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.