New Zealand* part 1**
27 Dec. We are in the penultimate row for our flight from Honolulu to Auckland: 39 of 40. Our seat mate notices that the last row is empty, and moves back. A flight attendant moves him forward again since that last row is reserved for flight attendants in case of depressurization. He is a cheerful Kiwi man and is a pleasant seatmate. He has a dark rum & apple juice with dinner. The Air New Zealand flight crew has beautiful colorful uniforms. Great accents, and a very diverse looking crew. The in-flight safety video was LOTR themed! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBlRbrB_Gnc The flight attendants are friendly and mostly mellow but firm; your armrest needs to be down, your windowshade up, and don’t try to sneak off to pee before the seat belt sign is turned off! The plane had nice leg room and the seats reclined a long way, which is nice except when trying to eat from your tray. And I got two gluten-free meals! They mixed up my dinner and breakfast, but it was tasty. Dinner was scrambled eggs and ham and potato wedges while brekkie was fish, potato wedges, and veg mix. (The Kiwis write it vege.) Kelly had hot meals too. Lots of in-flight entertainment on the in-seat screen, including Hobbit part one. Kelly watched The Wolverine. He often uses airplane trips to see movies that he knows I don’t want to watch. Slept a few hours on the 8.75 hour flight. Our inflatable neck pillows both developed leaks. Oh well.
29 Dec. We arrive in Auckland around 7 am, noon at home (no daylight savings time here). Get through immigration just fine. Customs and agriculture flag my shoes and we get sent to another checkpoint. My shoes are dipped in a (presumed) bleach mix, and our bags are x-rayed again. Out we go into the airport proper. Our first view is of a 25′ tall dwarf statue in the lobby. Oh, yes, we are in NZ! Our car won’t be ready till 1030 so we wait around. Buy a map, some banana-flavoured milk, a car charger for the iPads. We try to buy some Cadbury’s chocolate, but the clerk convinces us to try Whittaker’s. That’s the local chocolate. We’re here to experience NZ, so what the heck! We buy a block of caramel (gooey center), rum & raisin (tasty!), and the mysterious L&P flavor with popping candy inside. Walk around airport, check on buying a local SIM card for the phone, say to ourselves “we’re in NZ!”. Enjoy being outside in shirt sleeves.
Around 1015 we get our car (NOT a manual transmission) and head out. Driving on the left here, like the UK. As our Jamaican shuttle driver said: “The left side is the right side, and the right side is suicide.” Only here there is barely enough traffic to be concerned if you were on the right! As I put the car in reverse it makes a weird beeping noise. In park it shuts off. Try again: beep! Hmm. No clue. I back out and we head off to downtown Auckland. They don’t say downtown, they use CBD. Not that I know what it means. The trip to downtown is simple, gives me a chance to learn the car and the roads. We find our hotel via smartphone GPS, and pull in. The valet tells us how to get to the self-park garage. Around the block we go and then into the car park. This was probably the scariest part of the first week of driving. The ramps up to the next level were extremely narrow–I had to back up and try again three times with Kelly guiding me from outside to get up the ramp. Then we discovered what the beeping was: a proximity alert for aid in parking! It beeps in the location of the car where an object is closest. This was extremely handy many times.
We ask if our room is ready even though it is only 1100. Politeness often helps when doing this. There is a room ready, on the top floor! It’s a corner room with a fantastic view of the city and of the SkyTower a block away. Jackpot! We finally shower, for which our fellow pedestrians will thank us. It’s been a long day. And the particularly observant will note that our flight left on 27 Dec and arrived on 29 Dec. That’s right, we missed 28 Dec entirely due to crossing the date line overnight on the plane. The hotel is doing its part for the environment; there is not just a “no towel service, leave on rack” sign, but a sign for “no service needed”. Our kind of place! They recycle old linens to a charity shop, and do other things to reduce their waste and footprint. It was a Rydges hotel, and it was lovely. There was swing music playing from the TV as we got in, and chocolates on the bed. The room service menu included a picnic lunch order form, and you can request GF bread! Wow! We get dressed and head out.
Downstairs we ask the clerk if the next two days are booked since this looks like a cool place for New Years Eve. He suggests trying online–not too many rooms left. It is Sunday 29 December in downtown–not a lot of places open. The whole country take off the two weeks for Xmas and NYE as a summer holiday. Wander around downtown, find our way to a Mexican place that is both open and has GF options. Mad Mex; they had a naked burrito with no wrap. Excellent and cheap. Food is expensive here, both in the grocery store and the restaurants. But there is no tipping, so that lowers the cost compared to home, as does the exchange rate. Walk to the quay, where there is a beautiful old building and huge ferries and boats and art and cool stuff. Lots of shopping, like most downtowns. Not our thing, especially at the beginning of a two-week trip where we know we’ll have to carry anything we buy.
We head back to our hotel and stop at a grocery store for dinner fixings. Then we walk past Shakespeare’s Pub and are tempted by a pint. We try the Monteith’s cider on draught and it is amazing. Clear, crisp, really refreshing. NZD17 for two pints. The pub tables have a clever shelf under the table surface for bags and such. When we get to our hotel the clerk catches us and asks if we have managed to get a reservation, since there are few rooms left. Nice service!
We rest in the room, healing up from the flight. Kelly has a tetchy knee, and my back is not doing well after that long flight. Around 1600 we head to the SkyTower since it’s only a block away. Very well worth it! There is a long elevator flight up to the 51st floor (glass panel in the floor of the elevator). The observation deck there has glass panels all around the outside edge. It is fun to watch who is afraid to step on them and who is not. Kelly has to work up his courage to do it, while it doesn’t bother me at all. Finally–a place where I am more adventurous than Kelly! There is a second elevator to go up to level 60 or so and another observation deck. Great views of the city. It’s cloudy and in the upper 60s or lower 70s. There is a line jump point above level 60 where you can get kitted up and attached to two long wires to the ground, then you jump and slide down them. Fun to watch, but neither of us has any inclination to try it. On the first observation deck is a sign: “Next jumper in 4 minutes”. You can also get dressed in a suit and skywalk around the outside edge of the tower with safety lines attached. That looks more interesting, but Kelly isn’t having any. It’s very cool up there. We see our hotel and our corner room–easy to identify this time! We stop on level 50 for the coffee lounge and get a cider for me (Mac’s Isaac’s Cider–meh) and Jameson for the brave soul who is conquering his fear of heights. How he climbed mountains is beyond me.
Then a quiet night in the hotel room listening to swing music and drinking merlot. The hotel rooms all have electric kettles and good tea boxes with coffee and tea. Some have cocoa too, some have herbal tea. Most of our rooms also had fridges and wine glasses as well. We went with mid-to-high level rooms, probably averaging $100-$120 a night. The fridges were nice since we often eat at least one meal a day in our room. And everywhere we went, there was milk for your tea. A few places had little creamer cups in the fridge, but more often we got milk when we checked in. It was an assumption that you wanted milk. Sometimes the question was “would you like milk?” but more often it was “regular or trim milk?”. Ah, the joys of the tea-drinking culture.
*I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.
**Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.