Okay, so I left off waiting to check in the hostel, Auckland Central Backpackers (ACB).
Before I start this I would like to say that I have lived away from home, I consider EMEND my growing up period. But I have never had to worry about getting food, because I have always had some sort of meal planner taking care of me. I am starting to eat somewhat regularly, but without a dinner bell ringing I have realized on a couple of occasions that I missed a meal or three.
I checked in at 11:00 am and tried to catch a little sleep. The hostel is clean and I got clean sheets because I saw them clean up the room. The room (a small dorm) has 2 bunk beds. I am sharing it with a couple from Quebec (Gaetan and Isabelle) and another girl (Tanya) from Calgary (I try not to hold it against her). They seem very nice and are all part of SWAP so we are getting along fine. On the night of the 14th after failing to sleep I took a walk around the area. I am on Queen Street, which is one of the main streets and I am about 3 blocks away from the Sky Tower and about 10 minutes away from the wharf. During this walk I almost got hit by a car. Not because they drive on the wrong side of the road but because the road crossing system is bizarre. If you hit the cross button a don't walk signal shows up, but it doesn't change when the main traffic lights change. The traffic gets a go in all directions, and then the pedestrians get a go in all directions, which means they can also cross diagonally. So I felt kind of dumb, but hey I deserve it.
On the 15th I walked down to the wharf for the first time, which was really neat. I didn't do anything exciting but it is the first time that I have seen clean Pacific Ocean (because 9th grade Vancouver at Stanley park was at a barge dock). I saw the Hilton Hotel where a certain Hilton shot a famous movie. I also went to Albert Park (Queen Victoria's Prince Albert) which is about two blocks away. Really nice place which is kept in excellent condition. I am going to try and get a sailing trip booked with SailNZ which uses America's Cup yachts. Other than that I didn't really do anything else, I got breakfast at the McDonald's across the street (Sausage and egg McMuffin and med OJ for about $6.50 NZD, exchanging at about 85 cents CAD to 1 NZD).
On the 16th, SWAP orientation through New Zealands International Exchange Programs (IEP). It was very informative and I now have a tax number and a KiwiBank account with a whole $10 NZD in it. I get charged by each transaction so I think that swath of cash I bought at home is staying with me. I bought some food at "FoodTown" which is a liquor store and supermarket in one. I kept it simple with pasta, but I think it cost a fraction of what another meal with "Rotten Ronald" would have cost. I also bought a phone, so I will send out the emergency number to those who could possibly need it. It cost $129 NZD for a camera phone with color screen and 15 minutes air time so I think it was a good deal. Queen Street at rush hour is crazy, I could imagine that it is like Toronto or Montreal but I have never been there. I have been immersed in "Shogun" for the past couple of days and have maybe been sacrificing a bit of outdoors time to read this book. If you haven't read it, then do it now or at least watch the mini-series on DVD.
On the 17th, today, I was on a Kiwi Experience day trip around Auckland. We went to the Devenport side of Auckland, North, and it is neat. We went to a couple of beaches, and a couple of extinct volcanoes. Apparently, Auckland is the 5th largest city in the world, landbase not population, and it is set on about 50 extinct volcanoes. I have photos which will follow later, although some are pretty crappy. We started at Takapuna beach which has a small military contingent nearby. The beach was cool, but it is only a beach. We then went to North Head, one of the volcanoes and it was cool. It has some of the military emplacements from the 1800's. It is sort of like Area 51 in Nevada because it could have a couple of Boeing Jets and a million rounds of ammunition buried in it, but it is illegal to dig there. Another amusing fact, in the late 1800's the Kiwi's and the Commonwealth expected the Russians to invade the south Pacific so most of these emplacements are really old. The mound has a series of tunnels dug into it, and it also has some of the old armaments, including two 8 inch detractable guns (pretty cool). We went to Cheltenham beach after that and then got some fish. The Fish and Chips here is killer. You get a pile of fries and tempura style fish and it is a good deal. I had some during the tour and for some reason when I tried to pay the old guy handed my back my money (but everyone else paid??), so I can afford to eat tomorrow. The sun is brutal here, I got my "EMEND tan" today and I will have to bite the bullet and use sunscreen from now on.
January 18th, the quest for pants is over. Rachel may own all of the pants in the northern Hemisphere, but I found some here. I then took a hike through Auckland University, Albert Park, the Auckland Domain and the Auckland Museum. The University is nothing special, there is no quad here so I think they must do their beer gardens in either Albert Park or the Auckland Domain. The Auckland Domain was really sweet. It is a giant park like Albert park, but it is better. It has a load of paths through it, and the couple that I walked through were of similar style to those you would see in National parks, or a really well kept part of the River Valley. I then hit the Museum, I know I am a real loser but it was cool. The museum has three levels, the first has exhibits on the Maori and other South Pacific Cultures. It didn't wow me, but it was interesting. The second and third levels made the $5 admission worth it. The second has loads of info on the natural history of New Zealand. I got some cool pictures of insects, some birds, and some bryophytes (for the Moss Man, Richard). The third level was all related to the war history of NZ. There were two planes, a Mitsubishi Zero, and a Spitfire on this level. There were some of the peace accord documents that Japan signed after VJ day, as well as some other cool exhibits. That took until about 2:30 or 3:00 and I don't know if anything else exciting will happen before I leave tomorrow for the Bay of Islands. I had originally planned to walk the "Coast to Coast" walkway from the Pacific to the Tasman Sea, but my camera batteries died in the Museum and I also forgot my water so I probably would have died. I think tonight is going to consist of laundry, dinner, and then getting to bed relatively early. We leave on the Kiwi Experience tomorrow at 7:20 am.
I am going up to the Bay of Islands on the 19th with my Canadian friends because "The Big Day Out" concert is in Auckland this weekend and it is causing hostel prices to jump by $10, which I don't want to pay. I got this trip free as part of IEP registration so I will get to go again before I leave for Australia and get up to Cape Reinga (farthest point north) then. I will be back on the 22nd and then either go with Gaetan and Isabelle to the Nelson region on the south Island to start work, or move to the central North Island and go caving and rafting after I go sailing and jump off Sky Tower. I dunno what I will do yet. I also need to buy an "All Blacks" rugby jersey.
Interesting info about Auckland. It appears to be more like Europe than America, which makes sense, but I have never been to "the old country". Arcade style shopping centers are cool, they are the common way to have shops here, with residence or offices above. Houses are no where near downtown, everyone commutes, but it isn't a long commute. With no native mammals here small birds take the place of squirrels. The local children are on their summer vacation right now, I think they go back in a week or two.
Thanks for the comments so far, let me know what is happening in the East. I will send a handful of postcards out soon. Pictures will get posted soon as well, it will probably be safer to download them from a CD so I will wait until I have a full card.
Add this song to the playlist: "Early Morning Rain" by Gordon Lightfoot. I got it off "The Complete Greatest Hits" album but it is probably on a few. When I heard it, it belonged here.