Monday, September 20, 2010

Kia Ora from Auckland!

I wrote a post with the same name three and a half years ago, and I am happy to do so again. We made it! We are in the Land of the Long White Cloud and already immersed in getting to know (or re-know) Auckland.

The trip was quite an adventure, but everything did go well, and we arrived not too exhausted, having slept (Matt) and dozed (me) for several hours on the flight from Los Angeles. After tying up the last few loose ends in Portland, Matt’s mom took us to the airport, where we said our final goodbye to Portland and headed south to LA. We had great seats the entire trip; on the flight from Portland (a 737) we sat in the row right behind the first class bulkhead, so we had extra foot room, and I was in the window seat. On the Qantas flight from LA (a big Airbus), we were in the very back, where instead of four rows in the middle section, there are only three, and Matt had the aisle and me the middle. Space was a little tight, but I didn’t have to climb over a stranger to get out to the bathroom, and we didn’t miss being by a window, since it was night for almost the entire flight, and we had our own personal screens for movies, tv, whatever on demand. Our transfer at LAX was a little worrisome, mainly because LAX is a loathsome airport organized in a way where nothing makes sense and there are no monitors anywhere telling you where you should go. We determined that we needed to go from the Alaska terminal to the international terminal, and when we got to the international terminal none of the Qantas screens showed our flight. We went to the check-in desk and were instructed that our flight was leaving from the next terminal over. On arriving in that terminal, we discovered that ours was the one Qantas gate in a concourse full of American Airlines gates. So confusing. It was so refreshing to land at the Auckland airport, which is gorgeous and very well organized. It took us a couple hours to get from the plane through immigration and biosecurity, due to the fact that my visa didn’t turn up in their records (it was issued so recently that they hadn’t gotten it to the proper list yet- Matt’s was fine, I assume because his last name comes before mine in the alphabet) and then we had to have our hiking boots examined for potentially harmful soil specimens. I think it speaks loads for New Zealand that all of the customs and immigration officials that we talked to were super congenial, kind, and reassuring. When my visa didn’t come up, they told me it was no problem, they would check it out and have me on my way in a couple minutes- and sure enough, that’s what happened. The whole way through, we felt very taken care of.

We took the bus into town and checked our bags at the hostel, but we couldn’t check in until 1 PM. With a few hours to kill, we bought some delicious kebabs for lunch, then walked down to the waterfront and ogled all the amazing yachts for awhile. Auckland is one of the sailing centers of the world, and many of the Americas Cup yachts and many other super fancy, expensive boats are moored here. 

(Click on Photos to enlarge)
Matt with Voyager, a former Americas Cup yacht. 

The weather was actually quite nice, it is the equivalent of mid-March in the northern hemisphere, and a little blustery and windy, but about 60 F. We got caught in a couple rain showers, and then decided we wanted to be done walking for awhile, so we took a boat cruise of the harbor, which Provo and I had done in 2007, and it was beautiful. 
Auckland skyline from Waitemata Harbour

This time we stopped at Rangitoto Island and were given 10 minutes to wander around and see the sites- volcanic rock and loads of Pohutakawa trees (I’m probably spelling that atrociously), the trees that bloom red at Christmastime. 
Auckland from Rangitoto Island

Matt on Rangitoto

We also saw a big yacht that had been washed aground by a recent gale. Apparently there have been some major strong westerlies recently that have been doing quite a bit of damage out on the water.
The Hilton at the waterfront, with its suspended swimming pool and the Skytower, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. (Photo by Matt)

Westhaven Marina, the largest marina in the southern hemisphere. Also by Matt

Matt and I are both loving how many boats there are here, and major maritime culture. 

By the time we got back, we were able to check into the hostel, get settled into our dorm, and shower. We then headed out and braved our first New Zealand grocery store, Countdown, which proved difficult to find but very cost efficient. We cooked rice and stir fried veggies at the hostel for dinner, and slept 12 hours last night!

Today we checked in at the BUNAC/IEP office, and got the paperwork to set up our bank accounts, although our official orientation is not until tomorrow. Right now I’m braving the ultra-slow, but free wireless internet in the IEP office to post this. For the rest of today, we’ll go to the bank, and take a trip across Waitemata Harbour to Devonport, as the fare for the ferry was included in our cruise tickets yesterday (benefits of traveling in the off-season).

It’s slightly surreal to be back in Auckland, and to be here with Matt. As Matt pointed out, it doesn’t feel that foreign here, which is precisely what I felt last time- I really could tell I was in a foreign country when we headed out of the city. Auckland is modern and bustling, full of people of every culture and language, and the stores are not so different from those in the U.S. It’s weird to come back and have it be a different season, as my entire previous experience in Auckland was in the deep humidity of summer. We’re both a little overwhelmed by the hugeness of our hostel, by the fact that we are now older than most of the people staying here, and a little chagrined by the vibe that occurs since we are traveling as a couple- glad as we are to be traveling together, it does create more of an obstacle to meeting other people.

So far, though, so good. My only major gripe is that my brand new sunglasses, which I bought specifically for this trip and never wore once, somehow broke in transit, and my attempt to repair them with superglue failed miserably. So tomorrow I’ll need to buy a new pair, as it became readily apparent that even in early spring, the sun is remarkably strong and bright. Also on the list for tomorrow is going across the street to Whitcoulls and buying a New Zealand plant guide. Wandering around Rangitoto Island yesterday, I couldn’t identify a single thing besides the Pohutukawa trees, and I could only identify those because the cruise commentator told us what they were.

I wanted to post some plant photos for Mom & Dad, but the connection here won't upload them now. Well, I'll post them when I actually know what they are! I hope you are all well, wherever you are right now.


Kimberly said...

Congratulations on making it down under! I'm from Brisbane, Australia so just across the channel from you now. Hope you can adjust to the different seasons. Looking forward to reading all about your NZ adventures.


Wendy said...

Glad to hear you had a reasonably good trip and I look forward to hearing all about your New Zealand escapades. Cheers, Wendy

FlowerLady said...

So happy to hear you made it and things are going pretty smoothly for you. This is exciting and I'm looking forward to reading about your adventure.

Hugs ~ FlowerLady