I must give a thumbs-up to Air New Zealand, who at 9:00 pm whisked me away from LAX and landed me in Auckland the following morning. I upgraded to premium economy, which awarded ample space and comfort for the thirteen hour trek. After a lovely dinner, movie, and a few dreams, I awoke to breakfast, and arrived rested, enjoying only a few hour time difference that alleviated much of the jet lag.
I’m visiting Shannon, a dear friend of mine, Kiwi born and ready to show her mate her New Zealand. I met her in the late 80’s when I moved to Laguna Beach. Shannon and her mother were on an extended vacation and rented a room across from where I resided. We became instant pals. She now lives in Caster Bay, a few blocks away from Milford Beach where the boardwalk strolls along waterfront homes overlooking the rugged coastline and Rangitoto Volcano, the youngest of the forty eight volcanoes at around six hundred years old, and a vision that I was told looks the same from all views. I checked it out, and it seemed to be true.
I didn’t want to do the tourist thing. I wanted to see New Zealand through my friend’s eyes and how she lived day-to-day. Shannon, a groomer of standard poodles, and the proud owner of a grand champion, brought me to three dog shows. I’d only seen snippets of dog shows on T.V., remembering an English woman in a drab, ill fitted suite, yelling “walkies!” I find myself intrigued by all the different breeds, and the maintenance and care the owners take on their pups. Some a tad bit overboard, think “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Even after Shannon explained the theory behind the judging, I still didn’t get it, especially when a piggish looking black dog kept winning.
Destined for a weekend treat Shannon’s husband arranged in Doubtless Bay, we pack up their large van, along with their four standard poodles; by the way, I had concerns about that, however, they were the best passengers and never asked “are we there yet?” The road trip took us on a two lane roadway adventure, breezing by grassy hills dotted with sheep, lots and lots of sheep. I’m in awe of the flora and fauna diversity. In a blink of an eye I could be in California, then to Hawaii, Vancouver, Canada and Washington State. How does this island do it? Even a glimpse of Minneapolis appears; including a street named Minnehaha Ave.
We arrived at our destination, described on the internet to be a quaint “beach cottage” on the beach. But, to our dismay, our eyes opened wide to an old rundown, small one bedroom apartment above a house, overlooking the roof of another house, with a peak-a-boo view of the beach. We ended up spending the afternoon on the beach, watching the dogs frolic in the ocean and play chase on the sand. Luckily a hose was available to rinse them, and Shannon brought her power blow-dryer. Needless to say, we left the next morning.
On the way back we headed toward The Bay of Islands, which is just that, numerous islands in the bay-- breathtaking. We took the ferry from Paihia to the quaint town of Russell, the first capital of NZ, and where Shannon and her family used to vacation. After exploring the town on foot, and a few photo ops of the Opua Church and small cemetery, we grabbed a “flat white;” a cappuccino with less foam and very delicious, must be the milk. We returned by ferry to Paihia and headed to Kerikeri, another historic town showcasing their oldest house, built out of stone, in 1821. It’s now a gift shop.
There’s an influx of people on this island that have brought with them their accents, and I imagine after time, added the Kiwi dialect, making it hard to detect where they originated. But, this made the puzzle more interesting. One couple’s accent intrigued me so much I had to ask them what country they were from, and low and behold, they said, “USA, North Carolina.” Okay, I’ve never met anyone from that state and didn’t recognize the accent. I was a little embarrassed.
They do things differently in NZ, things that we in the US could not get away with. Apparently Shannon’s lot line was being challenged by an owner of the empty lot behind her. He wanted to start building and threatened to tear down her fence because he insisted that ten feet of her property was his land. She retained an attorney to deal with it; however, the dude didn’t want to wait for formalities. As I sat in their yard with my back to the fence I heard a slashing sound, turned around to witness a man on the fence with a machete hacking at the ivy growing on it. It became very stressful, and the cops were called. Eventually he withdrew and agreed to wait until Shannon could hire someone to move the fence so not to leave her dogs in an unfenced yard. Really? After that my dear friend needed some relaxation. We opted for a four hour whale watching trip, which ended up one of the best weather days I had during my stay. The docent, a young marine biologist student encouraged us to watch for flocks of birds diving in the ocean and that’s where we’d find the whales, which we did. Brutus whales, actually. They were a bit lazy, which made them easy to observe.
Another day we ferried to Waiheke Island and shuttled to Stony Ridge Winery. We sat outside, overlooking poetic views of the vineyard and silver-leaved olive trees. We spent the entire day tasting wines and pairing them with delectable dishes. The friendly, tentative staff took good care of us, and to top it off we received a visit from the owner who’d dated Shannon, several years prior to purchasing the winery. She was surprised to see him. However, I don’t think he remembered her.
At night, when the clouds parted, you could see a thousand stars. The clouds moved in and out 24/7. A leisurely drive took us west of Auckland for more wine tasting, where they poured pretty young wines. Not to my liking, so we stopped for a flat white at Settlers Lodge in Waimauku. Yearning for some history, we explored the Auckland Memorial Museum, and then marveled the views of Auckland from One Tree Hill at Cornwall Park.
Because Shannon’s husband loved to cook, we spent most evenings at their in-door slash out-door home (fence included, thankfully), enjoying good wine and amazing edibles, such as steamed New Zealand mussels and baked scallops (pronounced scaul-lops in Kiwi). For my farewell dinner Steve prepared New Zealand lamb, slow cooked so the meat slid off the bone, delicious, and I don’t even like lamb.
After a teary goodbye, I boarded the plane back to the US.
Causes Lisa Carlson Supports