Kiwi Jack: Chapter Twelve

Though our New Zealand trip still has somewhere around 36 hours to go, our road trip came to an end yesterday with our arrival in Auckland. We’ll fly out of here VERY early Wednesday morning (retracing our path through Sydney, Los Angeles and then DC in a shade over 27 hours), and thus we’vel returned The White Shadow (our Nissan station wagon) this afternoon to save as much time as possible Wednesday morning.

Since we’re still exploring Auckland, I’ve decided to give you a quick insight into a day in the life on the New Zealand backroads, and will wrap up Auckland in my last on-the-ground post tomorrow night. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this (and if you don’t, go read someone else’s New Zealand blog, k?)

Our day starts relatively early. As I’ve mentioned, it’s winter here and therefore there’s not a lot of daylight. Most Kiwi roads are two lane, well paved but without the ambient city light and a lot of clouds, it gets DARK here. So we try to wrap up all driving during daylight.

My companions are constantly annoyed at waking up between 7 and 7:30 (the smallest of us often takes several attempts to get out of bed). Since the Kiwis are conservationists, it’s very rare to have central heating, so the place is pretty cold in the morning, and it’s not quite light yet either.

This was our accommodation at Lake Tekapo on the second night of the trip, fairly typical of our time on the road. This is what’s called a “self-contained motel” within a holiday park, which basically means you get 1 or 2 bedrooms (we always reserved two), a bathroom, common area and kitchen. Many of these were pretty basic, but actually ideal for the three of us. The ones in the cities (Christchurch, Queenstown, Westport, Picton, Wellington and Auckland) were a step up from the holiday parks but essentially the same idea.

After quick showers and small breakfast, we packed the car with both our clothes, computers and the handful of groceries we carry around with us.

Some days we woke up where we needed to be that morning; some days we needed to drive to get there. For instance, in Fox Glacier, we only drive 6 km to the glacier, but yesterday morning when we went sailing, we had to drive the three hours from Rotorua to Auckland first.

But there was always a drive; at least three hours in The White Shadow. Even in Queenstown, where we stayed two consecutive nights, we made the beautiful drive out to Glenorchy (see Chapter Three).

Since we’re in a former country of the Empire, the Kiwis drive on the left side of the road. This takes a LOT of getting used to, so my father was our designated driver. Though it took him a while to get used to it (even on the last day he flicked on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal), he did a great job driving the entire 2,314 km on his own (I moved the car around a bit, but that’s about all).

While my wife sat in the back watching and listening to music, I rode shotgun, and it was my lot to deal with Ed, our very British-sounding GPS (who really should have been called Jeeves with that accent).

Along the way, I had various activities planned, notes from our wonderful guide Ron and just kept a general eye out for anything interesting. This usually resulted in full stop, pile out, wander around to snap pictures and then back in.

Though this must have occurred somewhere north of 100 times in the last two weeks, the only casualty of these excursions was a pair of iPod headphones, which were accidentally left when I called for a stop in the middle of a one lane bridge on a highway. Not the best idea, but these stops generally resulted in the great scenery shots you’ve seen thus far.

Though there have been a lot of stunning scenery shots, even the average farmland in New Zealand is really quite beautiful, though it varies a bit from the South to the North.

Here’s a farm on the South Island:

And a farming community on the North:

Note the street lamp in the foreground of the latter; much more typical on the higher-developed North Island than the wild South.

Kind of random, but we didn’t see the words “expressway” until the road into Auckland. Appropriately enough: we saw them riding behind a horse trailer:

Though there were a couple of close calls, we generally hit our final stopping point just as the sun was kissing the horizon. Afterwards, we’d find a place to eat and of course drink a new bottle from the seemingly endless arsenal of delicious Kiwi wine.

The day generally ended as it began: watching the Olympics. In the morning, we could catch a lot of the prime events since it was prime time in London, and we could catch up with the highlights in the evening. For those of you who think that NBC’s coverage in the United States sucks: it does. Though of course the Kiwi coverage is focused on the locals (have you heard of Lisa Carrington? I have…and feel like I’ve known her for 20 years), they do a great job of showing you a whole ton of events I’ve never heard of (50 km WALK? The Modern Pentathlon?) There’s a whole lot more to the Olympics than NBC would lead you to believe.

Thanks to the IOC and London for scheduling the Olympics at such an opportune time to provide us constant entertainment on our vacation.

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up Auckland before we start to steam our way back to the northern hemisphere. All joking aside, I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts; I’ve had fun writing them.

August 13, 5:57pm
Auckland, New Zealand