Bay of Islands, the Last Leg of our New Zealand Adventure

Let me begin this post by saying that domestic air travel abroad is so easy, it makes me want to move every time I do it. New Zealand is now apart of that legacy, since our flight from Wellington to Auckland was pleasant, painless, and relatively cheap. The domestic terminal even had free wifi so yay for that!

We arrived in Auckland and picked up our third and last car of the trip, an orange Suzuki with 6 gears again for me to play with, and a collar for reverse, which is just as annoying as it sounds. For all you Volkswagen drivers out there, this is something you are kind of used to, since you often will find VW’s with a reverse that requires you to push down to reach. This has a little collar that you pull up to get to reverse, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that it is with my left hand on the opposite side of the car. But by the time I had the Suzuki, I was an old pro, having driven a car like this the first time in Rotorua. The second car in Picton had a normal reverse and only 5 gears, so it was most like our car at home. Your attention is drifting so I’ll stop talking about the car now.

Orangina (the car), Rebecca and I headed off for Paihia, our tiny beach town in the Bay of Islands, our home for the next two nights. The drive included a toll road, the only one in New Zealand. The road was $2.20NZ one way, so $4.40 total for the return trip, and you could pay online. In fact, paying online was the only way to do so without some kind of service charge, since it’s all automatic. It was the easiest thing I could imagine. The machine takes a picture of your license plate, and you go online within 5 days and pay the toll, which shows up as a balance. We also paid the toll for the trip back ahead of time, so the car didn’t have a balance when we were done with it. It makes so much sense to do it this way – I really have no idea why we do it differently at home. My only thought is that it becomes more complicated with more cars on the road, but I don’t know for sure. If you have the answer, please write it in the comments.

We arrived in Paihia in the early afternoon, and we were starving, so we headed first to Shippey’s, a fish and chips (and more!) joint on the way to Waitonga. The place is a real ship, a former merchant ship, with a steering wheel from Portland, Maine. And they have the best fish and chips and fresh fish EVER. This is a must to visit if you are in the area. We loved it so much that we went for dinner the next night, too, where we had great chowder, mussels, fish and chips (again, this time with Dorey as the fish), beer and apple cider, and hands down the best key lime pie I’ve  ever tasted. Plus, we were treated to live music from an American band doing classic rock (Tom Cochrane, Don Henley, etc). Post Shippeys we checked into the hotel and did laundry, of which we had accumulated a decent amount in our two weeks. The hotel owner discouraged us from using the dryer, so we hung our clothes out on the clothes line, which invoked in me strong childhood memories of my grandmother doing the same thing. Then we went in search of food for the next day at a supermarket, which turned out to be a 4km walk or so. Then we went out to dinner at a place called Al Fresco’s (which I assume had an Irish owner, since above the entrance had the welcoming Cead Mile Falchie, properly spelled of course) and had tons of fresh seafood, including chowder, oysters, calamari, and snapper. It was all delicious and pretty cheap, even with cocktails.

Paihia is a beach town through and through, with lots of bars open til late and tons of people walking barefoot around town. It’s right on the water, so after dinner, we people-watched as we walked along the water to burn off the huge meal we had just eaten. We stumbled upon a circus show, so we stayed and watched, and it turned out to be a busking show. A busking show is one in which the performers get permission to perform in a city, and then ask those who come to pay for the performance after they see it – kind of a “free with a suggested donation” type thing. They kept saying, “Support Kiwi circus and the arts!” and it occurred to me that I always assumed free shows were paid for by the town, and that they ask companies to come and perform. What if I had been misreading this all this time? Was I an arts freeloader? Anyway, the show was strange and quirky, very Kiwi indeed, but it held our attention until we were ready to go to bed.

The next morning we Skyped with family (hi family!) and then headed to Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean collide in beautiful whirlpools of beautiful blue water. It was a lot of driving, so even with the scenery, Rebecca and I were a little chippy by the time we got there. But, like an oasis in the desert, we saw a beach, and hiked down to discover that not only was the water warm, but there was no one else on the beach. It was all ours. And, for the most part, it was sunny and warm, our first real beach experience in New Zealand. We hung out, ate our lunch, swam, tanned, and just loved life for about an hour down there until we decided to hike back up and see the lighthouse and the lookout into the ocean. You can see tiny islands a few nautical miles offshore, and it turns out that these islands, Three Kings Islands (named by Abel Tasman, I believe, after the magi), are now where New Zealand sends its endangered species to recover their populations instead of Stewart Island. So no one is allowed to visit, which I think is cool.

We drove back, which was not nearly as bad as the drive up, had dinner at Shippey’s, plucked our remaining laundry off the line, and prepared for our last full day in New Zealand.

The next day, we wanted to be a little closer to Auckland airport for our flight to Bangkok, so we traveled south to Goat Island Marine Preserve in Leigh, a tiny town about an hour and a half from Auckland, for another day at the beach. We had lunch at the Sawmill, a cute place with good yet overpriced food and nice service (that’s what happens when you are one of a few restaurants in town) and then spent the afternoon swimming in the rough ocean waves and seeing what we could see underwater with our swim goggles. It was 35 minutes of battling waves, and it did us in for the evening, so we left for our last night in Snell’s Beach, a cute fishing village about 30 minutes further south right off the 1. We stayed at the Salty Dog Inn, a great spot for Dartmouth alumnae, and used their wifi to upload pictures and take care of our remaining business before leaving the country. We also bought postage stamps for our postcards, so that they actually got mailed before we left New Zealand – a big coup for us, since we usually just wind up taking those suckers home. We also caught a few matches of the Australian Open, enjoying one in which an unranked Aussie knocked off an injured Polish player, ranked 20th – gotta love an underdog. We closed the bar and went back to our room, charging our devices and preparing for the long day ahead.

Our trip back to Auckland was uneventful, except for not being able to find a gas station to refill the rental car. So we put on a few extra miles for no good reason and managed to get it back full. The real fun started when we arrived at the airport and tried to check-in for our flight.

It may surprise you to learn that Kiwis, though generally known as laid back and fun, are uptight, cranky and worrying when it comes to regulations and rules. The “no worries, mate!” attitude apparently stops at the airport entrance. When we tried to check-in for our flight to Thailand, they asked to see our itinerary, which we explained we really did not have, since we were traveling for 5 months in various spots and didn’t have a specific plan. That sent them into a tizzy, so they in turn sent us into a panic that we wouldn’t be able to enter Thailand without a ticket out of there within 30 days. Of course, we had done our research, and found nothing to substantiate this claim, but they wouldn’t let us on the plane without making us produce our return ticket in June and telling us that we would have to buy tickets elsewhere when we got to Bangkok. So we spent $20 on internet printing a copy of our return trip itinerary for June and then trying to get a flight to Cambodia, which wouldn’t work, and then we worried for the duration of our 12-hour flight. Naturally, when we arrived in Thailand, there were no problems whatsoever – they gave us our visa and that was that.

Sadly, this incident left us with a really bad taste in our mouths about New Zealand. What began as a trip where we were so impressed by how laid back and kind everyone was ended up as a place we wanted to escape from, knowing full well that people in Asia cared a lot less about how proper everything was. Which just goes to show you – descendants of the British are still like the British, with the requisite stick up the bum.

In conclusion, New Zealand: come for the hobbits, leave to relax elsewhere.

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