I'll just start typing about today, and we'll see how far I get before my parents and I get called for our final boarding call.
My mum had her sights set on going to the Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter museum in Auckland this morning, to the point where she had me book our admission passes online so we could get at 10% discount. What she didn't count on the 70 000 runners participating in the 39th annual Round the Bays run down on the same street the museum was located on! Actually, it was something of a perfect storm; the Antarctic centre could only be reached by Tamaki Drive, which was blocked off for the run, and the surrounding area had no roads whatsoever, as it was a scenic mountain reserve connected with a Maori Marae. Despite being armed with my computer accessing Googlemaps, and my dad's generally highly accurate sense of direction, we were unable to find a way down and around Auckland's twisty streets. We parked on top of the mountain, walked down over the grass, and tried for several fruitless minutes to wade through the tide of humanity walking/jogging/running down the road. By this point my dad was starting to say things like "We likely won't make it to Piha Beach now", and I was getting closer and closer to screaming in frustration and anger. I didn't want to go to this Antarctic thing anyway, and if it meant I was going to miss Piha, where I had wanted to go to since I first arrived in New Zealand... aaaagh!
We eventually gave up, hiked back up the hill, and using my computer once again plotted a route to Piha Beach. And thank goodness we had my computer, because without the route it plotted there is no way my dad and I would have figured out how to get there; the signage was all but non-existent, and one intersection wasn't even marked from the angle from which we approached it! Add on top of that your typical windy, narrow, densely-forested New Zealand highway, combined with my dad's slightly-too-fast and not-quite-mastering-lane-tracking-for-being-on-the-left driving, and we had a highly interesting ride.
The plane is boarding now, so I will write more later.
[Update: now typing to you live from the BC Ferry!]
But finally, an hour and twelve minutes after we left, we had crossed the Waitakere Ranges and were walking barefoot across the volcanic black sands of Piha Beach. The beach itself is majestic; smooth black sand, rolling surf, and dominated by a massive volcanic rock mountain called Lion Rock (or Te Piha in Maori, which means "bow wave", the waves hitting the front of a waka [canoe]). We climbed up the side of Lion Rock (as far as we were allowed!) for the magnificent view... and then as we came down observed a group of French people climbing up past the barrier and beyond to the very top of the rock. I certainly hope they got down safely, as the sign warned of loose and falling debris (and indeed we observed a large slip on the other side).
Piha Beach, while beautiful, is also deadly; there are many dangerous rips, and swimming is only permitted in a narrow strip of beach between two flags where the lifeguards are on duty. The danger doesn't stop it from being a popular surfing hangout however; there was a crowd of surfers out catchin' the waves, and noobies coming out for a lesson from the Piha Surf School. There was a sizeable crowd of families down at the water as well; I figured any Auckland family that wasn't participating in the Round the Bays run had escaped town and come out to the beach for the day!
Even though our cat is named after Piha beach (her former owners being from Auckland, and obviously enchanted with the beach's beauty), I don't think Piha herself would be very happy there; she wouldn't like the salt water, the noise of pounding surf, or the many eager dogs running down the sand with their owners! After a semi-nutritious lunch of chips, crackers, cheese, and veggies (we were trying to eat through the remainder of our food supply), we made a brief stop to take a picture in front of the Piha Beach Fire Brigade Station, bought a souvenir window decoration (to commemorate our visit) from the local
Navigating back to the airport was easier than navigating to Piha - airports tend to be a little bit better marked than remote beaches - but my computer and Googlemaps still came in handy. Once at the airport, we managed to return our rental car and check in with minimal fuss: interestingly, the flight we were on (NZ84) was overbooked by the airline, and as such they were offering incentives to switch to an alternate flight: $500NZ off to fly instead to L.A. with a four-hour layover, and then connecting up to Vancouver. We turned them down; you could not pay me enough money to make me go through US Customs, particularly after a 13-hour flight.
While we were waiting upstairs in the terminal, eating our way through the last of the food we couldn't take through security, we started talking to the couple sitting across from us; turns out they live in Napier (near Maraenui, where Frank lives) and their daughter (whom they were seeing off today) lives and works in Nanaimo! Sometimes it's crazy how small the world can be.
Going through security we had a minor hiccough (we had forgotten to fill out departure cards), and I had a slightly more major one: I forgot that I had a water bottle in my backpack half full of water! The security guard was merciful, however, and said I could keep the bottle if I drank the contents of it in front of him as there was nowhere to dump it out. So there I was, by the x-ray machine, chugging my way through half of my stainless-steel water bottle's H2O. After carting it all around New Zealand, I wasn't about to loose it!
I'm not sure what was particularly exciting that I can say about the flight... the plane went up at 8:15pm, came back down at 1:15pm (so thanks to the International Date Line, we got back before we left; that always amuses me), and it didn't experience any problems in the middle. I got my typical upset stomach about eight hours in, and spent the last five hours trying not to hurl up dinner while choking down a little juice and tea for breakfast (more like brunch, I guess... it was breakfast time back in New Zealand, but brunch time in Canada). My parents were seated together about five rows back from me, and I was by myself next to a nice Kiwi couple who now live in Vancouver. I didn't watch any movies, but listened to music on my iPod, and enjoyed glancing around seeing what everyone else had chosen to watch (The King's Speech, Black Swan, and episodes of Glee and Two and a Half Men were all popular).
So now I am back in Canada... in some ways it feels like I never left, and in others things are weirding me out. The weather wasn't that much of a shock - the air quality is just as good in New Zealand, so I wasn't taking huge gulps of the Vancouver air like I did when I got off the plane from Hong Kong in May 2009. What I did do was change out of my capri shorts and into a pair of pants (slightly more suited to Vancouver's 8°C as opposed to Auckand's 26°C). It's the little things that are getting to me: seeing traffic driving on the right, sitting in my uncle's left-hand-drive car when he picked us up from the airport; walking on the right-hand side of the foot path (pardon me, sidewalk); hearing the Canadian accent in all the conversations going on around me; and knowing that my accent doesn't stick out here. It's a reverse culture shock of sorts. Nevertheless, I definitely do still have a place in Canada; here on the ferry, my grade eight science teacher Mr Drew just walked by, and when I called out to him he came over and gave me a hug, said, "Carolyn! How are you? What have you been up to?" and sat down to have a conversation with me and my parents. Yes, Vancouver Island is still a place to call home.
Alas, I imagine this brings an end to my daily blog posts on Carolyn in Aotearoa, as Carolyn is no longer in Aotearoa, but Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It's going to be very strange not to be blogging every night; forgoing food, relaxation, and very often sleep just to make sure I got everything from the day down on (digital) paper to share and reflect on later. The next few days will be spent unpacking and readjusting to life in a place where I have a permanent bed and room (such a concept!). I have several books, some cast-off clothes I collected from fellow backpackers and op shops (thrift stores), and some CDs to add to my collection here. Despite being away for so long I brought back very little from New Zealand, mainly due to subscribing to the Backpacker Philosophy: if I bought it, I'd have to carry it!
I'm going to add pictures to almost all of my blog posts, as I'm going to leave the blog up as something of a digital photo album and memoir of my travels for myself and my friends to view (if I flatter myself to think that they would be so interested to do so). As such, I leave you with this, a traditional Maori goodbye: haere ra, kia ora. Farewell, and good health.