Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Treasures of the Forbidden City

In my extra day in the Dallas area, we went to see a traveling art exhibit at the Dallas Museum: Treasures of the Forbidden City. This was a collection of relics from the Emporer Qianlong of the Qing dynasty.

The collection showed various pieces of art, furniture, religious items, clothes, and sculptures. The most interesting sculpture was a large jade boulder carved to represent the countryside - complete with trees, bridges, flowers, and nine poets. As typical in this type of art, the people were small in relation to nature.

Also interesting were the clothes, the ceremonial robes the emporer and empress wore: golden robes (yellow was the royal color) inlaid with intricate dragons.

I didn't bring my camera on this trip or I'd definitely put pictures up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Cancelled Flight

It appears my visit is unexpectedly extended, due to a connecting flight cancellation by America West - I fly through Phoenix on the way home, and the Phoenix-Seattle flight was cancelled due to weather in Seattle.

Naturally, I checked the weather once I got back to my parents, and saw it is "foggy". Well, that seems like a flimsy excuse but I can hardly make the airline fly.

They offered me the opportunity to hang around Phoenix all day tomorrow, on stand-by status. Potential hotel bills would be picked up my me. I declined this wonderful offer and instead booked the next guarenteed flight home, which leaves at 6 am on Thursday.

Well, I'll get a bit further into Life of Pi and may get to see my aunt again before leaving, so this is just inconvenient. After reading about others stuck for days in airports, and tales of lost luggage, perhaps I am lucky to have the connecting flight cancelled in time to stay with my parents. I'd be really furious if it were cancelled while enroute to Phoenix.

Monday, December 27, 2004


Yesterday we exchanged presents and then went to eat at a Chinese buffet, which is our holiday meal tradition.

I got some clothes and an ice cream maker. This one doesn't require ice or salt, as the unit includes refrigeration. It makes about one quart, which is better for single servings. My other ice cream maker produces about five or six quarts, which means I try to only make ice cream for other people or events - otherwise I'll have to eat all of it!

Texas is a lot like I remembered it - lots of space: seven lane roads through quiet residential areas, quarter-mile vacant lots, category-killer stores and long strip malls, huge parking lots, and flat to the horizon. My aunt treated us to lunch today, and we drove up to a restaurant in Frisco, which is in the northern part of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. From my parents house, it was 42 miles one-way. There aren't many places you would drive 85 miles round-trip to go to lunch!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Flights to Dallas

I wasn't able to get a direct flight from Seattle to Dallas, or at least a cheap direct flight - instead my outbound flight passed through Las Vegas, and I'll stop at Phoenix on the way back.

I had an hour to spend in Las Vegas at the airport, so perhaps this is my little Vegas trip. I didn't gamble though - all the airport has is slot machines and after hearing the "Wheel of Fortune" machines ding for the umpteenth time I was ready to board the flight out of there!

During my flight flight and at the airport, I made good progress into It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong. I was all set to continue reading on the flight from Las Vegas to Dallas except I got to talking to the people in my row: Kevin, a running back for the University of Wyoming, returning from a bowl game versus UCLA; Kristin, who recently started her own business as a recruiter for health care executives. Both were pretty interesting and I think they were the most fun total strangers I've ever sat with on a flight.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Vegas Trip?

Some friends are planning a trip to Las Vegas in January. I'm currently signed up for the Houston half-marathon the same weekend, but I must admit the Vegas trip sounds more fun and exciting.

I like to see shows - in past visits I've attended the Blue Man Group, two Cirque Du Soleil shows (O and Mystère), and had a great time at all of these. A friend at work recently saw the latest Cirque show - KĀ - and told us all this is the best one of them all!

Plus, I just finished reading Bringing Down the House, about a team of card counters from M.I.T. and the fortune they made in Vegas in the 90's. I'm not good enough to count cards, but it is fun to play basic strategy at the low stakes table...

Also, Vegas has an IN-N-OUT Burger, which various friends heap an amazing amount of praise upon. Unfortunately for me at this point, the reality cannot possibly live up to the hype - after all, how good can a burger really be? - unless they are doping the meat with serotonin or some other neurotransmitter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Gubernatorial Election

My home state of Washington is still trying to figure out who really was elected governor over a month ago. The first count had Rossi by 261 votes, a recount lowered that to 42 votes, and a third recount has Gregoire by 10.

But it isn't over yet - there are 700+ previously uncounted ballots, people yammering about other ballots, and the lawsuits will undoubtedly tie this up for quite a while.

This whole process gives me the creeps. The engineering/mathematical/analytical side of me thinks that any election where a recount doesn't produce identical results means there were errors, which in turn undermines confidence in the entire process.

At least my state is floundering along on its own, and not (for example) holding up a national result like Florida in 2000!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Online RPG

A friend of mine IM'ed me to come join him and another friend for pizza. I already ate, but I decided to hang out for a bit anyway. This was partially because I knew these two would talk about World of Warcraft, the most recent release in the genre of massively multiplayer online games. They are really into the game, playing it hours every day - which is fine since they are on vacation through the end of the year.

I played another one years ago, Asheron's Call, and while it was a lot of fun, it got a little boring after a while. The basic idea is you play in a fantasy world, kill monsters, collect treasure, and get more powerful. Games of this nature are also big time sinks, which makes me hesitant to start another one. Plus, these games usually charge a monthly fee to play.

It is somewhat annoying to pay a monthly fee to play. Yes, I can understand that ongoing infrastructure and content requires some fee. However, paying an ongoing fee always made me feel like I had to play in order to get my money's worth. An interesting entry into this genre is Guild Wars, which promises not to charge a fee to play - they plan to make their money by releasing expansion packs.

Anyway, I like buying a game and playing it as much or as little as I want: let it sit until I have time, play it a bunch, put it aside, come back to it later, etc. These kinds of games are time intensive in that you don't always have that control.

Listening to my two friends talk about the game reminded me of all the downsides. While it does sound fun, I have a bunch of computer and PS2 games I haven't even tried yet, so I certainly won't be bored. For a bunch of reasons, I don't think I'll play WoW - of course, I might change my mind. ;)

Sunday, December 19, 2004

More Christmas Lights

For fun I walked around my neighborhood and took a few pictures of Christmas Lights. I uploaded them to the Christmas Lights album on Flickr.

I need to break out my camera manual and learn how to manual focus, as some of these shots came out a little blurry. When I figure out how to do it, I'll retake the photos and replace the pics with clear ones.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

ESR Potluck Run

Some friends from my running club held a Christmas Light Potluck Run, an event where we ran through their neighborhood to look at Christmas decorations, and then ate afterwards.

Of course, they routed us by the pièce de résistance of local decorations, a home so overblown and gaudy it was fascinating to see.

Christmas Lights

I brought homemade ice cream, which went over really well.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Company Merger

The big news at work on Tuesday was the rumor on merging with another company.

A few of the people read the news and exclaimed "That makes so much sense! That's why the recent reorg moved X into position Y and also explains Z's departure!". We had been getting a steady stream of mails from various high level executives congratulating so-and-so for their new position, or stating various business units had been moved around, and so forth.

I'm not one of those people. Generally, when I get reorg mail, I just look to see if it affects me. That means - is my boss the same? Is yes, I just delete the mail and continue to have a minimal opinion on the whole matter.

Today, we found out the rumor was real - Symantec is buying us! My group gathered in a meeting room and called into a conference call to listen to a question and answer session. All of us are curious what real difference this will make for our everyday jobs, and we aren't quite sure - probably not very much.

Our holiday party is this afternoon, so this will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation!

The Da Vinci Code

I was going to wait until this came out in paperback, but it already had in New Zealand. I saw it at the airport in Auckland, bought it, and started reading it on the flight home.

I liked it, but I really think I liked Angels and Demons better. Both have similar plots, which involve following a trail of clues that reference works of art and architecture, uncovering information on secret societies... and Catholic Church conspiracies. The secret society in Angels and Demons were the Illuminati, while the The Da Vinci Code involved the Priory of Sion.

I don't know much about the Priory of Sion, but the secret they are supposedly guarding involves blood relatives of Jesus, and that the Holy Grail is actually a metaphor for the remains of Mary Magdelene. This is harder for me to believe than the Illuminati exist and want to destroy the Church. ;)

Actually, what made me like Angels and Demons more was the initial setup. In that novel, a Renaissance master sculptor left clues throught various churches in Rome, which led to the hidden Illuminati headquarters. (This was just part of the plot).

In The Da Vinci Code, a museum curator, who was also the grandmaster of the Priory of Sion, is shot and while dying, managed to leave clues which help unravel the mystery of the Holy Grail. This involved writing a message, leaving a key behind a painting, and posing his body, all while he is bleeding to death from a gunshot to his stomach. The police arrive on the scene first, and summon the novel's hero. I'm thinking, the police could also have followed the blood trail around the museum and been far more prepared. Maybe I'm nitpicking because I watch too much CSI!

It is all very interesting to think about. Both books are quite good. Dan Brown leaves a cliffhanger in nearly every chapter, which makes it hard to stop reading.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Blade Trinity

I saw Blade Trinity today with my friend/coworker Tom.

The basic plot is that vampires have brought back Dracula, because they need him to kill Blade. Meanwhile, Blade and friends have concocted a super-virus that will wipe out vampires, except it doesn't quite do that, leaving room for another sequel I suppose. I'm no molecular biologist, but the super-virus had some magic properties because it spread like a nerve gas after combining with Dracula's blood!

This movie featured the most blatant product placement I've ever seen - the iPod. In one scene, Blade's sidekick, Abigail, stops to select songs from iTunes. The other sidekick says she's creating a mix for the upcoming fight. In another scene, they are shown putting on their gear for another fight, and Abigail finishes by inserting her ear buds. Yeah! Now I have an iPod mini and like it, but come on.

While I enjoy the occasional mindless action flick, this one was sort of blah. The first two were much better.

Investment Club

Tonight's club meeting ran long, as we had to cover several topics. Besides, the food we ordered came late so there was a delay. While we were waiting, I described my trip to New Zealand, which everybody seemed interested in. One member, Fraser, is from the Christchurch area and he was excited to here me speak so highly of his native country!

We talked about what to do with absentee members - two people that joined have since moved away and while we don't want to kick them out, we'd like members to be able to attend most meetings and participate. A few people presented stock studies, and I did too, but found that I left out one number on my chart (estimated future earnings per share) and thus my numbers were off. So, I'll redo the chart for the next meeting.

We also held elections for next year's officers. The club is small and informal, and one goal is to give various members a chance to hold office. Actually, there was a great push to have members who hadn't served as any officer get a chance. The Secretary takes minutes and is thus quite a bit of work and requires perfect attendance, so that job went to a couple, Eric and Dawn, with the thought that at least one will be able to make every meeting. The Vice President is really optional - ours is currently one of the out-of-state members - so that went to Fraser, who's wife is due in July I believe. He should be able to miss a few meetings and it won't be a problem. Treasurer went to Jackie, who was eally interested in the position. It will require cashing checks monthly and possibly buying or selling stocks depending on what we vote on.

By the process of elimination and with some encouragement from the other club members, I accepted the nomination and became President. My main job is to run the meetings, so it is a simple job and I should be able to handle it. ;) My goal will be to keep the meetings on track so they don't run so late in the future!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Jingle Bell Run

This morning was the Jingle Bell run. This is a fun run to do, as many people dress in elaborate costumes, such as snowflakes, Santa, or reindeer. Some groups dress as reindeer and rope themselves together to make a sleigh. The extent of my costume was a bright red running shirt.

I drove over and planned to meet my friend Leslie near the coffee stand outside Westlake mall, where the run begins. While I was circling looking for parking, Francesca called and said Jen was also planning to run, and we should all try to meet.

That turned out to be impossible. The start was more crowded than I ever remember, I and couldn't find anybody. It was so loud, when I called to leave Francesca a message, I could barely hear. I realized my wave already started to I made my way over and began towards the back. I had quite a bit of fun weaving in and out of crowds looking for anyone I knew.

About half a mile from the end, I saw Jen looking backwards. I caught up to her, expecting Francesca would be there. Instead, another friend Eve was running so I joined them and we finished about the same time. It turns out they just randomly saw each other at registration.

I forgot my heart rate monitor and watch, so my rough estimate was 32 minutes. Basically, you just ignore time on this run because of the crowds. There are three waves, but I think half the people don't seed themselves properly, which again is fine since if you really want to try for your 5K PR, you should pick another event.

NCAA Volleyball

I had a ticket to tonight UW match versus UCLA, but my friend Alyssa visited me and I didn't think she'd be interested in attending. Late in the afternoon, Francesca called and told me the there were extra tickets, so I mentioned it to Alyssa... and she was very interested!

However, I found the reason why she was so interested in the game was that she went to UCLA. So I wound up bringing somebody who cheered for the opposition. :)

We showed up and were treated to a very good match. UCLA won the first game, UW won games two and three, and were leading in the fourth but just fell apart. So it all came down to game five - the winner would advance to the final four. UW was behind 6-8 in game five but regrouped and beat UCLA 15-9 to advance for the first time in their history. The team did a victory lap and we stayed and cheered a bit.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


I've decided to use Flickr to show my New Zealand photos. Over the next few days I'll upload them. I'll probably burn a CD for Eric and Krisanne and somehow I'll get a copy of their pics and might very well upload those here as well.

I took about 500 pics, and they take up around 560 MB. That's too much for my web site (hosted through Yahoo!) so I bought a year subscription to Flickr and now have some huge amount of space - 1 GB per month I think. I won't upload every pic - some are out of focus or poorly lit, but still, I need a lot more space than the 25 MB or whatever I have.

So check out my Flickr homepage for pics. I'll upload them over the next few days. (NOTE: I have Queenstown, Milford Sound, Greymouth, and Wellington left to upload).

So far I like Flickr, my one complaint is the organizer tool doesn't allow multi-select. Or, I can't figure out how to multi-select. What I'd like to do is upload a bunch of photos, say of the Fox Glacier, and then group those into an album called "Fox Glacier". I can tag the photos, create the album, but actually putting the photos into the album means a slooooow process of dragging each photo in. That may work great with a handful of photos, but I have 28 of the Fox Glacier alone. After dragging the photos over, I find the album only has 27 pictures. Which one did I leave out? I can't tell from looking at the thumbnail sized representation! Basically, I want to select all 28 photos and put them into the album. Maybe there is a better way to do it, but I haven't figured it out yet.

Football tickets

I thought, wouldn't it be fun to go watch the Seahawks play, and bring someone along. I haven't yet gone to see an NFL game here in Seattle - I've been to plenty of Mariners baseball games, one Sonics basketball game... heck, sometimes I even drive up to Vancouver to watch the Canucks play hockey. When I lived in Houston I was able to see the Oilers play twice.

So, I searched around for tickets to the January 2 game against the Atlanta Falcons. The cheapest tickets available were... $235 each. Plus, a $4.50 "convenience" charge. That makes two tickets a total of $479.

That blew my mind. Nearly $500 for a pair of tickets! Well, I don't want to go that bad - I'll be more than happy to catch the game on my TV. Geez, baseball is a huge bargain in comparison. Of course, baseball plays 10 times as many home games as football. There are cheaper tickets - all the way down to $28 - but all those are gone. I suppose if I want to attend an NFL game I'll need to get on the ball and buy tickets much earlier.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Christmas decorations

Over the weekend, my neighbor Amy said hello as we did some minor yardwork. We joked that we were both lazier that other people about yardwork, and especially holiday decorations. She said that she planned to hang some icicle lights above the garage, and that was all.

Today, I put out my one modest Christmas/Holiday decoration: a multi-colored light net that sort of drapes over a bushy tree I have in the front yard. It is easy to set up, take down, and I just leave it on all the time. After New Year's, I unplug it and stow it away for next year. It doesn't blink, and I think it looks festive.

Around the corner and up the street are several homes that go all out on decorations - lights all along the gutters, animated sleigh displays, and so forth. Amy and I are glad they've taken the initiative to decorate for the neighborhood!

I usually travel for the holidays, so I'm equally lazy about decorating inside my home. I don't think I've set up a Christmas tree in the last decade. Perhaps if I see a medium sized artificial tree I'd be willing to get that.


So far, this is the extent of my decorations.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I last played volleyball nearly a month ago, and so I was looking forward to my league this evening. We ended up 2-3, letting one game slip away (tied 22-22, we made two mistakes to give our opponents a 24-22 lead, and they won the last point). We're an OK competitive team, which is good, because if we were more competitive, the team might get rid of me. ;)

We've shuffled personnel a few times - some members have moved away and others have joined different teams. Next year, another player may move away so we'll probably be trying to find someone who wants to play with us. There is one more week in the season, and then the playoffs.

ESR Holiday Party

This evening was the ESR (my running club) Holiday Party. I mentioned earlier I am Social Chair, so this is actually "my" event.

When I became chair, the catering, band, and venue were already booked. All I had to do was send invitations, and take care of final details, of which there were dozens. This boiled down to stocking up on the usual party stuff - forks, knives, plates, cups, napkins, sodas, tea, coffee, extra desserts, tablecloths, and so forth. I wound up shopping all afternoon at various stores to get everything, from ice to poinsettias to garbage bags. We had a lot of stuff leftover, now stored in my garage, so someday I'll do an inventory. For now, let's just say we won't need to buy napkins or utensils for a LONG time!

Everything went really well, except for two minor issues. One was running out of food - we had some people show up last minute, and thus were short by about 5 dinners. A quick call for pizza solved this. In the future, we'll adjust our fudge factor a bit higher and that should happen again. The catering company did do a great job and we'll all work better next time to get a more accurate estimate of how many people we expect, including a larger fudge factor.

The other hitch was the liquor license - we weren't serving any alcohol (it was a "bring your own" event), but we still needed a one-day permit. The laws surrounding alcohol are intricate, as I found out - I didn't realize the hall we were renting provided security, which was key, because I wasn't issued the permit without that little fact. Another member, Barbara, went to get the permit while I was busy getting more last minute items.

Anyway, the event did proceed and attendees did seem to enjoy themselves. I ate with some friends, danced a bit, and helped with the cleanup. I've gotten a few nice congrats emails from various members, so that was nice. My next event will be a spring meeting, probably in April, so I get to be a lazy board member for a few months!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Daylight Lag

I think the toughest thing about coming back from New Zealand has been the sudden change in daylight. It is late spring there, so the sun would rise early and set late. We were up most days before the alarm - when I say up I mean awake, not necessarily out of bed and ready to go! - and the sun was already shining. It was light until late in the evening.

Here, we are in late autumn and the sun is rising later and setting much earlier. I didn't gradually ease into it - I lost that time suddenly over the day I spent flying home. Had I been here the entire time, I wouldn't have noticed as much.

I was so curious about this, I just looked up the info on time and date. Currently, we are getting about 8:40 of daylight, from roughly 7:40 am to 4:20 pm. I'll pick Wellington, NZ since it is in the middle of the country, but New Zealand is getting nearly twice as much daylight - 15 hours, from 5:40 am to 8:40 pm.

No wonder I miss the daylight!

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I blogged previously that I am getting my teeth straightened via Invisalign. This morning, I moved into the final phase - no more Invisalign; instead, I finish with three months of braces.

Yep, I now have ceramic clear braces and my teeth are a bit tender. I'll basically prefer soft foods for a while...

It took about two hours for the orthodontist and his various assistants to do their stuff. Not too bad overall, it was just a bit strange watching an assistant with a wire-cutter/crochet tool (I couldn't see it very clearly) add the wire, and then weave and snap the ties in place. Most of the time I was in the chair with this plastic lip-stretcher device and suction tool, so they could keep each tooth dry while they were attaching the braces.

I'm due back in five weeks for another appointment, at which time I expect they will be tightened or whatever it is they'll do. The receptionist said I can choose different tie colors then - she said they even had glow-in-the-dark ones. Now that would be really weird!

New Zealand Trip

This is just a link to all the New Zealand entries. Then, I'll put a link to this entry on the left.

Auckland Sky Tower Jump
Another Wellington Afternoon
Picton and Car Games
Abel Tasman
Otira Valley Hike
Blackwater Rafting
Monteiths Brewery
Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
Canyon Swing
Milford Sound
Safari of the Rings
White Water Sledging
Moeraki Boulders
Rangitata Rafting
New Zealand Travel Friends


I left New Zealand with a little bit of sadness - it was such a great trip. I think I would have only done one thing different tour wise - sign up for a guided day hike on either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier. I think it would have been cool to hike around on a glacier and enter an ice cave. On the other hand, it would have meant skipping one of the glaciers to make time. Since we were able to do plenty of exploration at Franz Josef, including walking right up to touch the glacier, I don't think I missed that much. Seeing both glaciers made up for an extended tour on just one.

We met a lot of people who were traveling on year-long breaks. I chatted with a friendly Irish woman (I never did ask for her name...) I met on the Rangitata rapids trip, and found out she had been traveling all of 2004, and was headed to Singapore and Thailand after New Zealand. Two Israeli women, also on that trip, had just finished their two year military service and were traveling for a year. Ross, along on the blackwater rafting tour with Krisanne and I, was a few weeks into a nine month trip to various locations. Timo, a German I met on the Haggas Honking Holes trip in Waitomo, was traveling for a year. There are probably others I just can't think of right now, all taking advantage of the opportunity to travel the world.

It made me think back to when I was in college. I spent my summers working, which probably wasn't a bad choice, but perhaps I should have taken a few weeks at the start or end of the summer to travel. Heck, I could have taken one winter break to travel to the southern hemisphere! I am lucky and had a chance to live in Germany for three years (1981-1983) and did quite a bit of traveling then, so perhaps I felt I had seen a lot of the world and didn't have the travel bug as much. Now I kind of wish I had taken a few trips. Well, I can try to make up for it now, every other year.

New Zealand is nearly ideal for travel. The tourist infrastucture is top notch. Every city has an information center where you can book local tours, and find accomodations. Travel is easy, with airlines, buses, trains, ferries, car rentals, etc. New Zealand is setup for backpacker trips: several companies run buslines that just circulate around - you buy a multi-week ticket, and hop-on and hop-off wherever you want. It is a very popular destination for other travelers. There is so much to do, from adventurous tours and activities to scenic beauty. A huge bonus: they speak English. (And Maori). I think aspiring backpack travelers should try New Zealand first, because it won't be easier or better than anywhere else in the world.

This trip left me excited to travel more! There are many places I'd like to see, and I'll probably be lazy and sign up for a guided tour for my next trip. I just need to save up money and more vacation... :)

The trip also made me realize my own home state of Washington offers many of the activites in New Zealand: hiking, backpacking, white water rafting, sea kayaking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, whale watching, etc. So while it might not be as exotic, it is more convenient to take advantage of what my area offers. We have some beautiful scenery here also!

At least I did get to see the Southern Cross this trip - very clearly in the Queenstown night sky.

* Aotearoa - "Land of the Long White Cloud", the Maori name for New Zealand.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Auckland Sky Tower Jump

My flight from Wellington arrived at 1 pm, and my flight home departed at 7:40 pm. I didn't want to waste the afternoon sitting in the airport, so I stored my bag, bought a return ticket on the city airport bus, and went to the Sky Center.

My goal was to do the Sky Jump! After psyching myself up, I went to the SkyJump booth and signed up. Sky Jump is basically a controlled jump from a 192 meter platform - 630 feet! For comparison, the observation deck of the Space Needle in Seattle is 520 feet.

I had to empty my pockets and put everything into a locker. Then, I put on a jump suit that velcroed shut around the ankles and wrists. After this, my SkyJump guide (Erin) placed the harness on me, which was similar to a climbing harness. However, this harness also looped around my shoulders.

Then, Erin walked me to the elevator, punched the button for the skydeck level, and told me how to proceed. I rode the elevator up with a group of tourists, and we alternated looking through various windows on the way up. She didn't ride up, and instead went to the landing platform to wait for me.

At the skydeck level, I found the skyjump platform, and was greeted by two more SkyJump guides. They both double checked my harness, attached a carabiner and rope, and we edged out on the platform.

I was a bit nervous throughout this whole process, but standing on the platform wasn't as bad. This was probably because the SkyJump guides at the upper platform were talking to me to whole time, describing what they were doing and what was about to happen.

On the SkyJump platform...

We walked out to the edge, and they switched around the caribiner to attach me to the drop wire instead of the platform. They adjusted the tension on the drop wire, and I felt it life me up slightly. Then, they said to grab hold onto some ropes, lean out, and then let go.

"Ready Karl? 3, 2, 1, go!"

I was still there clenching the rope with a death grip. After about 5 seconds, I swiveled my head and said "I guess I have to let go, right?"

"Yes. Remember, we'll drop you 20 meters, take a picture, then drop you the rest of the way. Ready now... 3, 2, 1, go!"

This time, I did let go and step off... into freefall, for 20 meters or less. I left the harness tighten and heard my name. I looked up and smiled for a picture, waved, and then was dropped the rest of the way down. It wasn't freefall, but it was extremely exciting!!

I'm flying!! Sort of...

I landed on the outside of the target, and Erin asked me how it was. I said it was really hard to let go of the rope, but I did the second time and thought it was really fun. She then said, we aren't very busy today, so would I like a second jump? For free? After a split second I said yes, and she walked me to the elevator again.

Next time, after all the safety checks, I was able to let go the first time. They paused me briefly at the 20 meter level, which was the observation deck level, and I waved briefly to the people inside, before I was dropped again.

It was an unbelievable adrenalin rush - easily one of the most exciting things I've ever done!

Another Wellington Afternoon

After getting off the ferry, I wandered around more of downtown Wellington, eventually making my way to the government buildings: The Beehive, Parliment, and the Parlimentary Library.


The Beehive is the Executive Office Building.

Parliment Library and Garden

The garden commemorates women's suffrage - New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote.


I walked back to the harbor area and decided to check out Te Papa, the museum of New Zealand. I walked through part of the geological and Maori sections, before meeting my friends.


Drawbridge with the museum in the background.

Fruit of the Garden

We drove to a different scenic viewpoint, a hill with a wind turbine. Allen and Marybeth then suggested fish and chips for dinner, from the best place they knew of, which was "So Fine" in the Lower Hutt valley. It is near Allen's work, and was highly recommended by locals. We got our dinner takeaway, and then ate it on the waterfront.


An extra bonus of going to So Fine for dinner was passing over the river Anduin... I mean, the Hutt River. As my last Lord of the Rings site, I saw where Aragorn was washed ashore after the warg attack.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Picton and Car Games

My travel companions left earlier this morning. For the rest of today and tomorrow, I'm on my own! By not making definite plans too far in advance, I was able to alter my itinerary slightly. I bought a ferry ticket, and booked a flight on Air New Zealand to Auckland. So instead of driving with Krisanne and Eric back to Christchurch, I'm taking the Picton ferry to Wellington, to spend another day there. I'll wander around the city more, and visit my friends. I should be able to burn the contents of my camera to CD and upload more pictures...

Leaving Picton...

Ferry view

Anyway, to keep us occupied in the car, we played various games. There aren't many billboards or other cars on the road, so we wound up playing category games. Such as "bands with animals in their title", "bands with colors in their title", "bands with numbers in their title", "songs about cities", "songs about places", etc. I've found I'm a weak contributor compared to Eric and Krisanne, who are both music savants! As in, I probably came up with 20% of the total, while they each did 40%. So, be sure they are on your team for any music-related game. :)

Abel Tasman

We got up early and I drove us from Nelson to Marahau, "Abel Tasman Village". There, we signed up for a day walk boat trip.

Several companies run aqua taxis, a really cool service. You find a day hike you want to do, and then arrange for the aqua taxi to take you to the drop-off point, and pick you up at your selected location. We decided on a hike from Big Tonga Beach (Onetahuti Beach) to Anchorage.

Split Apple Boulder

Beach at Anchorage

We climbed in the boat, and were towed down the street by a tractor, eventually setting us into the water. The taxi driver first went south, pointing out some scenic spots. First was the beach, covered with a fine golden-brown sand. The color was due to iron oxide (i.e. rust) and the erosion of the rocks. He also pointed out a large boulder in the water which was split in half, called appropriately "split apple boulder". The Maori legend about the boulder is: the land god and Tangaroa (the sea god) were arguing over who owned the boulder. Then the tide was out, it was on the land god's domain. When the tide was in, the sea god claimed ownership. They fought and one threw a spear at the other, striking the boulder and splitting it in half.


Blue water through the trees

The taxi then headed north along the coast, and eventually dropped us off at Big Tonga beach. From there, we made our way along the very well maintained and marked trails south, towards Anchorage. The views and scenery was amazing, even after the trail turned inland. We walked at an easy pace, and found time to sun ourselves on some boulders along the way.

Waterfall near boulders

View away from the waterfall

Eventually we got to Torrent Bay, just across from Anchorage. It was early afternoon, and the tide was going out, so the low tide path was available. Krisanne opted to take that path, while Eric and I wanted to hike a bit more so we did the high tide path. Supposedly, the low tide path takes 20 minutes to cross, and the high tide path takes 1 hour 30 minutes. After walking a bit, we saw Krisanne down below, wading along the sandbar. We thought we could play a trick on her and beat her to our destination if we picked up the pace... so we started to run. It was quite nice as far as trail runs go, but after about 25% of the total distance (2.4 km) we hit a very long hill up, and we were reduced to walking the rest of the way.


Our private beach!

When we got to the beach at Anchorage, we spotted Krisanne laying out enjoying the beach. She seemed surprised we got there so quick... she had arrived just 5 minutes earlier. She said the low tide crossing was very slow due to broken shells, so she had to pick her steps carefully. Eventually we fessed up that we really picked up the pace and ran for a large chunk of the distance. Eric and I wound up covering the distance in about 50 minutes. We were out for a total of 5 hours, and with various breaks, we probably wound up hiking/walking around 4 and a half hours.

After leaving Abel Tasman, we drove to Picton.

Saturday, November 27, 2004


We didn't do much today other than drive to Nelson, on the north shore of the south island. Along the way, we stopped at Punakaiki, where there are pancake rocks and blowholes to see.

The pancake rocks are a limestone formation - layers of sediment pressed into what looks like stacks of pancakes. The blowholes are chambers where the tide enters, and then sprays out the top, like a whale exhaling. We took the basic walk on the scenic path, and looked out over as the waves washed against cliffs and crags. After taking a bunch of photos, we got back in the car and continued along the highway.

Pancake Rocks

Rocky outcropping

Blowhole before...

Blowhole after

More pancakes!

I caught a rainbow!

We came to a canyon suspension bridge which offered a zip-line ride. However, their credit card machine wasn't working so I couldn't buy a ticket. I could have payed cash but I decided not to do that and instead save cash for places that required it. That was a good call as the Thai restaurant we ate at tonight only took cash (or EFTPOS, the NZ direct debit network, but none of our cards work on that).

Friday, November 26, 2004

Otira Valley Hike

Today we opted to hike in Arthur's Pass, in between Greymouth and Christchurch.

At the visitor's center, we found a nice 2 hour hike in the Otira Valley, which led to a false glacier. The terrain was rocky and gorgeous like everything here, and we made it to the false glacier (looks like a glacier, but is only snow and not ice). It was a perfect day for a hike - sunny with a few clouds. Since it has been raining off and on for the last week, including yesterday, we counted ourselves very lucky!

The view in...

Krisanne blazes a trail

False Glacier

View out...

Blackwater Rafting

Krisanne and I drove up to Charleston to try out blackwater rafting. This is basically tubing in a cave.

Brave cave explorers

Most of the tour was walking around inside the cave. Unlike the Haggas Honking Holes tour I did, this trip wasn't as active - no abseiling (rappeling), not as much climbing and squeezing through narrow spots. There was definitely a lot less crawling on hands and knees through water! However, there were more cave formations to see, and far more glow worms to see.

Looking through stalactites

When we reached the blackwater rafting entry point, we linked our inner tubes together, and the floated backwards for about 400 meters. All the while, hundreds and hundreds of glow worms passed above us, which looked like stars on the night sky. We exited the cave, and then tubed for about half a kilometer to the river exit spot.

Blackwater Rafting

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Monteiths Brewery

One of the local attractions in Greymouth is the Monteith's Brewery. We took a tour, which was very interesting, but the highlight was definitely the taste test at the finish. We all had small samples of the various beers, and then were left with 15 minutes of "open bar", where we could pour as much of any beer we wanted.

For a $10 tour, that is quite a bargain!

I'm the bartender!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier

We stayed the night in Fox Glacier, and walked up to see Fox Glacier and then Franz Josef Glacier in the morning and early afternoon.

Both glaciers were very scenic. I've always seen pictures of snow-covered glaciers (e.g. the ones on Mt. Rainier) but both of these were really easy to see as the surrounding mountains were not snow-covered. Instead, both really did look like a river of ice, frozen as they flowed down.

Fox Glacier

Krisanne and Eric at Fox Glacier

Be careful!

Maori Glacier legend

We spent more time walking around Franz Josef glacier, looking at it from various angles. Eric and I walked up to see towering ice cliff above us, and could see the river of water flowing underneath.

Posing with Franz Josef

Franz Josef Glacier

Step away from the Ice Cave!

Ice boulders

As we left, the clouds parted and more of the glacier became visible. It was almost three distinctive colors: white/gray at the bottom (gray from sand and debris it picked up) to bright blue at the top.

Franz Josef Glacier

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Canyon Swing

Krisanne and I thought it would be fun to do the Canyon Swing.

Bungee-jumping never really appealed (except to be able to say "yes I would!" to the question "if your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it too?"), but the canyon swing looked interesting.

It was rainy and cool in the morning, and we were having second thoughts. Freefalling for 60 meters followed by a 200 meter swing arc sounded less appealing in the windy rain. But, I decided to go anyway and at 9:15 a.m. I left Eric and Krisanne at the coffee shop and ran to the hostel to pick up my voucher and call for directions.

As I was reaching for the phone, the desk moved. Seconds later, a longer tremor shook us and I realized we just felt an earthquake.

I'm a minor thrill seeker, but I am also willing to back down in the face of an Act of God. So, I cancelled my canyon swing plan on the spot, forfeiting the deposit, but realizing I wouldn't have any fun thinking if the cables needed to be checked, etc.

Instead, Eric and I hiked up from the city to the gondola base. It took us about an hour and a half, but we also wound up taking a 30 minute detour to a log avalance and decided not to negotiate that. At the top, we met Krisanne at the top, warmed up with coffee and then rode down and left for a long drive to Fox Glacier.


Milford Sound

Today we took a day trip to Milford Sound. It is only 80 kilometers from Queenstown, but the highway goes down, over, and around for a total of about 320 kilometers of driving. We signed up with a smaller tour to avoid driving ourselves or staying at Te Anau, a town on the way.

On the way, the driver pointed out various scenic spots along the way. We passed a "Red Tussock Presevation Area", which the government set aside as an example of the way the country looked before farming took over. Red Tussock was the dominant plant, but doesn't have much nutrition for sheep and cows, so early settlers ripped out red tussock and planted grass.

Red Tussock

We also stopped at "The Chasm", "Hollyford Valley Scenic Overlook", and a waterfall. These were all very scenic, but nothing compared to Milford Sound itself.

Near Falls Creek

The guide informed us a sound is formed from a mountain range rising up from the sea floor, while a fjord is carved from glaciers. In any case, Milford Sound is a World Heritage Site, and will be preserved for the future.

It rained, as it does fairly often, so we were treated to dozens and dozens of waterfalls, which looked spectacular cascading down the sheer cliffs. The mountain side was covered with trees, and the two hour cruise passed by quickly as we stared all around at the beauty.

I took a zillion pictures and really hope they turned out!

Milford Sound



Dale Point

Stirling Falls