A journey Down Under, Part I (Or Part III, depends how you look at it)

November 12th, 2013. This is the date a dream of mine finally became a reality. I was in New Zealand! New-fricking-Zealand!! Land of the kiwis, Lord of the Rings set, Maori, Moko and other vaguely popular entities that come to mind when you mention Australia’s little brother.

 I say “vaguely popular” because, let’s be honest, the real LotR fans are fans of the books and most of them are not that happy with how the movies turned out. Me being one. Even if you are a fan of the movie, how often do you think of the actual set it was filmed at? I agree, there are a handful of people who can be really keen, even fanatic, about it but that just goes to support my point of the whole “Lord of the Rings country” being only vaguely popular.

 The kiwis – well, they only have them there so it would be like denying that Australia is famous for the koala bears. Still, what most people know about kiwis is that they don’t have wings, and they live in New Zealand and that’s it. Correct? I thought so.

 As for the Maori, I’m pretty sure only people who are actively into tattooing know what Moko is and what it represents.

 So there you go, three things you know New Zealand’s famous for, but don’t really know or care much about. You’re free to disagree, of course, but you’re going to have to prove me wrong. Or not. 😉

 What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that New Zealand is so much more. Yes, yes, everybody knows it’s exotic and interesting, it has rare birds and very angry rugby players. But how many people think about the fact that there are active volcanoes erupting there even nowadays? Did you know that you can actually see a fault line? For those like me, who didn’t even know what a fault line was before I went there, it’s “the line of intersection between the fault plane and the Earth’s surface” as Wikipedia puts it, or as I do: a ginormous crack that goes from the surface (and that means the top of the mountains) all the way down to where two tectonic plates meet. Yeah! And one of those is clearly seen and goes all the way across the country because New Zealand is situated right between the Indo-Australian and the Pacific Plates. Which is why there are active volcanoes and devastating earthquakes. But I’ll get to that later on.

Now, when I say NZ is not something I automatically associate with Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth, that is by no means an impression of my stay there. Exhibit A: see picture on the right.

 No! Not the guy eating ice-cream. Gimli!! Yes, he was my private meet-and-greet committee at the airport in Auckland 🙂

Well, he was there in the arrivals hall, I saw him, Nikola, of course, didn’t, and the nerd in me could not help feeling good about it. I said I didn’t necessarily think New Zealand when you say LotR, not that I’ve blocked it out.

Moving on. 

 We didn’t really use public transport during our trip so my first and only impression was “Geesh, airport transport is really expensive here” when we were paying $16 each to get to the centre of Auckland.

 Later on we came to learn it’s not the airport bus, it’s EVERYTHING. Yep, there was a slight shock when we realised we’re coming from Switzerland and it’s still expensive around here.

 Even so, after we checked in at the hotel, we went straight to the Sky Tower, forked over almost $30 a piece and went 186 metres up to enjoy a lovely sunset with a 360º view of the city. It was lovely because you don’t realise how scattered Auckland is until you see it with your own eyes. Google maps doesn’t quite cut it, trust me, I’d been staring at it for hours while planning this trip. But that goes for most of New Zealand, especially if you’re not good at judging distances.

 I showed Nikola the island I was planning for us to visit while in Auckland – Rangitoto. He finally got excited about it, after I’d failed to convince him it’s worth visiting by telling him it’s the youngest NZ island and an actual volcano that may or may not be active. It was not interesting that birds and plants have inhabited it even though the soil is mostly basalt, before he saw the cone sticking out of the water, right there, in the middle of the gulf. Men, they have so little imagination, right! So we agreed on visiting Rangitoto the next day… and that’s pretty much where most of my pre-planned activities got exhausted.

(Because I haven’t gone through my own photos yet, I am borrowing this one from 1000 Hikes 1000 Days)

After a beer at 182 metres in the Sky Lounge we started in search for dinner.

Tony’s Lord Nelson Restaurant was our venue of choice, and we were quite pleased with it. I satisfied my curiosity about clam chowder (seafood chowder in this case), and was delighted; Nikola stuck to his usual steak. Only difference this time – it was oyster-stuffed steak. WTF, right? That’s what I thought but since he had it, he offered that I try an oyster. (To this day I have not tasted the raw stuff, and I don’t feel the least bit tempted to.) Since they were baked, and inside a steak no less, they were supposed to have a more… regular taste and texture… They didn’t.

That half piece of baked oyster was the nastiest thing I’ve tried since the sea urchin in Japan! It really was bad. Even after the very intense green-lipped mussels in my chowder – there were two of them, still in the shells on top of the soup; I’ll replace this sentence with a photograph as soon as I get over my unwillingness to sort through photos – which literally tasted like a sip straight from the ocean. And I’m not using “literally” figuratively. I really mean it, that’s what they tasted like. It was nice but a little overwhelming in the end, considering those mussels are HUGE, especially compared to the ones from the Black Sea I’m used to.

Another tasty discovery – apart from the seafood chowder – was the third glass of wine I had. Hey, no judging! I was on vacation and had to sample the local stuff, didn’t I? And believe me, my judgement was not impaired by the first two glasses. They were actually a good base-line.

Anyhow, the first great white wine I discovered was the Murdoch James Sauvignon Blanc from Martinborough. It had great flavours and aroma with dominating sour green apple. Even Nikola liked it, and he does not drink white wine. (Between you and me, he might be persuaded after a few really nice we tried down there.)

After we closed down that place we took a stroll down Queen Street and dove into the little side streets in search of a shisha bar. Led by our faithful guide, Google Maps, we found the address we needed, but it was not a shisha bar. It was a brand new hip sandwich or yoghurt place that still had paper over the windows in wait for the grand opening. We were disappointed. So we asked a couple of random people in front of a hostel near by if they knew a place, and what do you know – they did. At least one of them did, and what a character he was: a drunk Irish guy (what are the odds, right!) with two front teeth missing who gave us very extensive, specific and repetitive instructions on how to get to the shisha place. He was very accurate in his description, I give him that. I also appreciated that he knew where to buy weed, if that was what we were in the market for. It wasn’t, but we had a fun time locating the place we were looking for. There was a slight uncertainty at one point… and then we caught a whiff of the giveaway smell.

For the life of me, I don’t know how to find that picture right now, but I will find it and post it later, because you need to see the size of that shisha. It was appropriately called “the Bazooka” and it had an additional pipe and bowl around the smoke pipe, which were filled with ice! It was very cool.

So that was Day 1 in Aotearoa. I probably won’t be able to post another instalment this week, because we’re going to Berlin over the weekend. Hey, maybe I’ll come back with an interesting story from there? Although, considering the people I’m going with, it will probably just be another drunken weekend.

Nevertheless, o-m-g, check out the huge post that came out of this half day in Auckland. I dread to think what lies before me with all those fuller and more interesting days! Oh, right, and before you, ha-ha! 🙂

Well, let’s hope I get better at sifting out the interesting stuff within the next few posts, right.

That is all. Please be patient with me 🙂

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About Yoanna Novakova

Yoanna is a reader, writer, traveller, concert goer, hiker, drinker, thinker and, of late... a blogger. She's currently doing a lot of travel writing (obviously), but fiction, fantasy and life-writing all have a representative in her portfolio. A reader of varied tastes, she's even been called "strange" for enjoying Stephen King and Terry Pratchett alike. In her pre-teen years, she used to be the kid who'd re-read her favourite books over and over again. Now she knows life is just too short for that. Always reading more than one book at a time, always writing more than one project at a time, she is yet to find her perfect pace. But she's working on it!
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