My original idea for my 2nd big 2018 trip was to venture to Botswana and Victoria Falls. But, for reasons too complicated to explain, those plans quickly proved to be too complicated to organize. I already had an Africa trip planned for spring, anyway, so it's just as well. While brainstorming other possible destinations, my mind stumbled upon New Zealand and the idea stuck. The more I thought about it, the more perfect it seemed to visit a country that was so rich with beautiful and interesting regions. Plus, it would be an opportunity to visit a region of the world I hadn't seen in 7 years.
In October 2017, I started seriously working on crafting an itinerary with the idea of leaving on the day after Thanksgiving, which is when I'd departed for Australia in 2011. After much research, I worked out what seemed like a solid and exciting plan… only to discover that I'd miscalculated the dates and I'd either have to leave on Thanksgiving itself or else I'd have to cut a day somewhere. I talked it out with my family and I was so grateful that they were amenable to holding our 2018 Thanksgiving gathering on Wednesday night instead of Thursday just this one time. As the holiday approached, I nonetheless had some regrets that we wouldn't be together on the traditional day for family gatherings. I'd glad we could agree on alternate plans this year but I don't want to make a habit of being out of town on future Thanksgivings.
While in the midst of planning, I realized that I would be paying off my student loans several months before my trip. I can't emphasize enough how absolutely huge a deal this was! I never thought I'd actually pay off those damn things. I began to think of my New Zealand trip as a celebration of a milestone. As such, I decided to splurge even more than usual. I was glad I'd waited to go to New Zealand until I could afford a bit of indulging because I found so many opportunities to engage in "once in a lifetime" experiences. I also decided to challenge myself to a few experiences outside my comfort zone that I'd never imagined myself doing; if I could succeed at paying off my loans, surely I could succeed at other activities that had seemed impossible for me. As the trip drew closer, I wondered how those challenges would go- they'd either be a series of epic successes or a colossal failure!
In the months leading up to my trip, I joined a gym and worked up to attending an average of 3 times a week. Most people go to gyms to lose weight; my main goal was to increase my fitness and stamina so I could get the most enjoyment out of my travels. (Secondarily, I also wanted to improve my overall health.) Though I still was not a paragon of athleticism by any means, my increased level of fitness gave me the confidence for signing up for some more active adventures.
As my trip approached, I'd finally been starting to feel more at peace with myself after a summer filled with depression and anxiety. I was excited both to see some of the legendary beautiful landscapes the country offers as well as to engage in the variety of activities I had planned. I was glad I was traveling solo so that I could be totally in control of where I went and what I did; it had been almost a year since I'd done a trip like that. Tours are great, especially for regions where I might not feel safe as a solo woman, but there is nothing like crafting a trip myself and having complete freedom and control over my days. Since I'm not keen to drive (even at home), there were some scheduling compromises that I needed to make but I still felt empowered to be making the decisions about my plans for each day. I was a bit worried that the forecast showed rain every single day, but I packed my Gore-Tex waterproof jacket and hoped to make the best of whatever nature had planned.
My day started by turning on the TV to see Broadway's Head Over Heels cast performing "We Got the Beat" on the Thanksgiving day parade which seemed as good an omen as any. I actually woke up a bit before my alarm which was amazing considering the previous night I'd gone out to the movies to see the 9pm of Wreck it Ralph 2 and then been up late showering and putting the final touches on my packing.
My niece, Julia, came over a bit after 9 and we left at 9:30. With no traffic, I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to calmly deal with the United agent straightening out my reservation. (It was somehow out of sync due to the flight numbers having changed-- despite the fact that I'd been required to phone Air New Zealand whenever something changed on the United side of the reservation...) After I started to walk away from the desk, she ran after me to give me a printout of my updated itinerary (which, ummm, was identical to what I'd already printed out...)
Thanksgiving weekend may be huge for travel but it would seem that Turkey Day itself is rather quiet. Cheek in and security were both a breeze.
As I was waiting at the gate, United staff asked passengers with boarding passes saying "see gate agent" or without seats to come to the desk. Of course, I had selected a seat long ago and had continued to check periodically that it was still assigned. So I was surpised when I suddenly heard a badly mispronounced version of my last name over the P.A. system. I went to the front desk and hardly had a chance to express my confusion when the agent told me that I was being upgraded to 1st class for my flight to Houston. Wow! I was even ok with being given an aisle seat instead of my usual window. I have zero status with United and wonder if perhaps I'd received some good karma from wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to the agent who had helped me at checkin.
I'd placed a One Up bid for my flight to Auckland, with the hopes that I might be able to enjoy the long flight in a row of 3 seats that converted into what they called a SkyCouch. A few days earlier, I'd received an email that my bid was still under review and I hoped the upgrade would be a good omen for that bid. As soon as I boarded the plane to Houston, I received an email with the results of my bid. For one brief, beautiful moment I read the word "successful" instead of "unsuccessful." Sigh. I'd have to sit in a normal seat after all. I'd known it was a longshot and probably not the most wise use of my money- but it would have been oh, so amazing to have 3 seats to myself on a long haul flight.
Even though it was just for a relatively short flight, I enjoyed being fancy in first class for all it was worth. I wasn't really hungry but I still ordered a roast beef wrap because they have meal service in first class and I was going to take advantage of it. Not only did they offer food, but the flight attendant wrote down our orders instead of just swinging by with a cart. The meal was worth it if only for the scrumptious triple chocolate cookie. It was also lovely to be offered a hot, nice smelling towel. I missed having a window, but not nearly enough to have any regrets about my upgrade.
After landing, I explored Houston airport a bit. There didn't seem to be obvious signs to walk from terminal B to D/E so I took the monorail which was cool because monorails are cool. Knowing that I had 2 generously times layovers in Houston, I'd signed up for a United credit card because it comes with 2 coupons a year to access United Club lounges. So after walking around terminal E, I settled into the lounge for awhile. I felt swanky presenting my coupon and then taking the escalator upstairs. I grabbed a seat by the windows to the sunny outside which also happened to be near the food. Of most interest to me were the yummy cream of tomato soup (which was so good that I got seconds later) and the cookies/brownies. I noticed a cute hot chocolate bar which would have been more tempting in cooler weather.
It was very relaxing to linger in the lounge, away from the hectic gates. I was impressed at how often the staff replenished the food and cleared away plates. I'd only ever been in an airline lounge once before- when I'd flown Cathay Pacific business class (using points) in Taipei in 2010. I enjoyed my experience, but not enough that I'd want to pay money for the privilege.
Eventually, I headed down to the gate to board my Air New Zealand flight. There weren't enough seats in the area so I just camped out on the floor- quite the difference from the relative luxury of the lounge, but I was fine with it. I was excited to finally board- it's always amazing to me to walk through the jet bridge onto an airplane, knowing that when I leave the vehicle I'd be in an entirely different part of the world.
I may not have won the privilege to pay to have a row of 3 seats to myself, but at least there was an empty middle seat in my row. One of the neat things about the Air New Zealand seatback video system was that it would display pop-ups with useful information such as the meal choices or warnings that they'd be dimming the cabin lights. One time I saw an alert that a belt had been left in the bathroom. Speaking of the bathrooms, they had really neat black and white wallpaper with a design like a bookshelf. Alas I never took my phone with me so I wasn't able to capture a photo.
The seatback video system also had a Food and Drink option that I'd been eager to try as I'd read that you could use it to select a snack or beverage to be delivered to your seat. Disappointingly, this menu option always displayed an "Unavailable" message whenever I checked on both this flight as well as the flight home.
During the flight, I watched the movie "Mamma Mia 2" which was a lot of fun. I chose the pasta with beef sauce as my meal, and continued to watch as I ate. After the movie was done, they dimmed the cabin lights, I took an anti-anxiety pill (because it makes me drowsy), and donned my mask and ear plugs. At that point, there were 11-12 hours left in the flight. The next time I checked, there were 4 hours left. When I finally awoke and the cabin lights were back on, there were only 2 hours left. Yeah, I cope pretty well with super long flights.
Soon after I got up, breakfast was served and I selected the cheese omelet. I was dying of thirst and it seemed to take forever for the beverage cart to catch up. Once it finally arrived, I asked for 2 waters... and immediately downed one of them.
I put on the cast recording of "Come From Away" and thought of my recent, wonderful trip to Gander. It was comforting to think of my friends as well as the fabulous time I'd had. I hadn't planned much for my arrival day but figured I'd work in a quick nap eventually so I wouldn't fall over at the theatre. I savored the possibilities that lied ahead and the feeling of freedom to craft my adventures. I was ready to turn my dreams into reality.
Due to the magic of the International Date Line, Black Friday didn't exisit for me in 2019...
As we landed, I looked outside the window, eager for my first sight of New Zealand. I wanted it to look amazing and welcoming. Instead, once we descended below the clouds, I just saw a miserable, dreary rainy day that could have been anywhere in the world.
Before you even go through customs at Auckland International Airport, you need to pass through a huge duty free store. According to my research, you could buy a SIM card for your phone here without having to pay tax. They were having a special on the 10 Gig card which was on sale for NZD 51 (US $35) instead of NZD 86. It was too good a deal to resist. Making the purchase was a quick, easy process- and I was glad that I'd have more than enough connectivity for the trip at a much cheaper rate than using my US provider's international coverage.
Customs was almost a joke. All I needed to do was scan my passport and I was officially in New Zealand! Actually, I almost got in a line that was meant for countries without a scannable passport because upon entering any foreign country, my reflex is to follow the sign for "All other countries."
By the time I arrived at the baggage carousel, my bag was waiting for me. I exited to the main hall, pausing to take a photo of a statue that had intrigued me- turns out it's from Lord of the Rings although I didn't realize it. I was relieved to have no problems using the ATM to withdraw the equivalent of US $136. Still a bit thirsty, I stopped at a kiosk to buy a Berry Powerade Zero. I also picked up a Kinder Egg because I could- these are great little chocolate eggs with toys inside; the ones in other countries are much better than the ones they have in the US.
To get to my hotel, I'd reserved a Super Shuttle, which is a service offering shared rides. It was really easy to find where to pick it up. The van was full but fortunately I was sitting in the front. There were a few stops before my hotel but I was in no hurry. I was really glad I'd booked a door-to-door service so I wouldn't need to walk in the rain from a bus stop.
Not surprisingly, since it was around 7am, my hotel room wasn't ready. My original plan had been to wander around the nearby Auckland waterfront. However, it was raining steadily so it wasn't ideal to be outdoors. Since it was still too early for any stores or attractions to be open, I asked the man at the front desk for suggestions and he said I could sit upstairs by the restaurant. I was drawn to a bright red sofa, where I made myself comfortable as I watched the rain drip down on the clear atrium ceiling.
The room was colorful and quirky and I would surely have appreciated it more if I hadn't felt so frustrated and depressed at having to spend my first moments in New Zealand there by myself instead of out exploring. To make matters worse, I was eventually (politely) evicted from my sofa because it was needed for a large party. The group who had usurped my sofa appeared to be some kind of photography tour and I yearned to be a part of them.
But instead, I continued to watch the rain and I wondered if my whole trip would be that wet. I'd held so many hopes for enjoying the beautiful scenery, and I worried that my dreams would all be for naught. While some of my outdoor plans would be miserable in this kind of weather, others could probably be canceled altogether. Everyone I knew who'd been to New Zealand had posted such fabulous photos of the landscape- how cruel would it be to spend so much money and travel so far not to have an opportunity to do likewise. I wished I was back home snuggling with my furricanes. I posted on social media and my friends were empathetic and encouraging. But I still felt quite disheartened.
At about 10am, after almost 3 hours alone with my thoughts of doom, I noticed that the rain was finally letting up. It seemed safe to venture out and at least check out some of the nearby stores. I was staying just off Queen Street, one of the main streets downtown and it turned out that many of its sidewalks were under cover. My first stop was the Sanrio store which was only a couple blocks away. I didn't buy anything, but it really cheered me up to see all the cute Hello Kitty merchandise.
To further improve my mood, I went to a nearby cat cafe. Felines are sure to fill my heart with joy, and these were no exception. Even though they didn't provide any of the purrs or snuggles that I most craved, I absolutely adored being around them. This was the first cat cafe I'd been to which provided complimentary laser pointers and I had a lot of fun using one to play with one of the calicos. I wish I'd been in town on a Monday evening because they offer cat yoga then- that would be so much fun!
As a bonus to my experience in the cat cafe, I ordered an Oreo Marshmallow cookie that was out-of-this-world delicious. Chocolate and cats are both things that are guaranteed to make any day better. It still might rain and ruin all of my fun plans- but now that I was able to actually do things, I just wanted to take each moment as it came. I left the cat cafe after around an hour feeling much better than when I'd entered.
I walked around the waterfront a bit and made a point to get my bearings for where I'd need to go to catch a ferry the next morning. The rain started to intensify again, so I popped back to my hotel at about noon to check if my room was ready yet. When they told me it was indeed ready, I asked why they hadn't emailed me a notification like they'd promised. They said that it had only been ready for about 15 minutes. I'm glad I checked instead of walking around killing time in the soggy weather.
I'd chosen this hotel as much for its colorful decor as for its excellent location. I felt immediately comfortable in the room and particularly enjoyed the elegance and whimsy of the black polka dotted bathroom. I'd splurged a bit for the first stop of my trip, and I was pleased with my choice.
After settling in and taking the obligatory hotel room photos, I took about a 2 hour nap which felt fabulous- and was yet another means by which my initial crankiness was soothed. When I woke up, I wasn't quite sure where I was… it took a few moments for me to remember that I was in New Zealand. You'd think that sensation would happen to me quite often in my travels but it's pretty rare, at least to the extent it lasted that afternoon. Usually I'm confident in my surroundings by the time I'm cognizant enough to realize that I'm awake.
Taking a shower helped me feel refreshed. After blow drying my hair a bit, I used Google maps to scope out a grocery store where I went to buy some basic supplies such as bottled water, Coke Zero, and some all-important local candy bars that you can't find around here. In addition to local Cadbury brands such as Pinky and Crunchie, I couldn't resist the Chunky Choc Fudge Sundae Kit Kat! My jaw dropped at the sight of extra large 100g Kinder eggs but I didn't buy any because there's no way they'd pack well.
After dropping my grocery haul off in the hotel room, I headed out to explore. Miraculously, the sun was shining which made the city seem so much more appealing. I walked up Queen Street, enjoying discovering details such as Christmas displays. I was particularly taken with a giant purple ornament which I'd caught sight of earlier; it was so me.
Realizing that I hadn't had a proper meal since about 4am local time, which had been over 12 hours earlier, I had to resist the temptation to wander so I could focus on getting some nourishment. I was in the mood for Italian food and, thanks to Google maps, I found a cute little restaurant which had red checkered tablecloths. It was really quiet there since it was quite early for dinner, and it was a delightful place to eat my first New Zealand meal. I ordered my standard go-to meal of Spaghetti Bolognese and couldn't resist adding a bowl of Pumpkin Soup. Both of my selections were very tasty. I also had a Diet Coke for a burst of caffeine.
Feeling much more energetic after my dinner, I wandered around a little and lingered a bit at the nearby Aotea Square. I marveled at the Waharoa Arch, a whimsical and colorful sculpture by a Maori artist. Nearby was a theatre where the lavish Disney musical, Aladdin, would soon be opening. And just a bit further off was the Q Theater where I picked up my ticket for that evening's performance of "Here Lies Love."
Next to the theatre was Daiso, a Japanese version of the dollar store which had provided Julia and me with much amusement during our 2015 trip to Japan. I had to go in and roam around for old time's sake. I noted with bittersweet regret that there were some items which would make for fun gag gifts… if only that was still a thing that we did.
As I still had an hour and a half before the performance, I decided to visit nearby Albert Park. I didn't want to exert myself too much lest I crash during the show, but I enjoyed a nice stroll. I got a huge kick out of seeing flowers blooming in the Southern Hemisphere spring… a welcome change from the winter storm a week prior to my trip that had rudely signaled the start of winter back home. There was even a floral clock, which had apparently been created in 1953 in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's first visit to New Zealand. It wasn't functioning when I was there and I'm not sure if the clock hands were removed permanently or if they were just under restoration. But it was still nice to see.
At several points during my walk, I caught sight of the Sky Tower in the distance and I'd invariably stop to take a photo. My attempts to take a selfie with it in the backdrop were not the most successful, but it was fun to try.
On my way back to the theatre, I passed by a Burger King that had a sign advertising molten lava cake. I never actually tried it but I was impressed that Kiwi Burger Kings seemed to be at least more ambitious than the ones back home; and certainly that particular branch would have been more pleasant than the Last Resort Burger King that a friend and I regretfully visited because it was the only place open in downtown Hartford, CT on a Sunday.
Before the show, I couldn't resist trying a cake pop at the concession stand. Again, a more sophisticated dessert option than what I'm used to seeing at home. Apparently my American accent made "cake pop" sound like "dessert shot" to the gentleman at the stand but we got it sorted out with a laugh. I obviously chose a purple cake pop which was quite yummy.
Whenever I travel, I try to see shows if at all possible. Often there are few, if any, options and so I'll see whatever is playing even if it's not very interesting to me (reference "Love Never Dies" from my Australia 2011 trip). But this time I was excited to have the opportunity to see "Here Lies Love", a disco musical about Imelda Marcos which had an off Broadway run that had sounded exciting. My only hesitation about purchasing a ticket was wondering whether it would be a wise idea to be out late on my first day abroad. Ultimately, I decided that I should be fine as long as I managed to take a bit of a mid-afternoon nap.
The show was really… not what I had expected or hoped for. They had taken out all of the fun, interactive touches that I'd heard about in the NY production. They'd also removed any concept of plot; instead, it was performed as a song cycle with the numbers divided among 5 different women. It was entertaining but ultimately rather forgettable.
I was glad that the show was only 90 minutes, including intermission, so I wouldn't be out terribly late. I'd originally thought that I'd take a cab back to my hotel but I looked around and thought that it seemed fine to walk the 0.5 miles down Queen Street to my hotel. It felt nice to be out in the spring night air on a Saturday night, and I never felt a bit unsafe.
After getting ready for bed, I went to sleep at around 10:30. I looked forward to my first real full night's slumber in quite some time. Despite my disappointment with the show, my day had definitely ended up far more brightly than its rainy start. I felt cautiously hopeful that my journey would continue its upward trend.
My alarm was set for 8am but I woke up for good sometime after 7. Since I'd gone to sleep before 11, I felt very well rested. I looked outside bracing for the worst- it was overcast, but at least it wasn't raining. I was hopeful that I'd be able to proceed with my planned outdoor activities.
One of the nicest and unique touches in my hotel room was that the bathroom floor was heated- not as in "yikes, I'm walking on coals!" but just warm enough that my feet were happy on a cool-ish morning. I imagine that the floors would seem even more welcoming in winter. It's the little things that impress me.
For breakfast, I went down to the restaurant where I'd spent too much time the previous morning since the meal was included with my room. If I'd wanted to splurge, there were a la carte options available. But I'm not a big breakfast eater so I was satisfied with the complimentary breads, yogurt, and fruit.
I enjoyed spending a lazy morning in my room writing up some notes about the previous day, since I'd been too tired to do so before going to bed. This was one of the few opportunities I'd have to spend a morning idling so I wanted to take advantage of it. I'd intentionally not made plans too early on my first morning in New Zealand so that I'd have some time to relax and recover from the long journey. It was raining lightly so I didn't feel bad staying inside.
I didn't have to be anywhere until my 11am ferry to Waiheke Island, which is approximately a 45 minute trip from Auckland. This island first came on my radar when I saw some gorgeous social media posts by a former Les Mis actor who was traveling to New Zealand. My research revealed that it's known for its beaches and wineries but what really got my attention was a ziplining tour. I'd never been interested in doing a zipline in the past but I improbably found it an intriguing option to add to a trip that was all about challenging myself. I remember distinctly fighting through a tough workout while repeating "zip line" silently to myself, knowing I could reward my hard work by booking the excursion later that night.
While it seemed like a great idea in theory, as the designated time approached, I was growing quite nervous. I couldn't quite decide whether it would be a bad thing if the rain prevented me from trying this challenge; I thought that it might be a relief not to have the opportunity to chicken out. But, ultimately, some crazy part of me actually wanted to do the thing- so I hoped the weather would hold out.
I left plenty of time to pick up my ferry tickets which was good because apparently the zipline company had given me a bad reference number for the ferry. I'm not exactly sure how the issue got resolved because the ferry staff kept making calls from behind the ticket window as I stood outside awkwardly wondering what was going on. I felt calm because I had plenty of time, but I was also a bit anxious. Eventually, someone came out to tell me that everything was sorted out, much to my relief, and I queued up for the ferry.
There ended up being quite a long queue but, in spite of my delay, I was toward the front of the line. But there was plenty of room on the craft for everyone. After the ship pulled away from the pier, I realized that I'd have a great opportunity to photograph the Auckland skyline so I headed out on the deck. Another woman was also out there and after she asked me to take her photo, I naturally asked her to reciprocate. I was surprised that we were the only 2 people on deck. It was a little cool and windy out- but it was also a wonderful photo opportunity!
As we arrived at Waiheke Island, I eagerly looked outside. While it wasn't sunny out, the skies didn't indicate an imminent threat and the water was a nice shade of turquoise. As I walked off the pier, I immediately spotted someone with a sign indicating they were from the zipline company. So this whole ziplining thing was really going to happen.
I got in the van and met a nice young couple from India. En route to the site, we stopped in town and picked up a family of 4 who had their suitcases with them. The website says that they have groups of up to 12 on a session, but it was only the 7 of us for my group.
Once we arrived, we went into a room where 7 sets of gear were laid out on the floor- helmets and harnesses. That was when shit got real; Ziplining was no longer a fantasy to get me through a tough workout- it was actually going to happen. I donned my gear and listened carefully to instructions… with some definite trepidation. I debated taking my DSLR with me but I'm glad I ended up leaving it in my locker and just taking my cell phone which easily fit in my pocket. That way, I could focus more on the activity without worrying about my expensive equipment.
The setting was beautiful and lush with a body of water visible it the distance; it surely must be even more spectacular on clear, sunny days. I followed the group to the first of 3 ziplines- I'd read in reviews that they got increasingly long and the first was a way to ease people into it. Being able to start with a shorter option was one reason the tour had appealed to me. But actually looking at the lines dangling ahead of me, it didn't look as easy as it had sounded. The exact thought going through my head was "What the HELL did I get myself into?!?" Sure, I tried to maintain a confident swagger- but inside I was definitely questioning my life choices. I also knew that I had a lot riding on this activity- if my anxieties were greater than I'd anticipated, it might cause a domino effect of potential disappointments in the other challenges that lied ahead.
After taking a couple group photos, we took turns riding the zip lines. There were 2 parallel lines so we always went in pairs, after the first of the 2 instructors got to the other side and prepared to receive us. The 2 children from the family always wanted to go first, and the rest of us had absolutely no problems with that but the parents wanted to teach them that they needed to take turns so it varied. On the other hand, I always went last so I could be paired with the second of the two instructors since I was solo.
One group went across, then another... and another... and suddenly it was my turn. It seemed absolutely unreal that I was going to do this thing. It was insane to look out into the vista with the knowledge that I was going to willingly fling myself onto a line that would launch me through the air to a platform that seemed endlessly far away. Part of me wanted to turn back- and even a few years earlier, I think I might have panicked so much that I wouldn't have been able to do it. But somehow I convinced myself to sit down and learn forward…. and wow, I was dangling from a wire, drifting across a gorgeous vista… with my hair flying back in the wind…. and a big smile on my face. It was amazing! OK, I did feel just a tad motion sick… and I never managed to feel comfortable letting go of my arms (mostly because the one time I tried, I got twisted around and didn't like zooming backwards). But I mostly surrendered to the scenery and had FUN. After enjoying the first ride, the next two were much less nerve wracking.
Afterwards, we had a nice little nature walk through some of the bush that we'd seen from overhead. The guides discussed the flora and fauna, and we were able to try an edible leaf that was similar to basil. I felt like I was lagging behind the group a bit on the first section, which was downhill. But I was proud that I was able to keep up much better on the uphill stretches. However, I was getting super thirsty… and I felt like my clothes were really sticky due to the humidity. As soon as we got to the end of the walk, I bought a bottle of water as well as 2 of the souvenir photos: one of the group being silly (there was also a serious photo that was less fun), and another of myself just before the first zipline. I wished they offered photos or videos of the actual ziplining experience.
I felt that the zipline tour was well worth doing. It was a fun little adrenaline rush, and it felt good to succeed at venturing a bit outside my comfort zone. Relieved that my first challenge was behind me, I looked forward to spending the rest of the day wandering and enjoying my time as I hadn't made any other concrete plans.
I didn't take the van all the way back to the ferry terminal; instead, I asked to be dropped off in the center of Oneroa so I could explore the island a bit and also get something to eat. It was about 2pm by the time I was done with my experience and I was quite hungry. After allowing myself to get distracted by the serene shores of Oneroa Beach, while looked quite appealing during that brief period of sun, I set upon walking along the main street checking menus. I wasn't looking for anything in particular- just something that felt right.
Eventually, I stumbled upon a cute little organic crepe place that was perfect; it even had a cute name, "Little frog", which reminded me of one of my friends. It had a friendly and slightly artsy vibe that made me feel immediately comfortable walking up to the counter to place my order. The ham, egg and cheese crepe that I was served looked different than what I expected but it was very tasty. I also enjoyed a berry smoothie with bananas that was wonderfully refreshing despite not being as sweet as I was used to.
Rain started to come down in buckets so I lingered for well over an hour and a half. I was quite glad that I'd wandered down to the beach during the brief moment in the day when it had actually been sunny. Once the rain settled down, I finally left and walked back to the ferry. I would have liked to have had time to explore the island more and perhaps tried some hiking trails but the weather felt too unpredictable. In fact, it started to rain lightly during my one mile walk to the terminal. The walk was easy and mostly downhill, but- except for a detour I made through a park- it wasn't that interesting once I got beyond the small stretch of town; the most intriguing sight was a sign that said "Slow down you're here".
I made it to the small terminal in time for the 5:30 ferry. I started off sitting outside under a slight cover next to a guy with a dog. But once we started moving, it felt more prudent to venture inside because the the rain seemed to be coming down harder.
I'd seen a man playing bagpipes near the Auckland ferry terminal the previous day. He was there again. And if it wasn't surreal enough to be listening to a bagpipe player in the middle of New Zealand, this time he was playing the theme from Star Wars. That was definitely something you don't experience every day!
Once I was back in town, the rain had abated and I headed straight to a highly rated ice cream shop near my hotel that I'd been dying to try. I was not at all disappointed. It wasn't just the sweet treat that made the stop memorable; it was the fact that this shop treated ice cream like high art. You waited in line and then "consulted" with someone at the counter over your purchase. Some of the options were quite extra- you could even top your cone with chocolate in the shape of the Sky Tower! I just chose a boring waffle cone with "NZ Hokey Pokey" ice cream. For those unfamiliar with that flavor, which is a traditional offering in that part of the world, it's basically ice cream with honeycomb bites in it; I frequently order it both because I am amused by the name as well as liking the flavor...that's what it's all about! In this particular case, the ice cream was covered in a layer of chocolate and then with a single swirling line of honeycomb bits. I sat outside in front of the store to savor my beautiful and delicious ice cream cone.
When I was done with my treat, I headed back to the hotel for an evening of writing and getting stuff together. I had a very early morning the next day so I definitely wanted to get to bed early. There were certainly more things to do in the city, but most of them wouldn't have been open at 7pm on a Sunday and I felt satisfied that I'd covered my top priorities. After a very depressing start, my time in Auckland had been a great start to my journey- I'd dabbled in both adventure and culture while also enjoying some leisurely exploration.