So much to talk about... we flew into Christchurch, NZ two days ago, spent a day and a night there, and then drove to Queenstown yesterday. Today we had our first day of skiing here, at a place called Coronet Peak. So far, New Zealand is pretty much just as I expected: beautiful scenery and very laid-back, cool people. And it's even pretty warm, for midwinter. The only big minus so far is money... everything here is super-expensive, even with the favorable US/NZ exchange rate.
Christchurch, where we spent Tuesday, is called the Garden City and it's built around an enormous park with vast botanical gardens inside. Because it's winter, nothing was in bloom, but the trees there were really impressive, like some fantasy illustration. Tall & skinny or 6 feet thick or gnarled and vine-covered -- I didn't know trees came in so many different shapes. It's also a surprisingly diverse city; there are immigrants from just about every Asian country as well as native New Zealanders both white and Maori. I would say more than half of the restaurants in both Christchurch and Queenstown serve Asian cuisines.
On Tuesday afternoon, Roger, Lacey and I took a shuttle ride to New Brighton Beach, a sort of faded-glory summer beach town like Old Orchard Beach or Coney Island. The purpose of our trip was to ride something called the Sling Shot, which is basically a vertical or upward bungee jump. Roger and I ponied up our $40NZ each, and Lacey decided to stay on the ground and watch. It was a pretty exhilarating ride: from the ground to 50 meters in the air in under 1 second, then we bounced up and down maybe 10 times, spinning all the while. The view was incredible; we could see the sun setting to the north of us (strange) and the beach stretching for dozens of miles in either direction. The craziest part was plummeting downward as our seats were tilted forward, so we were looking straight down at the ground as we descended. It was so worth it.
Queenstown is known as the adventure-sports capital of NZ, and with good reason. You could spend hundreds of bucks a day going on various excursions: jetboating down rapids, bungee jumping, paragliding, four-wheeling, kayaking and a million other things besides skiing. The snow line is hundreds or even thousands of meters above the town, so during the day it's pretty warm here -- maybe 50-60 degress F. There are big lakes and rivers everywhere in this region (Central Otago), although I bet the water's pretty cold for swimming. We should have no trouble keeping occupied in the afternoons here.
On the hill today, a bunch of the US (able-bodied) ski team guys were training: Erik Schlopy, Ted Ligety, TJ Lanning... no Bode sightings though. There was also a FIS slalom race today, a crazy icy course. Roger and I skied a bunch off piste in between the groomed runs (it's all above treeline), and at one point we ended up on a short cat track with no snow on it. We had to very carefully pick our way through and around rocks and mud to get back onto the snow... I don't think our ski tech will be too happy when he sees the results of that little adventure.
OK, time to push back up from this internet cafe in town to our hotel, which is inconveniently located at the top of a huge-ass hill. Blah.