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.