A late night Christmas post…

14th November 2010 – Sunday 9.10am

About 24 hours ago, we touched down in Auckland airport after over 24 hours of travelling. Now, my belly has about adjusted to the 13 hour time difference, and I’m starting to feel a bit more like a human.

New Zealand is plush, green and hilly with houses dotted throughout the landscape. But they aren’t houses like you get in the UK – brick buildings, with little aesthetic design or character, more just functional purpose – they aren’t on estates filled with imitations, but suburbs filled with houses differing completely in style. No two are the same. There are old school American style houses with vast veranda’s to take in the picturesque views, houses reminiscent of a Sheik;s palace, and then your not so average two up, two down houses with tin roofs.

The weather at the moment is fine – mild with a cool wind which tends to turn up as the evening draws in. It’s falling dark at around 8.30pm, but from our hilltop perch in Cockle Bay, we can overlook most of the suburb, to see the streetlights scattered throughout the valley below us, like stars on a night when the sky isn’t perfectly clear.

Today we’re heading to Botany and Eastern beach to start our trip slowly – neither Sophie or I are feeling up to anything too exciting. After all, our bodies, though somewhat adjusted still think it’s 8.22pm – our adventure will start for real tomorrow.

I still can’t believe I;m here but I think it will sink in when I get my hands on some NZ dollars, and start to see some of this country I’m already a bit in love with.

NB: It’s 9.30am. My belly thinks it’s teatime.

6.04pm

I forgot to mention, our trip got off to an interesting start with a call to an ambulance, and the pulling of the emergency cord on the London Underground when Sophie, for some inexplicable reason, collapsed. I was struck by a moment of pure terror when her pupils became the size of her irises, her eyelids were blacker than the current jetlag induced bags under my eyes, and every ounce of colour fell from her face as she lurched towards the floor. But a drink of water and some fresh air, and she was back ready to go. We rushed through Heathrow Airport (which is the size of a small city, incidentally) but she didn’t return to her normal colour for about 12 hours. I’d never called 999, or pulled an emergency cord on a tube – this trip was a selection of firsts right from the get go.

Hopefully there will be no further events requiring emergency cords to be yanked, or the 9’s (111 in NZ) to be called.

17th Nov 2010 – 8.57am

I can’t believe I’ve only been here five days, and already I’ve fallen behind on keeping track of what we do on this trip. It’s almost like I can’t quite take it all in, let alone articulate it in elegant words and sentence structures. I’m still not even sure what day it is. It still feels completely surreal that I’m here.

On Sunday (14th) we headed to Botany Town Centre for a mooch around the shops, a gentle start to our Kiwi adventure. We decided to pick up a picnic and head to Eastern Beach (the Oldridge’s former neighbourhood) to enjoy the sunshine. Temperatures were hitting above 20 degrees c, and with the hole in the O-Zone layer above NZ you could very much feel it. We were unprepared for this weather to say the least – I packed jeans and wooly jumpers, with cardi’s and coats. But I needn’t have bothered. So far the weather has been so perfect I’ve barely needed a cardigan, except for when that wind starts to pick up.

Eastern Beach was a wonderful – a small bay with shell scattered sand, perfect blue green water and the odd ‘bro’ in his lowered car. Evidently boy racers don;t just exist in the UK, but here too, and Eastern Beach is one of their favoured locations. If I lived here, I’d happily spend my days there too.

On Monday (15th) we took a steady start to the day as we were still recovering, and drove into the city to visit the museum which explored Maori culture and NZ history. Seeing all the Maori artefacts makes you realise how rich the culture of this society is and how proud they are to be Maori – just look at the way the All Blacks perform The Haka before every rugby game. Sometimes I feel like Brits are not proud to be British, for whatever reason – more often, they’re ashamed, so it was interesting to see the attitudes of the NZ’ers.

Auckland itself is a strange sort of city, in that it hardly feels like a city at all. There’s no hustl and bustle, no urgency in it’s residents – it doesn’t even sound like a city – it’s almost too quiet. There’s not that hum and patter of people rushing from place to place. I always think that cities are defined by their sound – the buzz of traffic, the murmur of people, the snatches of conversation, but not Auckland. It had a more relaxed vibe, a less uptight feel. I liked it a lot.

And the Sky Tower is something special. A bit like the Angel of the North, which I also adore, it isn’t universally liked by the residents of the city. It’s seen as an eyesore, but to my eyes, it seems like the centrepoint that the city builds up to. There are few skyscrapers, but those there are seem in some ways as though they aspire to be the Sky Tower, as though they aim to become that focal point in th city. But as one of the tallest buildings in this hemisphere, they’re going to have to work hard.

The ferry back from the city was one of the rare commutes you would wish for. The journey gave you dazzling views of the city skyline, almost all of the way back to Half Moon Bay. If I could do that every day, I think my journey to work would be a brighter start to the day.

***

In all honesty, after this, my journal coverage of the trip to NZ became hazy, in that it stopped happening at all. I became so wrapped up in my days, I barely had time to acknowledge what I was doing, let alone try and say it in good sentences.

I toyed with the idea of writing the trip up as though I had filled my journal daily, but I don’t see the point. I planned on writing each entry when I returned. I’ve been back three weeks and I’ve failed to do that, perhaps because I fell into a new job, but instead, I’m going to attempt to describe the trip now, from my memory, in its currently slightly overtired, slightly underfed state.

It took me a while to actually realise I was in New Zealand. Despite the lengthy travelling, and the numerous movies I knew I’d watched on the plane, I couldn’t grasp that I was on the other side of the world, almost the furthest I could be from home.

Perhaps it was that I was there with Sophie, a friend I knew in the settings of Hurworth, Leeds and Liverpool, perhaps it was that I was staying with her family that I’d known in the UK, perhaps it was even as simple as seeing their old furniture in their 70’s style NZ house, and feeling like I was still in a beautiful bungalow, not far from Darlington. I don’t know. All I do know is that I never expected the feeling to be so bizarre.

I kept thinking that I’d adjusted to the time difference, kept thinking that the biggest problem of my belly’s meal requirements had adapted (food is, as ever, my main issue and one of the most important things in my life), but then I’d find myself wanting curries at ridiculous hours of the morning, and finding myself wide awake at 3am, feeling like I should be up, hunting for jobs and dropping in on my no longer pregnant sister and her newlyborn Charlie. For a while, I thought the turning point was when we travelled over the Auckland Bridge to Devonport, but I don’t think I ever knew that I was in that country, until I got into my bed in the UK upon my return.

But the places that I saw, I’m not even sure I can do them justice with words. Some things in life just need to be seen, and I would say that NZ is easily a prime example of one of those things.

Every place we visited, I became infatuated with.

Devonport with it’s striking views of Auckland; the unnerving feeling of standing at the top of the Sky Tower, with a glass plate beneath your feet, and the 360 degree views of the city and further; the outstandingly smelly ‘thermal wonderland’ of Wai-o-Tapu; the almost too picturesque Lake Rotorua; the sensational and perfect Piha (definitely the ultimate highlight); the unique feeling of travelling by ferry to the island of Waiheke, the North Shore with it’s sandy beaches and obscenely long and unbelievable shelves on the shoreline, meaning that over 100metres from shore, the water was still only at knee level…………I almost don’t think you’d believe me if I told you. Do you believe me? I wouldn’t believe me.

These places really stick with me actually, most of my memories are still fresh, still strong, even after a long week in a new job where I’m still trying to find my feet. A ‘writer’ shouldn’t say it, but I can’t find the words to explain the magnificence of the country. And in the three weeks I was there, we only scratched the surface, hardly touched the enormity of it’s splendour.

Of course, everywhere has it’s problems. Nowhere in the world can be perfect, and whilst on holiday it’s easy to look at everything with a distorted perspective, but I think NZ is fairly wonderful, warts and all. My only issue is that I thought a spell of travelling would supress the travelling bug that has been rising within me. As of yet, it’s only ignited the fever. For now, though, I will remain a stationary traveller, and dream of my next adventure.

Merry Christmas everyone – and happy New Year.  Wishing you all the best for 2011!

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