Enough dawdling around, it’s time I post some pictures here and talk about my trip to New Zealand. I’ll break it up into digestible portions – today’s serving is from the first few days of my trip in Auckland.
The impetus for my trip was a visit to Auckland my friend David Tibbetts. He left Guam in February to pursue a PhD at the University of Auckland and I promised him I would visit. The best time for this trip was around Thanksgiving since I got a surfeit of paid holidays that week. So I booked my tickets and let David know I was coming at the end of November.
I left Guam on Thursday, November 20 on Continental Flight 901 and arrived shortly after midnight Friday in Cairns, Queensland Australia. I knocked off Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 during the flight and totally ignored Chicago, the in-flight movie.
I arranged the tickets myself without a travel agent, and I think I managed it quite nicely. I had to overnight in Cairns before my flight to Auckland the next afternoon, but a couple friends that happened to be on the Continental flight were flying on to Sydney at 0600 that morning, then to Auckland that afternoon and ultimately to Christchurch, their final destination. No thanks – especially if I had to make
that trip with a 2 year old child like they did.
Anyway I had to stay in Cairns for the night, so I booked a room at the Bellview, right on the Esplanade in central Cairns. Instead of sleeping, I started another book, Flowers for Algernon, and read that until about 0500. When I got up a few hours later I met the owners of the Bellview. Rodney and Sheryl Meiklejohn are excellent hoteliers and made me feel most welcome during my short stay. In fact, I booked a room with them for my return through Cairns at the end of the trip – but that’s for another date.
My Air New Zealand flight to Auckland left at 1300 that afternoon, so I had time to kill. I checked email and found David’s post-flight instructions on locating his place in Parnell. Then it was off to the airport. This flight was rather long and crowded. But I thanks to those killer noise-canceling headphones I could tune out most of the flight and catch some zzz’s. I got into Auckland a little after 2100 local time.
After clearing immigration and customs I got on the SuperShuttle bus and it took me directly to David’s house in Parnell. That was damn handy. I had arrived! Many welcomes and a frosty cold beer awaited me. Almost everybody was up to greet me; David, his girlfriend Teresa and her boy Jordan. The little girl, Sasha, was already asleep since it was so late when I finally arrived. I got a quick tour of the house and the balcony with it’s killer view of central Auckland and the harbor, then Teresa whipped up some food for a late meal. We drank beers until late and talked story.
The next morning was clear and sunny. Over breakfast we discussed our plans for the the day. A tour of downtown Auckland was in order and perhaps some wanderings through Parnell, the neighborhood where they lived. We left the house and walked down the street to a rose garden that was in full bloom. The kids were quite boisterous and excited, somebody from Guam had come to visit them! I took several photos of the kids scrambling around the park and climbing a big old tree that sprawled across the northern end of the park. After a nice photo of central Auckland, we caught a bus downtown and did some sightseeing around Waitemata harbor and the Viaduct area.
The photo above shows our destination, the Sky Tower, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. We left Teresa and the kids next door before riding the lifts to the top of the building. The view from the observation deck was magnificent. Auckland is a sea-loving city, and from our perch high above the harbor we could see dozens of sailboats plying the waters of the Hauraki Gulf. Looking south I could spot One Tree Hill and Mount Eden, two tall volcanic hills and local landmarks. David pointed out the university campus and the general location of Parnell in the middle distance.
We got back down to the street and met up with everybody else. A quick decision about our next destination and we were off for the Lion Brewery in Newmarket. Nothing like a brewery tour to take the edge off. Unfortunately the 1500 tour was booked solid, but we managed to reserve a tour on Monday morning at a considerable discount. Plus I got a great picture with the first man to brew beer in New Zealand, Captain James Cook.
We polished off the day at the Bog, their local pub in Parnell. It’s an Irish pub, so I treated myself to a couple tasty Guinness. We ate dinner at the Bog, and both Jordan and I couldn’t finish our bangers and mash. The boys walked home through Alberon Preserve, and we all flopped down around the television to watch a DVD.
After the kids were in bed, I finished off Flowers for Algernon and started another book, Signal to Noise. Then Teresa told me that the final of the Rugby World Cup was on. I went upstairs and watched a thrilling game.
Sunday morning we ate a delicious breakfast and decided to make a day trip outside of Auckland. David wanted to take us out to Waiheke Island, an island in the Hauraki Gulf. Ferries depart every hour for Waiheke and take about 35-45 minutes. We left at 1100 and enjoyed a tasty Waiheke microbrew, Baroona Beer, while in transit. We got some great views of an enormous cruise ship that docked during the night. It was immense – hell I saw it from the balcony of their house that morning. There was even a bit on the television news about its arrival in Auckland.
The ferry arrived at Waiheke a little before noon and we shuffled off in the rain. It was pretty apparent we were tourists, everyone else rapidly dispersed into waiting cars while David negotiated with a tour operator. The deal was struck for our tour, and it would start at 1300. The guy’s name was Jaime and he dropped us in town for an hour and promised to pick us up.
We ate a bit of food at a restaurant and found Jaime waiting for us when we were finished. We got on board the big yellow bus and our tour started! He drove us around town for a bit, showed us the marae of the local Maori, some small harbors with their boat people sitting around, and then we hit the Onetangi Road Vineyard for our first wine tasting.
Apparently wineries are the new big thing on Waiheke, and everybody is building tasting rooms and restaurants. Our host at Onetangi Road was a bloke by the name of Sam, and he explained how Waiheke is at the perfect latitude for making Bordeaux-style red wines, merlots, cabernet sauvignons and such. While Teresa and I sampled the wines David tried a beer sampler from the nearby Baroona Brewery. The wines were pretty good. The first couple tasted very young, almost like Beaujolais, and gradually they got more complex. The final wine, a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, was a real prize winner and definitely the best of the lot. In fact I purchased a bottle to take back home. It’s sitting in my closet right now. I am taking Sam’s advice and letting it age a bit before I pull the cork and guzzle it for a special occasion.
Onetangi Road was just the first vineyard that day. We proceeded directly to the next winery, Te Motu and sampled their vintages. If anything, Te Motu had better wines. If I had known we would be visiting so many wineries I probably wouldn’t have bought the Onetangi Road bottle. As it was, I wasn’t about to shell out the cash for another bottle of wine.
And so onto another vineyard. I don’t even know the name of it. I was bored with this wine tasting crap, and so were the kids. While Teresa tasted a couple whites this place had available, David chatted up Jaime our guide. Basically the gist of their conversation was ‘this is the last wine stop right?’ Apparently Jaime had more in mind but he was willing to cut them out of the tour. Thank God.
We left the wineries behind and continued the tour to other sites; beaches, bays, harbors, resorts and stuff like that. With a little coaxing, Jaime left us off at an Irish Pub while he unloaded the two other tourists at the ferry. Molly Malone’s was a fun little joint with a rousing open mike for musicians. Not a bad place actually.
The 1700 ferry was rapidly approaching, and we had to go. Jaime arrived and dropped us at the ferry pier, right next to a horse ranch. Sasha desperately wanted to ride a pony and she got a quick ride while the ferry was pulling up to dock.
We barely caught the ferry but soon we were on our way back to Auckland. It was misting outside, but a few people stood at the stern watching Waiheke fade into the distance. Far ahead of us Auckland loomed on the horizon, and that massive cruise ship was putting out to sea.
On Monday the kids had school all day and the adults had an appointment at the Lion Brewery in Newmarket. Turned out we were the only ones on the tour. Most of it was pretty silly, a multimedia presentation with animatronic dummies and slide shows showing the history and meaning of beer. I really found the last portion interesting. That’s when we got to see the packaging floor and all the machinery. That was cool. And of course the final stop was a good one too. That’s when we all got to pour a couple beers for ourselves (and purchase souvenirs).
That afternoon I got to see the university up close. We stopped at David’s office to pick up some exams and look around for a bit. Looked like a college campus.
We had a barbecue that night and David invited a friend from the university over. Tesua arrived just as we sat down to eat and helped demolish the lamb spare ribs and steak. Afterwards we spent most of the evening out on the balcony, talking story and enjoying the night air. And that bottle of Jim Beam…
Tesua left late that night, after all the beer was gone and a sizable dent in the Jim Beam. Suffice to say we all slept late the next morning. But that will have to wait for another day.
End of Part One