Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kiwi adventure: 2000 km in one week

It's funny how pliable time is.  They say that time flies when you are having fun, but when you travel, frequently you squeeze so much in, that it's hard to believe how little time it took.  Similar to my time in Antarctica, my R&R in New Zealand seemed to both stretch out infinitely and be over in an instant.  Through a combination of semester schedules and the advice of several friends who have either lived in or visited New Zealand, I found myself on a road trip of the south part of the South Island, followed by several days visiting my friend in Christchurch.

Road trip route

To give you a brief overview of our adventure, here is our itinerary:

Day 1:  Christchurch to Dunedin 
Day 2:  Otago peninsula 
Day 3:  Catlins to Te Anau 
Day 4:  Milford Sound to Queenstown
Day 5:  Queenstown 
Day 6:  To Christchurch
Day 7:  Akaroa
Day 8 onwards:  Christchurch

Traveling with another person definitely saved on costs, with expenses split about equally between rental car, fuel, food, lodging, and entertainment.  Of course, picking up food at a grocery store and finding places to stay with fully equipped kitchens is another good way to save money.  Buses may have been slightly cheaper, but the flexibility and challenges of driving a rental car on the wrong side of the road certainly add to the adventure.  

First sight back from Antarctica, the colors of the Botanic Gardens in full summer bloom.

I'll take a couple of posts to share the highlights of the trip, including what I'd recommend and what I'd skip if I did it again.  Of course, the next time I'm in New Zealand, I'm sure I'll be chomping at the bit to see other parts I didn't have enough time for, including Nelson and Abel Tasman, plus some of the North Island.  I must say that New Zealand has felt the most welcoming and familiar out of all the countries I've visited, and it is definitely at the top of the list for places to visit again.  

P.S.  If anyone knows of a way to convince your camera to remove date stamps from photos after the fact, I'm all ears!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Off the ice

Yes, I'm terribly behind.  The last week or so in McMurdo was very busy, with very little downtime.  When I last wrote, we were getting ready for the new year.  We were also wrapping up the last of our field and lab work, with weather delays on helicopter flights that kept cropping up.  New Year's in McMurdo is marked by an annual "Ice Stock" festival, which is set outside with a line up of local acts.  The firehouse barbecued pork and burgers for everyone, and the carpenters set up the stage and surrounded it with fishing huts that acted as shelters for the food, crafts, and coffee shack.  Not quite as many people were there as I would have thought, but there was still a critical mass to have great time.  Unfortunately, it just got colder and colder as the evening wore on that I ended up going to get big red (and looking like a freshly arrived beaker in the process).  I think a bit of the cold was due to the increased humidity in the air, which seems to amplify temperatures.  The highlight of the performances was the last band of the night, who donned costumes like the Electric Mayhem.  Nothing like ringing in 2011 with the Muppet band in Antarctica.  This year's got to be good.

The weekend did not bring quite the relaxation of Christmas, with long days in the lab preparing the last of my experiments on temperature responses by bacterial communities.  Part plumber, I spent quite a bit of time getting the right temperatures in water baths for incubating the little buggers.  After the last of the incubations, it was time to process samples and clean up the lab.  Luckily, I had company as the other two groups working in the shared space were also working around the clock to finish everything in time, so we were able to lend each other a hand where needed and provide each other with music and entertainment to make the less exciting jobs go a bit faster.

One nice surprise in the middle of the madness was the arrival of another Christmas package and a card!  With all the flight delays and continued boomerangs from New Zealand, the mail was a little late coming, and hopefully I received everything that was sent.  There's nothing like a pair of purple zebra print socks and a sparkly new white hat to brighten up the day.

Before I knew it, it was time to send off the last few postcards and say goodbye.  Like most field seasons, my time on the ice had its ups and downs, and it took both forever and no time at all.  Looking back from New Zealand, it really does seem like another world, but when you're there, it's everything.  Even leaving was surreal, as our ride out to the sea ice runway was elongated by Ivan the Terra Bus breaking down, and the cold temperatures were a shock after the comparative warmth of town.  When we finally boarded the plane around 5:30 in the morning, I promptly fell asleep, despite being freezing cold.  Most of the flight back was similar, punctuated by periods of being awake and realizing how cold it still was in the back of the plane.  At one point I looked around and realized that everyone was still wearing their big red jackets and most of us were using our neighbors for pillows.

We finally arrived in Christchurch, around 11 in the morning.  I had heard tales of people being taken aback by the smells of the world up north, but the first thing I smelled was fuel at the airport.  Instead, the colors were what were so striking to me- green was everywhere past the tarmac.  After we dropped off our issued gear in piles far less tidy than when we picked them up, we headed into town, fighting sleep and ready for some rest and recuperation.