10.03.2011 - 13.03.2011 22 °C
I'm sitting here in an Internet cafe on Queen Street trying to update this blog and upload photographs. An old man has just sat down beside me to look up porn. RUDE. His screen is turned my way so I can see everything and it's very off-putting! He doesn't look like he is going anywhere so I'm just going to move computer... Right, sorted! I should have reported him but I can't be bothered (Update - I changed my mind and reported his ass... ooh yeah!). Anyway, back to my blog. I've been in New Zealand now since Thursday and so far everything is going great. Once again my flight was with Qantas so I was delighted - more good food and in-flight entertainment. The film I watched though ended up being pretty crappy - it's called Monsters. Don't bother with it. I was surprised at how short the flight was, only two and a half hours. You feel a bit isolated from everywhere else when you're in Australia, especially down south but Oz and NZ are only a little further apart than Ireland and England. I got the feeling though that a lot of Ozi people don't visit New Zealand which is a shame.
Thursday was pretty much spent getting my bearings on the city. First impressions were good. Landing into Auckland was a bit like coming home to Dublin. There is green everywhere! I had heard this from a number of people beforehand and it really is true. It was nice to see as there wasn't much at Christmas time when I went home so it's over six months since I've seen a decent bit of green. The city itself is much smaller than Sydney but a lot larger than Dublin, with high rise building and some skyscrapers. It reminds me mostly of Toronto in Canada funnily enough. It looks clean and has a 'new' quality to it. This makes sense though as New Zealand was only founded properly in the 19th century! Walking through the streets the crowd do look different to the Australians. Forgive me for saying but they're definitely not as good looking as their neighbours! There is a good mix of nationalities with Kiwis, Asian, Maori and surprisingly Indian. Every bus driver I've encountered over the past four days has been Indian, and a good few have been quite rude I have to add. The Maori people appear to mix in a lot better than the Aboriginal people and Australians do which is nice to see. But then again this is only on first impression. Another weird thing is religious groups - in the space of three days I've been approached four times by these people asking will I do interviews or if I want to join. If you're blind, thank you very much. Final first observation are the Kiwi people themselves - they're as friendly as I expected and only too happy to help with directions or information if you need it. One guy around my own age stopped for five minutes to look up the GPS on his phone so he could point me towards the correct bus stop. This sort of thing simply doesn't happen in Europe.
I was looking up hostels to stay in before I left and everywhere in the city centre was getting bad reviews. Instead I opted for one in Mount Eden which is about ten minutes away by bus and had great reviews. In order to save some cash, I decided to opt for a five bed share dorm in order to try them out again. I had done it a couple of times on the East Coast of Oz and was never mad on them. This one though was probably the worst I've encountered and it has rightly put me off share dorms for the rest of the trip. It's back to 'flash-packing' for me. Don't get me wrong, the other people were very friendly (a Swedish couple and an English girl) but we were put into a 'family room'. You couldn't swing a cat in there. The space between the beds didn't help either. I had a good time chatting to them and this is a great way to make new friends but upon sleeping time I quickly discovered that it's just not worth it. I had a chat with the Swedish couple earlier in the evening about snoring and both said that they didn't. Thank god for that. So I was surprised and annoyed when the tiny little English girl snored like an old man! It was pretty bad. After a while, the Swedish guy decided to join in with her. After tossing and turning for what must have felt like forever, I switched on the iPod but that didn't help much. Two sleeping tablets and another hour later I finally drifted off. However like on a plane or a bus, you are always kind of conscious and it doesn't make for a peaceful sleep. I woke up about four hours later with everyone up and about and I was in bits but had no choice but to venture out for the day and to start getting things done.
My main plan of the day was getting my tour around both islands booked. After a bit of research I opted to go for the Magic Bus group. I'm sure the Kiwi Experience tour is great too but Magic seemed a bit more personal and I had heard some great reviews. The agents in the office on Albert Street were so helpful - they talked me through everything and organised the itinerary with me. With little flexibility to extend days where I want to, I opted to book all hostels in advance so it's out of the way. I've got about 16 nights travel ahead of me and starting from the top of the north island I will slowly make my way down until I get to Queenstown in the south. From there, I'll spend a couple of nights and fly back up to Auckland before I move on to Fiji. After further thought I've decided to remove Christchurch from my trip. From talking with locals it seems the last thing they want or need is tourists taking photographs so I'll leave that for another time. The only downside is I'll miss two other areas close to it with Lake Tekapo being one of them. However it gives me a good excuse to come back and visit another time. With little in the way of history, New Zealand is best known for its outdoor eco-adventure sports. Over the next three weeks I'll be doing:
- Zorbing - erm, Google it
- 15,000 Feet Sky Dive - aggghhh!! I'm finally doing it after my last one in Byron Bay got cancelled
- Caving/Tubing - unlike Laos I don't think there will be alcohol this time lol
- 1 Day Glacier Hike
- 1 Day Mountain Hike
It's quite action packed and completely different from what I've done to date so I'm quite excited about it all. After getting my trip sorted, I headed to the Auckland Sky Tower. This baby is 328 meters high and offers a view of 80km in every direction. It's very similar to the Sydney equivalent but with a few differences e.g. in the lift on the way up part of the elevator is glass so you can see the bottom and again on the top floor you can stand on glass sections which is very weird and kind of freaky. I walked across it knowing it was safe but my mind kept telling me not to.
That night I met up with Emma who is the sister of one of my very good friends from home. She moved over here in 2009. That night I headed out with her and a couple of her mates. After downing a bottle of wine and a sambuca at the house, we were well geared up for a good night of dancing. Now I know where her younger brother gets that appetite for shots from! A great and very late night was had by all...
On Saturday I checked myself out of my hostel and moved into Base in the city centre. The bad reviews online were unjustified - it's clean, spacious and the private room is perfect. I would highly recommend it. The bathroom is shared but I can live with that. They'll all be like that for the rest of the trip and I don't mind once I can get a good sleep and don't have to worry about personal things getting stolen. That afternoon I had planned to visit the Auckland Museum but on the way into town I had noticed a large number of Irish people on the bus. In addition an older gentleman had a shamrock attached to his t-shirt. I knew St. Patrick's Day was on Thursday so I didn't think too much of it. There are plenty of Irish in Sydney too so that novelty has kind of worn off. When I got into the city centre though I was like 'what the hell?!'. There were Irish flags and people dressed up everywhere. It turned out their annual parade was about to start... happy days! I rushed over to Base, quickly checked in and headed back out to watch it. It's no Dublin but this was such a pleasant surprise. I genuinely wasn't expecting much but they put on a real effort - the crowd and parade walkers were a mixture of Irish settlers in New Zealand, tourists like me and New Zealand locals who just wanted to join in with it. The parade lasted just over half an hour and watching Irish people walk down the main street proudly holding Irish county flags even brought a few tears out. I may be enjoying my time out of the country right now but I'm extremely proud to be Irish - what other country has a national day dedicated to them and a pub specific to them in almost every country in the world?! It's the first time I had felt homesick since Halloween.
After the parade people settled up the street where Irish singers and dancers entertained for a few hours. I told Emma to get in as quickly as possible. She eventually turned up about five minutes before it all ended but at least she got to enjoy the end of it. Her friend Sarah who was out with us the night before joined us for lunch. That night I managed to stay awake until 8pm (with great difficulty I must add) before a much needed 12 hour sleep - the two previous nights had really caught up with me. Today I finally got around to visiting the Auckland Museum. This is one of the recommended highlights in the Lonely Planet. The best and most unique part here was the area devoted to the Maori people. I got to see a Maori culture show which included local songs, games and traditions. I'm loving the whole Maori thing and really feel it adds something unique to the country. The rest of the floor featured artwork and the upper levels had everything on display from New Zealand's involvement in World Wars I & II to pre-historic life in the country and a section on volcanoes.
Later in the afternoon I met up with Emma and she drove me out to Mount Eden. New Zealand as most people will know is entirely built on volcanoes. I'm a volcano virgin myself so I was thrilled seeing one even if it hasn't erupted for over 60,000 years. You can see from the photo below it's now covered in grass but you can clearly tell that it was once a volcano from the shape. We also got a great view of the city up there too. After that we passed by Eden Park where Ireland will be playing Australia at the Rugby World Cup in September. Despite being completely empty and quiet it was quite thrilling to see.
I've really enjoyed the last few days in Auckland. It's a nice city and I must say thanks a million to Emma for being my tour guide and wonderful host. She made me feel really welcome and her mates were good fun too. Tomorrow morning I'm getting picked up and brought to my second NZ stop, Rotarua. I'll spend three nights there before heading for my big sky diva in taupo. I'll be doing it on St. Patrick's day itself which is kinda cool! Next update will be just before or after the dive so keep the fingers crossed for no cancellations or panic attacks. Happy St. Patrick's day everyone!