Today was a well-deserved sleep-in until 8:00am (you know you're an adult when 8:00 can be considered sleeping in, sigh). I checked out of the Pipi Patch, left my luggage in storage, and had a breakfast of bread and cheese while I perused printouts about the rail lines in New Zealand that Peter Lofthouse was kind enough to leave for me at the museum before I left. I am definitely going to visit two or three of them as I travel the country.
After breakfast I headed off on a walk to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where on February 6th, 1840, representatives of the British crown met with Maori chiefs, signing a sovereignty settlement presented by William Hobson that made New Zealand a nominal British Colony. Admission to the site and treaty house is $25 for non-Kiwis, but walking around the perimeter of the grounds is free of charge, so I did so, and took a few photos of the flagpole that marks the point where the treaty was signed. It was a beautiful sunny day with partial cloud, and the ocean was a pale aqua colour near the shores; it looked like a tourist postcard, and made it easy to see why this is such a popular tourist destination in the summer months.
After a visit to the grocery store to buy fruit and veggies (ha, my KiwiBank EFT-POS card worked! I felt positively like a resident), I headed back to the hostel where the Stray bus was waiting to take myself and seven other travellers back to Auckland. The four-hour drive was entertaining, due to our driver (nicknamed "Gollum")'s questionable taste in music (his iPod played everything from U2 to Abba to Katy Perry to Nickelback) and the good conversation between my fellow travellers.
We stopped briefly at the Whangarei Falls and took the short trail walk down to the bottom to see the water crash the 26m over basalt rocks to their base. The area has been preserved as a public domain since the 1940s, and is a popular park and picnic area. (Don't worry, Aimee, I took lots of pictures, and you can read up about the falls at this website. http://www.wdc.govt.nz/customerservice/?lc=links&id=915 ) While we were there I noticed a family having lunch at the base of the falls, and a wheelchair off to the left-hand side, which perplexed me somewhat - the trail I had come down had stairs and was awfully steep! All my far-flung theories of how it got there, however, were dashed when I went up the other side of the falls and discovered that path consisted of a gentle slope with many switch backs.
From there it was crawling traffic into Auckland (except for those few moments where we found a bus lane, and waved gleefully to the lines of stagnant cars as we whizzed past them). I arrived back at the Base ACB hostel and checked in, only to discover that their internet is down once again, so now I am at the Auckland Public Library making use of their free wifi to type up this post. However, this must be the end because the library is closing in ten minutes and I am about to be kicked out. Hopefully ACB will get their internet working again and I'll be able to plan my next few days out... it's amazing how much we rely on the internet these days to plan and book things, and how lost we feel when it disappears.