Excursion Down Under- part I
Excursion Down under April 2014
Wed. Mar. 26th, 2014- Bonita Springs, Florida
We were up at 3:30 A.M to make final preparations for leaving. Our 4 A.M. taxi arrived promptly and we were off for the Southwest Florida International Airport. It was only 5 A.M. but there were already a goodly amount of people walking the airport concourses. We checked our bags into the U.S. Air counter and walked through the security gates without incident.
A brief two-hour hop brought us into the Charlotte N.C. International airport for a plane switch. The Charlotte to Los Angeles run took us five and one half hours, but passed easily enough. We arrived just after noon, PST and picked up a shuttle to a nearby Travel Lodge Hotel. We were tiring with the day ad a nap soon claimed us. Early evening found us in a Denny’s next door to the hotel. The Tilapia rancheros were pretty good.
Toonies (vodka rocks) hit the spot after dinner as we settled in to read .I finished “Innocence Lost” by R.L. Patterson and we retired early.
Thurs. March 27th, 2014 Los Angeles, California.
We were up at 5 A.M. out of sorts with the three-hour time zone change. It was 48 degrees (14 C) and cool out side. We had a pleasant breakfast in the hotel and lolled all morning, steeling ourselves for the 13-hour flight this evening.
The hotel van ferried us to LAX at 6:00 P.M. We checked in with New Zealand Air and made our way through the elaborate security screening which featured both electronic scans and pat downs. We engaged a charming young Canadian girl in conversation. Brynne Clark, from Allison Ontario. Like most conversations with strangers, we discovered a connection. Brynne lived in the small Ontario, Canada Town of Allison, just north of Toronto. She had worked in the Country club where several of our friends in our Spring Run complex, in Florida lived. She was headed for a six-month stint on the same ship we were traveling on, The Dawn Princess,
The flight off lifted at 10:00 P.M. and we settled in for the 12 and ½ hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand. I was rereading James Michener’s classic “Hawaii.” The parallels between the early migrations of Pacific islanders and the later societal onslaught of Protestant ministers in Hawaii and a similar settlement period by Anglican ministers in New Zealand are of historical interest.
During these marathon flights, all you can do is read, watch movies and do whatever you can to pass away the long tedious hours. The effects on a body “over 30” are debilitating.
I remember walking down the plane’s aisle late in the early morning hours. Rows of hundreds of sleeping passengers swayed with the motions of the plane. It was eerie. It reminded me of a scene from the Robin Williams/ Robert De Niro classic “Awakenings.”
Like all arduous journeys, it passed soon enough. We landed in the Auckland New Zealand airport at 6:35 A.M. local time, some fourteen hours difference in time zones from the east coast of the U.S.
Security and customs were perfunctory. We collected our bags and found a joint taxi outside. It was damp, cool and in the 6o’s out.
We talked with a local resident in the cab and traded cultural differences between us. The homes here abouts are very expensive. Gasoline is also almost double what it costs in the U.S.
The cab deposited us at the “Sky City Grand” in the downtown area of Auckland. We were beat. The hotel graciously made the room available to us and we settled into our 17th floor aerie to get some sleep. Somewhere along the way, the international dateline had taken Friday from us. It was now Saturday morning in New Zealand.
I always find it a surreal experience to be out and about when most of the people you know are sleeping many time zones away.
Friday/Saturday, March 29th- Auckland, New Zealand
It was 1:00 P.M on the afternoon of our arrival. The temp was 73 F and sunny outside. We set off to see what we could see. Queen Street is the main arterial in the area. It is lined with shops, fast food joints and all manner of emporiums. The traffic here on a weekend is a river of pedestrians flowing from the nearby colleges and the ferry terminals a mile or so towards the waterfront. We drifted with the people current enjoying the swirl of different accents and languages about us. People watching everywhere is always fascinating.
We reversed course at the waterfront and headed back across Queen. We came across an old-fashioned labor rally. Complete with placards and bullhorns the group was protesting some inter island pact, which they thought threatened their jobs. It was interesting for me to watch. As a child of the 1960’s, I had seen rallies like this many times.
A small park nearby featured several teams playing basketball. We admired a large, carved, wooden Maori archway that led into the park. A local Glengarry wine shop provided us with spirits for later. We found the old Federal Diner nearby and stopped in for a late lunch. It is a replica of a 1940’s Jewish delicatessen in New York City, with stools, pastrami sandwich specials and waitresses dressed up in garb from that era. I had a bagel and lox combination. Mary had the chicken salad. Both were delicious. WE both chuckled at the engraved plaque attesting to the fact that many vegetarians had been lured back tot the path of the carnivore by the Federal’s pastrami sandwiches.
We walked the streets surrounding the hotel and enjoyed the great 19th century architecture. A huge gambling casino sits in the Sky City Hotel across the street from our place. A nearby Gloria Jean’s served up great cappuccinos and blueberry muffins.
Later in the day, we found a delightful complex of restaurants in an old stable. It was appropriately called Elliot’s Stables. We bought some sushi there. The day was long and we were tired. We headed back to our 17th floor aerie, to sip some wine and read ourselves to sleep. The sandman came early.
Sunday, March 30th- Auckland, New Zealand.
A “Great Sights” tour bus picked us up at the hotel at 9 A.M. for a brief city tour of Auckland. As always, we listened to the tour guide as we viewed the sights around us. He said that New Zealand is the size of Japan or the United Kingdom. Wellington is its capital. The 4 & ½ million residents are spread amidst the North and South Island with about 1/3 of that number residing in the Auckland area. The city of Auckland stretches some 51 miles out into the ocean to encompass some of the fifty surrounding and populated islands.
The bus carried us over the attractive Bay Bridge to the North shore of Auckland. The driver explained that the bridge had been built in the 1950’s and soon found its four lanes to be inadequate. Some enterprising Japanese engineers had found a way to canteliever two additional lanes onto each side of the bridge, much expanding its capacity.
We passed through the strip joints and nightclubs of the Karangahare Rd. district and into the fashionable shopping area of Posonby Rd., admiring the shops and energetic commerce there. The driver further explained the Auckland sits atop some 50 dormant volcanoes. Some also call it the “shaky Isles” because it experiences over 16,000 earthquakes every year above factor one on the Richter scale.
The country sits along the Pacific “ring of fire” and lies on an “upward plate.” A huge quake in 2011 virtually leveled downtown Wellington with much loss of life. They are still rebuilding the area. You can see the dark basalt of lava flows just off shore during low tide, denoting the islands volcanic past.
The tour continued past the commercial harbor area. Auckland is a seaport with enormous amounts of freight traffic passing through it. New Zealand exports huge amounts of lumber and coal to China. Fruits, vegetables, wines and wool also find their way to Asian and world markets. It imports only fuel and machinery.
Condos along the water are without number. The Via duct district was but one of many that we passed. All carry with them a price tag in the $ 600,000 range. We passed through beautiful Albert Park in the University of Auckland area. The Lingham hotel here is a favorite of Bill Clinton. Then we passed along and stopped at the busy and upscale Parnell Rd. shopping area. W browsed the shops and the art galleries along the avenue and stopped for cappuccino in one of the cafes. We were still having trouble how to order a “cup of coffee” here. Most coffee is brewed individually by cup and sold “white”(with milk) or “black”(without).But you also have to specify “short or long to denote how much espresso is used. Sometimes we just gave in and had tea.
Later we drove through Domain Park. A scenic creek runs through groves of willows and gum trees in a bucolic setting that attracts picnickers and strollers every weekend. The war museum here is a three story classic edifice sitting astride a hill and looking very imposing. One floor is dedicated to native history another to local sciences and a third to the history of the New Zealand and Australian armed forces.
It was sunny and a gorgeous 73 degrees out, nice for an early Fall day. We were traversing the waterfront highway and enjoying the sights and scenery here near the Kelly Tarelton ‘s sea aquarium. Several tunnels from an old municipal sewage system had been converted into a walk through aquarium here at water’s edge.
We got off the bus at the ferry station and walked along the waterfront area, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. Throngs of Aucklanders were sitting in the many cafes and waterfront restaurants on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, We strolled the length of the promenade entering and enjoying the busy fish market here. Every café was SRO so we kept walking. The small pedestrian bridge across a canal here was stuck so we and hundreds of others had to walk a mile or so around the harbor to get back to the ferry terminal. It worked out well for us. We found the Viaduct restaurant and settled in for some very good fish and chips.
The day was waning and we were tiring so we walked again along Queen Street marveling at all of the busy throngs of people here. Backpackers, grifters, college students, weekend visitors all mingled in a noisy, peopled throng. It is always nice to see such activity in any urban center.
We made it back to the Sky City Grand where we settled win with a “Toonie” (vodka rocks.) I wrote up my notes. We read our books and faded into the arms of Morpheus, glad we had this way come.