Patricks New Zealand Weblog

Snow Monkeys and Home via Tokyo

We did have a day of rest during the ski holiday (after 4 straight days of skiing, or was it 6 and then a break..) anyway.. we went off to “do culture” ;) First stop was sushi ;)

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I think it’s cultural anyway. Very tech. You chose what you wanted from the touchscreen, and then a little (bullet) train would zap out to you with the sushi on it.

Next – off to see the snow monkeys. These guys hang out in natural hotsprings all day. They must get ridiculously hot and headachey. There’s even a snow monkey livecam, should you wish to have a look yourself.

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Then we took a trip to Obuse where we sampled some sake.. and walked to a temple (which turned out to be closed). Interesting rituals around the drinking of sake (first sip without using your hands – just bring your head down and sip – neatly incorporates a bow). Definitely tastier than the last time I tried it in Dublin!

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Then more skiing for the next few days… before all too soon it was time to go back to ChCh. We just had the one day in Tokyo really, but visited “The Ninja Restaurant”. Honestly, I thought the ninjas themselves were a little lame (definitely more fun if you speak Japanese, as then you’d get the full experience, our waiter spoke very good English, but wasn’t super theatrical). That said, the food was absolutely delicious and very well presented.

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Maaike and I, on the morning before leaving, had a wander around the outside of the palace.. such luxury of space in a place as densely populated as Tokyo.

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All in all, a really excellent holiday. I definitely felt like my skiing improved a lot, and really, such a great group to be travelling with. Thanks to all, and especially Mark + Kate, for organising such a great trip.

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Pow Pow.

group of awesomeness

Ok, so, there’s not much to say here that the pictures don’t say. It was amazing. We had about 1.5m of fresh powder fall while we were there. It was incredible. Many thanks to Dan, Tim, Mark and Alistair for the photos here below. Quite a few of these pics I wasn’t even close to being in, as it was the better skiiers off in the trees… that said, we did get in them a bit, and increasingly so as it was later in the week.

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This video was taken from my impromptu stag.. one of my challenges was to get down Kandahar as fast as I could. Tim?’s best time was 1 minute 50 ish? I was 2:14 or something, so sure, slower, but not that bad I thought. My limit was 3 or 4 minutes I think. At the end you’ll see I scoot through Dan and Tim, they were supposed to be the finish line, though I don’t think they got the memo – so it was a little closer than ideal ;) Thanks to Mark for taking the video.

And here’s a short video of me going through some trees.

And… there was time for being silly.. ;)

Anyway, it was completely amazing – I think I’m basically spoiled for life now!

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Nozawaonsen – the village

Nozawaonsen is a small alpine village 4? hours, something like that, from Tokyo. Our friends Mark and Kate had been there before on their honeymoon, and they strongly recommended it for skiing. This was the reason we were all here in Japan. To Ski. It had about a 3.5m base by the time we arrived, and while there, it snowed another 1.3m or so. Insane.

Anyway, the village itself is lovely. There are ‘onsen’ (hot pools) all over the place. I think there were about 8 or so public baths in the village. It does take a little getting used to (it’s damn hot, and fully naked – males & females have separate rooms). The temperature gauge definitely read ’50c’ when I was in there once, but mostly it was about 44 or so. Hot.

We stayed in Villa Nozawa and it really was a great spot. 100m to the nearest chair lift. Excellent management, nice enough beds, wifi (good for raspberry pi’s ;) free breakfast (all you could eat) in the mornings.. and decent discounts on gear hire etc.

Anyway, some pictures from the village.

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This last one…

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Is from the central hot spring in the village. A lot of food is cooked in there! Anyway, it was a lovely place to base ourselves. Here’s a timelapse from our room. Start watching from about 20 seconds. It took me by surprise..

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Tokyo Fish Market

Well, I’m afraid as was mentioned in the comments on the previous post, I didn’t actually go to the fish market. I was pretty tired after the plane trip (even though I got 4 hours of sleep, which is quite a lot for me). Anyway, Maaike Dan & Can went off to see it. I think I probably would have found it simply a little sad.

You weren’t supposed to take pictures, but Maaike seemed to manage anyway. Apparently the sushi they had after was delicious!

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Japan – Toyko

10 of us headed to Japan for a ski trip. In a way it was our pre-wedding honeymoon (certainly fit the budget for it anyway ;) . Flew down on Air New Zealand, and for once, it was great not having that bad of a time difference (just 4 hours). Anyway, into Toyko and then took the bullet train (the slower class of bullet train) into Toyko central.

Tokyo, well, there’s a city and no mistake. It’s really very different I found. Partly I think simply the pictograms, and the simple busy-ness of the place. For example, on the subway there are ads everywhere, often LCD screens. Clean though, or at least, that was my impression.

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Navigating getting a ticket was a tricky thing. It took us about 30 mins once arriving into Tokyo central off the mainline, to think we’d been communicated that we didn’t actually need a ticket for the subway part. In the event it turned out to be correct, but it was really confusing. Look at google maps

Tell me that’s not a little confusing! Anyway, we stayed in RYOKAN SAWANOYA and I must say, it was a really really excellent place.

We spent the first day just wandering about trying to get a feel for the place, a few gardens, museums, deep fried potatoes on sticks (so good)

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One thing you notice is the total abundance of vending machines. They are simply everywhere, and they serve hot drinks, cold drinks, even ice-creams. Tommy Lee Jones seems to be a real favourite. They also make very nice coffee.

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Oh, and packaging / presentation. Like Candace with the small tartlet above. It came in a box, inside the box were two little bags of ice (think the sort of silicon stuff which keeps your food dry – only ice).. they must get through so much cardboard.

Anyway, the highlight was the Sumo experience. We went off to see it and it was a spectacle. Still don’t really understand all the intricacies, but it was good to see. Don’t let anything other than your feet touch the arena (or go outside). Thumping isn’t allowed, but a slap is totally legal (now I know why E-Hondas move in Street Fighter was the 100 hand slap!). They’re definitely athletes though, in their own way. A bout typically has about a 3-5 minute setup, if not longer, and then can be over within a minute.

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And the advertisements are pretty unique too. The more banners you have, the better the wrestler you are. The winning dude (Hakuhō_Shō) had I think about three complete circles of banners go around him. He is the grand master (and actually Mongolian)

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So he won, and then there was this ridiculous procession of trophies. He got the one above, and then literally about a dozen more, before we gave up and headed out, but they were certainly still coming.

Anyway, a quick trip to Tokyo, we did go to the Shibuya Crossing (one of the busiest places in Toyko), but mostly it was just getting a feel for the place.

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(CCBY http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibuya#mediaviewer/File:Shibuya_Night_%28HDR%29.jpg)

But soon it was time for the main event – skiing… which will be the subject of the next blog post.

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North West Circuit of Stewart Island

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Looks small doesn’t it? Well, the North West Circuit is no small walk. It’s not exactly like biking the entire length of the South Island to raise money for charity like Ruth & Neil and Mark did recently (well done! what a mission), but it was quite hard work all the same.

The NW circuit is a 10 day walk, but we cut off the first almost 2 days by getting a water taxi to freshwater landing.

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Here’s a link to topomap. We started on the 23rd of December, and really didn’t expect to be walking with anyone else. However, we got the water taxi in with Harold (a fellow Dutchman). He is quite the walker. He has previously walked the length of the South Island, and has been to NZ 3? times now. He has hiked a lot more places than I have!

Anyway, walked in the first short day to Masons Bay. The track was oh so dry, very unlike when I was last there with my friend Orla, many moons ago. Here you can see what the track was like the last time, and beside, this time.

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So, we’d expected to have the track to ourselves, then we bumped into Harold, and then, at the hut, met my friend Luke and his partner Donna who were doing the same tramp as us! So it was 5 of us together for the next 8 days. Actually turned out to be lovely really, lots more chats.

Anyway, great sunset at Masons Bay. We walked out to see kiwi, and this time walked towards the old homestead (rather than the last time I was there, when we walked towards the beach). We saw 2 kiwi (having a fight at Maaike’s feet actually), a great way to start the tramp.

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The rest of the days kinda blur together, so I think I’ll just put up a whole bunch of pictures rather than talk too much about it. It was quite hard work the first few days with the really heavy packs, but it did get lighter. My feet suffered a little bit in the heat, but the blisters weren’t too bad. Dehydrated food was the staple for dinners, and it wasn’t that bad as we’d borrowed a dehydrator and made our own food (as well as bought packets), so it was tasty enough.

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We were so very lucky with the weather. Well, we had planned to go at this time of year as it is that little bit more settled, but still, we only had 1/2 a day of rain the whole trip. That is unusual for Stewart Island. We did get one decent view of a kiwi during the day time – super happy with the video :)

Very happy!! They are just so impossibly hard to see unless they’re moving.

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We saw a few of these signs.. suggesting that you might be tired, that other people in the hut might be tired, and that you should think about getting a helicopter out ;)

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Here’s a picture of Luke. He was wonderful to have around, very knowledgeable about the various birds and plants etc. And making good suggestions about shortcuts & sneaky cut-throughs to beaches etc. Somewhere along the way we had Christmas (in Hellfire hut). We brought (and shared!) port. It was well received :) (dinner was lamb, of the dehydrated variety)

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Eventually it became less beachy and a little more foresty, but lovely stands of Rimu.

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Remember what I was saying about Kiwi before, being hard to see.. well.. in the middle of that hole is a kiwi, and it’s right beside the track. As we were walking past it let out a huge shriek, and then played dumb. So, gave it’s position away, and then.. regretted it I suspect. Not the smartest bird in the world, but there are about 20 or 30,000 of them on Stewart Island now. No stoats, and the nastiest type of rat isn’t there either. Good times.

Did see this kaka on our second last day. He was making a noise, which I imitated and he came down. I’m not sure if he would have come down anyway (I like to think he wouldn’t have ;) but he really hung around for a while. I was so very disappointed in the camera though.. it just didn’t perform well in the low light… I am planning on returning it actually.

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Then, a final stay at Bungaree Hut on the way out, even went for a swim!! It wasn’t the best nights sleep, as somehow the mosquitoes were able to get in easily. There’s nothing quite as fun as trying to sleep with the whine of a mozzie in your ear.

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Finally it was the last day. It was … hilarious, the transition back to the “great walk”, the Rakiura circuit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful that DOC put in these walks and make the outdoors accessible to lots and lots of people, but it was just such a change from what we’d been walking on.

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Definitely whetted the appetite for more long adventures though.

Here’s a pic of Harold when he stayed at our place. Very tall! (even for a Dutchman)

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Good times.

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The many faces of Lake Mavis

Lake Mavis Map

Nice to be able to reuse the map from the last time we were at lake Mavis. Funnily enough, I wasn’t expecting to find it quite as easy as last time, but actually it was fine. Unsure why! Nice enough walk in, if busy, as there were quite a lot of people out practising for the Coast to Coast race (early Feb)

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Saw these guys on the way up..

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And, submitted again to naturewatch. I do love that website :)

Anyway, I don’t think either of us were expecting snow on the tops, or the lake to be icy.. but it sure was. Definitely a different experience from the last time we were there.

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The walk down is always a fun one, but the knees didn’t complain that much. I can strongly recommend walking poles for making life a bit easier with heavy packs.

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So all in all a lovely walk for the weekend.. it’s nice having such beautiful places only an hour and a bits drive away (ok, and a 6-7 hour walk uphill ;)

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Timelapses with the Raspberry Pi

When I left Egressive, they gave me a Raspberry Pi (a very small computer) to play with. The Raspberry Pi (or Pi) in my opinion, is one of the most exciting developments in computers in the last while. The reason being, it allows, for very little money, people to experiment with programming, with making their own “stuff”… definitely a part / precursor to the Internet of Things. Part of the work of the Raspberry Pi foundation is fostering literacy regarding computers, get kids playing with them early… it has taken off in a big way in the UK (where it started) and as such I would expect in 15 years time to see a lot of exciting developments in the tech scene in the UK.

Anyway, I bought a little camera, hooked it in, wrote a short script to take pictures and turn them into a video, and now, every day, I (automatically) get a new 2 minute timelapse.

Here is one of the better ones (yes, I did change the camera angle 1/2 way through as I was home)

It’s partially documented on my wiki. I also spent a couple of days throwing together my first “single page app” to display the timelapses. So.. if you want to see the very latest ones – just checkout http://timelapses.psdavey.com/.

The site is certainly unfinished, but it does the trick.

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