I get goosebumps every time I listen to this song.
“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” – Ansel Adams
Labor Day BBQ at the Melita’s. Grillmaster Brandon Knox prepared some kick ass wings while I made Pulled Pork sangwiches. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to close out the summer.
So two things have happened recently that resulted in today’s culinary experiment. I’ve really taken a liking to pulled pork sandwiches and I’ve also been very inspired in the kitchen the last few weeks. I decided that to celebrate anti-valentine’s day (albeit a day early), I would make some pulled pork sandwiches slathered in homemade BBQ sauce, grab a cold beer, and watch a manly movie with gratuitous violence and lots of explosions.
Continue Reading →
Today we go off to explore the well known “Ring of Kerry” on the Iveragh Peninsula in Southwest Ireland. Including a few offshoots from the main road and we’ll probably top 200KM of driving around the ring. We are promised beautiful views but as I look outside and see it drizzling I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll be getting too many photos. At least there won’t be too many tour buses since the tourist season is coming to a close. The Ring of Kerry supposedly gets VERY crowded in the summer months. Here is a link to the Google Maps of our trip through the Ring of Kerry. Continue Reading →
After a full nights rest we continue exploring Kilkenny. We start with a simple breakfast at the Two Dames Café and then head up to Kilkenny Castle. The castle is perched at the top of a hill on the east side of town and is surrounded by a giant park. They didn’t allow photos in the castle and wanted to charge us 6 Euros for the pleasure of walking around so we decided to take photos of the impressive looking castle from the outside and then go for a stroll around the park. Continue Reading →
Good morning Ireland! Still a bit cloudy I see. I really wish the sun would come out. Going to bed when we did was probably a bad idea since we woke up entirely too late to have an actual breakfast meal. Guess I will have to begin my taste testing of every Irish Stew that I can get my hands on a bit earlier than expected. We checked out of our hostel around 10 or so and off we go to drive through the Wicklow Mountains. Or what we can make out through the fog/rain. Tried to take a few random side roads to see what we could find but were thwarted by muddy roads and pools of water that we weren’t sure the Mondeo could handle.
Though the scenery is beautiful, there are not many photo opportunities due to rain so we push on to Kilkenny stopping for some food on the way. We grabbed lunch at the Wicklow Heather, a fine eating establishment recommended by Mary the night before, our hostel owner the morning of, and also by my Let’s Go travel book. Had my first of what I expect to be many Irish Stews and was very pleased. I don’t see how anyone could go wrong with eating meat and potatoes for the rest of their life. It’s the perfect marriage of flavors, textures, and nutrients. Everything a growing boy, such as myself, needs. Continue Reading →
Finally get some decent weather in New Jersey and I decide to leave and come to a land where “30% chance of light rain” actually means “100% chance of downpour”. No matter. Come children, gather around and I will tell ye a story filled with dangers around every turn, adventures abound, and pubs filled with fine people who are not ashamed of their “gift of gab”.
Our journey starts like most epic tales – at JFK International Airport where in true American fashion, we leave the gate right on time, but then proceed to sit on the tarmac for almost 2 hours because of a sensor error in the baggage hold. It was pretty funny when they had to reboot the plane. More of a GROAN THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER kind of funny. Not so much a haha funny. Eventually we lift off and about 6 hours later land in Dublin where there happens to be quite a bit of rain outside. Can’t say it was unexpected but would have been nice if the weather gods gave us sun for 2 weeks. Or at the very least on our first day there. Continue Reading →
The title says it all.
No, seriously. It does.
So I doubt anyone has really been checking up on my blog since my New Zealand trip, but I had a few entries written down and never posted. Here is one reflecting on music and how it affects me:
Music & Lyrics
The way our itinerary was planned for this trip, Eugene and I spent quite a bit of time on the road. To help pass this time, we frequently hooked up our ipods to the car stereo. Though we share some musical interests, there are a number of bands that we listen to that the other doesn’t care for. Though we avoided any conflict, our differing interests spurred a number of conversations where we explored what music meant to us.
Though I knew that I would never have the talent to play any instruments more complicated than beating my pen on a notebook in class to a song in my head, I came to a strong realization on this trip that I examine and appreciate the lyrics to a song significantly more than I pay attention to the music itself. Eugene on the other hand is the complete opposite, appreciating the music without necessarily knowing or following what is actually being sung. It’s interesting to note that for all of our similar behaviors, we are quite different in this respect.
This revelation is pretty weird considering that I don’t really appreciate poetry and am by no means a master wordsmith. Despite this, if a song has repetitive beats, simple chords, and beating drums in the background I don’t mind at all as long as the lyrics tell a story that I find interesting. I will be the first to admit that the bands that I listen to are rarely anything more than average musicians but they are generally able to write about feelings I’ve had, situations I’ve been in, or things I’ve observed in ways that I don’t usually find in the mainstream. To me this is much more important than being able to craft the perfect guitar solo or have what is considered to be a “polished” sound.
In addition to my appreciation for lyrics, I never cease to be amazed when a song evokes a memory from my past. I am constantly reminded of people, places, and events when playing my music library on random. I love it when a song from a band that I haven’t listened to in ages comes on and transports me to another place. New Found Glory or Good Charlotte come on and I can vividly remember hanging out with friends who I now rarely (if at all) talk to since graduating high school in 2004. Anberlin starts playing and I remember details of walks I would take with Argos at night before going to bed. I remember my freshman year floor (Motion City Soundtrack and Matchbook Romance), joining the crew team sophomore year (Rufio and Rise Against), and getting internships my junior and senior year(AFI and Saosin). I am reminded of past relationships (Don’t Look Down) and crushes (Jimmy Eat World) as well as road trips (Midtown), concerts (Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy), and family vacations (The Beatles and Queen). It is this power that I appreciate most in music. Despite “growing up” and developing new tastes in music, I can always rely on a single song playing on random to bring me back to the important parts of my life. I’m curious to see which songs and bands will invoke memories of New Zealand.
Total Distance Driven – 3,153km or 1959 miles (Google Map of our Itinerary)
Total $ Spent -
||$7,108.13||= $3,554.06 per person|
Oh… and then there was that $60NZD parking ticket. So divide that by 1.65 and then split it in half and add it to our totals. Overall, not too shabby for 3 weeks in NZ. The favorable exchange rate certainly helped us, but unfortunately its been declining steadily since the beginning of March, dropping from $2.02NZD:$1USD on March 2 to $1.57NZD:$1USD today (May 30). During our trip it started out at $1.75NZD:$1USD and then hovered around $1.65NZD:$1USD for most of the trip after an initial drop.
Still working on the photo processing, so you’ll all need to be a little more patient. If anyone wants high resolution files from the photos I already have posted on the blog, just let me know, I can email them out. I’d be happy to share.
People go on journeys for a variety of reasons. Some hope to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Others are just looking for a place to lie on the beach and roast in the sun. Others still just hope to “discover” themselves, whatever that is supposed to mean. I’ve taken a fairly lighthearted approach in constructing this blog, using humor as generously as I could, giving a daily account of where we were and what we did, and not delving too deeply into my reasons for coming to New Zealand. I wanted to go with the flow, see where this journey took me, and leave my reflections for the very end.
I’ve long considered New Zealand a mystical far off land but was never that interested in it despite knowing that for a hot minute in the late 70’s, paperwork was filed for my dad’s side of the family to move here. My lack of interest changed after seeing the Lord of the Rings movies in theaters and absolutely falling in love with the beauty of the country. I spent countless hours on the internet learning about the country’s history, finding photos of the places I had seen on the big screen, and playing with my academic calendar in order to facilitate a trip there.
For whatever reason, I developed this notion that New Zealand was a bastion of all that is good and pure, untainted by the arrogance, greed, and consumerism that is running rampant throughout the rest of the world. It was far away from the things that I see as being the downfall of modern day society. It seemed like the perfect place. Utopia. I decided that I had to visit this place and see it for myself. I knew it would either be the best trip of my life—my prayers answered and the country exactly as I pictured it—or a complete let down, filled with all of the things I wanted to run away from. All or none, the perfect test of extremes.
It definitely helped that my cousin Eugene felt exactly the same way and so the seed for this trip was planted. I prayed that I would not be disappointed and that my high expectations wouldn’t be shattered. In November 2008, the seedling finally broke through the ground as we booked our flight to Auckland. We had been tracking plane tickets for quite a few months at that point and when we saw they had dropped from $1800 to $1300 for a round trip, we made the decision then and there to book the flight. We exchanged high fives and I went to get ready for bed. It was at 2am, smack dab in the middle of the week, and I didn’t care that I had to be up for work that morning at 6am. I was too excited to sleep. We were finally going!
From the moment that we booked the trip until we left, I was frequently asked ”Why New Zealand? Gonna go catch some hobbits? Fight some orcs?”. Though my love of the Lord of the Rings movies inspired me to explore New Zealand, we actually spent no time partaking in the LOTR tours or activities. My friends didn’t seem to understand my excitement. My family for the most part was dumbfounded about why I wanted to travel to the end of the earth. My coworkers joked that while I was there I should make sure I fix the problems we were having in AsiaPac. As hard as I tried, I feel that I was unable to properly articulate my obsession with New Zealand. I gave a half assed answer or deflected the questions and told myself, ”It’s okay, I’ll show them through photos and journal entries of my observations. Maybe then they will understand.”
Though our May 2009 departure date seemed to be ages away when I graduated from college in December 2008, it managed to come out of nowhere, almost catching me off guard. What seemed so far away was suddenly very real indeed. It was time to pack my things and go off on my own personally designed excursion. Hopefully by this time you have read the posts about my trip and have seen the photos. If you have, then it won’t come as any surprise that New Zealand was everything I could have hoped for, and more. There really aren’t enough positive adjectives in the English language to describe how I have felt this whole trip. The last three weeks of my life have been filled with nothing but straight up awesome.
It wasn’t a journey to achieve spiritual enlightenment or discover myself. It certainly wasn’t much of a relaxing vacation. What it ended up being was a journey to prove to myself that not all is lost and there are still places in this world that are pure; Places that can provide an endless number of jaw-dropping experiences—through admiration of the scenery, interactions with the locals, and cultural observations. Ensuring that the tail end of our trip contained our stop in Milford Sound, a “village” with two lodges, a single café, and generators that shut off at 11pm was the perfect way to get away, evaluate and reflect on life while in the shadows of a glacier carved fiord.
Though I obviously can’t move there now, I know for sure that I will definitely live in New Zealand at some point in my life. It is too beautiful of a place to not experience all four seasons in succession.
Should have a “New Zealand by the numbers” post up soon. As well as a few others with some personal reflections.
Barely foggy conditions and Qantas is afraid to fly. 20 hours in the plane. 10 hours on layover. 38 hour day. Immediate rage upon getting to LAX. Immediate relief upon showering. What a trip…
And so our journey through New Zealand has come to an end. Eugene and I did some more souvenir shopping today, enjoyed the weather, relaxed a bit, and had an amazing dinner at Captains.
It’s been a phenomenal three weeks and I don’t regret a single second of the trip. I haven’t left yet and I already can’t wait til I can come back!
After getting back to Queenstown last night, we grabbed dinner at Pog Mahones where I once again had my new favorite dish- Irish Lamb Stew and a Kilkenny. It’s the perfect combination. We went in search of dessert after dinner and ended up getting “Hokey Pokey” ice creams (Yes, plural. They don’t have singular ice cream in New Zealand. Only ice creams.) at the super market. It’s supposed to be like vanilla ice cream with wafers in it. The first bite is delicious. After that, it’s really not that great. After dessert I played some minesweeper and free cell, blogged a little, and then passed out for the night.
Today we woke up to rain and overcast skies—perfect for souvenir shopping which we have neglected to do so far on our trip. Went to a late breakfast at the Vudu Café and then ventured around town for authentic made in New Zealand gifts. Dinner was at the H.M.S. Brittania and then back to Vudu Café for warm beverages and an acoustic performance from a Kiwi named Milly who was actually quite good.
One more full day in Queenstown tomorrow and then we begin our journey back home. Not looking forward to the 8794875 hours we will have to spend in planes or airports.
After waking up and checking out on Tuesday, we were off to the Milford Sound. From the photos that we had seen online, Eugene and I were probably looking forward to this stop more than any of the others. We were hoping for great things and we were not disappointed.
We once again had to navigate by map because for some reason Garmin decided that there was no reason to link a few major highways on the South Island. It’s okay though. I’m a master navigator. I broke out my sextent and compass, took a look at where the sun was overheard, and guided us with the skill of a Sherpa leading people to the peak of Mount Everest. The weather when we left Queenstown was less than stellar and we expected that we would have to use all three of our remaining days in Milford Sound waiting for the Sun to come out.
The drive to Te Anau (our midway pitstop) was relatively uneventful—just more beautiful scenery being drenched with rain and the occasional dusting of snow. Once there, we checked in with the Department of Conservation office and found out that we were required to carry snow chain for our tires to continue on to Milford Sound. We picked those up at the local gas station, got some food at the supermarket, and off we went into the depths of the unknown, but not before going down the Wong Way. Haha. I crack myself up.
The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound was a lot more interesting than from Queenstown to Te Anau. And a lot less harrowing than we expected. Eager to get to our destination (and not wanting to get wet), we stopped sparingly for photos. Just a few to share:
We arrive at the Milford Sound Lodge, check in, and then head into “town” to get some dinner. “Town” consists of an information booth, a café/bar, some houses, a small airstrip, and a marina. Obviously not much going on here except for the scenery, which we were totally okay with. After dinner, we relaxed in the lodge, blogged a little, and went to bed ready for an early start the next day—hoping for good weather.
The next morning we awoke to blue skies, patches of cotton-like clouds, and the sun! Woohoo! Our prayers were answered! We go to the office, book a Milford Sound cruise that leaves in an hour and eat some peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. Word of advice to anyone planning on moving to New Zealand—bring your own peanut butter. After breakfast we head to the marina, board our boat along with 3 other passengers and off we go. The 2 hour cruise was absolutely amazing. We received a geology and history lesson and were given plenty of opportunities to take photos. Haven’t looked at any from my SLR, but I’m hoping something good came out. Here is a bunch from the pocket camera:
When we got back to the marina, it was overrun with tour groups from Te Anau. Thousands of people swarmed around like ants. Eugene and I looked at each other with terror in our eyes. We nearly went into “kill everyone” mode. We decided then and there that our prayers were answered, we got the weather we wanted, got the photos we needed, and it was time to get the hell out of dodge. This remote outpost was being infested. We got back to the lodge, checked out early and made it back to Queenstown in record time. Even with the cows.
First batch of photos from my SLR. This is by no means comprehensive– merely what I’ve quickly been able to post process during our rainy day in Queenstown. The full resolution shots will be up in the online gallery once we get back. The file sizes are too big to upload with our painfully slow internet here. Hopefully I will be motivated to get this all processed once I am back in New Jersey. I’ve probably got close to 1600 or so photos to go through.
Not much to write really. We left Wanaka after breakfast and proceeded to Queenstown. The road, though short compared to the distances we have traveled on other days on our trip, was quite harrowing.
At the bottom of the mountain, we see what is probably the best road sign of our trip:
Tomorrow we head to the Milford Sound which is probably the most anticipated stop for both Eugene and myself. Hopefully the road is open and tire chains are not required.
Saturday Morning Post:
Plans changed a little bit based on availability of rooms at hostels. Looks like we’ll be skipping Mt. Cook on this trip. Guess we’ll have to hit it up on the next one. Today we depart Christchurch for Wanaka. Supposed to be a really nice lake there and we’ll also use the town as a base to explore Fox Glacier.
We’ll have internet and the area is supposed to be very photogenic, so I’m hoping for a nice array of photos to share.
Saturday Night Update:
So remember when I said we awoke to great weather and were hoping for a nice, sunny, scenic drive to Wanaka? Yea that didn’t happen. First, the GPS decides she doesn’t feel like working so we have to break out a map and navigate old school. Second, about an hour outside of Christchurch we start getting drizzled on and a little bit later it turned to torrential downpour. Maybe not torrential. But definitely downpour. The trip itself was still pretty scenic with fields of cows and sheep on a backdrop of snow covered mountains barely visible through the fog. Quite a sight that unfortunately we were unable to capture with our cameras because we didn’t have a caddy to hold a giant umbrella over us while we fiddled with tripods.
Anyway, we got rained on for the remainder of the 5 hour trip and pulled into our hostel just before 5pm. After checking in and finding that the WiFi was $6 per hour and on top of that it barely worked, we were not too happy. We’ll just have to find an internet café in town. After checking in, we went to dinner at The White House Café as recommended in my guidebook and were immediately returned to a good mood. I had a smoked fish pie with mashed potatoes which tasted delicious and totally hit the spot. The perfect meal for a cold and rainy day.
Unfortunately it looks like the rain is here to stay for the next few days, according to the proprietor of The White House Café, so we won’t be seeing any glaciers this time around. It’ll have to wait until the next New Zealand trip. Hopefully the weather clears out by the time we get to the Milford Sound. We’ve got 3 nights booked there and even if we get a single afternoon of sunlight I think Eugene and I will consider it a successful stop. We knew that we were chancing the weather on this trip since it is the end of the fall season so we are grateful for the good weather that we have had and the scenery that we have seen and experienced.
Sunday Afternoon Update:
After breakfast at The Cheeky Monkey, we grab our camera and laptop bags and decide to go off in search of a nice view, despite the rain. We get on a road that follows Lake Wanaka, pulling over a few times to take some photos despite the weather.
We eventually reach a sign that says the following:
Some truckers coming from the opposite direction let us know that the road is actually closed just a bit further, so we turn around and head back, glad to see that the weather was clearing up and the blue skies were peeking through the cloud cover. Eventually we find the perfect place to pull over, grab our cameras, and start shooting away. What was initially a barely visible peak soon turned into a magnificent view as the fog cleared out in lieu of sunshine and blue skies. Now we’re back in town ensuring that we have places to stay in Queenstown and Milford Sound and off to get some eats in a little bit.
We head to Queenstown tomorrow for a day before going to the Milford Sound. Pray for us that the weather holds out.
We woke up today to another beautiful day, probably the warmest that it has been (19 degrees Celsius) the whole trip. After some breakfast and a quick stop at a fudge store so Eugene could fulfill a sweet tooth craving, we were on our way to Christchurch. After approximately 20 minutes of scenic driving, Eugene decides he is sick of being behind the wheel and he pulls over and passes control on to me. Reprogramming your brain to think in a mirror image is an interesting sensation and we are still alive, so I guess I did something right despite Eugene calling me a coward for drifting too far from the center divider in the face of oncoming trucks. After about 5 minutes behind the wheel of the Ford Focus I was able to experience firsthand what Eugene was bitching about the whole trip. It really is a giant pile of shit. It had no redeeming qualities except the AUX port that we used to blast some tunes from the ipod.
I spent most of the drive with a vice grip on the steering wheel and my mind focused on keeping closer to the center divider. Contrary to the United States where the lanes are twice as big as a car, in New Zealand they are just barely bigger than a Focus. Drifting is not an option. Thank goodness for banked roadways. We made it to our hostel in one piece and after checking in went into town to find some eats. Sick of fried foods, we settled on sushi. The fish was very fresh, but the selection was not up to our spoiled American standards, so we’re only going to give it 3 ½ stars our of 5.
After lunch we decided to take care of administrative tasks. Namely getting rid of the Focus. We found the Budget office and told them about how horrible the Focus is. Transmission is garbage. The wheel alignment is off. It’s an ugly red color. It’s made by Ford. They agreed that it was a pile of shit and an insult to force us to keep driving it around such a wonderful country, so they upgraded us to a Toyota Rav4 for $10NZD more per day. Brilliant. This is like upgrading from a tricycle to a BMW. We could not be happier. Especially Eugene.
Eager to test out the abilities of our new vehicle, we look through my guidebook for an appropriate challenge. “Scenic Drive”. Be aware that Summit Rd. is narrow with no shoulder between the road and the steep drop-offs on the path to Godley Head, a rugged promontory of grassy paths and sheer cliffs overlooking the austere Pacific and Taylors Mistake Perfect. If narrow roadways with guardrail-less cliffs aren’t the perfect challenge, I don’t know what is. Off we go, up and up away from town into the hills, eventually making it to the pinnacle of awesome. We park the Rav4 and begin our trek down the path until we reach a fork. To the right, a fence and what looks to be an open field. To the left, what seems to be a path to the mini “Rock of Gibraltar”.
We went left. After 10 minutes we saw that we were misled and this path took us down the mountain. We backtrack and take the other fork. Another fork! Dammit! Just tell me where the best place to take photos is! We pick the left fork again since it looks like it leads to the “Rock of Gibraltar” again. It does, but the climb to the top is very steep on it doesn’t look like it is doable to me. Eugene disagrees, we exchange some choice words, he calls me a coward, I call him an idiot, we agree to disagree and somehow I manage to persuade him to turn around and come with me into the beautiful open field full of sheep. From a distance it was beautiful and open. Up close it was a minefield full of sheep shit. All over the place. I call out to a few in the distance and they immediately start running away. Cowards. The worst I would have done to them was slaughter a baby and roast it on an open flame. Fortunately for them, the sun was going down and I was too cold to go running across a mountainside in a futile attempt to catch dinner with my bare hands. Instead, we find a place to set up our tripods, take some photos, and then head back to the car before it gets too dark—Eugene didn’t have his flashlight this time.
We head back to the hostel to continue our administrative tasks. This time tending to the pile of laundry accumulating between the two of us. $12NZD and 1.5 hours later, our clothes are clean and zest-free. Time for dinner at Christchurch’s best microbrewery, The Twisted Hop. Dinner was a pizza topped with 4875 types of meat washed down with a Honey Dew beer.
Now we’re back at the hostel and planning our next few stops. And for the record, we failed to find any synagogues in Christchurch. Probably some sort of conspiracy.
Just pulled into Kaikoura. Fish and
Chips Wedges for lunch and then off to find some seals. Fantastic weather, beautiful blue water on one side, snow capped mountains on the other. Will have an update and photos up later tonight.
Awesome day again today. Very warm and after breakfast in Picton, we began our journey south. The first hour of the trip took us through some rolling hills filled with vineyards against a backdrop of mountains. At the start of the second hour, we were dumped onto a road that followed the coast where we were surrounded on one side by teal blue water normally seen on postcards from the Bahamas and on the other side by snow capped mountains normally seen on postcard from the Rockies. Needless to say, Eugene and I were both quite pleased that this was not a scene from a postcard, but real life slapping us in the face and saying Look how beautiful I am! You better take pictures and tell everyone back at home that they need to give up on the US and move to New Zealand. Consider yourselves warned. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
After checking in at the Lyell Creek Lodge, we grabbed some fish & chips at Hine’s Takeaways and then went off in search of the native seals which supposedly just chill on the rocks just outside of town. We parked the car and decided to follow a trail along the water. About 5 minutes into our walk, a couple coming from the other direction stops and tells us that if we keep going, we’re going to get screwed by the high tide and the only way out is to continue walking forever and then up a really steep path. Still sore from last night’s expedition and having partially learned my lesson about not engaging in stupid ideas, I convince Eugene that we should go back and just take some photos of the sun set over the harbor. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find some seals over there. He reluctantly agreed after I had to call him an idiot a few times and back we went.
Everything happens for a reason and this is no different. We get back to where the car is parked and start taking some photos on the rocks by the water and lo and behold, there are a group of 3 seals laying on the rocks about 10 feet from me. Off in the distance I can see about a dozen more. We spent the next hour or so taking photos and trying to get as close as we can, obviously not heeding the REMAIN 10 METERS AWAY FROM SEALS. THEY WILL ATTACK YOU IF DISTURBED AND HAVE A TENDENCY TO KILL HUMANS FOR SPORT Just kidding. The signs said to not bother the seals. We chose to get closer.
After Eugene got a little too close, what looked to be the leader of the seal colony started barking or snorting at Eugene, i.e. telling us to back off. Which we did, for a little while. Eventually he got sick of us and sent one of his lackeys to chase after us. No joke. He waddled over to another seal that was sleeping, woke him up, yelled at him in seal-tongue, and then it started chasing after us. Hilarity ensues. We do our best impression of the French army and retreat. Eugene tried to negotiate a truce, but he was about as successful as the United Nations was in finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
After being told to go away again, we decide to listen to the seal and went to another part of the beach/park/rock and take some more photos before heading back to town for some dinner.
Now we’re back in our room and planning our next stop. Hopefully the drive to Christchurch puts us near some more seal colonies that we can negotiate with.
Our first stop in the South Island is to the town of Picton. Cute little town, some good restaurants by the water, pretty big marina, and just houses as you go out away from the water. We decided to use it as a base for a couple of days to explore the wine country to the south and the hiking around the Queen Charlotte Sound. We arrived Tuesday on the early morning ferry from Wellington and proceeded to go into town to find some breakfast. My guidebook suggested a small cafe named Gusto so we made a beeline for there and were not disappointed. After filling up on a delicious Mussel Chowder and partaking in Carrot Cake for dessert, we went off in search of our hostel.
The drive to Sequoia Lodge & Backpackers took all of 5 minutes and soon after we were checked in and making ourselves at home. And by making ourselves at home, I mean Eugene decided to take a nap and I went in search of the free wireless internet to figure out what to do and where to go. Our host recommended a hike to the Queen Charlotte Sound and a vineyard tour. After waking up
the sleeping bear Eugene, we decided on a hike that afternoon and the vineyard tour the following day.
Off we went and after finally finding the trail, we proceed along the trail but don’t make it too far before the sun starts setting. Bummer… the sun starts setting at like 4:00pm. What a lazy asshole! We set up the tripods and take what we can get. I haven’t looked at what came out on the SLR yet, but I got a shot with the pocket camera (see below). After the sun finally set, we trekked back to town and headed to Seamus’s Irish Pub for some dinner. I had an amazing plate of Fish & Chips washed down with a couple of pints of Kilkenny. New Zealand really brings out the best in people here- somehow even the Irish know how to cook properly. After dinner we headed back to the hostel and called it a night.
This morning we
decided managed to sleep in to 10:00AM (guess that hike wore us out) and after showering and making ourselves presentable we head out for breakfast at Gusto and then off to the vineyards we go for some photography and tastings. We were persuaded by our tastebuds to purchase 2 more bottles of wine from Maria Villa Estates which means we are going to have to start drinking heavily or throw out some clothes so the airlines take our baggage. Though my understanding and taste for wine is still in its infant stages, I’ve learned quite a bit in our visits to several vineyards. The people who work for them have quite a passion for the art of wine-making and are eager to share their stories/experiences and answer our many questions.
After our visit to Cloudy Bay Vineyards, we headed back, stole some more internet, and then went on another hike a little deeper into the peninsula to “the Snout”. In typical pigheaded Russian fashion, we ignore the fact that the sun is going down and push on to the very end. In retrospect, not the greatest idea we’ve ever had. We make it to “the Snout” right as the sun is hiding behind the mountains, take photos for 10-15 minutes, and then decide to head back.
Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong.
Darkness, tree roots all over, wild animals rustling in the leaves, 20 foot drops off to the side, and constant switches between uphill and downhill plagued our journey back to the car. Don’t worry though, Mom, Eugene had a flashlight. The path wasn’t so bad but with all of our photo gear and not having eaten since breakfast, we were both pretty exhausted (not to mention sweaty. oh god so sweaty.) by the time we made it back to the car. Off to Seamus’s for dinner again before going back to the hostel to cleanse ourselves, blog a little, and call it a night.
So after just over a week in New Zealand, I’m beginning to understand and even appreciate all of the nuances of living here. I also wanted to add a little more depth to the blog rather than just saying what we did, where we went, and what we ate. Here is my attempt to put into words the “things” that I’ve noticed:
Public safety announcements, commercials, and billboards
For a country that shies away from putting up warning signs regarding upcoming hairpin turns or guard rails on the roads except when death is imminent, New Zealand has quite a bit of public safety publicity in the media. We’ve watched TV a couple of times, but both times, I’ve seen multiple commercials urging parents to set the right example to their children about speeding, smoking, and drinking. Compared to the commercials I’ve seen back at home, in my opinion these somehow are a little more poignant and drive the point across better. The billboards can be seen at the side of the road as well as in town at bus stops and on buildings are just short versions of the commercials on TV.
I noticed one posted in Rotorua that said smoking kills 5,000 New Zealanders a year. Heh. That’s it? We probably have that many die per day in the US. I was curious and looked up the figures (US deaths from UPenn, Population from CIA World Factbook) Doing the math as I am prone to do as an accounting nerd, I find that the death rate as a % of population isn’t as different as I though it would be:
New Zealand: 5,000 deaths / 4,200,000 population = 0.11%
United States: 440,000 deaths / 307,000,000 population = 0.14%
Aside from these billboards and commercials though, there are very few warning labels in the country. People with peanut allergies should stay away because they don’t seem to warn about that here. Most roads, even the treacherous ones, barely have any warning signs or guard rails. Seems that the Kiwis are big fans of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. I’m down with that. I’m all for removing warning labels and letting nature take its proper course.
Everyone smiles and is generally pleasant
This was one of the things that I expected in New Zealand and I have not been let down. The people here are generally very friendly, you’ll get smiles from total strangers, and there is very little bullshit. The people here are genuine, which is a nice change of pace compared to the United States where it seems that we are surrounded by people just trying to take advantage of us.
Being a former British territory, colony, protectorate, etc, etc, it goes without saying that rugby is huge here and I’m pretty sure is the national sport. The national team, the All Blacks, are always on the TV at the pubs we’ve been at and are actually very interesting to watch. Rugby is much more fluid than other sports and quite exciting. I guess it also helps that New Zealand is ridiculously good at the game. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, American football has absolutely nothing on rugby. I’d be glad to adopt it as my favorite sport after hockey. I might even start following it back in the US.
Happy cows and sheep
If you’ve read any of my previous entries, you’ll see that there are plenty of photos of happy sheep and cows. When we are driving between towns/cities, there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing these animals (in addition to a few others we’ve seen – horses, goats, deer, etc) roam around in open fields content on munching away at the grass. I get the feeling that New Zealanders can’t even begin to comprehend the disgusting and horrific conditions that these animals live and die under in the US. The result is pretty obvious- the milk here tastes better, the beef tastes excellent, and the lamb is (pardon my french) fucking amazing. It’s difficult to explain why this makes me happy, but it just does. On the long drives, seeing these animals free to roam around at their own pace is refreshing. Makes me want to own my own farm.
I kind of alluded to it in the previous topic, but this one will go into slightly more detail. The short version is that food is delicious and expensive (at least by New Zealand standards). The long version? New Zealanders show their European influences in their treatment of food. Even without any real cultural identity of their own, every type of food we’ve had (stews, steaks, sandwiches, eggs, soup, fish, pizza, etc) has been prepared with fresh ingredients, contains little to no grease, and is served in a perfectly sized portion. The downside? Food here (among other things) is quite expensive by New Zealand standards (most main courses are cafes and restaurants running $15-20NZD, desserts $7-12NZD, appetizers $10-15NZD, you get the picture). With the favorable exchange rate, it’s not so bad for us, but I’m not sure how New Zealanders can afford to go out to eat very often. My guess is that they leave it only for special occasions and generally just stay in and cook for themselves. Regardless, Eugene and I have yet to be disappointed by any meals here. And we’re pretty harsh critics. Well, not so much me. Eugene is.
Lack of heat
This isn’t really a cultural observation as I haven’t been inside of anyone’s home, but in quite a few places that we’ve stayed, we enter a frigid room with single pane windows and a small space heater off in the corner. I guess in order to cultivate sturdy people they sacrifice heat. Makes sense to me. I don’t mind too much since my sleeping bag is rated to 0 degrees.
Same shitty weatherman as in the US
The weather here in NZ certainly takes some getting used to. The internet tells us rain and clouds. The TV tells us snow and hail. The people at the hostel welcome desk say storms are on the way. What actually happened, you ask? CLEAR BLUE SKIES. It’s actually kind of funny because we start each day not really knowing what to expect. I suppose it is just part of the adventure of living here.
New Zealanders are very orderly people and one thing that Eugene and I have noticed is that it is very clean everywhere we go. In town. On the roads. On nature trails. People here just take the extra few seconds to throw their trash into the proper receptacles instead of chucking it out the window or on the ground.
Appreciation for life and leisure and family
While initially an annoyance when we needed to get something and found out that the store was closed, I once again see the European influences here in regards to separating work and personal life. Most stores close around 5 or 6pm, there are lots of cafes that are open late and people seem to get together rather frequently in person. We see lots more families going for walks or riding bicycles together and the people clearly have a much deeper appreciation for life, leisure, and family here. I don’t blame them– when you live in such a beautiful country it is impossible to remove yourself from nature.
Organic/All Nature/Healthy Eating Craze
Though it doesn’t seem to be as big here, there are still plenty of stores that sell only organic or all natural foods. We see a lot of “gluten free” dishes in restaurants. One reason I think is that the food here is generally all fresh and free of garbage. Non-organic products in NZ are probably on par with the best organic in the US. The best part about this is that nothing here contains fake sugars– real cane sugar in soda and not high fructose corn syrup. Restaurants don’t bother with fake stuff- they all have real brown cane sugar on every table. Ingredient lists contain only a handful of ingredients and they are all pronounceable. No more sodium trioxytate or aluminum biphosphate in my ice cream or ketchup. Just good old fashioned goodness here.
Though a little difficult to get used to at first, I think Eugene and I are both pretty acclimated to the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing. Aside from that, the roads here are very well thought out. Despite hairpin turns and very few straight roads, the roads are all banked properly for turns. They also have very few traffic signals here, instead relying on a system of traffic circles which would probably never work in the US due to sheer numbers and asshole drivers. Driving here is definitely a challenge but the scenery makes it worth it I think. Easy for me to say though as I sit in the passenger seat and take photos/operate the iPod.
With poor weather and not really feeling like going to a club or cafe, Eugene and I decided to see the new Star Trek movie here in Wellington. First off, awesome movie. Second off, $16 tickets! Ridiculous! Third off, most comfortable movie theater experience of my life. Nice plush seats, wide rows, plenty of legroom, and what we figured out to be assigned seats based on an algorithm of first come first serve of the best seats in the theater. Even the popcorn tasted better since they actually pop it instead of ship it from some factory in giant clear garbage bags.
Fashion trends. Or lack thereof.
It’s interesting that the people here don’t seem to be as brand sensitive when it comes to clothing. There are no real fashion trends and we’ve seen people dressed in every possible way- from punks to posh, from business to bohemian, it’s all here. I have yet to see, however, anyone with a Coach bag and the only people wearing Uggs are tourists.
Lack of large evil corporations
The only strong corporate presence that one sees here is the fast food chains. There seem to be a bunch of electronics chains, and obviously there are the supermarket/retailer chains, but for the most part, there are a lot of small businesses here and we seem to think that the people here prefer it that way.
Johnson & Johnson
Obviously I have to write about my employer! They apparently have offices in the major cities of New Zealand which is good for me. Maybe they need some American financial know-how one day soon.
Kids and dogs without leashes
In every town that we’ve been in so far, the kids are well behaved and dogs generally roam free next to their owners without leashes. I dunno what else to say except that its definitely a testament to how life goes here.
No rampant consumerism
I touched on this up with the part about fashion but I felt it warrants its own entry. Unlike in the US, there is little to no rampant consumerism in New Zealand. I’ve seen a handful of ipods. We’ll pass a Mercedes or BMW every once in a while. The houses are all rather tasteful and a far cry from the McMansions of the US. As one of my biggest complaints about living in the US, this is like a breath of fresh air for me. People here just know how to live within their means. We could stand to learn a thing or two about that from New Zealand.
Not so much a comment about New Zealand as it is about the world. Facebook is taking over. As I sit here and write in the common area of a hostel, there are a constant stream of people going to the computer, checking their email, and then heading to facebook to get their fix. Americans, Brits, Kiwis, Aussies, Germans, Spaniards, Frenchies, Irish, Scandinavians, you name it… Pretty crazy.
I’m sure I’ll have more from the 2nd half of my trip. =)
Not too much to write about for Wellington to be honest. I’ll make a real post about it in the next few days but we’ve had cloudy weather so it’s been a bit of a chillout and relax stop for us. Off to the South Island tomorrow morning.
EDIT: THEY HAVE KNIGHT RIDER ON TV HERE. MY LIFE IS COMPLETE. I AM NOT COMING BACK TO THE UNITED STATES.
We’ve decided that even native New Zealanders have no idea what the weather is going to be like. The woman at our hostel in Taupo told us that there was a cold front coming in and we were getting rain and probably snow and hail. Dammit! Why can’t we win with this weather. What she meant to say was that we would have clear skies and lots of sunlight. A minor mistake which I can forgive. This time.
Before heading out from Taupo, we took a couple of photos of the lake, grabbed an excellent breakfast at the Replete Cafe, hopped online to confirm our accommodations in Wellington, and then were off to Napier, in the heart of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s premier wine country. On the way we saw lots more happy cows and sheep. They’re all over the place. And mighty delicious.
The drive itself wasn’t too eventful aside from the cows. There were some nice views but the sun wasn’t in the right place for us to get the photos that we wanted, so we pressed on. Upon checking in, we find out from our host that Napier is “under seige.” Wtf are you talking about? Like Bruce Willis driving tanks into NYC in search of terrorists under seige? Do the Kiwis even have a swat team? Apparently some dude shot up some “constables” and then barricaded himself in his house with automatic weaponry and explosives. The police cordoned off a whole section of the town and wouldn’t let anyone in or out. At least they didn’t block off the restaurant district. If they had, there would have been another seige. No, not me. I’m a man of peace and diplomacy. Eugene, on the otherhand, gets very cranky when not properly fed and is prone to violence. Lunch was at a Thai restaurant and was excellent. Fresh, tasty, and not greasy at all. And off to the Mission Estate Winery for a tasting and tour. We left with some (hopefully) nice photos and slightly lighter wallets.
Dinner was once again at an Irish Pub followed by some sunset photos which didn’t come out as expected because someone decided to build an industrial port right under the best view in town. Ah well… time for a visit to the local supermarket, PAK’nSAVE to pick up some supplies and food for breakfast.
Now we’re sitting in our room, waiting for laundry to dry au naturel, blogging, and watching American shows (The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and movies (Back to the Future 3 and The Life of David Gale) on NZ tv.
So yesterday we drive into Rotorua. The supposed geothermal capital of New Zealand. The town also is famous for smelling like fart. First off, it didn’t smell that bad. I’ve produced worse. And we were too tired to partake in the thermal hot springs. So I can’t vouch for that either.
The day was pretty low key. We pulled into our hostel in the early afternoon, dropped off our stuff and then went exploring. I was really looking forward to going zorbing, which is an adventure sport type thing where you sit inside this giant inflatable ball and you roll down a hill with twists and turns (click link for video), but the woman at the hostel told us that it was basically 30 seconds long and cost $50 and wasn’t worth it. Bummer.
Since the weather wasn’t stellar, we figured we would get some food and then see what happens. Lunch was at Zippy’s cafe and consisted of a delicious lamb burrito. It tasted awesome and wasn’t greasy at all. Then we went down to the lakeside to see if we could snap some photos. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t feeling like cooperating and I got a couple of shots on my pocket camera before it started drizzling. Well great…. what now? The woman in the hostel office recommended another road with some scenery, so we hopped in the car and went to burn some precious petrol. Lake Tarawera here we come!
Lake Tarawera was nice. Nothing special, but we didn’t really have anything else to do or work with. The weather cleared up a little bit so we set up camp and took some photos before calling it a night and driving back into town for some dinner at Hennessy’s Irish Bar. I indulged in Irish Stew with fresh New Zealand Lamb and a Kilkenney. It was hearty and amazing and the perfect meal to go along with the rugby match playing on the TV. Rugby for the record is about a million times better than American football. Football players are a bunch of pansies as far as I’m concerned.
For whatever reason, Eugene and I were both completely exhausted and I passed out around 8pm. Up at 7am today, we were greeted with overcast skies and wet pavement. With nothing left in Rotorua for us, we grabbed breakfast at the excellent Fat Dog Cafe & Bar before setting out to Taupo in the hopes of nicer weather to partake in outdoor activities. Our hopes were not answered Total rain and overcast today, which means no fishing, no sky diving, and an overall boring day. We found a place in town that offers unlimited wireless internets for $15 so here we are.
Slow start to the day today. We finally made it out the door at 10:30 or so and went to the Success Café for breakfast—Mussel Chowder and Gourmet Sandwiches. We obviously don’t mess around. Breakfast was followed by some quick stops at the supermarket for milk and water, liquor store for some wine, bakery for New Zealand Sourdough Bread Concrete Blocks, and the Coromandel Smoking Co to get some smoked fish for dinner. We then set off on a scenic, albeit rough, drive to the town of Hahei on Road 309.
After a few stops to follow trails and take photos of the native Kauri trees, we made it down to Hahei just as the sun was setting. We grabbed our photo gear and ran to the beach in time to take some awesome shots.
The drive back to the motel can only be described as: WTF man! This is like driving in a video game! The last time I drove like this was in a Porsche in Need For Speed! We somehow made it back alive and with our lunches still in our stomach. After some dinner, we booked our next two hostels and relaxed on the deck until it was time for bed. Tomorrow, we head out for Rotorua, the land that smells like fart.
This is the life. Delicious breakfast and free wifi at Citron Vert. Just finished uploading Day 1 and 2. Trying to get some photos up too, but they may have to wait until later. We head out for Coromandel in a little bit. Weather seems to be holding out despite 30% chance of rain, so we’re hoping for the best.
Today started at the Citron Vert where we managed to kill a few hours reconnecting with society via the internet. Around noon we set out for the town of Coromandel, located on the Coromandel Peninsula about 2 hours from Auckland. The drive was quite scenic and we pulled over on several occasions to take photos of cows and sheep grazing on rolling hills. We eventually rolled into Coromandel around 3pm. Typically a summer vacation destination for New Zealanders, Coromandel is quite empty during the off season. With a population of about 1500 people, the town contains little more than a main street filled with cafes, restaurants, and hotels/motels, with the permanent residents living a bit further up the street.
After checking in at the Harbour View Motel, we take advantage of some free wifi before deciding around 4pm that we needed nourishment. We went into town only to discover that every eating establishment was closed in the mid afternoon. WTF they do siestas here too? We hop back into the car with the intent to explore a little and return in an hour at 5pm when the restaurant we were planning on going to opened up for the evening. Off we went and with a few strategically placed turns (i.e. I’m pretty sure this is the road the woman said to take to get to somewhere special), we ended up on a ridiculously long and winding, gravel, 1.5 lane (barely wide enough for 2 small cars) roadway up a mountain. How in the hell do people drive on these on a regular basis? Better question- How in the hell do they build houses up here? How the Focus made it up the road, I have no idea. There had to have been some sort of divine intervention acting on our behalf. There is no other explanation.
After driving up this road that would defeat the average human though a combination of motion sickness and the fear of falling off the edge and plummeting to certain doom, we arrived at what seemed to be the top. There was a small clearing and a sign describing a path maintained by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. We soon discover that said path is little more than an overgrown trail with some stairs carved into the hill. However, the promise of higher ground overlooking the town and bay as the sun was beginning to set proved to be a good motivator. I basically sprinted to the top, narrowly avoiding death on several occasions (okay maybe a bit dramatic, but this path was about 1-2 feet wide, wet from rain, and without any guardrails or fences), and when I made it to the pinnacle of the mountain, instead of feeling like Rocky Balboa at the top of the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I felt more like George Costanza running from a mob of people the way my legs were on fire and my heart about to explode out of my chest.
It was all worth it though as the view that we were rewarded with was absolutely phenomenal. I could definitely get used to all of this beautiful scenery. We spent a good half hour at the top of the trail before working our way down to avoid having to do it in the dark. The drive back to town wasn’t as bad as we expected and we strolled into ‘Umu’ for some dinner. We started with some Green Tip New Zealand Mussels, followed by Seafood Risotto, and topped off with dessert where I had a brownie sundae topped with caramel and vanilla ice cream. This meal would without question rank in my top 5 meals of all time. After dinner we headed back to our room, extended our stay in Coromandel another night, and killed a few hours on the internet before calling it a night.
We looked through the guidebooks and brochures and found out that there really isn’t that much to do in Auckland. It’s mainly a business town and since we came more for scenery we decided to head away from the center city. After breakfast at “the strawberry alarmclock” (awesome café) we headed to the town of Karekare, located on the west coast of New Zealand about 30 minutes away… according to the GPS. What was not mentioned to us was just how ridiculous the road to get there was. I’ve never seen so many hairpin turns and narrow roadways… and I got to experience quite a number of bus rides in the mountainous regions of Italy! We eventually made it to our destination after 45-50 minutes of driving, parked the car, and set off on a trail after we saw some people (and their dogs) enter and exit.
After 5 minutes of walking through the woods, we enter some sandy terrain with dunes, palm trees, and other tropical plants all around us. After taking some photos of the surrounding mountains, we press on and are rewarded with the most spectacular beach scene I have ever seen. Holy Shit! This can’t possibly be real… It was absolutely breathtaking. Even if it rains for the next 20 days, this trip would still absolutely be worth it. We spent 2.5 hours on the beach taking photos of sand, rocks, water, and mountains before hunger dictated that we return to town and eat. We had a late lunch/early dinner and putzed around town for a little bit in search of the elusive internets but to no avail. We abandoned all hope and drove back in the direction of our hostel and luckily stopped by a NZ version of Starbucks named Esquires that offered an hour of internets with every purchase. A mug of tea later, we’re surfing the web desperately in search of our next accommodations before our hour runs out. The new place has free wifi, excellent reviews, and a view. Let’s hope the internet isn’t lying.
Back at the hostel, we shower and relax before planning what to do for the rest of the evening. I found an Irish Pub named “The Bog” in one of my guidebooks and we head off in search of some pints of Guinness and Kilkenny. Alas, ‘open 10AM to 3AM’ actually means ‘open whenever we damn well feel like being open’ on weeknights. Much to our dismay, “The Bog” was closed and we stumbled home thirsty and sober.
That’s it for Day 2 in Auckland. Tomorrow we set out for the town of Coromandel about 175KM away from Auckland. Supposed to be some really nice coastal scenery and beaches in the area. And seafood too. Hope everyone is well back in the States. Thanks for the comments.
18 hours is an unreasonable amount of time to spend on an airplane. I’m never doing it again. Except for the flight(s) back to the US at the end of this trip. I guess I don’t have much of a choice there.
Anyway, flight from JFK to LAX was alright. Shitty in-flight movie but I got an hour of sleep and some NZ planning done too. Layover at LAX was complete bullshit. Got off the plane, made sure our bags would meet us in Auckland, and then had to get to another terminal for international flights where we had to go through the absurd TSA security check/cattle herding again. To be honest, I don’t think the TSA provides any value added services. They just manage to create lines that one would normally see a million teenage girls and my roommate Jim in to see Hannah Montana. Needless to say, we weren’t able to get a chance to blog from Los Angeles. Sorry folks.
Having never been on a 747, I was woefully unprepared in what to expect in terms of size/passenger capacity. The thing is effing huge. Eugene took the window seat and I had the one next to him. Some kid from Utah sat on the other side of me. He tells me that the snowboard season is over in Utah now, so he and 3 of his friends decide to go to NZ for 6 months for the ski/snowboard season. Must be nice. Whatever happened to going to school or getting a job? I guess I’m just an old man with traditional values.
Flight from LAX to AKL wasn’t completely awful. Got to see Gran Torino and Defiance and managed to catch a few cat naps here and there. Flight attendants were awesome, little details were thought out, and Eugene and I swore we would never fly an American carrier ever again. Somehow I don’t think that is a promise we can actually keep but I’ll try. For the record, United Airlines is complete garbage. In all respects.
Back to the main storyline– We arrive in Auckland at 6:05 NZST (New Zealand Standard Time) and after taking a trip to the restroom to freshen up and do the needful, we have to go through customs and immigration. No, I’m not bringing in foods or animals from the US that could have potentially disastrous effects on your delicate ecosystem. Just here for pleasure, 3 weeks to photograph this beautiful country and find a good enough reason not to go back to mine. No, I don’t have swine flu, but thanks for asking. Great, cheers to you too, have a great day. Completely harmless, the line moved rather quickly, and the New Zealand version of the TSA is staffed by competent people who actually smile and have pleasant demeanors. Unlike the Gestapo that is the TSA. So far, so good. I just need to shower. I think I smell like I lost a fight with a skunk. No one else seems to notice… though they may all just be avoiding me and thinking to themselves “How could they let this stinky savage American into our country?”.
Anywho, after they actually let us into this holy land, we go off in search of the car rental company which is going to let us pay them to risk our lives on roads. We were expecting a trusty Toyota Corolla as per our online reservations but we must have missed the fine print that said “You might get this car or more likely than not we’ll bait and switch you to a vehicle that is inferior in every possible way.” Needless to say, we were provided with a Ford Focus (which happened to be surrounded by Corollas in the parking lot) that we expect to fall apart at any moment despite only having 15000 kilometers kilometres on it. Eugene is convinced that the transmission is going to fall out of it at any moment. I’m too busy to pay attention to details like that. I’m busy being the 2nd navigator because Eugene doesn’t really care to listen to Beatrice the GPS and routinely misses exits or streets. Good thing U-turns are legal here. Or so we think. We haven’t been pulled over yet.
To finish the story, we get to our hostel at 8:30AM. Can’t check in until noon. Really? Can’t you smell me? I need a shower really badly and I’m starting to get hungry. This is no good. Fine, we’ll go to the city center and find something to eat. Maybe that will get our minds off of showering. 20 minutes of downhill walking later Okay. Sunday morning. In Auckland. Why the hell is everything closed? Where are all of the people?
We spot a bakery across the street and make a mad dash towards it. Food! NOM NOM NOM. Oh god what a glorious panini. I feel slightly better. Properly fed and perplexed by the emptiness of the city (the woman at the bakery said that this was pretty normal and it is much more crowded on the weekdays), we make our way back to the hostel and get there at 10:45. Still too early. Why did we rush up this mini version of Mount Everest? So we sit outside on the patio and pray that the people around us don’t come too close. Finally at 11:30 I can’t take it anymore and go to the office to demand that we be given a room. Cheers little brother. Here is your key. Awesome. My powers of persuasion (or stench) apparently doubled since I spoke to him three hours earlier. We bring our stuff to the room and go shower. I’ve never felt better than after that shower. Like a brand new man. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. All 4 magnificent square feet of pink shower stall.
Next on the Itinerary: Devonport, a small town on the other side of the bay from Auckland. We figure we can grab some lunch and get some photos of the sunset over Auckland. Eugene is still getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road, so this is an interesting experience to say the least. We get to Devonport, park, and go in search of lunch. We conclude that 3:00pm doesn’t seem to be a very good time to search for lunch in New Zealand. We find a place and I chow down on a steak sandwich and a ginger beer. Effing delicious. Nice and fresh. Not greasy. I could certainly get used to this. After lunch we walk down to the boardwalk and take photos of some sailboats, the distant scenery, the slightly less distant industrial shipping port, and parts of Auckland.
We drive back to the hostel, lay down for a little bit and our bodies just shut down around 8pm. Guess 5 or 6 hours of “sleep” in 48+ hours will do that to you. I’m a bit sad that Eugene and I couldn’t continue our tradition of drinking until 5am on the same day as arriving to a foreign country like we did in Spain.
All in all, not a bad first day in New Zealand. Could have been a lot worse. Luggage didn’t get lost, we got the car and our room, got some water and fresh fruits/cereal for breakfast, and most importantly we showered. The only negative so far is the lack of free wifi here. Plenty of internet cafes that charge by the hour but very few regular cafes that will give you wifi in exchange for quenching your thirst with coffee or tea. We’re trying to make sure that we can get wifi in all of our remaining hostels so that I can post my blog entries on a close to daily basis. That’s about all I have for Day 1 in Auckland. As a parting thought, I think I’m in love with the Kiwi accent. There is definitely something magical about it.
4:27AM. Kind of tired.
Flight is in less than 12 hours and we’re still packing
Got just about everything in their proper places now we need to print boarding passes, insurance confirmation and hostel information. I might try and get a few hours of sleep but that might be a bad idea. I think my goal right now is to stay awake until the flight so maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually fall asleep on an airplane.
It’s pretty amazing how difficult it is to travel without the conveniences of home. I tried to pack light and still I managed to clock in at 30 pounds for the duffel, another 49534985 for my camera bag, and what will end up another 12 or so for the other backpack I am taking.
I think the next backpacking trip I take (I’m shooting for Northern Europe in 2011– if anyone is interested in joining me) I am going to pack just the bare essentials and leave all modern conveniences except a pocket camera at home. We’ll see how long I last before I start crying for home.
Okay… time for the final phase of packing. The next check in will most likely be during our layover at LAX.
Yesterday was the last day of my rotation as part of the Global Customer Development group at J&J Consumer and I can now officially declare that I am in vacation mode. I still need to pack my bags but I figure I’ll probably leave that until later. And I need to make an awesome playlist for the ipod. And probably book a few more hostels. And call the credit card companies so I don’t get denied when making expensive purchases. And make sure my camera is in working order. Dammit. I guess I usually work best under pressure anyway, why change today?
So what is there to do in 21 days in New Zealand, you ask? Well to prove my boss wrong, my first goal is to find a real live hobbit. After that I’d basically like to conquer my fear of heights and old-man-itis with some adventure sports. And all throughout the trip I will be taking photos and posting them here with journal entries of the days activities.
Our preliminary itinerary is as follows though I am sure it is likely to change along the way. We’re going to go with the flow and see where life takes us.
Los Angeles layover
Los Angeles layover
Testing my new zealand blog.