there and back again

SATURDAY and loooong SUNDAY, 3rd & 4th December

I dedicated the morning for packing. I threw away all the folders and brosures that I had been carrying all around and they were making my bag pretty heavy, didn’t pack my warm fleece and jacket leaving them to hold in my hand and put on when I arrive in London. But I had to pack my warm shoes and travel in jandals, because it was really hot. Suddenly I got so much space and my bag was so light, that I was really surprised! It was about 1 pm when I finished packing. My friends weren’t at home. The whole family was taken over by the Christmas fever, like parades and parties. I went to the town centre to buy some more chocolate bars to fill up my bag and fish & chips for lunch. It was busy, because later J. told me that there was a Christmas parade which I missed when I was packing. I had no luck with Christmas parades in NZ.

The legendary Mr Whippy ice cream van

When I came back home, J. and the boys had already got home too, so I did have a chance to thank her and say goodbye before H. came to pick me up. My dear friend offered herself to drive me to the airport. It was again one more circle made in my journey. Just as H. was the first person to greet me in New Zealand, she was also the last one to wave goodbye to.

The flight back home seemed to pass quicker than the flight to the Southern Hemisphere, which was odd, because I flew to Australia then and it was a shorter trip. I guess going back home is always faster than going away.

If we go according to the calendar, my journey back home did look quick, because I got on a plane in Auckland at 18:50 on Saturday and arrived in London at 12:00 pm next day, so it was as if I travelled just for 17 hours. But it wasn’t like that according to the actual hours spent in the air and at the airports.

So here are some numbers:

AUCKLAND – MELBOURNE: 3 hrs 25 min; 2,639 km;
from Sat 18:50 to 22:37 Kiwi time (20:37 Aus time)
We had to stop by to fill up. Interesting that there were no Christmas decorations at the airport while in Dubai, there were lots of them. Melbourne is on my ‘to-visit’ list.

MELBOURNE – DUBAI: 12 hrs 50 min; 11,656 km;
from Sun 00:25 to 13:40 Kiwi time (from 22:25 Aus time to 4:40 UAE time)
We were chasing the night. I saw dawn in Dubai.

DUBAI – LONDON: 7 hrs 10 min; 5,504 km;
from Sun 16:45 to Mon 00:35 Kiwi time (from 7:45 UAE time to 11:35 UK time)
It was already the middle of the night for me and for my sister the day has just started.

I travelled for 29 hrs 45 min, so almost 30 hrs out of which 23 hrs 25 min in the air conquering 19,799 km. I did well staying awake for the rest of the day, not quite knowing what I was talking about.

the last day in Auckland

FRIDAY, 2nd December

I was proud of myself when I dropped off the car. Even though I got lost leaving Te Atatu, I managed to find my way to the rental in the centre of Auckland.

It was late morning and I was going to have ‘thank you and farewell’ dinner with H. in the evening. After I made a round around the shops, I went to the library to wait for H. there… and to use the Internet.

We didn’t actually know where to go for dinner and we hadn’t booked a table in the Orbit Revolving Restaurant in Sky Tower, so when H. finally came over, she took me to Mexican Cafe on Victoria Street near Sky City. It was quite busy and we had to wait about 15-20 min for the table, but it wasn’t that bad considering it was Friday evening. What else could I order in a Mexican restaurant in New Zealand if not fish tacos? 😉

I had been putting away my visit in the Sky Tower for so long that it was now or never (until the next time). As soon as we finished eating, we went to buy the tickets. As a backpacker (I had to show my BBH card), it cost me $18.

This photo wasn’t made on green screen and I wasn’t flying. I was standing on a glass floor. 38 mm thick, as strong as the concrete I was standing on. Main Observation Level, 186 metres (610 feet).

Sky Desk 220 metres (722 feet). One Tree Hill

Leaning on the glass wall was more scary than standing or jumping on the glass floor.

Auckland was getting nicer…

I didn’t know that Santa’s reindeers eat Weet-Bix.

Then H. took me near Ponsonby Rd to show me one more world famous in New Zealand street, Franklin Rd. First houses had already been decorated. People were walking up and down the road, just like us and admiring the lights. By Christmas the whole road will be glowing and very busy.

H. said that it all started from this house

Some of my favourites and more exotic: surfing Santa and a palm tree as a Christmas tree

dolphin and a tree that can be taken as pohutukawa

“Today is the Present”

The party is outside

the Christmas tree was made of suitcases

There was something missing… Oh, yeah! There was no snow! It would be much prettier with some snow and H. said that some people sometimes shoot fake snow from their windows.

And that was my last full day in New Zealand.

bonus days

MONDAY and TUESDAY, 28th & 29th November

My friend from England had texted me to watch out for the strike on Heathrow on Wednesday which was when I was supposed to land in London. I looked for any information on that on the Internet and they were warning the passangers about possible delays and getting stuck at the airport. The Emirates, the airline I was flying with, even said that we could change our tickets with no charge, so I thought, “Why should my holiday end with a nightmare on Heathrow after over 20 hours in the air?” I called the Emirates and the nearest free seat on their plane was on 3rd December. My visitor visa was to expire on 1st December, but I took the risk and changed my ticket. I got extra 5 days in New Zealand! 😀

First, I thought not to make such a big deal and not to call the Immigration Office. So in the afternoon I just went to the city centre to look for some Christmas presents.

My favourite Christmas decoration: bungy jumping Santa.

Giant Santa on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets

On Sunday there was a Christmas parade, Auckland Farmers Santa Parade, but I was travelling from Wanganui then and I missed it. It was a really hot day, so I wonder how Santa survived that day, unless he was wearing just swim trunks.

The next day I thought that maybe I should call the Immigration Office, just to let them know I’d be staying two more days and if there was anything I should do to not to have any troubles next time I came to New Zealand. When I got to talk to a guy from the Office, he kept me on hold many times, typed my explanations in my files, but before I made sure if I should apply for a new visitor visa or just do nothing more but this phone call, the money on my prepay phone card ran out, so I wasn’t sure what I was standing on. I decided to go to the Office personally the next day, before I pick up a car.

“What car?”, you ask. Well, since I got some extra days, I didn’t want to waste them in the city. The weather was great, I had some emergency money from my dad, the Coromandel was close and I hadn’t been there yet, so what should I wait for?

from Wanganui to Auckland

SUNDAY, 27th November

Three sisters were leaving Wanganui on the same day as I was and when they had found out that I was going to Auckland, the younger ones had offered a lift to Hamilton and I could catch a bus to Auckland from there. I changed the booking on Sunday morning and was free to go with 2/3 of ‘Three Musketeers’.

Before B. got on her bus back to Wellington, we went to the Castlecliff Beach with black sand

Then B. went south and we took the north. Beautiful views along Whanganui River Road.

Raukawa Falls

We stopped for lunch in National Park

Te Kuiti, “the sheep shearing capital of the world and is host to the annual New Zealand National Shearing Championships”. The statue is 7 meters tall and weighs 7.5 tonnes. Three time capsules were sealed inside the statue in 1994 and are due to be opened in May 2024, 2054 and 2084.

Going through Otorohanga was like blast from the past. In September I saw real kiwis in the Kiwi House.

Near Hamilton airport we stopped at a strawberry farm and bought fresh fruit and strawberry ice cream for dessert. I had enough time before my bus to visit one of the sisters’ house and had delicious dessert. At 6 pm, I jumped on the bus to Auckland and in the evening I was back in Te Atatu at my friends’ having late dinner.

Being back in Auckland meant that those were my last days in New Zealand, but my mind wasn’t ready for that yet.

Victory Parade

I left Auckland on MONDAY and spent 11 hours on a bus to Wellington. This time we had a boring driver, so no fun at all. But I knew the route and was ready to take some better photos of Lake Taupo

and Mt Ruapehu

Seems like the best weather is when I sit on a bus… In Wellington I experienced the wind the city is famous for. When I left my bag at the hostel (this time I stayed at Downtown Backpackers, opposite the Railway Station; a good one, recommend), I went for a walk and to buy something for breakfast. The day after the win, the streets of the capital were almost empty. It was a public holiday, a Labour Day and not many bars were open. Probably people were hiding from the wind in their homes. There were moments when I just couldn’t walk and was being pushed back. When I was waiting for the green light on traffic lights, I had to hold a sign and when I finally got the green, I couldn’t walk. The cars were waiting and I was standing too, because the wind was pushing me back and I couldn’t cross the street. I gave up fighting and crossed it when I was ready. I had to get to the hostel, right?! And I did get there, but very tired.

The next day, the wind was less stronger. I stayed at the hostel till about 2 or 3 p.m. to plan my trip around the South Island and it took me some time. Thanks to H., who gave me her top 10 must-sees, I had some marking points to plan around.

In the afternoon, I went to the library, but I couldn’t get the connection with the Internet, probably because of too many people using it or because of the wind, so I went to Midnight Espresso for a coffee. Sitting there I had this feeling of having a holiday from holiday and yet not having to work. I liked that.

In the evening I was more lucky with the connection.

And then the Parade day came! First I thought of waiting for the All Blacks at Civic Square, but the parade was to finish at Parliament Square and thought it would be more interesting to be right there. And it was closer to my hostel.

I went to the square at about 11:30 a.m. and there were already a couple hundreds of people, school kids waiting on the square. By the time the team arrived at about 1:30 p.m., the square got full and I was lucky to be in like the third front row. I looked through John Key‘s facebook albums and found myself in a couple of group photos, like this:

No one was sure when the All Blacks would start their parade, because different sources gave different times. They could start at 12:15 or 1 p.m. The weather forecast wasn’t great at all and while we were waiting in the rain outside, Mr Key was on the top floor of the Beehive.

Decorated windows of Parliament

Some people had a top view, too.

We knew that the team was coming soon, when more politicians left the building and even the Prime Minister came out to welcome the crowd. My not so fortunate photo of the PM. He wasn’t yawning here, but was saying that he hoped she wasn’t cold. (It wasn’t very cold, but just really wet)

and the other side of the shot. Find Sylwia!

And then they finally arrived. Some of them came to us to sign stuff, others were stopped by the crowd standing closer to the road. Some better or not so good photos of:

Sam Whitelock

Andrew Hore

Israel Dagg

John Afoa

Hosea Gear

Jerome Kaino

Stephen Donald!

Kieran Read

and Keven Mealamu

Then the whole team with their coaches was welcomed by the PM and others, there were short speeches etc.

(tell me how cute Piri with his kid is here… and Richie with the Cup…)

And then out of nothing the person who was leading that event suggested the All Blacks to do the haka, the crowd started to cheer and to our surprise they took their jackets off and did Ka Mate on the steps of Parliament! Some good videos of that dance ended up on YouTube: 1, 2 and 3.

The All Blacks doing the haka in Wellington was a perfect closure for my Rugby World Cup adventure. I saw them at the welcome ceremony in Auckland at the beginning of September and now I saw them wet and victorious with the Webb Ellis Cup in Wellington. 😀

The RWC Finals Weekend

FRIDAY to SUNDAY, 21th – 23rd October

Funny thing, when you travel a lot you start meeting the same bus drivers. The one who took me from Tauranga to Auckland was the same one who took me from Matamata to Hamilton a couple weeks earlier. What was even more surprising, he remembered me!

I was in Auckland after 12 p.m. and P., my friend from Australia, who was coming to see the Bronze Final with me that evening, was landing at 2:40 p.m. I had asked him to catch Airbuss Express from the airport to the city centre, as I wasn’t sure if I made it to welcome him there and mostly I didn’t want to spend about $30 on going just back and forth. I left my bag in a locker at the bus station and spend my extra time before P.’s arrival in the Auckland Library updating my blog.

When P. finally got through the traffic after 4 p.m., we only had time to pick up my bag and catch a bus to Te Atatu peninsula. We were staying again at J.&Ch.’s with two sons and a cat, Mortimer.

Does it happen to you often that you’re so focused on your plan that you miss other more convenient opportunities? When we got off the bus in Te Atatu, the bus driver checked out when the next bus was and if we had enough time to go back to see the match, and it was in two hours and there was a risk we may be late. He even asked how long we would need to leave the bag, because he could wait for us and take us back to the city, but I wanted to have time to say ‘hello’ to J. and thought it would be rude to just pop in, leave the bag and run off. So I let the driver go and then we found out that J. wouldn’t mind us going straight to catch the bus after leaving the bag. But it was too late.

J. showed us a poster made by one of her boys 🙂

And we were late for the match, of course, about 15 minutes. We missed Australia’s first try, and I was happy not to see it, because I hate looking at P.’s smug face. Again, because of missed penalty kicks, Wales lost and the Wallabies got away with the third place in the World Cup.

I also felt sorry for Quade Cooper. He looked like he tripped over his own foot, but in fact he got a knee injury. When he came back for his medal, his leg was wrapped and taped.

I realized I hadn’t had a photo of me in Eden Park!

I didn’t have many plans for SATURDAY, except for seeing The Black Seeds in Fanzone in the evening. And again awesome H., my friend from Auckland, came with a helping hand and her car. I didn’t mind seeing the same places I had seen before as long as P. had a good day, because it was his first visit to New Zealand and a very short one. He was leaving the next day.

First, we had lunch on Ponsonby Road, next we went to Mt Eden, One Tree Hill and then hot chocolate at Mission Bay. On Friday the weather was beautiful, but on Saturday it got cloudy and windy again. I didn’t feel well, my muscles ached, I had sore eyes and I couldn’t eat much. I was afraid to get sick. I didn’t want to waste my time lying in bed here, while the South Island was waiting. I took some painkillers in the evening and luckily, I was feeling better the next day. Interesting enough, I was feeling great already when I was listening to The Black Seeds that evening! But we had to wait for them quite a while, because they weren’t the only act performing then. Others weren’t bad at all. The first band was Rubberband, then 1814.

The third band was Katchafire. The crowd went mad when they started playing Get Away and from that on, it was a general sing-a-long.

There were two huge boats standing in the wharf and Katchafire was very popular among the kitchen crew

The Black Seeds started playing before 11 p.m. Some people were already pretty drunk, others were leaving to catch their last buses home. My bus was at 11:30, but H. said she’d drive us home. ( :-* ). So there were less people in the audience than for Katchafire. How the band played you can hear it yourselves, a couple new songs you can find there and this is what they played as an encore:


In the afternoon, I went to the city centre to soak up the atmosphere before the grand final. Quay Street was closed, Queen Street was still open when I got off the bus, but soon after that it was closed, because of too many people already walking on the road.

The Fanzone in Queen’s Wharf had already been full since 2 p.m. and security wasn’t letting anyone in.

Nevertheless, some people were still queuing, maybe they were Gin Wigmore‘s fans, because she was giving a free concert in the evening.

Cook’s Wharf was open and the security was sending people there.

Mostly I saw All Blacks supporters.

French fans decided to stay together

However everyone was very friendly

Some people couldn’t afford to buy All Blacks jerseys.

or maybe they just wanted to be like Dan Carter

I found Mr Vintage shop. It’s on the way to Eden Park and it was busy when I was going back home.

I had a really bad bus connection to Te Atatu, because it was Sunday and I wouldn’t have had one, if I wanted to watch the game somewhere in the city, so I decided to get back home and watch the Final with J., Ch. and their friends.

The atmosphere was tense during the game and I didn’t want to think what would have happened, if the All Blacks lost. New Zealand needed that win to lift up its spirit after a though year of disasters like Pike River mine, Christchurch earthquakes and now Rena oil spill. And the All Blacks brought some light and something New Zealand is so proud of. They’re their gladiators, role models, heroes. I really like Stephen Donald, an unlikely hero. It was his first World Cup match. When he went on to that field, Ch. said that he didn’t think it could get any worse, but it did. I replied, what was the difference between Piri and him missing the goals (I still love ya, Piri). None, so what was the problem? And then Steve just simply kicked those 3 points that gave New Zealand the advantage. Perfect. What a guy. He may have been worthless in other matches, but he was the right person in the right time then.

I must confess, I had tears in my eyes when the match was over. Tears of joy and relief.


THURSDAY, 22nd Sept.

Before I left Paihia, I took the last walk along the second main street. I like what Flying Fish sell, so when you’re there, you should visit them even if you don’t want to buy anything.

I was going back south and wanted to stay in Hamilton at the girl I had met earlier that month when I was couchsurfing at I&J. The invitation was still open so why not? We were going through Kawakawa again and this time I was so lucky, because one passanger had to catch a train from that town, so the driver drove through the town centre and we stopped right by the Hundertwasser Toilet!

And this is a typical view in New Zealand: cows, not sheep and lilies by the rivers.

I had to wait in Auckland about 1.5 hrs for my next bus, so it was enough time to have late lunch/early dinner. Denny’s was all right. Then back on a bus and after 6 p.m. I was again in Hamilton. E. was waiting for me and the rest of the evening I spent on a couch eating lasagna, cuddling E.’s two cats and booking buses and a Hobbiton tour for the next day.

Te Atatu, Auckland

FRIDAY, 16th Sept.

We left New Plymouth at 8 a.m. and arrived in Auckland at about 2 p.m. We dropped off our bags at G.’s friend’s work place near Sky Tower. We took our time to stretch our legs along Queen Street before she finished her work at 5 p.m. G. visited more sports shops and went to Starbucks. I, on the other hand went to Queen’s Wharf to see what the Auckland Rugby Village FANZONE has to offer. And so I saw these guys,

Some players from the Irish rugby team were signing things and posing to photos. By the time I came back with G., they had already gone.

I got a brochure with program and I was happy to see The Blacks Seeds and Katchafire playing during the RWC Finals weekend, when I’m in Auckland. I hope I’ll be able to see them.

At 5 p.m. we picked up our bags and J. took us to her home. J.&Ch. live with their two sons on Te Atatu peninsula in north Auckland. The boys are 7 and 9 but they are quite tall and much more matured for their age. I really enjoyed their company for the last weekend.

In the evening, J.&Ch.’s friends came to watch rugby together. Everyone had something All Black on them, so I put my scarf on, just to blend in. Watching the All Blacks playing with Japan with a bunch of Kiwis was an unforgettable experience and sometimes even funnier than Flight of the Conchords. My cheeks hurt when they left.

On SATURDAY, we didn’t do much. We took a walk along the coast to get to Te Atatu centre and check out the bus connection. There was a nice view on Auckland.

And great street art on one of the buildings in the town centre.

Later we chilled out, it was another rainy afternoon. I also had to make some plans for the next couple days, so I spent some time on the Internet checking out many options and hoping for the weather to get better.

In the evening we head to Eden Park catching bus 049 (or 048 would be good too). We got off at Bond Street and followed the crowd. The streets were green and it was difficult to spot Aussie supporters wearing yellow.

And these guys asked me if I want to take a photo of them. Sure!

Eden Park is very impressive from the outside

We had seats in the 5th row (EE) on one side of the field. During the first half, it was Australian side and we could see some great actions from Irish.

And I couldn’t believe they won! Probably neither the Wallabies. 😀

On SUNDAY, I slept in and woke up in an empty house. Everyone went to church leaving me behind. When they got back, I was finishing my breakfast. It was another lazy day and no one wanted to go outside, because of…. Yep, you guessed it – the rain.

In the evening G.’s time in New Zealand was over and Ch. took him to the airport. On the way back we stopped at the lookout and saw three huge planes landing at the airport. The boys were very excited.

The guys got even more excited when they found out that I’m a big FOTC fan and we sang Hurt Feelings together. Although, it would suit more to sing Friends, since we were in a car.

Auckland here and there

SUNDAY, 4th Sept.

If it wasn’t for H., I’d have never known how beautiful Auckland could be.

She picked me up at 11 a.m. and we had brunch, delicious Eggs Benedict in one of the restaurants by the waterfront. She showed me wonderful beaches of Mission Bay, St Heliers Bay and Kohimarama in between. The newest volcano in the background, Rangitoto.

We finally had a great sunny day, so we climbed Mt Eden, which is actually a volcano (the road was still closed, but pedestrians could walk up there)

And then One Tree Hill, or rather “Non-Tree Hill” (yep, it’s also U2’s song’s title). Read the story about that hill.

People ‘write’ different things out of rocks collected on the hill.

And those white animals next to ‘Bungalow’ on the right are sheep. There were a lot of them on that hill in the middle of Auckland.

Then we stopped by at Circus Circus in Mt Eden Village for a cup of coffee and something sweet. It was the winner of the 2010 best cafes award.

It was getting too late again to go to the Sky Tower to see the sunset, so H. took me somewhere else to see it.

Not far from that place there was a great marina, I think it was Westhaven Marina.

And to finish the day with a bit of surprise H. took me to Devonport to see Auckland by night.

Next time I’m in Auckland, I’m going to visit Devonport. It seemed to be a really nice place, but everything was already closed when we got there.

The hostel was getting busy with new backpackers. The kitchen was full and I couldn’t even make tea, because there was no free cup! I decided to go to bed earlier that night, because I had to catch the only direct bus to Waitomo at 7:30 a.m.

ups and downs

Saturday started not very happy for me. I realised I had left my bag with toiletries in bathroom last night and when I went back in the morning, it was gone. I shouldn’t have gone to bed so late. It makes me absent-minded. I asked the cleaners, but there was no bag left in their room after the night shift. Either they lied to me or someone from the backpackers took it. It made me feel a bit down for a while. I couldn’t even comb my hair! Good thing that I had my toothbrush from the plane in my rucksack, so I at least brushed my teeth. One of many loses during my journey, I guess.

Getting on-line for free cheered me up. H. had texted me that the Library had free wifi, so finally I could catch up on what’s happening in my world, like TAIKA WAITITI IS IN DA HOUSE! 😀 He’s a bigger rugby fan than I thought. I’ll have my eyes all around my head every time I’m in Auckland now.

H. also let me know that the All Blacks were going to be in Aotea Square on Queen Street at 4:30 p.m. The square was almost on the other side of the street! The Library closed at 4:00, had enough time to leave my laptop in my hostel room, grab my camera and be back before the ABs arrived in their white coach. There was already a big crowd, because the program started at 3:30. Later I found out that I missed Holly Smith’s performance. 😦

One of the first who got off the bus was the couch, Graham Henry and then the rest followed.

The team was welcomed by Maori dancers. They performed haka. I couldn’t take a proper picture, because I was snapping without looking into my camera and others were doing the same thing. The good side of this is that you can now find plenty of videos on YouTube from this ceremony.

And then the team moved onto stage. I managed to take this photo of Dan

And a couple of other ABs

The ceremony started from prayers, dance, songs and official welcomes in Maori

Then the rest was in English, luckily. Everyone got a cap and a gift from the city

Richie McCaw, the captain said a couple words and the ceremony finished with singing the New Zealand anthem.

The guys stayed on stage for an official photo then on the way back to their coach they were giving autographs. I didn’t even try to get close to the barriers, it was so crowded. I was about 2m from Graham Henry, though. They didn’t stay long. The All Blacks came and it rained. It rained when they were leaving.

So no Sky Tower tonight too. I went to a store for my toiletries along the Quay Street and found The Giant Ball at Queen Wharf.

Auckland is getting ready for this gigantic festival. Today I saw in Sky City more redecorations for new bars and restaurants, when I went to collect my tickets on matches I’m going to. Am I really here?! Is this really happening?!