Posted by: asprockett | August 28, 2013

On Holiday: Auckland, New Zealand

We recognize that we’re not spring chickens anymore and a bed at night with a full night of sleep is necessary to our ability to function. However, when our airline canceled our 11:00 am flight and offered us an 11:50 pm overnight flight and no alternatives, we decided to pretend we could still easily pull all-nighters. (Spoiler alert: we could not.)

So, our flight to Auckland, New Zealand didn’t start with the best of circumstances, but the good news is that the flight was so unbelievably terrible that we’re pretty sure we just made an episode of Candid Camera. Friends and family, be on the lookout for us!

Dan and I were seated as the only two in a row of three seats with no one in front of us and no one behind us. With lift-off only minutes away, I was eyeing those empty seats and imagining stretching out and actually getting in a few hours of sleep during our overnight flight. But about 10 seconds before the airplane doors officially closed, a family of five joined our flight.

Now, when I say that this family was unusually large, I’m not taking a crack at their weight. Imagine taking an average person and doubling their size in every dimension. All five of them (three sitting in front of us who promptly leaned their seats all the way back, and two behind us) were absolutely enormous. I felt a bit like Frodo when he stands next to Boromir in Lord of the Rings. (I suppose this was appropriate, since we were heading to New Zealand, where the movie was filmed.) The two men behind us were so tall that their knees stuck into our backs, giving us an unsolicited and rather unpleasant back massage for the duration of the flight.

To make make things even more uncomfortable, they continued to carried on a conversation across our row like we were not even there. This very stimulating 3 1/2 hour conversation was punctuated by “what?” and “hey?” every third sentence as they bantered back and forth across the rows. Yes. I counted. At one point I started to wonder if all my time at Sydney Uni (aka Hogwarts — see my previous posts, if this doesn’t make sense) had turned me into a wizard wearing an invisibility cape. They loudly chatted, sang and passed chocolates dripping with caramel back and forth. When it came time to fill out their customs form, the man sitting behind Dan actually put his thick hands over the top of Dan’s chair so his forarm rested on Dan’s head. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep. Or any chocolates. But that’s the price you pay, right? We would gladly have offered to switched seats, but it was such a production for them to get into the seats in the first place (not to mention that they had  sneezed and coughed over everything), that we just didn’t even try.

With a grand total of 2.3 minutes of sleep between us, our first day in Auckland was a bit groggy. And yet, despite my fog, I started crushing pretty hard on New Zealand within hours of landing.

View of downtown Auckland.

View of downtown Auckland on a clear day.

After breakfast by the wharf, we strolled down Quay Street toward the Parnell Rose Gardens in the (literally) foggy morning. We missed our turn (we hadn’t worked out who was in charge of navigation, yet) and ended up strolling quite a distance along Quay Street. At one point, we both looked out at the water and remarked how amazing it was that it was just open ocean out there. On our second day in Auckland we learned that there are actually a lot of islands in the harbor from all of the volcanic activity.

Walking along Quay Street in the fog.

Walking along Quay Street in the fog. It turns out there are heaps of islands behind me.

We didn’t realize that by walking to Parnell we were actually walking into one of Auckland’s oldest suburbs, dating back to 1841. The suburb is named after Samuel Parnell, the man who initiated the 8-hour day, otherwise known as the 40-hour work week. I continue to be impressed by the value both Australia and New Zealand put on work-life balance. What we failed to process in our site-seeing selection was that we were visiting Auckland in winter. Now, I’m not known for my green thumb, but I do know that roses aren’t particularly a strong winter flower. Unfortunately, I did not follow that logic trail before setting a course for the rose gardens. Thankfully the Parnell Rose Gardens were still sporting a one or two unique roses for our enjoyment.

Parnell Rose Garden.

Parnell Rose Garden.

What wasn’t overly obvious on the map was the adjoining park with gently sloping paths. Despite the winter months, the trees still had leaves and the birds were out for our enjoyment. What is really fascinating is that 71% of bird species in New Zealand are native (aka, beat the humans to the island) and are therefore unique to the island. We took a leisurely walk through the park, eventually coming across this monstrosity:

Gem = tree, not person in tree. ;)

The monstrosity is the tree, not the person in the tree. 😉

We then trekked to the University of Auckland, imaging what life would be like if I were studying there. (University of Auckland was another school on my list of potential Rotary placements.) U of A is the largest university in New Zealand with an enrollment of nearly 40,000 students. That makes sense, since nearly 1/3 of New Zealand’s population lives in Auckland.

The University of Auckland.

The University of Auckland.

"Big D" -- with a metal sculpture in his hand.

“Big D” — with a metal sculpture in his hand.

After lunch and some quality time at the Auckland Library following a failed attempt to visit the Auckland Museum of Art, we boarded a bus for Rotorua – our destination for the next two days.

We know how to roll...

Dan had to ask an old woman to move to take this picture. Totally worth it.

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