After our 36 hour journey to Auckland from Paris we arrived at our Airbnb with just enough clarity to meet our host and fall in the bed. Welcome to New ZZZZZZZ-land. We slept for 13 hours straight. Miraculously, that was all we needed to get back on track - no jet lag at all!
That meant we could move straight to our list of Auckland activities including a cricket match on our second night. It was held at the hallowed grounds of Eden Park where the famous All Blacks rugby team also plays. What we watched is a variation of Cricket called T20, a recent attempt to shorten a match from some that last days, or the popular" one-day format" to an even shorter 3-hour evening affair with just 20 "overs" per side. It has taken off with more than a dozen cricket-loving countries around the world. New Zealand is currently ranked number #1. On the night we attended, they played #2 ranked Pakistan. This would be the first time we'd attend a live match, so beforehand, we read a few primers on the game (including a Washington Post article called Cricket for Dummies), but as always Michael found several fans seated nearby who were willing to tutor us throughout the evening. It was a balmy evening and there were enthusiastic Pakistani supporters in the crowd. It was a really enjoyable experience, even though the NZ Black Caps lost.
Next up, A Day at the Races. We attended one of the most prestigious events on the New Zealand horse racing calendar called the Karaka Million at Ellerslie Racing Park. There was a dress code similar to Ascot for the hospitality tents where the posh could mingle and the Moët was flowing. There were dresses of every length including those so short their owners might not be able to sit down and heels so high their owners might fall down! Of course, there were lots of fun hats to match. The horses were stunning just as they were. Michael and I managed to dress well enough to gain entry to the park and enjoyed the people watching as much as the racing. And to top it all off, Michael won $20. on his one and only bet of the day.
With those two events behind us, we settled into a more even pace for the balance of our two weeks in Auckland. Our Airbnb was a delightful “granny flat” in a home where the hosts lived upstairs, but we had our own entrance. We had plenty of room including a full kitchen and big doors that opened onto a large deck overlooking the garden. Each morning we woke to the clucking of the family’s flock of city chickens and the possibility of fresh eggs.
The location turned out to be great, too, and that isn’t always a sure bet when you book an Airbnb. You can research the best areas to stay in, or try and find someone who knows the city firsthand, but often times you’re left to make your best guess based on the descriptions provided by the host. Here’s a trick from Michael, our Chief Travel Planner - he puts the address of the city’s walking tour meet-up spot in the Airbnb search field. His theory is, anything worth seeing would obviously be walking distance from that point, so we should stay nearby since walking is what we do! It's been a great way to make sure we aren't in some far-flung suburb of a big city.
In our case, we had a friend who recommended a few nice areas in Auckland. We chose Parnell, a quiet, leafy, well-to-do enclave with a few nice shops and restaurants and a popular weekend market. When we needed a dose of city life it was only a half hour walk to the waterfront and the center of town - although our Airbnb was at the bottom of a fairly steep hill that led to other hills along the way. But that was just what we needed! Between our ten-week internship at Airbnb and the holidays, it was good to get back to a lot walking and this location offered bonus “quad” work. After two weeks we are both feeling more fit, and have averaged around 4 miles a day - with extra credit for the uphill bits.
Our hosts and others we met along the way, including a delightful couple who e-mailed us with all kinds of great tips, insisted we take a day trip to the nearby island of Waiheke. Not only did we find pristine beaches and rolling green hills, it also happens to be home to some of New Zealand’s best wineries. So on on sunny morning we took the 40 minute ferry ride to the island and, for the first time in our entire Senior Nomad travels boarded a Hop-On Hop-Off bus. In other situations, they just seemed to represent the exact opposite of the way we like to explore a city so we’ve avoided them - and the tourists they come with. But in this case, it was the only reliable way to get to the various villages, beaches, and wineries. It worked well on this beautiful island - but it didn't change our minds about using them in the future.
Wine tasting wasn’t our goal, so we stopped in the main village of Oneroa for a look around. We got no further than Island Gelato Co. where we found scoops of frozen deliciousness better than any we’ve ever tasted. Including a fair sampling in Italy. The shop was in a small converted shipping container that didn’t look like much from the outside, but the line of customers trailing out the door told us it must something special. It is owned by the runner-up of a recent Master Chef Australia, Ana Schwarz, who turned her talent to forging mind-boggling gelato that in her words, combined elements and flavors that are “creamy-crunchy-chewy-zesty”.
Just to give you a taste of some the combinations that rotate with the speed of seasonal fruit, on our visit we could try Aged Balsamic with Roasted Strawberries, Burnt Caramel and Coconut, Creme Fraiche with Blueberry Crumble, Island Plum, Apricot Brandy, Waiheke Honeycomb and Salted Caramel with White Chocolate. I chose Affrogato with Roasted Almond Brittle and Michael doubled up on Dark Chocolate, Whiskey and truffles. Fortunately (?) a second shop recently opened on the waterfront in Auckland in the Ferry Building which happens to be directly along our path to town.
Meanwhile, we hopped back on the bus for a pleasant ride down island to the beach at Oritangi where we played in the surf like two happy sea lions who had just eaten their fill of gelato. The only thing missing from this happy scene was sunscreen. Michael, being half Portuguese tans almost instantly. I’ve never seen him with a sunburn, even during all the years we sailed. By association, I feel like I too should just turn a deep golden color, too. Never mind my more delicate English and Welsh heritage. Apparently, we are much closer to the sun down here, and I managed to get a rather painful sunburn. Nothing major, but it was embarrassing and ended in some unattractive peeling. All that led to stern admonitions from our host and my friends online, so I from now on I’ll slather on the 50+.
Another outing took us all along the waterfront for Auckland Harbour Festival. There was live entertainment, boat rides on the harbour, and lots of food and drink. There was also a large exhibition of local Maori culture that included Haka performances (if you’ve ever seen the NZ All Blacks play rugby you have an idea of what that is) and a chance to watch live tattooing using fine bone chisels and a small hammer to pound black ash into micro cuts. Or, if you’d had enough craft beer, you could have traditional designs drawn on your face and body in black Sharpie. More people (tourists) than you might think signed up for this! Here’s a link to the top ten most terrifying things about the Maori - including tattoo methods and the Haka!
During our last week we connected with a couple who read our blog and hoped they could show us around their city. This has happened before in our travels, and the chance to meet strangers who quickly become new friends is such a rewarding part of our journey. Dale and Geoff were no exception! We picked a date and they drove to our Airbnb and picked us up. First stop, coffee. This is a coffee-mad country! I’ve never seen so many small cafes (coffee shops), and they all roast their own beans and find their niche. We headed to a well-known haven for Francophiles called La Cigale. It turned out to be walking distance from our Airbnb so I went there often for my new second passion (after gelato), a Flat White. That would be 2 shots of rich espresso cut just so by a thick layer of velvety milk foam.
Since Dale had read so many of our blogs it felt like she had known us forever and Geoff had skimmed enough where it felt the same. So we enjoyed learning all we could about them as we went along. Dale is deaf but that doesn’t slow her down one bit - her daughters believe she can read lips from the next room! she is a mother, a grandmother, a sought-after professional cake baker and a self-proclaimed Domestic Goddess (we visited their home and it’s true). Geoff is a bit of a mad scientist and works for New Zealand Blood Works making sure all the gizmos work, and builds structures and helps his kids with home renovations in his spare time. We got a look inside his manly Whiskey Shed in the backyard of their beautiful home and it was a perfect retreat.
It rained often while we were in Auckland and our day together was one of the rainiest of all - but we soldiered on and went to the sites they had planned, we just couldn't get the full benefit of getting out of the car to enjoy the views. But we had a great time and connected again the next day at the market and took another tour. We will definitely stay in touch!
So far, this lush land of plenty has been all the wonderful things we’ve been told it would be.
It’s on the expensive side, but we are being careful to keep to our budget and as always find free and affordable things to do. Or not do. We’ve enjoyed long walks, playing games on the deck, writing and travel planning. And we get to do all that in this paradise.
When it was time to move on, we rented a car and drove south down the center of the North Island with overnight stops in Rotorua, Taupo, and Napier. We are now settled in Wellington for a few days before we tackle the South Island. I’ll catch you up on the car trip next - they drive on the left here, and even though I'm left handed, I've always had a hard time telling left from right. Seriously. So Michael will be doing the driving. And I may not be invited to navigate.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads