The golf next morning was definitely off when we woke up to glowering, wind-swept skies. We decided to get on our way to Auckland despite the weather, which was absolutely atrocious and the driving conditions abominable with torrential rain and extremely poor visibility - and with radio weather forecast predicting more and worse to come. But E, being the excellent driver he is, pushed on through what looks as if it would be a lovely area so we are planning to return.
By the time we reached Auckland the sun had come out - this is such typical NZ weather it never stays the same for long. When we picked up some mail at a camp site on the outskirts of the city where we had planned to stay the night, we didn't like the look of either the place or the area so pressed on into town and arrived a day early at the motel we had booked in a central suburb. While researching long term accommodation options for Auckland M had contacted a few motels to see what might be on offer. One stood out above the rest in terms of price and location. Parnell Village's Motor Lodge (hereafter known as 'the motel') sits smack bang in the middle of Parnell and opposite the imposing Auckland Cathedral. This is a nice area of Auckland which has retained its old style colonial buildings many of which have been turned into boutiques, restaurants, cafes, shops, galleries, all of which make Parnell and bustling and lively area. It also sits on the other side of the Domain (large open parkland) from the CBD, and on an excellent link bus service which whisks commuters into the city in 10 minutes.
Once we were settled into one of their one bedroom apartments, which was really quite ok in terms of space and facilities, and with a decent sized balcony overlooking a palms and trees and with a glimpse of the working harbour, we set off to explore Parnell Road; we immediately noticed a few enticing and reasonably priced restaurants, a butcher right over the road, a fresh fish/fish and chippie, some cobbled lanes with cafes and restaurants, a couple of pubs and much, much more.
Over drinks in an Irish pub called The Bog and with the strains of subtle and pleasant live Irish music in the background we talked about our plans for Auckland. The pub seemed to be very lively and everyone seemed to be totally focused on a programme that was on the TV. It was about challenges set to teams of people to learn and do particular tasks to raise money for charity. Soon the volume was turned up, the music stopped and we understood the reason why - the next team of four guys on the TV were standing right next to us in the bar. Their task was to learn how to walk along a course on a ladder (rather like using stilts) and for one of them to complete the course within a set time. Well he failed with only a couple of steps to go but put on a brave face on the telly and again in the pub. We didn't stay around long enough to catch what happened next but when we'd first walked into the pub we had wondered why one of them was holding a ladder.........
Over an absolutely excellent Malaysian we got talking about our accommodation plans and what we thought of the Parnell Village Motor Lodge - could we stay there for nine weeks? Interestingly the owner of the restaurant was originally from Melaka in Malaysia which we'd really enjoyed in January this year and it was great being able to talk about it with someone who could be our neighbour.After a good night's sleep in a very comfortable bed (very important to us) we had a very busy day ahead of us. A quick call to a local estate agent unexpectedly threw up the chance of a two room apartment in Parnell so we arranged a viewing at lunchtime. It was really on the very fringes of Parnell, not on a bus route and a fair walk away from the nice shops and cafes, but it was a spacious and wonderfully equipped modern flat overlooking the working harbour. This really put the cat amongst the pigeons because we had previously made an appointment at 3pm that afternoon with another accommodation agency (who'd tried to muck us around a bit) to see a flat right in the heart of the CBD which we had high hopes of getting. We had two hours to spare so we set off to walk from flat number one to flat number two. Generally unimpressed with the city streets, although the central CBD (and Queen Street where flat number two was located) was certainly much better and livelier. Thankfully the Queen Street flat turned out to be too small for our needs and turning down other offers (which the accommodation agency seemed to pull out of the air) we were able to turn away and concentrate on flat number one or the motel.
Back in Parnell Road E went for a haircut. The barber was from Java and his favourite city was Yogyakarta, which we'd visited earlier this year, and they were able to exchange stories and reminisce. While E was in the barber's chair M returned to the motel and was immediately struck by the differences between the flat and the motel. After much discussion during the course of the next few hours we eventually decided that the flat was for us so texted the agent. However, after another good night's sleep we awake to decide on the motel. The main reasons for doing so was the motel was much cheaper, and that contractual and financial requirements related to the flat were much more complex.
During the course of the previous night's discussions, we'd enjoyed fish and chips from over the road. The owners were from Bombay/Mumbai and of course having been there in 2005 E was able to have a nice chat with the owner. In less than 36 hours we'd really settled into Parnell.
The previous day on our wanderings into town we'd passed a medical centre. We had a few medical/dental things to see to and certainly before we leave NZ, so popped in. E had had a pain in his chest for some weeks and, possibly since the Farewell Spit trip where he'd been knocked about in the mini bus and felt he needed to have it checked out. He made an appointment for the following morning which would fit in nicely before Jeremy flew in and when we were due to meet him. E went down to the medical centre and was given a thorough going over - including-rays, an ECG, blood tests etc. After seeing the results the doctor and his side kick referred E to the Auckland Hospital - by ambulance! He was admitted and was treated to more tests - several ECG's, blood tests, more x-rays, and the rest because they suspected a cardiac problem. He was treated wonderfully by the many doctors, consultants, nurses, and staff and all this for nothing under the reciprocal medical arrangements between UK & NZ. This of course totally mucked up arrangements with Jeremy but M met him and they visited E in hospital - as he was kept in overnight. Instead of a bunch of grapes they brought him a chicken and chilli tandoori sub - interesting and very tasty last thing at night it was too! In the meantime M and a very tired Jeremy (having had series of long haul flights in a row) left E in peace (but the rest of hospital in disarray) and found a wee bar/bistro for a couple of pints and some food.
In the morning E was discharged with the all clear as the senior consultant was satisfied that all E was probably suffering from was muscular damage within the ribcage possibly from the Farewell Spit incident - he would either have to stop breathing to give it a chance to heal, or to bear the pain until it got better. Auckland Hospital is only a short walk from Parnell through the lovely Domain - haven't we done well finding place that's so convenient for every occasion! - so E walked back to the motel for a quick shower and change then it was off to pick up Jeremy at his hotel.
Because Jeremy needed to be back at the airport by 4pm for his flight to Melbourne, we did a circular drive around some of Auckland's many bays and long coastline and then inland to the small villages of Whitford, where we had coffee, and Clevedon where we had a delicious lunch. There was some great scenery with glimpses of lovely bays, rolling fields, wildlife and houses that Jeremy seemed to have his eye on (one in particular caught our eye - Chislehurst - which reminded us all of our friends Keith and Karen. All too soon it was time to say goodbye as we dropped Jeremy at the airport. It was just great seeing him again and being able to spend some time with him. We really hope he'll get another flight to Auckland before we leave the Land of the Long White Cloud. We really love hearing from our family and friends around the world but it's extra special when we do manage to meet up.
We would love to say a really big thanks to our families in Bridge of Don and Surrey for finally getting set up on Skype and we're looking forward to seeing them all over the ethernet. As we are in Auckland now until 27 August, we will add blogs for Auckland - week 2, Auckland - week 3 etc. Hope this is clear!
We now needed to get ourselves organised for the next couple of months so that we enjoy the remainder of our time in NZ and plan the next stage of our travels. So we got busy making a list of all that needs to be done, and even made a start on some of it. A trip into town (via an easy and very pleasant walk through the Domain) turned out to be very productive when we booked tickets for four trips to the theatre over the coming month - one musical, two plays and one ballet - so we will be making the most of what's on in Auckland and enjoying a bit of culture again. M had been checking out where she might be able to find some Spanish lessons in preparation for South America. The classes run by the local Parnell Community Centre were no good as they didn't start until August, but E had a look on the internet and found that Auckland has a Hispanic Club that runs language and dance classes. Luckily, the Spanish for beginners' class had only just started and runs for the next eight weeks so M enrolled right away and starts her first lesson on Monday. M had also been feeling the distinct lack of regular exercise since we arrived in North Island so has signed up for 10 sessions at a local gym - God help her, or probably more accurately those around her!
On the E front, an old primary school friend of his moved to NZ about 1960 when his mum and dad unexpectedly died within a few weeks of each other. John McNair moved to Dunedin to live with an aunt and uncle and has had no contact with E since then. So far throughout NZ we've come across no J McNair's in the phone books - of course he could have had his name changed when he moved here. However, a look in the Auckland phone book revealed four J McNair's and the first phone called seemed very promising when the woman said she thought it could be father-in-law and gave E another number to phone. When he eventually rang the number later in the day he was disappointed to learn that this John was not his John after all. The other numbers also drew blank but E might press on to see if he can track him down.
We're getting to know our local area really well and have been to the Newmarket shops (typical high street stuff) on a number of occasions. But Parnell has a few attractions of its own and one we found on Saturday morning is a real gem - a very genuine and excellent French Style Farmers' Market just down the road. It's mainly under cover with a few outside stalls with fresh fruit and veg. Inside is an excellent cheese counter with a wide array of wonderful French cheeses, a bakery, deli counter, French wines and even some French cookware, such as Le Creuset. M had a job stopping E from buying a cast iron skillet, reminding him that we were only here for another eight weeks - and that in any case he'd already bought a frying pan, a large soup pot, a pyrex bowl, egg cups, wooden spoons, kitchen knives, mugs, bowls, chopping board and even a clothes horse, in order to supplement the kitchenware in the motel and help rustle up some delicious home-made food! So that he can get maximum use out of all this kitchenware he can now get up early, put on his new dressing gown and make breakfast. Before we leave NZ we're going to have to have a car boot sale to sell all the stuff we've acquired - including the car!
Having our 'own place', it's nice to sit in with our feet up watching the telly. The problem is that NZ TV isn't all that good and we've relied on two programmes over the last weeks for our visual pleasures. Desperate Housewives has now finished and Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen has now become Gordon Ramsay's The F Word. Last week we were surprised to see a face that we recognised. If anyone has been watching it, Gordon and his family have been rearing turkeys for Christmas and one of them - Gary (Rhodes after the TV chef) - had a problem with its foot so Gordon called in the vet. The vet happened to be Peter Culpin who, when we lived in Ashtead, was our vet at Willow Lodge in Leatherhead - he was very good with the cats. We were pleased to see that we had a celebrity vet, but this was not the first. When we lived in Gullane our vet along the road was Pat Morris who was a regular on TV shows and the like. And of course we also have another celebrity 'vet' - our very own Gills who appeared with Rolf Harris on TV programmes based at the Putney RSPCA when she worked there.While on the subject of TV celebrities, we shouldn't forget to mention David and Nobumi who recently appeared on a British TV show about people who buy houses at auction and renovate them. David and Nobumi's exploits in Folkestone have been seen by worldwide audience!
We have been meaning to comment on two recent disasters. While in China in October 2006 a highlight for us was a visit to Sechuan and the Panda Reserve at Wolong high in the mountains. We were really saddened to hear that the reserve had been destroyed by the quake and that at least one panda had been killed. Other pandas had escaped and it's unlikely that they will survive as bamboo does grow at this relatively low altitude so there is no food for them in the area. We do, however, understand that it might re-open but this may not be a priority for the Chinese. The other, more recent, disaster was the typhoon that hit Manila in the Philippines. The path of the typhoon went right through the area where we spent most of our time when we there earlier this year. We don't have any details of the level of damage but no doubt the area has been badly hit. It's really sad that areas we've visited and enjoyed have suffered these terrible disasters.
E & M xxx