Thursday 28 March, 2002
Flight from Singapore to Auckland leaving at 8:30 PM – after a full day of work, I am finally gone… I have been thinking about going to New Zealand for over two years and I have been actively planning this trip for over six months. I am also leaving about two months later than I intended. I am sure everything will work out in the end…
The plane is completely full, but it looks like I might have a free seat next to me. But no such luck! The last person to board the plane sits next to me. The doors are closed and we take off right on time.
Friday 29 March, 2002
Arrive in Auckland at 10:30 AM after a 10-hour flight, and not much sleep, but I have been able to relax for several hours and I am not too tired.
Taxi to the hotel I had reserved – compared to Singapore, I feel that the 50 NZ$ cost for the taxi is rather high.
The temperature is 22 C and the humidity is below 40% -no air conditioning and finally I breathe again. I am really looking forward to spending three weeks without the need for A/C.
After a short rest and a shower at the hotel, I walk around the city and visit the site of the last and next America’s Cup, where teams from New Zealand, Italy, Great Britain and the United States are already practicing. I even see Prada I and Prada II coming back from a morning of sailing (photo to the right). At the entrance to the “America’s Cup Village” sits the New Zealand challenger in 1989 or 1990: “The Big Boat”. This was the one America’s Cup that ended up being decided in the courts rather than on the water as both countries (US and N?Z) questioned the legality of the other boat (the US had a catamaran skippered by Dennis Conner). On the bay, there is a boat with a mast much higher than any other boat. As it comes closer, I notice the drawing of the America’s Cup on the mainsail. Sail # NZL-40 is strange though – and the boat has a white hull; the nick name of the New Zealand defenders of the America’s Cup is “Black Magic” and they always have boats with a black hull. I later find out that this boat was intended as a challenger in the 1995 cup in San Diego for a Bermuda Yacht Club. However, the hull was not completed until 1996 – a bit late to compete. A NZ company bought the boat and is now offering day-sails in Auckland on a ‘real’ America’s Cup Boat. As it gets closer, I notice what looks like 25-30 people in the cockpit! I am no longer interested in doing this.
In the late afternoon, I visit Sky City, a large complex with the tallest building (a needle tower) in the southern hemisphere. From here, the view is spectacular, especially given that the sky is menacing over most of the city. However, pictures did not come out as the windows were heavily tinted and give a shade of green to everything.
Saturday 30 March, 2002
Still in Auckland, I decide to visit Waiheke Island, a small island (looks like less than 3 km long in my guide) in the bay outside Auckland. I take an early ferry to go across and arrive there at 10 AM planning to explore the island on foot.
The first sign I see when I leave the ferry shows Ostend 33 km! They cannot mean the one I know about which is more like 33000 km away – maybe this island is larger than I thought. I than decide to rent a bicycle so that I can move around a little more. After all, Ostend is a flat place where bicycles will get you everywhere. This area is slightly different, however, especially after I miss the turn to Belgium Street and end up having to go over a very steep climb to reach the North side of the island. I have not been able to find out why a small village is called Ostend and there is a Belgium Street on the island.
I also discover that there is a Jazz Festival going on for the Easter weekend. Great – I get to hear good music while I am sipping good wine and eating a sandwich under an olive tree in one of the local wineries. I meander on small roads from beach to small park and from quaint pub to cozy neighborhood for several hours.
I unfortunately need to leave early so that I can get my rental car before they close at 5PM.
Sunday 31 March, 2002
I leave Auckland in the early morning for Kerikeri, near the Bay of Islands in the North of the North Island.
On the way I stop in the Waipura Kauri National Forest, the place where you can see the largest tree in New Zealand. These trees are not particularly pretty (some people might actually go as far as calling them ugly) and are not particularly tall! But they are MASSIVE! The largest tree, Tane Mahuta (the 7 largest trees have been given names – this one is shown to the left), is over 5.2 m in diameter and has a straight trunk over 50 m tall. On top of that, it has 4-5 small branches that look totally inadequate compared to the bulk of the trunk. These are Kauri trees – not to be confused with the Kaori trees of Western Australia. The N-Z Kauri is a pine tree while the Kaori is a Eucalyptus; the Kauri is short and squat, the Kaori is tall and slender – but they are both very impressive trees, and live to over 500 years old in order to get this big. In both cases, the trees were almost exterminated by logging in the mid 1900 before they became protected. Te Matua Ngahere, wider but shorter than Tane Mahuta, is believed to be the widest and oldest tree in New Zealand, at over 4000 years old. There are lot’s of smaller versions that have trunks of only 2 m diameter, and are only a few 100 years old. Compared to the two monsters already mentioned, they are of no importance, and are not even indicated in the guide or on the walking trails.
In Kerikeri, I find a very nice Bed and Breakfast for me to spend 2 nights. It is almost like staying at home as I am actually staying in the “guest room” of a private house owned by very nice people. When I arrived, I am served “afternoon tea” and given a summary of the activities that I can do while in Kerikeri. I discovered later that this is customary in most B&Bs in New Zealand.