After a great visit in Hawaii, we headed off to New Zealand. As soon as we landed we were feeling the Kiwi love. There’s just something about this country that draws us right in. We checked in for a couple nights in Queenstown at the Larchhill B&B.
We freshened up, went for a quick run, and then headed out to “See if this place has a pub!” We had couple drinks on the waterfront (Steinlagers!) and then dinner at the Irish Pub next door. We were feeling super stoked to be back in New Zealand where everyone is so friendly, everything is so easy and well-organized, and we were getting ready to meet up with all the Coast-to-Coasters!
The next day we took the Gondola up to the Skyline and from there hiked up the Ben Lomond track. The plan was to run it (six miles) but it was too steep and the footing too slippery. We made the saddle but turned around before the peak because of the mud. I have to say I was probably most excited about the Jelly Belly store at the end of our run, and bought a box to get me through the next week.
The Rail Trail started the next day. At 10am we arrived in Arrowtown and got a look at the crew. We had met a few of these crazy Kiwis two and a half years ago thanks to reconnecting with Erica, one of my best friends on the track team at UCSD. She and her partner Rob were kind enough to indoctrinate us into the group during their annual trek to Tuapo, a beachside getaway for a week, and we loved the fun, athletic group right away. We also enjoyed their especially Kiwi peculiarities. Anyway, fast-forward a couple years later and here they were gathering again together, this time in large quantities! 47 of them signed up for the three-day Rail Trail bike trek, in which we all rode on mountain bikes for about 100 miles along the old railroad track though Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand.
So that morning we pull up to the Arrowtown Apartments where the motley crew was gathering. We spotted Grubby right away, maybe because he was wearing a cow suit? He gave us a warm welcome, repeating, “Good effort, guys, getting here.” I was just looking around soaking in the group, made up of a collection of Kiwis from all over New Zealand, a good amount of South Africans, and the Hong Kong contingent (plus us, the only two Americans).
Ok, let me first try to describe the South Africans. Now I have to admit that I’ve had a personal prejudice against South Africans for a long time because the ones I know are a bit arrogant, selfish, and to be honest, a bit racist. But right away I discovered (alas!) there are some really great South Africans, too! Tanj and Jill were really friendly right off the bat, and then we met Jane, my new idol. Ok, so this woman is maybe 52 and in killer shape. Once I touched her arm to hand her a beer and I was stunned at how rock hard she was. She was an animal on the bike and often rode the track twice because she would go back to “Check on the girls,” or “See how Howard is coming along.” She was also so sweet and welcoming to us. Finally, she partied like a rock star. She outlasted me every night (ok, not that hard to do, but still, I was impressed!).
Then there are the Hong Kongers. Martin is Grubby’s friend and the two of them were celebrating their 50th (the reason, in fact, for this event). Martin is South African but lived for many years in Hong Kong and made lots of friends there with the British ex-pats who live there, who, by the way, call themselves FILTH (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong). So about 10 of them made the trek to Queenstown just for this event. They were all great, but our favorite was Tim. On the first day we sat together in the van for a three hours and had very proper conversation about travel and culture, and I thought he was just a very stoic British guy, until a few beers got into him. We soon realized he was a wild one. Just as an example, one morning they all went for a run around a lake in the middle of Arrowtown and he decided to do it “sans” clothes. Not sure why.
We also enjoyed meeting a lovely couple from Zimbabwe who had moved to Auckland after the civil war in their country. They were so sweet and Ash told me lovely stories of growing up on the farm where her mother would take in injured wild animals including a lion, and monkey, and a mongoose (in their house!). She said the monkey and the mongoose grew up together and were inseparable, and the monkey would ride the mongoose around the house! Wow!
We also met a lot of Kiwis who had travelled from all over to come to this Queenstown event. Like Howard, Grubby’s accountant who freakishly knew everything about American sports. Dunfey was another character and a half, and Mark tried to keep up with him by closing down the party every night (though Dunfey always managed to outlast him).
As an aside, many of the crew were fascinated by Mark’s job as a poker player. By Day 2 most were referring to him, simply as The Gambler. At one of the inns Mark found a piano and began playing, and I heard someone saying, “Who is playing the piano?” and the other said, “It’s the Gambler.” I had to laugh.
The bike part was really fun. It wasn’t as challenging as Mark had expected (just flat wide trail riding) but the second day wore me out (I probably shouldn’t have stopped at that pub midway and had two honey beers).
As usual, Mark was such a stud that on one of the legs he opted to run instead of bike. So all 46 of us rode bikes while Mark ran and beat most of us!
I did have a few “moments” riding by myself in the middle of New Zealand, going by millions of lovely fluffy sheep and riding through some tunnels that were completely pitch black. What a great way to meet and bond with so many new friends.
I had a mini-melt down on Day 2 when we arrived at our hotel, which was actually a little guest house, where ten of us where supposed to share one bathroom. Mark tucked me into bed early and I powered up the wifi, turned on the electric blanket, and recharged my batteries (yes, this means Facebook time).
The last day was another 30K and then we were done! Felt fantastic and what a feeling to arrive back in “civilization.” Grubby and Martin arranged for us all to have a lunch at a winery in Central Otago (Bannockburn). Now we’re talking. We walked into a beautiful place with huge windows overlooking a lovely vista, delicious antipasti, and endless bottles of wine.
Turns out Central Otago is known for their Pinot Noirs. My favorite wine. Perfect. This is when Tim from Hong Kong came in handy. He was good at making sure we never ran out!
After a delicious lunch and a great buzz we drove back to Arrowtown and checked into the Millbrook Resort. We couldn’t have planned this trip better because each leg kept getting more and more luxurious. Millbrook is absolutely gorgeous. It is surrounded by mountains, creeks, and a lush golf course, and our room was awesome with all the little luxuries like a big tub and heated tile floors. There we finally meet up with Rob and Erica and Markos, who all just flew in from Auckland.
So what’s next? Fancy Dress Night of course. Grubby and Martin decide for no particular reason that we will all dress up in costumes and hit the pubs in Queenstown. You know you don’t have to tell Mark and I twice! So I whip out my Black Swan costume (yes, I chose to use precious space in my suitcase to bring the costume instead of my dive gear!) and Mark goes as a character from The Fifth Element and we show up in a taxi wondering if we’ll be the only ones dressed up. Luckily, no.
Super fun crazy night that of course led to Mark asking to wear my bra. Not sure why? But I was happy to lend it to him.
Around 1am I was fading at the bar so I told Mark I would find my way home and gave him the “hall pass” to go big, which he gladly accepted. As I was leaving one of Grubby’s cousins offered me a ride, which was great. However, by the time we got to the Millbrook I could tell he was tired and he pulled up to the gate saying, “Here you are…” I knew it was a ways down the road to the hotel, but I didn’t want to be rude and ask him to drive me all the way there, so he dropped me off and there I was in the pitch black night about a mile away from the hotel reception. And remember, I’m wearing a tutu and tights—that’s it! And still a bit drunk. It’s so dark (and I’m wobbly). I can’t see the road and keep stumbling onto the grass. Luckily it’s easy to feel it through my ballet slippers, so I managed to stay on the road the whole way there. When I finally got to Reception I stuck my head in the window looking for someone to let me in and I think the poor night clerk had a heart attack when he saw my eyes staring in on him.
The good part was, that night on the long walk I finally spotted the southern cross, a constellation shaped like a cross only visible in the southern hemisphere. I have been trying to spot that thing for years. That long, cold, dark but beautiful walk is one I will never forget.
Meanwhile, Mark made a solid effort with the late-night crew and crashed on a couch at Grubby’s place with a few of the other guys. The next morning the guy dressed at Elvis woke up on the couch next to Mark and remembered he had to go pick up his wife at the airport. Since all he had was his Elvis costume, he put it back on (wig and all), dropped Mark back at off at our hotel, and drove straight to the airport. I bet his wife just loved getting picked up by a hung over, unshowered Elvis!
The final day was the main event, a formal dinner and dancing party at the Mount Soho Winery with the whole group (which by now had turned into 150 people). It was terrific. Amazing venue, amazing food, ridiculous amounts of delicious wine.
And did I mention, full on debauchery? It made the fancy dress night look like a warm-up (and I suppose it was). I danced with every man there and even got carried around on the shoulder of Grubby for a dance (this apparently is his signature move). Speaking of Grubby, I have to give him props for inviting not just one but FIVE of his exes to the party. This guy likes to keep in touch!
So we danced and partied til midnight until the bus picked up all our drunk asses. On the way to the hotel the bus stopped at a pub, and it took all my coaxing to keep Mark on the bus, reminding him that the next morning we would begin the 24 hour trip to Indonesia. Luckily he listened to me but that didn’t mean we weren’t majorly hung over the next day!
Such a great week. Again, we are truly grateful for the warmth, laughter and fun that comes with everyone we have met in New Zealand. While I try to stay away from stereotypes (surely everyone in one country can’t possibly all be this wonderful?) again and again I am struck by how much I enjoy the lifestyle, personality, culture and attitude of New Zealanders! If only it were tropical, we would be living there instead of Mexico for sure. Thanks again to the Kiwis for welcoming us and sharing such an amazing week with us!