February 26, 2003

Lawn bowling and the tram

Yesterday, a group of 10 of us decided that we wanted to learn a bit about Lawn Bowling, which is a very old sport mostly played by very old people. We had the hotel call the Riccarton Bowling Club, and let them know that we would be dropping by. After a short walk, we arrived at the club around 2:30 PM.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by several nice old men who showed us around the club, and explained the basics of the game to us. They were also kind enough to lend us some bowls so that we could actually play a few games. The game is fairly simple in theory, but very difficult in practice. The field of play is a very finely kept grass surface, similar to that of a golf green. The balls (or "bowls" as they are called) are roughly the size of a large grapefruit and are similarly shaped. One side of each bowl is marked with a small insignia as the "biased" side of the bowl. When rolled, the bowl will drift in the direction of the bias, until it eventually falls over.

The idea of the game is to try and get as many bowls as possible close to a small white ball that is rolled to the end of the field, called the "jack". You can either face the bias of the bowl inwards and roll it to the right of the jack, which is called a forehand bowl. Or you can face the bias outwards and toward your palm, and roll it to the left of the jack, which is called a backhand bowl. The bias of the bowl will slowly carry it back towards the jack, and with practice, you can cause the bowl to fall directly in front or behind the jack.

As I stated, the game is quite difficult in practice, and the men at the bowling club had a few laughs at our expense as we tried our best to figure out the game. After an hour or so of practice, a few of us were able to make consistently decent shots. We played for a few hours, and probably gave this group of old men more excitement than they have seen in years =) We might be heading back there next week to play in a tourney just for fun. The club reminded me a lot of what a fraternity would be like if its membership was composed entirely of 80 year old men. When we walked inside, there were tons of tables full of these really ancient guys drinking tons of beer, which they have lots of on tap, and arguing about the finer points of bowls and generally having a good time. It was pretty funny =) I took my camera, but forgot to charge the battery, so I will have to wait to post pictures of me bowling until I get the chance to copy some other people's pictures....

Today, a group of us decided to ride the historic ChristChurch tram. The tramway is composed of several beautifully restored trams from the latter part of the last century. Trams, whether horse drawn, steam powered, or electric, have been a part of ChristChurch's culture since early in its history. In 1954, the trams disappeared from the streets of ChristChurch because of lack of interest and funding. But, in 1995 the people of ChristChurch decided to make a return to the roots of their history by restoring and re-installing the familiar green-and-cream trams and returning the trams to service.

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Travelling by tram is a lot of fun, and is more than simply a method of transport. Trams are not really the fastest way to get around town, but they are highly refined and beautiful inside, and act as more of an event or experience than a simple way to get from place to place. The tramway even offers a specific car which doubles as a high-class restaurant. Those who desire an evening of fine food, drink, and socializing in the unique and luxurious interior of the tram can place reservations for any night of the week.

While I am not enjoying ChristChurch nearly as much as many of the other places I have visited, I am starting to warm up to the place a bit =). Tomorrow a big group of us are driving down to Queenstown (the adventure capital of New Zealand) to go hang-gliding and to ride the land-luge. A bunch of people are also skydiving or bungee jumping, but I decided against both as they are expensive for a short amount of time. After Queenstown we are travelling to Milford Sound, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parts of all New Zealand. There, we will be taking a day-cruise complete with lunch and several scenic stops. We will return on Sunday afternoon with a long drive across the island through the Southerm Alps.

Posted by panix at 08:52 PM

February 23, 2003

Rugby, Arts Centre, and the Gardens

On Saturday evening, about 20 of us went to see the Wellington v. Canterbury rugby match at Jade Stadium. From my experience at the Sevens, I expected to see a bunch of drunken hoodlums in a sort of controlled riot =) This was exactly the opposite of what happened, strangely enough. It seems that rugby in ChristChurch is a family affair, and thus I spent most of my time at the game surrounded by annoying children. I had a great time anyway, but was a bit disappointed. I definitely enjoyed the sevens much more than the Super 12 match I saw on Saturday night.

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I have been sick for the last few days, and so yesterday I spent much of my time indoors. I managed to get out for a little while to go and visit the Arts Centre and to see a fair that was held in front of it. This was a lot of fun, and I was able to sample some excellent cheese, look at some fine art, and enjoy some great music.

After the fair, I walked home through two parks and the Botanic Gardens. All of the parks and the gardens were beautiful, and I snapped a few nice photos to capture the experience.

If this darn sickness ever leaves me, then I will make sure to update you all some more on what ChristChurch is like =)

Posted by panix at 08:09 PM

February 22, 2003

Climbing Franz Josef

On Thursday evening, 9 of us jumped into a large van and started driving east from ChristChurch. We drove through the Southern Alps on narrow winding roads and across one lane bridges. Several of the bridges are not only one lane, but are also occupied by railroad tracks, so that you have to yield to oncoming traffic and potentially to oncoming trains! After several hours, we reached the center of the island at Arthur's Pass.

A few hours later we reached a small town just south of Greymouth on the western coast of the South Island. We stopped here for dinner, and then got back on the road, heading south. Around 11:30 PM, we arrived in Franz Josef, a small town next to the glacier of the same name. Our group separated and stayed in two different hostels for the night.

After a good night's sleep, we had breakfast and walked to the nearby adventure center to begin our hike on Franz Josef glacier. At the center, we were fitted with the World's Most Uncomfortable Boots ™ and some ice gripping attachments called Talonz.

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The hike was absolutely breathtaking and took just about 4.5 hours from start to finish. We were dropped at the foot of the glacier, and hiked across the bottom of a river bed toward the terminal face. We were then instructed to strap on our Talonz, and were guided up the slippery face of the glacier. After nearly two hours of hiking, we stopped for lunch at a rocky point on top of the glacier. The hike was wonderful, but now I have blisters all over my feet from the terrible boots =)

After the hike was over, we hopped back into the van for a long drive back to ChristChurch. This evening, a large group of us are going to attend a rugby match between the Wellington Hurricanes and the Canterbury Crusaders! I will make sure to update you all tomorrow on the game!

I still miss you all, and hope things are going well back in the states!

Posted by panix at 12:29 PM

February 16, 2003

Arrived in ChristChurch

My last evening in Wellington was wonderful. We first went to a small brewery in the middle of the city and sat on the balcony — very fun. We then walked down to Courtenay Place, the center of night life in Wellington, and relaxed in a few pubs and bars. Then we walked up into the Botanic Gardens, just above the Weir House, and climbed a tree known to the locals as the "bucket tree." The tree is very dense, and is carefully trimmed to a large cylindrical shape with a flat top. Because of its trimming and density, you can climb to the top of it, about twenty-five feet off the ground and on the crest of the highest hill in the gardens, and you can lay down on the flat canopy of the branches. We stayed in the tree until around 4:00 AM and then walked back down to the dorm to catch a few hours of sleep before our bus departed at 8:30 AM.

I woke up at about 7:30 AM absolutely exhausted, hurriedly packed my stuff, and boarded the bus for the airport. We then boarded a tiny dual-prop plane for our short hop flight from Wellington to ChristChurch. We are staying in a very nice hotel near the center of the city. It only has one computer in the business center, which is hooked up into a modem for internet access — I will have very limited access to email and the web. The plus side is that the food is great and will be a wonderful change from my selections at the Weir House in Wellington. So far, I like it here in ChristChurch. The city is much different than Wellington in that it is flat, spread out, and full of gardens and parks. It makes sense that I am studying Victorian literature and culture here, since the entire city feels like an old English city.

On the other hand, I really miss Wellington already. I grew very attached to the place in such a short time, and I will really miss the wonderful people I had the opportunity to see there, and the amazing and beautiful landscape of the city.

I have already planned out my two weekends here, and I am really looking forward to them. This weekend, 12 of us are renting a giant van and driving across the island through the Southern Alps to climb and hike on the Franz Josef glacier and possibly go to sail in the fiord-lands. We will then drive back and go to the Canterbury vs. Wellington rugby match in ChristChurch. Next weekend, a few of us are going to rent a car and drive to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. Most people will be skydiving or bungy jumping, but I am not really interested in those things... a bit too dangerous =) We are going to go jet-boating down the fiords, ride a helicopter into a canyon, and possibly go white water rafting. Then we will be headed back to Australia for 2 days to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. I have a lot to look forward to!

I will update you all soon on how much I am enjoying ChristChurch! I love you and miss you all!

Posted by panix at 11:03 PM

February 14, 2003

Last weekend in Wellington!

This weekend was my last in Wellington, and I am currently packing and preparing for my trip to ChristChurch on the South Island tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM. I wanted to make sure that this weekend was a good one, so we planned a huge road trip in a 10-passenger van, leaving on Thursday evening.

Our first stop was a campground in Matamata, a small farming community in the northern part of the island. Why did we stop here, you ask? Well, in 1999, a helicopter was flying over New Zealand and looked down to see a farm in Matamata. This farm had a few unique features, such as a lake, a very attractive and symmetrical tree, and a rolling landscape surrounding it. A few days later, an executive from New Line Pictures showed up at the farmer's door and asked the farmer if he could use his land in a movie trilogy called The Lord of the Rings. The rest is history — Matamata is now known around New Zealand as Hobbiton.

In the morning, our group took a tour of the Hobbiton movie set, which allowed us to see the remains of the hobbit holes from the films, walk around the lake, visit the "party field" and the famous "party tree", and take a lot of pictures. We were able to get a few group shots of us at Bag End (Bilbo's home), and one of me under the party tree where Bilbo gave his speech. Most of the set has been destroyed, as it was made of polystyrene and plywood, but many of the hobbit holes remain, including the most important few. The family that runs the tour is not even allowed to maintain the remaining holes, so I was lucky to be able to see it while its still possible!

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Following our tour in Hobbiton, we hopped back into our van and began the long drive southeast to the coastal wine country. The city in the center of the wine country is called Napier, and is on the east coast of New Zealand. Many years ago, Napier was hit by a massive earthquake and was completely destroyed. Following the quake, the city's people decided to rebuild the city in the grand Art-Deco style. This weekend was the city's annual Art Deco Weekend, and we were there to witness it. The city is quite beautiful, and I unfortunately was unable to take many pictures while I was there, but there are many pictures available of the city itself on the internet. It was packed with old-time cars, and people dressed in the extravagant style of the early 20th century. They all pack into the city, dance to jazz music on the beach, and enjoy the Art Deco scenery.

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We ate a beautiful dinner in Napier, enjoyed the sights, and were back in the van by 9:00 PM to travel to our final campsite at Kaitoke Regional Park, which I had visited a few weeks ago. About 10 minutes after we left Napier, rain started to pound the car, and I had to drive the old, creaky, manual transmission van through the windy and narrow mountain roads in the rainy dark... this was not so much fun, but now I am a pro driving on the left hand side of the road and shifting with my left hand =). When we arrived at the park, they had locked the gate, so we parked in the car park. The van can hold 10 people sitting up, but only 4 can really sleep in it, so me and two other brave souls grabbed a tent, and hiked in the rain until we found a suitable campsite. Surprisingly enough, we slept through the night without the tent springing a leak, and woke up dry and refreshed!

Another great weekend! I am truly going to miss Wellington. The people here are nice, the city is full of things to do, and it is in one of the most beautiful locations I have ever visited. The only thing I am not going to miss about Wellington is the food =)

Talk to you soon from ChristChurch!

Posted by panix at 09:37 PM

February 08, 2003

The Sevens... "Go Kiwis!"

Every year, the top 16 countries in rugby send teams to participate in the International Rugby Sevens tourney in Wellington for two days jam packed with 44 games. Sevens is a form of rugby where each side has 7 players, instead of the typical 15, and the game is played in two 7 minute halves. This makes for an extremely fast-paced form of rugby that even Americans can enjoy =)

I purchased tickets for the Sevens before leaving the states through a friend here in Wellington, and convinced some guys on the trip to come along with me. After renting a car in Lake Taupo and arriving in Wellington late on Thursday night, we woke up on Friday morning and headed down to WestPac Stadium for the start of the Sevens. Upon arriving, we assaulted my kiwi friend with questions about the game, so that we would understand what was going on. Its a fairly simple game, so we got into it early on.

The first match of the day was the U.S.A. against South Africa. We found out quickly that the U.S. isn't known for its rugby teams, as South Africa trounced us 26-5, and then Samoa took us to school 49-0. Ouch! The U.S. did get a victory later in the day by defeating the Cook Islands 26-12. We made sure to play the role of the obnoxious Americans during the whole first day, chanting and shouting for the U.S. even though we were terrible =)

The New Zealand team on the other hand is incredible. They are strong, confident, and play with bursts of speed that are unrivaled by the rest of the world. They outscored opponents 112-12 on the first day, taking out Tonga, Papua New Ginuea, and then destroying England in the final match of the first evening.

The next day, my friend's family invited us up to their house for a Kiwi BBQ before the following days matches, and we gladly accepted the offer. The food was great, and got us charged up before Saturday's festivities.

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By the time the second day rolled around, we were all huge fans of this rugby thing, and had decided to go ahead and pull for the home team. This allowed us to make a lot of friends in the stands, who would in turn pull for the U.S. team too. The U.S. team won two in a row to advance to the Bowl Semifinals, where we tragically lost a close match to a tiny little Pacific island team called Niue... we were crushed.

The New Zealand team, however, had worked its way into the brackets for the championship game, which it had never won at home in Wellington. The kiwis beat the Samoans in a very close match early on to advance to the semifinals, where they played Fiji, a powerhouse. This was easily the best game of the day, as the Kiwis rallied from losing a man to a yellow card and won the game by scoring on the last play of the game to advance to the Cup Championship against England, who surprisingly defeated Australia and was out for blood against NZ after its embarrassing defeat the night before.

As the final approached, the crowds were firing themselves up by singing Kiwi drinking songs, and the energy level was high. The crowds tend to dress themselves up as random characters like Santa Claus, Colonel Sanders, Fred Flintstone, or even Satan. The funniest group decided to dress up as a bunch of U.S. commandos, and they had Osama Bin Laden in chains and would beat him up on the big screen every time New Zealand scored in a game! Very funny stuff! Today I was watching the local news coverage and saw some folks dressed up as Pooh Bear and Eeyore, which reminded me of Lacey in her costume a few Halloweens ago! Lacey in an Eeyore costume at the Sevens would be one of the funniest sights in the world =)

In the final game, New Zealand won a close match with England to capture its first tourney win at home. The team walked around the stadium doing a dance for the audience as people chanted "Go Kiwis!" Last night we celebrated with the city of Wellington until 3:30 AM and enjoyed being honorary Kiwis for a day. What a fantastic weekend!

Posted by panix at 11:45 PM

February 07, 2003

Lake Taupo

On Tuesday, my biology class combined with the geology class for a three day field trip to Lake Taupo, a volcanically active region in the center of the North Island of New Zealand. Over the course of the three day field trip, I was able to see some beautiful landscapes.

On the first day of the trip, our bus dropped us off at the Tongariro National Park headquarters, at the location of the Ruapehu volcano. This volcano has been active fairly recently, but we were assured that we were only going to safe spots on the mountain. We were able to board the ski-lifts and ride to a much higher spot on the mountain, which allowed us to climb up to the top of a ridge on the opposite side of the volcano's cone. From here, we had an excellent view of Mt. Ngauruhoe, which is the volcano used in the Lord of the Rings for many shots of Mt. Doom.

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The second day of our trip centered around a visit to the Mongatepopo Valley on the eastern side of the Tongariro volcanic center. We hiked into the center of the valley, directly beneath Mt. Ngauruhoe. This volcano is one of the youngest known volcanos in the world, being built in the last 3000 years, making it younger than the man-made pyramids. We hiked down into the valley over the course of over an hour through rocky landscape until we reached a small waterfall at the foot of the volcano, and stopped for lunch. From the base of the volcano, it was very easy to tell that we were standing beneath the imposing Mt. Doom!

We departed from the waterfall after an hour break and began the long, painful hike up to the "saddle" that separates Mt. Ngauruhoe from its neighbor. The hike was extremely steep, very rocky, and very dangerous! But, the hike was worth it, as we made it about halfway up to the cone of the volcano, where we could see the snowy Mt. Tongariro in the distance. We stopped at the top of the volcano for an hour before making the long hike back to our bus. When we arrived at the hotel, we all collapsed into our beds in exhaustion =)

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The last day of the field trip was probably one of the most boring experiences of my life. We visited a geothermal power station, and looked at a bunch of rocks... the only bright point of the day was the visit to Huka Falls, which provided a beautiful view of some of the clearest water I have ever seen as it roared through a narrow valley and over the edge of a small cliff.

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My stay in Taupo was gratifying, but by the time Thursday night rolled around, I was ready to depart. A few of us rented a car to drive home early to watch the International Rugby Sevens back in Wellington.

Posted by panix at 11:15 AM

February 01, 2003

Fair, glow worms, and Rivendell...

Today, four of us took a wonderful day trip packed full of amazing experiences. We began our day with a good breakfast in the city early in the morning. We then walked to the Wellington Visitors Center and rented a car to transport us around for the day.

Starting in Wellington, we took the highway up into the mountains, through curvy roads, steep mountain walls, and beautiful scenery. We almost made it through without anyone getting sick, but right at the end, one of the ladies in the car just couldn't handle it anymore and got sick =( After this short delay, we were back in the car. We drove through Featherston and into a town fair. At the fair were hundreds of little booths devoted to leatherwork, wool products, art, trinkets, books, and many other things. We spent a solid 3 hours at the fair, and I enjoyed a great New Zealand style steak sandwich for lunch. After we had all finished up, we packed back into the car for the next leg of our journey.

We then travelled down a narrow gravel road, honking as we turned corners to avoid hitting oncoming vehicles. This road took us out into the New Zealand countryside, where it is hard not to feel like you are in Middle Earth. At any moment, I felt as if a pack of riders from Rohan was going to burst over the edge of the mountain. The landscape was absolutely stunning! In the middle of the beautiful mountains is a deep cave that is home to millions of glow worms. We rolled up our jeans, turned on our flashlights, and plunged headlong into the caves. We had to wade in shallow water, climb over sharp rocks, and duck low to avoid the ceiling. When we were deep inside the caves, we turned out our flashlights, and the walls of the cave came alive, with thousands of small green lights peeking out of the walls like distant stars. Under every crack and crevice in the rock we could see even more of the little lights peeking out at us. What an amazing experience this was!

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After leaving the caves, we hopped back into the car with our soaking wet shoes, and began our drive back through the mountains toward Wellington. About halfway home, we turned into Kaitoke Regional Park to visit yet another Lord of the Rings location. Kaitoke is the site for the legendary elf city of Rivendell. Signs have been put up in Kaitoke guiding you to the location of the sets, where you can look up above the beautiful river into dense wooded mountains, where the city of Rivendell was digitally rendered.

After looking at Rivendell from the path, we decided to climb down from the side of the mountain and onto the river banks to get a better look. From the base of the river, you can walk down past the Rivendell location to see The Fords of Isen and the spot where Eomer finds the wounded Theodred in the films. The park was incredible, and we plan on returning sometime to camp out in the elven forests!

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We then returned home, exhausted from our journey, to eat dinner and watch a movie before going to bed. What a wonderful day today has been! I am blessed to have the opportunity to be on this trip, and I thank God for revealing himself to us all through his wonderful creation!

I love you and miss you all!

Posted by panix at 08:54 AM