Donnerstag, 15. September 2016

Chapter 2 ~ Absolutely amazing and astoundingly awesome adventures at Auckland

Auckland is the first stop on my great adventure. It's the place of beginnings and endings, of arrivals and departures, and the place from which I will set out onto this journey.

I ended up staying in Auckland for a full week, and will give you a detailed report on each of them later on, but first, let's have some basic information about...

Also known as Tāmaki Makaurau - which means "The maiden sought by a hundred lovers" in the Māori language - Auckland is located on a narrow isthmus which connects Northland to the rest of the North Island of New Zealand.

There, it overlooks the great Waitemata Harbour, which is a massive estuary formed from a drowned valley system. The great Auckland Harbor Bridge spans its width, connecting the northern districts to the rest of Auckland.

Auckland is by far the largest city in New Zealand, housing almost 1,5 million people, which constitutes almost a thrid of the country's entire population. Think about it: If you meet someone from New Zealand, there's a 1 in 3 chance he comes from Auckland!

This great city has many amazing sights to offer, and I'm sure I've barely been able to cover a small fraction of them during my short stay there, but I still feel I've gotten a good feeling for the atmosphere of this city. So, without any further ado, lets go to:

Day 1: Brave New City
Friday the 9th of September 2016

The day starts off with an orientation session at the IEP Work New Zealand Office. Fortunately, I tracked it down the last day during my exploratory trip with Rasmus, so we have no problem showing up on time. Most of the people there are Germans (with the slight exception of 2 Danish), and there's about two dozen of us. Also, I think I might actually be the oldest person in the room, and that's counting in the instructors.

After that, we do have some time on our hands. I spend it in the rather busy common room to check up on my bank account, write a CV, and purchase a WWOOF Membership. WWOOF stands for "Willing Workers On Organic Farms", and is a program that allows travelers like me to gain free food and accommodation in exchange for a few hours of work each day. WWOOFers generally stay with a host for a couple of weeks before moving on, which suits me just fine.

Afterwards, its time to get our bank accounts set up. Naturally, there were complications with mine. In the end we get it mostly figured out, but I should later find out that I was accidentally registered as "Miss Kira Resari". Oh well. I guess some humans are just week on details...

After the IEP office closes, I am back on the streets. Something worth noting at this point are the little differences that you will encounter on New Zealand Streets. You probably already know that people drive on the left side of the road here, but were you aware that pedestrian's lights work differently over here? They only stay green for a few seconds, and then blink red to indicate they're going to be red soon. Some of them even have a nifty little timer to show you how much time you have left to cross the road. For the most part it's okay to walk as long as it's flashing red, but if there'S a timer, keep in mind that the cars will start driving only seconds after it hits zero. Also take note of the amazing acoustic feedback the traffic lights give.

Then, there are also quite a bunch of scramble crossings. Unlike on German roads where pedestrians get green light at the same time as the parallel traffic, pedestrians have their own phase here, separate from the cars' phase. During that phase, it's also allowed to cross the junction diagonally.

And then, there's this...

To wrap up the day, I follow the invitation of Kyhwana, a nice leopard, to hang out in the Vulture's Lane, a local pub. I also meet Maxxy the cat and Tequin the dragon inside. We feast on the free chicken wings and have some drinks before I decide to head back to the hostel.

Since I've only one night left at the YHA International, I spend the evening asking around if any of the local furs would be able and willing to shelter me for a couple of days, but unfortunately, none of them can help me, so I mentally prepare myself for a day of search tomorrow.

I try getting an early night, since I need to vacate the premises by 10:00 tomorrow, but unfortunately, my roommates got different ideas. Just as I was falling asleep, they come into the room, drunk, switch on the lights, and start playing music and talking. Loudly. They try to provoke me, and one of them even punches my bed from underneath. I know it's pointless to argue, so I just go into fox-parent mode, and allow them to pull on my ears and tail as much as they want. Eventually, one of them passes out, and they proceed to harassing him in turn, scrawling on him with ballpoint and doing unsavory things involving fruit. I try speaking up in his defense, but they are beyond caring and even accuse me of spoiling their fun.

Suddenly, I'm not unhappy at all about having to leave this place tomorrow. In fact, I hope that I'll not see any of my roommates again. Ras is not among them. I'll definitely be staying in contact with him. Eventually, I manage to fall asleep, looking forward to the day to come.

Day 2: Into the Wild Blue
Saturday the 10th of September 2016

After getting some ideas about where to go from the receptionist and chowing down some breakfast, I depart from the hostel shortly before 10:00 the following morning. Much to my delight, Ras accompanies me on my hunt. He still has several nights left in his hostel, and is staying at a host family thereafter, so he's in it just for the fun of it, and to keep me company. So we set off into the busy streets of Auckland, with me carrying a total of 25kg of luggage around again.

The first place we try is the Attic Backpackers. As the name implies, it's up in the attic of one of the buildings... and the elevator is broken. So I have to climb up to the fifth floor wearing all my heavy gear, and am pretty beat when I finally get there. It goes without saying that they turn out to have no vacancies.

However, they do give me an idea for another place to check out, and since it's nearby, this is the place we go to next. It's called FrieNZ, and is located only a short distance away from the Albert Park, right down the road from the Sky Tower. They even do have a bed for me and I book 5 nights for 130$ since I want to stay for the local furmeet on Wednesday night, and in hindsight, that was the perfect choice to make.

Since Check-In is only at 13:00, I drop off the better part of my luggage in the storage room there, and go for a little stray with Ras. I'm still surprised I found a place to stay on the second try already.

First, we check out the Albert Park, were trees grow wild and huge, and monarchs are revered with sublime statues.

From there on, we spontaneously decide to take a hike to Mt. Eden, or Maungawhau, as the Māori call it. On our way there, we come by Hell, and decide not to go there quite yet. Maybe later.

About an hour and a half later, we arrive at the top of Maungawhau, which happens to be a dormant volcano. The climb was more taxing than we imagined, so we take a short break to recuperate while we enjoy the scenic view that unfolds in front of us. We can actually see both shores from up here, and learn that Frankfurt is a measly 18.170 km away via surface travel.

After this lovely little sidetrack, we return back to central  Auckland, where we go separate ways for now. I check into my dorm room, which turns out to  be a 12 bed dormitory. Oh well, it'll do. At least it's reasonably cheap, and I only paid 130$ for the five nights.

The place even has a cozy little terrace on the top of the building.

And detailed instructions as for how to use a phone.

Also, they encourage doing the dishes...

...even though no one really does.

Afterwards, Ras and I meet at McDonald's for lunch (and make ample use of the place's free WiFi). I then do some shopping at the local supermarket, one of a big chain called CountDown and settle down working on my blog for the rest of the day. While doing so, I meet a nice girl by the name of Dee, who is also traveling around the world and gives me some hints for the road. I wait until the clamor has died down before preparing my dinner in the kitchen - a nice, home cooked meal using beef, noodles and gravy. Did you know that beef is really cheap here in NZ? I only payed 4$ for two nice big schnitzels. By contrast, pork schnitzel is all but impossible to get. The only way you get pork around here is in the form of sausages.

Tomorrow, I'm going to start looking for WWOOFing opportunities, but for tonight, I start up Minecraft and allow myself some time to relax for the first time in five days.

Day 3: The Sky is the Limit
Sunday the 11th of September 2016

Sleeping in the dorm of 12 people actually turned out to be alright. It's a dorm of mixed nationalities, genders and ages, so people are generally more considerate of one another. I wake up drenched in sweat despite the cold twice though - must be the synthetic fiber bed sheets they are using here. The mattresses are a bit hard, so my back hurts a bit come morning, but apart from that, I did get a good night's sleep.

Today, I check out WWOOF opportunities by the score. There's many, many different options, so I have to filter them down. I want my first destination to be around New Plymouth since Sandwalker, a nice Chakat whom I've met online, lives in that area, so I narrow down my search around that area. Next, many of the offers require a certain set of skills that I am yet unable to provide, so these fall off the grid too. In the end, I decide on a list of ten places that sound interesting to me.

At lunchtime, I check around for places that have free WiFi. I still have some videos to upload after all, and FrieNZ doesn't have free WiFi. I settle for Wendy's, a fast food chain that never made it to Germany, and have a chicken combo for lunch.

Unfortunately, the promised free WiFi there doesn't work, so I take to straying around the city in search of a place where I can upload the files for my blog. I find refuge in the sanctified halls of the Auckland Public Library, which even provides dedicated laptop workstations. While I upload my videos, I check out more WWOOF offers - this time directly from the WWOOF book. It turns out that the book is vastly inferior to the online service, since it's not only outdated, but also fails to list requirements. In the end, of about 20 opportunities I highlighted in the book only 3 remain viable, bringing my checklist to about 13.

Since I don't want to go about ringing up people about job opportunities on a Sunday, I take the rest of the day off. I drop off my laptop at the hostel, where my backpack only barely fits into the locker...

...and set off towards the north this time. Unfortunately, that ends up with me going to...

...I quickly try to put as much distance between me and that dreadful place, and eventually end up at the port, where I have a nice view on the bay of Auckland.

On a whim, my steps lead me up to the Sky Tower. With 328m total, and an observation deck at 220m, this impressive spire is bigger than both the Olympiaturm with 291m and the Eiffel Tower with 324m (although the Eiffel Tower has a higher observation platform, namely at 276m). It is, in fact, the tallest man-made structure in the entire southern hemisphere!

Interestingly, the elevators are located in the basement and can only be accessed from the nearby Sky City hotel and casino. The cool thing about that is that the Sky Tower itself appears to be a completely free standing structure from the ground, with no apparent points of entry.

The elevators going up are actually quite rapid, and not only have doors made of glass so you can watch as it ascends, but also a floor made of glass! This is nothing for people who're afraid of heights! I don't manage to grab my camera quickly enough to make a video on the way up, but manage to get one on the way back down.

The view from the top is quite spectacular! You can see all around Auckland!

And some of the floor panels are actually made of glass, so you can literally stand with your feet above a HUGE drop.

But the main event for me is watching the sunset from the observation deck...

...and seeing the lights of the city illuminate the night that follows.
Afterwards, I return to the hostel,warm up the leftovers from yesterday's dinner (I always cook for two meals/persons), and shower before wrapping up the day. Tomorrow, I shall begin my job hunt, and start calling people.

Day 4: Fox for Hire!
Monday the 12th of September 2016

I wake up with a mild headache this morning which accompanies me for the rest of the day. I know what it means. Good weather is coming. So that's nice, I guess. I'm used to these sort of headaches by now, and have learned to live with them.

Two days ago, I was annoyed that the CountDown was all out of Mushrooms because I went shopping so late, so today, I start the day by going shopping and apart from getting myself the ingredients for a delicious dinner, I also  pick up two cheap and quick dishes or lunch.

My next stop is the IEP office, where I go about contacting potential WWOOF hosts. Being the impatient fox I am, I decide to call as opposed to just messaging them. Of course, I'm still totally nervous about that nonetheless, but I rally up my courage and call the three places that I like most. I have to leave a message on the answering machine for one of the places, but at the other two, I actually get to speak to the hosts. They can't give me an answer straight away though, and so I end up with three pending requests.

Afterwards, its already time for lunch, so I return to the hostel (which is only three steps away from the IEP office now) and prepare myself a humble meal of cup noodles. I also picked up a bottle of mixed fruit juice at the CountDown, such as to ensure I get my daily dose of vitamins.

Afterwards, its laundry time. The hostel has a laundry room with heavy duty machines where you can wash and dry your clothes for a total of 8$. My own load looks quite humble when compared to the heaps of clothes that other people put in the machines - I figure they must pool their laundry.

It takes me about 2 hours to finish the laundry, after which I return to the IEP office to continue my job hunt. I don't feel like calling any more places with three open applications, so I simply send messages to the other ten as my second line of advance. Writing all these messages and putting a personal note to each of them takes me until shortly before the WWOOF office closes down at 17:00.

Afterwards, I go for another round of shopping with a fellow Work & Traveler, who happens to have great taste in color (naturally, she's already taken, and also quite a bit younger than me)...

...and pick up some of the ingredients I forgot during my earlier tour (though I still forgot to pick up some marjoram).

Subsequently, I try my hand at Geocaching, attempting to track down a cache in the nearby park. But despite giving the site a good brush over, and searching all obvious and not-so-obvious locations for the better part of an hour, I don't find anything. So I eventually return back to the hostel, and make myself a tasty meal before wrapping up the day. I hope I'll hear back from one of the WWOOF hosts soon. The two I called promised to call me back with an answer by tonight, but I haven't heard from them so far.

Day 5: The Grey Fox set Loose
Tuesday the 13th of September 2016

I get a number of refusals from WWOOF hosts today... And one positive reply. Yay! It's from Cynthia Douds at Oakura. I am genuinely impressed that I managed to find something this quickly, and get in touch with her right away. We agree on me coming to her place on Thursday, which matches up nicely with my schedule since that's exactly for how long I've booked my hostel, and it allows me to go to the furmeet on Wednesday night.

My next stop is the travel desk of the IEP office, from where I book my passage to New Plymouth. Since there's quite a rush this morning, I have to draw a number... or a dinosaur, for that matter.

I book a bus for Thursday morning, which will get me to New Plymouth within a measly 6 hours. From there, I can take a local bus to get to Oakura. One note about public transport in New Zealand: Cower in fear in the face of their THREE different lines of public railway!!! Most traveling gets done by bus instead. Combine that with the fact that there are no German-style highways, and the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h on pretty much all the roads, and you get longer travel times even for relatively short distances.

Afterwards, I have another meager lunch consisting of canned spaghetti and sausages in tomato sauce...

...and then, I set out to stray around the eastern parts of Auckland. What better way is there to do that than go Geocaching? One word about it for those of you who are not familiar with the concept: Geocachers hide little boxes with a notebook (called a log) inside it at remote or interesting places, then post it on the Geocaching website with its exact coordinates, description, and hints for finding it. Other Geocachers may then attempt to find it, record their names and the date when they found it in the log, and possibly leave some goodies in the cache, or take with them goodies that someone else left behind.

I personally find Geocaching to be a great experience, since it tends to take me to places that are particularly interesting - secret spots that are not mentioned in any tourist guide. But you'll see more of them later on.

Today, my stray takes me to the university, where they have some really interesting modern Māori-style buildings...

...and also a park with some low-hanging branches...

...and curious sculptures.

Also, I get to see some interesting birds...

...pass by the War Museum...

...and get a nice view of the city under a cloud-speckled sky.

On my way back, I pass by the Tanuki-bar...

...walk up the Piano Stairs...

...and bear witness to a deafening clamour of bird twittering.

In the end I found only 4 of the 10 attempted caches, but I did have a nice stray around the eastern parts of Auckland.

Back in the hostel, I warm up the leftovers from yesterday's dinner, and think about what I might do tomorrow. I've got the entire day to myself, now that everything's been settled. It feel good having all that pressure alleviated, but I can't deny that I also feel a little bit at a loss. Writing is right out, since the hostel is too noisy to concentrate, and even the library is a tidbit too busy for my taste. Oh well, I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out tomorrow.

Day 6: Far Stray
Wednesday the 14th of September 2016

I weigh my options for the day in the morning. Since I kinda am on a budget, I don't want to do anything too expensive, and I'd like to avoid paying for bus fares if at all possible. So in the end, I decide to walk all the way to the Zoo, and grab some Geocaches along the way.

It fits in nicely with my stray schedule too! Since I've already been south, north and east, going west to where the Zoo is located is the logical next step!

My first stop is the Western Park...

...where I meet more interesting birds...

...find Māori mosaics...

...and buildings submerged in the ground.

As I stray through the streets, a robotic garbage truck passes me by, and shows me how waste management is automatized in the 21st century.

I pass by the MOTAT (Museum Of Transport And Technology)...

...and stroll through the Western Springs Lakeside Park...

...which has more avian than human visitors.

One of the Geocaches leads me off the beaten path...

...and allows me to take an aerial picture of the nearby zoo.

Eventually, I arrive at the gates of the zoo. Walking here has taken me almost thee hours, and since I want to explore some more and still be back in time fur the furmeet tonight, I decide against going in. Also, the prices are 40% more expensive than what I was led to believe, and from what I've been able to see from above, the place is not all that great.

So I continue my stray into the Meola Reef Reserve...

...where I get a great view on Waitemata Harbour...

...and find a bench with a very touching dedication. I wish I could have met this person, and very dearly hope that my own blaze shines long and bright enough to touch people all around the world.

I next visit the very idyllic Lemmington Reserve...

...and then have a Fried Chicken Wing for lunch,  along with some L&P, which tastes like a mixture of lemonade and ice tea.

My next stop is the...

... which truly gives me a great view from a sheltered balcony by the cliffside...

...and has a stairway leading straight into the ocean.

I also take the time to visit some of the little beaches hidden in bays along this part of the coast...

...and finally make my way back to Central Auckland via the Westhaven Quay.

By the time I get to the Vulture's Lane, the furmeet is already well underway I've been walking around for a total of 9 hours, and am quite exhausted, but accomplished. Of 15 attempted Geocaches, I found a total of 10, and almost ran out of business  cards. I order a hearty BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger and have a drink before I return to the hostel, shower, and pack up my backpack. Tomorrow, I have to get up at 6:30 at the latest since my bus departs at 7:30. I'm already excited about which sort of place I'll be at tomorrow at this time.

Day 7: Travelling to Taranaki
Thursday the 15th of September 2016

I end up waking at 5:30, and am unable to go to sleep again, so I just roll with it and get up a little bit early. There are already a few people in the common room even at the fox hour, and I use the chance to charge up my devices for the trip.

A little over an hour later, I depart from the hostel, and make my way to the bus station, where I catch the InterCity.

Well, to be honest, the bus I take looks more like this...

...but it still gets me to my destination.

The trip is mostly rainy, but we pass through some amazing landscapes. I am beginning to understand why they choose this place as the site for the LotR movies.

Around noon, we stop for a brunch break in a town by the name of Te Kuiti, which styles itself shearing capital of the world...

...and has a nice little Japanese garden, which I fathom must look absolutely beautiful once the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Eventually, we arrive in New Plymouth...

...where I am greeted by Sandwalker. Since I have several hours to kill before the bus to Oakura departs, we have some lunch in the local food court, and chat the time away. I decide to get some tasty Indian cuisine with mushrooms, curry and rice.

Eventually, it's time to say goodbye (for now at least), and Sandwalker leaves me to wait the last few minutes until my bus arrives. It'sonly a relatively short trip until Oakura...

...and after only a few minutes, Cynthia comes and picks me up, taking me to her lovely home.

We have dinner, and after informing my family of my safe arrival, I soon go into my big and cosy bed. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

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