After about 30 hours of flying and waiting in airports, I arrived in New Zealand yesterday afternoon.  I absolutely love this country.  So beautiful.  It's still mid-spring here and the area mountains recently got some snow, so flying in over the Southern Alps towards Christchurch from Sydney was breathtaking.

Our hotel this year is literally right next door to the Antarctic Center where we're issued all of our cold weather gear, which in turn is a 5 minute walk from the airport.  That's great news for when we have to fly out as we can sleep in a little longer but it's a bit tricker getting to downtown and experiencing the city.  After getting settled in our rooms and taking a quick shower we all grabbed a taxi and headed towards the town where we grabbed a bite to eat and walked around central downtown.  This was the area hardest hit by the big earthquake back in February of 2011.  A significant portion of Christchurch, the South Island's largest city and New Zealand's third-largest city, is still rubble piles and  half fallen buildings that are too dangerous to re-enter.  I spent a few days in town after coming off the ice this past February and more of the city has been torn down than re-built in my time away.  But slowly but surely the town is coming back.  More of the city is open to walk through now, even if businesses and restaurants haven't yet returned.  Shops closed since the earthquake are opening their doors, but many have moved to entirely new locations.

The Cathedral, or what's left of it after the earthquake nearly two years ago.

Bits of damage are everywhere.  And more and more lots are empty as people slowly remove buildings too damaged to repair.

This building was being actively torn down.

Today was our appointment to get our extreme cold weather (ECW) gear.  There were only four of us, and we've all been to the ice before, so it went really fast.  That gave us plenty of time to head into town and do some last-minute grocery shopping for some choice foods we won't be able to get at Pole. For example, I grabbed some dried fruit, nuts, and lots of chocolate while others got avocados and limes.  Before too long even this stash of goodies will be gone...  Anyway, it was a little too early to get dinner at this point so after grabbing some ice cream in the container store retail district built after the earthquake we headed for the botanical gardens, a few blocks out of the central city.  The gardens are just gorgeous and are a great place to go see some color and some life right before heading down to the ice.  There are also lots of ducks, and I love ducks.

This little guy was fearless.  Walked up to within inches of us.

This duck was WAY bigger than it looks here.  I really like ducks.

Some cool flowers in the botanical gardens.

More flowers.

The gardens in the center of Christchurch are gorgeous.  A nice place to go before and after heading to the ice to get your fix of color and life.

After getting our fill of flowers (and I have more pictures of the gardens I'll post soon), we grabbed some food.  This was my last chance to have a really good burger for quite a while so I went for it.  Brad and I both ordered burgers and decided to go that extra mile and get a fried egg on top.  Apparently, however, fried eggs on burgers aren't very common here (though beets are).  Our server was clearly very confused when we ordered it and we weren't exactly sure how the burgers would come out.  Well, they ended up taking the request very literally.  Out came burgers with fried eggs very carefully and lovingly placed on TOP of the bun and all.  We got a good laugh out of that.

We asked for fried eggs on top of our burgers.  It was taken literally.

It's about time I hit the sack.  We have our ice flight to McMurdo tomorrow morning with a check-in time of 6:30 AM.  There are only ten people on the list to fly down, so it's likely going to be a lonely flight with a lot of cargo.  Last year it was pallets of Coke and Coors Light.  Last week some of our colleagues flew down with a helicopter.  Wonder what we'll have this time?  Fingers crossed we don't boomerang!