Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Land Down Under

Let's see, what to report this week about life on my little island in the South Pacific?
Beautiful beaches  - check:

Dog food that looks like cookie dough - check:

Yes, refrigerated dog food that looks like it should say Chocolate Chip instead of Chick 'N Rice is an option at your local NZ grocery store. Thurston has mananged this long without it so we are sticking to the dry stuff but should you ever come here with your dog, I thought you should know you have options.

On a different note, one of the highlights of the past week was getting to attend another League game. Apparently you are supposed to just say "League" as "Rugby" indicates something different in this country, but what we are talking about is a rugby game as far as I'm concerned:

This time it was the Kiwis vs. Kangaroos. The names sound fake I know, but trust me they are real.  I'm telling you these games are so fun to go to. Especially when the crowd starts chanting things like, "THE REFEREE IS A WANKER!" I mean how awesome is that? Adam and I found it very amusing and have somehow managed to work it into daily conversation, using our fake Kiwi accents of course since we don't have real ones yet.

Another funny thing was that the boy band, One Direction, was there and caused quite a stir. I laid my eyes on one of the little teen heart throbs a few rows back. He was cute in that Euro, I weigh less then you, even though I'm a boy, kind of way. I wonder if they are as popular in America as they are here? Why I even know this band exsist I'm not sure.

And in typical Kiwi fashion, we had another national holiday. Wednesday was Anzac Day, which is New Zealand's version of Memorial Day in the US. You see lots of people wearing these to honor those that served: 

Since everyday is kind of a holiday for me, it didn't feel that different except that I had Adam to bum around with. Speaking of my hubby, he has touched down on US soil so I'm playing work widow for the week. Any weird internet people out there by chance reading this, I assure you the one command my 20 lb terrier mix knows is "sic balls," so don't even consider trying to mess with this house.

Besides pining away over my beloved, I plan on jogging with the running group I recently joined. It's a nice group of ladies, dogs, and babies. Improv is over and my volunteer training to work with refugee families starts in a couple days. Like every Tuesday, I will be heading to the video store to get my fill of  half off movies. I mean I rented an entire season of Nip Tuck for .90 cents! And people say life isn't fair...

On the travel front, we have two trips coming up. We are heading to the Bay of Islands in June and to Melbourne in July. Adam's company has it's annual conference "across the ditch" as they say here, so I'm tagging along. I have never been to Australia so I'm super excited. If Oprah thinks it's a good enough country to send her entire studio audience to, well then it's good enough for me. I also heard shopping in Melbourne is the bomb, which doesn't hurt either.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

Today's post will be like me. Short and sweet, with a splash of color. Well in reality, I have a tendency to be less splash of color and more, you've lost your rainbow and can't find it because I'm wearing it kind of person. Anyway, instead of telling you about how we went to another beautiful place over the weekend, I'll just show you:

This was taken outside of Orewa, north of Auckland. Ok now how about some more lush loveliness:

How is that for clean, green New Zealand? Green, coincidentally, is the color I turned when Adam told me he gets to go back to America for work and will be slipping in a quick visit home. It was that shade of green right between insane jealousy, Shrek, and feeling like you might puke. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture, but I can assure you it was very becoming.

I have now adjusted to this news and am happy for him. Ok fine, and for myself because we are putting together quite the shopping list of things for him to bring back. It's unclear at this point in the game, how he will fit one niece and  three nephews under the age of 6 AND an entire Trader Joe's store into a suitcase, but if anyone can figure it out it's Adam.

I've been living the expat life for over 4 months now and one of the most striking things about New Zealand is how everything operates on such a smaller scale compared to America. I was in stitches over the weekend when the following happened: I'm in line for the bathroom at the Howick Farmers Market and there were two other people in line with me. Just to be clear we are talking about a line that is 3  people deep.

So I'm standing there when one of the women says, "This is just like in the movies," referring to women standing in line for the bathroom. If that was like the movies then, prior to coming to NZ, I was in the movies every day! It is something I never even thought about, but to her it was clearly a big deal.

After all, there are the same number of people in the whole country of New Zealand as there are in the city of Atlanta. It's all perspective. And I'm getting plenty of it.

I'm also getting plenty of picturesque beaches into my weekend schedule, but I guess you already knew that. Maraetai on the Pohutakawa Coast is no exception:

This is one of my favorite stretches of coastline and only an hour from Auckland. If you're local be sure to check it out!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!

I didn't buy a zoo but I did go to one on Wednesday. How cute is this little fellow?

The Auckland Zoo is pretty sweet I gotta say. As is finding different ways to stay connected to life back home.

In honor of the Masters this past weekend, we went to the driving range. Since we are in New Zealand, shoes of course, were optional:

In honor of Passover and Easter, we went to a Seder Saturday night and church and brunch on Sunday. Adam, to my shock and delight, wore seersucker pants on Easter. This will probably mean nothing to those of you that don't know Adam, but for those of you that do, it's worth mentioning. As for for my 1% readership in Latvia who probably don't even know what seersucker is, well then just skip to the next paragraph. For everyone else, this clothing choice is notable because this is the same guy who goes to Costco to pick up dinner and a few new work shirts in the same trip.

And in honor of myself, I took a trip to the spa for a little Milford Track recovery session. Spa Di Vine was such a treat. It's out in the country and is really top notch. This is where morning tea was served:

It was lovely. Overall, it was a great long weekend, including dinner out at Monsoon Poon (love you long time) and a BBQ with friends. The only bummer was that because of the holiday I didn't have improv class. I mean c'mon when was the last time YOU got to fake die? It is so fun. Every week I get to play lots of silly games, learn the rules of narrative, sharpen my wit, and push myself to think outside the box. We do everything from get in partners and make up stories about chasing monsters to making human sound machines.

Speaking of monsters, it reminds me of when I was teaching a Kids Turn divorce workshop in Berkeley. Part of the curriculum with my group of 5 year-olds was to go on a hunt for the "divorce monster." Well I got so into it. I made the kids put on their coats and hats, had a stratgeic plan of attack huddle, turned chairs into tunnels, tables into mountains, setting the scene for the monster we were about to discover.

The "monster" in this case was my workshop assistant who I forced to hide in a storage closet in the classroom I was attempting to turn into a magical forest. I guess I got too into it because moments before we were about to face the divorce monster, one of the kids burst into tears saying that he didn't want to find the monster and that he was scared. Thank goodness for another kid,  the one black child in the group, who was quick to deliver the important message of "it's not real sucka."

But I digress, point is I'll miss improv class when it is over in a couple weeks. For that reason, I am turning my attention towards a new and completely different endeavour. Starting next month, I will begin a volunteer training program to work with a refugee services organization. I will be put on a team and matched with a family who is seeking asylum in New Zealand.

Families come from all over but lately I've been told they are mostly from Burma, Africa, and Iraq. I am looking forward to this challenging but hopefully rewarding experience. Since I am having trouble finding a job and I would prefer to not have my brain rot while living here, I think it will be a good thing.

And just in case you were still thinking about all those beautiful vistas from our recent South Island trip, like I still am, here's one more for the road:

Thursday, 5 April 2012

To Queenstown... and Beyond!

CAUTION: The following photos may cause strong urges to vacate your office, home, or life as you know it and go immediately to New Zealand. Proceed with care.

We just got back from a trip to Queenstown and doing the Milford Track. Although our trip ended with a cruise through the Milford Sound:

It didn't start out that smoothly. The not smooth part being that we missed our plane. Well our plane was still there when we arrived, but we missed our gate closing by five minutes. Even though it's easy, breezy Cover Girl getting through the airport, you have to actually check in by a certain time prior to departure. Duh. Unfortunately, our five minutes late cost us a pretty penny seeing as we had to buy completely brand new tickets. Ouch.

So instead of spending the morning in Queenstown we spent the morning in the Koru Club, Air New Zealand's lounge for travelers who prefer to recover from their missed flights surrounded by free croissants and businessmen. After not talking to each other for about four hours we got on the next flight and our fabulous vacation began.

Queenstown pretty much immediately jumped to the top of my favorite New Zealand places list. It is the most beautiful little mountain town. We strolled around, had lunch at Fergburger, and took the gondola to the top to see the fantastic views:

Me paragliding. Not. We did enjoy watching the other brave souls though. And when on top of a mountain why not go for an afternoon Luge. Safety first:

After that it was off to our pre-track briefing where we met the other members of the group we would be living and walking with for the next five days. So here's the deal, there are two ways you can do this Milford Track hike, the "guided" way or the "independent" way. As soon as I realized that guided translated to showers and hot meals and independent meant sharing one room with 40 other people who had not showered, I was all about being guided.

Apparently this option was also very attractive to the 50 plus crowd, as Adam and I were the youngest people in our group by many, many, years.  As we watched an Asian woman get the video camera out to film her husband trying on his backpack in a conference room, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. We ate dinner at Botaswana Butchery and spotted Don Cheadle from Hotel Rwanda and Ocean's 11 dining next to us. He was not in town to conquer the Milford Track like us but to film a  movie. Go figure.

Queenstown was great, but what we really came to the South Island to do was go on "the finest walk in the world" according to a NZ poet I've never heard of. Despite not knowing this poet, after completing the track, I would have to agree.

Probably because we got to walk through scenery like this:

And see waterfalls like this:

And how bout the same waterfall up close:

And another along the trail:

And I'm pretty sure a hobbit lives in this forest:

I am kind of obsessed with the trees in this country. I've never seen so many amazing ones in one place. Speaking of amazing:

Most of the time we had great weather. Warm days where a dip in nature's pool was a much welcome break for my feet:

When we crossed over the top of McKinnon Pass after many miles up hill, it was cold, rainy, and not very clear but we were glad we reached the top and even gladder when one of our  group leaders was waiting at the top with hot chocolate:

Oh yes, hot chocolate is included in the guided option, who knew?! So, we hiked between 10-13 miles a day and at night hung out at the lodge with our new friends. We met some really wonderful people. Imagine camp for adults. And with a bar. 

Our best friends on the trip were a lovely group of Aussies. The group was made up of all kinds -  Kiwis, Europeans, and Asians, including a white man and his subservient Japanese wife who kept up one of our Aussie friends the first night with their, ahem, explicit adult time. The lodges were very comfortable, as proven by couple just mentioned. Hey check out the view of Mitre Peak from our place the last night:

The great thing about the hike was that even though we were in a group we didn't actually walk as a group. You meandered at your own pace, passing people, or stopping for lunch with other travellers, meeting people from all over the world. Perhaps filling your water bottle from the stream running next to you. Ok, a quick word about the water. I have never and I repeat never seen water so clear and pure. Imagine a river that you could drink from and see all the way to the bottom. We are talking crystal clear people. Amazing. Anyway, it was a great trip and I can now check Milford Track off the bucket list:

Well that's a wrap folks but here's one more for the road. If you thought this place looked good in color check out the black and white version...