Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Day Exploring Auckland...Sort Of.

Today was spent (for the most part) on the Kiwi Experience free day bus trip to explore Auckland, which was more of a thinly-veiled advertisement and recruitment for the Kiwi Experience tours that run all over New Zealand. Our guide's name was Dave, or as he informed us, the nickname assigned to him within the Kiwi Experience staff team is "Cuddles". I got a cuddle out of him at the end of the day. :-P

Sadly the weather deigned not to cooperate... it was raining and misty and cloudy and cold and windy! Gee, it felt just like I was back at home on the island. We headed out to the Auckland Harbour Bridge Bungy Jump. No, we were not required to jump, but instead got to harness ourselves up into safety belts with leads to clip onto a safety guideline, and sport very stylish hardhats (as part of the bridge is currently a construction zone), and walk out under the bridge and up into the bungy jumping "pod" to watch other brave souls throw themselves down the 14m to the Pacific Ocean below. The bungy ropes had just enough stretch that the jumper would end up going into the water just past their shoulders... don't forget to put your hands out in front to break the impact for your head!

One of the bungy operators, Leighton, asked where we were all from, and when I said I was from Canada he inquired as to where exactly. Turns out he lived in Whistler for a year, and spent time in Victoria and Nanaimo, as well as having a "mate" whose father has a home in Ladysmith that he says he wants to go visit again sometime! It is amazing, the farther away one goes from home, the more people one meets from home. On the bus ride out to the bungy bridge we were talking about how the whole world is separated by six degrees. From Leighton to his mate to his mate's dad to perhaps someone in Ladysmith who knows the dad and Irwin Tollefson, to me... I could see it.

After trekking back along the bridge underside, we clambered back on the bus and headed over across the bridge (I am still not used to traffic driving on the left) and into Devonport, a "quite cute" (Dave's words) area of Auckland across the harbour from the Central Business District that contains many older buildings (like Victoria, "older" in New Zealand lingo generally means things from the late 1800s or early 1900s). We were given an hour to go out and have lunch, and Mille and I (she is from Denmark) went to a fish and chips joint. The rest of the crew (Wendy, Julia, Jacob, and Bodil) eventually joined us there, and we all chatted together about the similarities and differences between our countries in their school systems (Secondary School vs. Gymnasium, etc.), and their similarities when it comes to top 40 radio. It is somewhat amusing (but also saddening) that most of the music I hear being piped into buildings and playing on the radio here in New Zealand is the same as it would be back home in Canada. There apparently are some songs in each country in its native language that do very well on the charts, but the number one hits around the world do indeed seem to be overwhelmingly in English.

After lunch the bus headed up Mount Victoria, an extinct volcano that overlooks Waitemata Harbour on the north shore of Auckland. Coming from BC, it is rather amusing to hear what is essentially an overgrown hill 87 metres tall being referred to as a "mountain". Mount Victoria does have some interesting history, however: it has a Breech Loading Mark VII disappearing gun at its summit, built and installed to defend Auckland against the rumoured Russian invasions of the 1880s. Dave informed us that the gun was only fired once, in 1953, when Queen Elizabeth arrived in Auckand on the S. S. Gothic, and the force of the gun's explosion was so great it shattered several dozen windows in Devonport below. The mountain also has bunkers dug under and into the hill, whose ventilation domes are capped and painted red with white spots, looking uncannily like the mushrooms from Super Mario. Combined with the bright green lawn in which they are situated, the whole thing kind of looks like the setting of a giant video game!

I imagine the view from Mount Victoria can be rather spectacular on a clear day, but alas, the weather was not cooperating... we saw a whole lot of grey, and felt a whole lot of wind and splatters of rain instead. We got back on the bus and Dave drove us back into the Central Business District of Auckland, thus ending our tour. From there we headed on over to the KiwiBank to pick up our EFT-POS (debit) cards and ensure our new bank accounts had been activated. I deposited $40 in mine... I now have a working NZ bank account! Very cool.

After the bank, Wendy, Julia, and I went to Kathmandu (kind of like a MEC) where Wendy bought a tent and sleeping bag and air mattresses, and I bought a compression sack for my sleeping bag (it's taking up far too much room in my hiking backpack). Then I went over to the IEP office and spoke to Simon about booking myself onto one of the Stray Adventures tours of New Zealand. Today was the last day of a promotion, so I was able to get what would normally be a $1 559 tour for $768 (about $608 CDN). Yahoo! I leave on Monday to go explore the northern part of the North Island, and then later on in October will head south to galavant around the rest of the North Island and also head down to the South Island.

Dinner I managed to scam (mostly) for free in the the Globe Bar next door... there was free pizza at 7:30 for those who bought a drink, so a rum and coke in hand I was able to delight in a pizza with bacon and potato wedges(!) on top. Well, it was free, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth I say. The fun promotion at the bar that night was games of Bingo to win prizes, including 10 free nights at a Base Hostel, tickets to a rugby game, and five free drinks. Bodil won the first game of Bingo, and she was very generous and shared her five free drinks with others including myself. So another rum and coke for me... mmm. Pizza and spirits, quite the typical twenty-somethings dinner on a night out to the bar.

Off to bed now... I'm not sure exactly what I will be doing tomorrow. I have three days left in Auckland before I leave on this adventure to the north, so I will definitely be taking in the art gallery, and weather permitting, I may do a boat cruise as well.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Orientation Day!

Today myself and my fellow IEP Work New Zealand members had our orientation meeting at the IEP office across the street from the hostel. The presentation was started by a guy named Mike from Canada (!), so I knew right away I was going to have a good time. The orientation was quite informative, starting with an introduction to New Zealand, then information on how to apply for a tax number and open a bank account, then different ways of getting around and seeing the country, and finally a breakdown of the different regions of New Zealand and what sort of work we could expect to find in each of them. The problem with all this new information is many of us went out even more unsure of what we wanted to do than when we went in, now that there are so many more options open to us!

After the orientation most of us (seven) went down to KiwiBank to open accounts, and fairly swamped one teller (they ended up sending out a managerial type to deal with all of our applications and told us to come back tomorrow, when they would have all of our accounts ready). Then it was back to the IEP office for me to pick up a BBH card (to get discounts in hostels) and a WWOOF membership (so I can work for accommodation on organic farms across New Zealand). After that Wendy and Julia and I headed off in search of a late lunch (we settled for pitas, as Julia is a vegetarian).

I also bought a mobile phone today... supposedly a good thing to have if you are looking for a job, so potential employers can actually contact you. It's not the cheapest thing in the world, however, so the best way to contact me is still through e-mail.

It is interesting to be interacting with people from different parts of the world... and humbling that they are all able to converse with me in English, and I cannot return the favour by speaking any German or Dutch or Danish back. It is also highly amusing when they accidentally speak German or Dutch to me, and I give them this confused look until we both realise what has just happened. :-)

I am going to see if I can extend my stay here at ACB Hostel for another two nights... tomorrow I am going on a day-long tour of Auckland, and I would also like to visit the museum before I leave. As one of the orientation presenters said today, "There is more to Auckland than Queen Street!" (which admittedly, is all I have really seen so far). I also want to take a cruise over to one of the islands from the harbour... apparently this is something not to be missed!


Monday, September 27, 2010

An Afternoon Walking Sleep-Deprived Around Downtown Auckland

I managed to fritter away the time this morning until 1:00pm reading my Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand (my eyes crossed a lot... I am tired!). Then I checked in and was assigned to Room 206, bed B. When I entered room 206 I saw three bunk beds; two with stuff all over them and one without. The beds aren't labeled in any way, so I threw my stuff on the top bunk of the empty bed and started making myself at home. About twenty minutes later the door opened, and in walked Wendy from The Netherlands and Julia from Germany, also both doing the IEP program, and also as confused as I was as to the bed arrangements (they took the remaining empty beds). I thought my 14-hour direct flight from Vancouver was bad... Wendy left from Düsseldorf and spent about 32 hours in transit! Ugh. They went off and had a smoke, then went in search of the showers.

I headed out to explore in a few block radius around ACB. I walked up onto the University of Auckland grounds (which were crawling with the "graduands" from the street parade this morning as they call them and their proud parents), then headed down toward the waterfront. I found a park where the trees are so old and sprawling that they have put metal posts under some of the trunk-branches to support their weight... it is in the same "preserve nature!" mindset as those signs along Shelbourne Street in Victoria that say something to the effect of "Low branches - trucks keep left".

As I walked along Princes Wharf I was approached by two very nice young men raising money for the NZ Para-Olympics team (although they didn't bother me for any money after finding out I was from Canada).  I took pictures of the ocean (the water has that tropical light blue hue to it) and found what appear to be old tram or narrow-gauge railway tracks of some kind (HA, yes, it took me all of forty minutes out walking in Auckland to find something train-related).

Then I went into a mall near the waterfront and discovered the New Zealand version of Wal-Mart: it's called The Warehouse, and is every bit as lacking in soul as its Sam Walton doppelgänger.  I bought shampoo and conditioner (so now I, too, can have a shower and wash all that yucky airplane stench off myself), then went downstairs to an electronics store and bought an adapter for my camera battery charger so it will fit into the NZ electrical outlets.

One thing about NZ that reminds me a little of Prince George (yes, PG!): Prince George has some crosswalks where the pedestrians can cross diagonally instead of at right angles. Well, Auckland has the same thing: all traffic stops in the intersection, and the pedestrians just run pell-mell from all sides, crossing to wherever they need to go. It's quite the spectacle to behold.

My dinner of salad and ginger beer is finished (my stomach still hasn't quite recovered from the airplane), and now I am in search of a shower. Then it is off to bed... I don't care that it is only 5:13pm here, I am in desperate need of sleep!


Kia Ora from Aotearoa!

September 28th, 9:15am

I have arrived in Auckland, New Zealand! My first impressions: those verdant green hills from 'The Lord of the Rings', topped with those bush-like trees, are real! I saw the greenness as the plane landed in the early New Zealand dawn this morning, and I saw the hills from the Airport Express bus that I took to downtown Auckland.

A word of explanation about the blog's title: Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand, usually translated as Land of the Long White Cloud. Kia Ora literally means "be well / healthy", but more informally means "hi!".

New Zealand is highly vigilant about biosecurity… on my declaration form I admitted to having visited a forest in the last 30 days (kind of hard not to, what with a) living in BC, b) living on Mt. Tzouhalem, and c) working at the BC Forest Discovery Centre), and seeing as I was wearing my hiking boots that I wear in the forest I had to go through a special decontamination where I squished up and down on this mat containing an antiseptic agent to kill and seeds or parasites I might have inadvertently brought with me. I also got to watch dogs at the airport sniff out everything from apples to cookies to dried fish that people bring back with them and "forget" to declare. Considering there is a minimum $400 fine for such behaviour, it's not really worth the risk.

Right now it is just after 9 in the morning (after 12 in the afternoon BC time), and I haven't properly slept since Saturday night BC time… sleeping on the plane wasn't a possibility because of my being located in a centre seat, with a three-year-old behind me who insisted on kicking the back of my chair for the majority of the flight (when he wasn't talking at the top of his lungs, trying to count and routinely forgetting the number seven). Right now I am in the lounge of the Auckland Central Backpackers, seeing as I have to wait until 1pm to check in. I would love to take a nap right now, but was advised against it because it makes it harder to adapt to the new time zone.

Perhaps I will muster up some courage and go explore around the neighbourhood here in Auckland. This is a pretty busy thoroughfare: ACB is located on Queens and Darby, and if I didn't know better looking out here from my third-floor vantage point I would think I was looking down on a street in Vancouver or Victoria (the main giveaway being the traffic driving on the wrong side of the road!).

Then again, perhaps not… I just looked out the window, and there is a PARADE going on outside! It started with bagpipes, and now I think the entire graduating class of Auckland University is marching down the centre of the street!  Tourists are taking photos, photographers are running in and out of the graduates (some of whom are wearing wreaths of flowers in their hair), and what I can only presume to be a mascot, and can only guess to be a sloth-like creature, is waddling down the street next to them. And thankfully I know I am not hallucinating from a lack of sleep because a) I look pictures with my camera and b) two people beside me from England have been watching and looking at them with me. 

My wifi has nearly run out, so I'm off to explore. It's going to be hard to top that parade, but I'll see what else I can find here on Auckland's sunny streets.