Monday, 31 December 2007

Part - !!!! (Where it all came together!!)

It has definitely been a while. I attended Mood Indigo or a part there of for the first time since leaving college. (Well, attended might actually be a rather strong word... let's just say it so happened that I landed up and MI was going on at the same time.) The thing that persistently and forcefully made itself felt was that two and a half years is a lifetime! Yes, there are few other things that could make you feel old as clearly and mercilessly :-<.

I guess the old bit hits you whenever you get back to campus, once all the immediate juniors etc have also passed out. But during MI the number of people you don't know is just huge! Only, now, I cant tell if I don't know them 'cos they are from outside, or they are simply too young (or conversely, 'cos I am too old :|).
But, since this is the time a lot of people collectively chose to inflict this ignominy upon themselves, I managed to run into a fairly large number of my old batchmates :). And there were others who managed to land up in town by some magical coincidence. Met almost half my department batch. And guess what the occasion was? Yet another had gone and got hitched :).

And I bought books!!! Had found out while on the road trip itself that Game World book 3 was actually out! (A friend of a friend had managed to grab a copy :D.) Found The Unwaba Revelations in the very first book store I looked!! So the GRRM that I'd barely started will come to a grinding halt while I do a Basu 1 - 2 - 3 :D. While at it, I got a series I'd been looking to get for a while now, Asmov's Robots. So I guess I'm set again for a while on that quarter.
For a million reasons it does feel great to just kick back and relax for a bit surrounded by so much that is different, but nonetheless familiar. And given the time of the year, I'm spending a some of it wondering exactly how it is that this year is poised to be over almost before I even realised properly that it had begun! I was asked recently if this year had been better than the last. And after thinking about it forever, I still didn't know. The two obvious upward spikes in happiness levels, Sydney, and the recent Kiwi road trip should probably be enough to settle the question, but I don't know...

Back in Invercargill, definitely while under the influence, I recall telling a visiting senior company executive about how all I really needed was maybe a week's worth of time when I really felt good, in a whole year, to consider myself satisfied with my life. I was clearly overestimating my powers of resilience :). Note to self: in future when country/area/regional operations managers are around, keep your mouth shut!!

Oh well, this is the first time in three years that I actually have New Year's Eve plans! Nothing crazy, just dinner with some old friends.... :) I think I'll go with it's all well if it ends well.

Currently: living in a past that's disappearing fast
Listening to: Fiona Apple - Never is a promise

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

There and back again

Imagine that your life got suspended for a little bit. You woke up one morning and were no longer you! Everything that happened, didn't really happen to you. Then you woke up again and the spell was broken.

We all had different flights out, the other two flying up to Wellington to continue through North Island. But I was heading back. Hushed alarms, goodbyes on notes, empty beds.I headed off to the airport early, as is customary with me. With a long way to go till boarding and then a 10hr+ flight, I figured it would be a good idea to get it all out of my head and onto something :). I was worried all the fantastic memories would sublimate off and I might lose the non-stop euphoria of it all, forever. So I've been writing, off and on, for close to 12 hours how. In between breakfast and check-in and boarding and in-flight meals, and one movie :).

I don't think I've missed much, but if I have, there's always the three sets of over a thousand photographs each :D.--

Now it's back to Bombay. Again :). But this one's been a long time coming. Over a full year. Worlds so far apart, I'm not even sure if I'm the same me in the two.

Feeling: in between lives
Listening to: Nina Simone - It be's that way

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day VIII

2.5 km [Final trip odometer: 1582.5 km.]
25th December '07

All day yesterday we spent swinging between whether it had been a good idea to spend Christmas in Christchurch or not. Man, it was slow! And the cumulative effects of the past week were catching up with all of us. We made a late start and soon found that we were still too early for the rest of the world :|.Breakfast was out of a 24 hr convenience store, then we headed off to return the Toyota :-<. As we parked in front of the rental office in town, a sign greeted us, "Sorry, we are closed for Christmas." The timing that had served us so well through the rest of the trip thankfully, hadn't deserted us. As we sat there looking bewildered, the office caretaker came along! We figured from her and from more signage inside the office that we were to leave the car right there! An unceremonious parting, quick and efficient. The rest of the day was a perfect blend of lazing in the sun and some impromptu sight-seeing. We hung around Cathedral Square. Ambled downstream along the tiny Avon river to the Victoria Gardens. Watched a bird poop on Captain Cook's hat. Lounged around Cathedral Square again, looking around for some ice-cream :). Ambled upstream along the Avon to the Botanical Gardens. Studied the Bridge of Remembrance from every possible angle... In the end it was time to pack it all up. I still cant believe how much we got around to doing, all in all... But then, even after close to a thousand miles (:P) I am still finding it hard to believe that we actually drove ourselves half way across New Zealand!!

(was) Feeling: over the moon!!
Listening to: Norah Jones - Shoot the moon

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day VII

Tekapo --> Christchurch
342.4 km
24th December '07

With absolutely nothing to do (except check out at 10 am :|) we were all content to be lazy. After breakfast we headed out to visit the two monuments in the village, the Church of the Good Shepherd and the statue of the Collie. Yes, that would be the dog. The church was tiny, but the view on the inside was one of a kind. I guess if you looked for a place to find peace, you wouldn't need to go any farther.The only other thing worth seeing was the observatory on the nearby Mt. John. (No, we didn't spare John :D.) But this time it was too far for us to even contemplate walking. So we drove :P. The views once again were, well... spectacular. But as I said, you could get used to even so much beauty :). One thing that did stand out was how Lake Alexandrina, while right next to Tekapo, was quite a normal blue! We didn't stay long to ponder however, the rain hastened out departure from Tekapo.Instead of the regular Highway One, we took the Inland Scenic Route towards Christchurch. A longer but quieter road, through pretty countrysides and sleepy towns and villages. For lunch we decided to stop at this completely out of the way place called Mt. Somers. There was only one food joint, but it was open, so in we went. After waiting rather apprehensively for a bit, we were treated to quite a fabulous spread! It was one of those places where you could tell people stared at out-of-towners. They travelled to the big cities infrequently, and whenever they did it made for a nice long conversation at the village bar cum restaurant cum cafe cum bottle shop :).

The first traffic signal we encountered on the outskirts of Christchurch caused quite an uproar. It was the first one since we'd left Invercargill a week ago :). From there on it went downhill. We were unsure where to go, which turns to take, got caught out by 'no left's and 'no right's all over the place, and even after we spotted the Base Backpackers right in the middle of the city, had to circle a few city blocks, twice, to find an empty parking spot!!Fortunately we managed to find some free parking thanks to the chaps at check-in, so having dumped the bags, we headed out again. (The parking was for only an hour.) We made for the beach and then down the extremely long spit. But once we actually got to the beach we figured why it finds no mention in the Lonely Planet :|.
We were well past 1500 km by then, and the 1000 mile mark beckoned :P. Off we went, to Lyttleton, the harbour town to the south. But by the time we arrived there, pretty much everything was shut. Not that there was a whole lot to begin with anyway, but I'd have fancied a look into Cafe Volcano :). We did manage to find the way to the Time Ball Tower (look it up, I haven't the energy to explain now :P).It was a genuine stroke of genius, however, when we chose to return to the city, not through the tunnel, but via the extremely spectacular Summit Road. We took our time, took in the scenery. All of Christchurch (and the spit) lay sprawled out beneath the hills on one side. And Lyttleton lay on the other. It was a fitting last drive out. We had to return the car the next morning.
The catch was, we had to return it with a full tank, as we'd picked it up. But it took us quite a while to find a fuel stop. More spinning around in the city. We tried really hard, I tell you, but the thousand miles eluded us :D.
By the time we got back to Base, having cleared everything out of the car (which had been the repository of at least half our gear through the trip), the Cathedral bells were tolling. It was Christmas Eve after all, and we were at Christchurch. Managed to sneak into one of the few restaurants still open. Just in time too, they hung up the 'closed' sign even before our food was on the table!

(was) Feeling: completely washed out :)
Listening to: Norah Jones - Until the end

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day VI

Wanaka --> Mt. Cook Village --> Tekapo
311.6 km
23rd December '07

It was back to the mountains and off to Mt. Cook Village this time. Another early start. This time, I botched it by waking up too late :D. But it was a lot closer this time and a much easier drive. Barely any mountains till you got right up close and personal with the tallest one in the country :).
The famous thing about this part of the land was the bright turquoise colour of the lakes. Something to do with fine rock flour brought down by the glaciers in ages past. But seriously, you've gotto see it to believe it! That colour is for real, no tinting, no polarising lenses. That is what it actually looks like. That water's hardly clear though :|.
But Lake Pukaki, and its surreal water that we drove by, was not why we were there. It is actually quite sudden! You turn a corner and there it is! Mt. Cook, in all its snow-capped glory. Mt. Cook Village, however, is decidedly less than glorious. It's barely there! There is the rather eccentric looking, and apparently very famous Hermitage Hotel. And there's the visitors' centre, where we figured there were a couple of trails we could negotiate during the course of the day.
We set off immediately for Kea Point, a little lookout close to the base of another glacier and its precarious looking sand pits. On this one, you could hardly make out the ice near the base, it was nearly all a very dirty brown. But the view of Mt. Cook was definitely something else! John's Bushnells were put to good use, trying to get a really close look at the almost face-like peak.Lunch was at this rather interesting cafe with a fantastic view of the entire valley. But we could see clouds slowly sending out wispy fingers to cover up the peaks :(. The Hooker Valley Trail promised a longer and more arduous trek, but the clouds were just beginning to shed a few drops here and there. John's foresightedness proved to be handy here. In Invercargill we'd bought ourselves a couple of brightly coloured ponchos just for such an eventuality! So armed with said ponchos we started off. The wind was pretty fierce when we were exposed to it as it rushed through the valley. After having been fried in my jacket in the morning I'd very smartly left it behind, and was now getting slowly frozen to my bones :-S.
Eventually the rain drops grew large enough and heavy enough to prompt me to unfold my poncho. Unfortunately, the opening for the head wasn't the most accommodating. While struggling with it, I didn't quite realise that I had in fact stepped out onto the walk over bridge crossing the river thundering down the valley fed by the glacier. I didn't know what hit me! The poncho happily ballooned out like a sail, and one corner caught on something on the bridge. As I felt my way along the bridge to the end, I managed to rip a nice long strip off it :-<. Thereafter it was a huge struggle to just stay under the poncho. But when I did succeed, it offered some measure of protection from the cold. The ponchos and their antics were in fact quite a source of entertainment along the way, to us, and to others who passed us along the way :). Finally the trail sort of faded out at the edge of a small lake at the very base of the ice flow. (This was a different glacier from the one we'd seen in the morning! With all the different names, I can no longer figure out which was which :P.) Floating in this lake were chunks of ice! Some were white, some almost clear and transparent, some were stained dirty brown, but we found a few that were perfectly light blue! And some of them were seriously gigantic! All slowly floating down towards the narrow beginning of the river. I have to say this was the best one of the whole lot of glaciers we saw! It was freezing, and windy, and raining, but still the best hike I've done in ages!! I guess the fact that we were past the regular trail and that in the entire little hollow surrounded by mountains snow and ice, we were the only people, made it extra special. The increasingly menacing clouds forced us to consider heading back. It was a long walk, but it was all just such an unreal world all around that you didn't feel the miles slip by! By the time we were back at the poncho-ripping bridge, the sun had manage to squeeze through a little smile in between the frowning clouds, and the rain had let up. With the ponchos off we expected a straight-forward walk across, but that was not to be :(. Let me describe the bridge, it is narrow. So narrow, that only one person can walk along it at a time. There are wire handrails along the sides, but they were below waist height for me. The actual floor of the bridge is a bunch of wooden planks strung together. The wind moves it and so do you, as you walk. So when 50 knot (90 km/h) or faster winds hit you when you are a third of the way along, you are actually swinging! Not a lot, but only because of several wire stays nailed to the rocks on either side, and definitely enough to make you steal a look down at the rapids below, and maybe worry just a little bit :|. Or a lot. And that is the one time I felt I could have really been blown away :(. The rest of the walk back was not quite as eventful :). We headed for the village of Tekapo on the shores of Lake Tekapo for the night. By the time we got there, all three of us were pretty much worn out, and even the surreal colour of the lake could not keep us at the beach for long. The freezing winds didn't help. But the lounge at the YHA offered a view too beautiful to resist. Just as we were about to turn in, even before it actually got dark, a very large full moon rose from behind the hills across the lake :). You didn't really need to sleep to dream...
(was) Feeling: sinking into a dream world
Listening to: Natalie Imbruglia - Beauty on the fire

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day V

25.8 km (+ 15,000 ft X2 vertical :D)
22nd December '07

We did have breakfast, but even I figured a heavy tummy wouldn't be the best idea. We had woken up to find the sky absolutely spotless, so a weather-check didn't look likely. We got there a little early, just in case. In case of what? I don't know! I was about to do one of the craziest things in my life, yet. Do you think I was going for reasons right then?!!

Okay, so deep breaths all around, and then we figure we are not to go on the first flight :|. Hmm, was I relieved? Dunno, but we saw the little black dots fall out of the slightly larger white dot and then they just kept falling! There were parents, wives, other jumpers, all looking up. And it was all very silent. I could almost see it in those p-o-v switch sequences. One second you are falling and the screams are shattering your eardrums, the next, you are down on the ground, looking up, and no scream.

Then the first parachute opened. Was there a collective sigh of relief? I didn't notice, I was too busy starting to breathe again. Next thing I knew, the chutes were getting packed again. Three kids looking like they had the time of their lives. (And one guy looking like he'd just walked out of the men's room.) And we met out pilots for the jump. (Again, you didn't think we were doing this solo, didja?! :P)

Hitched up in secure looking harnesses and colourful jumpsuits, we soon headed off into the sky. On the way up the pilots showed us the Cordrona river, the lakes, Mt. Cook, the Treble Cone ski fields and other things I forget the names of. But the only thing that really registered was the pointer on the altimeter on my pilot's wrist, that kept inching closer to the red line.

There was an older lady doing the 12,000 ft jump and she went first. One second she was there, the next there was just blue sky through the door. And John was screaming. Then as we got to 15,000 it was John's turn to go first! It was a good thing probably that they didn't make you choose :P. He and his pilot edged close to the door, legs out. Then they were gone. I was pretty sure I heard a scream dying fast, but I was a bit more occupied screaming my own lungs out :D. And before I could think about it, my legs were out of the door and in the wildly rushing wind! I'd chosen not to wear gloves and it was a bit chilly, but the cold was probably the very last thing on my mind. And then we jumped.

You dont really have to do much. Just make sure you hold the position you are instructed to. We did a back-flip. For a moment I saw the sun flash in my eyes, a lot of blue sky, some green, blue water, brown. It doesn't register really, free fall from 15,000 feet above ground. For a while it looks like you are just floating there. Everything is suspended, the horizon, the fields, rivers, lakes, mountains.

Took me just a little bit to sort of focus I think. And that's when I realised that I was screaming! But it sounded like a faraway thing. Not much of a wonder I guess, when you are dropping like a rock at 200 km/h. I remember thinking about the sperm whale and the petunias. I remember doing the 'up, up and away' pose. (Only, pointing downwards.) What can I say? People do crazy things while falling out of the sky :D.

Then the parachute opened. This time when I screamed it was loud all right :D.But from here on I'd already done it before :D. What was different was that here they actually let you control the parachute for a little bit. I moved this way and that. Even did what I'm sure was a rather tame spin. All you do is pull hard on one side and hang on :D.

I'm quite glad I'd actually done the paragliding, and done it before the sky diving. In the skydive you don't really get much time floating down. And definitely no up winds or sliding up and down mountainsides. But this was so completely in a different league altogether! I had the grin plastered on my face for a long long time :D.

The only real downside to it was that you couldn't possibly hope to top that feeling :). I ambled through the nearby war-planes museum. But I wasn't really paying attention. Eventually we headed back and decided to laze around the beach. I went for a bit of a swim, this time making sure I didn't do anything stupid :P.Eventually we recovered enough to head off for a walk to the top of the nearby Mt. Iron. It was indeed the highest point in the neighbourhood, and you could actually see all of Lake Wanaka and everything all around that was not blocked by mountains. But we'd been higher than Mt Cook in the morning, with about as unblocked a view as you could possibly get. Takes a lot to beat that :).
(was) Feeling: beyond top of the world :D
Listening to: Beethoven - Fur Elise

ps. turns out I didn't take that many pics anyway :P

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day IV

Wanaka --> Fox Glacier --> Franz Josef --> Wanaka
582.2 km
21st December '07

The main reason we'd skipped out on South Island's famous Te Anau and Milford Sound was because there was only enough time for either Fiordland or the glaciers. All three of us had been to the other famous fjords on the planet, so we figured let's go for something new. The trouble with the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers is that they are completely out of the way for a trip from Invercargill to Christchurch (we were not at much liberty to change those end points). And neither place offers much by way of accomodation.A planned return trip meant a very early start. With breakfast packed for on-the-run consumption and some people deeming morning coffee a basic need to life, 6:30 was quite a good job. A moment of blindness induced by the sun rising over a hump on the road and right into my eyes caused a bit of a flutter, but as soon as the other major lake of the region, Lake Hawea came into view, everyone (except me :-<) went completely mad and for a while all you could hear were shutters releasing. Once we were past the lakes, however, the highway (not what you would expect, trust me, but definitely not the worst I have seen) picked its way by the banks of the Haast river, crossing it a few times. The final and most impressive of these was via a bridge called the Gates of Haast! (Very LOTR, yes. They did shoot the whole thing here, and once you get here, you know why.) The road winds its way across the Southern Alps but doesn't really get too high at any point, much to our disappointment. Eventually we got to the village of Haast on the west coast, which is probably significant only because of its fuel station. It's the last one for almost a hundred miles up to Fox Glacier. We didn't stop, but eventually pulled up at this little lookout called Knight's Point overlooking the somewhat craggy and very windswept coast of the Tasman Sea from a cliff. Strongly recommend giving the place a miss. The views are spectacular, no doubt, but the flies (or whatever the persistent buggers were) are highly avoidable. We got to Fox in pretty good time and the cascade of solid ice just sort of hanging there between the sheer mountain faces left us open mouthed for a bit. Okay, not the geologist woman :|. Geologists are like biologists I tell you, find something really cool and interesting and they give you the name, the characteristics, the whole life history :|. Well, I wasn't really complaining, we pretty much had our own tour guide :D. A lot of shots of fantastic blue ice and dirty disgusting looking morain, and we were back in the car just as the sky started dripping. We headed out to the much acclaimed Lake Matheson, but the clouds refused us the spectacular mirror-view of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. With still a lot of time on our hands we headed off to Franz Josef. Here the setting proved a lot more spectacular. The walk up to the ice was somewhat more difficult and ended a whole lot farther away than at Fox where, at 80m, we could practically feel the glacier! And yes, glacial is the right word for it :P. Once again the rain was just in time for us to be safely back in the shelter of the car. That is when I finally figured that up until then what I'd assumed to be my hogging of all the driving, was in fact also John's rather strong aversion to it! Which suited me just fine :D. We were retracing a significant length of road for the only time in the trip, and since the views were already familiar, I concentrated on having an absolute blast with the drive :D. Close to 600km on a single day had to take its toll and John had us rolling on the floor with his vivid predictions of us falling from the sky the next day, mouths hanging open, fast asleep :D.
(was) Feeling: tired but blissful
Listening to: Jewel - Hands

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day III

Queenstown --> Wanaka
131.0 km
20th December '07

By the time I woke up on Thursday morning I was thoroughly grateful for the early start we'd had to our trip. We'd already done about as much as you could do on a short stop. There was no time for a meaningful trek to anywhere. The para-sailing and hang gliding were pretty much variants of paragliding. The million other jet boat rides were only copies of Shotover Jet (which was apparently the first in the world to do this) and the cruises on the lake were just too tame.
But there was still that monstrous insanity. The Nevis bungy jump. 134m of free falling from a little station suspended over a bare trickle at the bottom of the canyon. There were other options too, the Kawaran Bridge, the original bungy jump, and the Ledge, over Queenstown. It wasn't just the free fall, (trust me, I have proof coming up) but the fact that for about 8 seconds, my life would not be in my hands, but in my feet :|.

John of course, had needed major persuasion for even the paragliding the previous day and had come screaming to us upon landing claiming that he'd nearly died :D. But Anu had been raring to go even before any of us had landed in New Zealand. Yes, it is safe to say that th guys chickened out and the chick went for it :-<. (If you think that was crazy, we met this American girl in Christchurch a few days later who'd jumped the Nevis, then figured she had to do it again! And actually did it again an hour later!!! Mad. There's no other word for it.) Oh well, so while Anu went off to get slung upside down on the end of a glorified rubber band, John and I had to entertain ourselves. We figured the car had been sitting on P for long enough and took it for a ride up to Coronet Peak. This time we actually took the time to see what had gone by in a blur the previous day. On the top there were even more spectacular views and on the way back we took a detour through Arrowtown, one of the centres of the Kiwi old rush. It didn't take long for us to start getting hyperventilating text messages from the Nevis :). I mean it's 8 seconds, how long can you spend trembling on the edge? Okay I'm just trying to sound jealous here. I must say i was actually quite surprised with myself for not feeling even the slightest bit of regret for not giving it a shot! But that obviously did nothing to stem the gloating :|.The plan was to head off to Wanaka further up north, on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka. While checking out of the YHA earlier, I'd noticed a rather eye-catching activity there. It was right up Anu's alley, and I was psyching myself up for it. There was only John left to convince.
We took off for Wanaka with everyone still on a high from the action packed Queenstown experience. The route we picked took us right through the Crown Range and I had a real tough time splitting my attention between the super tight curves of the road and the spectacular view (and drop) along the sides. (A somewhat near-offroad experience on day 1 had gotten me a ban on going shutter-buggy while at the wheel :-<.) Needless to say that once again, we stopped often. However, as soon as we were through the pass and back onto relatively straight roads, I noticed two heads lolling at eccentric angles, I was the only one awake :-<. It was tough, but I resisted the temptation of delivering a rude wake up swerve :P. Barely a half hour later, we were at Wanaka! The Mountain View Backpackers was pretty much at one end of town. But that still put everything within a 5 minute walk :). Yet another spectacular lake, and even more snow-capped mountains. But the first thing we did before heading out was check out in greater detail, Skydiving at Lake Wanaka! Unlike the Nevis, this is from a wee bit higher, at 15,000 feet. Yes, three zeroes is correct :D. And it gives you almost a full minute of free fall!!! We almost bulldozed John into agreement. But I guess by now, between paragliding, jet-boating and my driving, he was getting used to neat death experiences :P. That done, we set out for the lake, and once there, I could just not resist the temptation and jumped in for a quick swim. Again, not the brightest idea. No, not the swim, the jumping in. While you do get used to the cold, it is a better idea to go easy. Unfortunately, this particular piece of wisdom hit me with full force only while I lay in the water, half sinking. The intense temperature change had knocked the air out of me and was making it impossible to get any more of it back in as I temporarily lost the ability to breathe :|. All the drama went unnoticed apparently, but I did eventually recall how to swim, and thereafter had a fabulous time. The really good thing was that afterwards, once out of the water, I was feeling nice and warm while the other two spent a bulk of their time shivering. In their jackets :P.

(was) Feeling: tough /:)
Listening to: Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway

The Great Kiwi Road Trip - Day II

0.0 km
19th December '07
With the almost inevitable late nights, things seem to start off a little slow on the summer mornings. Of course, the fact that even though it is summer, it's usually absolutely freezing till the sun gets past the hills and into the valley might have something to do with that. Breakfast, however, is available early enough, if you are prepared to look for it.Hunger satisfied, we proceeded to wait for the promised pick-up for paragliding. The jumping point was Coronet Peak, a scenic 20 minute drive out of town. I'm quite sure we took less, as the driver practically raced up the narrow twisting route at speeds that I'm sure were well over the recommended limits :|. Soon we were above the rather low-lying clouds, and shorts, I realised were not the best idea :-S.
Let me clarify, paragliding for us was strapping on an already open parachute, and running off a hill top. Let me also clarify, we weren't allowed to try and commit suicide running off cliff faces by ourselves :-<. There was to be a 'pilot' and we were to do tandem jumps. Nonetheless, the prospect of running off into thin air wasn't exactly a walk in the park. I got a little more concerned when my pilot turned out to be the rather rash driver /:). In the end it wasn't all that hard or anything (for me that is, I just hung in there, taking pictures :D). And it was a really cool feeling, when you are no longer running on solid ground, but treading clouds instead, having been whisked off by the wind in your parachute! To make it even better, the clouds chose to clear up right then, opening up views of the whole valley, lakes and snowcapped peaks! And there was the complete surprise (for me) of flight without any sound! Not the muffled roar of jet engines, no thud-thud-thud of whirring rotor blades, just the occasional whistling of wind. We managed to catch a particularly helpful updraught and came practically within reaching distance of the nearest craggy peak. I was beginning to get really used to the whole thing when I was taken for a wild spin, literally! I have never been on a roller coaster, but I was told this is better, primarily 'cos there are no rails :). The landing was a rather undignified thud on the bum, but that eliminates the possibility of falling on your face while your feet try to come to terms with having to support your weight again. By the time we were dropped off at the town centre again, the sun was well and truly up and we we chose to explore the city and its waterfront with the tiny jetties and yatchs and stony beaches. Soon we were off again, this time to the base for the Shotover jet ride. The Shotover river winds its way around and between the hills and valleys around Queenstown before emptying into Lake Wakatipu. On its way it flows through some narrow but fairly spectacular canyons. Shotover Jet takes you for a fast and furious ride through these rapids and some very white and shallow water on a twin jet (impeller) powered, aluminium hull boat that can do 360 degree flips (no, not on its head, unfortunately) in an incredibly tight space. It was definitely a whole lot of fun, but I guess it would hold somewhat more of a novelty for those who haven't actually gone around driving jet boats in fjords and travelled on twin jets with mad (and supremely skilled) coxswains who did multiple 360 spins for fun.... Not that the driver didn't try, with some seriously cool manoeuvres and very close passes to the rocky canyon walls. And the scenery was spectacular, as we'd by now pretty much come to expect. It was too bad we couldn't take our cams along. But then, I didn't have a splash-proof cover anyway, so it was a good thing. What we did instead was hand around the base for a while after the ride, soaking up some more of the sun. You get used to the beauty, I tell you. Then you could forget how ordinary ordinary landscapes can be, and end up expecting only the extraordinary. The good news is, as long as you are in New Zealand (or at least the South Island from personal experience) you will almost never be disappointed! But by now we were used to the ground level vistas of Queenstown and headed up for a bird's eye view. (The glide we took was in the next valley and didn't really give a clear view of the town.) The ride up was in one of the tiny cable cars they call gondolas for some strange reason. But it was very vertical and finally as we cleared the trees, the lake came into view, with the clouds shredding the light into strips of gold over the mountains and speckled silver over the oh-so-blue lake. We were already running out of superlatives by the time we actually got to the top :). When we made our way to the viewing deck though, the wind hit us like something fierce! It wasn't quite as bad as it used to be out at sea, but it still made your eyes water and at that height, the threat of getting blown off, while never quite real, still seemed quite intimidating. Past the activities and the local variation of a go-karting track lay the thick pine forest that completely covered this particular hill. We picked our way along a trail and it was quite scary how the trees suddenly blotted out the light that we knew was still quite bright outside! Eventually we made our way back but only to avoid being stuck on top of the hill overnight. When we got to the cable car stop, apart from staff, we were the only ones :).
(was) Feeling:
saturated, by the absolute spectacularity (?) of it all!!
Listening to: Norah Jones - Don't know why