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Mountain Pass Day Trip

If you live near the ocean, it’s not common that you think about taking a day trip to a mountain pass.  However, if you’re in Christchurch, New Zealand – it is just a day trip up to Arthur’s Pass, one of the very few places to cross the Southern Alps.  For those unaware, the Southern Alps take up most of the South Island of New Zealand, and push up out of the ocean to over 12,000 ft (3,700 m).  I recently took my family on this day trip, and everyone enjoyed themselves (although we all liked different parts of the trip).

On the road to Arthur’s Pass – but watch out for the Kiwi’s (at night)

While it is just a couple of hours drive from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass, it’s worth taking extra time to stop and experience the sights and places along the way.  There are many paddocks of sheep along the way, and when it’s spring – you can watch the lambs frollick and play with snow capped mountains in the background.

Lambs soaking up the spring sun – with the Southern Alps in background

However, a real gem to visit along the way is Castle Hill.  It is widely considered to be the epitome of New Zealand’s South Island climbing scene, where on any given day one can find rock climbers bouldering the unique limestone outcroppings.  Nearby Flock Hill station was used for the filming of the climactic battle scenes of the 2005 movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – you can imagine the scenes quite clearly while standing amongst the huge rocks.  Also of interest, back in 2002 Castle Hill was named a “Spiritual Center of the Universe” by the Dalai Lama – and it certainly does feel quite peaceful.

Castle Hill

  One of the many walks in and around Arthur’s Pass village, leads to the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall. The steep climb results in a refreshing view of the waterfall, complete with a bridal veil effect from the wind and gravity which war against each other.

The Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall near Arthur’s Pass, dancing with gravity and the wind.

Dad’s Recommendation:
Taking a day trip is a great idea, but pack a picnic lunch and look for places to spend extra time soaking in the beauty and peaceful setting of any wonderful place you find along the way, like Castle Hill.




Fairlie Relaxing

Just 188 km (117 mi) from Christchurch, New Zealand is the lovely little farming town of Fairlie.  It’s also on the Inland Scenic Route which connects the Central Lakes / MacKenzie District with the East coast of the mainland – and this relaxing place is just 25 minutes from the picturesque Lake Tekapo (which I may write up another time).  At under 3 Hr drive from the Garden City of Christchurch, Fairlie makes for a great place to get away – as our family did this past weekend.  

Statue of James MacKenzie and his dog
Note the Ooh-lala Shop and Fairlie Bakery in background

On spur of the minute notice, we were able to find a three bedroom cottage on a farm for a very reasonable rate – much less than in the more popular spots.  It was so nice to wake up in the morning to the music of the native birds in the nearby woods – and without the noise of traffic roaring down the road.  Plus, the view of the mountains was quite spectacular once the morning mist lifted.  A fully furnished kitchen allowed us to make a full breakfast in the morning, but it was really nice to visit the Fairlie Bakery for some lunchtime treats (the Raspberry Chocolate muffins are incredible).  Even the grocery store had local fare, including some scrumptious muesli by Morelea Farm. 

The view from our cottage

Frankly, it was a pleasure to drive the quiet roads en-route – and since it’s winter here in July, the snowcapped mountain vista’s were an ever changing backdrop of postcard worthy views.  On our drive home, we saw four different rainbows – a perfect way to conclude a nice weekend in the country.

Dad’s Recommendation:
Spur of the moment weekend trips can be a great way to see the wonderful and scenic places that are a little off the beaten path, and usually cost less than the more popular spots.  It didn’t take long to pack for just a couple of nights, and didn’t take lots of planning.


Port Hills Adventure

Peter, Luke & Anna-Kate soaking up the view

If you ever visit Christchurch, New Zealand, you will no doubt notice the Southern Alps which make up the majority of the South Island. However, the closest hills to town are the Port Hills … a portion of an ancient volcanic rim which separates Christchurch from the port town of Lyttleton.

While many people don’t take the time to visit the scenic areas close to where they live (I was staggered to hear that most people who live in Cairo have never actually visited the Pyramids), in Christchurch it seems like everyone visits the Port Hills on their days off.  While it’s clear that the entire city doesn’t actually do this, it is certainly note-worthy how many people are walking, driving, or riding their way up and down the steep hills.  The walking trails along the summit are full of people out for a walk, run, or bike ride, and with spectacular scenery everywhere – it’s easy to see why.

View north, over the central city

Ironically, while the hills usually look the same from town (unless there’s a light dusting of snow during the winter), the view from on top the Port Hills seems to be ever changing, with vista’s in many directions – and always a little different with the changing season, or simply the changing light throughout the day.

There are some nice cafe’s on both sides of the hills, and they make for lovely spots to rest for a little and watch the world pass by.

Dad’s Recommendation: Learn from the people of Christchurch – whether living or visiting town, take the time to get out and about, and where better than the Port Hills overlooking the city.


Coolest little capital in the world

Wellington, New Zealand was named “the coolest little capital in the world” by Lonely Planet in 2011.  I was just in Wellington for a conference last week, and wanted to echo those sentiments.

A mix of old and new downtown

 The city is nestled tightly together on the narrow shoreline, although the city has long since overflowed into the hills and valleys around the central business district.  You can easily walk around central city, now repleat with a vibrant cafe culture and dynamic streets that ebb and flow with life.

Wellington CBD nestled around the harbour

While oft known as the Windy City due to the wicked winds that can blow up the harbour from Cook Straight, it’s more recently been given the moniker of ‘Wellywood’ for its central role as a technical powerhouse behind some of Hollywoods biggest hits.  However, the proposed copycat white sign on the airport hill has been controversial amongst residents (so is unlikely to proceed).  The picture on left was taken on a rainy day, although the sun came out on the third day of my visit – and provided a lovely blue sky which would have been a much better backdrop. As with any photo, it’s difficult to capture the 3D view from a spot such as this, let along the 4D atmosphere provided by the chattering people strolling past. 

Dad’s Recommendation:
Take more time away from work to enjoy the sights and sounds at towns, cities, and countries where you visit.  Some short breaks away from work will likely make you more productive, and also will help provide a little balance in your life.  Take time to stroll the Golden Mile (Lambton Quay and adjacent  streets) … and try to find Plimmer’s Ark (John Plimmer is considered the father of Wellington, and remnants of his boat were discovered under a bank during structural strengthening.)


First Week On The Job

As you may know, I have just taken a new seconded role as Technical Manager for Infrastructure with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.  Their website with additional information is given in the attached link for those who are interested:

However, I wanted to simply write a few observations about the first week on a job.  Having spent several years in my previous role, I had learned most of the secrets about how to get things done, who to call for what, who not to contact, where to find this or that, and a myriad of other little tidbits of information which make company life a lot easier.  When making the move to a new employer however, it’s a challenge to find the right building, floor, bathroom, coffee, printer, etc, etc … and who do you ask other than the small handful of people whose names you actually remember from the obligatory introduction tour to meet “everyone”.

While I’m clearly not the best at this, it does seems that it’s generally a good idea to speak as little as necessary, nod your head a great deal during all the many introductions, maintain eye contact as much as possible (and pray that nobody detects the glazed over appearance), and actively listen to as much as possible.  While the information overload can be overwhelming the first week, and it may feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose, at least other people will start to recognize that you’re part of the team.  Most places expect you to take a little time to acclimatize to the new environment, depending on your role, so it’s quite likely that you can soak it all in during that first week when expectations are the lowest … and then start your assent to superstar status on week two.  While an invitation to be on the Board may take more than a month or two, it’s handy to make a point of learning who the CEO is … and not flipping him off in the car park by accident.

And, for those who were in the pool for the bounty on a photo of me wearing a jacket and tie … here is The Traveling Dad together with my two boys in their new school uniforms:

The boys in their new uniforms