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Saturday 18 Jan 2014
Auckland, New Zealand

Boats, beaches and beers with friends

James is a great friend of mine from university who moved out to New Zealand shortly before I started my Big World Adventure.  He's now a year into his PhD at Auckland University, so it was great to catch up with him again.  He lives in Mount Eden, a stone’s throw from the Eden Park rugby stadium (on match days, they can put the TV on the deck and have surround sound live from the stadium). 

In my sleepy jet-lagged haze earlier, he had shown me how to get the bus to the centre.  I got myself up at lunchtime after a few hours of much-needed sleep and headed into Auckland.  I bought a local SIM for my phone and texted James about meeting up, but hadn’t heard anything back.  As much as I enjoyed wandering around Auckland, the jetlag started to kick in again and I decided to make my own way back.  I thought I should try and check Facebook in case he’d replied that way, so I headed for Burger King’s free Wi-Fi, when I bumped into James sitting on the steps outside the Britomart transport hub.  He had got my text and sent several in reply, but they hadn’t reached me.  By pure chance, I had walked past his suggested meeting point.  We walked up to a Malaysian place in Mount Eden for dinner.  I barely managed half of my portion while propping my eyelids open, while James wolfed it down happily. 

I spent a couple of days doing very little as I slept off the jetlag and got myself onto Tiki time.  James introduced me to the fabulous Central Otago Pinot Noir, a little secret the Kiwis try to keep to themselves, while I introduced him to the heart-warming Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  I caught up with friends living in New Zealand and made plans for the next month.  James is in a much nicer house than when I visited him this time last year and has a lovely bunch of housemates: Alaina, Rachel, Jake and Jumma.

Last year, James and I had a sail on the Breeze, a Brigantine owned and operated by the Maritime Museum.  I knew one of the volunteer crew and by the end of the trip they had signed James up too.  Since then he’s been sailing almost every weekend and has begun his Mate’s training.  They even took the Breeze on a two-week trip up to the Bay of Islands over New Year.  The Maritime Museum has a couple of old boats, including a reproduction Skow called the Ted Ashby, which James was sailing on this week.  I went along with him for a trip out in the Waitemata harbour.  As we sailed under the harbour bridge, we watched a couple of people bungee jumping from a pod attached to the underside of the bridge.  No matter how many times I watch bungee jumping, it does nothing for me.  I have no desire to leap off anything with a bit of elastic around my ankles.

Later, I met up with a friend from the UK.  Ant had been travelling for several months too, and had just flown in from Australia having bought a car in Perth and driven right across to Sydney.  He then sold the car for $200 more than he paid for it!  We’d tried to cross paths before now, but this was the first time we’d managed to meet up.  It is always a little bit surreal to meet friends out of context.  I usually see Ant at softball tournaments, either on the edge of a softball field or having a dance in the Saturday night party, but here we were in a posh bar on the edge of the refurbished Viaduct Harbour in downtown Auckland.  James joined us after his second sailing and we moved on to the ever-present Irish bar.  I also spotted a girl named Sarah, who I had travelled around the South Island with on the Stray Bus last February.  I knew she was still in Auckland, but it was pure chance that we were in the same bar at the same time. Small world…

Alaina lent us her car the next day so we could drive out to the Waitakere forest west of Auckland.  James is studying New Zealand’s native tree ferns for his PhD and had been doing some field work in the area.  We had a lovely walk along the forest trails while he pointed out various species and told me a hundred different English, Latin and Maori names I had no hope of ever remembering.  I love his enthusiasm and he really brings nature walks to life – he even humours me when I have no idea what he’s talking about!  At the edge of the car park, there was a giant gold picture frame mounted on posts.  The frame was open to show the beautiful forest behind it and we waited our turn to climb up and stand in the frame for photos.  Something so simple, but very effective.

We’d picked up a picnic on our way out, which we took with us down to the beach at Piha.  It turned out to be a much longer drive across to the beach, so we didn’t have very long there, but it was enough.  The beach is made of black volcanic sand, which was scorching under the baking New Zealand sun.  I could hardly walk on it, even with shoes on, but we found a slightly shaded patch to spread our picnic blanket on.  Lion Rock stands proudly in the centre of the beach, a huge rock formation reminiscent of a lion lying down like a Sphinx.  We had a little paddle after lunch and then made our way back to Auckland.

That evening, we met up with another friend for dinner.  Olly was the one who had invited me sailing on the Breeze last year.  He and James have become good friends over the year since and sailed up to Paihia together at New Year.  Their friendship has been built on a solid foundation of abusing each other from opposite ends of the rigging and singing Monty Python songs at the top of the mast in high winds.  It was a fun evening.

I spent the next day sorting through travel brochures and planning out my road.  After much indecision over whether to get a car, go back on Stray or just use public buses to get about, I’d finally hired a car for three weeks.  I found a good deal on Rent-a-Dent, which gave me three weeks for the same price as two weeks everywhere else, so decided to just go for it.

I’d been invited to play softball that evening with Piers, another softball friend from the UK, who has lived in Auckland for nearly two years now.  But as is so often the case at home, rain stopped play so we just met up for dinner and a beer instead.


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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #4 New Zealand and Australia

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I had so much fun in New Zealand and Australia that I'm going back around again! This time I'll see more of the North Island and catch up with friends and family in Melbourne

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