We made it!
We arrived in Auckland about 24 hours after we shoved the last of our items in our carry-on bags, locked the door to our house for the last time, and headed to the airport chauffeured by my brother (thanks Eddo!). Twenty-four hours of travel sounds a lot worse than it actually felt, since we stopped in LAX for a drink with Erika, Karl, and Dan (which, btw was a HUGE treat, thank you guys!!!), scored emergency exit row seats on the flight to Fiji, and then, somehow, with the gods of travel smiling down upon us in all their aviation glory, ended up with business class seats from Nadi to Auckland. Let me tell you a secret: business class does not suck. A very auspicious beginning to our trip indeed!
Nevertheless, we were tired when we arrived in Auckland, though it is quite easy to acclimate to New Zealand time. NZ is a mere 3 hours behind CA (on the following day), so it wasn’t like we arrived at 2AM or something ridiculous like that. We made our way from the airport to our hostel via taxi. Apparently taxi fares in New Zealand are not equivalent from taxi to taxi, and we unfortunately ended up with one that had a higher tariff than usual. Oh well, lesson learned.
We dropped our stuff off at Aspen House (www.aspenhouse.co.nz; 09 379 6633), which is a perfectly clean and affordable hostel in Centre City. If you are staying in Auckland for a while, I am not sure I would recommend it since the rooms are pretty bare bones (a bed and a desk and some lighting), but for one night it was totally sufficient. We then headed out for a walk to the Parnell District, which is a cute street with lots of cafes, casual restaurants, and pubs. This is where I had my first English-to-English “lost in translation” moment with the counter girl at a cute cafe and wine bar.
Hope: “Can I have a coffee?”
Counter Girl: “Yes!”
Counter Girl: “…”
Hope: “Um, with milk?”
Apparently in New Zealand coffee is organized into the following categories:
Short Black= What we know as espresso
Long Black= Regular black coffee (or an Americano, as some would call it)
Flat White= Similar to a cappuccino but they also have cappuccinos here and we don’t know what the difference is
What I wanted was the Flat White, but I ended up with a Short Black. Oh well, again, lesson learned.
From the Parnell district, we walked along the water to the Ferry Building and then the Princes Wharf. Along the way we walked through a pretty ritzy neighborhood with big houses that had beautiful ocean views. Many of these houses were either for sale or foreclosed, so it does indeed seem that the global financial crisis is, well, global. Now, at this point I was feeling quite tired and possibly hallucinating, but this area of Auckland is so similar to the Embarcadero area in San Francisco that I told Jeremy, “If we turn this corner and there are seals, I am going to feel like we never left San Francisco!” Seriously, the Ferry Building looks very similar to the one in SF, and they even had a Blue & Gold Fleet that takes tourists on boat trips to the local islands surrounding Auckland.
Despite the similarities to SF’s Pier 39, Auckland’s Princes Wharf was actually quite pleasant…the sun was shining, the people were nice, and we stopped for a glass of wine and some nibbles at one of the many restaurants along the wharf. Despite my skepticism, the food was quite good, and we filled our bellies before heading back to the hostel after the sun went down. It was a long day and we were tired!
The next morning we picked up our van from Jucy Rentals (jucy.co.nz, 0800 399 736). We chose the “Cruiza” model, which we booked about 3 weeks before we arrived. A couple of tips: as you head into high season, van rental prices increase, so it is to your advantage to book early. We reserved the van at a price of NZ$73/day, but by the time we arrived in Auckland, the price had risen to over NZ$100. Jucy has one of the lowest rental prices, lots of info on their website, and really excellent customer service. Unfortunately, in our excitement in meeting our new home for the month, we weren’t as diligent at quality checking the van as we should have been. Our van did not include a DVD (as advertised), the safe did not work, it was a missing a gas cap, and for a while, we thought the power didn’t work either (turns out it was a blown fuse and a faulty plug). We called Jucy when we were on the road and they talked us through fixing all of these problems, so ultimately, for the price and the service, they can’t be beat. Also, we really love the way the van is set up (there are many other van rental companies and each one builds out their vans differently) and the bed is super comfortable. You can pick up and drop off in different cities (though we are returning our van in Auckland). Just be sure to check your van before you leave the lot!
Auckland is a great city, but it is very similar to San Francisco, and as such we were pretty eager to leave since we didn’t come to New Zealand to get more of home. In a total “travel moment,” we decided to try to find a cord to connect our iPod into the car stereo on the way out of town and we ended up in the bustling Newmarket district of Auckland for 3 hours…while Jeremy was trying to learn how to drive on the other side of the road…and I was hangry. For our first stressful travel experience, it wasn’t so bad. But we were pretty happy when we finally got on highway 1 to drive south down the west coast.