Friday, December 2, 2011

Auckland was Conquered in a Day

One good thing about living in a small country is that I can accomplish super-hero-type feats like: “Walking From One Side Of The Country To The Other In One Day”, and then you can be incredibly impressed.  Until you realize that that is only about 16km (9.94 miles).  Which is still pretty good, but it is not quite the equivalent of walking from one side of the US to the other.  

I am still going to pretend that you are impressed though.  And that maybe you have a gold medal that you are sending me.
Auckland’s “Coast to Coast Walkway” runs from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea and gives a good snapshot of the city’s natural attractions: volcanoes, parks, oceans.... and people’s backyards.  We may have taken a few wrong turns, but that is bound to happen on a 16km hike with marker signs the size of golfballs. 

Coast to Coast Walking, Jellicoe Park

If you are attempting the Coast to Coast, I would suggest bringing your own GPS device or a map.  Because if there is one thing that Oregon Trail taught you, it was to be prepared (Bring bullets for guns, bring medicine for measles, bring maps for Coast to Coast walkways. Basic life lessons.). 
We took a small detour (on purpose) to the Scottish Highland Games Festival.  David was excited for promises of haggis, and I was excited for promises of men in kilts.  The kilts, log throwing, and fancy dance moves did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the haggis came in cans.  Another basic life lesson: Don’t eat haggis from cans.  
Fancy Scottish Dancing

Back on the trail, we stopped by one of our favorite places, Cornwall Park/ One Tree Hill.  But this time the sheep were missing.  I panicked for a bit thinking that someone might have stolen them.  But then I remembered that it is almost summer.  So I am almost certain that the sheep are at their beach houses working on their summer tans.
Sheep with Tan, Photo Via

We also had a tasty lunch at Cornwall Park Restaurant, but next time I think I will get the “high tea” option.  After we ordered our lunch, a 3-tiered tray of deliciousness was placed on the table next to us.  I think I stared at their little tarts and finger sandwiches for the rest of lunch.  This is probably not my proudest example of high tea etiquette.  I do apologize, table next to us (But next time maybe you should share a tart.  Or a tier.).

Cornwall Park Restaurant, Home to Tasty High-Teas

- Meredith

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Dolphin Photo Booth

This past weekend we went to Bay of Islands to view dolphins in their natural habitat.  This may make us sound like the wimpy Steve Irwins of the New Zealand nature world.  But apparently I am good at catching animals (on film) and should maybe think about making my career in dolphin portraiture.  I’ve thought of worse career moves.

It's Flipper, Flipper, Faster than lightning

The first stop on our dolphin weekend was Paihia, a sunny 4 hours north from our consistently rainy Auckland.  Now downtown Paihia is nothing to write home about, but it is cute and quaint in that beach town type of way.  It is also a good, central location to get a hotel in Bay of Islands, and there are some decent restaurants to get your seafood fill.  Namely the 35° Aquarium Restaurant with its large aquarium in the middle of the room.  There are wonderful views across the water, and the seafood dishes are quite tasty (even if the aquarium fish are secretly planning an attack on you for eating Sammy and Bobby Jo).

Home to Sammy and Bobby Jo

Then on Sunday morning, we took off on our “Dolphin Viewing/ Hole in the Rock” boat ride with Fullers Great Discoveries.  The dolphin safari was a great way to see some of the Bay’s 140 odd islands.  And of course, a fun way to see dolphins.  My recommendation is to stand at the back of the boat because the dolphins love to play in the bubbles/ jet spray.  Seriously, it’s like Sea World back there.  Lots of dolphins flipping and racing and generally having lots of fun chasing their interactive bathtub toy (us).  Just think if we unleashed the giant rubber ducky here!

Russell, Bay of Islands

We also went through the “Hole in the Rock”, a much-too-tiny-hole (in-a-rock).  It was touch and go for a minute as to whether our boat would clear the passage.

Wait, are you sure our boat will fit?

Oh and a last word of warning: don’t wear shorts on the boat ride.  No matter how “warm” it may seem, boats are windy places.

- Meredith

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Baa, Baa Cute Sheep

Spring has finally sprung here in New Zealand.  And this means one very important thing: it’s baby sheep season!
So a huge aspiration of mine (since three weekends ago) has been to pet a little lamb.  Mostly because they look so darn cute and tiny.  

So cute. So tiny.

While traveling to New Plymouth for the rugby game, I had a lot of sheep-viewing time in the car.  And I realized that the whole New Zealand countryside is just one big, fluffy, grass-eating mass of sheep.  And mixed in with the big sheep, there were these tiny, fun baby versions.
Unfortunately, we did not have time that weekend to stop the car, jump a fence, chase down a lamb, and then get chased in return by the lamb owner.  So I had to settle with just shouting “EEK” every time I saw one.
BUT, I found the perfect opportunity where it is socially acceptable to pet all the baby sheep you want: SheepWorld!
I know what you’re thinking: Tourist Trap.  And ok, I see your point.  I guess we did just pay to go onto someone’s farm.  In New Zealand.  But it was totally worth it!
SheepWorld is about 40 minutes north of Auckland in Warkworth.  They specialize in really cute baby animals.  There are sheep, alpacas, hamsters, bunnies, and miniature horses whose main job it is to stand there and look adorable.  If you are going, it helps to have long arms so you can reach over the fence and pet them.
And just a warning: if you pet a lamb, you’re probably going to want to take it home with you.  I did not come prepared for this.  Next time I will need to bring a bigger purse.

I'm coming back for you, little buddy!

- Meredith

Friday, September 30, 2011

This Little Sheep Went to Market

Exciting news in The Funny Sheep Travel world!
This may be due to creative inspiration or a moment of pure boredom, but I have opened a Zazzle store!  You can buy Funny Sheep products and pretty pictures of New Zealand, and you can support my unemployment habit.  
Check out the store, and let me know what you think:

Check back regularly for shiny, new products!

- Meredith

Monday, September 26, 2011

We're Going to Need a Giant Bath Tub

I am so disappointed right now.  Apparently I was five months too late to see the greatest thing to ever happen to Auckland. 

It's a Giant Rubber Duck!

Giant Rubber Duck being towed in.

Giant Rubber Duck trying to look inconspicuous.

I am starting a petition to bring it back.  Who’s with me?
Dear Ginormous Rubber Ducky, I’m awfully fond of you....  

- Meredith

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Competition of the Odd Shaped Ball

Walking down the street these days, there is an unmistakeable giddy atmosphere.  If I didn’t know better, I would suspect that they were handing out free beer or prozac on the street corner.  Instead it seems the chummy atmosphere stems from this chaotic-looking sport called rugby. And maybe from some beer too.  Just not free beer.

Not free beer

The international tourists came prepared with suitcases packed full of superhero-like flag capes and face paint.  This is fun because it is like an international festival on the streets every day.  I also think there is some secret competition to wear the most outlandish costume to the games.  But I wish they would have told me before because my “costume” for the US v. Ireland game was a red shirt and blue scarf.  Next time I may have to step it up and go as The Statue of Liberty or an Economic Recession.
So far I think it is a close competition between Captain America, Russian Cosmonauts, Sheep, and the Baguette-toting French Hen. 
The RWC opening ceremony night in Auckland was crazy.  There were hakas. There were wakas.  But most of all there was a ridiculously absurd amount of people.  Someone in the planning committee estimated that about 60,000 people would show up around the Auckland Harbour to celebrate.  Over 200,000 showed up.  (Surprise! Someone’s getting fired.)
This of course led to lots of mass chaos.  Trains shut down, ferries stopped services, and people came face to face with the opposing team’s fans.  Quite literally.  And then they couldn’t move.
After trying to get through the mass of people downtown (which was like wading through quicksand), we luckily caught the last ferry back before the ferries were shut down.  It worked out perfectly in the end because we were able to watch the opening ceremonies and game on tv with our “free” beer and pizza and a spectacular view of the fireworks.

Auckland Harbour gets crazy

Seriously these were the BEST fireworks I have ever seen.  They launched fireworks from skyscrapers and from the skytower and from four ships in the harbour.  This meant the sky was extra bright and sparkly.
It went something like this:

Snap, Crackle, Pop
See, now you feel like you’ve been there.
Then last Saturday we woke up and drove to New Plymouth in the Taranaki region for the US vs. Ireland game.  We expectedly lost, but it was a fun game.  I swear all of Ireland showed up with their campervan rentals.  Which is cool because the Irish know how to have a good time.  
And because questionable decisions make good stories, we did walk into an Irish pub at one point wearing our US colors.  I swear a whole pub full of leprechauns turned around and stared at us. 
D: “Ok, back away slowly and pretend like we just got lost.”
M: “I think they already saw us.”
D: “It’s ok they’re all drunk and will forget.  And we’re not taking their pot of gold so we should be ok.”
It unfortunately rained on and off all weekend, but New Plymouth has some spectacular looking beaches.  There was also this really cool light show going on in their Pukekura Park at night.  They had lots of neon lights on shrubbery and trees, and best of all, light up row boats!  Did we go on them?  Heck yes we did.  It was only later when I was reading the guidebook that I learned the lake is full of arm-length eels.  This is one of those things I would have preferred not to find out.  Ever.

Purdy lights, Scary eels

- Meredith

Friday, September 9, 2011

Waka Waka Waka!

I finally have proof that clouds get stuck on our building!  See I am not crazy:

Clouds Behaving

Apocalypse Cloud!

Try living with that for 8 hours.  Scary stuff people.
There was a lot of action going on in Auckland City this weekend, and we were determined not to miss any of it.
First, we went to the grand opening of the Auckland Art Gallery.  (Ok, so we could have missed the first hour because the mayor was like “Blah, blah, blah” for awhile.  And then we had to do the Auckland rain dance while we waited for the gallery to open: 
(You put your umbrella up, 
You put your umbrella down, 
You put your umbrella up, & you shake it all around.)  
Because the weather couldn’t make up its mind.
But the wait was worth it because they’ve built themselves a nice, little gallery here in Auckland.  Well more of a nice, medium gallery.  There is a decent mix of old and modern, some Picassos, a Cezanne, a Dali, and this beauty that could keep me entertained for hours (Flower Chandelier, Choi Jeong Hwa). It's like a crib mobile for adults!

Next we stopped by the official All Blacks (New Zealand team) welcome ceremony for the Rugby World Cup.  The All Blacks are a pretty big deal here.  Probably because rugby is a pretty big deal here.  Ever seen the All Blacks do the haka?  Pretty intimidating stuff.

Apparently there have been “flash mob hakas” cropping up all over downtown this week which is kind of awesome (skip to about 1 minute in the video).

(You may be wondering why the flash mob people are in the middle of the intersection.  That’s because Auckland is cool like that, and you can cross the street however you want.  You can cross up, down, diagonal, or backwards.  Heck you could probably even fly.  As long as you are across before the little walking man turns red.)
Hmm now you may be questioning “Why the haka?”.
Ready for some New Zealand cultural history?
Haka = Traditional Maori dance
Ok now you may be wondering, “Well who are the Maori?”.
Maori = Indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand 
(Their language can be a little difficult to pronounce.  This leads to problems when I am trying buy a train/ bus ticket and the suburb/ street is a Maori word.  Like Orakei. That is pronounced “Oreckey”.  Good to know.  And Whangarei. That one is “Fawngerey”.  Yeah, weren’t expecting that one were you?  Me neither.)
Waka (not to be confused with haka) = Maori canoe.  They will be paddling a fleet of wakas into the Auckland harbour for the opening night of the Rugby World Cup.
On Sunday to round out our cultural weekend, we had lunch at Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple.  It was a calming, zen experience, and the kind of place where you instantly feel your blood pressure go down.  Probably due to the hushed voices, smell of incense wafting through the air, and the quiet courtyard garden.

Cue Buddhist chanting.

And they have awesome sculptures.

Why yes, I am the cutest garden statue ever.

Their tea room has some good dumplings, wonton soup, steamed bbq buns, and Laksa noodle soup.  And I learned something.  I thought I knew how to use chopsticks well.  I can pick up rice and sushi and meats and usually noodles.  But I learned that when you put noodles in soup, I fail miserably.  I spilled soup on myself.  Twice.  Epic fail (but good soup).

- Meredith