Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More Skiing (finally)

Last Friday, Stephen and I, along with some friends of ours, headed up to Hanmer Springs, a natural hotsprings at the northern end of the Canterbury plains. Hanmer Springs is quite a little tourist town, with a well developed hot pools system and loads of accommodation all at quite competitive prices. So we booked ourselves a house and made a weekend of it. With a ski field and lots of trails nearby, this was not too difficult an ask.

On Saturday, we woke up and ate a delicious breakfast of banana-coconut surprise pancakes with real maple syrup and lots of bacon (and black pudding for me). We pulled on our long johns and headed up to the ski field, dropping our friends off on the way for a hike. Little did we know the drive up to the ski field would be just as much of an adventure as actually skiing there.

The road was quite beautiful, winding its way up braided river valleys along gravelly paths, over tiny bridges and right smack, through the middle of farms.

After the final set of switch backs up the face of a cliff we pulled into a tiny parking lot with 7 other cars and pulled on our ski boots in the muddy puddles surrounding the car. It dawned on me there why customs asks about mud on your ski boots when you entre the country. I've never had the experience of walking in mud with my ski boots, but it seems relatively common here.

The snow did start somewhere though, at the far end of the lodge, just past the ski rack some lovely soft, heavy wet snow huddled on the ground, a metre from the lodge. . . just in case. Of what I'm not sure, but it wouldn't touch the place.

Once we had our lift tickets and nutcrackers we headed on up to the lifts. The short one was your average kiwi nutcracker - a must-do experience for a true kiwi-skiing adventure. Essentially, you have to grab onto a moving cable pulled between two pulleys, one at the top of the hill and one at the bottom. Once you are moving with the cable, you want to clinch it in your metal nutcracker (looks kind of like the skeleton of a traditional nutcracker used on nuts) and hold on tight until you reach the top. Word of advice: don't try clinching your nutcracker on from a standstill, this only ever ends in a face plant and being dragged face first up the hill by your arm and the nutcracker tied to your waist.

As you can see the ski field is suffering from the coming spring, but really this only made it better. Without trees there's nothing to try to avoid, but with the exposed grasses there was plenty to try and avoid. One would abruptly stop if one ski hit the grass as it has a somewhat lower slipperyness index than snow.

All in all, it was a glorious day of skiing. The entire morning was sunny with hardly any wind to speak of. We even watched the Farmer's Cup as they raced between flags to the bottom. Amuri Ski Club was first established by local farmers to give them some opportunity for snow sports, today just happened to be the annual day for them to all gather together with their families and throw themselves down the hill as fast as they could.

Around 3pm, the weather changed. Quickly. Very quickly. Like in 5 minutes it went from sunny skies to white out conditions. We took one last, wet ride to the top and stumbled our way down with no ability to see where the surface of the snow changed (ie. dropped away from under you). It was great fun.

We soon decided that it was time to head down, before we got socked in too badly and had to spend the night up in the very crowded lodge. What was snow on the field was rain down in the parking lot, so we quickly changed our shoes, got soaked and clambered into the car. We crept our way slowly back down the precarious cliff side road and watched as the big, fat rain drops turned the road to mush.

Once at the bottom, the skies had cleared and we headed back to town to take a relaxing dip in the hot pools.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bring Back Black

For Stephen's birthday Jan put me in charge of getting us to an All Blacks game whenever they managed to make their way to Christchurch. Last Saturday night, the men in black were in town and they were playing the Aussies in the TriNations Cup series (kind of like the Stanley Cup for Rugby Union - but with only three teams; South African Springboks, Australian Wallabies and New Zealand All Blacks).

After a quick dinner of pizza (at home) and beer (at the local pub) Stephen, myself and our neighbour biked on down to the stadium. The organizers were trialling their road closures for the Rugby World Cup being hosted here next year, so all the roads within 2-3 blocks of the stadium were blocked off for cars and the streets were absolutely packed with people making their way on foot. We slowly wound our way through them and parked our bikes in front of the stadium gates. The crowd seemed to increase in volume as you approached the stadium, but we pushed our way into it and eventually streamed up the stairs and into the newly completed concrete stands.

Our seats were one step above the cheapest. This meant we were neither sitting right at midfield under cover, but nor were we crammed into the stands at either end of the field incapable of seeing what exactly was happening as the teams ran back and forth across the field. In fact we were pretty well placed in the first half to witness a couple of trys by the All Blacks into the Wallabies end.

It was fun to look around at all the people around us. Across the stadium on the opposite stand there was a little island of yellow (Wallabie colours) drifting in a sea of black and silver. On our side there were little isolated dots of yellow, but mostly it was black . . . . and loud. There was a group a few seats down from us draped in the New Zealand flag with faces painted in black and white screaming as if their lives depended on it. In front of us were a group of older guys full of sarcasm and trash talking for the two Aussies sitting next to them (who seemed to hold their own well enough). Towards the end of the second half, both groups were folding paper airplanes and seeing who could get theirs onto the field of play (the second half of the game was not all that exciting). And behind us was a man and his 6 year-old son, who could have been a rugby commentator. In fact, he was for me.

Despite a lousy forecast the rain was light and there was no wind, so our wool blanket and blue tarp stayed folded and tucked into our bag. Unlike our previous rugby experience when we were drenched and frozen to our seats while watching the New Zealand Warriors (Rugby League) pound some Australian team into the ground. This evening in comparison was pleasant and enjoyable. The game itself was somewhat unexciting though and the All Blacks were unable to achieve the five trys they needed to win the TriNations Cup that night. They're still well in the lead, but we'll just have to wait and see how Australia plays against South Africa in the following weeks.