Thursday, 29 December 2011

Goodbye overpriced Vodafone, here comes 2degrees

I've always considered Vodafone one of the cheaper telephone companies and was happy with it in other countries (Czech Republic, Australia, UK). That's why I walked into a NZ Vodafone shop without much thought. It was, however, a mistake that has cost me dearly. They're incredibly expensive here. Although it took me seven months to realize that not all NZ networks are this overpriced, but better late than never, and today I moved over to 2degrees. Adiós Vodafones!
Just a quick pricing comparison
- New sim card: $5
- Calls/texts to any network: 44c/9c 
- Top up reward: 22c/2c calls and texts to 2degrees and landlines for a whole month
- Disadvantage: apparently Vodafone and 2degrees aren't exactly on friendly terms and due to some missing agreements, 2degrees customers can't send or receive texts to/from some overseas Vodafones (e.g. Czech Republic, France, Germany).

- New sim card: $30
- Calls/texts to any network: 90c/20c 
- Top up reward: you get 100 free minutes to VF mobiles and landlines. Catch: only usable during the four weekends following the purchase. Catch n.2: it doesn't say "free call" when you dial a number, and considering how many people switch networks but keep their old number, calling a 021 is no guarantee that you're making a free call. Trust me, my wallet found out the hard way.
- Top up reward n.2: 10% extra (not sure if it only applies to specific payment methods, i.e. credit cards, or if it doesn't matter)
- Cheap overseas calls: apparently, you can call overseas landlines for $2/h. However, this information is not exactly widely advertised and it only got to me by word of mouth, when I'd already been living in NZ for half a year. By then my VF credit had ran out again and I was not going to buy any more.

More details and current prices are on the websites:

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cycling NZ - Mt Cook... in the name of My Bad Knee

Click for more photos.
I haven't had much time for blogging during my cycling trip, so there'll be a lot of catching up. Here's some to start with.

Day 12 - Thursday 10 Nov 2011
Distance Ridden: 101km; Route: Lake Tekapo - Lake Pukaki (via Canal road) - SH80 to Mt Cook village; Weather: clear sky, hot, windless; Terrain: flat along the canal, few climbs around Pukaki, few climbs and steep drops to Mt Cook.

After three dull days in Tekapo (too lazy to do anything interesting, as explained in the previous post) I finally decided to continue my journey. Life poured back into me incredibly quickly with the advent of more cycling. I guess pedalling is what gets me going, after all. I jumped on the bike, kicked into the pedals and inhaled the wind with a big smile on my face. I'm cycling again! I'm alive!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Back in Blenheim... lifting wires... oh happy days

Money flies when you're having fun. I had a lot of fun and drained my savings a lot quicker than expected. It was a sunny December afternoon when I looked at my bank account and had a very nasty surprise...

Luckily, after three months of travelling, I was planning to take a break in any case and start working again. Not so luckily, the fruit picking season in Otago is delayed by several weeks due to bad weather; as a result, there is hardly any work available and hundreds of people waiting for a job. The action won't start till January. Considering my worryingly dry financial reserves, I started looking for alternatives and after a couple of hours on the internet, I found one in good ole' Blenheim.

A phone call, a job I could start the next day, a quick decision and a 10-hour hitch-hike across the South Island. I love hitch-hiking in NZ, so easy and reliable, although this time there was a good deal of luck involved. I managed to cover 800 km from Cromwell to Blenheim in just two rides (through Christchurch) and got here at midnight.

Working again after a three-month break is not easy, though... I'm a vineyard worker again, doing the dullest job ever - wire lifting (consists of walking through endless rows of plants and lifting the wires holding growing vines). The boredom is killing, but it's money, and it there isn't more than a week's work anyway. Then hurray back to Otago.

Hopefully I'll manage to catch up on my cycling blog while in Blenheim. It's all written down on paper, just needs to be digitalised.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cycling NZ - Bluff! The circle is closed

I made it! I finally arrived to Bluff and cycled through the whole South Island, yes! Yes yes yes!!! The circle is finally complete!

Sorry for skipping several weeks worth of cycling and jumping right to this point, but I couldn't wait to blog about it. The rest will come later. Right now I'm totally excited, it's been almost two months since I set off on my cycling trip and today, after many great efforts, I have finally achieved my goal! It's been an amazing adventure, and guess what, it's far from over. Not just because I have to get back north somehow, but also because I still haven't fulfilled the promise to myself - to cycle at least one kilometre for each dollar spent on the bike. The bike with all bits and pieces cost me just over 1900 NZD, and today I've clocked 1536km. Dunedin is about 400 from here...

Friday, 25 November 2011

Cycling NZ - Go Japanese in Lake Tekapo

Day 10 - Sunday 6 Nov 2011
Distance Ridden:
85km; Route: Geraldine - Pleasant Point - SH8 -> Kimbell; Weather: sunny, warm; Terrain: flattish with a few small climbs.

I met other bikers for the first time. Apart from Neil, the overloaded Taiwanese guy, I also met an Australian cyclist on a stroll from Christchurch to Twizel. It makes one feel better to know he ain't the only crazy out there. Neil and I had the same route, but he was too slow and I decided to proceed alone shortly after leaving Geraldine. As per the i-Site staff's advice, I took a longer, but nicer route through some country roads, with a landscape that reminded me a lot of the place I come from - Podkrkonoší - in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. It was a pleasant, traffic-free ride over a few lovely rolling hills, surrounded by huge green pastures and a line of peaks at the horizon.

Talking about green, I ran into a military convoy right in the middle of Fairlie (soldiers with rifles, armed vehicles and all that). Should have asked them for a ride, but bright ideas don't always come at the right time. At least one of them saluted when I was taking a picture; shame it came out all blurry. I saw lots of other military vehicles over the following days, probably due to the military base in the area.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cycling NZ - Central Canterbury (Scenic Route 72) - Windy hardships and moody talks

The conqueror of Burke's Pass (709m).
This was one of the hardest parts of my trip so far, but also the one when I really started enjoying it. Be advised: strong language contained in this post.

Day 8 - Friday 4 Nov 2011
Distance ridden: 74km; Route: Christchurch (Bealey Ave -> Riccarton) - Old West Coast Road - Homebush - Scenic Route 72 - 15km before Rakaia Gorge; Weather: extreme westerly headwind.

After idling in Christchurch for almost three weeks I finally forced myself to get back on the road. And learned a lesson: never stop travelling or you might not want to start again. Not even if the reason for stopping is KFC (thanks for lunch Taylor) and rafting. Rafting is amazing by the way. Of course it wouldn't be me if I hadn't picked the worst possible weather for jumping back on the saddle.

When the wind blows, cycling sucks
To say that it was very windy would be an understatement. My first encounter with antagonistic wind was just a light breeze compared to what I was up against this time...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Cycling NZ - St Arnaud - Murchison - Lewis Pass - Hanmer Springs

420 kilometres in five days. From extreme wind to extreme sunshine and back to extreme wind. That's how it goes when you're cycling in New Zealand.

Day 5 - Sunday 16 Oct 2011
Distance ridden:
100km; Route: St Arnaud - Murchison - SH65 40km past Murchison; Weather: perfect (sunny, warm, no wind).

The following two days were so far the best part of my trip. Perfect weather, almost no wind, stunning landscapes and roads flat enough to let me enjoy the surroundings instead of panting and praying for the hilly torture to end. I reached Murchison by lunchtime, had a juicy burger and after resisting the temptation of an inviting looking backpacker (it would have been a sin not to tent with that weather) I pushed on for another 40km, making it a total of a 100 that day.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Cycling NZ - Blenheim to Nelson Lakes

Click for more pics.
After two nights spent at the good ole' Grovetown Hotel, I set off for the next part of my cycling trip. I originally wanted to follow the State Highway 1 to Kaikoura and Christchurch, but luckily I realized in time how stupid an idea it was. The only reason why I wanted to go that way was my lack of information and confidence: instead of going towards the unknown, I wanted to get a bit fitter on a flat coastal road I already knew (although sections like Seddon, a windy steep bit teeming with trucks, really scared me). A flash of common sense struck me in time to change the plan and head west, towards the mountains.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cycling New Zealand - How it began

I'm officially a long-distance cyclist! And I finally got the time to write about it!

My cycling adventure started on an early October morning in Nelson, the northernmost city of the South Island. but not before recovering from an exquisitely unpleasant hangover. Never go to a pirate party dressed as a software pirate.

The pedalling, however, started in Havelock, 70km from Nelson. There are two big hills between the towns and the only way to get through is a steep, windy road with no shoulder and always full of trucks. There was no way I was going to start my journey with suicide, so I took a bus.

If you're wondering why I decided to cycle around NZ, it's because I wanted to do something different than most travellers. No mainstream car/van solution for me.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011

The rugby world cup in New Zealand has just ended and although I'm the last person to care about sports, I'm glad I was here for the event.

Not only for the fact that a rugby world cup isn't every day, but because it was a one-time opportunity to see New Zealand so totally excited and it's something not every visitor will have the chance to see. The atmosphere was really great, almost every car had (and many still have) their team's flag sticking out of the windows, people would talk about the games in bars and on the streets, even foreigners whose country didn't play or was eliminated were discussing which teams they support and why, and the locals were really excited and confident about the All Blacks, the NZ national team, winning the cup on their home ground (their last gold is 24 years old, from 1987).

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Golden Bay tourism - part 2 of 2

Part two of my trip to Golden Bay is about climbing, fishing, eating and chilling out with chilli beer.

Wainui Falls
A famous waterfall which apparently isn't a big deal, but it's the only waterfall in the area and that makes it famous. It's quite far from Takaka, but the drive along the coast is really enjoyable and you get to see nice scenery (Tata Beach, Wainui Bay). The walk to the falls is an easy one with a rope bridge crossing the river and giving opportunity to some interesting pictures. The waterfall itself is a nice enough spot to make the walk worthwhile, but really nothing special... unless you make it special.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Golden Bay tourism - part 1 of 2

A glance at Pupu Springs. Click for more pictures.
Last week I said that I bought a bike and have an ambitious plan to cycle around New Zealand. I can't wait to start blogging about it, but I don't want to jump ahead until I've talked about about previous events (trip to Golden Bay and Nelson). I'll try and go through them quickly.

Pupu Springs
Our visit to Golden Bay went literally by the book. We opened a travel guide, noted down the places of interest and checked them out one by one. The first was Pupu Springs, a famous spot with natural springs and apparently the clearest water in the world. It's so clear and seemingly so precious that the government forbids any physical contact with the water (no drinking, washing, swimming, spitting... you basically can't even stick your finger in it). Ah, and it's also sacred to the Maori, although the settlers who devasted the place during the gold rush in the early 1900s probably didn't know. Anyway, the springs really are beautiful, although it's just a short and easy walk. You can go for a picnic, though, and relax a bit while nobody else is around. The pools are several metres deep and the water is so clear that you can see the bottom, where a pleyade of colours creates amusing images. There are supposed to be "dancing sands", too, but we haven't seen any.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Introduction/afterword to My Great Scandinavian holiday

In the summer of 2010 I took a long and much needed holiday, totalling two sweet months away from London and covering over 6000 kilometres on the road, 5000 of which hitch-hiking, mostly around Scandinavia. I wrote a real-time diary about my journey and it's all on this blog, along with tons of photos on Picasa (all linked). Whether you're interested in my adventures or just want to see the pictures, here goes. You need to scroll down quite a bit in Picasa, tons of new photos has been added since Scandi.

It may seem odd to put an introduction at the end, after all the rest has been written, but I just couldn't push myself to do it when I should have. So enjoy this little retrospective look into 2010's Scandi trip.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Takaka, home of the hippies and bad 3G connection

Telegraph Hotel. Or... the saloon.
Our final stop after leaving Motueka was Takaka, Golden Bay's largest settlement. Golden Bay/Takaka Valley is in the north-westernmost part of New Zealand's South Island and so far one of the most beautiful places I've seen.

The town's first impressions weren't what'd call good (Dominik went a bit further, saying that the town emanates strange vibrations) and we really didn't feel at ease after our arrival. Maybe it was due to the frequent hopping in and out of civilisation over the previous weeks (lively Nelson, then a week of utter isolation in Abel Tasman, followed by Motueka and by peering into a deep black hole in the middle of an elven forest, and finally Takaka - a sleepy hollow that could have dropped out of a Western movie.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Big changes, I bought a pushbike!

Pushbike, or pushy, is the Kiwi and Ozzy term for bicycle. I got one today and for the next three months I'll be cycling around New Zealand. When I decided to visit New Zealand, I wanted to do something different than the mainstream tourist, so instead of buying a car or campervan and comfortably cruising around the place, I opted for something more challenging. Thanks to Devil, a fellow traveller, who inspired me.

The bike thing has been in my mind for a long time, although I had much bigger plans in the beginning. Now it seems like I'll only have three, maybe four months for travelling, instead of the whole year. Unfortunately, I arrived to NZ at the beginning of winter and wanted to a) work and save some money first, and b) wait till the weather got warmer and days longer.

I've been here for more than four months now and I've only just bought the bike. I have to pray that my money will last long enough (I'm already half broke, it's gonna be tricky...) and in January I'll start working in any case, probably until the end of my stay. However, plans in NZ keep constantly changing, so I have no idea what might happen tomorrow. Maybe a careless truck driver will end it all.

In any case, even if I only cycle for three months, I think it'll be long enough to enjoy it. What I'm worried about is that I won't be able to see and do everything I want to see and do here. It's already clear that I won't have the time to visit the North Island. I guess I'll have to extend my stay :)

I'll probably have to cut down on blogging, although I have a lot to write about, but it's such a time eater. I wish there was someone reading my mind and writing for me.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Takaka Hill - a hole and an elven forest

After tackling Abel Tasman, my travelling with Dominik continued west, over Takaka Hill and down to Golden Bay.

Harwood's Hole - 176 metres of nothingness and rock bottom
Our first stop at was at Harwood's Hole, a huge 176-metre deep pit connected to some kind of underground water cave system. It's accessible through a short walk at the top of Takaka Hill and it's really impressive. You stand on the edge of this huge black hole whose bottom you cannot see even on a sunny day, with nothing but thin air between you and a deadly drop into utter darkness. Of course Dominik and I climbed the highest and most exposed rocks and posed in the most hazardous ways to get the coolest photos. Shame that the area is so vast a person barely covers a few pixels in the whole picture.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Great Abel Tasman Hike - Part 2

Sunrise at Castle Rocks. Click for full photoalbum.
Last time it was all about the coast. Today it'll be all about the national park's inner part. It's going to be tough, so get ready. 

Wake up and start climbing
Upon leaving Whariwarangi, first we had to climb 405 metres above sea level on top of Gibbs Hill (sunny weather again, great view), then fall a bit down to Pigeon Saddle and then tackle the first really difficult part. Pigeon Saddle is at about 300 metres above sea level and after maybe two, three kilometres we must have been at least twice the elevation. And no more fancy gravel paths, this was the real stuff - narrow paths through thick forest, steep stairways made of roots and rocks... oh yes, that day really tested us.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Great Abel Tasman Hike - Part 1

Click for the first two days' photos.
My travelling around New Zealand has finally started and in big style, too. To begin, I spent a whole week tramping in the Abel Tasman National Park with Dominik and two Japanese friends. It was simply awesome. We could have been a bit luckier with the weather (cloudy beaches are a bit depressing), but in the end everything worked out well and we had a really good time. Not only was it my first serious tramping in NZ, but it was also the longest I've ever done.

Abel Tasman has two faces, the coastal and the inland one. Although they're in the same park, they couldn't be more different and offer such different experiences. This post will be all about the first part of our trip.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A week in Abel Tasman National Park

Just got back from a week's tramping in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. Got over 400 pictures and lots of impressions to share, but it'll take a while to sort them all out. Right now I'm in a backpackers in Motueka, where we landed to enjoy civilisation again before heading for the next trip. Unfortunately, I'm surrounded by Germans (seven guests, one non-German, guess who) and for some reason they all speak German, so I've no clue what's going on. It's for the best, though, at least I don't feel bad for plugging my headphones in and focusing on the screen. But not till after dinner. Laters.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

I pig hunter

My New Zealand "been there done that" list is steadily growing. The newest addition is pig hunting. Successful pig hunting. Quite different from piloting a stunt plane, but equally rewarding. I don't enjoy killing animals, but this experience was definitely worthwhile.

Don't read this post if you're vegetarian. Don't read it unless you're ok with a bit of blood and gore.

New Zealanders seem to like animals a lot. They love their possum hunting, pig hunting, deer hunting, fishing... Mike once told us: "do you see that beautiful stag over there? We're gonna shoot it next week, the meat is delicious".

Pest control hunting
Hunting isn't just a hobby, though, it's also necessary for keeping the pest population down. Most hunted animals aren't native of New Zealand and can cause damage to crops, cattle/sheep business, etc. Possums, for instance, have been imported from Australia, where they're rare and protected, and thrive on NZ soil.). Wild pigs come from Europe and are a real nightmare for farmers. A grown boar can apparently pass through an electric fence powered with ten thousand volts and once it gets inside a paddock, it goes on a lamb-eating spree.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

At Mike's

Lamb season. The noise they make!
It's been a while since my last post, reason being I had such a good time and no time for blogging at all. Leaving Blenheim brought me back to life, I never realized how dull the place is until I was away from it. Amber, a fellow backpacker from Grovetown, said she had to leave because the place was too bland, mind-boggling even, and that statement was spot on. It's a nice little quiet town with nothing to do.

Dominik and I stayed at Mike's farm for a week, helping him with some work and being rewarded by his chef skills plus swapping the hostel bunks for nice bedrooms with huge soft beds. A fair price for feeding lambs, building a new fence around the paddock and standing up to our knees in the mud digging an old pipe out of the ground. Another highlight were the sand flies; the damn things love me, I had my own sand fly fan club flying around 24/7, wish I had the same success with girls.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Goodbye Grovetown

The pruning season is over and it's time for us to say goodbye to the hostel that's been our home for the past three months, and to the people we met here (most of whom are already gone anyway). I've blogged a lot about vineyards, but haven't said anything about the place and the people here. Maybe I'll fix it at some point, but for now let me just say that Saturday's goodbye barbecue was nice and very... filling.

It also gave me a clear sign that it's high time I stopped messing around in vineyards: when I was preparing my juicy 1kg steak, its shape reminded me of a plant and I wanted to prune it...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The nicest last day at work

Chasing dogs and sipping wine with the producer of The Terminator... I wish all last days at work were like this.

Mr. Bruce Kerner and his wife Joanne are former Hollywood producers, now enjoying their retirement in an amazing place called the Kerner Estate, producing wine instead of films. Thanks to their runaway dog, we had the pleasure of meeting them on our last day of work and having a drink together. After giving our sweat and blood to all those vineyards, this was a very nice treat. And we got two bottles of wine from the very plants we pruned!

Only 420 crates are produced each year.
Now, what's with the dog? We had made Mr. Kerner's acquaintance in the morning, had a chat about his stay in Prague in 1993 (touching the subject of Czech beer more than lightly), about Arnold Schwarzenegger's ageing and about a bunch of other topics. Later on he drove his stylish golf cart (ideal for riding around a vineyard) to us again, gave us a leash and asked to try and catch his runaway dog if we see it. We did see it, and we did try to catch it; needless to say our effort was in vane. Poor Matt chased it all over the property before realizing the dog was just playing.

No good deed goes unrewarded, though, and when Dominik and I were about to leave (Matt and Peter had already gone playing golf, not knowing what they were going to miss), the Kerners invited us for a drink in their house (which looks as amazing on the inside as it does on the outside). Thanks guys, it was a pleasure meeting you!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Leaving Blenheim, at last (and about time)

It's final, we're finally leaving vineyardland. Not that there isn't enough work to keep us busy for another couple of weeks, but we're so sick of vineyards that we just have to go. Besides, we don't want to spend the whole working holiday in one place. We were already supposed to leave in August, but then one more job came our way, and then another, and another... and if we carried on like this, we'd rot in here forever.

We therefore decided that Saturday is going to be the last day of work and on Monday we leave. Dominik and I are going to do a week's woofing at Mike's farm, really looking forward to it (something tells me we ain't gonna do much work, but it's gonna be a lot of fun). After the woofing we've planned a bit of travelling around the north part of the South Island, and then we probably split and continue travelling separately. Matt got a job in Christchurch, so he's leaving us already.

The time in Grovetown Hotel, the place where we lived for the past three months, has been really nice. We met lots of nice people, had a good time with them, got to know this part of New Zealand rather well, but it's time to move on, and we're all really, really glad we can leave them bloody vineyards behind!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Happy drinkers, unhappy home

This is what you look at if you go to the public toilets at the Blenheim cinema theatre. They seem to take drinking problems really seriously in New Zealand (you should see those touching 5-minute TV spots). The government must be dumping loads of money into this, apparently they're trying to break the "Weekend piss-up" culture, so it's a bit of a shame that after all the brain massage you turn on the radio and the first thing you hear is: "Friday six-pack program, we'll be playing six AC/DC songs and for every one of them you need to drink a can of beer!". Easy to give up that way, innit?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Mail from home

What a pleasant surprise awaited me after a long and boring day at work! Thank you mom for the most delicious and practical birthday present. Too bad I already brushed my teeth, will have to wait till tomorrow to sink my teeth into one of those crunchy snacks.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Thou shalt not bringeth a Spoon for Thy lunch. Thou shalt bringeth a Carrot

When you're old and sclerotic like me and your best friend's name is Alzheimer, you will often need to improvise. For example when you're in the middle of nowhere, it's lunchtime, you have a nice box full of rice and very small bits of vegetables, and you realize you didn't bring a spoon... In this post I'll show you how it's done.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Dehydration is a bitch

All this dehydration talk deserves a nice picture, don't it?
Robin Hood Bay.
I always knew it, but never got to experience it myself, until now. Dehydration sucks, so never stop drinking beer.

This week's weather has been exceptionally warm and after the recent freeze wave, I underestimated my water supplies, bringing only three small bottles (1,8 litres in total) to work. They were gone before lunchtime, which is when the sun really starts hitting. I also had no sunscreen. Bummer.

Plenty of water in here.
When we finally got home and I gulped a tank of water before even saying "water", it was too late; dehydration hit me with headache, dizziness and that dry-hot feeling on the face and ears you sometimes get in very hot and dry places (e.g. if you stick your head inside an oven). The unpleasantness eventually subsided, but it didn't go completely away until three days and a paracetamol pill later. It felt like getting the flu (lump in the throat, dizziness from high temperature and a headache creeping in the back of my head, threatening to come forward).

This was on Monday. On Tuesday I brought 3,8 litres of water to work and drank them to the last drop. Then I had several jugs of beer at the pub and a big mug of tea before bedtime. You don't wanna get dehydrated, never stop drinking beer (didn't I say that already?).

Sunday, 21 August 2011

I'm 30 and I'm flying!!! (updated)

Since Monday 8/8/11 my age no longer starts with number two. I have forever left the world of 20-something, and I'm officially in my thirties. That means no more round birthdays for the next ten years, hurray!

UPDATE: I've also uploaded some photos of the below event and a few extras from that day. Simply click on the pictures at the bottom.

Since this one's a bit special, I decided not to celebrate the usual "simply alcohol" way. Don't get me wrong - we did kill two bottles of tequila and half a keg of beer on Saturday, not to mention the winery tour involving wine tastings, but that was just for starters. Here's what I did on August 8th, 2011:

It was an absolutely amazing experience and if you asked me whether I would do it again, the answer would be a loud YES! As a matter of fact, I committed myself to doing it again before I leave New Zealand. Maybe for my next birthday...

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Linguistic concerns

It's been four months since I left the UK and it was one of the best decisions of my life. However, one thing worries me - my English. In London I was always exposed to good English through my job, which involved writing emails, translating stuff and being surrounded by colleagues with a feeling for language.

Friday, 19 August 2011

At the golf course

As I mentioned previously, we finished working and we're waiting till Monday to start wwoofing. There's actually been a slight change of plans (another fortnight of well paid work), but that doesn't change the fact that we're enjoying an amazingly lazy week. At least I am. The weather's not too bad, practically ideal to stay in bed from sunrise to sundown with my laptop. That said, this week's highlight was playing golf.

Click for more pictures.
Hitting the balls
Matt and Peter seem to have become keen on swinging golf clubs and Dominik and I joined them to try. While Dominik has picked it up quite well, I just confirmed what I already knew - I'm not a golf person. After several futile attempts to send the ball flying (let alone in the desired direction), resulting only in flying chunks of grass and soil (in every direction), I gave up and went for a walk.

The Noise of the Lambs
As the guys were trying to complete the 18-hole Wairau golf course with an astronomical handicap, I was busy taking about a million pictures of the surroundings - mountains and sheep. It's breeding season and the little lambs are so cute... and definitely not silent as in Silence of The Lambs. Their high-pitched baaing and the mothers' low-pitched one can be heard from a mile away.

Been there, done that, played golf
Despite throwing away twenty dollars for a few minutes of wannabe golf, I'm glad I tried. It's funny what sorts of things people do on their travels that wouldn't even remotely cross their minds back home. Golf is another activity I can put on my New Zealand been-there-done-that list, and I sure as hell know I needn't try this one again.

Speaking about activities, my sister reacted to my stunt plane piloting with this totally awesome and crazy video. Maybe I'll do that for my 40th birthday!

Wingsuit Basejumping - The Need 4 Speed: The Art of Flight from Phoenix Fly on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Vineyard work has ended. In great(ly wet) style

Hell's bells and frozen puddles,
those hills haven't seen snow for fifteen years.
The pruning season is coming to an end, our employer has ran out of work and today was our last day in the field. We actually stopped pruning a while ago and spent the last two weeks tidying up, lifting wires and nailing thousands of plastic clips (wire holders) on the posts. I still have both my thumbs, yeah!

We also did a bit of trimming and wrapping, but today was the end of it. Of course it wouldn't feel right to close this episode without finishing in great style, so I jumped into a tank fitted with a big flamethrower and went wild on the vineyard... in my dreams.

Cold, wet, frozen
No, really, after two months of mostly warm and sunny weather we got soaked to the bone today. Fingers went numb for the cold, puddles of water were actually inside the shoes, and when we finally got back to the hostel, driven only by the vision of a steaming hot shower, we found out that the boiler went bust and there's no warm water. Apparently the cold wave (snow even in Auckland, after 70 years!) made the evening news back home, but I bet nobody noticed a bunch of frozen backpackers unable to take a shower. Like I said, the pruning season ended in great style...

Anyway, we're glad it's over, after almost three months we're quite fed up with pruning. It's still a bit too early to start travelling around the country, so we've arranged some wwoofing (working for food and accommodation) with Mike (our supervisor) and are moving to his farm next week. I'd be lying if I said I don't look forward to the change of scenery. Hopefully his water boiler works properly.

Monday, 15 August 2011

All hell (a.k.a. Real Winter) breaks loose in New Zealand

Hailstorm. That's a no-go for bbqing in the garden...
Have I ever mentioned how awesome the weather is in Marlborough during winter? I'm sure I did. Many times. Sunshine, warmth, hardly any rain... at least until this week. This week we're finally experiencing real winter conditions, with snow and everything. It's kind of satisfying to see real winter in the middle of winter, but believe me when I say we'd gladly save ourselves this particular satisfaction... Fellow travellers in Auckland, Christchurch, Kaikoura and basically the rest of the country seem to feel the same.

Yesterday we went to our supervisor's place for a bbq and were greeted by a violent hailstorm. He was just showing us something in the garage when all hell broke loose and thousands of icy balls started crashing on the corrugated iron on the roof. This is what it must have been like in London during Nazi air raids in WW2.

Quite a moony morning this morning... Scary.
Today we woke up to into a Blenheim surrounded by completely white hills and swept by a freezing wind continuously picking up. By lunchtime it drove us out of the vineyard and straight into a safe haven (fast food) serving hot coffee. In the afternoon it subsided a bit, only to be replaced by a huge white cloud covering everything and everyone and dumping wet snow onto our miserable heads. That was too much even for the sturdiest snowmen among us and we called it a day.

According to the locals, it hadn't snowed in Blenheim for fifteen years. Aren't we lucky to be here just for the comeback!?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Skiing (snowboarding, actually) for the first time!

Da crew. Click for more pictures.
That's right; up until yesterday I was a skiing virgin. I've actually seen a real snowboard for the first time in my life. What does it matter that I'm almost thirty years old - better late than never, right? Now that I'm back at the hostel, in my usual "computing" position (in bed, burrowed under two blankets with electric laptop heating), I can resume the events. The following text has been in fact written last night, but I was too tired and sore to finish it up.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Good bye July

I'm writing this post with its pessimistic title solely as a pretence to use this nice picture I took today. There's not really much to say about my July 2011 (unless you want me to go on about vineyards again, which you don't, right?), so enjoy these few photos (inside the post) from a sunny Sunday at the beach - a nice conclusion of this winter month in New Zealand. My regards to everyone "enjoying" the lovely summer in London :)

The most incredible sunset

This post doesn't need many words. I just want to share the most amazing sunset I've ever seen. Thanks Dominik for always having your camera with you.

Click for more photos of this magical sunset.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

REAL hazards of vineyard work

A few days ago I wrote about scratched arms and broken loppers. It wouldn't be me if something much more serious didn't happen straight after. The following day I lost my temper while stripping a particularly nasty row, and I kicked a plant so hard that I almost broke my big toe. I didn't pay much attention to the pain at first, but at home I found out that it's all swollen with a big blue bruise on the knuckle. Luckily it wasn't broken, but it put me out of action for two days anyway, and of course now I'm the subject of countless jokes from our supervisor. Lesson learned: never kick a plant when you're pissed off. Take the loppers instead and make one radical cut just above the ground...

By the way, I don't know if it's a coincidence, but the evening prior to this accident we were telling each other stories about foot injuries.

Toes and fingers, a big difference
And another by the way, no matter how good your English is, you always learn something new. I found out that people from English and German speaking countries have only ten fingers, not twenty like the rest of the world (or at least a number of countries whose languages I can speak/understand). There is no such term in English and German as "foot-finger", as opposed to many other languages. Hence English and German speakers don't have twenty fingers - ten on the hands and ten on the feet; instead, they have ten fingers and ten toes. It was quite funny to see the faces of my American, Irish and German friends when they were processing the information that "humans have twenty fingers", as I was trying to tell them, together with my French and Argentinian friends. The best response came from Matt and Lavinia: "are you saying I'm a monkey? Monkeys have twenty fingers, we don't, we can't eat with our feet".

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The hazards of vineyard work

Every day we get slashed over face and arms... countless times. That inevitably leads to cuts and bruises, and if you do it like me, i.e. make a deal with the devil (the fastest pruner in the team) and only do the stripping part while he only prunes, not only do you end up totally knackered, but you also look like one of those nutcases with a weakness for razorblades. The picture doesn't really show what I mean (and I don't want to razor-shave it); basically my right forearm is a long series of cuts all the way from the biceps to the wrist. The second picture just shows a little accident Dominic had today. His loppers didn't quite agree on that last cut.

After a day like this, you're entitled to get drunk after one beer. If it has 12% of alcohol, like this Dutch one.

Friday, 15 July 2011

It's getting colder in Marlborough

Yeah, the real winter's really here, even if it took its time. They finally got snow down south around Queenstown and Wanaka (they've been waiting for it for months, now for a change they complain about having too much of it). And even here in the north we can feel the weather getting considerably cooler. You can see the snowy peaks in the previous post's picture, and that means that cold breeze is blowing nonstop at lower elevations. Anyway, this whole paragraph is just an excuse to post this photo showing 2°C in central Blenheim at 7pm, when we went to have a delicious Turkish kebab in town.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's Friday evening and hence a time people should not spend alone in front of a screen. It's a time to enjoy, and I'm feeling so pleasantly drowsy that I'll enjoy falling asleep in the next ten minutes. If the noises from the pub downstairs don't bother me too much. Good nite.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Back to Kaikoura, back to Mt. Fyffe...

Another day, another rainbow...
... back to Lost In The Dark. Or maybe not.

Káča is going there for the weekend and she invited me to come along, but I'll pass. Not that I'm afraid of the challenge, I'd gladly go for a proper weekend hike, maybe catching better weather than last time, but I got other stuff to do (yeah, right), plus she's meeting a friend she didn't see for a while, so they'll have lots to chat about.
Wish that was my house.
I can use the weekend to catch up "un-earned" moneys (it's Thursday and so far I've worked for one day and a half this week). On the other hand... we're starting a bloody awful vineyard tomorrow and I wouldn't mind skipping it; at least I wouldn't be so knackered when we jump to the following vineyard, a much nicer and much more profitable one. Then again, I wouldn't get much rest on a two-day hike...

By the way, did you know that Mt. Fyffe has the exact same elevation as Sněžka? 1602 m.

And speaking about mountains, here's yet another bit of landscape around Blenheim.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Thwarting weather and culture in Blenheim

It's only Wednesday and I've already been off for two days this week. Sunday night was so windy to make the hostel shake and Monday morning wasn't much better. It reminded me of the awful time when I was working as a sweeper in London and had to endure the shitty weather, and I set my mind on not going anywhere. Who cares if I don't earn any money, I'm just not rolling out of bed and going out there.

Tuesday morning was much nicer and after two days of rest I was more than happy to work again. We started a new vineyard with easy plants, beautiful surroundings, and I was filled up with energy for a good job. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was thwarted by torrential rain at 11:50. There was a nice side-effect, a huge rainbow, but I didn't find a pot of gold to make it worthwhile.

Innovation it's the best!
On Wednesday, for a change, my prayers for a rainy morning were finally fulfilled. We didn't have to get up and nobody went to work. Sweet sleep till 10 am! However, having worked for only half a day this week, I'd rather it didn't rain...

On a completely different note, here's a little example of New Zealand culture: Dominik went to see an art gallery in Blenheim (I'm more and more surprised about this town's resources every day). And to finish off, here's a small example of how New Zealander's innovate English Grammar! Misspelling intended.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I'm still here and blogging

Click for some more crazy photos
Howdy ho, here I am again. Haven't been in touch for a while, since life's quite routine at the moment. I've got quite a set of nice new pictures, though. I can honestly say that I've seen Blenheim from all sides.

About the routine - basically what happens is that each morning is a fight between body and mind; the former wants to stay in bed, while the other struggles to find convincing arguments for getting up, leaving the warm blanket behind and going to work. Usually the prospect of lost income does the trick. My prayers for rain (so I can sleep longer) never reach the weather maker's ears. Once I roll out of the sheets I have a huge breakfast, then we all steel ourselves against the morning frost and start working. It usually takes till nine o'clock to stop shivering in the freezing cold, and by then the day starts getting warmer. The good thing about morning frosts is that they don't last long and they're always followed by warm sunny days. It's actually worse not to have a morning frost, because then there's a likelihood to end up with a windy and/or rainy afternoon.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Accidents happen

When I decided to visit New Zealand, I knew I was going to do all sorts of crazy stuff, but I never expected that it would include seeing car crashes in close-up mode. Frankly, something I could live without... Why am I saying this? Because I've seen a nasty accident from about ten metres, right in front of the hostel I'm staying at.

They have this weird road rule in NZ that says if two cars coming from opposite directions turn into the same street, the car turning left, hence just around the corner, must give way to the other car, the one that's crossing one lane. The problem with this rule is that foreigners aren't used to it.

We were driving back from town and were just about to turn left from the main road into the car park, when a van came from the opposite direction and was about to do the same, so Dominik stopped on the curbside to let the van go first. However, the guy didn't realize it until several seconds later, and when he finally made a move, he forgot to check for oncoming traffic...

As soon as the van got into motion, a big SUV popped into my peripheral vision and I had just the time to think "there are two cars on a collision course, they're gonna crash...". Two seconds later, the SUV smashed into the van's side at maybe 100 km/h, tipped it over and pushed it for a couple of metres.

Then a bunch of people ran out of the hostel and the usual post-accident stuff broke loose. The SUV driver promptly called the police, the van's driver was trapped inside, unable to open the door, until I suggested to roll down the window, a few guys from the pub helped him get out, and then they waited for the police. On a positive note, nobody got hurt, although the woman driving the SUV was apparently pregnant. Then I went to have a shower and forgot about everything.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Scandinavian Expedition 2010 - Days 36-37

Tampere with Lenin museum. Click for full album.
This post about Scandinavia might come as a surprise now that I'm in New Zealand, but I wasn't able to publish it before leaving Europe, so here it is now. There's not much to write about NZ anyway, it's mostly routine now that I have a regular job, so here's some reading to fill the gap. It picks up directly where the previous Scandi post finished - in the middle of Finland.

 Another WW2 museum
After Punkaharju I kept close to the Russian border and my next destination was the Salpa Line museum, right in the bottom-right corner of Finland. Salpa Line (Salpalinen Finnish) was a defence line built to stop the Soviet invasion during WW2. It stretched for over a thousand kilometres and it was an impressive military work. Although it was never put to use, it did serve its purpose well, since it discouraged the Soviets from continuing their offensive against Finland.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Mid-summer or mid-winter?

Today was the winter solstice here in the southern hemisphere - the longest night and the shortest day. We had a bbq to celebrate that half winter's already gone and we said hello to it in great style. With a bunch of delicious marinated beef steaks on the grilll. Hmmmm yummy. And all that's left is the second part of NZ winter; the hardest one. July and August are the coldest months down here (they correspond to January and February), and apparently also the wettest (so I may see some more rain after all, so far in a month and a half I only had about a week of rainy days). But all in all, the weather is great for being mid-winter! Frosty in the morning until around 9 o'clock and then sunny, sometimes a little bit windy. I really love the weather in this country. After five years of rain in London, who wouldn't...

Sunday, 19 June 2011

How many people are reading my English blog?

I'd like to make a little survey about this blog's popularity. Anyone reading it (not just looking at photos or skimming through headlines), could you please let me know by either putting a comment under this post or clicking on "cool", or just telling me through any other communication channel you may have? Cheers.

The reason is that several of my Czech friends and old blog's readers who aren't that good at English tried to persuade me to switch back to blogging in Czech. While I'd love to do that or to double-post, it would be too time consuming, and besides, this is a good way not to get rusty on my English. However, should the interest in this blog be extremely low, I'd consider switching.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

What are the odds of meeting and old acquaintance in NZ?

More precisely, what are the odds of meeting a person from your hometown, someone you used to hang around with after school, someone you haven't seen for over 13 years, and then you stumble upon them in New Zealand, in the same town, in the same hostel? Well, I don't know what the odds are, but it certainly happens...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A day I want to forget

After a month of relatively happy days in New Zealand, here comes the first time I really wanted the day to be over and forget about it forever. It started with a shitty morning, when I didn't really wake up, because I hadn't really slept.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A moon in New Zealand

The post's title actually means "a month in New Zealand". Forgive me the rather poor pun, unfortunately it doesn't work as well in English as it does in Czech (měsíc na Zélandu). Anyway, you've probably guessed why I chose it. Yes, it's been exactly a month since I landed on kiwi soil and it's the second time I see the object on the title photo (you guys in the northern hemisphere notice anything unusual?).

Titles and puns apart, today was the perfect day for celebrating my "monthlyversary". Not only was it my day off, but it was also warm and sunny, ideal for wandering around the countryside and taking photos. Indeed, I took plenty of them, probably causing a few bewildered looks on the locals' faces in the process (unless they're used to tourist weirdos standing on the roofs of their cars and pointing cameras to sheep and vineyards...).