Arriving in Auckland was a huge culture shock. It seemed so clean, ordered and subdued compared to South America. And people spoke English (though I have come to the conclusion that wherever you are in the English speaking world, if you are out and about before 7am most of those you come across - street cleaners, bus drivers, night porters etc - will not be native English speakers. I think speaking English makes us sleep too much!). We touched down at 4am knowing that the usual airport hassle was no problem as the office in the Hostel we were staying in did not open until 7.30am. It was almost disappointing to find ourselves loading our bags on to the Auckland Shuttle Bus by 4..50am and at the doors of the hostel at 5.30. The night porter kindly let us in and showed us to a lounge where we could mong until the office opened, but after a while we got restless and went in search of scrambled eggs and bacon.
By the time we checked in at 8.00 am we had enjoyed a good breakfast, booked bus tickets, sorted out a medical that I needed for my Oz Visa and where already getting an impression of just how nice and helpful Kiwis are. After being here for 4 days the phrases 'God, he was helpful' and ' how easy was that' have become clichés. It is almost disturbingly pleasant. When you pop into a shop to ask where the bus stop is, they don't grunt and point in a general direction, they smile, chat, tell you where you need to be and then give you suggestions what you can do to fill the time until the next one arrives. In the city people say hi and remark on the weather as they pass. When asking a police man if he could sign some forms for my visa, I did not get the expected 'not my job', but a 'of course' and a 'is there anything else I can do'. Warm welcomes, helpfulness and charm is so common it strikes us (especially after 2 years in London) as odd. How sad is that!
We started to get an impression as to how empty NZ is going to be. NZ has a population of about 5m. 1.2m live in Auckland and even it has the air of a nice market town. Of course there are office blocks, tower blocks, shopping malls and a well developed Central Business District, but it is also quiet. Grid lock is unheard of; at 8am on a weekday morning the traffic is less than you would see in London at 3am. Shops are pleasantly empty and the pace of life civilised. It is also immaculate by any standard, but especially when compared with South America. I saw a street cleaner blowing 4 leaves along, which represented the only litter on a busy main street. The only downside is that it is rather expensive.
We had some admin to do on the first couple of days, mostly connected with my Oz Visa which is turning into a bit of an epic, but have been exploring a bit. We went to the cinema, have eaten very well and visited one of the off-shore islands - Weiheke. On the island got to take what I hope to be the first of many dips in the Pacific, off a beach which was deserted besides for an ancient hippy, who resembled a Indian Sadhu but with pink hair and beard. He was also stark k*** naked. Which is odd. We also walked a coastal path which was also a contemporary art exhibition. There was some good stuff visually but the descriptions were nauseating. For example 'half glass appeals to our human desire to question, frame, organise, solve and resolve. It toys with the inherent contradiction of a glass that is half empty but is also a glass half full………….(it) is both transparent and reflective. A chameleon, it swings between mirror and lens, frame and content, representation and abstract' is just a small part of a description of a square of glass with a whole cut out the middle. Artists can be so full of s***.
J & I also spent a little time being yacht groupies and hanging around the Marina from where the Louis Vutton Pacific Challenge is being run. The draw is yachts, buckets of prawns and an affordable happy hour. Team Origin (the UK team) are doing well and now that Jodie has had the opportunity to offer their skipper - Ben Ainsley (who seems to be a charming man) - a few words of encouragement I am sure they will go from strength to strength. We also met a lovely young couple who seem to be doing our trip in reverse and who shared our enthusiasm in collecting free drinks vouchers and getting a bit pissed on the strength of them in the Casino bar. It was a fun night!
We are know on our way up to the Bay of Islands by bus (which is not a patch on South American ones) where we pick up a very small yacht for 6 days. Now this will be a test of our marriage!!