The fast ferry made the trip from Auckland to Waiheke (Why-HICK-ee) Island in a flat 35 minutes. One of the many volcanic islands that dot the bays around Auckland, Waiheke has long been a favorite of New Zealanders (it is where they go to get away from it all) and it is easy to see why.The scenery is simply stunning. Jagged black basalt cliffs soar over seas ranging from blue-grey to midnight to aquamarine. Pretty black sand beaches tuck themselves between towering walls of lava. At low tide, pools stained with multi-colored algae offer up their micro world for exami- nation. Here and there, exposed sandstone and feldspar paint the rock walls in golds and reds. And deep, luscious green grasses have taken hold in the rich volcanic soils.
What is perhaps most unique about Waiheke is that a series of interconnecting trails criss-cross the island, making its beauty accessible to anyone willing to make the effort. It is for these trails that I came to Waiheke – I hoped to complete two of the loops. I picked up a trail guide from the brochure rack inside the ferry dock and asked which of the trails would have the most stunning scenery. The man at the information counter suggested that I take the track on the north side of the ferry dock by going around the dinghies at the water’s edge, then following the bay around until I picked up the path. As an aside he added, “Ah, well, it’s high tide at the moment but I think you should make it around the rocks OK.” That should have been my first clue about what I was getting myself into.
I like Auckland. This has come as somewhat of a surprise to me, because everything I read about this city said not to waste time on it. From the members of Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum to the residents of the city itself, the consensus is that there is nothing to do in Auckland, no sites of interest, and no history. Granted, I haven’t spent a lot of time here (a day and a half), but I found plenty to do in a city that is easy to navigate, clean as a whistle, safe at all hours of the the day and night, and eminently walkable. I love to walk – I can stroll for hours when I am investigating a new place. In Auckland I’ve found no lacks of places to walk, including the waterfront and surrounding downtown; the campus of Auckland University; lots of cute little neighborhoods; and dozens of parks that have been created from the numerous volcano cones that litter the landscape as a result of 48 separate eruptions that have occurred throughout the history of Auckland.
Once the sites of Auckland proper have been seen, the city remains a very good base for traveling to the outlying islands, with their exquisite scenery, hiking trails, artists colonies, whale watching, dolphin swimming, beach bumming, etc. So, in honor of the city that everyone said to skip, I am dedicating the rest of this post to photos of the things I have seen and done in Auckland. Read More
If you’re at all curious what New Zealanders think of American politics, take a look at this President Bush billboard, which spans a railroad viaduct over a major highway in Auckland:
If you’re having trouble reading it, the captions on the photos are as follows:
HISTORY (Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston)
SPORT (A blindfolded guy in a red shirt standing in front of a bull)
DRAMA (Two soccer players rolling on the ground trying to kill one another)
FOOD (A Polar Bear standing over a bleeding carcass)
and last but not least
COMEDY (A photo of George Bush at the microphone, sporting his normal buffoon expression)
I dragged myself off the plane after a 12-hour sleepless overnight flight from Bangkok. Bleary-eyed, I followed the signs to New Zealand’s Immigration and Customs, steeling myself for the usual interminable check-in process. I turned the final corner into the Immigration hall and was greeted by a smiling woman at the entrance to the queue:
“Hello, what passport are you holding, dear?” she asked.
“U.S.,” I replied.
“Then you’ll want line C. How long are you here for?”
“A couple of weeks,” I replied.
“Well, here’s a free country guide for you and welcome to New Zealand. Have a wonderful stay.”
This was just my first in a series of encounters with New Zealanders that has me believing they must be some of the friendliest people in the world. When I finally reached the Immigration official, he was Read More
It’s my last full day in Thailand and I did what any good Thai would do – I went shopping! Everyone knows that I am not much of a shopper, so it will really shock to learn that I spent eight hours at activity that I normally detest. At 11 AM my friend, Joan, and I hopped on the subway (the MRT) and headed two stops north to the IT Mall. Malls are an interesting concept in Bangkok. Everything is connected to something else, which is connected to another something else, all of which is connected to the subway and/or the Sky Train. In the case of the IT Mall, it was a tall, narrow building containing five floors of stores that specialize in everything technological. To the left of the IT Mall is the Fortune Hotel, which is accessed by walking through the Fortune Shopping Mall. To the right of the IT Mall is another mall (the name of which I never did find out). All three of these malls are interconnected and go on for blocks. Shopping here is rather like living on the Outer Banks and driving down the main highway – because all the towns run together the visitors never know whether they are in Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, or Kitty Hawk. It took a couple of hours before I could tell which of the three malls I was in at any given moment.
But there’s more. At the far end, these three malls are connected to a Tesco Supermarket. Now, supermarkets in Bangkok are not like anything you’ve ever seen before. Tesco (like Big C, or any of the other major grocery chains) is a multi-story affair with escalators to transport you from floor to floor. In addition to food and sundries they carry most everything that a normal department store would carry – sort of a ‘Super WalMart meets JCPenney’ affair. Fortunately, we did NOT go into the Tesco. I did however, get a lot accomplished at the IT Mall. I picked up some 4 Gig flash drives for extra photo storage and an extra storage card for my camera. I’ve also been on the lookout for a good telephoto lens for my camera – this I’ll definitely need for my African Safari – so I priced them here as well.
I hit the two-month mark of my around-the-world trip a couple of days ago and that anniversary has been on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about how things have changed for me in the past two months. Perhaps the most glaring example is that things that initially astounded are now commonplace. I don’t even blink now when I see a family of four on a motorbike, I am no longer intimidated by the thought of speaking with a monk, and it seems natural to find gilt-covered temples on every corner. Without having to think about it, I now throw my used toilet paper into the wastebasket rather than into the toilet (the septic systems in SE Asia cannot handle paper) and look first to the right when crossing a street rather than to the left.
I am most grateful that my health continues to improve. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and have had to buy smaller size clothes twice already. And carrying my heavy backpack around has given me back my strength. Three years ago I was so sick that I could not even pick up ten pounds, much less carry it up the stairs of my house. Now I am carrying a 25-pound pack up hundreds of stairs, lugging camera equipment to the top of temples or to scenic overviews so I can capture that ‘perfect’ photo. Best of all, the pain in my shoulder, neck and jaw is going away, little by little. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is not to be living every day in pain. Here I am, sitting at the restaurant at the Quarter Hotel in Pai, Thailand, waiting for the bus to arrive to take me back to Bangkok. I look much different from the day I started this trip – more relaxed, happy, content.