Bethany from over the Pacific
Well no horrible airport stories this time. Unlike our departure from Rome two years ago, it was an easy trip to Auckland International and our plane left the gate on time.
We have a spacious exit row seats. Well lots of leg room but narrower seats because of the table trays. After the emergency water landing yesterday of the American Airline’s flight into the Hudson, I did make sure that I knew how to open the emergency door. Strangely, none of the flight assistants actually came by to brief me.
Bryan is snoozing as per his usual on moving transport. I don’t think he was very impressed that we were up 4 hours before our scheduled departure of 10:30 am. This time we are flying during the day and will reach Honolulu in the evening. Maybe we’ll do a blog posting tonight from there so that we can title two entries as “January 16th”.
New Zealand has been a phenomenal experience and it is with reluctance that I boarded the plane. Maybe one day I’ll be back but there is also a great number of other places I wish to see. If I ever do want to go overseas to work, New Zealand would be a viable option.
We have done a lot over our four weeks in NZ – most of which we could have done very similar things back home. NZ has been a very easy country to traverse and is, in many ways, similar to home. Even driving on the left-side of the road was not overly intimidating. It probably helped, though, that we didn’t rent a car when we first arrived so we had some acclimation time.
New Zealand is a country that is still primarily agricultural-based but there is increasing friction between rural and urban. How familiar is this! We really spent very little time in the cities, but they each have a different flavour. Auckland has a definitely more “cosmopolitan” feel. Things are more expensive, particularly the cars and food and bigger. On the South Island, we noticed a higher level of older vehicles (and campervans). Many older vehicles had Japanese script on them which we presume means that New Zealand is one of the common markets for Japanese used vehicles. Bryan tells me that it is culturally incongruent for Japanese to drive used.
We have travelled New Zealand by many different modes: plane, shuttles, intercity buses, foot, bike, helicopter, boat, rental car, and kayak. And we have schlepped around our bags this whole time which have grown slightly with our main packs weighing in at 20 kgs today at the airport. We had no idea that we had so evenly pack our bags (less than 1/2 kg difference) and were skirting so close to the 20 kg weight restriction forf the flight. Of all the modes of transport, my favorites were the ones under my power. Sure it gave a sense of accomplishment (even the non-physical driving on the wrong side) but mostly it was nice to be free of motion sickness. The roads here are windy and up/down and bus drivers do attack the road with agression. They may start their drive nice and slow but at some point it becomes like a carnival ride. We do need to note that intercity bus rides are slow and fraught with frequent breaks. They are no Greyhounds. They do seem to be aimed more at tourists and sometimes stop for brief breaks at attractions and the bus driver will often, but not always, give a running commetary of the scenary and towns. We were fascinated by one driver who spoke so fast and threw in about 2 “ehs” for every real word such that we could barely understand him. And yes, Canadians do not have the monopoly on “eh”.
Back in the Otago, I had a conversation with a local about roads. They said to me “Oh, you guys must have that nice asphalt on your roads not like our horrible roads.” At that time, partially naiively, I praised the New Zealand road which is for the most part smooth and lacking of potholes and frost-heaving. It was once we had our rental car that we noticed the difference and longed for asphalt which is A LOT quieter. The roads in NZ are “sealed” or “unsealed”. Obviously unsealed would be equivalent to gravel or dirt roads and sealed to paved. From what we can gathered sealed roads cosistent of building up a rock and gravel base, spraying with tar, and then coating again with gravel which over time will be worked down into the tar. Now this is a guess. We did see recently resealed roads, which were pretty gravelly, and we saw roads being built up, but we never did see any road work involving the spraying of a substance on the road except for water once. Superficially these roads look paved but closer inspection shows slight pockets between the surface stones. Hence they produce more road noise. Asphalt does exist in places and became more prevalent the close we got to Auckland.
Most highways are single-lane with frequent passing lanes. Particularly on the South Island, the highway/road may even narrow to a single lane with signs indicating which direction of travel has the right of way. This would usually happen over a bridge (which from time-to-time may also be a branch rail line bridge) or along a cliff-hugging section of road. Most were straight forward but some were a little mysterious as the road would drop to a single lane but you couldn’t always see the other end of the section to know it was a clear.
Bryan asked me last night what my strongest memory of this trip will be. Strongest memory would have to be the sudden pain of impact after falling off the horse near the beginning of the trip. Obviously this isn’t the best memory. Best memory, I think would be the swimming with the dolphin. Bryan couldn’t really see the dolphin, though, as he was swimming without his glasses so the experience, for him, did not have the same impact. Worse memory – it might be that tragedy seems to be following us (or it could be we are more sensitive to it). Shortly after we left Queenstown a tourist died in a jetski accident in the area. And then Irina Yun disappeared and has been presumed drowned while trekking in Mount Aspiring Park. She was on the Rees-Dart Track on her way to do the Routeburn and may have disregarded advice to turn around due to surging water. And then a few days after our Fox Glacier walk, the Miranda boys died under tonnes of ice which fell from the terminal face. Sadly our guide had pointed out people standing in a very similar place as where the boys probably died and told us that they were in a very dangerous place and that it would only be time until someone was killed by an icefall. There are signs indicating the danger but are either missed or disregarded. And then the day after our Tongariro crossing, a man slipped down the 45 degree scree slope of an optional side-trip, falling 60 m with rocks landing on him. I believe that he is still alive and in hospital but Bryan understood otherwise. I never felt unsafe during any of our activities, but many did carry an increased element of risk.