New Zealand: Auckland

14/12/18 - 18/12/18
Distance travelled: 4910km

Downtown Auckland from Mt. Eden

We arrived in Auckland on Friday 14 December at around midday after 35 hours in transit. We had taken three flights: Rome to China, a domestic flight in China and then a final flight from China to Auckland. We flew with Hianan Airlines and, despite feeling completely out of kilter on the internal flight as that was when the jet-lag really threw us a mean punch, we had a very positive experience on our first ever long-haul flight. We’d spent three days in Ostia preparing for the trip, which included mega cleaning and bike dismantling, and so it felt good when we were finally in the air. The food on the flights was great by my flight-food standards (limited experience): an especial shout out to the rice and broccoli on flight 1 (it tasted magical!), and to the free tea and biscuits we had too (we simply went to the back of the plane to collect the goodies!). We also watched four films and a documentary each. It took me hours to get through Christopher Robin as I kept falling asleep, and then I’d argue it wasn’t really worth the constant rewinding. Checking the bikes into oversized luggage at each stage was a bit of a faff, but the boxes held up – thanks to some extra tape donated to us in Xi'an – and the laundry bags (somewhat unbelievably) did too.

Rome check-in
On the plane!  Solid 'selfie effort' from Olly, again...

Beautiful air-hostess uniform

Super tasty broccoli and rice

There were the usual airport dramas and stresses (talk to Olly about the queue disorganisation at Xi'an and he’ll go from cool cucumber to firey pickle in a flash), perhaps most notably watching and waiting for the bikes to arrive in Auckland. A lady and a sniffer dog came round and I knew I looked guilty because of the herbs, spices and tea bags I had stashed in my bag, but fortunately we weren’t of any interest to the pup, and I had declared EVERYTHING on my form anyway, we just hadn’t got to ‘Customs’ yet! Just as we were starting to really worry about the bikes, two big, strong guys walked through the doors carrying our bike boxes ON THEIR SHOULDERS! They placed them delicately onto the trolleys we had ready and as we struggled away, they shrugged off our thanks and walked back out towards the planes.

Already looking a bit wild after just the first flight
Having declared everything, to the extent that we were told to stop opening panniers, Customs was no bother. We do now think that being advised to wear Factor 90 suncream was the police lady’s idea of a joke, but I was taking everything so seriously I thanked her so much for her advice. (I’d also shown her all of my teabags and offered to talk her through all my herbs and spices and so you probably can’t blame her!) We were then pointed in the direction of Bio Security. We handed over our tent to be checked for undesirables (dirt or bugs) and cleaned and were told to pick it up from a window in the arrivals lounge in about half an hour. We then opened up the bike boxes and displayed anything that had been muddy. A guy with a camera strolled over, but we weren’t causing any drama and so he didn’t stay to film. (Only when he walked away did I find out the poop trowel!  I'm sure that would have got his attention.) The lady in Bio Security was friendly and helpful, and an outdoorsy type herself which was useful (she didn’t bat an eye when I displayed aforementioned trowel), and she soon had us on our way.

And so we stepped through the doors of no return and into New Zealand!

We’d been told to head left and past McDonald’s to the bike assembly area and Olly was overjoyed to see bike-work stands mounted into the wall which made things a lot easier. Whilst Olly worked on the bikes, I repacked panniers, went in search of some food (Pita Pit) and set us up with a New Zealand SIM card from the smiley people in the Spark NZ shop (Spark is the top choice, I think, because they have little free WiFi hubs all over the country which are really useful). Once the time came to get on the bikes and cycle the 20km to Helen and Richard’s in Sandringham, our Warm Showers hosts until we took the ferry over to the Coromandel Peninsula - an incredible four nights, the adrenaline had started to wear off and the jet-lag to truly kick in. (Olly threw, what he claims to be his only “tired tantrum” of the trip when I mentioned that there was something wrong with my gears...  They were back to front!)

It was testament to our time in Europe that as soon as we started cycling we headed over to the right-hand side of the road, fortunately it was one way traffic or else we’d have been in a real situation! We pedalled over to the left-hand side of the road and soon were on cycle ways, heading out of the airport and towards New Zealand’s most populous, but not capital, city. We had paused at a funky and futuristic-sounding cycle and pedestrian crossing when another cyclist pulled up alongside us and asked where we were heading. With Simon, an Air New Zealand worker, leading the way, we were across the Mangere Bridge in no time and he waved goodbye as he headed to One Tree Hill and we to Sandringham. All of our encounters so far seemed to epitomise what we had heard about the warmth and friendliness of the Kiwis.

I remember vividly cycling down Dominion Road and my nose having a field day because of how good all of the cafes and restaurants smelt! Even with three months on this one road I think I’d have struggled to try every eatery! We arrived at Helen and Richard’s, where an ‘aroha’ sign was visible through the front door - aroha is the Maori word for ‘love’. We were greeted like old friends and then left to shower, grab a bite to eat and sleep. Lights out for us was at 2030, though it wasn’t yet dark outside.

We got up at 9 the following morning and the heat and the light of summer were immediately noticeable. We had launched ourselves out of the European winter and into the southern hemisphere summer and it was interesting to me how quickly I embraced all of the summer time feelings. We were very much in ‘hibernation mode’ during our final few weeks in Italy: we were craving ‘cosy’ after a day outdoors. Suddenly we had lots more light and lots more time. We were able to ‘do things later’ because ‘later’ existed; we were in no rush to get in before dark and so during those first three days in Auckland we became unhurried and relaxed. I know this is not new to anybody, but the summertime is so beneficial for us for these reasons. Whether or not I felt that the summer didn’t taste quite so sweet because we hadn’t endured the winter is something I contemplated a lot during those first few days. Plants were lush and flowers in full bloom; the heady smell of jasmine will forevermore, I think, transport me back to those Auckland days as it lined the roadsides and flowered in almost everyone’s garden. We moan and groan about the winter, but surviving it does make the spring and the eventual summer all the more special, I think.

I’m not complaining though! On Saturday morning we cycled into the city, guided most of the way by Helen and Richard. There was a cycle way almost directly from their door to the centre and I found this really impressive, there were even queues of cyclists during ‘rush hour’ which was so great to see! Particularly impressive was the pink cycle highway from which you could see the four-lane motorway and all of the cars sat stationary on it! We headed down to the harbour and then to Britomart for lunch. We stopped at a place called Amano where the first item on the menu was Focaccia di Recco! We couldn’t believe it! It was a very cool spot and for a second I felt a little out of place in my walking trousers and UV protective shirt. Then I thought about how I had been in Recco just a few weeks beforehand and didn’t worry further.

Britomart with Christmas lights
Art installation about the importance of water - I loved it!

In Amano

The Sky Tower

Poem in English
Poem in Maori
The Sky Tower - again!

Cycle highway

I thought I had beaten the jet-lag, but Sunday was a slow day. We went to the supermarket to replenish supplies and, as ever, I enjoyed the ‘new supermarket experience’. (We have struggled not to buy ‘mint slices’ since.) We then bumbled around for the rest of the day in a bit of a daze.

Touring bike vs. Lime Scooter

The next day was a good one! Filled with discovery and fun! We started with a cycle to Mount Eden, passing Eden Park, the home of the All Blacks, on our way. Without panniers, the climb to the top of the former volcano was certainly easier, but we were going to have to get used to the heat! From the top we had a great view over the city and we admired it with a cereal bar before we headed down in search of a camping shop for fuel.

Looking as cool as ever in 'the Terminators'

Fuel successfully purchased, we then cycled around to Mission Bay, stopping en route for lunch in the Parnell Rose Garden where the Pohutukawa trees were so beautiful. In addition to the heat and the jasmine, the Pohutukawa, or New Zealand Christmas Trees, made a strong impression on us: they bloom red at Christmastime and apparently this year, many trees were particularly resplendent. Tui birds almost made an impact.  We immediately noticed their distinctive call sat on Helen and Richard’s back terrace. The Tui have little white blobs under their heads, which I think makes them look like lawyers in their traditional garb. Tuis feed, and get drunk, on nectar and swoop around at crazy speeds, hollering as they go.

New Zealand has a strong café and coffee culture and Auckland was awash with cool places and there was no way to try them all. We stopped at Red Rabbit Café after lunch and I loved the chilled-out, electronic music that was playing in the airy space and the cocoa-coated almonds – a kiwi Christmas special – that you could help yourself to on the counter. (I did take a few, though I know it’s probably polite just to take one…) From there, filled with caffeine and cocoa, we cycled around the coast to Mission Bay and I got so hot paddling that I ditched my shirt and went for a swim in my cycle shorts. Olly came to join, but we didn’t stay in too long, fearing for our skin!

Drying off, Olly pointed out a penguin. I rolled my eyes. Penguins are not to be found at Mission Bay, it was another black and white bird, with an admittedly penguin-esque head, called a shag. Olly then cried, ‘seal!’. And again I rolled my eyes, turning to look regardless. And there, bobbing in the sea close to the shore, was something. We walked towards the water to get a closer look and a great, big seal swam towards, and finally landed on, the beach. We couldn’t believe it! For about thirty-seconds we had her all to ourselves and then she was surrounded. I still can’t understand why a man with two rottweilers got as close as he did. We worried a bit, and so called a centre having Googled, ‘seal-beach-Auckland’. Although not unheard of, an elephant seal sunbathing at Mission Bay is quite rare and made the local news! We were mesmerised and have loved telling the ‘New Sealand’ story. (Thanks to Josh for the pun!)

A yawn...  The seal stayed to sunbathe for two days.

On Monday night we were treated to a Malaysian tea by Najiah, another Warm Showers cycle-tourist staying with Helen and Richard, before we started to re-pack the panniers ready for the New Zealand adventure proper to begin. Me and Olly took a quick night-time stroll to see the Sky Tower lit up red and green for Christmas: ‘the big day’ was just a week away at this point, but we felt so removed it all – for better and for worse.

On Tuesday morning we left early, bidding Helen and Richard goodbye. We are so grateful to them for hosting us for four nights which had enabled us to recover from jet-lag and to start to find our feet in NZ. They offered so much advice and support and shared stories about their travels home and abroad. Having heard so much about the country that awaited us, we set off excitedly for the ferry in downtown Auckland. And I really felt excited: I was as excited as I was at the very beginning of the trip, bubbling with anticipation. We took the now familiar route across the pink highway and into the city, down to the harbour to Pier 4 and waited for the 8.45 ferry which would cross the Hauraki Gulf and deposit us on the Coromandel Peninsula.