Ever since our return from Oz, things have been nonstop.
At work, I was plunged into organizing the annual Stats New Zealand methodology symposium, otherwise known as the Professional Development Offsite event. I had never organized anything like that before, and to a large degree was on my own to do so. Luckily, some very kind workmates were able to lend hands here and there, which made an immense difference; the task was reduced to being difficult and unweildy, rather than simply impossible. All the same, I have a newfound respect for people who do this for a living!
So, after a long week of getting the event plans set and ready, Dave and I whisked off to Auckland for the long-awaited U2 concert. U2 has been a favourite band of mine for well over a decade, and for various lame reasons I've had to miss their tours in the past. But not this time! Needless to say, I was psyched.
The warm-up act (Kanye West) was fun, the weather was cooperative, and the concert was amazing. The band focussed on its hits, old and new alike, and particularly memorable was The Edge's searing guitar solo to "Bullet the Blue Sky". The most striking thing, though, was a logo scorched across the stage-spanning screen during "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with a simple, splendid message...
So, after the concert, Dave and I returned back to Wellington. The airlines were all sold out, so we took a 12 hour bus ride back. While it may sound uncom-fortable, it was actually quite pleasant -- we both welcomed a chance to sit and do nothing but enjoy the view.
Upon returning, I was immediately thrust into the insanity of the SNZ event itself, and making sure everything went off without a hitch. Or at least, as few hitches as possible. All in all, it was a complete success (insofar as the talks happened, people were fed, everything occurred reasonably on time, and people seemed to be enjoying themselves). I even succeeded in getting some colleagues to do a statistician's Haka, which was possibly the most amusing thing I've seen all year. ;-)
Immediately thereafter was Dave's birthday, as well as the arrival of Ben and Chris Hume. We went to Dave's favourite restaurant -- Cafe Bastille -- where we were treated to champagne by the waitress for waiting so long for a table. The food was well worth it, though, and the company could not have been better.
The next night was the SNZ Christmas Party, where I got a chance to wear a new dress, and I found a new dance partner. Dave and I skipped out a bit early so we could spend more time with his folks, which was a nice way to end the night.
10AM the next morning saw me on a flight to Rotorua, where I spent the day Zorbing and lounging in the thermal pools. Zorb, as some of you may recall, is the inflateable hamster ball I mentioned in a previous post. They put a bunch of water into it so you slip and slide around, no different than a waterslide. It was an absurd amount of fun. Later I went to Rotorua's famous thermal spas and watched the sun set. It doesn't get any better than that.
Next day, 7 sharp, I'm on a bus headed for Waitomo Caves to meet Andy Quigley, a fellow Stats Canada-ite here for a visit. We meet up, gear up, and do a 100-metre abseil (rappel) into a chasm known as The Lost World. From there, we trek through over 2 kilometres of black caves against incredible currents of varying strengths and depths. (I learned that, for those of us who are "buoyant" in the hip region, dragging oneself through small crevices against deep, gushing water is damn near impossible!) The cave walls were so rough, I'm still waiting for the skin on my fingertips to grow back. The experience itself was amazing, though, and I'm glad Andy suggested it. Aside from being a completely cool thing to do , we saw galaxies of glow-worms, and even made friends with an eel.
After that, Andy and I indulge in some much-earned beers. He hands me an envelope, in which I find a Christmas card signed by the StatsGang, and it damn near makes me sobby. I miss those guys.
Next day is the bus to Auckland, from where I'm catching my return flight. We happen to be on the same (only) bus as an Australian couple we befriended, and so it is a lively bus ride back. We arrive with just enough time to do dinner before I need to dash off to the airport, so we find a cute Lebanese place that'll let us drink Andy's wine there. The food was good too. ;-) I say a temporary goodbye to my Stats buddy, and a few hours later, I'm back in Wellington.
You lost track of the days yet? Me too. So I'm at work, trying to concentrate over muscle pain, skinless hands, and a general and persistent feeling of disorientation. Somehow, I manage to be productive enough to dig myself out of the work that had piled up during my involvement with the PDO event. Then I find out that both the other people working on my main survey will be leaving in the next month, thereby leaving me, for the foreseeable future, as New Zealand's foremost official statistical authority on disability statistics. Scary.
The workweek is further shortened by a trip out to the lovely Queenstown, which is our Christmas present from the Humes. It was a fabulous time, but I fear that our Christmas present to them will not be as exciting...? :-\ Queenstown is very tough competition for most things, gifts and destinations alike. It is a little like Banff -- picturesque, brand new, and full to the brim with international travellers (yet strangely devoid of locals). We enjoyed a stay in a lovely lakeside villa, from which we would walk into town to enjoy the restaurants and shopping. Most importantly, though, we saw Milford Sound, arguably New Zealand's most cherished and most beautiful park. It is a rugged area carved entirely out by glaciers, leaving behind unlikely-looking mountains and fantastic waterfalls. We took a cruise though the main pass, which was positively breathtaking. Pictures to are here.
Also of note was the contest of wills between Ben Hume and the scourge of the southland, the car-eating snow parrots known as Keas. One was eyeing up our rental car and approaching it intently, only to see Ben's steely glare and slink guiltily under a nearby car. It would reemerge slyly, hoping to go unnoticed, slink ever closer to our car... and then stop and retreat again when it made eye contact. Luckily, we were able to get out of there before our car became a meal.
The following day, before leaving, Ben and Chris took Dave and I on another, much wilder boat ride. In the shallow, gold-bearing river of Shotover Canyon, we all had a most exhilerating jet-boating experience, complete with breakneck speeds, 360-degree turns, and the occasional near-collision. It was a great time.
Next stop was Kawarau Bridge, a historical monument of sorts. It is the very place where a man of dubious sanity named A. J. Hackett invented the sport of tying elasticized cords to one's feet, then flinging oneself off a high place. Sadly, this historic bungy-jumping establishment was completely booked, so no one among us was able to partake in the madness. It really is a shame. I even resisted the temptation to Photoshop our heads onto other bungy jumpers so we could gain bragging rights. ;-)
Then, back Dave and I went to Wellington, whereas Ben and Chris continued their travels via Christchurch and Kaikoura. This has left me with just enough time to catch up on sleep, let my liver recover, and get the house properly cleaned in time for the arrival of BOTH sets of parents. (Mine are due to arrive in less than 48 hours, and I would much rather my mother not meet the army of dustbunnies currently threatening to conquer my house.) And somewhere, in all these things to do, I still have a full-time job to keep me busy.
Luckily, this weekend is shaping up to be a treat. The six of us will be heading up to Martinborough, the lovely wine region nearby. We have a house rented that promises to be a nice, secluded place to put our feet up, read a book, recover from jet lag, and probably drink a lot of local wine.
Sounds like bliss.