Wednesday: Hello from New Zealand! I arrived very early (about 4:00AM) in Auckland. Flying from Rarotonga to Auckland involved crossing the international date line, a first for me, so suddenly Tuesday went poof! and the clock just moved forward an entire day. The upside is that is one less night I needed to spend money on a hotel! I still haven't wrapped my head around the international date line, and had thought I'd have plenty of time to philosophize and come to grips with the concept while sailing across it, but I'll just roll with it like everything else.
I spent my last night on Aitutaki in Vaipae, on the other side of the island from Amuri, where I had been. Carol and her family were incredibly gracious to scoop me up after they went to church, bring me to their house, settle me into a room of my own, get me on their wifi, and feed me well (ice cream and yellow bread for lunch, some mango, then delicious chicken, pumpkin, rice, potato salad and spinach for dinner). I offered to help cook but she said she's not much of a cook and her husband does all the cooking; she certainly is blessed! And of course Carol made sure I got to the airport on time in the morning. Vaipae is quieter, and it was nice not to hear the sometimes-continual buzz of scooters going by that one can get in Amuri. I'm sad that I went all that way and didn't get to see the beautiful lagoon and its giant clams, snorkel, or enjoy much beach and water time, or hike across the island. However, I arrived a tourist and left a friend, so I will certainly have to return to beautiful Aitutaki. A huge and heartfelt thank you to Carol and her entire family and to Emma, too!
I arrived in Rarotonga at 10:00AM and had until 1:45AM for my flight to Auckland. I left luggage at the airport and paid NZ$16 for an all-day bus pass to go round the island. I grabbed a great burger and fries at Boogie's Burgers in Avarua, then headed to Muri to see likely the nicest stretches of beach in Raro. I immediately regretted not wearing a bikini under my clothes so I could've hopped in for a swim or a snorkel, but going back to the airport would have taken too much time. I sat on the beach and enjoyed the view while trying to get my phone and ipad charged up with my solar charger. I waded in the waves a bit, and watched some of the various off-leash dogs wander about. They always approach me, never aggressive, give a sniff, and once they realize I have no food they just take a pet or two and move on.
I hopped the bus again and headed further around the island. I stopped for a happy hour glass of wine at a very elegant resort and watched rough waves building and crashing just past the beach. I walked further down the road and stopped at The Anchorage for a beer and some delicious garlic bread. The bartendress there was very friendly and helpful and also a blogger, so hopefully she'll pass along her blog information if she wanders over to read this one. The Anchorage had a bookshelf full of books and games and the librarian's daughter in me couldn't help but start organizing the books to fit the shelves better while I waited, but I stopped short of organizing into subject areas. I headed out to the road early so I wouldn't miss the bus going by as I needed to get back to airport. Now the sun had set and all was dark. I waited and waited, but the bus still hadn't come and I grew concerned about whether there was time enough for me to walk. A woman pulled up on a scooter. "Where you going?" she asked. I told her I was waiting on the bus for the airport but it still hadn't come. "Hop on." she told me. I asked if she was sure and she said she had to go right by the airport anyway on the way to her husband's bowling match. So, we zipped along around the last stretch of the island and she dropped me right at the little terminal. My experience has been that while Cook Islanders could be reserved at first, once you break through that circumspection, once you show that you are interested in the locals, they welcome you with open arms. One ugly American put a damper on my trip, but countless Cook Islanders and Kiwis have made the trip a wonderful adventure.
Thursday: I arrived in New Zealand yesterday not even knowing where I would stay the night or where I should head. I spent a few hours in the Auckland airport with a Rarotongan, Doug, who had been seated next to me on the flight, helping him get sorted for his onward flight and gathering an armful of maps and brochures to try to orient myself since I hadn't yet done much research on New Zealand. Though I'm quite free-spirited, I never stayed in a hostel in my youth and although the price was much more palatable than a hotel, I was worried about keeping all my gear safe. A couple of backpackers from the flight mentioned the hostel they had found and I tried to book a cheap rate for a private room online, without success. I was out of free wifi time at the airport and just hopped on the bus to downtown. I walked a block to the hostel and just rolled the bones on a 6-bed female-only dorm room for NZ$31 per night (about US$27 per night). There is a drawer under my bunk where I loaded all my gear and popped on a small padlock. The mixed (i.e., with men and women) bathroom and showers is down the hall. But I soon realized I'm used to dorm-style bathroom facilities since that's been marina-life for two years. A hotel would have been NZ$100/night, and the fancy place north in wine country that I was dreaming of would be NZ$140/night. I decided that I'll probably enjoy the trip more if I can save as much money as possible on lodging and instead eat interesting food, take some tours and ferries, and buy a little memento here and there. Yes, people come and go at different hours than I might so we wake each other up, but it's a dry and non-smoking hostel and the hostel arranges pub crawls (going on one tonight) and walking tours (planning to join one tomorrow) and even has a sauna and jacuzzi on the roof.
Though I landed in Auckland not knowing anyone, not even knowing where I would spend the night, by the end of the day I had met two great new friends, Zane and Michelle. A few days before leaving Aitutaki I had posted on Cruisers' Forum that I was looking to hop a boat sailing for Niue and/or Tonga. Zane responded with some tips and when I mentioned that I was resigned to a trip to New Zealand he offered to bring me along as crew on their Friday night races in Auckland harbor. I certainly couldn't turn down the opportunity to go sailing after coming all this way. Then he emailed me that he and his wife had made reservations for an unforgettable dinner and I couldn't refuse to join them. We went to dinner at the top of the Sky Tower, in a revolving fine dining restaurant, taking in a stunning 360 degree view of Auckland and the sparkling lights once the sun set. Many restaurants with great views leave something to be desired with respect to the food, but not this one. I had delicious corn-fed chicken with pumpkin puree and green beans. A woman after my own heart, Michelle ordered a second dish of garlic aioli for our fries. The hokey pokey ice cream (it's a Kiwi thing; think chunks of gooey caramel in ice cream) and ginger creme brulee are not to be missed! Small world that it is, Zane and Michelle are coming to the Annapolis boat show, just over 6 weeks away, so hopefully I can return some of their amazing hospitality with a local's tour of Eastport. Before long they'll be sailing across the Pacific having the adventure of a lifetime. I can't thank them enough for giving such a warm Kiwi welcome to some random girl from the internet and helping kick off my New Zealand adventure in style.
I ran 6 miles along the waterfront this morning, and will have to take a camera along on the next run. Then I've been running around trying to find a warm pair of shoes, as the "warmest" shoes with me are open Keen water shoes. I keep wishing I had brought my Uggs but hate to spend so much money on another pair when they are very seasonal in Annapolis. I looked and looked and ended up getting a pair of leather Keen shoes that have the profile of a sneaker but more oomph to them like a boot. They'll be great for tramping around being a backpacker for the next two+ weeks but will also be 3 or 4 season shoes back home. Pricey, they were, but also oh so comfy. It was clear we were meant for each other. The guys at the outdoor shop were great and when I asked for a tip for middle eastern or asian for lunch they suggested a tapas place called mezze. It was about NZ$30 all in, but I had kofte, hummus, bread, a glass of wine, baklava, and some rose Turkish delight. The atmosphere of leather couches and low tables can't be beat, and it's their free wifi that is making this post possible just now.
Alright, time for me to go enjoy some adventures! Many thanks from the bottom of my heart to my friends back home who made it possible for me to take the trip (Mike and Jenn puppy-sitting and Fred boat- and cat-sitting and all the folks who stepped up as back-ups) and to all my new friends in the Cooks and New Zealand who have made the trip a heart-warming adventure so far.