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January 31 – February 3, 2013
(Posted by Xavier and Kristin)

Let me start off by saying that if there was one thing we were constantly told by all the New Zealanders we met, was that we should skip or spend very little time in Auckland, so in our last few days here we decided to just use Auckland as a quick stop over on our way to Paihia, in the Bay of Islands.

For convenience sake, and to save a few dollars, we stayed at the mega hostel “Base”. How do I put this kindly, maybe if I was 30 years younger, wanted to party and didn’t really care about facilities, this is the place. But in their defense, they do offer very good prices in tour packages of New Zealand and it must be a mammoth job trying to keep up with the volume of people coming in and out of that hostel. All in all it was what it was — and the location was great.

We knew we were in New Zealand’s largest city before we got off the bus just by the amount of traffic and the skyscraper skyline of the downtown area. The all too familiar sound of a bustling city, car horns and sirens was something we had not missed. Our short (less than 12 hours) stop over in Auckland was spent venturing out on the main street in front of the hostel, and avoiding the Hawaiian-themed 2 for 1 drinking bar party at the hostel-sponsored pub. We ate at a simple take-away Indian restaurant down the street. Unfortunately that was before stumbling across a famous local food court offering every kind of Asian cuisine available and at very reasonable prices. And along the way we found a great little hideaway bar called “Tabac”. We spent about a hour there talking to the New Zealand owner and English bartender about New Zealand history, flora, and fauna — and Maggie Thatcher.

We caught the bus early the next morning and set off to Paihia and the Bay of Islands, which we had heard was beautiful with great beaches and also had a rich history. The “Treaty of Waitangi” (New Zealand’s most historic and founding document between the Maori Chiefs and the British Crown) was signed there, and the sleepy little fishing town across the bay, now known as Russell, was the nation’s first capital. As we got into town the weather was not in our favor. Cloudy skies and possible showers kept us lying low for most of that day. And because we hadn’t known of the “Base” hostel reputation until later, we had also booked with them in Paihia. Although much smaller in size and in a small tourist town, it didn’t stop “Base” from busing in the young tourist crowd for their nightly party. But I do have to say their $12 daily bar-b-que was pretty good.

Getting the lay of the land and planning for some possible activites for the following day we were taken by surprise by the live broadcast of the Rugby 7’s tournament from Wellington. Rugby you say? Well, it caught our eye because the USA was winning! Although in the end we lost the game, Kristin and I quickly became fans as the people around us explained the game and we watched the festivities in the stands. Everyone dressed up in costumes, cheering, and fantastic weather! Just as we had experienced it when we were in Wellington. Oh, how we wished that weather had followed us to Paihia.

The next day it looked like the weather might hold out enough for us to have a full day — but we decided we would only go on a pricy dolphin-seeking boat ride if the sun came out. We started with a wonderful walk to a local waterfalls and a really impressive boardwalk hike through the mangroves. We then headed off to “Waitangi” for a lesson in New Zealand history and Maori culture. Since the sun wasn’t coming out, we decided to skip the pricy boat ride but push our luck and proceed with a ferry ride across the bay to the town of Russell. We had a early dinner/late lunch, walked around the small historic town and then headed back across the bay just as it started to sprinkle on us. We may not have had the best weather but at least we got to see Paihia, a pretty area and town with many small accommodations and plenty of good local eateries, and some of the best public (colorful) loos we’ve ever seen. It was also a great place to learn about the history of New Zealand and the British Crown.

We returned to Auckland the following day to spend a little more time there before we set off for Australia. This time around we walked down towards the harbor and wharf area taking in great weather, people-watching, and reading about the history of the city though interpretive art displays, and an informative city planning booth. We saw the Auckland harbor bridge, walked through Albert Park, University of Auckland, ate at that wonderful food court of Asian eateries, then collapsed back at the “Base” hostel. Yes, I said “Base”. We hadn’t learned, but it was inexpensive, convenient for catching the bus to the airport, and easy to get to.

[Kristin’s side note: Auckland seemed like a very liveable city — I think New Zealanders hate it because they are just not city people! There was some cool waterfront redevelopment going on, with adaptive reuse of industrial structures to retain a sense of the area’s past, including a temporary art exhibit inside an old cement silo. Once again we saw lots of creative use of shipping crates. They had a pretty good bicycle infrastructure too, but that city is hilly!]

As Kristin and I traveled to the airport we reflected back to a month ago when we first arrived in New Zealand. Not really knowing what to expect, we now left with a great love for this truly amazing country full of natural wonders that is only matched by their wonderful people. This country is a shining example of how we should care for our environment, respect our native people, and take pride in how we treat and care for our fragile ecosystem. It really doesn’t take much, just a little simple caring. We have so much to learn. Hooray New Zealand!

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