(tl;dr. cliff notes at bottom)
As soon as I heard about the PokerStars APPT / ANZPT Queenstown Snowfest poker festival, to be held at the end of August, I was already planning my trip.
After spending most of this year living in sweltering heat, I welcomed the chance to visit the beautiful country of New Zealand during it's winter.
I was flying in to Auckland but had a connection at Changi (Singapore Airport) with 3 hours to kill. Fortunately Changi is easily the best airport in the world, and it isn't even close.The fast sky trains take you between the terminals which are all very clean, well organised and have relaxing music playing at all times.
Awesome stuff to pass the time include the free movie theatres, gym, swimming pool, singapore's tallest slide, a nature trail, a butterfly park, overnight hotels and day-rooms, free wifi, 200 free internet terminals, free foot and calf massage chairs, entertainment deck with free PC LAN gaming and XBox 360 / Playstation 3 terminals, indoor and outdoor gardens, hundreds of shops (tax free), gourmet restaurants, rest areas with snooze-chairs where you can sleep, and probably a whole bunch of other cool stuff that I missed in the few hours that I was there.
I played some video games, visited the butterfly park, then bought some Burger King and took it into the theatre to chill, eat and watch the movie Rango. I usually hate airports but Changi just blows me away. I was actually dissapointed when it came time for me to catch my connecting flight to Auckland :(
I booked all my flights for my trip with JetStar (Quantas' budget airline) because they have very reasonable priced Business Class seats for their long haul flights. It's not the type of business class you'd get on a major airline, in fact it's more comparable to what you'd get from a long haul Premium Economy seat with British Airways or Qantas. Big wide pitched leather seats (in a 2-3-2 arrangement) with tons of legroom and leg rests, with the chair reclining enough to be able to sleep. I was also smart enough to chose my seat number ahead of time, to get in the front row, so that I didn't have to deal with someone in front of me fully reclinging their chair into my space.
They gave me a Video on Demand tablet with movies, tv shows and music, 2 hot meals, unlimited snacks and drinks, a blanket and a bag with socks, blindfold, earplugs, toothbrush, etc. Each way, the business class seats were only about $350 USD extra on top of the economy fare, so completely worth it for an 11 hour flight. I took some Xanax and slept for the last 7 hours of the flight, something I'd never be able to do in an economy seat. Sleeping on the plane was essential as it was an overnight flight with a 5 hour jump in time, landing in Auckland at 11am local time.
I heard that a taxi from the airport to the city was $100+ so I decided to take the Airbus Express which is only $26 return and leaves every 15 minutes. It also stops/picks up right outside the serviced apartments that I was staying at on Queen Street, which is the main street in the city. The bus service was very fast, clean and had plenty of space.
When I checked in to the Quest on Queen serviced apartments I planned to take a quick shower and then go out and do stuff. Well instead, I took a long shower, then lay on the bed for a little nap. When I woke up and it was dark outside. Damn, I wasted the whole day sleeping.
By the time that I got something to eat it was about 7:45pm and I remembered from when I was researching things to do in Auckland that there was an indoor snow slope with real snow called Snowplanet, and I remembered that it was open until 10pm. So that seemed like a day saver, to take a trip to Snowplanet and spend a couple of hours practising snowboarding and giving my barely used leg muscles a work out, in preperation for hitting the real snow slopes when I got to Queenstown.
I put on the clothes that I would snowboard in, threw a bunch of stuff in a bag in dashed out of the door. There was a taxi at the traffic lights and I jumped in and asked him to take me to Snowplanet. He had never heard of it but handed me his GPS. I typed in 'Snowplanet' and it found it right away, so off we went.
We seemed to have been driving for absolutely ages, which I thought was strange, because I remember seeing it on google maps and it looked like it was just outside the edge of the city. I leaned over and looked at the meter and it read $90. WTF!!!! Daaaamn, I thought this would be a $40 trip and that I'd be there already. I asked the driver to look at the GPS and tell me if we were nearly there. He said that we were half way there. Fuck my life. I had underestimated how ludicrously overpriced taxis are in Auckland AND how far away this fucking place was, an absolutely lethal combination of fail!
At that stage the smart thing to do would have been to ask him to turn around and take me back. But I usually make the completely wrong decision, so I just sat there until we eventually got to Snowplanet at around 8:30pm and I handed over $180. OUCH! The place was in the absolute desolate middle of nowhere, and I had no idea how I was going to get back, but wasn't wasting much time thinking about it as there was only 1 and a half hours before they closed.
I bought a night pass and snowboard/boot rental for a toal of $70. I paid another $5 for the locker. By the time that I got my boots laced up and headed onto the slope I realised that I had no gloves on. I went back into my locker and DAMNIT, I didn't bring my gloves. At that stage it was getting real late so I just thought "fuck it" and went snowboarding without gloves. I figured that as long as I didn't fall down much it would be ok.
I approached the T-bar to go to the top of the slope and failed hard at trying to mount the thing. I fell over into the icey cold snow. This "snow" felt like acid burning through my hands, absolute agony. Then, once I had sucessfully made it to the top of the slope, I just stood there trying to remember how to snowboard. I've only ever been snowboarding, at a similar venue in Scotland, about 6 times, and haven't been since a year ago. Of course I fell straight away, my hands completely red and frostbitten. Then, halfway down the slope, for some reason I was leaning back at the time that I needed to turn and couldn't shift my weight fast enough to prevent me from crashing straight into the side wall :(
When I made it to the bottom of the slope my hands were bright red, swollen and shivering. To hell with that. I walked back out and through to the reception area. I asked the girl if I could borrow or rent a pair of gloves and she said no, that gloves are only available for sale, except they had already closed the SnowShop so I couldn't get any gloves. I showed her my hands and she was shocked. She went looking around and eventually found a pair of gloves to give me. "That'll be $25".
So back out I went, up to the top of the slope, this time with gloves on, only to have another great fall like my name was Humpty fucking Dumpty. For my 3rd - 6th runs I was pretty much able to stay on my feet and shred up the slope nicely, but by then it was very close to closing time, 10pm.
I asked the reception if they had a phone number for a local taxi company, which they did. Sadly, with my Thai SIM card, I wasn't getting any reception, but they let me use their land line to call. They said that it was no problem, they have a car nearby and he will be there in 5 minutes.
I sat outside waiting in the freezing cold for ages. I remember checking the time, 10:15pm, as I sat there watching the staff from Snowplanet leave and walk one by one to their cars. I got more and more worried as each minute went by. By 10:30pm the last few staff had left the building. I sat there as the lights went off and the last 3 cars drove away. Oh fuck.
I just didn't know what the hell to do. There I was, my first day in a new country, stuck in some random remote location late at night. I was sure that the taxi had stood me up at that point, half an hour late! I only had $120 left in my pocket, and had withdrawn the max from the ATM that day, so even if the taxi had got there I didn't even think I'd have enough for the fare back.
I figured that I would just have to walk and try to find the nearest town (with no map / GPS / anything) to see if I could get a taxi from there, and failing that would have to hitchhike for the first time in my life. I started walking down the only route that leads to Snowplanet, a narrow country road, in the absolute pitch dark. I was using the Flashlight app on my phone to barely light the way. Every time I heard a noise, I would turn in that direction and shine the light. It was like a scene from the Blair Witch Project.
I have since looked up this road on Google Maps. Here is what it looks like:
One on side was a big road / motorway, inaccessible due to a huge ditch filled with trees and bushes. On the other side a whole load of nothing. The hilariously named "small road" was 2km long.
After 20 minutes of walking, with my legs sore and tired from snowboarding, I was close to the end of the road when I saw a car's headlights shining up the road. The car drove right past me. I though that had to be my damn taxi because that road is a dead end and there's bugger all up there, except for Snowplanet and a race track, both of which are closed. I stood there waiting, because I knew that they would have to come back down the same road.
Eventually I saw the headlights and I stood in the middle of the road with my arms waving. The car stopped in-front of me, I saw a taxi sign, "TAXI FOR DALE?", yes! After getting in and telling him how pissed off I was he agreed to take me for a flat $100 instead of using the meter.
So for a total cost of $380 I got 6 runs of a stupid indoor snow slope, bruised legs, frostbitten hands that I had to put a steroid cream on for the next 4 days and a long, freezing, dark walk on a country road in the middle of buttfuck nowhere New Zealand. Fuck my fucking life.
The next day I took it easy, wandered around the city then visited the Voyager (Auckland Maritime Museum). The museum was interesting enough, lots of exhibitions that celebrate New Zealand's seafaring history and the centrepiece being the yacht Black Magic that won the America's Cup in 1995.
After I got bored of looking at boats, I took a trip on a boat, for a few hours cruising around the Auckland Harbour with a stop-off at Rangitoto Island.
That was a nice relaxing way to spend the day. The weather was glorious, 15 degrees C, calm, blue skies.
I then took a long walk along the coast, until I reached a place called Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter. There were tons of penguins and sharks there so I was very happy :)
The next day I had a flight to Queenstown. I checked in to the 5* Sofitel hotel which was part of the APPT Queenstown Snowfest package.
The hotel was outstanding. I was a huge fan of the jacuzzi bath tub with TV. I am very picky when it comes to hotels and usually can find a lot of fault with them. With the Sofitel Queenstown, I would have had absolutely zero to complain about, if it wasn't for the fact that they are a bunch of robbing bastards for charging a "special discount rate" of $150 for 6 days internet with capped download usage. Seriously, wtf, $150 for internet, kiss my ass. Fortunately it wasn't a problem as I was able to hook onto a WiFi signal coming from a nearby hostel, so they didn't get their $150 from me.
The first thing I did after getting checked in was to go shopping and buy a belt. Every time I stay in a hotel I always manage to leave something behind. This time I had left my belt behind in Auckland and now my trousers were hanging low like some kind of hiphop gangsta from da hood. I had to pay $23 for some cheap crap belt that I could easily get for $2 in Thailand, while the shop owner made fun of me and my low hanging trousers.
In evening I went for dinner with Calvin 'cal42688' Anderson who is a sick MTT and SNG player on PokerStars and has just moved from the states to Mexico to continue playing. People kept telling me that when I'm in New Zealand I have to eat the lamb. So I ate some lamb, and it was delicious.
The next day I headed over to the Sky City Casino to play day 1 of the APPT Queenstown Snowfest Main Event. The field for the tournament was small and tough. I had a maniac Dutch guy to my left. To his left was Jonathan 'xMONSTERxDONGx' Karamalikis and to his left was Grant Levy. Across the table was recent PokerStars Sunday Million winner Jesse 'OnTheMac' McKenzie.
When I tried to outplay these guys I soon found that I had only just over half of the 20K starting stack after 90 minutes. Fortunately I then picked up KK utg and got it in on a KJX flop versus JJ. Even a blind squirrel can play the nuts :)
Shortly after that I stacked up to 46K, and close to the chiplead, after skillfully picking up the KK again. I 3-bet pretty big from the sb after lady called Leanne Haas raised the button. She called and I led the Th4h4d flop and jammed the 7c turn for 1.5x pot effective. I had been playing very loose so far and played a line that looks most like a flush draw and overs. She tanked and called me with 55.
By the last hour of the day I was up to 75k with the chiplead. Then I spewed off 1/3 of my stack, most of it to Andrew Hinrichsen who I tried to bluff 3 streets when he had the second nut flush. Oopsy. Still, I ended the day with a very healthy 48k but was quite annoyed with myself.
On the way back to the hotel I visited the famous Fergburger, a gourmet burger restaurant that is so popular in Queenstown that it's even boldly printed on the map. I got myself a 'Tropical Swine' burger with prime beef, streaky bacon, edam cheese, pineapple slice, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish.
I took it back to my hotel and munched it. It was absolutely delishhh, omnomnomnomnomnom. I was eating at Fergburger ever day of my stay in Queenstown, it's just too good!
That same evening there was a PokerStars Welcome Party at the casino with free food and drink. I LOVE free food and drink, so that was great :) After getting completely wasted, I late registered for the nightly side event 'Double Chance PLO'. I was playing the tournament with the same people I was getting drunk with at the party, Joel Feldman, Luke Edwards, Octavian Voegele and Ryan McKay.
As this tourney was being played while the PokerStars party was still going on we were flipping coins to decided who would go over to get some free drinks and bring them back. I lost a couple of times and blinded off pretty badly because of it. There was a huge rush as the bar tab limit came close to being hit and I ended up with 3 vodka-cokes sitting in-front of me on the table. Happy days.
Despite being drunk I played a solid game. Everyone was going nuts and I was basically just playing a tight solid full ring PLO game. By the time we got 3 handed and in the money it was just me and the only 2 non-drunk people at the table who were left. I skilfully got it in preflop with double suited aces against KKxx and had a 2.5-1 chiplead heads up against a guy called Gareth. Our heads up battle lasted over an hour until I was sitting with all the chips in front of me.
Binking an event at Snowfest is made even better by the fact that event winners are given a PokerStars.net snowboard. Very nice indeed!
Talking of cool PokerStars merchandise, I made a little video to show you guys what is inside the APPT Players Bag.
I had the next day free as there was another Day 1 of the main event. I took a trip up the Queenstown Skyline Gondola which had some sick, breathtaking views.
While I was up there I also did the street luge 5 times. It was decent fun but could have been faster and more dangerous. I think with these types of things, in developed countries, they are too safety conscious. If this was in Thailand the luge would have no breaks and be down a main road with traffic.
I played another side event that night, a NLHE tourney. I lost a fair chunk early on when some punk limped UTG with pocket 5s. I raised with AK, he called and the flop came A5X. Fortunately I checked back the flop and he only got 2 streets of value out of me. As it happens, turn was a 5, so he made quads. Must beeeee nice.
I ended up busting when I 3-bet shoved AQs for 13BB against the guy I played HU with in the PLO the previous night. He snapped me off with the AKo and I didn't win. It was almost worth the $550 buyin though just to be at the same table as Dennis Huntley, who I gave the nickname "The Ron Jeremy of Australia". Dennis is somewhat of an underground figure, having made Australia's first porn movie and having owned a chain of adult shops. His table banter is hilarious, he never shuts up whether it's before, during or after a hand, he'll always have something to say, mostly good natured ribbing. Most of it during that tourney was at "the frog", a French guy at the table.
I ended up spewing most of my chips off after 4 bet shoving on a young Euro guy that 3-bet me from the BB. I had T6 of spades and he of course had AK. The flop came down 887 with two spades. Oh hai. The turn was a Ten. BOOM. Just have to fade 4 outs on the river. Which, of course, was an offsuit ace. Unfortunately my masterful play wasn't rewarded this time.
I was then moved to new tables twice. I was the only person during the whole tournament to ever win a coinflip against eventual tournament winner Marcel Schreiner when I jammed 76s for 17BBs over his open raise and he called me with 55. "A classic race!" said Tom 'Tollgate' Grigg who was to my left. I don't mind my shove there, there's antes and he's opening wide with the big stack.
Eventually I was busted by Jackson Zheng when I shoved 13BB from the BB over his CO raise with K2s and he called me with Q8s and won. I finished 30th, which wasn't quite good enough to be in the money unfortunately.
That night I went for dinner at Barmuda with Jesse Mackenzie and his friends Brett and Jacky, where we sat on comfy sofas in front of a log fire eating delicious food and scotch. Happy days.
The next day I was up bright and early to do something scary, but fun. The Shotover Canyon Swing. This involves jumping from a platform on the edge of a cliff 109m/360ft above the Shotover River, where you free-fall and then swing out before you hit the sharp rocks at the bottom.
I was pretty confident about doing it, until I got to the point where I was standing at the edge and looking down. DAMN that was a long way down.
I enjoyed my jump so much that I went for a second jump. This time strapped to a chair, just for the hell of it :)
Afterwards I was in need of more adrenalin so I look a jet boat ride on the Kawarau river.
A bunch of people got sick and had to be dropped off, haha, pussies.
I then met up with Jesse, Brett and Jacky again and we went to do some ATV / Quad Biking. I took some video clips but couldn't get any of the best bits because there was mud flying everywhere.
On my final day in Queenstown I went snowboarding at Coronet Peak. This was my first ever time snowboarding outdoors. I decided to take a private lesson and we started off on the beginners course working on my turning.
On one of the runs I got absolutely T-boned by a 4 year old girl who was bombing it down on skis and took me flat out. Totally her fault. My snowboard instructor told her off and she looked like she was about to cry. I myself was about to cry after taking the brunt of the force with my foot. I took off my boot and socks and my big toe was bleeding but wasn't broken. Damn.
I thought it would be funny when I'm back home and telling people that I got injured snowboarding in the New Zealand mountains, and they'd be all like "Oh man, what happened? Did you fall going for a sick jump or something?" and I'd have to be like "errm no, a tiny little girl knocked me over and made my toe bleed!".
After recovering I was able to do some of the intermediate runs at Coronet Peak and had a lot of fun there. The snow was mostly soft and the weather was glorious and warm.
Unfortunately, as I was getting changed at the end of the day in the locker area, some bastard STOLE my belt. What the absolute fuck! Whoever was sitting beside me just picked it up and left. When I got back to town I had to go into the same shop as before, pay another $23 for another cheap crap belt and have the same dickhead shopkeeper laugh at me once again.
That final night there was yet another free drinks affair at the PokerStars Wrap-Up Party. I talked to five people who wanted to tell me about how terrible I played a hand in the main event, and each time I would say "oh I think I know which hand it was", and it would be a totally different hand each time, haha fml.
I was sad to leave Queenstown, there was so much cool stuff that I didn't have the chance to do. Hopefully I will be back some day. I flew out the next day to Christchurch. Annoyingly my flight was delayed but I met Simon Watt (the guy who beat Durrrr heads up for a WSOP bracelet last year) who bizarrely checked in for his flight 3 hours before take-off, and sat drinking with him in the bar.
When I got to Christchurch I stayed at the airport hotel because the whole of the city centre of Christchurch is taped off due to some brutal earthquake damage. On my second day in Christchurch I was taken on a full day tour by a former pilot who used to have a business taking 100 people on tour buses every day but had to lay off his staff and sell his vehicles and is now lucky if he is able to take 1 or 2 people out in his SUV. The tourism industry in Christchurch basically came to a complete halt after the serious earthquakes and many such businesses have been ruined.
The tour started with some scenic site-seeing, a visit to a small local chocolate factory, then a tour round the city to see the effects that the earthquakes have had.
On my last day in New Zealand I was spent the whole day a couple of hours away at Mount Hutt to do some more snowboarding. Again I got a private lesson which helped a lot.
I'm disappointed that after starting to get good at snowboarding that I won't be able to do it again any time soon. Who knows, maybe I will go to Korea or Japan early next year and do it there. It's a long wait though.
When flying back to Bangkok I missed my connection in Singapore. Fortunately JetStar put me up in the $340/night Crown Plaza and a free dinner voucher for the restaurant. It worked out pretty well because I was able to have a relaxing bath, a slap up dinner and a long sleep, then take the 2 hour flight to Bangkok in the morning, getting there nice and refreshed. Easy game!
When I got to Bangkok I got a lot of funny looks as I wheeled my trolley through with a huge PokerStars.net snowboard on it. I think there's a fair chance that this is the only snowboard in Thailand :-)
Singapore Airport is awesome.
Spent $380 to do 6 runs of a stupid indoor snow slope.
Won a PLOament.
Didn't win a NLHEament.
Jumped off a cliff, twice.
Snowboarded for reals.