Well, not quite, but almost. We are starting in the right direction for the first time on our trip. Ever since we left home we've been getting further and further away from it, all the way to New Zealand, the nation furthest away from us. Leaving it in any direction, save heading to Antarctica, means going towards home! We still have plenty to see and do though with almost eighty more days to go. Thus, I'll be writing these excessively long entries for a while still.
We returned our trusty and much loved Mighty Igel (actually a Mighty Jackpot campervan) at the Mighty office near Auckland's international airport. We had a little trouble finding a place to dump our waste since dump stations seemed to be rare in the area. We got it done none the less and had the car at the office by three p.m. as promised. We said our sad farewells to the car that had been our home for almost three weeks and took out everything we deemed ours. Most of the things we'd acquired on the road we left on a shelf for others to grab but a few things we still held on to.
Everything went smoothly with the returning of the vehicle and we were done with it in almost no time at all. We took our time in the office though, since they offered free wifi. Also, they had an agreement with a taxi company to relocate their customers to the town center for $35 (cash only), which we gladly accepted since the other option would have been to take a bus to the airport and then a $16 per person shuttle. Taxi from the airport was supposed to cost about $70 to the center, so the deal really was great. Our Indian driver knew the hotel we had made reservations at, the Jucy Hotel associated with the Jucy campervans one sees everywhere in Australia and New Zealand, and took us there in about half an hour. He also tried to make a deal for us for the return journey to the airport, but we declined his $45 offer. We were glad to find out at the hotel that they offered the same deal for $35 so we saved some money there.
Jucy Hotel was a nice place in other respects too. The building is clearly old but recently renovated, up to some extent. We got a double room with shared bathroom downstairs where the walls were a little worn everywhere where they hadn't painted them bright green. The green and purple color scheme they have cleverly masks the parts that aren't in that good of a shape so none of that bothered us much. There was hot water in the showers, the kitchen facilities were above average in the price range and they had a TV room with a bunch of DVDs to choose from. All for $64.35 per night (double room), which was acceptable considering the prices of all the neighboring places. On the negative side they charged $3 per hour for wifi and the rooms didn't have any air ducts to allow our wet clothes to dry. Also, the weird bunk bed that had a single bed above a double one was weird in being so low, it was hard to move around in the double bed. The mattress was really comfortable though.
We spent our first evening in Auckland mainly indoors, only stepping outside to get something to eat from Countdown. We ended up getting discount British meat pies which we enjoyed while watching American Pie: Reunion from the DVD selection. The next day we got a little further and actually saw the town a little between visits to the library. They had unlimited free wifi in the large library building and we took full advantage of it, making reservations for our stay in Rio de Janeiro and such. We did go to see the bottom part of the SkyCity with the massive SkyTower, visible from very far away. Going up would have cost $28 and that's without the possibility to do anything cool there. You can SkyWalk around the top of the tower for $145 ($125 student - New Zealand ID required) or SkyJump straight down for $225 ($195 student). I guess that's how they fund the tower since I can't see any other practical uses for it, its base is ridiculously narrow, it probably only fits an elevator shaft and nothing else.
Our greatest feat in Auckland was to get rid of our literal burden, meaning our Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. We had bought it at home and dragged it through Nepal and India before finally using it in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. It was the latest issue and in great shape, similar books were going for over $50 in Australian and New Zealander stores. But none of the second hand bookstores we had tried were willing to buy it. I don't know why but they don't have decent travel sections in those stores here. As a result we couldn't find anything to trade it to as the clerks would have liked. We finally found Jason Books on O'Connell Street that was willing to take it off our hands for $10. It was worth more, mainly in the form of Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring in similar condition, but it couldn't be helped. This way we were able to trade it for two Domino's pizzas, which is almost as good.
Our final day in New Zealand was a rainy one but it didn't matter too much since we spent it in the library and the nearby Auckland Art Gallery. We rushed through the latter one to make it back to Jucy's in time to have a bite to eat before the flight. We left our usable but worthless New Zealand Footprint (which was missing the map pages from the back) and Lonely Planet (which as a 2010 edition didn't know about the earthquake in Christchurch) in the book exchange shelf and got some new books to take with us. One of them was a curious choice of mine: Collins School Dictionary which I procured to augment my literal exploits, meaning this blog. I might have to get rid of it, because I can hardly understand what I wrote there myself…
We got the taxi to the airport through Jucy Hotel's reception and what do you know, the driver was the same Indian guy who had brought us there. He wasn't too happy about getting only $35 for the trip this way but accepted it without fuss. What happened once we got to the airport is a story for another entry.
And so we left New Zealand, after only three weeks in the country. We didn't have more time to spare and besides, it's much more expensive to stay there than in so many other places. We liked it a lot however, mainly because we got to see so much with our campervan. I would definitely suggest a road trip for anyone planning a trip to New Zealand because it gave us so much more mobility than any other options. Taking a budget friendly bus service around the country wouldn't have been cheaper for two people and besides, we would have been stuck with sleazy backpacker hostels for the whole time. Also, the buses we were looking at always took off at about 7 a.m., meaning short nights. And once you get to a town, what do you do there? With the campervan we could drive up to any trails we wanted and go tramping, we could choose any spot that allowed freedom camping and spend the night, we didn't have to share the kitchen with anyone else or pack our things every morning. It was great, even with the somewhat wet autumn weather we encountered. When the weather wasn't nice we just drove a little further or stayed in the car drinking wine. It really doesn't get much better than that. Our beloved Mighty Igel made the trip possible and it will always have a special place in our hearts. That being said, it was only a Toyota Hiace with a raised roof and a porter potty to make it self-sufficient. That's all you need, big motorhomes are harder to handle and use more fuel. This was the "budget friendly" option for us and we would do it again in a heartbeat!