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Kiwi Observations

Sitting on a ferry at the moment, but no ferry like I'm used to. The NZ Interislander Ferry, the Kaitaki, is a 7 deck cruise ship-like conveyance that could give any of Carnival's boats a run for their money. Complete with bars, lounges, food courts, cinema and a number of other comfy locations to put your feet up for the 3 hour cruise across the sound. Linking the north and south islands, this is the popular method of transportation between the few. And to my delight, there is WiFi access (for a fee, of course).

I have apparently been bitten by the Dorkland bug and pulled a dork move myself, leaving my camera in my checked bag. aldsfj;dslfja;dslfjk Marge has hers though, and I'll use the iPad to get a few key pics here and here. Blah. The weather this a.m. is quite chilly at 11C with cloudy skies and drizzle. LL Bean and I have become great friends and I have practically been living in my warm, windbreaking fuzzy jacket. This and the PacSafe messenger bag I bought for this trip are the best purchases I've ever made and well worth their weight in gold these days.

We are heading to the metropolis of Picton, Nelson and other points of interest in the Marlborough Sounds. I read last night on the plane that of the 4 million people living on NZ (yes, 4 million peeps and 40 million sheep - Baaa), 3 million of them live on the north island. Of the 1 million that live on the south island, most of them are in Christchurch and Queenstown. So, that means alot more sheep in the Marlborough Sounds. I have to laugh at that. After riding for 3-4 hours through the mountains of the north island seeing only more sheep, cows and a few random farms, hearing that the south island is more remote is rather humbling. I guess we're heading out of the "urban" areas now, eh? :)

Speaking of "eh," I found myself contemplating how very, very different my personal world is from the world of Kiwi. It was very obvious on the plane yesterday when I went to get on another domestic flight for the trip to Wellingon. I was too shell-shocked from 14+hours on a plane to notice that when I went from International to Domestic flights in Dorkland, there was no security check. That may not seem important, but you have to understand that the international passengers collect their bags, go through customs and then go to an entirely different terminal, out the door and around three parking lots to a different buidling. I realize now that I checked in with Air New Zealand domestic, was issued a boarding pass and off I went to the little propellor plane. No security check or other check point. Hmmm. Yesterday, however, when I checked in, I was sent to the other side of the domestic terminal and went through a teeny, underwhelming checkpoint to get to the gate for the Wellington flight. That plane was much larger than the one to New Plymouth, but that was only difference between the two. Huh? The flight crew also served wine (NZ wine only, though, probably a plug for the wine-growing regions) and snacks (cheese and crackers with grapes - really nice snacks) and beer, along with regular beverages, at no cost! Free! Unheard of in the US.

So, when I get to Wellington and meet up with Marge, we're in the cab and I'm describing the non-security versus minimal security and the cab driver chimes in and says it depends on the size of the plane. Really? I guess the bad guys don't want to be uncomfortable on the small planes in NZ so they only want to blow up the ones that serve wine and snacks? Crazy!

I really did underestimate the difference between the two worlds, Kiwi and Yankeeland. I guess I figured that because this is an English-speaking country, it wouldn't be that different. Wrong! Half the time they are speaking a different language, or at least the slang is a bit on the foreign side, and everything is different. From the loos (toilets) to the road works (construction) to the highways (2 lane, gravel roads with one-lane bridges that are tight for a cow, much less a car) to the hotels (our lodging in Wellington had the "swipe dock" for the key just like the one in Auckland, but I had already learned that lesson the hard way previously in Dorkland). Strange indeed. And everything is very, very expensive. Most dinners (referred to as "tea" or "entrees" - don't order a "main" - it's a 5 course meal) run in the $28 - $35 range, with appetizers starting at $10 NZ. Drinks run about $10 for a wine or beer, water is about $4 for a bottle (cheaper in the i-spots). NZ does do tourism very well. There are "i-spots" (information areas in every small or large town/city) everywhere and most people (except the JAFAs) are very friendly and helpful (if they can understand you - lots of "eh's, say again," but always with a patient smile).

Ok, time to grab some rolling food and use the loo (aren't you glad I shared that with you?). And take a pic of Marge; paybacks are a @itch. :)

Posted by FD Shepherd 13:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A Twofer - Houdini and The Glo-worms

Weds. & Thurs. all in one

Ok, it's Thursday, May 10th at about 10:15 p.m. and I'm now in Wellington, which is the most southerly city on the north island. Met up with Marge at the airport here and we'll be together for the weekend. We're taking the ferry in the morning to the south island, where we'll spend the next couple of days. Here's a recap of the last two days.

Yesterday was spent primarily on the back of Houdini, a large black stallion living in Waitanga in the Bay of Islands. Today was spent cringing and whining with every step and movement as a result. Ouch. So much for being in great shape. Apparently walking a horse on a dude ranch for 2 hours in Florida is completely different than trotting a horse up and down a couple of mountains in the bay of islands in New Zealand. I can't move! Well, I can move but it causes certain expletives to be uttered pretty much all the time. Tomorrow will be better, right? Not. The one thing I learned from boot camp is that the second day "after" is always worse than the day after. Great. :) Oh well, it was worth it. It was amazing. I got friendly with a few of the locals and managed a "sack" lunch from Hanson's Cafe and free picture downloading at the Internet Cafe. Paihia was friendly, charming and beautiful. One of my faves so far. After the great Houdini ride, I got back in the car and rode all around the islands, stopping in Kerikeri for a mocha latte and chatting with yet more locals. I enjoyed that alot, even though the solitary travel sometimes feels . . . well, a bit solitary.

As indicated by the lack of blog last night, I was asleep by 9:00 and didn't groan again until this morning at 8:00 a.m. Ugh. Packed up the car, and headed back towards Dorkland (i.e., Auckland -- I can't even take credit for that, apparently the Kiwis themselves call Auckland and a few of the other big cities that - while I"m sorry that I didn't create it, I plan on borrowing it from this time forward). The Kiwis also have a little acronym for Aucklanders that I also plan on referencing from this moment on . . . JAFA. Just a Fucking Aucklander. I like it.

I headed out this morning with the intention of crossing northland and coming down on the west coast. Ah, that would have been great if I could have found the damn road! Anyone out there good at geography? The Kiwis need a good map maker! So, down Hwy 1 I came again, but this time I made some stops that I didn't have the time or inclination to do on the way up. One of those was the Glow Worm caves of Kawaiti (or something like that - I don't have the map with me and I can't remember). :) I got there and when I found it that it was a 20-30 minute tour into the bowels of the mountain with little wormy things hanging down from the ceiling, I initially decided not to do it. But, as I went to get back into my car feeling like a sissy, I made myself turn around and be a big girl. It was still almost as icky as I thought it would be, but it was also really interesting to see how the stalagmites form and how old the formations were. Fascinating. Of course I could have done without the 8 foot eels in the water below, which the guide took great pride in pointing out. Eek. There were easily a couple of million glow worms on the ceiling of that cave, which wasn't as freaky as I thought it would be. It helped that they were about 30 feet up. Much better than directly over my head.

I also stumbled on yet another amazing waterfall and got a bunch of great pics. They better have come out stunning, cause I had to walk down a narrow precipice to get the shot and then walk back up with Houdini legs and butt. Ouch. I think they'll be worth it. Amazing. Dorkland was as fun navigating back as it was in, with one teeny little sign for the airport that I noticed as i passed it doing 100 km. I hate Dorkland, I really do.

Ok, more tomorrow. The hour comes early to catch a ferry in the rain for Picton. Miss you all.

Posted by FD Shepherd 03:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

The Puddle That is Northland

Still Up, Up and . . . UP

rain 18 °F

It started to rain shortly after leaving Auckland and only got steadier and heavier. By the time I reached Wangerei (about 120 km north of Auckland) it was a full-scale "gale," as the Kiwis like to call it, complete with 30 mph headwinds and driving rain. Fun stuff. Try doing that at 80 km over and around a major mountain with tractor trailers coming at you. I am completely amazed at the amount of big rigs that came down towards Auckland from Northland. I have to admit to being a bit uncomfortable when passing those suckers as they motor down the mountain with the momentum that comes from carrying a full load and the knowledge that they have to go back up! My knuckles are still sore.

I pulled into Paihia, a coastal town on the craggy coast of Northland, at about 4:15 p.m. with a soggy welcome. It's still pouring. I ducked out to go to the grocery store for provisions and have not left the cozy and charming "en suite" at the motel since. The hostess here has been the polar opposite of my hostesses in Auckland, friendly and welcoming. No glass and steel here. Just a quaint little village flanked by a sheer cliff on one side and the churning ocean on the other. I so hope the weather clears enough tomorrow for me to get some pictures and get to go on the horse trek I booked. It's supposed to be 4 hours of horseback riding up the mountain and into the red wood forest. I can't imagine that will be much fun in the pouring rain though, so let's hope for a little break. I can handle drizzle, even a light rain is tolerable, but this is a deluge and I'm not interested in swimming on a horse. We'll see. I have to head back on Thursday by noon, so let's hope it can happen.

Getting ready to call it a night - I'm shocked that I'm this tired but I guess gripping a wheel for 3 1/2 hours takes a toll. Tomorrow is a new day and hopefully a new adventure. More then.

Posted by FD Shepherd 01:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Auckland [slightly] Redeemed

Porridge in an Arcade

overcast 19 °F

Auckland is a bit friendlier armed with an iPad, following 12 hours of sleep. Indeed. I turned the lights out at 8:30 p.m., thanks to the better part of a bottle of red, and turned them back on at about 8:00 a.m. this morning. Aaah. After a hot shower in a glass and chrome box The Auckland City Hotel calls a shower, I headed out to find a bank and the Vulcan Cafe.

A moment to mention the benefit of Internet access and an iPad. I spent some time before I left the states researching various apps for Carmelotta (yes, my iPad - did you expect anything less of a woman who names plants, cars and most other possessions), which were put to good use this a.m. Trip Advisor was a good choice to find a cafe for breakfast within a reasonable walking distance of my location, then I used a GPS locater app that allows you to download a map and directions to the iPad and still access it AFTER you're offline to find a bank within walking distance of the cafe. Off I went to find the Vulcan Cafe and a bank just a few minutes after 9:00. TSB Bank, on the corner of Wellesley and Queen streets, was the first stop. Whle the city was really not much friendlier than the hotel was, including the german teller at the foreign exchange window at TSB, I felt better about getting around armed with Carmellota and having a mission. Breakfast! I cashed the travelers cheques with little fanfare and managed to wrangle a minimal smile out of the smileless Rolfe before heading further up Queen Street in search of food. I stumbled on the cafe quite by accident. It was listed as being on Vulcan Street, but the only problem with that was that there are limited street signs and many of the "streets" are really just wide alleys for foot traffic only. There are also "arcades" which start as alleys but then go underground and seem to consist mostly of sundry retail shops like tailors, shoe repair places and second-hand stores. Those promised to be real treasures except that none of them were open at 9:30 a.m., and I had limited time. Damn, but my wallet is probably very grateful. The city was part NYC and part Sydney (from what I remember of it from long ago), and probably has more appeal than my less than friendly welcome and limited ability to explore indicated. But you know what they say about first impressions!

I saw a shop on the corner of one of the alley/streets and when I went to investigate, I was met with the mirror image of a sign for the Vulcan Cafe. It was almost directly behind me - whew. Ok, so Lady Auckland decided to cut me a break this morning. Thank you. I enjoyed a large, steaming Latte and a bowl of "porridge" on the brick sidewalk outside of the Vulcan. Yum. The porridge was a form of creamy oatmeal sprinkled with raisins, nuts and fruit. Really good.

That little respite allowed me to do some people watching and once I really paid attention, I was struck again with a feeling of time warp. I saw at least a dozen or more businessmen in pin-striped suits with super wide ties (yes, 80's style). Very English looking indeed. The ladies, even the businesswomen, wore tights or leggings and Ugg boots! Seriously. Fascinating. Equally as interesting was the fact that on just about every corner was a sushi bar and a pile of people waiting for their rolls. At 10:00 a.m.! Yuk!

I made my way back to the unfriendly hotel, checked out and managed to exit glass and steel without too much stress or anxiety. Still not well marked but this time Carmellotta was calling the shots and she knew what she was doing. Thank god for technology - although I'm sure I looked like a dork driving with my headphones on! :) Bye bye Lady Auckland.

Posted by FD Shepherd 00:35 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland city vulcan_cafe Comments (0)

Awk-Land

Chix Soup for THIS Soul = Ginger Beef & Red Wine

sunny 65 °F

May 7, 2012 - 6:32 p.m.

I made it to Auckland today. Oh boy and big sigh. Before I vent about the Pride of New Zealand (really? Auckland is the pride of New Zealand? I think that has to be a typo or a failed IQ test question), I need to do a shout out to my being all grown up and driving lefty style ALL day and only turning the windshield wipers on ONCE. Of course that was when I was having a nervous breakdown navigating Awkland proper at 4:30 in the afternoon, which appeared to be pretty close to rush hour on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. One way streets without it being set up as a one-way grid. That was worth a whole bottle of wine, but I digress.

Got up at the crack of dawn this a.m. with Marge and putzed around a little. Took a long shower, made two cups of tea and started gathering belongings. Checked money (that's going way too fast), searched for travelers' checks and then searched some more (I apparently did a great job of burying them among my clothes, because it took me over 30 minutes to find them all) and then packed and repacked the carry-on and Kristen's loaner for the drive/fly/drive part of my trip UP the north island then back down, and then down to the south island, and then back up. Another up, up . . . up and down, down . . . down, but hopefully this one will be via air!

Speaking of up, up . . . up and down, down . . down, I did end up having to navigate some of the knuckle-bending driving Margaret and I did on Saturday to get to Awkland, but it wasn't nearly as bad as our roller coaster ride on the Unforgettable Highway. And I did it all by myself, on the wrong side of the road without taking out a guard rail or hitting those white clattery things they put on the side of the road to scare the crap out of you if you fall asleep and swerve (yes, I admit I might have just touched one or two of those on Sunday during my watch behind the wheel). Auckland is a 4 1/2 hour ride and it actually was close to that. We decided yesterday that every single Kiwi that gives you an approximate estimated drive time is lying. Add 2 hours and a supply of antacids to every single hour they tell you it will take. But today was pretty close.

And I found the best little cafe by the side of the road outside of Hamilton, a fairly big town about 35 km south of Auckland. I had a chicken, cranberry and spinach Panini with homemade "bitter lemonade." That was amazingly delicous and wasn't the least bit bitter. Yum.

The road opens up between Hamilton and Auckland to a "freeway," and then turns into an honest-to-god expressway the closer you get. I should have known my simple directions to find the hotel was going to get swallowed up in a metropolitan megopolis when I saw the lanes go from 3 each way to 5 each way, with exits every km or so off to the left. Uh oh. I took my recommended exit as required and that's where it all went to crap.

No signs (why am I not surprised), including no street signs and the streets immedately go one-way, but not in a grid. I turn right to go around and end up going left and then up some mountain that appears in between buildings 30 stories tall, and now I'm on the river or bay, or whatever it is. It was really awful. I called the travel agent 3 times (the first 2 were exercises in translation horror 101 - imagine an Asian/Austrailian accent over a crackling cell phone - lovely) before I got the name of the street where the entrance to the parking garage was (which, by the way, was two blocks over and two streets behind the actual hotel). Then, the garage is gated and of course I haven't checked in yet, so I have no key. So, I have to get out of the car, leaving it's @ss-end in the street, blocking oncoming traffic to call the front desk (yup, you guessed it, another Asian/Kiwi who understands me as much as I understand her) asking for entry. Finally, it springs open to reveal 8 parking spots that are all full and no way to back out, or to call anyone. No way am I moving, so I just pulled it behind one of the cars and parked it right there. I got my stuff out of the car just as a bellman comes jogging out the back door waving his hands frantically at the park job. :) Yes, sir, Yankee here in Awkland. I showed him my voucher (NZ payment method for overseas travel reservations taken by credit card) and handed him my car keys with a smile that said, you figure it out. And walked into the lobby without looking back.

Ah, but no, I'm not done. The lovely Kiwi-Asian girl at the desk with a permanent look of disdain on her face informs me that the hotel is generally "eco-friendly," as is the rest of the city and therefore does not encourage actual driving. So, there's an additional $25 fee to park it EACH and every time it needs to be parked. Really? Not a problem - not planning on moving it until first thing tomorrow morning when I run screaming out of the city. Ms. Sour-face Unfriendly gives me my key, finally, and waves me away like a gnat on a summer afternoon. Big sigh.

I'm thinking that it can't get any worse, really, when I get to the room and can't figure out how to open the friggin door! There's no slot! No opening of any kind, no oriface or other type of gap in which to slide the plastic card that is my room key! You've got to be kidding! A maid comes out of the closet a few doors down -- yes, Asian/Kiwi style -- and I flag her down to ask for help. She rolls her eyes as she waives it at the door jam. I'm not making this shit up. The door clicks and a light on the face of the handle goes green. I know I heard Rod Serling in the background at that very moment. I'm ready to just collapse on the bed at this point, so I drag my defeated self into the stark, modern-looking room and switch on the light. Nothing happens. I switch it off and then back on. Nothing. So I go for the bathroom light. Nothing. Hmmm. It's light enough to see what's what, so I move into the room and try everything and anything that might have power to it. Nada. WTF?????? Deep breath. I walk over to the phone and dial zero, all the while trying not to have a major meltdown. Ms. Crankypants comes over the phone again and I explain that there doesn't appear to be power in the room, as strange as that sounds. She responds with "Yu key is thee powa. You ju poosh yu key in da ceewipe." Uh, excuse me? She repeats. I hang up the phone and just stare at it first, and then the door. Repeatedly. In the dark. I'm sure it was a good 3 or 4 minutes later when there was a knock at the door. I open it and there's a Kiwi in his hotel uniform with a tolerant look on his face as he asks me for my key. I hand it to him. He takes it, slides it into this white thing on the wall to the right of the microwave (yes, tucked into a corner that is rather hard to make out in the DARK) and every single light in the room goes on (of course because I had turned them all on and off at least 5 times and apparently left them in the on position). He smiles and it's everything I can do not to break down right then and there.

So, after a good purge and a facewash, I forced myself to walk 8 blocks . . . "down, down . . . down" and then 10 blocks back "up, up . . . up" (remember, no grid - longer to come back than it was to go down) before stopping at the seedy corner mart and getting a bottle of water, a cheap bottle of wine and a bag of mixed nuts. Then I ordered room service (which was actually really good) and am now in the middle of nursing a good red wine buzz. Much better. I plan on hitting one of the mega-banks two blocks down in the morning to cash some of those elusive travelers' checks and then head out of glass and steel as early as I can. Clearly I can handle trauma on a mountain in the dark much better than cranky Asian/Kiwis in the city that is AWKLAND (or at least will be to me forever more).

Nite.

Posted by FD Shepherd 00:47 Archived in New Zealand Tagged auckland hotel city Comments (1)

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