Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Racing in the Harbour: Penguin!

So tonight we, the racing crew of the racing yacht "Hot Prospect", raced our way into another enviable finish - this time we were in 1min15sec before the race is called. I suggested to the captain that he rechristian the boat "8:59" for our precision and fortunately, he laughed.

The real revelation of the night was when we finally rounded the damned buoy at Devonport and then the insidious buoy at Westwall we were crossing the harbour to the malevolent buoy at ???(I forget) I looked down (it was dark) and there was a small bird cruising along in the tide current toward the city. It was obviously not a duck and so I figured it might be a penguin! Hey, why not? I'm in New Zealand, right?

It turns out it was indeed a penguin - what the Kiwis call a "Little Blue Penguin". I did not get any pictures tonight by this one from wikipedia gives a good idea of what it was:

A penguin!

The crew was more interested in the improving wind conditions. When I started exclaiming about seeing a penguin they all basically said, "That's right, a little penguin." and went back to trimming sails and pontificating about the seriously evil current working in our favor.

A penguin!

(I should note that the buoy adjectives are chosen simply for entertainment. I'm really enjoying sailing and racing and would gladly sail right through the gates of hell if the boat was obtaining 7.4 knots at the time. One tends to let the mind wander when coasting in the lee of the NZ navy boats while fighting an incoming tidal current.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quick! A Quiz for P!

Alright P., what kind of rocks make up the cliffs near Piha, NZ? Send me an email and earn a prize!

Sailor Bob II

Bob explaining his finger woes:

Sailor Bob's New Freak Feature

An old friend of mine is sailing around the world. His boat is spending the cyclone season in Fiji but Bob and his girlfriend Suzi jumped on a chance to come to NZ as crew on a larger yacht. Here's part of the reason he came:

He messed up his hand along the way and it healed with a distinctive twist. He's planning to get it worked on while he's here.

The next post will be a longer video of Bob talking about his new freaky feature (anyone remember the old Bob freaky feature? This one beats his funky nose crinkle hands down...).

You can follow his substantial adventures on this blog or this (never updated) blog and on the escape artist website. or you can listen to the Swedish Pop star NiklasG sing about the man.

A Short Tour to Piha

I decided to get out of town again this weekend. Even though the locals warned me against it, I was set on an overnight bike tour to Piha. So Saturday by around noon I was packed and on the road. Getting out of Auckland is a mess of cars and streets I don't know, but this time I actually checked a map before heading out the door. Soon I was lunching at Titirangi, a nice set of shops and stores west of Auckland.

Piha is on the other side of a set of hills called the Wiatakere Ranges; they provide a frame for your photos at the visitor center:

A short climb later I turned from Scenic Drive to Piha Road and climbed some more. Eventually the road turned steeply downhill and Piha came into view:

Fantastic! Piha is a small beach community regularly run over by crowds from Auckland. They have managed to keep most big-time development away, hence, not all accomodation is as fancy as the built-in campers at the motorlodge where I set up a tent:

It's the early season so the campground was not crowded. I went and flew a kite, watched some local lawn bowlers (not everyone was wearing white this time, whew), hiked a bit, and then watched the sun set:
Beautiful! Dinner was a burger (the "Blair" burger - complete with a fried egg and some kind of strange condiment, mmmm) and chips (plus tomato sauce, at NZ$2 for a tin!). Have I mentioned it yet? Burgers are a real deal in NZ - it's NZ$8-10 for a kebab but only NZ$3-5 for a burger. Just bring your own ketchup.

The next morning I got up, hiked around the beach, found a nice track up the hill and got a picture of Te Piha, also called "Lion's Back" for obvious reasons once you get to the right angle:

Here is photo of me reflecting on anenomes:
All in all it was a great trip. Even the punk-in-a-car that buzzed me and sprayed me with water (I hope) on the climb back out of Piha couldn't take away from a wonderful quick getaway. The locals also seemed to be enjoying themselves. If this is an undesirable beach I can't wait to visit the good ones.

Here's a bikely map of the ride:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bike Racks

Here are some pics of the bike racks at the UofAuckland. The first is the norm - nice, simple, stable. The second is the "bike cage" that you need a special card for. I got one, but now that I am living next to the Uni I don't use it as much. It's great except for two things - there is no roof, and with a simple tool one could completely disassemble the cage in minutes. Alas. It does present a pretty formidable facade.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out Amy!

(Perhaps I should look at labeling more closely before buying - some of those black currants are a little too happy!)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mexican Food Sourced

Just in case I need to get my fix on, I checked out a source of Mexican food near the old ferry building:

Their street sign proclaims "Best Mexican" - but their menu is rather disappointing. This is not encouraging.

Kind of a Kiwi version of a Rubio's. And the prices are near absurd for someone from the southwest US. I passed although the "seasoned mince filling" sounds exotic.

Earlier in the week I asked some people where to find good Mexican food. They laughed back, "like Taco Bell?" Not funny. I sense a business opportunity...

UPDATE: I've now found two more places for mex food in Auckland - another Mexicali and a nice place in Parnell that serves good margaritas, although I did not sample the food. I did go get some Mexicali and was pleased, good "fresh mex" from a couple that spent some time in California. Now, anyone here spend time in Mexico City?

The Maritime Museum

I went into full tourist mode today, complete with camera, backpack, sensible shoes, etc., and headed across town to take in the NZ National Maritime Museum. This is in an area of town that was "revitalized" for the hosting of the America's Cup in 2002. Outside is the enormous racing yacht built for the 1988 America's Cup. This boat lost to an American catamaran, the whole thing ended up in court, and in the end some serious rule changes were in order. It seems a strange emblem to start the tour with.

The museum did not disappoint. It began with a remarkable (if very strange) CG film about Polynesian settlement. At one point there is a shifting room meant to simulate the rocking of a large wooden sailing vessel. The history of NZ was pleasantly tied to the maritime history. This might seem obvious but I've been to lackluster museums in the past that were nothing more than a collection of artifacts.

It surprised me that they had the ad that I responded to on display:

Fortunately my passage was better than that described below:

There were lots of boats; from photos of boats to model boats to whole boats. Even partial boats: here's a comely lass:

And I'm pretty sure that my Dad must have worked on (swore at) this outboard at one point in his life.

I loved touring the museum, especially the part about Peter Blake's exploits. The video of his record-breaking round-the-world race had me entranced. It makes you want to go sailing!

Victoria Park, Albert Park

I previously showed pictures of the fantastic Moreton Bay fig trees in Albert Park, a very picturesque place near where I work. On my way through the park today I noticed another nice detail, a post supporting a branch of a different tree so that the path is not obscured:

On the other side of the CBD is another big park in the city is Victoria Park. Near there is a shopping center that's gearing up for Christmas - even though it's bright and sunny and just getting more so. Christmas is for winter!

Lots of beautiful trees in Victoria park.

However, this park is also given over to sports and there was a cricket match in progress. I watched for a while but I still have no idea what is going on. The "pitching" in cricket is certainly more exciting than in baseball - with a huge run-up and a full backwards arm whirl. I need Brit specialist N. to help me - apparently he will come over in Feb. and we'll make it to a match.

Here's a video of a pitch, or whatever it's called...

If I plan to play sports I probably ought to go get some white clothes!

Asian Influence

There is a strong asian (Chinese, Japanese, Indian...) influence in Auckland. The area that I am living in is predominantly east Asian, having been built to accomodate international students. I've heard it called "little Hong Kong" - a reference to the high density of the apartments. There are a number of heavily used internet cafes:

And just around the corner from my building there is a "New Zealand Tourist Shop" that is pretty far from the usual tourist shops near the harbour. It sells a few tourist items but also a lot of mysterious cosmetics, like, for instance, "placenta cream."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

NZ Marmite vs. Vegemite: UPDATE!

NZ Marmite wins, no doubt about it. I remember now why I did not like Vegemite: there is a repugnant metallic aftertaste that lingers on the back of the tongue. Ug. This is somehow totally missing from the NZ Marmite.

It's possible to overdo it with both - too much salt. After the tasting last night (on crumpets - "the dumb man's bagel") my blood pressure must have been sky high. No offense was meant with that crumpet reference. ;)

Anyone want a nearly full bottle of Vegemite?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Woodhill III: The Ride Home

The morning after the race was drizzly rain (as my host for the first three weeks would say, it was "spitting") and so I got some hot chocolate from the profane french guy, broke camp, changed the bike back to tour mode and got on the road as quickly as possible.
Another of these signs. This one gave a clue - this "twisting of the tires" apparently happens when wet. Aha! It was wet so I waited around for some action but to no avail. Hmmm.
I biked back via a different route - this time taking a northerly route to the "north shore" communities of Auckland. The catch was that I had to rely on a ferry to take me back across the harbour. I got in to the ferry terminal at 11:30 - the next one ran at 3:40 (this gave me flashbacks of SLC - no services on Sunday!). I figured that I could bike around to Devonport and catch one there but I had just coasted down a monstrous hill, was exhausted, and decided to just wait it out like a bum at the terminal. (M - can you remember Copenhagen? asleep on the park benches? this was similar...) It was also raining. Another moral: without a book it's boring and you'll soon be snoring (while it's pouring?).
Fishermen on the wharf, catching nothing, yet.
Finally, the ferry arrives and I get my bike on.
The old ferry terminal in Auckland. The same place as for the ferry to Rangitoto. It was nice to get back to town. Here's a map of the route back:

Woodhill II: The Race

After riding to the race I still a bit of work left to do. Pick a camp site, set up tent, pick another camp site after some bloke puts his generator 3m away, set up tent, change bike from fully loaded tourer to 29r racing rig, eat, etc.
The camp site was beautiful - in a secluded valley just below the pine forest we were to race in. Grass everywhere with lots of music and food.
Below: Yoda the singlespeed.
A crepery 50m from my tent, not bad! The french guy that ran this setup cursed violently and frequently all weekend but was otherwise quite agreeable.
The mark of a bike race - the line of Port-a-loos.
The race was nominally a 12 hr race which started at 10:30am; I raced the 6 hour version that started at 4:30pm. So even after riding out from Auckland and getting my gear situated I had about 2 hours to sit around wondering why I was racing in the first place. Too late! 4:30 and the race gets underway with a short (100m) run past streaking little girls. Then up into the trees, past a few "stunts" you could opt for (wood tracks for jumping and breaking bones), and into some of the sweetest forest single track I've ever ridden (think Flagstaff on Valium). I kept up a decent pace for 4 laps before losing my will. I think that I finished 7 laps, two at night. Fantastic.

A warning however, during the race, long after I had given up on racing, I heard from behind that a guy's light was out. So I pulled over and waited by a gate for him to pass so I could offer my light. He was thrilled but as he dismounted he popped his tire on a loose hook on the gate. Moral: you might as well try to evolve cat-like night vision because (as the guy exclaimed) "when it rains it pours".

It started to rain that night, a light rain, certainly not a pour!

Woodhill I: Biking to the Race

So, this week I signed up for the 12 Hours of Woodhill. My plan was to take the train to Waitakere township (this is confusing as the entire northern region above Auckland is called Waitakere) and then bike to the race site 23kms away. Of course the trains to Waitakere were all canceled that day due to system-wide track maintenance and I ended up biking the whole way after buying maps at a gas station and lots of not-so-scenic city biking.

Here I am at the Waitakere Train Station. Lovely. But where are the trains?

Lots of vineyards in the Kumeu region north of Auckland. Lots of cows, sheep, horses, bees, and vintage american cars.

Here are some people playing "bowls" - lawn bowling I suppose. This is a game like Bocce or Petunk that requires amazing precision and a white wardrobe.

Came across this sign - I was neither at the time. It also read "it's all downhill from here" and "keep pedaling" which I thought was nice but a bit out of place. The sign later turned up midway through the MTB race course.
Finally! Only 5km of climbing left! (Note to brother: there's motorized offroaders here as well...)

Here's a bikely map of the route to Woodhill MTB park.

Friday, November 2, 2007

My New Apartment

I shifted today, err, moved. To the Metro City apartments:

It's the one on the left. This is in a complicated mix of mid-hi-rise apartments done in the HongKong style in order to accomodate an influx of Asian students to the U of Auckland. The rooms are tiny flats but I can walk to my work in two minutes and there are some nice cafes on the way:At this place the sandwiches are half of the price of the burgers which are half of the price of the kebabs. At NZ$10 for a kebab you work it out, not bad!
This picture sums up the area - the hi-rise apartments have more or less engulfed an area that used to be made up of nice older buildings. In this case the old building bears quite a burden.

So, I have an address... Email me for it when you finish up your elaborate care packages ;)

Yacht Race #2

Wednesday was the second yacht race for the Richmond Yacht Club series, the second for our skipper as captain of his yacht, and my second as crew. We race in the "green" category. I got promoted a bit this week - I was hauling in and adjusting the jib sheets. It was a calm day, almost dead. However, there were some fantastic sights, here are some pictures:

G and A, brothers.

Someone creaming us in the race, and looking good!
Sun setting over the city center (as we drifted in toward the buoy at Northhead).

I guess some of the faster boats got in before the sun set, we did not. In fact we were only about halfway done at this point ;). The end was thrilling nonetheless, we have to finish before 9pm (after a 6:30 start) in order to make the time cut and get our race recorded. At 8:55 we were floating with the current without any rudder control about 500m from the end, but then a "puff" found us and we were able to tack and get across the line with 40s to spare! Hurah! That's the way to a comfortable handicap!