dillinger. Died, sad, I knew he would, oh well.

When the movie ended, I walked a couple blocks and met my group for our Shot Over Jet tour. This is a high speed boat that does 360 degree spins and travels down a narrow river surrounded by rocky cliffs. It was a thrilling experience. It was like being in an IMAX movie, except I was really in the movie. It was cold, but thrilling. Tears were running down my face from the wind.

We went back and relaxed with some drinks and movies on the TV.

Wednesday, August 12

Wednesday the whole house woke up to the sound of RAIN. Rained all day!

Around 1pm, we decided to go ahead to Coronet peak anyway despite the weather. Great decision. Got up there around 1:30. That left us with 2.5 hours of skiing in hard to see skiing conditions. But what fun it was! I was really pushing high speeds that day.

I rode the T-Bar a few times, only fell off once!

I had a really nasty spill after riding the T -Bar on one occasion. It was a front flip. My skis went down into some heavy snow and stopped, but my body went right over. I hit my head and shoulder and lay there for a bit. A little dizzy, fairly impressed with how violent that crash was. But again, I walked away without a scratch.

On the last run of the day I fell gracefully down the mountain. I was following Lockey because we'd met up and were sticking together. He's an advanced snowboarder, so I was drained. I had pushed it extremely hard for 2.5 hours and was spent. But another great day of skiing.

All the guys went to a pub crawl that night. Six bars for $20. Of course you end up spending more at each bar. I went home around 1am, before the rest of the group did, knowing that the last day of skiing was still to come. They guys always stayed out a lot later than me, but in the morning I felt a lot better.

Thursday, August 13

We woke up early to a cloudy morning. But we were determined to spend the whole day on the mountain. Lockey and I woke up early again. Tim and Simon joined us too. On top of the mountain, the weather was unreal. Unreal. Maybe more beautiful than Sunday. I skied all day, only taking one break for a bowl of fries and a coffee. Had no scary falls and challenged myself. My legs were hurting after four intense days of skiing.

I heard some great conversation on the ski lift again. Met Americans from MD, Atlanta as well as an Irish girl, and a bunch of kiwis.

Also throughout the week, Lockey would listen to his ipod while he snow boarded. The first three days I wanted to learn to ski and concentrate on my surroundings, but on the fourth day it was a thrill to listen to some of my all time favorite music while flying down a mountain. I listened to my 90s rock playlist as well as a lot of weezer and fall out boy. So I listened to nearly 100 songs through out the day. It was awesome.

Then as usual we headed out on the town Thursday night, exhausted. Went to a couple of bars, then went home.

Friday, August 14

Friday I finally slept in. Woke up around 10am. My body was tired!

Had a good breakfast, then six of us went to the Gondola and Luge. It was a lot of fun! My luge cart numbers were #9, #9, #108, #83 and #29. I won with the 29, and I did very well with every cart except 83. Perhaps because it had nothing to do with 9. I won on the last one, passing my roommate Jeff right at the end. It was a Tony Stewart like move. He told me later he let me win, which now that I think about it, yeah he did, but it was thrilling at the moment to think I won.

The views at the top of the gondola were amazing. I keep going places and say to myself “This is the best view I’ll ever see” but I keep seeing better and better views.
We went back to the house and all napped. A couple guys para glided, but I chose not to.

Saturday, August 15

We traveled back to Christchurch because we had to spend one night there before flying home on Sunday. It was a pretty drive up there. Christchurch is a pretty town. I had no energy to go out. The guys and I watched Gone in 60 seconds, had some of my port wine and then went to bed with rosy cheeks. The rest of the guys did go out. I don't know how they kept the pace up for eight nights, but wow.

Sunday, August 16

The flight home was kind of fun. I flew Emirates Airlines, which is based out of Dubai and mostly does flights around the Middle East. The interior is gorgeous, service is first class. Each seat has a fancy television that allows you to watch movies, play video games, watch TV, listen to music and more. And the meal was the best meal I've had on a plane as well. I had some lamb with shrimp cocktail and salad with a nice piece of cake for dessert. I was truly impressed. I watched the movie The Wrestler which was pretty good, but it was edited so much that some pivotal scenes I think were deleted. Every announcement on Emirates begins in Arabic, then is repeated in English. So you could say it was the most culturally diverse flight I've ever taken.

We landed around 5pm locally in Sydney. We no longer needed our winter jackets which was a nice change. I was exhausted and happy to be back in the land of Oz.

To sum up the trip in a few words: It was truly a great experience that I won't forget. The views were breathtaking and learning to ski was a blast. I would love to return to New Zealand someday to explore the rest of the country.

Also pertaining to the skiing and not getting injured reminds me of a David Copperfield special I saw as a kid. He was doing a card trick and said "In order for this to work, it's going to take a lot of luck, and a whole lotta chance..."

Looking back on my skiing experience, I think the fact that I didn't hurt myself may have taken a little luck and a whole lotta chance...

Check back in tomorrow for loads of pictures from New Zealand!

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