Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Travel Journal: Auckland+

Jan. 1:  Cairns > Auckland
I repeated my running route from the past 2 days along the promenade and took a quick dip in the Lagoon afterwards (in my running clothes) to help cool down.  I got some takeaway coffee for both of us at a nearby cafe, and we then packed up to head to the airport for our journey to Auckland.  The first leg to Sydney was on Virgin Australia, followed by a 3-hour layover in the Sydney airport, during which a new furry creature, Syd the wombat, joined our family – thank you Mr. E!  The next part of the flight was on Air New Zealand, with its great Middle Earth-based safety video and fabulous in-seat entertainment options (free movies for all!).  Upon arrival at 11pm (yawn), we spent about 1 hour going through customs, but our taxi drive made great time through the empty streets, so we arrived at the Sky City Grand Hotel in about 30 minutes.  I had alerted the hotel to our late arrival, and the front desk staff was ready and waiting with our key.  When we got to our room, we were pleasantly surprised to find a tray of chocolates and a card from the customer relations team welcoming us and wishing us a happy anniversary (I had noted that the trip was part of our anniversary gift to each other in our online reservation).  What wonderful customer service!!!

Jan. 2:  Auckland
I slept in later than usual as I hadn’t set my alarm clock correctly to account for the time change between Cairns and Auckland.  Oops!  I headed down to the 25-meter lap pool for a workout before checking email in the Business Center as Mr. E was getting ready for the day.  Our attempts to find a good breakfast spot were rather frustrating, as we initially went over to the Sky City Casino next door to hit up the Blend coffee bar only to find that it was closed as of 12/21/12, and the other low-cost eateries in the Casino were also closed until later in the day.  Annoying!  We eventually landed across the street at Esquires Coffee. 

Slightly after noon, we returned to the Casino and the Nations Clubrooms in order to watch the UW Badgers take on Stanford in the Rose Bowl.  *sigh*  Unfortunately, our team wasn’t able to emerge victorious, and Barry Alvarez’s perfect Rose Bowl record is now tarnished.

Auckland Ferry Building 

After the game, we headed down towards the harbor and hopped on a tour bus for a 1-hour sightseeing circuit around the city.  We complemented this excursion with a visit to the top Sky Deck of the Sky City Tower at the Casino.  The viewing deck has glass insets in part of the floor that we both walked on/over – a bit disconcerting, to say the least!  We made a quick trip to the grocery store – Woolworth’s is known as Countdown in New Zealand –  and then back to the Fortuna Buffet at the Casino for dinner.  I’m not usually a huge fan of buffets, as I don’t tend to eat enough to justify the usually high-ish flat fee associated with this style of restaurant, but we decided this facility provided a very good value at NZ$30 each (think about 80% of that in $US), especially given the items available and the high quality overall of the meal.

Auckland Harbor & Skyline

 View Through Glass Floor Section of Sky City Tower

Auckland seems like a mish-mash of other places we’ve lived or visited – Portland, Geneva, Carmel – but the commercial architecture is rather bland and boring, despite the lovely waterfront and some interesting residential buildings scattered throughout.

Jan. 3:  Auckland
We had to get an early start for our day-long adventure to Waitomo and Matamata.  The first stop was the glowworm caves, which were absolutely amazing.  We had a tour through the dry part of the caves first followed by a short boat ride on the river through the pitch-dark and eerily silent caves that were lit only by the pinpricks of light from the glowworms attached to the ceiling.  Magical.  Indescribable.  I wish we could have spent far more time in the caves!

Our next stop was a brief pause at the Agrodome, an extensive sheep farm complex.  Only a handful of us were continuing to Matamata for the afternoon, and the rest of the group was staying at the Agrodome for a full tour.  We were able to catch a sheep-herding demonstration that was quite impressive – a wrangler and his dog in charge of a trio of sheep.
Scenes from Hobbiton
When our next bus arrived, we joined the existing large group to go to Matamata and take a tour of Hobbiton, the set used for parts of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and then expanded for the current “Hobbit” movie(s).  We had a great guide who had been part of the film crew, so he shared insider stories and anecdotes about working on the film and what the crew had to do on any given day to get the set ready for shooting.  I was especially impressed by the level of detail in the set decoration and props, given that many parts of the landscape were likely used just for background shots.  We wrapped up our tour with cider and ginger beer at the Green Dragon pub sited at the edge of the pond across from a big oak tree.  As I was talking to a cat outside the pub (according to some little boys, the cat’s name was Pickles), I saw a group coming out of the pub including a young woman wearing a Crazy Legs t-shirt – fellow Wisconsinites!  They were fortunate enough to have missed the Rose Bowl yesterday as they were in transit.

After our tour, we had a brief wait for our shuttle to Matamata, and we got to see some more impressive sheep herding, this time with 2 wranglers on ATVs, 3 dogs, and a whole herd of sheep!  The animals seemed to literally flow across the street in a wave into the next field, almost as a single entity.  Quite a display!

Our bus from the morning picked us up in Matamata for the return journey to Auckland.  The driver, Dennis, had been kind enough to save our front row seats, so we continued to have a great view on the scenic landscape and lots and lots of sheep.  Dennis also provided intriguing commentary about the area and the country, including some of his own ideas about changing the flag to something more distinctive and possibly even changing the name to Aotearoa, the Maori word for New Zealand, which means “land of the long white cloud.”  I hadn’t realized that the country was named after a place in the Netherlands (originally New Zeeland), and we did see quite a few items with Aotearoa branding.

We got back to the hotel just after 8pm and picked up some takeaway for dinner at the Sky City Casino Deli.  A rather long day, but both adventures were definitely memorable and unique.

Sky City Tower Street Scene


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