The story so far: Our time in New Zealand is almost up. We spent 4 days in Auckland, headed to Fiji for a week, and we're now back in Auckland for one night before heading East again, across the Pacific Ocean to Chile. I'll try to compress the days since the glowworm caves into this one blog entry...
Auckland gets a bad rap in tourist lore. Just another city. Concrete Jungle. Fly in and move on. Based on this reputation, we decided to book a motel near the airport and shuttle in and out to the city centre as we wanted/needed. Our first impression of Auckland was confirming our prejudices. We pulled up outside our motel - the Travel Air Motel - and got a sinking feeling. We're not so picky. We have only run away from one other hotel in 6 months. But when we saw our rooms, we realised that we had been completely misled. If I had thought of it in time, I would have taken pictures for you to compare to their website. We got into the car again, leaving some of our our luggage, with a plan to see the city and look for alternative accommodation for the following nights, and were very pleasantly surprised by what we say. It's a bigger city than anything else we've seen in NZ. Bigger and more built up than the capital, Wellington. But it was pretty. There was a nice rolling feel to the streets (a bit like parts of Wellie), nice views out over the water, and parkland easily visible from parts of the built-up centre. With the help of i-Site, at the base of Auckland's famous Sky Tower, we found a great deal for a luxurious hotel right in the centre. We figured that the relaxing part of our trip (Fiji) could start a few days early.
And that's how it came to pass. We went back to the fleapit near the airport, paid $20 penalty for late cancellation, picked up our luggage and left in a cloud of dust and relief. That was the easy part. Then came the walk of shame. When you're staying in a posh hotel, it seems bad form to trail across it's wide lobby, dressed for the road and with laden down with bags of groceries and knicknacks. But when you have to do it, do it with your chin up. We must have made a fine sight, Cheerios poking out of the plastic bags, a dusty single file of noses in the air. We shopped a little, took a spin across harbour bridge to Devonport for a walk and a few photos, ate on Ponsonby Road, and checked out Auckland Museum (again, an excellent example of how museums should be put run).
If I hadn't bungied in Taupo, I would have considered jumping off the Sky Tower, but luckily all that was out of my system. Instead we hand a poolside view of the jumpers from the fifth floor of our hotel. The tower itself is a beautiful feature of the city, and I was surprised to learn that it was so new - built in 1995. It dominates the cityscape, and gives the place a focus and an identity. It's hard to imagine Auckland without the Sky Tower. That's the best test for any new structure (I wonder if Dubliners have yet come to the same conclusion about the Spire).
During our 12 weeks in New Zealand, I've learned that this is not just a smaller, colder version of Australia, nor are Kiwis indistinguishable from Aussies. There is something very different going on here, and these two new countries have very different histories despite their superficial similarities. I have at least one other blog in me about those differences, and the part they play in explaining the gap between Maori and Australian Aboriginal. It's unfortunate, but probably unavoidable, to describe New Zealand by contrasting it with its bigger neighbour. But the fact remains that the differences really are surprising. If history had taken a very slightly different turn (for example if NZ didn't take part in the Boer War, and thereby find itself afterwards in a period of intense nationalist sentiment), New Zealand just might have been federated alongside New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the others into what became Australia. The fact that it didn't, and has continued in many different political, social and cultural ways to plough its own furrow, has added to the diversity of this region, and provided the world with some truly worthwhile examples.
I'm going to miss the place, but I'm more than ready to move on. We've been too long in English-speaking countries which, for all their differences, are clearly not going to be as different as China was, or as Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina are likely to be. The next six weeks might be viewed as our homeward leg. We're going to cross the International Date Line within an hour of taking off tomorrow. For those of you in Europe it means that, like a coin moving invisibly between a magician's hands, we'll appear on the other side of your screen. From 12 hours ahead of you, we'll suddenly be just 5 hours behind you. Having lost hours with each move to the east, we'll be paid back in bulk (and in advance for future time zones crossed) by being given the chance to live parts of the 11th and 12th of July twice. We're getting closer to home, and we can now say that next month, we'll be back in Ireland.
It might be viewed as our homeward leg. But I'll play every mental trick that I can to remind myself that six weeks is a looooong vacation, even if it comes as the last six weeks of an eight month trip. I'm gasping for the kind of discomfort that comes with moving through non-English speaking territory, and the chance for Nina and Sara to see a whole other way of life.