Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day 391: Wine Tasting & Chess

Day #391 * Hike #436 * New Track #416
Saturday December 10, 2011 (New Zealand)
Wine Tasting (Mutua Valley) - New Zealand
My Tripometer: 4 Hours * 1.5 Miles (walking) * +50 Feet 

 Saturday Morning, Car in the ditch on Bethells Road
(glad we came home moderately early last night)

 Guess he missed the sign

I like their Railroad crossing sign

 Give Way, New Zealand's term for yeild
(they use it at every intersection and round about)

 ...and they drive on the wrong side of the road, wrong side of the car

 Best Winery in the land

Jess and I have never been to Sonoma or Napa Valley.  In fact, we have only gone wine tasting once before, and that was in Filmore.  I don't think that really counts :)

Without any plan heading into the day, John suggested a few places to see to the north.  Since we had already exhausted the Waitakere Ranges and city of Auckland, North we drove.  Heading up Bethells road, we took the back roads to the 16.  This lead us to the small town of Kumeu.  We continued west to Huapai and stopped at our first winery; Nobilo.  Our first impression here was not much better than the Filmore experience.  The lady game out staggering as if she had been drinking all morning.  It was barely 9:00 so maybe she was hung over from the night before.  Another young girl was there, possibly her daughter, but she didn't say much.  We sampled some wines, good whites and blah reds.  Jess is fond of champagne so the lady opened a bottle for her.  She poured herself a glass first, guzzled it down, and then poured us a glass.  After about ten minutes, we exhausted our efforts and hit the road with a real mild buzz.

Next stop, Cold Creek Winery (I could be wrong with the name?).  This spot is just a minute up on the left from Nobilo.  Unlike the other establishment, there were customers here.  The russian lady serving the wine was very knowledgable and friendly.  We proudly sampled all of her finest and then ordered an additional glass for six bucks.  I felt bad; they're giving us all this free wine for free so it only seemed fair to drink a bit more and pay for it.

Driving west to northwest on the 16, our next destination was Mutua Valley.  John said that it would be on the right.  So, a ways up, we found Mutua Road and turned right.  We drove a ways and never found it so we came back.  Oh well -- just 800 meters further, a sign for Mutua Valley.  We turned right, crossed the tracks and followed the road for many kilometers.  Good thing we had patience because these wines were excellent.  It's a popular place and even a tour bus stopped through during our tastings.   We tried all the whites and all the reds and they all were excellent.  Of course, by now we had about the equivelent of 10 glasses each so of course they would be great.  But really, they were smooth and perfect.  Jess and I decided that the best white wines come from Marlboro (The Northeastern portion of New Zealands South Island, near Wellington).

 "*Special spot somewhere outside of Parakai*"

Yes, this was a special spot for Jess and I.  We were driving for quite awhile and I was being entertained...  Finally, this location was the one...  We of course were looking for the hotsprings!  John said that there were some out this way but we didn't find it; but we did find something else.  --Once I gathered my senses, I realized that we had gone about 15 kilometers out of the way to nowhere.  We were somewhere between the Tasman Sea and Kaipara Harbour which is said to be one of the largest natural harbors in the world.

Day #391 * Hike #437 * New Track #417
Saturday December 10, 2011 (New Zealand)
Waiwera & Cricket - New Zealand
My Tripometer: 4 Hours * 2.75 Miles (walking) * +25 Feet 

We drove back towards Helensville and then up and over to Waiwera.  The drive was long and the wine was begining to ware off.  John said that there were great hotsprings in Waiwera, which is a beach community north of Auckland on the Hauraki Gulf coast.

 Large cows everywhere!!!
Baby horse could barely walk

 Beaches at Waiwera

A cool weather system crept in and by the time we reached the beach, it was pretty much out of our car and back in.  There didn't seem to be anything too exciting in the immediate area, no blowholes.  Obviously it was low tide and we left it at that.  The main and only real attraction in this town was the hot springs.  However, we were very displeased to discover that the springs were surrounded by a wall and building.  I believe the price of admission was something like $20 bucks.  From there, they charged through the roof for treatments.  I guess this is cool is you're looking for a day at the spa, possibly a massage.  Great for those lazy folks who don't like to hike to the springs.  We were disappointed, discouraged so we stopped by the corner store, ate some hokey something ice cream and jumped on the main highway toward Auckland. 

 Orewa Beach

Just north of Davenport we intersected the beautiful Orewa Beach.  The weather seemed a bit better down here but we didn't stay long.  Today's second hike of the day is a combination of many stops and small walks.  We began to drive around the bays but we just tried to obsorb it rather than taking pictures.  Actually, Jess and I really... well... had a good time for the drive.  Reminds me of Charlie Sheen in the movie The Chase.


We found our way to Auckland and took a timeout for some Cricket.  This is Cricket season.  John told me that a single game of cricket will take five days to complete.  This was my first and likely last ever game that I'll probably ever see.  I suppose its an acquired taste, much like chess.  I appreciate the skill and spin of the ball I suppose but there is no way this sport would ever make it in America.  Rugby on the other hand I believe will have a market here ten years from now.

Before heading back to the cottage, we drove around the famous Ponsonby District.  This is an upbeat area just outside of Downtown Auckland.  Independent Coffee shops thrive at day and pubs flourish at night; fun scene.

Our last night at the cottage

After a multiyear absence from the game, I finally began playing chess again.  To say the least, at age 37 my game is not what it was a decade ago but like riding a bike, I remembered how to roll.  That being said, I’ve played as black (second move) in every single online contest.  I play on Yahoo and all those egomaniacs take seat on white for the advantage.  Time is of the essence and since I don’t have much to spare, I will take a seat, play the 15 minute game and then go to bed.  I suppose I am a rebel so I kinda prefer it that way. 

My experience in New Zealand has allowed me the luxury to forget about time, no watch or calendar.  Time for an enjoyable game of chess without pressure.  Of course, the game was somewhat flawed with our alcohol intake, but the contest was invigorating nevertheless.  –If you read my previous blog post, you’ll see that in my first contest against John I played as Black and accepted the Draw.  This time I would play as White and since I considered John a worthy opponent, I notated the game.  Figuring that he was used to defending the e4, d4 or Nf3 opening, I opened with the English and began to develop accordingly:

1.       c4  e6
2.       Nc3  Nf6
3.       g3  Nc6
4.       Bg2  Bc5
5.       e3  o-o         Nothing too exciting with our opening sequence.  John develops his most important pieces early and then castles for defense.  Personally, I am not fond of castling too early.  As White, I did not come out striking.  In typically aspire to Queen Side castle or utilize my King as a worthy center piece, not a chicken hiding in the corner.  If multiple exchanges occur, the King will play an important part in the end game and if he is still in the middle holding down the fort, this advantage could lead to victory.  Maybe I am naive for thinking this way and I’m sure if I played a Grand Master they would spank me.  Let’s see what happens…
6.       d4  Be7       Moving my pawn to d4 was my most aggressive move as it created the first legit threat of the game on John’s Bishop.  His response was defensive and safe to a good square.  Without any threats, I have the tempo to develop and control, hence the advantage of White.
7.       Nge2  d5     It looks like I am moving my Knight to Castle, but John has to wonder why I moved it to e2 instead of the more commonly played f3.  …I have my reasons but first I have to deal with my hanging pawn being threatened.
8.       c5  b6           I create a long pawn link and John immediately counters to break it up
9.       cxb6  axb6   After looking at this position, I realize that I probably could have done better than c5 on move eight.  I still need to develop because John is ready to play and I am still in my opening sequence.
10.   e4  e5           It becomes a grudge match in the middle.  Bullying each other with a double pawn stair down!
11.   exd5  Nxd4?  As I mentioned before, I am happy to exchange in a game where I am not castling.  John’s response was not thought out too carefully.  I suppose he was going for aggression by advancing his Knight but he did not have the support to compliment the move.  Moreover, the move left a window open for me to create a double threat!
12.   d6!  Nxe2      By moving my pawn, I created a discovery threat on his rook.  In addition, my pawn is threatening his Bishop.  It would appear that I would be guaranteed winning a big piece at a very fair discount.  However, John reacts by attacking my Knight!  This was a great response for him because it gives him some tempo back.
13.   Bxa8?  Nxc3!  Oops!  I knew it right away too; I think I would have been better taking his Knight with my Queen.  By doing that, I would have maintained my double threat on the Rook and Bishop.  Why didn’t I make that move, was I seduced by greed to win the valuable Rook?  As a result, I am left very vulnerable in the middle and I will have absolutely no development when this sequence is over.  Immediately I will have to respond to his Knight otherwise I would lose my Queen.
14.   bxc3  cxd6   Although I am up a Rook, I am left with no Knights and I’m now down a pawn.  My middle is left wide open and I have a hanging pawn chilling out on the c3 island.  Meanwhile, John’s defense is solid and the Mid Game starts here.
15.   Bg2  Ba6!    In my previous position, Castling would have been good for the long haul but if I would have done that, John’s Bishop to a6 would have threatened my castled Rook and his Queen would be sneering down my Bishop.  All things considering, retreating my Bishop who destroyed his Rook was a good move, possibly my best.  Multiple other variations ended up bad for me because John controlled the center of the board with his pawns and Knight.  John’s response was Ba6, a great move because it disallows the castle defense that I needed right now.  This game is a good example of why you may argue the case to castle early.  That being said, I am still technically up 1 point.  However, position and tempo are just as important.
16.   Bf1  Bxf1
17.   Kxf1  Qa8            
18.   Kg1  d5      Moving my Bishop to the home line looks strange but I felt it necessary to force a reaction.  The result condensed the game but in the short term, it trapped my Rook.  The Rook advantage that I currently held was being blocked from entering the arena.  I saw this happening and deemed overall that it was still the best strategy because inevitably, I wanted to move my King that direction.  As long as I moved meticulously from here, I think I can pull it out.  It would still take two moves to open my Rook and a third move to release him into action.  Time is of the essence in Chess and to ask for three moves this late in development is wishful thinking, or is it?
19.   Bg5  Rd8
20.   h4  h6
21.   Bxg6  Bxg6   Up in points and down in position, I maneuver my way to condense the game.  In this three move sequence I was able to achieve one of the three moves needed to give power to my Rook.
22.   Kh2  d4
23.   Qb3  Qb8      One step closer to roll out my Rook.  However, John now has two long range strikers on my important dark squares where my pawns form a link wall to protect my King.  I helped aid his position by moving my Queen.  Initially, my Queen to b3 offered threat to his hanging b6 pawn.  He had to respond or lose it.  But I did not just move my Queen to threaten a pawn.  The move gave me tempo and aligned my queen with his King.  If all things work out, I am in good position for the End Game but I still have many more obstacles to deal with.
24.   Rad1  d3     All this chatter about rolling out my Rook and then when the opportunity comes, I move the other one.  My “a” pawn no longer needs protection because my previous Queen move.  It’s worth noting that you should do as much as possible with each move: Develop a piece, create an attack and defend.  I did all three with my Queen last term and long term looking, I need my “A” Rook on the “D” line and “H” Rook on the “E” line.  John’s response, advance his pawn.  Was this move premature or is it legit?
25.   Rhe1  d2     Well, I did what I wanted but John becomes relentless with his pawn movement.  Is he being a bit overzealous with this?
26.   Re2  Bxh4!
27.   Rexd2  Bg4    John attempts a Bishop Sacrifice.  He hopes that I take his Bishop with my pawn, which would have destroyed my defensive pawn link protecting my King.  There was no guarantee that his aggressive move would have panned out but I was not about to oblige.  Instead, I respond by ignoring the situation and strike back on his misplaced pawn for a double Rook stack.
28.   Rxd8+  Bxd8
29.   Rd7  Kh7?
30.   Qxf7  Bf6
31.   Qxf6!  John Resigns       

Once I condensed the game through exchanges, especially after taking out his last Rook, John did not have enough left in his arsenal to overcome the deficit.  Good Game, Great Times, Priceless Experience.

Oh, but our trip to New Zealand is not over.  We extended it by two days.  Tune back tomorrow where we will drive to Hamilton, hike to the largest waterfall on the Northern Island and stop by Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings! 

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