New Zealand 2001
First of all, I guess I should give you a little background. After over 11 years in the Navy, I decided that I needed a little break before I tackled the real world. I wanted to go somewhere warm, so since it was February, that meant someplace in the southern hemisphere. There is more of course, but that should get you start.
My final day at the office was 26 January 2001 and a mere three days later I was heading to the airport. Well something funny happened at the airport. Apparently my tickets were cancelled on the 16th of January. Don't ask, I don't know. But I do have some suspects. However, I did manage to convince them that if they didn't put me on a plane to Australia pretty damn quick that I would cause a little tiny scene that might require SWAT team intervention. And they were so nice to me.
The flight over was brutal. I used all of my frequent flier miles to upgrade to business class and it was so worth it. I can't even imagine it in coach. I made it to Auckland and it was WARM!!!!! I was SO happy. It was probably mid 70s with a nice little breeze. It was late summer and there were still flowers in bloom. I caught a shuttle bus from the airport to my hotel that was on the edge of the central business district (CBD), the university area, and the docks. Quite an interesting neighborhood. As soon as I got into the room, I changed into my running gear and headed out to the Auckland Domain. The Domain is a big park area just to the south of the CBD. It was definitely a good idea to run there since I kept looking the wrong way when I crossed the streets. And of course I'm thinking, wouldn't it be ironic if I fell and sprained my ankle my first day in Auckland. (I have chronic ankle problems) But no worries. (That’s one of the local expressions that I'm going to use.) Auckland reminds me of San Francisco. Big, hilly, lots of tourists, and a definite Asian flavor to it. Running up these hills after three months on the treadmill really sucked. And I can't remember the last time I ran downhill. Odd, but true. After the run, I walked around the city and went to the Skytower. It's like a big needle tower in the middle of the city with just awesome views. One neat little trick is that part of the floors are plexiglass so you can stand on them and look down a gazillion feet to the earth below. And they have these nice little signs that say that the 38mm thick plexiglass is as strong as the concrete that is used. Yea right. Really freaky. So in my strange, odd, and demented quest for Mexican food in foreign countries, I had Mexican my first night in Auckland. Chips were okay, the burrito was a bit spicy, but the margarita rocked. Now for the obvious question: what were you thinking Trey? Mexican food after you've been flying for umpteen hours and you think you're gonna sleep? What indigestion. I was digging through my bag for the Zantac at 2 AM!
I spent the next day wandering around the city. The Auckland museum is a history, natural history, and war museum wrapped into one with a very excellent collection of Maori and Polynesian artifacts. The war section was great, but it was really weird to think about how many New Zealanders had been shipped off to fight in wars that really didn't effect them. They sent soldiers to fight in the Boer wars of South Africa! The next day I walked down to the American's Cup Village. It's nice and you could see all the different hangars/boat houses that the different countries used.
It was an early get up on Sunday to pick up the car. Now while I have driven on the left side of the road before, this was not something I was looking forward to. Now in Friday's paper, there is a huge article about how tourists are causing all of these awful crashes with multiple fatalities. Then on the news on Saturday, there was a three-car pile up that closed one of the major highways for 5 hours. So I was so ready to pick up the car, a Toyota Echo. I think I've seen something called an Echo in the states, but not this. It has no rear end. It's like a VW Cabriole, but with a hard top. My first issue was obviously luggage. I couldn't put my backpack in that trunk. So the duffel bag takes the WHOLE backseat. The only good thing about picking up the car on Sunday was that most people weren't on the road. So I left Auckland and headed north. My goal was Kaiatia. There are daily trips that leave from Kaiatai to Cape Reinga and that was highly recommended, so that's where I was heading. The roads are okay, if you think a highway only has two lanes. I did pass some spectacular scenery on my up the coast. At first it made me think of Vermont. Green, hilly, cattle, very pretty. But then the odd palm tree would ruin that image. So it was hard to say.
My immediate goal was Pahia on the Bay of Islands. The Bay of Islands is a bay full of islands, pretty wild huh? It's important because that's where the Europeans first met the Maori natives who lived here. First of all, I have to say OH MY GOD it was pretty. So beautiful. Pahia was a little town on the edge of the bay. Very small, very tourist oriented, but in a good way. I got there around noon and it was absolutely gorgeous. The sun was out and the first thing I did was head to the pharmacy to buy some sun block. My forearms were RED from driving and I was in a little bit of pain. I wandered around the town and then decided to go on a cruise of the bay. After all that Navy crap, you'd think I wouldn't want to be on another boat, but if someone else is doing all the work, I say go for it. I took a ferry over to Russell, which was one of the first European settlements in NZ. It’s a very quaint British seaside town. Just lovely. I wandered there a bit and then it was time for my trip on the Excitor. The Excitor you ask? It's a high-speed tour boat (think professional speed boating/water racing with extra seats). And what a blast. Of course since I boarded the boat in Russell, most of the seats were filled, so I got to sit up high next to the driver who was protected in his little cockpit shell. When he hit the pedal, I was holding on for dear life. We made it up to 40 knots as we cruised through the bay. I can't tell you how much fun it was. We had on raincoats and life preservers, but of course, when we hit the odd wave or two, a blast of salt spray would drench me, and I was loving it. (Note to self: need to check my medication level) The weather was perfect, the bay was amazing, and we were heading out to an island just off the coast that has a big hole in it. We motored around the island and went through the hole a couple of times. Did I mention how much fun this was?
Anyways, I got back to Pahia around 4ish and got back into the car for the drive to Kaitaia. I made Kaitaia and found a motel that met my price range. $65NZ = $30US. It was basic, let's put it that way. Of course it is Sunday, and Kaitaia is a small town. Can you say DEAD! I walked the downtown twice before I found a place to eat that you could sit down in. When was the last time you had a pan-fried steak that came in it's own fat, I mean juice. Yum! Oh and the salad dressing, mayo. Double yum!
After my morning run, I boarded the bus to Cape Reinga. This is a big farming area and the driver was telling us all about the farms. I drifted in and out a bit. Farming . . . yawn. Of course, I later end up talking to a Kiwi who is a dairy farmer. His last job was as a livestock analyst, where he specialized in artificial insemination for cattle. Wow. Don't know how to top that. The drive was long, but we stopped a lot. For lunch we stopped at this pretty little cove. I slammed my lunch and then jumped into the water. Talk about cold. Yikes! But it was fun and I body surfed a bit. Back into the bus and we keep heading north to Cape Reinga. CR is the northernmost tip of NZ and it's where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific meet. Very cool and also a Maori sacred area. Afterwards, we went back south via the 90-mile beach. Before we got to the beach, we had to pass through these huge sand dunes and we stopped so people could sand surf. Been there, done that. But I climbed the dunes to snap some pictures. Think 40-50 ft dunes, just massive and so picturesque. Then it was on to the beach. Ok, it's not 90 miles, it only 64, don't ask why it's called that. I wanted to swim, but the waves were pretty rough so I decided to be sensible (hear that Dad!). The beach is amazing and just goes on forever, and not a soul on the beach. I would have been happy if they would have left me there, but no go. It really was amazing that we would drive and drive and see the waves crashing on the shore and there is NO ONE around. Part of the reason for that is that the land is protected as Maori sacred land. The whole European descendents vs Maori thing is very interesting, but way to long to go into.