Our recent trip to New Zealand was definitely an incredible experience. The stories and photos you will see here cannot begin to capture what it was like, but I’m going to try anyway! Please see also Practical Tips for Traveling to New Zealand.
- Intro to Auckland & Ponsonby
- “Long Blacks” and the Observation Deck
- Stink, Mud, & Tarnished Jewelry
- Adventure Day!
- Maori Sounds, Glowing Worms
- Tiny People in Forbidden Craters, Bob, & Moo Chow Chow
- Dust Bunnies, Parades, and Soggy Laundry
- Fantasy Gardens, Fluorescent Lights & BBQ-ing Snow Angels
- Waiheke! Waiheke! Waiheke!
- Hot Black Sand Beaches and BurgerFuel
- Getting Eaten Alive in the Marsh, and Other Degustations
- Finally, a Light Day
- Time Travel Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Part I: Christchurch (South Island)
Traveling to Christchurch: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 – Friday November 21, 2014*
Getting to the Austin airport via our reserved Super Shuttle went flawlessly, as did our short flight to LAX. On arriving though, we learned that LAX was under construction, meaning there was nowhere to sit and nothing decent to eat, all with a six hour layover. We decided to spring for the Air New Zealand VIP lounge and didn’t regret it: buffet food and drink (including alcohol and coffee) and showers to boot! There was space for us to do some yoga on my travel mat too. Around 9 pm we were escorted to our gate to settle in for the 12-hour flight to Auckland. We boarded the huge plane (referred to as “N-Zed” and then the one-digit flight number), but as we were about to take off, it became clear there was a problem.
Apparently a male passenger had become belligerent with one of the flight crew. We sat and waited as a flight attendant informed the man that we would be turning back, and that he’d be relieved of his seat by security, since the pilot did not want him on the plane. One hour later–with some worry now about making our connection to Christchurch–we left. As always it was difficult for me to sleep on the plane, but I did my best, happy to have had books, movies and games readily available. The rest of the plane, of course, was out like a light promptly after dinner. At some point we were all woken and served breakfast as well. (Note: ordering the special low fat meal was brilliant. It was a bit healthier AND I received my meals before everyone else.)
Customs in Auckland was a breeze, and our luggage arrived without a hitch. Also, NZ Air automatically re-booked us on a later connecting flight to Christchurch, but now we needed to figure out the process of getting new boarding passes and re-checking the bags and re-going through security for domestic travel. Our shoes didn’t need to come off, and I went through with water still in my water bottle. Oh, the horror!
When we arrived at Christchurch airport*, Super Shuttle was just as good, but towed a small trolley for the bags instead of using the trunk. After two other couples were dropped off, we arrived at Hotel 115 at Cathedral Junction. They held our bags until we could officially check in at 2 pm, but had no public “toilet”, so we went to Sakimoto Japanese restaurant and were given a key attached to a large plastic folder to use the restroom that was in the plaza. Notices about security were everywhere. It was strange, though not unnerving for some reason. We ordered seaweed salad, ox tongue (experimental obviously), salmon teriyaki and pork salad to share. The lunch was average, despite the good reviews on TripAdvisor.
After lunch we wandered down the street and noticed the first two of the painted giraffes scattered around Christchurch, without having an understanding of what they were for. We checked out New Regent Street, a lovely “old-town-looking” row of small, differently pastel-colored buildings with more coffee shops than I could count, though no one seemed to have almond milk. (The milk in NZ was always described as “blue” (a brand of whole) or “trim” or soy.) At check in time we were shown to room #27, which was oddly shaped and very small (read: no room for yoga). After showers we tried walking to Cashel (Mall) Street to purchase a forgotten laptop cable, but couldn’t find the store. Most of the streets were empty of people and actually a bit eerie. There were many gravel-based parking lots or barricaded and roped off empty buildings, some with construction notices. It was then that we realized that we were experiencing the aftermath of the February 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.
Feeling rather silly for not having done our homework, we readied ourselves for an early dinner. On our walk to the restaurant we noticed several elaborate and beautiful murals on the sides of buildings (which were very common in the city), passed through Cathedral Square with its sculptures like The Chalice, and noted several food trucks. The damaged cathedral itself was particularly fascinating: scary and beautiful at the same time. The host at Fiddlesticks was pleasant enough to squeeze us in without a reservation, and I had a new type of wine: Beaujolais, the first of a local batch being served that day. It was quite possibly the best wine I ever had (even after other NZ wine tastings)! We split the pumpkin hummus and potato chips, salad and angus beef.
Since we were still relatively awake and refueled, we headed to the Re:start City Mall. Most shops were closed, but what an inventive concept–using large crates to house displaced businesses, all within a city block! We vowed to come back at a time when things were open. (Later, we hoped some of the amazing ideas by the artistic folks of Christchurch wouldn’t be completely dismantled when the city was back on its feet.) We also walked along the Bridge of Remembrance and bits of the Avon River, which we could see even though they were hidden by construction fencing. Further upstream we spotted some ducks and a few more of the painted giraffe statues, which we learned were to be auctioned off in February at the anniversary of the quakes to generate funding for the rebuild. Closer to where we were staying, a Millennium Hotel was boarded up but surrounded by a chain-link fence that had been beautifully decorated in patterns of plastic colored squares. We learned later that this structure was to be demolished.
*Note that by traveling over the international date line, we completely skipped over the day of Thursday, November 20, 2014. We left the U.S. on Wednesday evening and arrived in N.Z. on Friday early afternoon.
Touring the Post-quake City: Saturday, November 22, 2014
We woke around 6:45 am, and prepared to have our first “hot breakfast” with coupons from Hotel 115. At Coffee Lovers Cafe on New Regent Street, we learned the drill: one plate, one drink. I had a trim milk latte, and eggs and bacon, which was comforting. Outside, Danil purchased tickets for the historic tram, and we rode until we arrived at the Canterbury Museum— we wanted to investigate punting on the Avon and see the Botanical Gardens. As soon as we saw lots of rowdy tourists crammed into two punting boats, we decided instead to rent a double kayak for an hour and go our own way, which was up to the third bridge and back. At the banks of river, we had the pleasure of seeing the most handsome family of ducks. After giving up the boat we started exploring the Botanical Gardens at the Curator’s House, looked at the vegetable garden, then got distracted by some amazingly large trees. We also walked around the herb garden, the rose garden, and then through some of the greenhouses. Before heading out we decided that the Water Garden and New Zealand Garden were worth a walk through.
Seated once again on the old wooden benches of the historic tram, we listened attentively to our guide and completed the loop. We disembarked at Victoria Street to see the statues, and walked through the park in search of a suitable answer for lunch, which needed to have small bites as it was already late and we had a degustation dinner planned for the evening.
We walked through what is known as “The Common”, basically a large open gravel space where a hotel used to be, which now housed a few more small art fixtures. There we took a putt at a small mini golf station and noticed a few more giraffes. We then stumbled upon a Thai Fusion restaurant called Spice Paragon, where I tried a fuji apple ginger cider, and we shared a Miang spinach leaf with mango, crunchy coconut, and lime; a seared scallop with avocado, ginger, and lime dressing; and gluten free pad thai. Like many other folks, our waitress was particularly interested in where we were from and what it was like living in Austin TX. After our refreshments, we explored a nearby neighborhood with large, aesthetically pleasing houses, many of which were being advertised as motels. As we passed through New Regent Street on the way home, we adopted a stuffed sheep that we fondly named “Giraffe”.
Our plans that evening required a taxi to Littleton, which was clean and well driven, and on our way we saw the second international “pointing guy” (in Spain it was Columbus; in Christchurch it’s a self-portrait of artist Ronnie van Hout). We couldn’t be let off in front of the restaurant because of more construction, which wasn’t tragic, except the weather had turned rainy and cold. We arrived at Roots ½ hour early, but the hostess seated us anyway. After deciding to do the wine pairing with dinner, she informed us that they had been without power since noon-time, but were equipped with backup generators and promised we’d still have a lovely evening. Each of the dishes were nicely done on a BBQ, but we didn’t feel it was a true representation of their capabilities (though no doubt more challenging). As with many degustation dinners, I was completely stuffed too late in the evening, but it was necessary to go to bed early because we had a whale watch tour to catch in the morning!
Kaikoura Whale Watch: Sunday, November 23, 2014
In the morning a van from Canterbury Leisure Tours gathered us from Hotel 115 for the 2 ½ hour drive to Kaikoura. (In Māori, Kaikoura means “meal of crayfish”.) Our guide talked to us during the drive, about the cows and dairy being the #1 industry in the country, and the sheep being “sent to the works” (I haven’t eaten lamb since my return). We saw and learned about how Gorse was overtaking the once exclusively green landscape and how most of the hardwood trees were chopped down. Folks were trying to reforest, but the hardwoods they destroyed took 150 years to mature, so naturally the trees being put in aren’t the same. It made us sad that even in this beautiful place the environment was being negatively impacted by human beings.
It was quite windy weather so when it was time to depart on the whale watch we were advised to sit near the back and keep our eyes focused on the horizon (through the large windows) to avoid any motion sickness. During the watch an announcer kept us informed about what we were trying to do and shared different facts about whales and dolphins, while one of the drivers stopped the boat every now and then and listened for the whales with a hydrophone. We ended up giving chase to whales three times, and only on the last attempt did we end up getting quite a show from Tiaki, the sperm whale everyone in the area is familiar with.
Once back on shore we had a simple and unspectacular (but much needed) lunch at Flukes Cafe before driving a short distance to a seal colony. There were only three seals visible in the “colony”, but one came up really close to us and seemed to enjoy the attention. We returned to Christchurch via the Kiwi Rail Coastal Pacific train, where we enjoyed more views of the ever-green country side with endless cows, horses, and sheep.
It had been a long breezy day, but we had energy to walk to CDB Bar and Pizzeria for a gluten-free crust and a half-and-half of interesting toppings like tomato, free range chicken, green pepper, red onion, jalapeno and guacamole. Once back at the hotel we packed, since we were traveling to Auckland the next day. Everyone in the South Island told us we should have spent more of our time there, and I kind of agree. I kept hearing that Queenstown and Dunedin were lovely.
For the full set of photos from Christchurch, please visit my Google album.
Part II: Auckland (North Island)
Intro to Auckland & Ponsonby: Monday, November 24, 2014
As happens on travel days, we were stuck between wanting to do things and feeling pressed for time. First we walked to Hagley Park, because the small artisan shops on Worcester Street that we were wanting to scout for souvenirs weren’t awake as early as we were. When we returned from the park, some vendors were there so we enjoyed looking at various wooden-made items including the Amazin Iris Box, and flipped through a “before and after” calendar of Christchurch to see what it had looked like before the quakes. Back at Coffee Lovers we had our last breakfast. I ordered an iced coffee and received a milky coffee with a scoop of ice cream on top! We returned to the Re: Start Mall to see the crate stores when they were open, and gawked at some fabulous shoes (for men and women).
After some more ambling about, we collected our bags and waited outside Hotel 115. Super Shuttle arrived early, but it wasn’t for us. The man informed us that an “American woman” was driving the one that would be there for us shortly. The drive to the the airport with her was fascinating: she was a native of Iowa who moved to Christchurch with her husband 33 years ago. They were to do a trade of 10 years in each country, but she never got her turn and didn’t seem to mind so much. It was from her that we received all sorts of information about what the earthquakes were like and how the repairs were coming along. The Australian girl who was in the back seat had to listen to our American banter for 30 minutes, poor thing. We got a nice and much needed juice snack in the Christchurch airport, and the quick hop back to Auckland was uneventful.
Unfortunately, our experience with the (local) rental car place wasn’t so great. After spending over an hour waiting to be collected and getting through all the paperwork, we were finally behind the wheel of our “other-sided” Getz. The steering wheel was on the right, as was the turn signal. Mirror and wipers on the left. Driving on the left. Oh my! Even for me, passengering looked all messed up. Even with GPS in hand, we immediately turned onto the wrong street and had to change directions. I kept reminding Danil to relax his shoulders, to BREATHE, and “keep left”. We had another few wrong turns up on Ponsonby where our B&B was, but nothing major.
Sandra at Bella’s Bed & Breakfast was lovely from the get go. We met Bella (the dog), and were shown around the absolutely gorgeous property. We briefly checked out our “Loft room” which was small but nice, and headed out for dinner. After doing some looking we decided on one of Sandra’s recommendations: SPQR. Although I don’t normally do pasta I had a hankering for the garlic linguini, so we split that plus dishes of mint peas, asparagus, and scallops on a shell. (At this point in the trip we were really craving more vegetables.) Sadly they ran out of tiramisu, but that actually worked out fine since we found some just down the street at Prego. Our waiter there was amusing and we ended up having fun with all the cocoa powder they “dusted” on the top (cough cough)! After dinner we sorted out breakfast time with Sandra and settled into our room, agreeing to go on one of the tour book’s “Explore Auckland” walks the next day.
“Long Blacks” and the Observation Deck: Tuesday November 25, 2014
Sandra’s spread of yogurt, fruit, granola, AND a cooked breakfast of omelets was incredible. She finally helped me figure out what kind of coffee to order: regular brewed coffee is pretty rare, so I ended up with the “long black”, which was close enough to make me happy for the rest of the trip. After some brief chatting with a couple from Amsterdam and meeting Margo, the old deaf kitty who certainly talked a lot, we started our trek about town.
It was warm (and hilly enough of a walk) to shed a few layers. As one who always has to stop, I was pleased to see many free (and mostly very clean) public toilets around! Anyway, a few wrong turns at the start and we ended up at Albert Park, which we were happy to explore. From the park, I became enamored with the Sky Tower, and wanted to check out the observation deck. (We’re both afraid of heights–me terrified really–so I’m not sure what that was all about.) On our way toward the tower we tooled around the cafes and shops in the High Street District, such as Queen Street. On Vulcan Lane I discovered the Raw Power Cafe (upstairs), and we enjoyed the vegan rum ball and our respective juices.
As we approached the Sky Tower we watched Jeff, an employee of the Sky Tower Jump, land calmly from the 192 meter (630 feet) drop. We conversed with him on the way in–he’d “jumped” 228 times (5 that day). Since Danil was “thinking about it”, Jeff was kind enough to take us up to the platform and explain to us how everything went. After that we went back downstairs and purchased tickets for the observation decks, where we stood on glass floors to watch cars the size of thumbtacks and sweated through our shirts.
After that we were ready for a relaxing late lunch at a place called Baduzzi. It certainly wasn’t hard to find, despite all the restaurants that lined the North Wharf. I had the sustainably caught fish al caroccio with octopus, green lip mussels and preserved artichokes. The fish in season was snapper, which always seemed to be the case, the way the “vegetable” was always asparagus. I’m not sure I’d ever seen mussels that large, and both the food and the experience was very enjoyable. We were fortunate to be early too, as the crowds hadn’t yet started coming out for dinner and we missed some scattered rain. We also took some time to think about what were our other “must do’s” for the rest of our time in Auckland.
Later that day after a quick R&R at the B&B, we decided to try and find the raw food restaurant off Ponsonby Road that Sandra raved about, but only discovered Bird on a Wire, which was a chicken and salad place. As it seemed somewhat healthy too we made a note, then decided on a light dinner at Yuzu Japanese restaurant. The food was OK, the service was terribly slow, and Danil was fretting over whether to add the Sky Jump to his “must do” list. But we were able to sit outside and people watch a bit before calling it a day.
Stink, Mud, & Tarnished Jewelry: Wednesday November 26, 2014
After another excellent breakfast courtesy of Sandra, we hopped in the car to head to Rotorua for our appointment at Hells Gate. We made a few wrong turns trying to get out of Auckland, but eventually found 1 South and were good to go. The drive was more green rolling hills and cattle, but it was a gloomy day and there were only a few HUNDRED rotaries once we were off the highway (of course I exaggerate, but not much). Three hours after departure we arrived at the parking lot of “Rotorua’s most active geothermal attraction”. We had known it was a touristy thing to do, but what the heck, we were tourists. Since we were a bit early they were able to move our massages up, which meant that we could do everything in sequence and get back home without having to drive in the dark.
The first part of our adventure was a self-led geothermal walk around the park. We had less than an hour after getting ourselves settled, and weren’t sure based on the map just how large the place was. Turns out it was much larger than we expected, so we lingered too long at the beginning and rushed through the end, which was really the better part. It was a very well led “self-tour” with signs everywhere advising you about the PH level of the various pools. They also advised you about where the “safe path” was, which in many cases was inches from the “unsafe” area. I understand exactly why this place was thought to be “Hell’s Gate”! You could feel the changes in temperature just by walking around and standing in different areas, and the earth seemed to just open up. Pictures don’t quite do it justice. [Watch a short movie of the Mini Volcano].
Post walk we were led to the restrooms to change into our bathing suits for the mud bath. I intentionally brought an old bathing suit, and removed all my jewelry (except my nose stud) since the staff said silver would tarnish. Our personal belongings and loaned towel & robe were put into plastic bins that we had to carry with us wherever we went. The mud bath itself was in a small fenced off area (I think there were two total), and was pretty much a dirty rectangular lukewarm tub. Mud for rubbing on our bodies was in a little cubby inside the left part of the tub (the softest discovered at the bottom), and there was a shower head at the end of the fenced in area for us to clean up after our allotted 20 minutes of play time. We were surprised that the bath wasn’t warmer, and thought it was somewhat contrived, yet we had our fun and when time was up we quickly rinsed off under the cold spray.
Next we were led to the shallow sulfur baths (pools). There were two, but a couple was already in the far one so we hopped into the one that was closer. It smelled pretty bad and was lukewarm at best. We both noticed a tingling sensation in our feet when we first entered. At the last five minutes of our allotted time I noticed the other couple had left, so I made my way to the much hotter second bath and was slightly disappointed we didn’t realize it was so much different at the start.
We showered and packed away our sulfur-smelling wet bathing suits in plastic bags and then were led into adjoining rooms for our Miri Miri massages. The music was quite the mix: traditional Māori chants alternating with Norah Jones! The staff had said something about it being a mind-body massage, and I noticed pretty quickly that the Māori woman who worked on me had really hot hands, as I do when I perform Reiki. I tried to ask her about it, but communication was challenging and I was thoroughly enjoying my muscles getting unwound from all the travel and walking. I was particularly surprised at how much tension I carried in my face, as they did a lot of interesting work there. After the massage we were led to the simple lounge and given some nice tea and an average commercial blueberry muffin, which both of us were hungry enough to scarf down. Before heading down the road back to Auckland we purchased some ammonia, which we were told could help get the sulfur stink out of our suits.
Since we’d not really had decent food since breakfast at the B&B, I used my phone to discover some eats in the town. I was hankering for Indian so we located the widely renowned Indian Star and were not at all disappointed. We shared garlic naan, chicken balti, and mixed vegetables, and were taken care of by several different but all very friendly waiters (including the owner). As I uploaded a photo to Facebook, I realized that exactly one year prior, I was having Indian food in India. (Maybe that was part of my craving!) When one of the waiters finally called me “madam” and I responded “thank you” in Hindi, I became even happier; it brought back so many good memories and experiences of that trip.
The weather was much better on the drive back to Auckland–the green fields so much more beautiful with the backdrop of a sunny sky. But then at one intersection we almost died (for the first time). We had pulled out to make our way across, but a pickup truck was coming at a rather fast speed, so I yelled: “watch out!”. However, muscle memory is strong and Danil automatically looked to the right instead of the left. Fortunately the truck saw us, likely figured we were idiots, and slowed down in the nick of time. After that, whenever we were to do a tricky maneuver (which included rotaries and right turns), I would say: “1 mile until death” so we’d be sure to pay extra close attention! We also figured out how to get gasoline for the first time–the usual “which side of the car is the gas tank on” game but the additional issue of our U.S. credit card requiring signatures. Although I don’t usually eat such things, we grabbed and split one of the giant Cookie Time cookies we kept seeing everywhere for dessert. Krishna Das chants played through my iPhone helped us stay awake until we were safely back at the B&B, where I discovered that the silver necklace I’ve worn every day since 2004 was tarnished from just having WALKED around the geothermal park at Hells Gate! Before bed I bathed our suits in ammonia in the sink, unsure about whether it would actually work to remove the stink (it didn’t!).
Adventure Day! Thursday, November 27, 2014
Today was our self-designated adventure day. I wanted to ride on a jet boat (no clue where that came from), and Danil had made a firm decision that today was the day he’d leap from the Sky Tower. We headed to the wharf via our newly found shortcut of Franklin Street and Victoria Park, where we were told by the folks at Auckland Jet Boat Tours to come back in about 15 minutes for the first boat trip of the day. After meandering a bit, our patience was tested as we waited almost about 45 minutes for a group who had pre-booked an 11 o’clock then had changed it to 10, but ended up showing up almost at 11 anyhow. Jules (the driver) was great fun to talk with while we were waiting, and he had just the proper “dare devil” kind of personality you’d want in a speed boat operator. The tardy birthday party group of four finally arrived–long after we’d been suited up in rain jackets and life preservers–and we all finally climbed into the boat. Those desiring a wetter experience were advised to sit toward the back.
Jules warned us of his upcoming antics by swirling his pointed index finger high in the air and grinning a toothy smile. Occasional photos and comments like, “I did that on purpose” made us laugh, and while for the most part it was reasonable, there were some parts that were in fact, quite rough. I cringed a bit as my tailbone landed on the seat roughly (at one point we were purposefully riding in the ferry’s wake) and we heard the “birthday boy” exclaim that it was his 71st. I kept thinking about him and his wife potentially breaking or otherwise severely damaging their bones! One last loop-de-loop and though we were in the front and center, a large swoop of freezing cold water found it’s way squarely down the front of my securely buttoned up rain gear, causing my left knee to twitch uncontrollably from the sensation. Our bums were the only thing heating up the pools of water we sat in for the remainder of the ride, which thankfully was shorter because the birthday party had cut into the time allocated.
Given that we were soaked to the bone and that I had a terrible stinging pain at the side of my left eye (which originally I thought was sunburn but turned out to be from the salt water slapping me in the face), we headed back to the B&B to change and finally visited Little Bird for lunch. We were so glad Sandra had confirmed their location on Summer Street that morning, as we were craving vegetables so much at that point that I pretty much had an entire plate of them: a 4-salad sampler to be exact. And a wonderful lemongrass, ginger, and turmeric tea made with a coffee press. Heaven! Then we shared an amazing raw raspberry chocolate brownie for dessert. Danil commented: “We can’t eat here more than once a day, OK?” Surprised by the frequency (apparently the mushroom tacos were good), I responded: “Deal!”
And then it was time. We digested our lunch while walking back down to the center of Auckland and when we arrived at the Sky Tower Danil headed straight in with all manner of intent, signed away his money and his life to the process, and I was properly labeled “first spectator.” James handled suiting up the guys and weighing them (Soo Yung was Danil’s fellow jumper). Word has it that shoes were checked about 5 times! James led the guys to the proper elevator and then returned to take me out to the landing platform, which consisted of a large red target and a bench. On the far side was a TV monitor where ideally I could see what was happening up on the platform, but the day was too sunny for that, so James told me they’d decide who would go first (obviously I knew who that would be!) and then he’d give me a 30 second warning. Even with the warning I couldn’t see much, but I pointed my iPhone at the sky and hoped for the best. Fortunately I did a really good job, though we ended up purchasing the real video anyway (A camera was strapped to the arm of each jumper so everyone could laugh at the faces they made on the way down–you can see this in the Google Album.) I was super impressed that he did it. We waited for Soo Yung to come down because hey, guys bond at the top of a massive tower while waiting to hurl themselves off!
On the way in to the Sky Tower building I had seen an ad for what looked like a nice restaurant, so after the jump we tooled around a bit looking for it, without success. But we did find the casino. We leaned over the balcony wall to watch some folks playing blackjack, then found the restaurant on nearby Federal Street. It was called Masu and we decided maybe we’d return. In the space between dinner we parked ourselves at Customs Coffee House on Queen Street and journaled about our day over “coffee on the rocks” (the closest thing to a iced black coffee) and a hot chocolate. I was completely engaged in a book they had called “Nice Cup of Tea and A Sit Down”, and of course I vowed that my morning coffee would be replaced with afternoon tea and biscuits like the Brits when I got back home, because it was so much more civilized.
We took a slow walk back to the wharf to check out Pescado for dinner, which honestly was quite disappointing, save for the fact that we were seated in a half indoor-half outdoor area and had some more vegetables. I was somewhat worried about my nose piercing at that point. I had cleaned around it in the morning, and it was still sore. I kept thinking about what the sulfur the prior day had done to my necklace, but was relieved when Google reminded me that the piercing in my nose was indeed titanium and resistant to sulfur. Whew!
Given all the excitement of the day we decided on an early night, so we walked back through our Victoria Park and watched some of the cricket players do their batting practice. Well, so much for no more excitement: I happened to be watching as one of the players (backside facing me) completely changed his bottoms (both layers). By the time I asked, “did you see that bare ass?” it was over. I smiled at my so-not-private private showing, and we were on our way. The New World grocery was on our path up the hill, so we picked up a few snacky things to have for our next road trip and some detergent to do a load of laundry. We wondered how we’d do living and shopping and having to discover new brands of…well, almost everything. I laughed because Franklin Street was also covered with mail slots announcing “no circulars” and “no junk mail”, only to be stuffed with just that at almost every house. I netti potted that night just in case there was any cause for nose piercing irritation, felt better instantly, and called it a night.
Maori Sounds, Glowing Worms: Friday, November 28, 2014
We woke up to Facebook posts about Thanksgiving. Oh, right. We forgot!
After breakfast we hopped in the car for a drive to Waitomo, which was 2 ½ hours away but renowned for the glow worm caves. Muscle memory overtook Danil again and we accidentally turned up the wrong side of an exit ramp trying to get back on the highway following a gasoline stop. Nervous silence and intense concentration ensued for quite some time after.
Having previously decided that an entire four hours of caves wasn’t for us, we’d pre-booked the two cave tour: Aranui and of course the cave with all those tiny shiny worms. We arrived a little before lunch time and so decided to check out Sandra’s recommendation of Huhu Cafe. We only had time for a short walk before our first cave tour, which was OK because I was feeling cranky and the weather was a bit soggy. We saw a few pretty waterfalls before deciding to dodge the downpour and take a nap in the car.
Our first tour had about 13 people and was led by one of the Māori. He explained that whoever owns the land owns the caves, and that the land is passed down through generations (since the 1800s). Many of the Māori work as tour guides of the caves, and some have even held their weddings there. He lit up various areas of the caves incrementally so we got an “unfolding” of the endless stalactites and stalagmites. He also showed us one of the weta that love to live in the cave walls. Not sure whether it was the bug, but soon after a poor woman who was there with her husband and children became sick in a bag, which was exciting when you’re trapped in a small dark space all together. Yuck! Of course people asked about earthquakes and whether there would be damage to the caves or to us. (Turns out earthquakes have no affect on the caves.) Our guide told us that the fencing we saw above us was because tourists kept ripping off the stalactites and rather than even taking them as souvenirs, would leave them carelessly on the floor. At one point he invited us to sing to test out the cave acoustics, and when no one volunteered he treated us to a beautiful Māori tune.
The glow worm cave had more tourists asking our now female Māori guide about earthquakes, and wasn’t quite as large as the Aranui one. We saw a few tiny glowing creatures on the ceiling, but didn’t really get the full effect until we were all crammed into a dark end, where we had to crouch down to see the clear icicle-like strands hanging from the ceiling. The glow worms created these to trap their buggy prey. This was a larger tour, so we waited for a second boat and ended up with a really great seat at the front, where we got to see not just the full spectrum of worms on the ceiling but also the skill with which our guide drove us in the dark: essentially she stood at the front, reached up, and pulled us along a complex series of ropes hanging at a height she could reach. We also applauded her as she moved our boat around the other one, and hopped over rope intersections to turn us. Thankfully this boat tour was silent so people could enjoy the sight of the worms and the eerie sounds of the dripping water without commentary. No photos were allowed until it was too late to be useful.
When we emerged from the glow worm cave it was pouring, so we drove back to Huhu Cafe for dinner and drinks before making the long trek back to Ponsonby. By this time I was getting more adventurous trying wines as they all seemed to be fabulous–here I had a Wild Earth Deep Cove Pinot Noir from Central Otago. Danil had feijoa juice, which was popular all over New Zealand. I thought it would have been great with some vodka; the waitress agreed. We saw a fabulous rainbow on the way home, counted down “death” (i.e. right turns) a few times, and made it back into the city before it was too dark.
Tiny People in Forbidden Craters, Bob, & Moo Chow Chow: Saturday, November 29, 2014
We decided to pass on Sandra’s awesome breakfast and walked back to Little Bird, where I finally got a real brewed coffee, served with warm macadamia and cashew milk. We both ordered these wild Chia Birchers (a bowl with gluten free oats, chia, goji, apple, almond, lemon, cinnamon, young coconut topped with coconut yoghurt & berry-chia jelly). WAY too large for either of us, but we ate them up all the same.
Our destination for the day was Mt. Eden. On the walk there I spotted Bian Sushi, which was closed but had several billboards of their awards in the windows. We saw many other interesting things getting there, including a Thai Buddha in a “technicolor dream coat”, a cool produce store with some yellow kiwi like Sandra served us for breakfast, and a beautifully old Jewish cemetery. We went into the House of Knives store that had more than just knives, but we also explored holding different ones and describing what we liked or didn’t about the weight and balance of each. I preferred one labeled F. Dick and found a fabulous coffee press. After this meandering we found our way to the base of the mountain easily, where we discovered a small zip-line in the park that we each tried. The momentum you picked up was stopped–rather abruptly–by six or seven tires strung on the line, so it was pretty rough at the end. It started to drizzle again, so as we started our ascent we noticed lots of people huddling under the main pavilion.
As reported, the “hike” to Mt. Eden wasn’t really much of a hike. The cool thing was that the entrance to the Coastal Walkway was about five steps that led you over a small fence. Soon the rain stopped, and we paused at various places to see different views of the city, and to watch as two little black dogs and their two kids played in one of the smaller craters. Despite the sign telling people not to be in the crater, a few moments later we noticed a woman in black (who resembled an ant) moving rocks in its very core. We weren’t sure whether she worked there or was just defying the sign to build a cairn at the bottom.
My achilles was bothering me so we made our way gently down the hill and stopped at Bian for lunch, which was absolutely fabulous. It was small and buffet style, but the sushi was all super fresh and gorgeous, and you paid by the piece. We made a few different walking choices along the way to Victoria Street Market, which was reported to be open on the weekends. We visited Myers Park with the copy of Michelangelo’s sitting Moses statue and played on a swing thing while a man pushing his little girl nearby gave us dirty looks. Danil stated that Michelangelo was commissioned to do many statues, so there was probably a “Bob” somewhere too. This cracked me up. We also couldn’t figure out why the bird in the park had a collar, but concluded it was to to hold the bell around its neck.
Once at Victoria Market we were a little disappointed. We found one good shop where we purchased some postcards and souvenirs, but weren’t particularly impressed. We ended up getting a totally average gelato (we are so spoiled by Teo!) before going back to the B&B for a stretch and some postcard writing.
After our rest we decided to try another of Sandra’s Ponsonby restaurant recommendations: Moo Chow Chow. We were early enough to get a good corner of the community table and I ordered a Sake-toomi (two in fact by the time we were through). We ordered four dishes: one of mushrooms, one with heirloom tomato/tofu, a snapper(of course), and a goat curry. Because they ran out of heirlooms and we questioned the cherry tomatoes, they gave us that dish for free. Warning: if you have a few drinks, the steep stairway to the water closet at this restaurant is the least of your worries. At the very top you have to literally hoist yourself into the toilets with a little metal handle they have at the side. I’m not sure how the girls in the stilettos who were drinking next to us handled that after a few! We walked off some of dinner through Western Park, found the nearest laundromat, and crashed hard after all the walking.
Dust Bunnies, Parades, and Soggy Laundry: Sunday, November 30, 2014
This morning’s weather report was the same as the previous day (everything: sun, wind, rain), so we decided to book a wine and food tour for Waiheke Island on the first purely sunny and warm day, which was the upcoming Tuesday.
By now our walk down Karangahape Road (also called “K Road” because it’s just too damn long to fit on signs), was as well known as our shortcut down to the wharf, and after a pit stop at a crystal shop that was finally open, we went back through Myers Park and found the shortcut back to Queen Street, which we were amused to discover was now blocked off for an upcoming Christmas parade. Nothing much was happening yet, so we headed to the Auckland Art Gallery for the 12:30 tour, which we’d been trying to make since the day we arrived. A little early and tired, we rested on the red sofas from which the tour was to depart, and noted all the “Dames” on the donation wall. At 12:45 we realized there had been no one to get us, and after asking we found out that although our book said tours happened at 11:30, 12:30, and 1:30, they’d not had the 12:30 tour for awhile now. We decided to do a self-guided hour walk, and started with “The Social Life of Things”. Apparently we’re not very cultured. However, the (literal) “dust bunny” was pretty impressive. It was, as you might imagine, a bunny made out of colored dust, but then photographed as if to LOOK as though it were still actually made out of dust (which it did). A framed dirty sock came in a close second.
After that we headed to the galleries with the Māori portraits and New Zealand art. I was pretty taken by the paintings of Robert Ellis, and hadn’t realized how much I missed the vibrancy of a truly walkable city until I was in Auckland. In nearby room I found a bust of a man’s face, which happened to match Danil’s expression as he stared at it looking for a description. I laughed too loudly when he read the name of the piece aloud: “the idiot”! In the “He Iwi Rangatira” room, we saw paintings of “Rangatira”, or chiefly Māori people. There was one particular painting that really spooked me: the man’s eyes were kind but stern, and it was as if he were looking at me and knew me. After taking in a few interesting European depictions of how the “desperate” Māori people made it to New Zealand (when other accounts tell how capable and advanced a people they were), we were officially museum-ed out.
Coincidentally, we headed back out into the parade, which was now in full expectation by people packed on both sides of the street. I made my way through and we arrived back at Masu, where we decided to stop for lunch. I asked the waitress which incredibly pricey sake to try, and I wasn’t disappointed in the drink. It was super clean and pretty strong for sake. Unfortunately, we were pretty disappointed in almost everything else given that this place had recently won many award. The only thing beyond the sake that was really worth mention was the black cod.
Back up in Ponsonby we decided to take one suitcase to the laundromat and read a bit while waiting. I was surprised to find that I had great fun hanging my delicates on Sandra’s outside clothesline with pins (the old-fashioned way to dry!). Because his jeans were still wet from the 16 minute dryer, Sandra was able to poke fun at Danil later, noting that “he hung his trousers upside down!” After some more laundry sorting we returned to Prego for dinner. I had kingfish and risotto and we joked again over the lack of green veggies and the fact that the only option was once again ASPARAGUS. The houses on Franklin Street were starting to prepare for the December 1st lighting that Sandra had told us about (the city even pays the electric bills for the month so that all the houses can comply with the decorating requirements). Just as we were about to collect our clothes from the line, a quick downpour occurred, so now we were forced to wait until the morning.
Fantasy Gardens, Fluorescent Lights & BBQ-ing Snow Angels: Monday, December 1, 2014
It’s official: we had been in Auckland for a week now. And just as I was about to collect the laundry before breakfast, it down-poured again!! (I am literally talking about five minutes of rain, then beautiful blue, sunny skies again here.) Sandra good-naturedly agreed to gather our clothes when the timing was right, as we had planned a day trip to Hamilton. We decided to explore Hamilton simply because we kept driving through it on our way to other places that were south. We set out after breakfast with our sights on the Botanical Gardens that had won an international award.
We found the gardens easily and after a funny exchange with an older woman in the information center about us not being Canadians, we explored the Paradise Garden wing, which included the “ideal” gardens from different cultures: Japanese, Chinese, English, Indian, Italian, and Modern (which was a nice way of saying “American”). The Japanese one featured a zen-looking rock garden, a pagoda, and a small koi pond. The Chinese one was a philosophical walk with gates, walls, bridges, and also a pond. With the English garden you really got into the leisure money (i.e. you needed a servant class to maintain it). The plaque stated that this garden was about the natural, flow of plants as a whole, rather than a garden that featured individual ones. You entered the Indian garden through a small enclosed tunnel and when you emerged the smell and sights of colorful flowers in a geometrical pattern practically knocked you over. Every time I went into a garden I thought it would be my favorite one, and they kept getting better. The Italian garden was the most “over the top”, and seemed to go on forever, each area more extravagant than the one before it. There was even a little theater for plays (although the teens rehearsing a play were actually in a slightly different area of this garden)! The Modernist garden was a complete disappointment–it looked like someone’s pretty lame backyard with a blue swimming pool and some yellow adirondack chairs. There was a cool Marilyn Monroe picture in the background and an area that looked like a bus terminal and a backyard BBQ mashed up, the point being that it was a “functional” garden. Meh.
After that we took a quick look at what they’d put together for the Māori gardens, and of course I wanted to see the herb and vegetable gardens so we headed that way, but found ourselves in the Fantasy gardens instead. Most were closed and being worked on except for the Tropical one, which displayed plants that looked “right” but could withstand a frost. Doubling back we found the herb garden and pointed out which ones we remembered our parents or grandparents growing as kids. Hungry after watching a different group of girls picnicking here, we decided to leave too. It was definitely time, as we were both completely ready to dig up one of the lettuces or any of the other various yummy veggies that we’d been craving for weeks now from the Kitchen Garden.
An easy drive to (another!) Victoria Street and did a few laps to see what options were available to us. We settled on the Metropolis Cafe. It had a funky interior and wasn’t too crowded. Of note were the lightly-breaded salt and pepper squid and the incredibly large carrot cake. We weren’t sure we had enough time to try and find the Ecological Reserve (which we kept mistakenly calling “Preserve”) and I forgot about the Zealong Tea Estate, so we headed to the nearby Waikato museum. Here we focused again on the Māori bits, explored the textiles which were just incredibly intricate. When we were able to touch them we were surprised at how soft they were.
However, the most fun we had was in the Hotere Culbert exhibit. Basically two friends collaborated on several projects during their years together: most of their art combined a black background with florescent lighting. When we’d entered the museum we were told that some exhibits were being switched out, and when we first walked into this one, I honestly thought that the place was empty and that we’d walked through a section that was being renovated. Ha! I hadn’t realized that this WAS the exhibit itself. One particular hall of black frames with florescent light bulbs sticking out of them in various ways cracked us up because, well, most of them looked pretty similar but we both had the same favorite. We also pursued a series of pencil sketches that looked like a five-year-old made them. My favorite consisted of a few dots made with pencil on a sketch paper. After trying to decipher whether which lines were intentional art and others were “oops, the cat jumped on my desk and knocked my pencil that way”, I discovered that I was having a bit of an itchy reaction to the peanut sauce that had been on my tofu stir fry at lunch. With ideas of Benadryl back in the B&B room for me and Advil for Danil’s achy legs–hey, I never travel too unprepared–we headed back to Ponsonby, wondering whether our laundry was successfully rescued from the line.
We arrived back safely around 6pm, without any incident on the roads, even after stopping for gasoline and checking out a roadside vegetable stand. Since it was the first night of the Franklin Street lights we were nervous about neighborhood parking but it wasn’t an issue. I did some yoga in the room and managed to half all of the leftovers we had in our fridge for dinner. Our clothes were dry and waiting for us thanks to Sandra.
As we headed up Franklin to Ponsonby to get some water, we saw the most over-the-top house on the street, going all out for the first night of lights: they had a dry ice machine that caused the whole walkway to be smokey, they’d brought in snow and covered the lawn (seriously!), they had a live two-piece band, and the guys who lived there were dressed in skimpy white angel outfits cooking on the BBQ while countless passersby took photos and videos. There were other houses to see, and most of the owners seemed to have parties. Some were in the “back” while the public looked at the house and others were out front, but it wasn’t clear if you could just crash the parties or had to be invited. (QoTD: “the rest of the pecker-heads are out back getting hammered”). [Watch a short video clip of the party.]
Waiheke! Waiheke! Waiheke! Tuesday, December 2, 2014
I felt so good doing yoga again that upon waking I was back on my mat. At breakfast we met a Swiss couple and some Brits, and talked to Sandra about going to Piha the next day. Then we took our walk down to the Auckland wharf to catch the ferry for Ananda’s Gourmet’s Food and Wine Tour of Waiheke Island.
Our guide Paul met us at the other side as promised, and we climbed into a van with a very friendly couple from Atlanta–who were actually Canadians, and I think he was the “writer” we kept hearing about that was supposed to be on our tour. There was another quieter couple (to us) from Singapore in the back. Paul led us on a meandering drive around the island with running commentary, which included two funny stories (neither of which I’m sure are actually true). First, there was a metallic-looking statue of a goat at one of the intersections, and he was supported by an ugly white base. Paul told us that the goat had originally had a large set of testicles hanging down, but they’d been stolen. Once put back, they were stolen a second and then a third time. So rather than give the ball-stealing folks another set, the town gave up and just put in the white cement. At another intersection was a park bench with two pairs of shoes sitting in front. Paul said that someone discovered a lost pair of shoes near there, and so left them sitting in front of the bench thinking the owner might come back to reclaim them. But soon after, another pair of shoes showed up next to the original ones. Next, one of the original pair disappeared, and another replaced it. Then to everyone’s surprise, a pair of expensive designer shoes showed up, and it officially became “art”. But those didn’t last long, and when a second pair of designer shoes got pried up even after being glued into place, the exhibit went back to being ordinary.
Our first stop on the tour was at Rangihoua Estate. There we saw a beautifully carved chess set made out of fence post wood, and tasted four different award winning olive oils and this magnificent herb spread, which was like pesto but made without basil. We also saw the machine that processes the olives and watched a short video on how it’s done, which was supplemented by the commentary of one of the women who worked there.
After purchasing our gift pack of two small oils and the herb spread, we went for a drive around Onetangi (long) beach before driving up into a colony of roosters on the way to Wild on Waiheke for our first wine tasting. Paul explained that this collection of roosters were relocated to this place because of a neighborhood noise ordinance some time ago, and that now people come and drop off food all day long, so they stay. Because they’re all males, there is little fighting. A few ducks and other birds have figured out the food situation too, so it’s a pretty funny mess of birds pecking about. But Paul also told us that because there is so much food on the ground, several types of native birds are losing their ability to fly.
Wild on Waiheke was interesting because they also had archery, a (less impressive but equally large) chess set, and we got to sit at a table in the sun and order four wines (or beers) to sample. A little miscommunication means that we both ended up with four tastings + two regularly sized ciders. We were told nothing about the wines or beers and simply sat there talking until it was time to go.
The next stop was Kennedy Point Vineyard, which I was excited about because they had organic wines and we were to get a tasting of oysters as well. The shop was run by a German woman who gave us the wines along with the oysters (Sauvignon), different breads, cheeses, and honey (Syrah and a “Trumpet Blend”, which is a self-named wine because apparently it didn’t contain enough of one to be labeled as such). Of course by now I was in desperate need of and grateful for any food I could get my hands on. I asked but couldn’t get a taste of a Malbec, though we did try some avocado oil as well. We were taken outside and shown a vine and where they cleaned the bottles, but other than that, this place was also woefully lacking on information and it really felt that all you were there to do was buy something (whereas Wild on Waiheke felt like you were just there to get hammered). When I pointed this out to our guide Paul, he scoffed at my wanting to learn more about wines, saying that “hey, you either like it or you don’t.” Hmmph.
Lastly we were escorted to Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant, where we were to have a late lunch. The restaurant was gorgeous and we had a table with a lovely green view, but it was already late and the service was incredibly slow. Danil had veal and I had truffle ravioli (not my usual choice but I needed something to soak up all that alcohol!). We also ordered a side of “garden veg” which of course was asparagus. Paul met us after lunch, took some photos for us, and was happy to give us a ride to town so we could explore on our own. While the first part of the day was OK, I wouldn’t recommend doing this tour, unless you don’t care to learn much about what you’re drinking.
Once back in Oneroa village we ducked into a few little shops, then went down to Oneroa, the main beach, where we picked up various seashells. We puzzled over dinner: we’d had reservations at The Oyster Inn but we’d eaten so late that it didn’t feel right. We decided to cancel the reservation and instead hit the top-chef-owned gelato stand, where we found a lot of unique flavors (like mandarin orange Thai basil) and split two of them: we got a scoop of star anise and licorice, and the other was a ginger (chocolate) stracciatella. Pretty incredible stuff!
We had a nice walk back to the ferry and were in time to catch the 6:15. On the way back up to Ponsonby we finally found a souvenir shop that was decent and had a mug we liked. I got my last postcard (of sheep!) too. As my neck and back were killing me (the beds in this country just didn’t work for me at all), we got takeout from Bird on a Wire. I was able to get their app on my iPhone and place the order from the room, but we were slightly disappointed when my three-salad with a little chicken came in a DEEP Asian food container where everything was totally mushed together. Still it was tasty, and just enough before turning in.
Hot Black Sand Beaches and BurgerFuel: Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Our days in NZ were starting to feel numbered, and although we wanted to go back to Waiheke, we realized there were more (different) things to see. After having Sandra’s amazing sunflower and pumpkin seed toast with scrambled eggs this time, we left with her map of Piha, which was a beach Danil wanted to see for the surfers.
The drive was windy but uneventful, and in a better car on a different side of the road it might have been even more fun. We didn’t see many surfers on the first beach, but we did stand in amazement of Lion Rock and the very dark, almost black sand. After watching the few surfers who were there head to the other side of the rock, we hopped back into the car and drove a little further down. Black sand, beach, and mountains, in all 360 degrees. It felt incredibly expansive and for the first time since being on the Ganges River at dusk, I felt as if I were in a dream. We discovered a small cave that refused to be properly photographed, and learned why I had such large and wonderful mussels at the restaurants in NZ: they were growing like wild moss over almost every rock near the Lion. Walking back toward the rescue shack we learned that we were there at very low tide, which was why there was so much beach and so few surfers.
Next we drove to Piha Cafe for lunch. It didn’t have as much variety as we had expected, but healthy ingredients were a nice find. I got a lentil patty with a side salad. I particularly noticed language of people here, because there was a group of ladies having a birthday party nearby. “Yes” became a long, drawn out “yeeees” and “bed” became “bead”. We headed off to nearby Karekare with the best trim latte yet and an incredible warm brownie. A rather unclear pathway led us to a little river, which we felt adventurous enough to cross by taking off our shoes and socks, stringing them around our necks, and holding our breath for the brief moment of cool wet at our toes. But once the shoes were off, they stayed off, and suddenly my legs weren’t cold even though my jeans were rolled up to my knees. The sheer magnitude of the beach had our rapt attention.
On the way back to the car, we decided to take the more clearly marked path on the opposite side. I spotted a large hill of sand at the side of a rock, and dared Danil to climb up it, which of course he did. I was torn between taking photos and doing it myself, and ended up with the latter, discovering too late that it was an easier climb up without flip flops. We’d wished we had a piece of cardboard or something to sled down on, me especially as I realized that shoes were absolutely necessary on the way down, since the sun had turned the black sand on the front of the dune to fire. After “ow”-ing all the way down we talked back to the car through a beautiful wooded area with more of the incredibly fragrant yellow flowers we’d seen earlier.
When we arrived back at the car, we weren’t ready to go, so we took the 5 minute trek to the Karekare waterfall, where we encountered two girls sunbathing, and two eels playing in a shallow pool formed by rocks. (I found the latter just as I was about to wade in, and one eel approached my toes as if looking for a lunch snack!). A random dog also appeared, which made Danil happy. This was the one place–Karekare–that we liked enough to return to. The very next day in fact, for what might be the biggest adventure we had on the trip. (Stay tuned.)
Once back in Ponsonby, we decided to be “bad” and try BurgerFuel, which is a chain there but reputed to be coming to the U.S. in a year or so. I was excited by the tofu burger and possibility of gluten free buns until I saw that we could get a “low caborator”, which was no bun, and we decided to split a side of kumara fries. The place was funky and I LOVED eating a somewhat healthy fast food burger for the first time in a very long time. After dinner we stopped by the Ponsonby farmers market and looked around to see what we could potentially bring to a picnic lunch for our Karekare hike the next day.
Getting Eaten Alive in the Marsh, and Other Degustations: Thursday, December 4, 2014
After breakfasting alone at the B&B, we were eager to return to Karekare for our official hike. Although we’d planned to take some sustenance, our large breakfast left us feeling like we wouldn’t need much; we had our big tasting at Sidart that evening already planned. Our GPS took us a slightly different route than the one from yesterday when we were on Scenic West Road and Piha Road, but it was all right. As we parked we saw the large brown dog again and assumed he lived there. I made a joke about Ubu, so that became his name.
We decided to do a four-hour hike which included the Zion Hill track, and the “map in Danil’s head” showed it would take us up and down the hill, across the marsh and to the beach. At the trail head a sign advised us to brush off our shoes and spray them with some bottles of disinfectant to prevent a native plant from dying of a root disease. There were lots of wooden stairs built into the trail due to erosion, and sometimes they were a bit muddy so being careful was important. We took turns being first and being second, making slightly different footing choices along the way. A perfect break in the trees gave us some lovely photos of the mountains and the beach, as well as encouraged us that we were headed in the right direction. Part way into the marsh, we noticed a fork in the path, with a wooden stake and an empty gallon jug to the left. Danil was leading the way, and noting the footprints toward the right, indicated that the path had to be that way.
The marsh became marshier, the footprints more numerous, black and sticky, and suddenly we found ourselves without a lot of solid ground to stand on. I was tamping down and hugging the tall reeds at one side of the path to stay as mud-less as possible. The next moment I looked ahead and saw Danil waist deep on one side, being sucked down as if he’d stepped into quicksand! Thankfully he still had his hands and a foot on more stable ground, and was able to hoist himself out. “I think we should go back,” I said. He humbly agreed so we turned around, and found ourselves back at the infamous divide. I looked around–not a living soul in sight. I’m not sure what would have happened if I would have had to try to pull him out, or if he started to sink further. Relieved and undeterred, we decided to follow the other side of the trail.
After trekking along for a bit we came upon a sign for the trail that was almost completely covered in a sand dune. The trail appeared to go alongside the dune, but was very narrow, so I climbed to the top, only to discover that if I looked across the nothingness, there were footprints and another “Hillary Trail” marker at the other side. We followed those markers into yet more nothingness, but soon the terrain changed again and we started to see a few other hikers, and soon enough we arrived at the Tunnel Campsite. We pit stopped at the little outhouse before going through the tunnel and ending up back at the beach, where far in the distance we could see many people at the edge of the water. Completely relieved that there were people, yet hoping there wasn’t a beached whale or anything holding all their interest, we kept walking, walking, walking.
Along the way we found a sandpiper nest with two eggs in it. I went up close and squatted to take a photo, but stood up at the perfect time: the mother (and another bird) came squawking at us rather quickly. I couldn’t quite tell whether the mother was also worried about the larger black bird, but they both made quite a fuss. As we walked the tide was coming in, but Danil was still able to go over and touch the rock. Soon we were back on the familiar yellow-flower-scented path we’d been on the day before, and at the trail head we tried to brush some of the mud off.
Of course one of us had a harder time with that! So at the car we grabbed one of the towels and his bathing suit, which has now become the clothing he would change into to feel clean. He dove into the freezing cold water with muddy shorts on, then swam to the waterfall and back. (Apparently the water is very shallow so diving isn’t recommended!) With no others around, he took off the shorts and at my advice started slapping them against the rocks to try and clean them a bit. Socks too. It was pretty funny. Once changed we got back on the road, but getting a new lease on life didn’t last long, and we made a crazy pass. (The roads along there were narrow and quite windy giving one very little comfort, but the option to pass is always there, should one get behind a pokey driver.)
The GPS once again took us an unfamiliar way home, and all we’d had for lunch were some almonds and a leftover Bird on a Wire salad that had survived his marsh fall. I got a break while muddier folks did a trip to the laundromat, and after once again hanging some damp clothes on Sandra’s line, we got dressed for our fancy dinner at Sidart. There we had a 9-course menu that for once, was actually not too much food for me! We liked it so much we got a copy of the menu:
- White asparagus, horseradish, kale, olive
- Flavours of sushi (my favorite!)
- Carrot, beetroot, goat’s cheese, sesame (they were kind enough to leave out some of the dairy for me too)
- John Dory, cashew, calamari, mushroom
- Quail, coconut, almond, daikon
- Duck, leek, onions, apple
- Venison, parsnip, shiitake, comte
- Berries, parmesan, basil, hazelnut
- Chocolate, mandarin, coffee, caramel
Instead of doing the full pairing, I had two wines: first a chardonnay (I’m getting better at the whites!) and then a pinot noir. The meal was preceded by three amuse-bouche and concluded with a non-alcoholic ginger digestif.
The dinner itself was pretty funny, given that just hours before we had been caked in mud and sweat battling a marsh. We joked at how uncultured we were for using the wrong utensils, but then started realizing that many dishes came with both a fork and a spoon (apparently as options). Feeling refreshed we headed back to the B&B and collected the clean shorts and socks without issue this time!
Finally, a Light Day: Friday, December 5, 2014
At breakfast we told Sandra of yesterday’s adventure and she told us about Devonport, a historic little town that was about a 10-minute ferry ride from Auckland wharf. We decided to check it out, and nabbed the 10:30. It was a lovely day and a short ride, so we went right to the top of the ferry and enjoyed the views and the sun. Upon arrival we walked around Victoria Road, and found “Catch 22”, which I discovered online; it was reputed to have THE best fish and chips. We then found the original Devonport Chocolates store a little off the beaten path, had a sample, and realized there was nothing really different from their other two stores we’d already been in around Ponsonby and Auckland.
After getting a trim latte and hot chocolate from Henri Cafe, which was a really sweet little shop, we strolled up the grassy hill to Mt Victoria and North Head. At the top we discovered more amazing views, and the disappearing gun, as well as the painted mushrooms. Satisfied and hungry, we returned down via the stairs and paved way to begin our official hunt for lunch. A walk into Catch 22 instantly turned us off. First, there was no where to sit except outside in the park, which would have been fine but the sun had gone and clouds were abundant. Second, the smell of grease was nasty and overwhelming. Sure the “bad” fish and chips would have tasted good anyway, we kept walking. Sandra recommended Corelli’s but as we sat and pondered the menu nothing really excited us. The service was slow enough that we were able to just leave before starting any tab. We decided instead on The Patriot, where there were gluten free or beer battered fish and chips, some nice salads, and a covered outdoor patio on the second floor. I got a nice nicoise salad and another chardonnay. Danil tried the fish and chips, and I had a bit but was enjoying my salad so much that I wasn’t jealous one bit!
After lunch we tried and find High Street, which I thought I’d read something about online that morning. We did, but the only thing it turned up was a nice walk in a residential part of the town, where we looked at more architecturally interesting houses. Feeling satisfied with a short excursion we returned to Auckland with plenty of time left in the day to get our real souvenir shopping done.
As planned we picked up some chocolates from Devonport Chocolates on the mainland, and some honey from a great little shop called From N to Z. That was all very easy as we’d scouted out and noted presents throughout the week, but then it came down to finding our mug, which didn’t turn out to be as simple. Several hours, stores, and footsteps later we found ourselves back at the one shop that had a mug with a Pōhutukawa tree on it that wasn’t stupid and ever so eagerly bought it.
Back at the B&B we started packing for the long trip home the next day. Sandra had left us her bathroom scale so we could weigh our luggage with the new loot, as well as a little chocolate gift. We paused only to head to Little Bird for dinner, so I could finally get my kimchi pancake. Now they’d only been open for dinner on certain days, which we monitored from their website, but we couldn’t go the day before because of our Sidart reservation. When we arrived the familiar scene of the open door but the closed sign, I went in to ask. (The same situation occurred for breakfast the other day, but they’d actually been open.) Well, turns out that for December they suddenly stopped doing dinner! Although frustrated we decided all was not lost and visited Prego again, and even though it was late for caffeine I ordered one of the espresso martinis I’d seen so many people having, and the zuppa de pesce which was also amazing. After our final tiramisu (which ended up being free since I found bits of fabric in it!), we headed to the vegetable market to look for travel snacks. We also picked up some flowers to thank Sandra for being awesome.
I finished the packing and we decided that even after all the laundry we’d done, we would toss the still sulfur-and-mud-covered bathing suit of mine, and his too-large-still-muddy shorts.
Time Travel Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be: Saturday, December 6, 2014 (x2)
~8:30 am (Auckland time)
As often happens on travel days, we woke early and were ready to go before realizing we had an extra half hour before breakfast. Sandra prepared her last lovely table for us, and Margo, the deaf black cat, came to serenade us with goodbyes. After loading the suitcases we drove to Little Bird, where we ordered two kimchi pancakes and our raspberry chocolate bar to go (for lunch). We easily found the Auckland War Museum, and visited the WoW exhibit and then watched the video of people actually wearing these outfits (ouch)! Then some meandering through the various galleries, including the Weird and Wild Exhibit and the rather large one about volcanoes, where we learned all the ways they cause death. The simulator where they had us “experiencing” a volcano, unfortunately, was pretty lame, and the public service announcement that came at the end seemed a bit contrived (i.e. “you can protect yourself against volcanoes”! Umm…right.). Around lunchtime we found a nice bench right in front of the museum where we devoured our soggy but still tasty pancakes and dessert.
Our next stop was Treasure Island Mini Golf, which was intentionally near the airport. We played two rounds (one of each course), and oddly enough neither one of us got frustrated, even with several pretty crazy holes in one. We left with plenty of time to overfill the gas tank (as instructed) and get it back to the rental car company. After a brief discussion about the GPS we’d rented that didn’t seem to be capable of getting a signal, we caught the shuttle to the airport.
Not sure why but we were spacy, and did a few stupid things trying to get to the gate. However, the really stupid thing we did was back at the B&B, where we packed. See, Danil had been worried about the weight of the suitcases given the souvenirs being added. I proposed shifting them all to the carry on, since it was around the perfect size and weight wouldn’t be much of an issue. He thought that was a splendid idea and encouraged it. Naturally at security my carry-on got flagged, and the woman unpacked everything. My heart sank as I realized that our olive oil, herb spread, honey, etc. were all in this bag! After being forced to chug an entire bottle of water (for the same reason and with nowhere to dispose of it), Danil comforted me as the security lady confiscated our Rangihoua herb spread and one of our Manuka honeys, but let us go through with the olive oils since they were smaller.
Once through, we took some time to sit on rocking chairs, stare out the window, and recover. We rationalized that hadn’t thought of this seemingly obvious issue because the last flight we had taken was from Christchurch to Auckland–i.e. a domestic flight, where they let us through with shoes and water and everything. We shared the blame, and went on a search to replace the honey, buying a small enough jar at a duty free shop so that it would pass through if we were checked again and couldn’t switch the contents of the bags when we arrived in San Francisco. Once that was all processed, we grabbed a juice and learned of a flight delay. So we grabbed a vegetarian torte and tabbouleh salad to hold us over.
~9 pm (Auckland time)
At the start of the long flight to California, one of the flight attendants saw me stretching near the restroom, and told me he couldn’t do a forward fold. I showed him how to do it even though he couldn’t touch his toes. Surprised, he told me how good it felt and how stiff he gets on the long flights, and pretty soon I had most people in the line doing some sort of “airplane yoga”. Needless to say I returned to my seat with a big grin on my face.
After being served dinner, the entire flight slept while I was uncomfortably awake, stiff, and bored out of my mind. I finally watched the rest of Gravity, a silly but cute movie called Blended, and probably other random things too. By the time breakfast arrived I was famished, and I got in a bit of trouble for trying to drop off my finished tray before everyone else got served their breakfast, but I needed to get up. The flight attendant I’d stretched with earlier kept filling my water bottle with a smile the entire flight. As everyone else was waking up, I finally started to doze off.
~11:30 am (California time–STILL SATURDAY)
At baggage claim, I had all the “offensive” items from our carry on out and waited to do a switcheroo when the larger bags came off, just in case. A guard with a dog came sniffing by, but for some reason I wasn’t concerned. The man asked whether we’d been in a place with animals, and we said yes. Between Margo (the cat) and Bella (the dog and the namesake of the B&B), it was highly likely our bags smelled like animal. The guard said “that’s what he’s telling me!” and walked away. Whew! We learned at customs that they’ve changed the form, and now as long as you live together you’re considered “family”. The guard there gave us some crap about not reading the instructions that were clearly at the top announcing the change. After we finished reprocessing the bags I was excited to stop at the Japanese counter at SFO, which I know has nice salmon teriyaki, brown rice, and veggies. At the gate I unrolled my travel yoga mat, put my jacket under my head and slept on the floor for a bit. I was that tired!
After a short wait we boarded a new embraer jet from United that was quite nice. We had just two seats together rather than being on the end of a five-row as we were on the long flight. I slept off and on. Super Shuttle on the Austin end was totally on the ball, and on the drive home we learned what local news we missed while being gone from our driver. I did a good job making sure I didn’t go nuts unpacking everything at once, and I was in bed by my usual 10 pm (Austin time)!
Whew! Well I hope you enjoyed looking through these stories. The trip was WELL worth the distance, even though time travel isn’t easy on the body! I can’t wait to find out where we’ll go next year. Have suggestions? Let me know.
For the full set of photos and videos from Auckland, please visit my Google album.