Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Adventures in Kiwi Land

I decided to take this blog and turn it upside down. I've traveled to the other side of the planet and landed in my version of utopia, New Zealand. The only difficult thing about blogging from New Zealand is not having internet access. Now that I've managed to get online I can get my first Kiwiblog started.
I left New York City on Sunday, February 13th and after approximately 24 hours of travel, I stepped onto New Zealand soil on Tuesday, February 15th. Since I don't have too much experience with time travel I wasn't prepared for the toll it would take on my body. I will definitely listen to the advice of my boss and buy one of those neck pillows next time. It also doesn't help to be sitting on a packed flight next to someone who had the flu. This brings me to my travel tips for this blog entry:
1. Do not get on an international flight if you have a raging head cold. Nobody wants to sit next to someone for 14 hours who is blowing their nose, sneezing and coughing on them every 5 minutes. Take some Zicam and postpone your trip.
2. Buy a neck pillow. Even though you look ridiculous wearing a pillow around your neck, you will be happy that you're able to turn your head when you finally get to your destination.

The best part about this trip so far was actually getting into the country. I was more than a bit hesitant after my little incident with Canada (see blog entry "NOT On The Road Again"). I had absolutely no problems and was welcomed with a smile. Very refreshing. I'm already loving this place.

The first stop was Mount Eden (Te Ipu Kai a Mataaho or the Food Bowl of Mataaho), an inactive volcano which they refer to as the "crater." To me, it looked like a big grassy hole in the ground but the view from the top was spectacular. This was actually the first volcano I had ever seen and had I not just gone there directly from the airport I might have thought to take pictures if I wasn't so delirious.

The apartment I was staying in was located right in downtown Auckland on Customs Street overlooking Waitemata Harbor. Conveniently located above many restaurants, pubs, and shops, I was spoiled for choice. It's summer here in New Zealand and having dinner on the waterfront and watching sailboats and yachts pass by in the middle of February feels like a dream.

Waitemata Harbor
Auckland is a very tourist and backpacker-friendly city. The visitor center is located right on Quay St. and I used it a couple times to find out how to get places or where I could find a concert or rugby tickets. There's no shortage of places to rent equipment either. You can rent anything from a bike to a sailboat. Kiwi's love their outdoor activities and extreme sports and it really shows. I started a game of counting the number of people I spotted wearing casts and bandages. I've only been here a week and on five occasions I've seen someone make a parachute landing right in front of me. I feel at home here with my fellow dare-devils. I love the outdoors and I love surfing, mountain biking, and hiking. New Zealand has it all. Mountains, beaches, forests, volcanoes but I've had to adjust.

I'm learning to drive on the left side of the road. My steering wheel is on the right side of the car and I keep turning on the windshield wipers instead of my indicator because that's on the other side as well. They have these roundabouts which completely do my head in. I panic every time I have to go through one and they are all over the place.

I'm also learning the metric system which I'm not finding nearly as difficult as ordering a coffee. They have "Long Black", "Short Black", and "Flat White."  When I finally figure it out, I will let you know.

A Flat White
The light switches are also upside down which I guess makes sense since the whole country is upside down. The sun also moves in the opposite direction across the sky. So basically I have to take everything I've learned my whole life and reverse it. The Kiwi's are reprogramming me.

On the weekend, my coworker and I headed over to Mission Bay for some sun. It has a little beach where you can, of course, rent rafts and kayaks and paddleboards. The water was really shallow and you could keep walking for 10 minutes and it would still only be up to your ankles. There are many restaurants and bars right across the street so you can refuel after row boating or kayaking or kite surfing.

That night I went to my first rugby match. We saw the Auckland Blues vs. the Crusaders. Some of the more enthusiastic fans will dress up in costume so the fans were almost as fun to watch as the game. Rugby is like an expression of the Kiwi lifestyle in sport form. It's non-stop action, dangerous, and exciting.
Rugby Match

Sunday was my last day in Auckland so I crammed in a bunch of sightseeing. My coworker and I went to Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The elevators which take you to the top have glass floors so you can see the ground moving away from you as you go up. It makes you really dizzy! There is a rotating restaurant at the top and of course more amazing views and the option to Bungy jump or walk around the outside...but not without a harness!
View from Sky Tower

The next stop was a Reggae concert in Henderson Park. We were finally in with the locals and probably the only tourists who managed to find it. After that, we shot over to One Tree Hill, a well-known landmark thanks to the song "One Tree Hill" by U2. The obelisk on top of the hill was erected as a memorial to the Maori people but you won't find a tree up there. In 1852 British settlers planted a Monterey Pine to make amends for chopping down sacred totara. The Moari's, offended that it was not a native tree, chopped it down in 2000.
A typical New Zealand scene. Sheep, Parachuters, and One Tree Hill
As I am writing this I'm in the second week of my trip. Yesterday, Christchurch was hit with a devastating earthquake. I'm currently in Mount Maunganui which is far away so we were not affected. I had some frantic emails and phone calls from friends and family but could not get internet access to let people know I was safe. Many people are still missing and most of the country is in shock and mourning. Now that I've got the blog up, you're now all informed of my whereabouts. Thanks to everyone for your concern and sorry for the worry. Thankfully I'm fine and having a great time here. I guess there's no Utopia after all but so far I think New Zealand is pretty close.