Published: December 24th 2010December 23rd 2010
We are officially living in the future. We are now one day ahead of anyone in the world that I know.
Saturday 12-11 = the day that never existed (for us at least, while crossing the international date line)
The flight to NZ was long, 9 hours, but I have to say, Air New Zealand is a pretty nice airline – good food and comfortable seats but they need to turn the A/C down! Nick passed out almost immediately; I didn’t get much sleep at all, sadly. [Nick Note: I guess I slept well, as even a flight attendant mentioned how much I slept near the end of the flight when I got up to use the rest room.] So by the time we got to the Auckland airport, we looked for couches to pass out on while we waited for our 4 hour layover. [Nick Note: Unfortunately, my right leg started swelling up and was painful. Later we looked up what might have happened and we are thinking “deep vain thrombosis” from not getting up at all while cramped for 9 hours. I guess sleeping through the entirety of long flights might not be such a
hot idea. Luckily after a day or two the swelling came down and I was fine.] By the way, I’m in LOVE with the Auckland airport. Have you ever been thru here? They have tons of food vendors that aren’t the American chains and the food is actually good! There’s sushi for breakfast! Free internet kiosks to sit at all day and I didn’t have to take off my shoes or empty my water bottle to get thru security. I don’t know why, but the shoe things above all else drives me crazy when about TSA. When I double checked that it was OK to have water, the dude looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah, of course” was his response. Beautiful!
We arrived in Queenstown midday and immediately went into town to book our transportation and tour of Milford Sound. This town reminds me very much of El Calefate in Patagonia. It’s a small town, nestled in the mountains, sitting on the edge of a lake and its sole purpose is to cater to the outdoor adventure traveler. All the buildings seem very new [Nick Note: I talked to a local about this and apparently Queenstown had
a building boom coinciding with the housing speculation in the US and Europe and now the market has crashed and there are lots of foreclosure sales. Just like the US everyone assumed realty prices would never decline.] and the locals here are very young – all working in the tourism industry. The crowds of international tourists also appear to be very young (with the exception of some older couples and families) and geared toward the extreme sports this place is popular for: bungee jumping, sky diving, paragliding, etc. (not things we have on our to-do list).
This is all very different from Kauai, where there was a large local population of families, ranging form all ages. Even thought the island’s main enterprise is tourism, there’s still a large agricultural industry there (#1 poi exporter!) [Nick Note: In a bus ride the guide was showing us how the Kiwi’s raise sheep, cattle and now milk cows. I asked about crops and the guide said “crops not so much.”]. And the tourists? It was kind of weird; we seemed to be the only 30-somethings around, at least at most of the places we went to. The crowds were either young, early-20-somethings
(very much the hippy, reggae, surfer kids) looking to chill at the beach and take in the vagabond lifestyle or they were older couples (either retirees or families w/ tweens). We seemed to be in a group of our own in some sense. Perhaps it’s different on some of the other islands, but for our trip, that’s kind of what it seemed like.
Starting our international trip at last! Feels kind of weird, still. Maybe because they speak English here or the fact that the town seems very Westernized [Nick Note; But they are crazy and drive in the wrong side of the road. My first time in a left driving country.], who knows. The New Zealand accent has been interesting to listen to. Everyone sounds like they’re from “Flight of the Concords.” Nick and I pretty much have to ask people to repeat themselves at least once; the fast, thick accent is going to take some getting used to. :o)
In an effort to stay awake and get on NZ time, we avoided naps and took a walk around the city to see what’s around. It’s a very nice town. For those of you that love the
bar scene, this it totally the city for you! Beer is very much a part of the culture here (English derivative, go figure) and pubs are everywhere! It’s a very social scene and I’m itching to do a pub crawl – oh well, some another time.
We walked thru the Queensland Gardens, which is more of a walking path around Lake Wakatipu than a garden. It has beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, some still with snow on them (we’re now in NZ’s summer break). We saw some people lawn bowling and decided to join in! Neither one of us had ever played before and there was quite a learning curve (trying not to treat it like tin pin bowling). But we eventually got the hang of it and it was a nice way to spend a few hours tossing a weighted ball around, trying not to hit other people ;o) [Nick Note: There were two large groups around us and we learned they were office Christmas parties, and they were no better at the game than us.]
The hostel we’re staying at, right on the lake, is pretty nice. It’s Nick’s first time in a hostel [Nick
Note: It is OK, not great but not bad either. As long as it is clean, which it is, then I am OK] The kitchen facilities and lounge areas are HUGE compared to what you normally find in Europe – but then again, those are older city buildings and, like I said, this town is pretty new.
The craziest thing so far about NZ? The sun sets at 9:30pm! We were walking back from the grocery store last night and when I asked Nick what time it was, he casually said “a little after 9.” I couldn’t believe it! There was still so much sunlight, it felt like 6ish. Needless to say, we realized we had been up for a long time during a very long day and promptly went to bed and passed out like rocks!
Today was our first freak out day. We went into town to collect our gear and tramping (hiking) passes when I realized that my credit card was gone. It took me a while, but I realized I had left it at the restaurant in Oahu before we went to the airport. Thank god Miranda is friends with the owners! It would have been a pain in the ass to cancel both mine & Nick’s cards when only mine was missing – and we knew where it was. SO Miranda, my Hawaiian goddess, found the card & will mail it to us in Australia! THANK YOU!! But the day doesn’t end there, in the chaos of getting internet access, calling the bank and working out details with Miranda, I lost the bottom portion (legs) of one of my zip-off pants. We have absolutely no idea where they went. I took them off because it was hot outside and thought I brought them into the hostel, but they are no where to be found – not in any of the stores we visited that day, not on the street, not in the hostel’s lost & found, and definitely not in our luggage. They have disappeared &/or been collected by the angry travel gods, who decided to add one more “fun” thing to our crazy day. So I am now walking around pant-less (so to speak) in New Zealand. Maybe in Australia I can find a cheap pair to replace them (no hope of that in NZ – land of over priced things – where they cost $100). Ugh, oh well.
In an effort to avoid spending exorbitant amounts of money in Queenstown ($30 for a 6oz bottle of sunscreen, seriously?!), we looked around for all the cheap things we could do. The first thing was to walk around the city, window shopping, checking out souvenir shops and a little bit of the culture. It’s a very nice town but small, so that didn’t take too long. We did stop for a snack of fish & chips (or rather “fush & chups” as it’s said here), which were pretty good. Nick passed on the fush. Afterwards, we decided to check out Lonely Planet’s recommendation for the “best value” activity in Q-town: an underwater observatory on Lake Wakatipu. For the bargain price of $5, we got to sit in a small room about 10 feet underwater with 4 windows that allowed you to look into the murky shallows and see the salmon & trout swimming by. For an extra buck you could squirt out some pellet food and make them come closer to the window, as well as attract some ducks. [Nick Note; Those are some FAT fish waiting around the pellet dispenser. They gotta be the sumo wrestlers of the sea (ok lake for you bio dorks that will get technical on me).] The highlight was a brief glimpse of NZ’s one species of freshwater eel. Very exciting.
To round out the day of chaos, we started to pack for the next 7 days of hiking and had a joint freak out about getting old and did we bite off more than we can chew on this trip! With my now bad left knee, Nick’s deep vein thrombosis from the plane, his multiple foot blisters from Kauai that we had to tape up and a surprise visit from a stomach bug for me (thanks for the emergency antibiotics Javy!)…we didn’t seem to be off to a good start.