When travelling all over the world one of the times you tend to really miss friends and family are the special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. Since its July its an easy guess that its currently the latter that has left me thinking about home.
Last year my birthday in NZ was pretty pathetic to be brutally honest. Due to a combination of good friends leaving to continue their travels, people having plans and just not having that many friends in the country, my birthday essentially consisted of me sat at my desk in the office working late then getting Chinese food on the way home. Sad to say but that was about the top of the excitement factor for my 31st birthday. With that in mind I was determined not to have a repeat performance this year and, with the efforts of quite a few special people around me, that was certainly not the case this year.
Unusually for me my birthday celebrations started a few days early for me this year, on the Sunday before my actual birthday (on the Wednesday). Lisa’s parents were kind enough to invite us over for some afternoon tea and we had a mini bday celebration with some of her family and close family friends. Somehow the weather turned really nice in the afternoon even though we are currently in deepest winter, so for about 2 hours Lisa and I ran around the garden like idiots playing football with the kids while the real adults looked on shaking their heads. Fun was had by all and many a goal was scored even if some were by questionable means! Lisas Dad made an amazing apple cake and Lisa had also arranged for a custom chocolate cake from a local bakery so it was cake, cake and more cake. After dinner was boardgame time where I have to admit that I was beaten at chess by a child. A very good child mind you and we did win one each….but still, someone a third my age so maybe I am not as good as I used to think!
When the day of my actual birthday rolled around I made the decision that I didn’t want to work for the day so booked it off and instead just tried to enjoy myself for the day. The “relaxing” start to the day didn’t exactly happen though as somewhere along the way I had agreed to get up for the 6.30am boxing class at the gym followed by breakfast with Ellie. If you ever want to push yourself then a 6.30am boxing class is certainly the way to go. Pressups and skipping at that time will certainly wake you up! After milling about the house for a bit it was time to meet Lisa for walk by the beach and a nice lunch before heading home to go mountain biking.
…..and I didn’t go biking at all. Now I did have every intention to get out on my bike and hit the trails, I had ever laid out all of my biking clothes ready to go. What I wasn’t reckoning on though was our temporary cat returning and wanting to chill out with me. Over the last few weeks we have had a cat keep appearing at the house and just wandering in as we open the door. We haven’t fed it but it still seems happy enough to just come in and chill out for a while. The cat has been named Doggo since Luke wanted a dog instead of a cat and he/she seems pretty relaxed. Anyway, when I got back from lunch with a full stomach and a cat that wanted to cuddle the idea of biking in the cold seemed to take a back seat. There I laid on the sofa for the next 3 hours until I finally had to get up and get ready for the BJJ and MMA classes I had also decided to go to to round off my day of combat sports. Safe to say that I managed to get through the BJJ class ok, however I then got quite punished at the end of the MMA session with a Doghouse round where I had to go for 12 mins, taking on a new opponent every minute. It doesn’t sound that hard until after the 3rd minute when you are too gassed to move properly and these fresh faced people keep attacking you!
Once I picked myself up off the floor and had a quick shower it was time to head out for dinner with some friends to round off the evening and end a pretty awesome birthday.
…At this point the questions should be “This has got zero to do with Helicopters or Hockey” however if you are patient and keep reading we will get to that.
Saturday morning the was the start of the second weekend and even more birthday treats. Lisa and got up in the morning and drove out to Queenstown for the weekend to take part in the festivities of the winter festival. Arriving quite late in the afternoon we wondered about for a while before grabbing some food and the heading to the Hockey match that evening. It is the second Hockey match I’ve ever been to and Lisa’s parents bought us tickets for by bday gift which was awesome of them. Although the ice rink in QT is tiny, the fans are plenty rowdy and loud and there was quite an atmosphere going on given that it seemed like no one (including the players or refs) knew what was going on! ….maybe that was just me though. Hockey is a pretty fast paced game so its hard to tell the difference between an innocent penalty and a blatant one but I am still not sure how something didn’t get sent off for punching another guy in the face in front of the ref!
The rest of Saturday night was pretty chilled out with the rest of the fun happening on the action packed Sunday. After getting up and leaving the hotel as late as possible the original plan was to walk up to the top of the lookout hill and go for a ride on the luge before leaving to go for by bday surprise at 1pm. Arriving at the hill we thought better of the whole thing and instead got tickets to take the Gondola up and back down again which in hindsight was the best choice since we were a bit strapped for time in the end. Along with the Gondola up we also got tickets to go on the Luge at the top which I have never been on before but have always looked at every time I’ve been there. The Luge is definitely something I would do again in a heartbeat and was over far too quickly. The QT Luge is basically a 2 different tracks from the very top of the hill to the main Gondola station full of twists and turns and even the odd jump if you’re brave enough. You ride down it on little carts where you control the speed by pushing the controls forwards or pulling back and try your best not to spin out on sharp corners by going far to fast. Safe to say I failed this on my second run and ended up sideways. I was a little overzealous with my speed, trying to keep up with Lisa who had smashed me on the first run down the hill and left me for a gonner.
After the excitement of our first little mission it was time to go and finally find out what this bday surprise was going to be. It had been kept very well hidden for quite a while now and I was pretty excited, especially when Lisa told me that she had impressed herself with this one. Anyone who has ever met her will know that when it comes to gifts she has an unnatural talent to always get the right thing and find amazing things for people all the time. Not quite sure how she does it but she does just manage to get even the rarest little gifts that fit just right. When this girl gets excited then you know it is something you should be excited for too.
With instructions to drive towards Cromwell and make sure I was dressed in warm clothes we headed off on a 30 min drive. My brain was going for all of the potential things that it could be but nothing really added up with the information I had been given. I was told to wear good footwear as my feet might get wet, but when asked about the rest of me apparently that would be dry. The only thing in my mind that this could be would be snow… but we were driving away from it…
Finally an instruction, “turn right here”, and then I saw it Heliview Flights. We were going in a Helicopter!
Now obviously this makes sense when thinking of how I could get to snow from nowhere near the mountains but this was ruled out pretty quickly in my mind as I was aware that Lisa was scared of heights so never expected that to happen. She had decided to face her fear though and I couldn’t be prouder or happier as I have always wanted to go in a Helicopter so this was just a perfect birthday gift.
After having the safety briefing and waiting for the chopper to arrive we were underway in such a relaxed and smooth way. The best thing about it was that at no point was Lisa scared which made things even better. We could both look out of the window and take on the scenery while the pilot narrated away and told us what we were looking at. The bonus of the trip was that we also got an alpine landing as part of the trip and somehow got absolutely perfect weather for the whole experience. For a few weeks leading up to this the weather had been a bit hit and miss. The night before it had rained pretty hard but today the sky was clear with a few wispy clouds and the sun in the sky. The best bit though… SNOW! So much deep snow on the ground and we got time to run around and act like kids, jumping in the air and taking awesome pics of our best efforts. It eventually got a little chilly on the old hands but that was just an excuse to go back and take another drink of the provided hot chocolate that we had with us. As a bonus on top of all the other bonuses so far I also got to sit in the front on the way back and see the amazing view when you are in a completely open cockpit.
Things lined up perfectly on the trip to make for an eventful weekend and some memories that I will not quickly forget.
It is the times like this that I appreciate and cherish the most. The vivid memories of happy times and experiences that people always reach for. I am so lucky to have people around me who took the time to make my birthday a great one and thankful to all of them. Especially lucky to have a girlfriend who is so cunning and planning that she can pull off such an amazing surprise… my only issue now is that its her birthday soon! Best get planning!