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The time has come, the Walrus allegedly said, to talk of many things. Going home and (re)starting professional lives are topics I’m not sure I’m ready to discuss. But we leave New Zealand tomorrow, so the time has indeed come. I recently approached the Walrus to see if he could help me come to terms with the end of our year-long journey. Here is a transcript of the conversation. Please excuse his language.

“You’ve traveled many miles.”

It’s true, Walrus. But wouldn’t kilometers be a more appropriate unit?

“And I suppose ‘zed’ is now the last letter of the alphabet? You filthy ex-pat.”

Sheesh. Forget I even brought it up.

“Grrrr. Fine. But you owe me a salmon steak. You’ve traveled many…miles…and now you must leave.”

I thought you would tell me something I don’t know. Like how to cope with all of this coming to an end.

“What are you taking with you?”

Um, basically everything I brought over minus my jeans. I spilled paint on them while woofing in Waiheke so—

“No! No, no, no!”

I know. They were my favorite jeans. It sucks.

“You materialistic bastard! What are you taking home that doesn’t fit in your bag?” 

Is this a riddle? Because I’ve got to say, I would’ve asked Owl to help with this last blog post if I wanted to answer riddles.

monkeying around on the Routeburn Track

monkeying around on the Routeburn Track

“Name one thing you’re taking home that won’t be in your bag!”

Jeez. Alright. Well, I guess I have like twenty more facebook friends than I did at the start of the year.

“Whoop-d-effing-do! I average fifty new friends a day. I have more twitter followers than Anthony Weiner—“

You know what, forget about it. I’m trying to answer your questions but you’re just being a jerk.

“You’re right. I had sea horse for lunch and it’s not sitting well. Sorry to take it out on you. So you’ve made some friends this past year?”

Yes.

Our flatmate Pete snapped some pro-level photos at Ohau last weekend. You can check them all out at peteoswald.co.nz

Our flatmate Pete snapped some pro-level photos at Ohau last weekend. You can check them all out at peteoswald.co.nz

“What are some of your favorite experiences with them?”

Well last weekend we went skiing in Ohau.

“Oh-a-who?”

No, you’re thinking of Oahu, the main island in Hawaii. More on that later. I’m talking about Oh-how, a small mountain two hours north of Queenstown. We caravanned up with our flatmates and six other friends. Rented out the Glenn Mary Lodge—a quaint and cozy compound built by a couple of ski aficionados in the 60s—and made lots of memories.

class photo in front of Glen Mary Lodge

class photo in front of Glenn Mary Lodge

“What kind of memories?”

We drank a lot of home-brewed beer. So the memories are a bit hazy. But charades on the first night was pretty funny. Guys versus girls. I can’t even describe how we solved “Jumanji.” It was inappropriate, even for your standards. And the meals were quite an undertaking. The girls made dinner each night. Spaghetti bolognese and chicken stir fry—

“Mmmmm.”

Yeah. Well the stir fry was delicious. They mixed sweet chili sauce with the soy sauce and it was dynamite. But if I’m being honest, the spag bowl could’ve been better. The pasta was severely over cooked and—

“I hope you didn’t tell them that!”

Of course I didn’t.

“Phew!”

But Tim did.

“Uh oh.”

Yeah. So that put the boys on cooking duty Sunday morning.

driving down from the mountain on Saturday

driving down from the mountain on Saturday

“How’d that go?”

We had two things going for us. One, everyone was hungover. Ohau just happened to be hosting “Scottish Weekend” on Saturday night so we snuck into that. They had a decent cover band that played a lot of U2 songs. I’m not sure why. But it was a lot of fun until they brought up a bag piper and put a microphone in front of him.

bonfire on shore of Lake Ohau

bonfire on shore of Lake Ohau

“Why would anyone think that’s a good idea?”

No clue. So we fled to our lodge with our eardrums in shambles and went to sleep with aspirations of impressing the ladies with a world-class breakfast.

“What’s the second thing?”

Huh?

“You said you had two things working in your favor for breakfast.”

Oh. Yeah. No, that was a lie. The breakfast was terrible. We basically threw a bunch of eggs, hashbrowns and butter together and fried up some leftover deli ham. Thankfully everyone’s hangover masked how disturbing the meal was.

“You’re pathetic.”

I know.

“How was the skiing?”

flat photo at top of Ohau: Brodie, me, Meg, Sophie, Pete, Sarah

flat photo at top of Ohau: Brodie, me, Meg, Sophie, Pete, Sarah

Unforgettable. The mountain’s only chairlift is a creaky two-seater. But it never got boring. We did some amazing hikes and skied fresh lines. We packed a picnic lunch and washed it down with a cold beer, Kennedy style.

“I’ve got to ask. Why does everything come back to food and drink with you?”

Hmmm. It does, doesn’t it? I never noticed. I guess this year’s been a big change for Meg and me in terms of dining.

Spag bowl night. Thanks for dinner girls!

Spag bowl night. Thanks for dinner girls!

“What kind of change?”

Well in New York we ordered out most nights. Maybe we’d whip up some rice-a-roni if we got home early enough, but the majority of our meals came in stapled styrofoam cartons. And then there was lunch. I probably ate Chipotle three days a week.

“I know. I saw the pictures before you left. That was some nice paunch.”

Hey! I’ve lost fifteen pounds this year.

“You’re like Al Roker circa 2003!”

Be nice.

“Sorry. How’d you do it?”

We became good home cooks. Well, Meg did at least. She’s mastered so many different recipes. Potato-leek soup, red lentil burgers, slow-cooked beef braised in red wine, homemade hummus, pumpkin risotto—

“Enough. I’m dribbling all over my tusks.”

Meg and Kate whipping up a delicious and waist-friendly meal

Meg and Kate whipping up a delicious and waist-friendly meal

Sorry. But yeah, she’s become an amazing cook. And I’ve elevated my culinary game from non-existent to barely competent. I actually went to the grocery store last week and checked out with a basket of carrots, potatoes and cabbage. The closest I ever got to those ingredients in New York was watching a St. Patrick’s Day episode of Law and Order.

“Sounds like you two have made some healthy lifestyle changes.”

Yeah, I guess so. Life in New Zealand is more active. It helps when you have mountains in your backyard, but I think kiwis are more motivated to get up, get out and have adventures. Ed Hilary is on the $5 bill. Nothing against Washington and Lincoln, but I think that captures the different cultures nicely.

“Do you think you’ll bring this active lifestyle back with you?”

I hope so.  We’ve gotten a lot better about exercising, spending time outside, and just saying yes to new experiences. I guess it depends on what we do next. When we lived in New York, work would always come home with us. Maybe not physically, but it was a focal point of our lives and conversations.

getting ready for a morning hike in Glenorchy

getting ready for a morning hike in Glenorchy

The people we’ve met in New Zealand are not trying to make fortunes. They have day jobs that allow them to make a living and enjoy life with their friends and families. I think we already knew that the jobs we left behind weren’t the answer for us. One thing we’ve come to realize is that life is too short and the world is too big to waste time doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

“What next? Move to Maine and join a commune?”

Yes. A Walrus hunting commune.

“Grrrrr…”

Our next move is a three-day layover in Oahu. The plan is to catch some rays in Honolulu so we don’t look like pasty lepers when we try to re-assimilate back home. We haven’t lined up jobs or anything so obviously we’re apprehensive about our impending unemployment. But we both have clear ideas of what we’d like to do, so the plan is to pursue those avenues and see what happens.

“What will you miss the most?”

The people. We’ve befriended some incredible people. I’ll miss the little things like swapping stories over a home-cooked meal, playing ping pong with Pete and Brodie in our frigid garage, and all the impromptu activities we did together: ice skating in the botanic garden, kayaking on the Hawea wave, launching ourselves into a foam pit off giant trampolines.

“So many activities! What else will you miss?”

The laid-back lifestyle. The views. The mountains, the waterfalls and the lakes. The ability to step outside our house and take a picnic hike up Queenstown Hill. There’s so much raw natural beauty here; and although we always reminded ourselves not to take any of it for granted, I know we’ll miss waking up to this every day.

Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps

Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps

“What type of emotions do you feel right now?”

Excited to see everyone at home. Sad to be leaving this amazing place and our new friends. Really sad actually. Any advice?

“A wise man once said to cherish the memories and make a badass photo album.

Then that’s what we’ll do.

“That wise man was me.”

Cheeky Walrus.

a

 

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Eliott and I always skied during winters back home, but our trips were limited to a few days a year. This winter we’ve been able to do our first real season. Our mountain, or ski field as they say in NZ, is called The Remarkables. The actual mountain is only 15 minutes outside of Queenstown, but the base is a treacherous, 30-minute drive further. And that is where this post will begin….

Driving up the remarkables access road- a white knuckle thrill ride in itself

Driving to the base- a white knuckle thrill ride in itself

We approach The Remarkables access road at about 9am on Tuesday morning. The gravel road is coated in snow, making it difficult to differentiate between land and air at the edge of the road. We are armed with a pair of tire chains and only a vague idea of how to use them. Our Subaru joins a caravan of its siblings and we begin winding slowly up the mountain. Eliott’s driving skills are tested as he navigates hairpin turns and avoids the unmarked edges of the cliff road. After rolling, sliding, and climbing for 30 minutes we finally pull into a spot at the top.

The Remarkables in all its glory

Clouds recede, unveiling The Remarkables in all its glory

Frigid Fresh mountain air assaults our faces on the chairlift up to Shadow Basin. You can see the entire mountain from the lift. It’s blanketed in white and pockmarked by jagged brown rocks of various sizes. There’s not a tree in sight, which is a first for North American skiers. The trails lay open in front of us and the absence of trees allows you to carve your own path across the mountain.

Old Man Bart starting his hike up to the "Toilet Bowl" basin

Old Man Bart starting his hike up to the “Toilet Bowl” basin

After a few warm-up runs we’re ready to start hiking. There are only three chairlifts on the mountain, but there are a lot more peaks to be skied. We coast over to the patroled boundary and pop out of our skis. Onto the shoulder they go and into the boot tracks we start climbing. Ten minutes later we’ve reached a new peak and three untouched chutes lay below us. The views are breathtaking- their only competition is the hike itself.

One of our favorite hikes, The Chutes

The upside to every hike is its downside

Down we plunge into the powder. There’s not another skier in sight. It takes a few turns before you realize that the only sounds you hear are your skis crunching through snow and your own breathing. We stop halfway down the chute and look out across a small alpine lake and the frosty range of mountains laying in front of us. The sight and sound of silence is invigorating. There’s nothing like it- pure, untouched beauty.

A panoramic view from the top

A panoramic view from the top

The sun starts to set and the lifts come to a stop as we ski down for the last run of the day. But the fun’s not over yet. Après ski hour begins at 5, and it’s very rude to show up late. Brew, bros, and a fire are the fare for the night.

Mulled wine and a fire on the deck, a perfect finish to the day

Mulled wine and a fire on the deck with the Belfast crew

We know, we know, it’s a hard life that we lead. But someone’s got to do it because these mountains can’t ski themselves.

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