Please reboot the aircraft

I was hearing vague snippets of the disaster that was the Virgin Blue computer system, but my JetStar flight had its own problems. Everyone was seated (that is, except for the restless and very, very sensitive toddler standing on the opposite window seat, who burst into tears whenever mum dared suggest he sit down and put his seat belt on), but there seemed to be a delay.

It was getting quite stuffy, actually. A couple of people took to fanning themselves with the A320-232 safety instruction cards. It emerged that there were “maintenance issues”, which sounded a little dubious. Shortly thereafter, the captain (or someone) informed us that the problem was indeed related to the air-con. He could fix it in 2 seconds, but he would need to switch the plane off.

Had they, on the spur of the moment, installed a new air-conditioning software update? At least this was happening before takeoff, I thought to myself. (For instance, they didn’t say this: “Sorry, ladies and gentlemen – we will shortly begin a rapid descent towards to ocean while we install this critical software patch and restart the aircraft. Not sure how long we’ll be – let’s just hope it works this time.”)

So, for about a minute, the cabin lights were replaced by blue-tinted torch light, the engines died down and there was eery quiet (that is, except for the gentle snorting of the person next to me and the squeals from across the isle). It was also a reprieve from the terrible, cheesy music that had been playing over the speakers to pass the time; cheesy to an extent that can surely only be achieved with premeditated malice.

Then, with our air-con software apparently working as advertised, all hands reached for the vents above our seats and we were off.

Fire drill

I do respect fire drills. Honestly, I do. However, when the alarm started sounding at around 11:30 this morning I happened to be naked, wet and soapy, as a result (fortunately) of being in the shower. I was fairly certain it was a drill because I’d seen another drill earlier in the morning for the building next to us.

I actually managed to finish up and get dressed just as the fire warden began hammering on the door. I inquired what one is supposed to do in such situations. He dismissed me and said simply that he didn’t care whether I was naked and wet. He just wanted me outside in the muster area with everyone else. And it’s true – this individual (who happens to be one of our senior lecturers) really wouldn’t care. However, I suspect I’m not be alone in feeling that if I’m going to be running outside dressed in nothing but a towel and shampoo suds, it had better damn well be a real emergency.

On the eve

The annual day of mystery and mild trepidation approaches, when things are not quite as they appear. A lot of effort seems to go into it among the technical community. I’ll be scouring the contents of my RSS reader throughout the day looking for my fix. Or at least I would I thought it was wise to setup an RSS reader on my laptop at uni, which I do not. However, hopefully there will be a few goings-on to keep me amused. Hopefully I’ll instigate some of them.

Freeway riding

Another Freeway Bike Hike comes and goes. Team Exermacise was down to three people this year, due to a combination of injury, other commitments, and general slacking off.

It’s a nice ride – the fastest 30km (or 10km, or 60km) you’re likely to do on a bike, at least in Perth. However, I’m now sitting at home about to set off on an 18km ride to uni – 18km of at least 75km that I ride in the course of a normal week – and pondering what makes the freeway bike hike stand out*. Possibly it’s just the socialising. The freeway actually makes it easy to socialise while riding – it’s much wider and everyone’s moving in the same direction. It’s much easier to strike up a conversation when you’re side-by-side and you don’t have to worry about pedestrians, cars or oncoming bikes.

Everyone’s favourite health insurer was in on the sponsorship gig, had plastered advertising all along the route. Also along the route could be seen tortured souls, presumably running on pure caffeine, whose official task seemed to consist entirely of clapping at the cyclists. There were a lot of cyclists. One person towards the end simply stood on the road with his arm pointed at the freeway off ramp leading to Joondalup – possibly qualifying as a form of torture.

However, upon passing beneath the hallowed inflatable finishing gate, we were blasted with festive music and numerous people distributing free orange Powerade**. It’s got electrolytes! I stuck to my cache of water, grapes and garlic bread.

** This brought back vaguely nostalgic memories of the exit from the central train station in Naples some years ago, except instead of Powerade I was being offered mobile phones.

* Possibly I should also be getting to uni and doing some actual work rather than just blogging.

Continuity

The bony part of my nose met with the fridge door in an uncomfortable deceleration this afternoon, leaving a nasty cut. This occurred less than a second – literally – after having explained to some friends that I no longer felt sore as a result of rock climbing. Lesson learnt.

The arrogance

I took a good opportunity today to feel smug and superior on my bike. My regular “scenic route” to uni takes me down a bike path right next to the Kwinana Freeway. With a slight headwind and managing 25-27km/h, I was overtaking the peak hour traffic for the whole 6-7km distance.

Normally I can only feel smug and superior for the first kilometre or so, until after a lane merge where the traffic usually picks up. Long may the congestion continue! Hahaaa! That’s me laughing at the misfortune of others. Here, let me do it again: Hahaaa!

Photos

For those interested, I’ve uploaded my entire photo collection from New Zealand. (Well, obviously not the entire collection – I had to remove those incriminating shots of Wilson Tuckey doing… well, I’m not quite sure what it is he was doing, but he was certainly hard at work.)

Unfortunately, I have limited web space, which means that (a) I’ve had to reduce the resolution to 1024 x 768 (or 768 x 1024), and (b) they may removed at some unspecified time in the future when I need to upload something else. But for now, I invite you to peruse my adventures in pictures. If for some reason you’d really like to acquire a higher quality version of some particular photo(s), let me know.

Christchurch

The drive to Christchurch was long, and took us through the middle of the South Island, away from the mountains of the west to the summery east. The wind whipped up an enormous swell on the light, milky-blue waters of Lake Pukaki. The colour comes from the tiny particles of rock (rock flour) suspended in the water. We ate something resembling a picnic lunch at Lake Tekapo (the bakery there sells excellent pies), a little way to the east.

I can’t report anything much from my visit to Christchurch, because I only spent one night there. I wandered the streets around Cathedral Square the night I arrived, and also the next morning, but I didn’t really see anything. I parted company with my new friends from the Kiwi bus, the night before at Queenstown, then en route to Christchurch, and finally as I left the hostel for the airport.

My final act in New Zealand was to spill a large cup of soft drink all over the floor and around the cash register at a dodgy fast food outlet inside the airport. I immediately regretted even thinking about eating there, and I enjoyed the pre-packaged in-flight meals considerably more.

Milford Sound

Kiwi Experience runs day trips to Milford Sound from Queenstown: five hours on the bus each way, in the middle of which you get a two hour cruise up and down the fjord. One of my friends and I decided this itinerary was a little abrupt given how beautiful Milford Sound was reputed to be. We elected to stay the night somewhere in the area rather that heading straight back to Queenstown.

Organising this meant going outside the normal Kiwi Experience planning, but one of Kiwi’s selling points is that you can jump on and off the bus along the way. Owing to a lack of accommodation in Milford itself (the result, I assume, of being in a national park), we sought to stay in Te Anau. Te Anau is about two hours away from Milford, which is hardly ideal but still a lot closer than Queenstown. We would travel with our companions from Queenstown, do the cruise around Milford and get off the Kiwi bus at Te Anau in the evening, and get back on the following day at the same time. After a night in Te Anau, we would enlist the services of Rosco’s Milford Kayaks to get a more close-up view of things. Fortunately, Rosco’s runs its own bus service to and from Te Anau, but I was worried throughout most of the trip that we would miss our Kiwi connection on the way back. We left most of our luggage in Queenstown, me with premonitions of having to chase the Kiwi bus frantically down the road, in which case a suitcase could be a fatal burden.

So that was the plan.

The initial trip to Milford was easy enough, planned as it was by people who know what they’re doing. The driver (a different one) obviously knew the route like the back of his hand, and we flew down twisty hill-side roads at speeds that you’re just not supposed to do. After passing through Te Anau for a breakfast stop (they make a nice chocolate croissant in the “Pop Inn Cafe”) we began to make stops to admire the scenery. These get progressively more awe inspiring as you get closer to the fjord, and you begin to realise that the Milford well deserves its reputation.

The cruise begins with a buffet lunch, which is very nice (particularly for low-budget travellers such as ourselves). I felt torn between eating as much as I could and going outside to look at the scenery that was, after all, the reason we’d come here. The latter instinct won out once I was sufficiently stuffed with spring rolls and samosas. The low cloud cover and light rain creates a mystical effect inside the fjord, which rises on both sides to seemingly impossible heights, well above the lower cloud levels. Dozens of waterfalls of varying sizes cascade down cliff faces that look almost imaginary. Every time you look up and try to locate the top of a hillside covered in vertical rainforest emerging straight out of the water, you see another, even more massive shape behind and looming over it in the clouds. The entrance to the fjord gives you a taste of this, but the view from the decks of the cruise ship was simply unreal, and unfortunately photos don’t do it justice. Most of the group ended up quite wet, from the rain and spray from some of the enormous waterfalls as we went for a close-up look.

The ship eventually emerged into the Tasman sea, where the calm of the fjord disappears. On the way back, we were dropped off for a few minutes at the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory, where you can see sea creatures only eight metres down that are normally only seen below 40 metres. This is made possible by the blanket of dark freshwater on the surface of the fjord that blocks much of the sunlight from entering the salty water beneath.

Our accommodation in Milford was the Lakefront Backpackers Hostel, which was possibly the best of all the hostels I’ve stayed at, and made me regret not being able to stay longer in Te Anau. Our dorm “room” had a kitchen, bathroom, dining table, arm chairs and a balcony large enough to host a barbecue. We met up with an Israeli guy from who we learnt a little of the news of the outside world – specifically that Israel was now in a pitched battle with Hamas. We also engaged in a short discussion of theology.

My friend from the Kiwi bus and I were to wake up at 5:15 the next morning, in time to be picked up by Rosco’s minions. We woke up alright, but my friend, who’d been feeling a little sick the previous day, decided that she couldn’t do it, so it was just me. Rosco’s bus came right on time and took me and three Texans down to the waterfront at Milford, where we geared up in all manner of colourful clothing, and were instructed in the art of kayaking. This time I announced that my primary goal was to not capsize.

As in Mercury Bay, I once again was in the back steering. The going was fairly relaxed, though my left leg kept complaining about being in an awkward position. Unlike in Mercury Bay, the only stops we made were on the water, where we “rafted up” by collectively holding all the kayaks together as a raft. To be honest, the Milford Sound experience had actually been a lot more compelling on the cruise ship the previous day, perhaps because that had been my first exposure to it. The scale of the place, I think, is much more impressive when you’re moving through it at an appreciable speed. Nevertheless, looking up at the hillsides from the kayak is still unreal. Imagine a perfectly ordinary piece of rainforest, and then imagine that someone has tipped it up at 80 degrees. Once again this effect is very difficult to capture in photos. Every now and then we spotted a seal, but unfortunately it was the wrong time of the year for penguins.

The timing worked out fine in the end. I arrived back in Te Anau with 90 minutes to kill, but in my paranoia I spent much of this within sight of where the bus makes its scheduled stop, eating another chocolatey Fiordland delicacy.