Saturday, September 29, 2012

All Blacks and More!

Well it has been an interesting, and busy, few weeks since we last wrote! The fun started two weeks ago, with All Blacks weekend. We spent the night before the game at a birthday party for one of the other students, Charlie, in my department. It was a fun night, with a wonderful dinner out at an Indian restaurant near our flat and a visit to some pubs on the Octagon. I also learned, while eating Chicken tikka masala, that I am allergic to cashews! It isn't a serious allergy but still, good to know.

All Blacks day was exciting from the start, the city felt full and had a serious buzz about it. We spent most of the day before the game relaxing and hanging around the house. Due to a weird online ticketing issue we actually had three tickets to the game, so our roommate Michi was joining us. It also turned out at the last minute that one of our friends Elli had been given two tickets for free, so she invited our roommate Sandra and they joined us on the walk to the game.
Excited for the All Blacks
The walk to the stadium was pretty incredible. Dunedin is a fairly sizable city of about 120,000 people, and the rugby stadium is not massive (about 35,000 or so in seating). The streets however were absolutely packed with people, and a number of streets around the stadium were closed off and filled with rugby fans. Jess also found a ticket on the sidewalk, which two of our roommates eventually sold for $120, splitting the profits with Jess. The game itself was pretty fantastic. It wasn't the most exciting game of rugby, a lot of tough tackling and poor kicking, but the atmosphere was amazing. It was very different from an American sporting event, in that there were no vendors or piped in music. Just a lot of people who wanted to watch rugby.  The All Blacks won as well, which was good. The city was even crazier after the game. Half of the Octagon, the central downtown area, was blocked off from traffic to allow the bars to more than double their outdoor seating. We didn't stay out too late, just a few drinks at the downtown barbershop our roommate Vea owns, but still really enjoyed the atmosphere.
At the All Blacks match

Walking through downtown

The stadium after Aaron Smith's try

After the game
The day after the game we didn't rest on our laurels, and went on a hike for most of the afternoon. We hiked up Flagstaff Peak on the Pineapple Track, which was a short 5 minute drive from our flat. While it was quite hilly it offered some nice views of the city.

The next week brought even more excitement as Jess got a job! She is working as an administrative assistant at Nidd Property Management. So far she is really enjoying it, as her office mates are very welcoming and it is a bit less stressful than working on a medical unit. It is part-time to start, but there is plenty of work which means plenty of opportunities for hours. After Jess accepted her job offer we also got a New Zealand bank account, so we can truly call ourselves locals now!

The excitement kept coming, as we were invited over the weekend to visit Cromwell, a small town on the wet coast of the South Island. Lucy, one of the other students in my department, has a family cabin in Cromwell and invited us to join her and her boyfriend Freddy on a visit. We were there from Friday to Sunday, and had a great time with some wonderful weather. We spent all of Saturday on a hike, called the Devil's Creek Track. In total the track was 14 km, so it was quite exhausting. The scenery was incredible, and reminiscent of Rohan from Lord of the Rings.

Start of the track



Stopping for lunch

End of the track


After our hike we got some of New Zealand's famous frozen berry ice cream, which was delicious. The next day we visited the world's first permanent bungee jumping site, Kawarau Bridge, and Arrowtown, a small town outside of Queenstown. It was a small village, which was fun to explore. We also bought some pretty great creme brûlée flavored fudge.

The rest of our week was pretty uneventful, until Wednesday which was of course Jess' birthday! As you can see from the picture we had plenty of snacks. After the customary department pub meeting we had a number of friends over for drinks, which was a lot of fun. Over all I think it was a good birthday. The rest of the week, and this weekend, has been very quiet. As soon as more excitement comes, however, we will blog about it first thing!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Doubtful Sound

Jess and I spent this past weekend on the west coast of the South Island visiting Doubtful Sound. We had bought tickets, along with most of our roommates, for an overnight cruise through the fjord. (Our roommate Sandra had discovered a local discount for the trip which is why we were all going). It was an incredible trip. We left early Saturday morning for the town of Manapouri, our entry point to the Fjordland, driven by our Austrian roommate Michi.
On the road to Manapouri
Jess and a Kea
The drive was about 3 1/2 hours long, but it didn't feel it thanks to the beautiful scenery. Lambing was also in progress this past weekend, so we spent much of the drive looking for adorable lambs. Arriving in Manpouri was only the first step in our journey to Doubtful Sound though, as getting to the isolated fjord is a bit complicated. Manapouri is a small town in the southwest of New Zealand, and it sits on the edge of Lake Manapouri. After checking in at the tour office we took a boat across the lake, which took about an hour. We landed at a dock right next to the Manapouri Power Station, which is an underground hydro electric station that provides something like 14% of New Zealand's power. While waiting for our bus we also ran into a Kea, which is the world's only alpine parrot and has a reputation for mischief. Next up was a 30 minute bus ride to Deep Cove, our final point of departure. Our group, there were fourteen of us in total, made up about half the passengers on the boat. From the beginning the trip began to exceed our expectations. The boat was beautiful with plenty of space. Not only that but Jess and I got a four person cabin to ourselves. The biggest surprise was the food. We were greeted with huge banana chocolate chip muffins, and as much coffee or tea we wanted. After an hour or so of being on board we were served a delicious soup course. This was followed a few hours later by a full course buffet meal which was unbelievably delicious. They had everything from lamb, grilled salmon, and mussels to a wonderful pavlova for dessert. We also had a delicious buffet breakfast. Needless to say, we ate really well. The real highlight though was the scenery.

Doubtful Sound is an incredible place, and its scope and majesty are impossible to really capture in a picture. We gave it our best shot though! It rained nearly our entire time in the fjord, which made the trip a bit cold and wet. The rain wasn't all bad though, as it meant that the cliffs were covered in hundreds of stunning temporary waterfalls.

Benefits of a rainy day

We're on a boat!

Some nice scenery

The feeling of being in the fjord was pretty incredible, what was even better though was seeing the fjord from a kayak. After our soup course we went out on kayaks for about 45 minutes. Being right on the water surrounded by mountains was a pretty incredible feeling.

View from a kayak


Enjoying some time on the water

After kayaking the crew gave us the option to take a dip in the water, which was near freezing (around 7 degrees Celsius). A few of us took them up on it; it was quite the shock to the system.

It was cold
The swimmers

The rest of our night was spent eating, relaxing, and playing charades. Unfortunately our trip had to end the next morning, but Doubtful Sound had one more surprise for us...snow!

The bus ride back was slow going
Snow on the road

Our first trip out of Dunedin was a rousing success. We saw beautiful scenery, bonded with some of our roommates, and even ate really well. We have plenty more pictures from our trip, which hopefully will make into onto Facebook sooner rather than later. Next weekend should be equally exciting, we are going to see the All Blacks!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Zealand Update 09/04

Quite a bit has happened since our last post, and we feel like we've learned a lot about New Zealand already. One interesting fact that we've learned is that people walk around the city barefoot...all the time. They walk the city sidewalks and streets, into shops, and into restaurants and bars without any shoes. It isn't an overwhelming number, but it is very noticeable. What is even stranger is that being in a university town some parts of the city are quite littered with glass and other remnants of college life, but it doesn't seem to matter as people walk barefoot regardless. It is just one of those peculiar features of New Zealand I guess.

Last Monday, the 27th, we began our first full week in Dunedin with an invite to a dinner party hosted by one of my fellow grad students, Lucy. We had a vegetarian lasagna, a bit of wine, and a great time getting to know Lucy, her German boyfriend Freddy (we have met a lot of Germans here in New Zealand), and Paul, another grad student who recently began at Otago. I also had a meeting Monday afternoon with the two advisors for my project, Heather and Zach. Both of them are excited for me to get started, and seem like they are going to be really easy to work with.

Jess and I with the harbor in the background, it was windy

Tuesday brought more adventure as we were unexpectedly invited to visit the Otago Peninsula with Lucy and Freddy. The Otago Peninsula is a long, hilly stretch of land which separates the Otago Harbor, and much of Dunedin, from the Pacific Ocean. We started by visiting an overlook of the area, which gave us a beautiful view of Dunedin, the harbor, and the Pacific.
The city of Dunedin
The monument at the overlook

Next we headed to Sandfly Beach, which is a beautiful stretch of rugged coastline named not for flies but because the wind becomes so strong at times that the sand flies. The beach was beautiful, and was populated by sea lions and penguins.

Apparently there was lambing in progress

Sandfly Beach

It was a treacherous walk down to the beach

It was amazing to get within a few feet of sea lions, who seemed so intent on napping that I doubt anything could have disturbed them. We were also lucky enough to see a number of penguins (Dayle our landlord has been to the beach numerous times and never seen one). We watched them as the floated just off shore waiting till the coast was clear to make a run for the dunes beyond the beach; as soon as we left the beach we saw two penguins in the distance hustle to their nests.

I like walks on the beach

Jess was having fun

Right next to a sea lion

I'm napping!

Wednesday we visited our first edition of the weekly Philosophy Department pub meeting. As it turns out this isn't really a meeting at all, it is just an excuse for everyone in the department to go to the pub after work. Attendance is strongly encouraged. It was a lot of fun though, and we got to know a number of professors and students. The rest of the week was spent exploring more of the city and heading back and forth to the University. As it turns out I could only complete my registration once I had arrived, and then it took much longer than I thought for me to finally receive my student ID and network information. So Jess and I went back and forth from our house to Uni a number of times during the week to check if my registration was complete. Jess also had a job interview on Thursday, at Nidd Reality; it went well and she was called back for a second interview on Monday but we are still waiting for a final answer (fingers crossed). On Saturday we visited the Dunedin Farmers Market again for some groceries. They have some really great deals on fruit/veggies and fresh baked goods. In the evening we helped our German roommates bake a cake for Dayle, whose birthday was Sunday.

Wine, snacks, and fun on a Saturday night
Another thing that we've learned about New Zealand is that going out for drinks is quite expensive, luckily we know how to have fun without necessarily going to the bar.

My office space
Sunday was a very relaxing day, spent celebrating Dayle's birthday with cake and drinks and getting ready for my first day at the office. Monday and Tuesday were my first two days of work, and I've done my best to hit the ground running. It is crazy that after all the waiting, I've finally begun working on my project!

I'll be spending the rest of the week working, while Jess will be on the job hunt. Come Saturday though we are off for the west coast of the south island for a boat trip on the Doubtful Sound with our roommates. There will be a post and pictures to follow!