It was only a quick 2 days back in Sydney to recover from the epic Lovedale Cup weekend before we were again in a cab and headed for Sydney International Airport; destination Aukland, New Zealand. See, our good buddy Oliver was turning 30 in just a few days and, as he does, he'd arranged a mega party weekend at a mansion on the cliffs overlooking the ocean on a small island off the East Coast of North Island New Zealand; Waiheke Island. What's more, Oliver being the International Man of Mystery that he is, he had people from 5 continents flying in for the shindig...North America, South America, Asia, Europe and, of course, Australia...yup, that's how he rolls.
G and I arrived a day early and caught the bus into the Aukland city center where we rendezvoused with a long-lost friend from Melbourne; Jonnie Robertson who was fresh off his trans-pacific flight from Toronto. He was into his second beer of the afternoon by the time we knocked on the door to the 2BR serviced apartment Gina had reserved for us. We were quick to join him for a cold one as we said our hellos and caught up on the 14 months since we'd seen him in his native Ontario, Canada during leg one of our journey; North American Road Trip Extravaganza.
We headed out into Auckland in search of a few welcoming watering holes and eventually to find a decent bite to eat. We ended up with finding a few cool spots and had a number of frosty beverages including a nice happy hour session at a few harbour side establishments. After a quick walk out the pier to oogle a handful of the ridiculous yachts that were moored in the harbour we settled on a nice enough looking place and sat down for a good meal. On the way back to the hotel we noticed the nice-ish area where our hotel had been located that afternoon had transformed into a slightly seedy (at least for NZ standards) red light district...the neon lights of strip clubs and shady bars now illuminated our block. We made our way up to the 35th floor where we enjoyed a last beer while taking in the city views from our small balcony before turning in for the night.
In the morning we packed and left our bags in the storage room while we ventured out for coffee and to fulfill our only real mission of the day, albeit an uber important one, and one that Oliver had hand picked us for: procuring fricket sticks. For those uninitiated, Frickets is a lawn game favorite of our crew and a staple in each and every of the big weekends away that this crew is notorious for. If you want to know how to play, well, I guess you better get yourself involved with one of our weekends!
Anyway, it's not an easy task when you are stuck in the city center without transportation since your best bet for procuring sticks is a large Bunnings or Home Depot type facility, which are typically relegated to surrounding suburbs of major cities. Still we are nothing if not resourceful and clever so a stroll through the mall led us to the broom aisle of a Wal-Mart-esque establishment where we found plastic broom sets that were on sale. A package of industrial strength zip ties and a roll of duct tape and we were in good shape.
We garnered more then a few awkward glances as we headed for the ferry terminal with 4 sets of brooms, several bags of balloons, streamers and happy birthday signs and a slab of the "best beer on earth mate": Steinlager Pure. Jealousy more than anything, I'd say. The ferry across the bay was quick and passed easily as we enjoyed a few cold Steinlagers and watched a local dude smash 6 beers and 4 cigarettes (it was a non-smoking boat) on the 45 minute journey. We wondered why nobody gave him a hard time, but then noticed that he was missing a thumb and forefinger on one hand, had more then a few gnarly scars on his face, and had just about every square inch of exposed skin inked-up with some pretty serious looking tattoos. I guess when you look like a bruiser like that, you get to march to your own drum beat.
We found our way to the bus that took us across the island where I got more looks and comments due to the 4 broom sets and [now opened] slab of Steinlager that I was carrying. A handful of locals gave us amazingly detailed and thorough yet, slightly confusing and contradictory directions to the street our house was on. Kiwis man, they gotta rate up there with some of the friendliest people you'll meet. Funny sounding accents too.
After a ceremonious exit from the bus and a short stroll up the road we found our way to house. We dropped our bags and then walked around to the back which is a beautiful lawn overlooking one of the most absurdly beautiful views you can imagine...yup, Oli- you out did yourself. Paula and Geoff had beaten us there, so we were now 5 people...only 20 more to go and we'd have the full brunt of the party on our hands. We let ourselves in and eased into a few more Steinlagers as the action began; Owner walk through, keg delivery, spit roast delivery, fricket court assembly etc...Yeah, it was gonna be a rough weekend!
That evening a good portion of the rest of the crew showed up and we did our best work to dent the 3 kegs and mountain of food that had been procured in anticipation of feeding and drinking 25 very hungry and very thirsty travelers. It's always amazing to watch the crew come back together; even though many months had passed in some cases, many miles had been traveled in all cases, and even though some people were new to the group; it all went off without a hitch and as if everyone had been hanging out only a week or so ago. Good peoples are like that!
Before we knew it, Thursday morning was upon us, and this was not just any Thursday...it happened to be through coincidence (not really) Thanksgiving Day. And, as it has happened every Thanksgiving since 2008 the preparations were begun for the 5th Annual Ex-Pat Thanksgiving. Becky Reining, as always, was on the turkeys and stuffing and aside from one small incident involving a glass of scalding-hot, melted butter and a smashed bottle of unopened Olive Oil the kitchen preparations went off without a hitch. My question is this: how come nobody every spills flour or something easy to sweep up...always with the greasy, pain in the as$ spills. Oh well, such is life.
Throughout the day the final guests trickled in and everyone took turns lending a hand in the cooking and hanging out on the lawn putting in work on the kegs and doing battle on the fricket court. With only 2 ovens and 3 birds to cook we ended up with a small issue, but one easily worked through...we fired up the industrial sized spit roaster Oliver had rented and threw the 3rd bird on for a spin and test fire. The result was amazing; crispy, well cooked Turkey in a relatively short time. It was demolished in an even shorter time and chalked up as our "appetizer bird".
As the sun set, tables were rearranged and the places were set. The birds were carved and all the food hit the table to a large applause and many emphatic cheers. We enjoyed a great meal which was accompanied by several bottles of nice, local wine and finished off with home made apple and pumpkin pie and then rounded out with a few speeches by various people. After dinner was cleaned up attentions were turned to another favorite game of this crowd: A Game of Zones. Competition was, as ever, fast, furious, and fierce and no player was left unscathed as the Game of Zones exacted its toll on many a competitor.
Friday morning, and cause for yet another celebration and feast: Oliver's Birthday! On the docket for the day was an outdoor adventure led by our "host" on the island, Max...a charismatic and interesting old fella who Oli had found who knows where and who was to take the team bike riding and kayaking on this day. Let me just say, Max is a piece of work. He was early that morning and made himself right at home on a lounge chair on the back lawn, graciously accepted a cup of coffee, and promptly kicked his feet up. He was in no hurry to go anywhere. At last the crew got their stuff together and headed out. G and I led the small group that decided to NOT go on Max's adventure and instead stayed back to hold down the fort and accept a few last deliveries that were expected that afternoon. We were into our 1st ciders of the day when we saw the crew paddling out into the ocean...we were far above perched, peacefully on the lawn and they were a mile or more away...but, I can say that in that heat, on that sunny afternoon I was more than content to be lounging up on the lawn and not sweating it out on the paddle to hell and back. But, don't worry about me, I got my advnenture in when the 2nd and final frisbee went sailing into the thickbushes below the lawn and Oli's friend, also named Adrian, and I ventured down into the thick bush and braved, spiders, thorns and treachourous mud to recover the one of the frisbee. It sucked.
That afternoon another coloful local character showed up; the Waiheke Island butcher and his wife came to deliver the huge slabs of meat; lamb, beef and pork roasts and some side salads for the massive spit roast dinner that was on taps for Oli's Birthday dinner. The crew who'd been out kayaking and biking that day made it back just in time to skewer the meat and get it spinning on the spit roast...they were full of stories of Max and his long winded stories on the bike ride and a few stories of Max's stud-muffin son who led the kayak portion of the trip and who had competed for New Zealand as a kayaker in the London Olympics.
Another night at the mansion and another massive dinner...followed yet again by more games; namely in the form of a flip cup tournament for the ages. "Team Greatness" shredded the competition, the apt named "Sex Panthers" even as the best-of-3 turned into a best-of-5 and then into a eventual best-of-9...and as with all games played amoungst this crew competition was fierce. Meanwhile a dance party was breaking out in the living room and attention was soon turned to this, a less competitive endeavor...but, that being said there was an element of showmanship as people pitted their signature dance moves against eachother.
Saturday, another morning on the lawn enjoying our coffee and another appearance of our friend Max. There was some miscommunication regarding our plans for a wine tour that day with Max and while half the team still was in bed, Max hung out talking to anyone who'd listen and then nobody in particular when one by one people made excuses to go inside. Eventually, he took the hint and bailed only to return 30 minutes later with his wife who was going to wait with us. At last, Oliver explained to the woman that we were still unsure as to what we wanted our plans to be that day and told her that we'd call them in a few hours to discuss.
One thing that was on the cards, was the obligatory costume portion of the weekend that was slated for that afternoon...this weekends theme: "O" in honor of the first initital of our host, Oliver. The costumes, as always did not dissapoint, highlights included, but are in no way, shape or form limited to: Oli and Gilbee as Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and what ever the hell Will Lewis came as...I forget how it was tied to "O", but it was epic...tight spandex onsie in bright yellow which left very little to the imagination and garnered some less than savory attention from the locals down at the vineyard when he ventured out into public. Gina came as a very dashing Ms. Oahu while I pulled the lazy, yet enigmatic card with a thought provoking costume that involved a plain white T-shirt with the number "3" written on it in permanent marker...get it, get it??? I was Odd. Bwah, bwah....oh boy...
Anyway, as I mentioned some people ventured into public that day opting for a wine tasting mission while some stayed back and held down the fort and re-upped on a few supplies that were dwindling by this point in the weekend. Namely, a big run to the bottle shop as we'd managed to murder, and I do mean in cold blood, 3 kegs in about 48 hours...The afternoon was spent on the back patio enjoying the final rays of sunshine that were to grace our backs before it was time to pack it up and head our separate ways the following day. An official frickets tournament took place as well as a spontaneous, but frickin' hilarious name game was invented: everyone of the 25 people was dubbed with a bogan, or red-neck name that they were to be referred to by for the rest of the night...there were some gems glossed, that is for sure.
The final morning and it was time to clean it up, pack it up and generally get our s*** together in preparation for our return to reality. The journey back to Auckland International Airport that afternoon was pretty entertaining as we traveled in mass and passed the time with laughs about various antics, shenanigans and occurances throughout the weekend. We made it to the airport in plenty of time to get some food and hang our for a little longer before the sad process of goodbyes began to take place.
People were scattering: most back to Australia, a handful back to North America and some on to more adventures around the world. Gina and I were on our way back to Sydney for a few nights to get our stuff together before we caught the final flight of the trip, back to the US. I've said it before in this blog when writing about a weekend away with this crowd; it's never goodbye it's always see you later, because even if we don't know when or where, there is no question that it is a matter of WHEN not IF we will all get together for yet another massive weekend in yet another amazing location around the world.
Sydney passed in the blink of an eye, only 2 nights, but again hosted by the most b****ingly generous hosts you could ever ask for: Ali Sutho and Chris Devlin...we had a few ceremonious "lasts": a last run in Bondi, a last coffee at our favorite coffee shop, and then finally the last pack job. It was strange packing our trusty backpacks for the final time, the things that had had their exact place for 15 months in that backpack being placed there for the last time. Even stranger hoppping into the cab for the last cab ride to an airport...but, we received a nice surprise when we checked in: upgraded to Premium Economy...love Qantas sometimes.
And, at last the plane was off the ground and we watched as Sydney and Australia faded behind us...It was our home for 3 years and a safe haven for us for the 18 months that we've been vagabond travelers, a place where many, many amazing friendships were forged...the kind of friendships that people will fly around the world for. Somehow, I have a feeling it may not be too, too long until we are lucky enough to grace her shores again. Until then to Aus and the Aus Crew...