Sunday, May 29, 2011

Our first day in Whangarei (hey that rhymes!)

Day 2: Whangarei (pronounced fvahngaray)

We took the bus at 8am to Whangarei to visit my old friend Monique, with whom I volunteered in Bangalore. The ride to Whangarei was beautiful - lush green hills, with grazing sheep and cows, beautiful mountains, awe-inspiring scenery. Again, we talked with some very friendly people (this is going to be a regular for us, I think (i.e. I hope).

When Monique picked us up at the bus stop, we immediately felt a warmth and joy. Seeing each other after so long, her opening her home to us, planning our entire three day/three night itinerary - it was so wonderful to know that distance and time can't separate friends. We came home to get Myles (her partner), and rested a bit in their gorgeous home before heading out on our first excursion in our packed itinerary.

We went to Tutukaka to hike (or tramp, as they call it here) up a mountain to an unbelievable view. We couldn't believe we were actually here, experiencing this! They set up a little blanket and we sat at the top of the mountain to eat lunch and chat. It was all so beautiful, and we were so happy to be surrounded by such beauty! We all felt so comfortable and the conversation just came so easily!

On our way back, we stopped for a coffee at a little cafe by the water, and then headed home for Myles to make us a yummy homemade pizza in his beautiful new wood-fired pizza oven with ingredients from their own garden! We had some drinks, some more great conversation, and then got ready to go to a concert in town.

The singer (Julia Deans) had such passion and strength in her voice!  We were unfortunately still jet-lagged so we were nodding off (yes, that's how tired we were - we were falling asleep at a concert at a local bar)! But we made it through and enjoyed every last song before heading home.

Nothing like good friends and beautiful surroundings to make our second day of our trip so spectacular!

View from the top of the "hill"


Our first destination (Day 1): Auckland!

Some fun facts:
New Zealand has a larger population of sheep than people!
Before humans, NZ had no predators so the indigenous birds have no wings (they never needed to fly away from anything)!
Apparently, there are no apartment buildings in Auckland!
Cops don't carry guns (yay!)
New Zealand is made up of two main islands: North Island and South Island

Let's start with the traditional Maori story of how New Zealand came about (the abridged version):

Maui, the youngest of many brothers, stowed away on his brothers' boat when they went fishing. They were annoyed (what brother wouldn't be) but let him stay. While fishing, they wouldn't share their bait with him, so he used his own blood and sent out his hook, which was made of his grandmother's jaw bone. Using the South Island as his canoe, he caught a fish of enormous proportions and brought it up to the surface. The fish was so big, and Maui's brothers were hungry, so they began chomping off pieces of the fish. When the sun rose, the fish's flesh hardened, and it became the North Island, and the places where his brothers had bit off pieces of the fish became the North Island's unique coastline.

So, the flight was long, but surprisingly bearable. We made a friend on the flight, and had great conversation (when we weren't sleeping or watching movies). The flight went by fairly quickly and we arrived in Auckland airport around 6am (May 27th). We made it through immigration/customs (phew!), and declared everything we had (dried fruit, nuts, everything!) so we'd be sure not to be fined or jailed (they're pretty serious about their ecosystem)! We had a short bus ride downtown (with an Indian bus driver playing Hindi music!) and left the luggage at our hotel to walk the city.

There was light rain here and there, but that didn't stop us for our only day in Auckland! We saw the town, went up the Sky Tower to catch a beautiful view of the city and surrounding islands, and did a quick run by the marina. Auckland is a growing city with tons of dormant volcanoes and immigrants apparently arriving in the tens of thousands each year (there are tons of Indian and Asian folks in the city!). It's not cheap either! Food was ridiculously expensive everywhere but we sucked it up and ate two meals (can't starve, after all). People were so helpful and friendly everywhere, and especially when we came back to the hotel to check in and the hotel manager gave us an upgrade to our room (thanks, Neha)! Yay for nice people! We made two friends in the span of almost a day!

Then, an old coworker and friend met us up to show us a bit of the outskirts (a beautiful view of the city from a pier), and took us around town for a bit. We saw a dormant volcano, and went up to the crater! We were both exhausted and falling asleep on the drive though, so we managed to get a drink in before having to call it a night. Thanks, Dan!

Meeting great new people, seeing a new city, and meeting up with old friends - all in all, a successful first day!

 View from the Sky Tower

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thank God for Free Wifi at the Vancouver Airport!

Lesson #1: To enter New Zealand, you cannot just have a one-way ticket. 

We knew this, but since we are winging our travels, and since we have a ticket leaving Australia to Papua New Guinea in July, we figured this would be enough to prove we are actually leaving the country eventually. 

That's a big fat NO. 

One hour before boarding our flight to Auckland from Vancouver, we went to try to snag some cheap first class upgrades (which we didn't go for with the whopping $2300 price tag - that's EACH). Instead, we had our boarding passes confiscated until we showed proof that we would eventually leave NZ. Obviously, they were very concerned that we would stay. 

So getting to the subject title of this entry: Free Wifi in YVR saved us (thanks Saurabh for the laptop)! We bought some fully refundable tickets leaving NZ. Ha! We showed them! Now we're going to return our tickets and stay even longer!

So it begins...

Here we go!

Gaurav and I are off on our three-month world tour! We only have our outbound ticket booked to Auckland, New Zealand, and are winging it from there! We'll be blogging whenever we have the chance - but if you don't hear from us for a while, it's only because we're having tons and tons of fun! Wish us luck on our trip!