"Kia aro". I've arrived in sunny aka rainy Auckland!!!
Well, it's time to start the ole' blogging for Phase 2 of my World Adventure, so here goes with my first stop! A big Kia ora (Maori for hello) to you all from New Zealand!
Lets just say that with a combination of 4 hours sleep over the 2 days prior to me leaving Boston, and what seemed like the world's longest flight path to Auckland (Boston - Atlanta - LA - Auckland, left April 25th, into Auckland on April 27th!), I was feeling just a tad tired on arrival! But I couldn't let that hold me back! Got into town around 6:30am, and checked into Base Backpackers hostel (I booked into the "Sanctuary", a girls only floor with complimentary Aveda products, TV's in the bathrooms, and a spa and sauna - how nice eh!) and by 10am I'd showered, unpacked and was on my way out to start my city tour!
Did this with Stray, the same bus tour group I'm doing my North and South Island trip with in 2 days time. Their motto is "Stray - we take you off the beaten path!". Lets see if they live up to that! Met some lovely girls; Kathy from Strangford in Ireland, Allie from London and Jenna from Edinburgh on the bus. Yup, there are tons of people from Britain and Ireland in NZ....quite different after South America where I only met one Scottish person in 4 1/2 months!
Our guide, Worm (aka Craig), was great! He majored in Theatre Studies at university, has Kiwi parents although was brought up in Canada, and certainly enjoyed slagging off any and all things Australian... this seems to be a common theme around New Zealand, although apparantly it's all in jest!!! On our tour, we saw a ton of interesting places around Auckland (see the view here from the ground up, of the famous Skytower; at 328m the tallest structure in the Southern hemisphere!). This is another very common thing in New Zealand; everything is the biggest, the tallest, the widest thing.. in the Southern Hemisphere...not the world of course!!! But hey, whatever floats your NZ boat, right!
We also visited Mount Eden (Maungawhau in Maori); which is just outside the city centre. Home to the first piece of sacred land handed back to the Maori's by the British, after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 (NZ's founding document, similar to the US Constitution), it houses the most prominent whare runanga (Maori for meeting place) in the country (I think!). From here, you can check out the entire Auckland district below (Mount Eden is built on the highest volcanic cone in the area) and there's also a steep, volcanic terraced crater, thought to be another very sacred place for Maori ceremonies, which has tons of signs everywhere saying do not enter, this is a sacred place but of course, there were the usual idiots running down into the crater, throwing their flip flops around, shouting "take a pic"!!! Really, tourists today!!! So, with over 48 extinct and dormant volcanos surrounding this area, apparantly its only a matter of time before another one erupts and scientists think it could very easily be in or around the centre of Auckland itself... we'll just have to wait and see!
Worm also told us many other weird and wonderful tales including one about a father and his three daughters who were swimming just off the coast in the North Island, when they became encircled by a pod of bottle nose dolphins who were acting really strangely! The dolphins became more and more erratic and the father, fearing for his daughters safety, swam away from the pod, and made lots of commotion to get the dolphins to follow him... only 2 did and they very strongly nudged him back into the circle - again very strange behaviour as dolphins are usually very gentle mammals when interacting with people. The father became really worried; how would they all get out of this? People on the beach could see what was happening and a boat was called out, but would it arrive in time? As the father treaded water, he looked down below, and suddenly realised what was going on. A giant Great White shark was underneath him and his family, and as it circled and seemed to come towards him, one of the dolphins hit in on the nose, and dazed it (so much so it washed up on the beach a few days later, dead!). Apparantly,the dolphins were a pod of mothers who had recently given birth (researchers followed them after this episode to see why this had all happened). Their nurturing instinct was still so strong after having given birth that they felt the need to protect the humans.... pretty interesting story, eh!
Anyway, back to Auckland. In my usual blog style, a wee bit of info first....New Zealand is made up of two very different islands, the North and the South. Wellington, the capital is at the tip of the North Island. Auckland, with just over 1.2 million people, is situated on a narrow strip of land between two scenic harbours. It has more sandy beaches and islands than any other city in the world and is called "the City of Sails" due to the fact that 1 in 4 people own their own boats here!
The endearing nickname for anyone who lives in Auckland is a JAFA (just another fxxxn Aucklander). Sorry, a tad rude you might say....but the rest of New Zealand feels that Aucklanders are a bit stuck up compared to the rest of the country, hence the not so kind nickname! And as you can see, its that common, you even see it in advertising.....
Also went down to the port district, very hip now due in part to the growth in popularity surrounding the Americas Cup. Saw the space-age "Earth Race" boat that is aiming to go around the world in 68 days, fueled entirely by bio-chemical fuel i.e. vegetable oil! Other highlights included a visit to Speights brewery where we tried a chocolate beer (yuk!).
Back to Base in the afternoon, and decided to go for a spa with Jenna for an hour (yes, its a tough life being a backpacker!) then met up with Allie and Kathy! We headed out to visit the impressive Skytower - and checked out the view at night! Quite impressive... especially when you stand on the glass panels and can see right down to the street - bit freaky tho'.
Then off to the "Minus 5" ice bar.< Completely made out of ice.. the walls, the sculptures, seats, even the glasses. The ice is specially created in Canada with some secret ingredients, so it is always clear and you don't stick to it!!! And we didn't! It couldn't be more freezing in there.. you can only stay in it for 30 mins max...'cos its so cold! Poor Tina the bar tender.. she has to stay in for up to 2 hours at a time (but she had to train to get to that time limit.. something to do with the CO2 levels she said....?)
Anyway, a great first day in Auckland - oh, did i mention it rained buckets. Apparantly, this is quite normal, so I'd better get used to it! Hmmnnn...
PS - Did i also mention my pack is SO much lighter than the last trip (NOT!) ...a mere 44lbs according to Air New Zealands scales.. Oopps how did that happen! I'm def intending to dump as much as possible post Australia - no more chilly weather clothes needed for Asia - just the waterproofs of course as I'll be there during monsoon season! Yes, I know, I planned this trip very well.. winter in the Pacific, rainy season in Asia BUT perfect weather for India.....ahhh, happy days!