There and Back Again

Saturday, March 1, 2014

(Quick note: There are a lot of large images in the next few posts below. If you’re not seeing some, wait a minute and they should show up.)

And we finally made it back to New York City. After nearly a full 24 hours of travel, including a wait of several hours on the tarmac at LAX. I hate flying, so I won’t say much about this trauma except that our flight took off in Auckland at 11pm New Zealand time on Friday (5am NYC time) and we got to the apartment at about 3:30am (NYC time). The only interesting thing to really happen during that time was that I watched Captain Phillips (and enjoyed it) and our plane between Auckland and Los Angeles had hobbits painted all over it. Dignified. We got home, the cat seemed excited to see us for about fifteen minutes before switching back into her total apathy mode, and then we crashed out. Only to wake this “morning” at 1pm feeling like butt. Got my standard El Monterey burrito and latte from Lodge, and now I’m in the mood to write.

So that final day. We did have all day on Friday to explore NZ between checking out of Underhill at noon and dropping off the rental car at the airport around 7pm, so we went to the Kiwi House in Otorohanga to (finally) check out an actual kiwi bird. We met a great spotted kiwi named something like “Awe” or “Ate” (ah-way or ah-tay) — I forget at the moment. They’re nocturnal, so we had to go into a special large dark room area where they ran day and night backwards so the birds would be up while the tourists were coming through. This kiwi was a female on the large side of things — maybe 20lbs or so, mostly in the form of a round lump of downy feathers. With a spindley beak coming out of the front and two legs coming out of the bottom end like sapling trunks, terminating in big, clawed feet. Kiwis are fairly silly animals to watch. We watched her being fed and she’d run around excitedly with an off-kilter bouncing gate, sometimes doing a funny little hop move. Kiwis are very animated, it turns out (for the few hours a day they’re awake and active, apparently), and have surprising personalities that come out. They’re apparently quite feisty and territorial, as well, and get crafty when it comes to trying to explore their caged-in spaces and escaping. Anyway, that was a lot of fun. The Kiwi House also has an extensive collection of birds and lizards to check out — and we saw an eel feeding — but that felt fairly standard-issue. We were there for the kiwis.

Otherwise, Friday just involved a lot of driving. I think we were getting worn a little thin on it and were getting a little grouchy, but only because we’d driven so much over the past few days and New Zealand highways tend to be winding and inherently confusing since they have to cut through such complex terrain. So it was frequently difficult for me to get my bearing and feel comfortable that we knew just where in the hell we were. Christin played navigator, though, and did a pretty good job given the limitations.

We stopped for a late lunch at a place near Otorohanga called the Big Apple — which seems like a diner from the outside but actually turned out to be some kind of large buffet / kid entertainment zone with a large balcony and a rather extensive farm out back with kiwifruit plants, an orchard, chickens and roosters running around everywhere, and a little quail pen. I had some pancakes and Christin had an English breakfast, and we were on our way.

And then we drove back to the Auckland airport, dropped off the car, had a couple of beers (and watched some rugby) while waiting for the plane. And that was that.


I realized I missed documenting just one other day: The day we drove from the farm at Kynjarmin to Havelock North. I think I blogged that day before we left. At any rate: We wandered up to Jenny’s and her husband’s house at Kynjarmin to use the wifi on their porch as we had been doing, but I ran into Jenny as she was driving out and she hadn’t turned it on. So I ran into Christin and was wandering back to our house to get ready to leave when we ran into Jenny’s husband driving in his truck out of the area where they kept their pigs. He was quite chatty and seemed to enjoy talking politics and musing about whether the United States might ever decide to break up into smaller parts and telling us about how New Zealand’s isolation drove a lot of its culture. He’s the one who noted how it had been difficult for New Zealanders to get out of New Zealand in the past, so whenever a foreigner turned up they were always very curious to pick their brains for news. And he mentioned how New Zealanders had a crafty streak brought about from the fact that back in the day boats bearing resources would only show up every six months or so, so they had to learn to made do with whatever happened to be on the island. I did reflect something we found almost universally true about New Zealanders: They seem both crafty and very, very chatty.

So that day involved a bunch of driving, but we did take time to see some natural wonders, as well. We visited Huka Falls, a kind of cross between a waterfall and roaring rapids which we found quite beautiful, and then we took a hike around the nearby Craters of the Moon. So. The Craters of the Moon is essentially a big, open, rocky field with no trees or vegetation higher than a couple of feet. For the most part. It’s an active volcanic zone, not unlike White Island in some ways — the area is littered with smoking (steaming) holes in the ground and bubbling pits of mud and larger, deeper crags with boiling evil deep inside of them. Given the hot day with no shade and the literal heat coming out of the earth, we found the hiking experience interesting but ultimately exhausting and not really worth it given that we’d just seen the 100x more impressive White Island. A few bubbling holes in the ground just no longer cut it for us. We need entire volcanic islands.

But, anyway, those were the highlights of the day. At least as I remember them now, back in the dining room zone of our apartment back in NYC.

One last thing, though.

I actually almost completely lost track of days in New Zealand. Hence the lack of references to specific days in my writings. Being on vacation will cause that to happen naturally, but having days almost completely offset from our “natural” New York City days also caused problems. We kept having to play games, like, “well, it’s Wednesday morning here, so it’s [ponder] Tuesday afternoon there” when writing e-mails and communicating with the outside world. So let me end with a kind of official schedule of what happened on what days. New Zealand days. New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of New York City right now, so you can almost just subtract an entire day to know what day of the week it was in New York. If that makes sense. At any rate:

  • Thursday, February 18th: We arrive at 5am. Wander around Auckland.
  • Friday: Waiheke Island.
  • Saturday: Drive from Auckland to Kynjarmin farm near Matamata.
  • Sunday: Hobbiton.
  • Monday: White Island.
  • Tuesday: Drive from Kynjarmin to Havelock North. Huka Falls, Craters of the Moon. Pipi’s Pink Pizza.
  • Wednesday: Biking wine tour in Havelock North / Hawke’s Bay area.
  • Thursday: Long drive from Havelock North to Underhill near Hamilton. Stopped over for lunch at Lake Taupo.
  • Friday: Drive from Underhill back to the Airport. Kiwi House. Heard Pharrell’s “Happy” on the radio about sixteen times.
  • Friday #2: Travel 22hrs from Auckland home to NYC.

(Yes, that final Friday lasted 42hrs for us.)

PS: Here’s a screenshot from iPhoto which maps where I took each photo. The red pins represent pix. It gives a good overview of where in New Zealand we traveled. (Click to enlarge.)

And that’s that. Now it’s back to the real world for a bit. And then off to Austin on Tuesday, thus completing our record-setting attempt at visiting every city in the world with more than a million people that starts with “Au.”