Monday, 10 September 2007

Back from New Zealand

Well, we are home from New Zealand, specifically Auckland and Queenstown. Auckland because I needed to pick up my permanent migration visa from the Australian consulate (yay!), and Queenstown because you may as well do a little skiing while you are in the country, right?

We took Friday 31st August off work, and flew at midday from Sydney to Auckland, which took about 2 and a half hours. We arrived at Heidi and Craig's house at 6pm and after a drink we all headed into Mission Bay for dinner. Heidi is 4 months pregnant, so we had a designated driver all night ;-). Heidi and I headed to bed about midnight, leaving the boys drinking red wine... Milord was a little under the weather the next day!

On Saturday we flew to Queenstown where we were met by our package rep and taken to our accommodation, which was a nice little one-bedroom apartment very close to the centre of town. It was surprisingly warm as we got off the plane, and we were a bit concerned to be told that the snow was melting and awful and that one of the ski areas was actually closed! Then it turned cold and began to rain, and poured all afternoon long while we tramped around under umbrellas stocking up the kitchen and bar. Luckily it seems the rain was snow further up the mountains, and by morning the ski fields were ready for us.

We spent the next three days skiing at The Remarkables ski area, which takes about an hour to get to from Queenstown centre, depending on snow chains and the like. We had decided that we were not interested in driving on ice, so took the ski shuttle bus to and from the snow every day. It worked out perfectly.

I was pretty nervous to begin with, as it had been 5 years since I'd last skied. Turns out it really is just like riding a bicycle, and after a wobble or two I was fine. We booked a couple of hour-long private lessons, and it was helpful to have any bad habits pointed out. m'Lord has done less skiing than I have, so his wobbles lasted a bit longer, but by the end of 3 days I was struggling to keep up with him on the easy runs.

Now, I had been wondering how the run difficulty levels (green/blue/red) compare in New Zealand to Europe, and this is my impression: NZ green is a lot like an EU easy blue. NZ blue covers everything from the EU medium blue to EU red.

What confused me completely, and I don't know if it is the norm, was the fact that only the green runs were groomed (compacted) at the The Remarkables. This meant that every other run was deep powder or very lumpy and as a consequence was pretty tricky to get down. Poor Milord with his bad knees couldn't cope with ungroomed at all, and I fell over so much I resembled a snowman! This from a girl who could get down any groomed red run and most mogul fields without falling a few years back. I was actually very disappointed, as the only good surface was limited to two rather short and crowded green runs. I would be interested to know if there was a reason why they didn't groom any other runs - were we out of season or did a compacter break down? Most annoying, and I'm not sure I'd go back again.

We had a final day in Queenstown where we didn't ski, and on that day we did the Shotover Jet boat ride in the morning. There are a number of jet boat operators, but the Shotover one goes up the Shotover River canyon, which is narrow with steep high walls and rapids. The boat goes within inches of walls and rocks and shoals, and everyone screams as they veer away at the last second then spin a 360 in a handspan of water. I did the same boat ride a few years ago in summer, so had the foresight to don my ski jacket and a woolly hat as we got soaked and it was freezing! We loved it.

Then we rode a gondola up to the gondola station high above Queenstown and had lunch in a bar overlooking the valley. We could see paragliders swooping past, and boats like tiny specks on the water, and even found ourselves looking down on an airliner coming in to land. There is a bungy platform over 47m of rocks and trees, and we watched a few mad people throw themselves off it. I bungied there the last time I was in Queenstown, and while it is a rather funny story I will never ever bungy again! Milord wasn't particularly tempted either. We walked up the hillside for a bit, and then both did a tandem paraglide down into town. This is also something I did last time, and it is just as thrilling as before! What a rush!

Queenstown is a lovely place, rather quaint and thronging with bars and restaurants, and full of boarders and skiers and backpackers. We enjoyed bar hopping and trying a new eatery every mealtime.

We flew back to Auckland on Thursday 6th, and as we arrived at Heidi's mid-afternoon we found the local supermarket and shopped and cooked up a roast lamb dinner for them. With lots and lots of vegetables as we were in withdrawal after a week of bacon and eggs and restaurant meals! On the Friday we wandered into town and picked up my visa at the consulate - which was rather an anticlimax after the year of effort that has gone into getting it, it took 5 minutes! We went up the skytower and had a bottle of wine overlooking the city to celebrate, and Heidi and Craig joined us at the Viaduct for dinner.

The rest of the weekend was nice and lazy as it rained and we were all tired and broke - and m'Lord and I have both been to Auckland before so have done the touristy stuff. We watched lots of rugby on TV as the Rugby World cup started last weekend, and read books and caught up on sleep. On Saturday Craig hosted a boy's poker night, so Heidi and I and another girlfriend went out for dinner and a movie, and we all watched the All Blacks totally thrash Italy at rugby. Milord and I flew back into Sydney late last night, and I would be happy not to be in an airport or aeroplane again for the rest of the year!

The good news is that I somehow only gained a kilo over the holiday - amazing considering what we ate and drank - 73kg today! We are detoxing for the next few days, so I hope to shake it off and get back on track soon. Veggie stirfry tonight!

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