We're a long way from home Toto ...
Just over 11,000 miles to be exact, in the "City of Sails" aka Auckland. We arrived late on Wednesday night/early hours of Thursday morning and spent our first full day walking the city. Auckland is a pretty unremarkable city in itself but is relatively compact, with the usual skyscrapers. However, it does possess lots of natural harbours full of sailing boats and dock areas which have now been converted for leisure use. It is also much cheaper than Australia - thank God.
After walking the streets, we decided to visit the Skytower in central Auckland to get aerial views of the city. It looks a bit like the one on Seattle and was really good value, especially when
Anna managed to wangle us Backpacker rates! The guy quizzed us on which hostel we were residing. Before I could say"Hilton", Anna jumped in with one she made up. Did the trick though.
The view in late afternoon from the Skytower was very impressive and introduced us to what New Zealand is all about - not the cityscape but the natural beauty of the islands and bays with turquoise waters as far as the eye could see. This would be the perfect place to live if you liked sailing as there are literally thousands of islands in the bay. Some inhabited, most not. You could just jump in your boat with a picnic and pick a different island to visit each day, for the rest of your life.
Anyway - back to the Skytower. We did see some nutjob jumping off the tower (harnessed in) as he swept right past the window. w*** that, I get dizzy going up to loft, never mind jumping from 200m. We revisited the Skytower again at sunset seeing it was Valentine's Day and enjoyed a nice glass of wine watching the sun go down. A family of tight arses next to us done a BYO and got asked to leave - the shame! At night the views were even better. Well worth doing. After a late italian dinner - BJ rating of 3.5, we called it a night.
We had a fantastic day yesterday - one of the best of the whole trip, when we ventured out to Waikehe island. Stopping off first at Oneroa village, we found an amazing local homeware shop, simply called "Island" which was as far removed from the usual souvenir "tat" shops as could possibly be. We wanted to buy half of the shop, but settled for some smaller items, which offered amazing value.
We then used the local buses to get around the island and decided to do some more wine tasting off our own bat. I can't recommend this highly enough. First off, we visited the Goldie vineyard to taste some of their offerings. I even managed to get Anna to taste some of the red. Really chilled out atmosphere, set within some amazing scenery. We bought a bottle of one of the red wines and walked past the vineyards and up the slope to an old oak tree. The views of the bay were incredible. We sat there sipping wine in the sun, shaded by the oak tree, looking out over a calm, idyllic bay. We have seen some views in all of our travels - whether sitting beside Lake Geneva in Montreux in the foothills of the Alps, to the Golden Gate Bridge or Sydney Harbour. This one is the best. Perfect.
Reluctantly, we left to head down to onetangi beach to take a look (great beach with amazing shells and almost deserted) before catching the bus back into town via the Ta Mato vineyard (not as good as Goldie, but it gave us another "oiling up"). Imagine how good it would it be if you lived here, to spend a day touring the vineyards when you felt like it? Jonathan Agnew was on the island at the Stoneycroft vineyard doing the same thing, but unfortunately, our paths did not cross. All in all, Waikeke was a charming, old fashioned place "about 20 years behind" as one local resident, originally from the UK put it (whilst frantically knitting), with a gentler pace of life. The type of place you can leave your car door open and where everyone knows the bus driver by name. Pity things like this have been lost in most of Britain's communities, where isolation and paranoia now seem the norm. Back on the ferry to Auckland, a Mexican dinner (BJ rating of 2) and then to the apartment.
Today, we have explored two other islands - Rangitoto and Devonport. On the first we did a hike up to the top of the volcano summit. Pretty strenuous walk but we were rewarded with fantastic views of the whole area - across to the city and further out into the bay. Devonport consisted of a pretty, quaint village which we perused for an hour before heading back to the mainland.
As its our last night in Auckland, tonight, we will find a "top notch" restaurant, partake in a few beverages and re-energise ourselves for the long flight to Hawaii tomorrow morning.
Pity we don't have more time in NZ - we have only seen a tiny fraction of this area, never mind the rest of country. You would need a month here to do it justice and anyone who visits Australia must pay a visit to NZ. The natural beauty is even better. Maybe one day we'll be back.
Next stop America and our Eastern sojourn has ended as we navigate back to the "west".