A whistle-stop tour of the North Island's cities and surrounds
15.03.2013 - 20.03.2013 23 °C
Having left Dave's, I caught the last train into town. As the airport bus ran all night and I was in no rush, I bought a beer and spent a while passing time attempting to people watch but mainly lost In my own thoughts before going to the airport. Once there my attempts to sleep proved futile and hidden under my Laos scarf, I was well aware when check-in opened at 4.30am.
As with so many journeys, the travelling itself would turn to be one of the worst parts of travelling. Having ditched my backpack and been repeatedly called a bitch by a Japanese woman with an excessive amount of luggage for not stopping teeth cleaning to help her through the bathroom door, I made my way to the gate feeling shit (and basically like I'd been wake for a very long time - which I had). As the take off time of six forty-five came and went we were 'evacuated' from the terminal due to a 'minor security alert' and forced to pass again through security meaning that my arrival in Auckland was delayed. But when I finally driven I was met by a well-dressed Victoria at the bus stop and ushered into their beautiful apartment, just metres away, for a shower and a well overdue nap.
That evening, the perfect hosts, Tim and Victoria took me for dinner and drinks and it was great to catch up with them. In fact the last time I'd seen both of them together they'd recently 'hooked up' for the first time on a night out at Prenzlauerberg's Intersoup and now five years later here they were happy newly-weds and living on the other side of the world. And they were so easy to spend time with; entertaining and hospitable, I enjoyed their company immensely feeling completely comfortable and welcomed, something that, having just left friends in Melbourne and feeling slightly tired and emotional was very much appreciated. We stayed out later than I should have done given how long it was since my last good sleep but drink and conversation flowed and I barely noticed how late it was.
The forecast for the next day, as Saturday, was good so they'd planned for us to drive in a friend's camper van to a nearby beach. When we woke up it was actually grey and drizzly. But, after a good breakfast prepared by Tim and served on their wedding crockery, we went to the beach anyway and it turned out to be a very enjoyable day. It was a short drive to the west coast and along with Birgit, a German friend of theirs, we stopped at Lake Wainamu, a large fresh water lake surrounded by steep black sand dunes where we climbed over the dunes and swam in surprisingly warm water. Next we drove to Bethell's beach where we sat on black sand sheltering under an overhanging rock from the misty rain. That evening Tim cooked us fish and, over wine, we chatted into the night.
The following day, after a slow start, I looked out of the window to the waterfront to discover that umbrellas were being inside-out-ed, flags wrapped themselves around their poles and the rain was going sideways. A perfect day for sightseeing around town! As the rain decreased to a heavy drizzle, without putting on a raincoat, I trudged around the city park
The weather was relatively fitting given my mood, perhaps even the cause of it. So far in my trip my main feelings had generally, especially since arriving in Australasia, been the basics like 'happy', 'tired', 'grumpy', 'yay the sea' and 'oooh koalas', so to feel anything more challenging didn't go down well. It wasn't homesickness, perhaps I was slightly travel weary or perhaps just 'emotional' was the best term for it. Regardless, visiting the Auckland Art Gallery in an attempt to distract myself from the unusually complex blend of emotions I was currently feeling proved initially relatively unsuccessful and I spent more time pondering how I was feeling rather than the art itself. But the more I tried to focus, the more I was able to appreciate it - there was an interesting mix of both New Zealand and international collections by the time I reached the International Contemporary collection I felt almost back to normal.
Auckland however was having a rather unusual day as well. I can't remember exactly where I was when I felt the earth move but I'd initially put it down to some 'modern art feature' or a train rumbling beneath me. But no, it was actually a small earthquake, my first to my knowledge, and measured just four on the Richter scale prompting several photos circulating of toppled patio chairs captioned 'Auckland Earthquake: We will rebuild!'.
Aside from the Art Gallery and a currently wet and drizzly waterfront, the main other attraction seemed to be eating. As I wandered around the city centre, ducking into the occasional shop to avoid the rain, every other building seemed to be offering some form of (usually fast) food. It was St Patricks day and as I explored the city, it's bars were full of drunks dressed in green - presumably they'd not even noticed the earthquake and just put it down to one beer too many. Having bought an NZ guide book, avoiding those in green, I found a quiet bar near the harbour where I was served New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc by a bar man with an all too familiar accent who came from 'between Manchester and Liverpool'. I sat watching the rain, learning about New Zealand, writing to my Grandpa and drinking my wine.
The next morning I left Victoria and Tim's comfortable apartment in the mid-morning for the airport. I'd originally planned on taking the (expensive but apparently very scenic) 12 hour train from Auckland to Wellington however, just hours before departure it had been cancelled due to mechanical problems. Not wanting to travel on a different day or receive NZ train vouchers, I'd wangled a refund and booked a (cheaper) flight instead. The flight was just an hour long and the fourteenth plane journey of my trip so far.
I landed in a misty wet Wellington and, as the airport transfer bus passed through the shopping district, made an effort to remember where the shops were as some warmer clothes were certainly going to be required if this was to keep up. The afternoon was spent mostly with life admin, onward trip planning and sheltering in Starbucks from the rain before I tucked myself up in bed with a glass of wine and watched a film on my cracked iPad screen.
The next morning it was rainy and grey and I abandoned my original plan of going for a run in favour of visiting a museum. One of the good things about Wellington was that almost all of its many museums were free entry. I visited the Te Papa national museum, a very interactive museum that was a bit like a cross between London's Science and Natural History museums. Unfortunately it was overrun with children but I still found space to learn about earthquakes, the Pacific Islander communities and see famous the giant squid.
In the afternoon I climbed Mt Victoria, barely deserving of its Mountain title standing only 197m about sea level but a steep climb nonetheless, especially difficult when done in flipflops. When I reached the top, having climbed from sea level, I was disappointed to find a bus stop and a load of old people crowding round the lookout point. Still, my way had been far more rewarding and I admired the views of the surrounding mountains and water before slipping and sliding back down the hill.
Walking back through Wellington I passed 'the Southern Hemisphere's only Welsh Pub' before wandering the shopping district in search of some warmer clothes. That evening Ava, an interesting older Canadian woman from my room, and I ate dinner together and shared some wine. There was a good group of girls in our room which was exactly what I needed having left friends again and being back to 'travelling solo'.
The next morning I journeyed to the South Island taking an early morning ferry. Ava woke me up at 6.15 and I was joined on the ferry by a Canadian girl and an excitable Brazilian who spent the entire three hour journey on deck taking photographs. Fortunately the weather was fine, the sea relatively calm and the sky blue. Although it was cold, we spent the latter part of the journey through the Cook Straights on deck admiring the view. And what a view it was. In spite of everything I'd experienced so far on this trip, it was still spectacular. And after the drive from Picton across to the Abel Tasman National Park I began finally to understand why people came to New Zealand. As I stood on a boardwalk bridge, surrounded by mountains on three sides and gazing out at the range across the bay, finally I got it and it utterly blew me away.