Tuesday, February 13, 2018

So Long New Zealand - I'll Be Back

And in what seemed like the blink of an eye, my 16 days in the north island of New Zealand are over.  Since I last wrote, I stayed two nights south of Auckland - one in the bush of the Hunua mountain ranges and one in a coastal village of Whakatiwai -- at two more unique and special Airbnbs.

Tonight I am at an airport motel -- having turned in my car with 845 more miles (well, officially 1360 more kilometers!) on it than when I started (about 40 miles more than a 14 hour journey from Seattle to San Francisco.)  I've become so accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, that I may be in for a learning curve when I get back to the states.

My return flights begin at 8:00am in the morning (Feb 15 here) and will take me 3:45 hours to Sydney, 1:30 hour layover, and 13:50 hour flight Sydney to Los Angeles - landing two hours before I leave Auckland (landing at 6am on Feb 15 in Los Angeles) - thereby returning the day that was robbed from me during the journey here!

And, once again for readers who like hearing about the mishaps -- I ended up having to get roadside service for a bad battery -- which became an adventure all its own as I had reserved through a budget provider.  Suffice to say -- I got to know the owner better than I might have preferred to get the battery replaced.  The battery failed to start the car once prior on the trip -- but I had arranged to get a jump on my own fearing that an expensive call out might be blamed on me leaving lights on or some such.  The battery lasted several more days before quitting again (after a long, motorway run).  Thankfully, I was only insignificantly inconvenienced by the hassle, but it was a hassle -- and the owner claims he will reimburse me for the first jump I had paid for out of pocket.  The owner actually delivered and installed the replacement battery!  But like I always maintain -- if I wanted easy routines, I'd just stay home!

An unscheduled dip in the ocean, a couple of jump starts, arranging a battery replacement, and more rain than sunshine, but nothing that really detracted from a truly fun and interesting trip. I  met some wonderful Kiwi's, stayed at some amazing places -- and paid as little as $41 for an Airbnb (not counting the free stay with friends!) and as much as $96 - with an average of $71, and all but one of those AirBnB's were private spaces with my own private bath/toilet.

Summary:  a beautiful country with super friendly people where travel is easy.  Diving at Poor Knights Marine Reserve and boating/"catching" with my new friends will remain the highlights - and I'm already thinking about when I can return -- not only to the North Island but to explore the North Island city I didn't get to: Wellington; and to visit the South Island, its cities and mountains!

"I'll be back."

Monday, February 12, 2018

New Friends and A Fishing Adventure

On February 11 I continued down the west coast of New Zealand's Northlands in more Portland-like weather and scenery to include New Zealand's largest tree - the Tane Mauta. Of course, the photo on the linked wiki page is more impressive, but this one shows that I was there:
But the highlight of the 3+ hour day of travel was arriving at the beautiful, waterfront home of a couple I had just started corresponding with since arriving in NZ -- with an email introduction by a childhood friend of mine.  The warm welcoming, a delicious home cooked meal,  lots of wonderful conversation, and superb accommodations, made it easy to quickly add these lifelong Kiwi's as my friends as well! And, thanks to them, my knowledge of Kiwi life (geography, health care, education, retirement, etc) increased immensely.       

In the morning I joined in a 3 mile hike/walk with neighbors that gave me even more opportunity to meet/interact with even more locals -- and enjoy an overview of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula I was on, about 25km north of Auckland.
And just when I thought I would be saying my goodbye's, the couple invited me to join them on their 45 foot yacht for a few hours cruising Hauraki Gulf  (click the link to see this massive gulf that includes the waters surrounding the east coast of Auckland).  However, what started as just a cruise - became an exciting day of fishing (well, catching!) -- complete with my little, unplanned dip in the ocean.  For those of you that enjoy the mishaps I sometimes write about in my blogs (like this one of surfacing from Scuba to the wrong boat) -- you'll love this tale.  And, as I have pointed out before -- consistent with my enjoyment of telling such stories, it will be among my most talked about adventures from this trip:

We began our fishing near a surface marker for Shearer Rock (topo map here) and when a lure became snagged on the metal grill of the hazard buoy there, I jumped from the rear deck of the yacht to the buoy -- and easily retrieved the stuck lure.  My timing in my jump to return to the rear deck was not so perfectly timed with the swell -- and in I went - with pocketed cell phone and passport.  My shoulders never went under water -- and I was able to quickly get myself to the deck -- with no damage done.  And thankfully, the iPhone 7's water resistance (rated for 1 meter for 30 minutes) held and I had the lucky foresight to have put my passport in a zip lock baggy.  So, the only real damage was to my ego -- which, as you might guess by the fact that I'm retelling the story -- it'll take a little more than a quick misjudged jump to damage my ego!

Back to the truly exciting and fun part -- I had a blast catching.  If "fishing" was always like this -- fun and exciting "catching," I'd take up the sport regularly.  

A superb day "catching" on the water with new Kiwi friends -- truly a perfect day.  I'm already scheming as to when I might be able to return to New Zealand!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Traveling: Every Day Isn't Postcard Perfect...

"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference!" (Winston Churchill)

The heavy rain/overcast/fog returned before I left the Bay of Islands and headed to the most northern tip of New Zealand - Cape Reinga (route shown here).  Thankfully it's summer warm -- in the low 70's -- and I'm told by all the locals that this much rain/overcast is unseasonable -- but it doesn't dissuade me from enjoying the journey.  But to be sure, it's only the rain and driving on the left (and sitting on the opposite side of the car) that make this "adventure" travel.  This is easy traveling -- and I'm loving it even if the scenery is somewhat muted by the overcast and rain.  Everything is in English, food is familiar, people are friendly, there is a general absence of other traffic -- and it was easy to get lulled into thinking I was traveling through Northwest USA.  Even the rain made it feel like Portland-home!

I made it to the Cape Reinga lighthouse and enjoyed thinking that it was days like the day I was there that made the lighthouse so essential.  After all, if it had been a beautiful, sunny day -- arriving ships would be able to see the land mass ahead of them.  This was my view:

And, here is where attitude matters -- I wasn't bothered a bit.  I was delighted to be visiting this spot in New Zealand -- happy that I'm here in good health -- and getting to "experience" New Zealand. (Here is a 16 second video I took of my visit.)

If I just wanted to see the lighthouse in picture postcard glory -- I need only do a Google images search - which I've linked here for your (and my) viewing pleasure!  For as long as the brisk/cool wind would allow me -- I relished in thinking about the boat travel of my ancestors as they traveled from southern Switzerland to Australia in the 1850's and from Australia to the USA in 1888 (when my grandfather was 8).  It's likely he saw more days like this, as they passed through the waters around New Zealand, than postcard days!

About an hour south of Cape Reinga, I stayed at another fun and interesting AirBnB (owned by a farming couple) -- and awoke to the same weather for my 3 hour journey on Saturday, February 9.  My destination today was another AirBnb on the west coast of the Northlands of New Zealand (routing here).  I let Google Maps lead me and was pleased to find a half hour car-ferry ride on my journey.  And even though it rained the entire way -- I had great fun enjoying another "flat white," visiting with a French "Woofer" (a one year work/stay program for 20's and early 30's travelers which I've learned about from many other traveler contacts), and visiting with two older couples (one guy was 90 - living in New Zealand since I was 1) while enjoying fish and chips at a local place.  I do love the people contacts and they abound in all weather!

So tonight as I write this, I'm in another wonderful AirBnb with this 7:47pm view:
More rain is forecast for tomorrow -- but it makes little difference to me.  I'm enjoying every breath and delighted that I'm still healthy enough to make these trips.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Diving Video

So my assigned diving partner sent me all the GoPro videos she took -- and I put together this 1:44 minute video (starring me of course!).  This short video tries to capture and share some of the feeling and sights of the diving at the Poor Knights Marine Reserve on February 5, 2018. (Thanks Ariane!)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Lucky or Brilliant - Revisited!

Ah!  A topic I've written about before.  For those who haven't read that prior post, a summary is that I have decided that my "brilliant" travel choices/decisions are really just "lucky" choices that appear brilliant in hindsight. And this trip has already served up plenty, including every AirBnB, the choice of dive company, and the happenstance routing that brought me to the heart of the celebration of a National holiday.  All lucky - ahem! brilliant choices!

One of the things I love about AirBnb is the personal contact with the hosts and their own stories.  On this trip alone my hosts have included a PhD in Psychology who is a lecturer at the University of Auckland, born in Santiago, Chile (my destination in April); a practitioner of Kinesiology and believer in the power of Neo-Life supplements; and, a proposal writer who is a strong adherent to the  studies of "mBraining" - using your head brain, heart brain, and gut brain for wisdom and success.

Of course, my luck with choosing AirBnb's is greatly served by ratings and reviews -- and my practiced understanding of how to read the reviews knowing that the personal contact between host and guest most often leaves the guest only writing about the positive stuff.  So, it is essential to read what the reviewers don't comment on -- with the knowledge that the personal contact tends to bias the review.  I'm no different -- it is far easier to write a critical review of a company or product where I have had no personal contact.  But, nonetheless -- in 3 places I've stayed so far -- there really hasn't been anything to be critical about and each have been hosted by intensely interesting individuals.

Each a "brilliant" choice!

Tutukaka Dive
Just as I did when I first decided to try Scuba, I relied entirely on the ratings of the TripAdvisor.Com website once I decided "where" I wanted to dive.  Here in the north island of New Zealand, I easily picked out the Poor Knights Islands - a world ranked dive site, and then just followed the TripAdvisor.com ratings to Tutukaka Dive.  I was not disappointed.  Certainly, as with all TripAdvisor reviews, there are plenty of negative reviews to slog though -- but I also read such reviews cautiously -- knowing that a person's attitude before and during the experience can greatly alter the experience.

Another "brilliant" choice!

Waitangi Day
When I booked this trip -- and decided on the routing -- I decided I wanted to visit the first European  settlement/original capital of New Zealand in the "Bay of Islands."  So, I picked an Airbnb in he coastal resort town of Paihia for a three night stay.  What I didn't know is that I would be arriving on the New Zealand National Holiday of Waitangi Day - a celebration of an 1840 treaty between the Europeans and the local indigenous Polynesian "Maori" people.

My AirBnb host was kind enough to leave a program in my room -- so upon arrival on February 6, I proceeded to the nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds and enjoyed the local festival of music, food, dancing demonstrations, capped off by a ceremony that included the New Zealand Royal Navy Band.

Another "brilliant" choice!

This Blog - Falling Behind; Me - Having Fun

Wow!  I've been a blogging slacker this trip.  Let me do a quick update of my first 6 days in country.

January 31 - arrival, picked up rental car and made my way (about 40 minutes) to my first Airbnb -- a wonderfully convenient spot located next to the campus of the University of Auckland.

February 1 - Awoke refreshed - and noted that common Portland weather had followed me with rain forecast for the day.  I decided to make it a museum day and was able to hike about a mile to the Auckland War Memorial Museum - but while it is that, it contains so much more on the natural history, population, demographics, settlement, and indigenous treasures.

By the time I was feeling like I'd seen it all, the rain was heavy -- so I grabbed an Uber and headed off to the Auckland waterfront to visit New Zealand Maritime Museum.  This place was well done -- including reconstructions of steam ship cabins and an excellent exhibit on GPS - which I found fascinating because of my own early interest in GPS technology.

February 2 - This day was mostly rain free, allowing me to take in a "free" walking tour of Auckland which was superb.

February 3 - An easy travel day out of Auckland to my next Airbnb destination in "Ngunruru" -- just a few minutes from the dive center in "Tutukaka," launch point to the world class diving sites at the Poor Knights Islands -- about an hour boat ride from shore.  I took time to visit the nearby beach town of Orewa and get my first experience with a New Zealand "flat white" coffee.  Superb!  For Americans, it can best be described as the way a great coffee shop (not Starbucks!) makes a latte in the USA -- it's all about the micro-bubbles that form the cream.

February 4 - This had been scheduled as my day to dive Poor Knights -- but the weather and ocean swells were so intense that all diving was cancelled.  I made good use of the time exploring the coast line in the area -- and when the weather allowed -- doing some hiking.

February 5 - The weather turned wonderful and the diving trip with 27 others was perfect.  I was joined up with a partner in a group of 4 (all advanced divers) with a guide for two dives at Poor Knights.  So many fish -- such beauty.  As I posted on Facebook -- these dives brought me to 41 dives since I first dove 28 months ago -- and added a 4th country (previous dives in Indonesia, Australia, and Mexico).