The plan was pretty simple: after Tonga we wanted to go to New Caledonia. The problem is that we discovered when we started researching travel in the area that to a surprising degree to travel around the islands of the South Pacific you have to fly in and out of New Zealand. OK, that’s not a big problem, we would go to Auckland for a few days, fly to New Caledonia the day before the election, and spend a few hours late morning and early afternoon on what would be Wednesday there watching Hillary put the election away. I would write a blog about Auckland, we would enjoy the beaches, and go on with life.
You’ve probably heard it didn’t work out that way, which explains the long delay in writing about Auckland. We’ve both been just too damned depressed to do this, or almost anything else, either. We just can’t believe that a racist, bigoted, hate-filled campaign from someone who knows nothing about policy and cares even less could win. We’ve both been involved in winning campaigns and losing campaigns, but this is different; it’s as though the country we thought we knew just isn’t there. We’re trying to get on with life, though, so let me put down a few thoughts about Auckland.
The big news is that for both of us, New Zealand is our 97th country (not the same 97 for each of us, but we’ve each been to 97 countries; and, if you’re wondering, it’s the 59th country since starting this adventure in 2013). Since the U.N. recognizes 193 countries, if you do the math … we’ve now been in over half the countries in the world. Finally! In some ways, the big surprise is that for all that we have traveled – my time in the Navy, Mark’s college backpacking experiences, our pre-retirement travels, and now this adventure – we’ve only just now passed the half-way mark. The big holes now are in Africa, the Middle East, and even here in Oceania; there are still nine countries in the South Pacific we haven’t been to. In other words we still have a long way to go.
Our four days in Auckland were a treat, less because of Auckland itself than that we were finally, after seven or eight weeks, in a big western city with pharmacies and restaurants and bars and nightlife. Don’t get me wrong, we love being in remote places but after a while getting into a city – they have martinis in Auckland! – can be exciting.Our highlights?
• The big excursion was Auckland’s Coast to Coast Walk, a 10-mile hike that takes you across a very narrow point in the North Island. It’s all urban, but much of it is through great parks, up and over old volcanoes, and up One Tree Hill, a key landmark in Auckland. The parks were often beautiful and we loved sharing our walk with the many sheep there; it felt very New Zealand. We were really surprised, though, at how poorly marked the trail was. If there is one thing New Zealand is supposed to have down it’s their famous hiking trails, but had we not downloaded a copy of the route we never would have made it.
• I spent a couple hours at the Auckland Museum, half of which is a war museum and the other dedicated to Maori culture. It wasn’t earth shattering or anything, but both parts were good museums. The one thing I learned that surprised me was that human settlement in New Zealand had nothing to do with humans in Australia. Australia was settled 50,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, when sea levels were much lower and people could walk to Australia from South Asia. Then just 5,000 years ago people from Southeast Asia started to move into the South Pacific and just 800 years ago, they got to what is today New Zealand. Who knew?
• We run into the strangest people on these travels. A few months ago Mark saw on Facebook that Julie, an old college classmate who he hasn’t seen in 30 years, was going to be in Auckland on a tour the same time we were going to be there. She was all scheduled up, but we still managed to have lunch with her and the friend she’s traveling with. She was a lot of fun so now we have to figure out some other place to meet up with her.
• And then there are the little things. Dinner at an Irish Pub with fun live music. A washer and dryer in our hotel, the Sebel, a glorious first on this adventure. And a Croatian bartender who makes a great Vesper, the original James Bond martini.
Then it was off to New Caledonia and what was supposed to be a short night (day for us) watching election returns. We’re coming back to Auckland, though, twice more. We’re meeting Mark’s parents there after our week in New Caledonia to travel around New Zealand with them for two weeks, and then spending one last night there before flying on to Australia, hopefully with great friends from Boston who will be passing through as well. Such excitement!