In early 2018, Tracy and I undertook a trip together that was a long time in the planning and a welcome change from me travelling without her. We'd always wanted to visit New Zealand, and after I had taken the first of my two pensions from back in my IT days. Blowing the majority of the lump sum on a once-in-a-lifetime trip seemed like the right thing to do, and now, almost a year on from the end of the trip, I still believe it was! What follows below is the blog, or journal, that I wrote during the trip, almost word-for-word, placed here in case I lose the book I wrote it in. Grab a brew, sit down and join us as we head off together at last...
Having woken up at 2:11am and been unable to go back to sleep as my mind churned through thoughts of
work and ideas for Inner Circle Tours and Inner Circle Bikes, I finally dozed off sometime after 4:19am
only to be woken again at 4:55am as Tracy's alarm went off. But I'm not complaining as today starts yet another
Holiday of a Lifetime. 5.20am and Lee, our chaufeur for the journey to the airport arrives. No mere taxi
for us, as we've decided that due to Tracy's ongoing back condition we need to treat ourselves and fly business
class. The car was nice, not quite a limousine, but posh enough and Lee was the epitome of attentive.
Once we were dropped off at the airport we took the lift to the departure floor, whereupon Tracy had an embarassing itch in her left boob. Now this wouldn't be embarassing if her scratching was just in front of me, but it was when I pointed out the 2 CCTV cameras aimed directly at her in the corner of the lift! Once her blushes had subsided we rushed our way through security and check-in then rushed even quicker to get to the gate as the security process had been long as usual. We neededn't have worried, though, as our flight was delayed and we had plenty of time. The lounge was good and we boarded ahead of the usual rabble (where we'd normally be!) and took our rather posh individual flat-bed seats near the front. No sooner had we been seated than we were offered a glass of champagne and handed a menu from which we could choose our meals. The flight was extremely comfortable, the food excellent and the Sancerre I washed it down with the perfect temperature. I even managed to watch a couple of films.
On arrival at Dubai airport we made our way to the business class lounge where we had an ice-cream before making our way down to our flight to Bangkok. This flight was just as good as the first one with another toast of champagne on boarding and a decent Thai red curry to eat whilst I tried to finish the book I'd been reading.
At Bangkok we found our next chaufeur and enjoyed a ride through the heavy traffic to our hotel, Tara Place, which
we'd chosen as it was close to the area we know well and in particular the Kho San Road. By now we were rather tired
so we hit the sack for a few hours, waking feeling a little refreshed at 3pm. After reading a bit more of my book
we headed out to the Kho San road for a beer or two. This road is a favourite of ours, as it is usually rammed full
of backpackers and lively stalls selling all sorts of tat, bars full of life and street food stalls. Today it was
eerily quiet, with very few people about and no pavement-side stalls making it look deserted. We saw a lot of signs
warning people not to have a tattoo of Buddha as this is offensive to the locals. We stopped at a couple of bars for
a beer and some prawn spring rolls, then a mojito or two whilst we sat endulging ourselves in our favourite Kho-San pastime
of people watching. A while later we ate again, the Thai Red Curry and Laab Gai (spicy chicken salad) were of the usual
high standard, but the lack of real life on the Kho-San made for an early night. On the walk back to the hotel we
came across a couple playing music live in one of the bars, so we stopped and listened a while over a nightcap. She
had a good voice and his guitar playing was great, but their rendition of
Knocking on Heaven's Door lacked
passion. The 3 Japanese girls glued to their smartphones on the table next to us probably didn't even notice...
Just before turning in for the night I caught up with events at home, and was delighted to hear that one of my students had passed his module-2 bike test and 3 more had passed their module-1 bike tests, hopefully a sign that the school will be doing well in our absence!
We woke feeling refreshed at around 8:20am and after a shower headed out for a walk down by the river, retracing our steps from previous stays in Bangkok. It was very hot and humid and with Tracy finding walking difficult due to her bad knee we decided not to walk too far and to make for the Kho-San road again for some breakfast. We sat at the first bar we reached and noticed that all the T-shirt and tourist-tat sellers were back and once again the road was starting to come alive. Perhaps it all shuts down on a Monday? I ordered a pineapple smoothie and some noodles and salad for breakfast and we sat people-watching once more. We then walked along the road taking in the shops for a while before stopping at another bar for a beer. Well, it was very hot in the sun and we are on holiday!
Before long we went back to the hotel to cool off and conserve energy for our trip back to the airport ready for our onward flight to New Zealand. It was whilst re-packing ready for departure that I made an unwanted discovery - I had inadvertently picked up 5 pairs of Konnor's underwear instead of my own! And they were way too small for me! Undeterred, we finished packing and were picked up and driven back to the airport where once again our flight was delayed. This time it was due to a passenger falling ill after boarding and having to be taken off the plane for treatment. We were a little concerned as this now meant we would have to get a different flight for the final leg of our journey from Sydney to Auckland.
I managed to get a little sleep on the flight after watching another 2 films, such is the duration of each leg. On arrival at Sydney we discovered the flight to Auckland had changed from Quantas (who'd been excellent) to Air New Zealand, and as a consequence we would not have a chaufeur to pick us up on arrival. But the worst part of the change was trying to get new boarding cards for the new flight. At the first transfer desk we were referred to a different part fo the terminal hall but there were no Emirates/Quantas staff to be found. We then went to the Quantas lounge, which was closed, but we could see a member of Quantas staff beyond the door. It took a considerable amount of time and a lot of charades-style antics to gt her to reluctantly come and open the door so she could be asked where we should go. It turned out the Air New Zealand desk was right next to the lounge, just out of sight round the corner! At last the woman at the desk was helpful and sorted out our boarding passes and pointed us in the direction of the open Air NZ lounge.
The final flight to Aucklandwas uneventful, but Tracy and I couldn't sit together as the configuration of the business class seats meant one was diagonally positioned behind the other. On arrival we were waved quickly through passport control, despite Tracy having to declare her medication, then we collected our bags and left the airport, jumping in a taxi to the hotel. Our room was tiny, with a double bed and a small kitchenette and a small balcony (with a view of the back of the building next door) but nowhere to store our luggage. At least it had an en-suite shower room!
We were once again tired and it was time to get some sleep, with the local time being 8:15pm and our body clocks unsure of the day, never mind the time!
We've lost a day, it's now Thursday!
I was up and down a lot overnight as it was very warm in our tiny room, but it was 8:20am when I finally got up after 12 hours in bed. I then sorted some work stuff before we headed out for breakfast. Or at least we tried to, as Tracy took the lift which was nearly full so I opted for the stairs. Only to find myself outside the back of the hotel in an alley! I managed to work out how to get back to the front of the hotel, walking through the main entrance much to Tracy's surprise.
A short walk and a few doors up the hill from the hotel was the
Sunflower Caf& which served a very good
and hearty breakfast. After this we took a walk down to the harbour area a few blocks away and had a look round,
naturally dreaming of which of the many beautiful boats we would like to own. We discovered Dr Rudi's Rooftop Brewhouse where
we sampled a very beer and sat enjoying the view over the harbour. After this we went for a long walk, eventually ending
up at the Sky Tower. We paid our money and went up to the top where there were excellent views over the city and a
caf& where we enjoyed a cheese toastie and a cup of coffee. We then braved a walk over the glass window that looks
straight down to the street below, quite a feat for both of us as we share a fear of heights.
After the tower we went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for an hour or so. After waking, still not completely refreshed, we went out to the pub/restaurant on the corner up the hill for dinner. This was no ordinary pub, though, it was the Shakespeare Brewhouse - the oldest brewhouse in Auckland. Naturally I had to try a few of their beers, which were very good and an ideal accompanyment to the massive burger I was served and the even more massive fish and chips that Tracy was presented with. We had planned to go to the music venue we passed on the way to the brewhouse, but by now we were very tired and stuffed, so we grabbed some water from the supermarket and took ourselves off to bed.
Today started with a quick Facetime session with Katie and Quaid. I still find it amazing that in a few short years we have gone from sending postcards home to being able to hold face-to-face conversations with our relatives on the opposite side of the world. It certainly helps reduce the effects of home sickness (which Tracy suffers from much more than I do!).
After a lighter breakfast of poached eggs on toast at the Sunflower café we walked back to the harbour area where we were due to be picked up by the Auckland City Guide we'd booked yesterday. Michael, a very friendly and soon to be proved knowledgeable, kiwi was on time and so we climbed in his mini-van along with our fellow tourists. Michael explained the history and economic circumstances (something close to his heart!) of Auckland as we drove round the city. We took in the harbour area and drove out to the harbour bridge, then through the suburbs and on to Mt Eden for some great views of the city, then via the war memorial and museum and on to St Heliers (a very affluent part of the city) before returning to the city after a total of 4 hours, for just NZ$69 each. A bargain!
In the afternoon we did our laundry and then walked back to the harbour area and to Dr Rudi's Rooftop Brewhouse where we shared a pitcher of beer before heading to a posh-looking Italian restaurant in the viaduct harbour for dinner, some excellent clams with spaghetti.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel, stopping at the bar next door for a night-cap. A great day in a lovely city.
Once again, I woke early at 6:30am, probably due to excitement at the day ahead, and got ready to go and collect the motorhome. A final breakfast of poached eggs on toast at the Sunflower Café before we caught a taxi to near the airport and Maui HQ. The taxi was only NZ$35, not the NZ$95 it cost us to make the same journey in reverse when we arrived!
As we'd already done the on-line check-in and arrived on time for our collection, we expected it to be away fairly quickly, but it proved to be quite the opposite. After signing various bits of paper we were told our camper wasn't ready and it would be 2 hours before it was! With nothing to do but wait, I thought I'd get my GPS out and check the route we'd planned, only to discover I couldn't find it. After searching both my bags thoroughly, including spreading my clothes all over the floor, there was still no sign of it. I had checked the hotel room before we left, but thought maybe it had fallen under the bed, or got caught up in the bedding, so I phoned the hotel and asked them to check and call me back. After 45 minutes they'd not called, so I rang to chase and then they called me back - no sign of the GPS in the room, damn! So I resigned myself to being without it and went to check my camera gear, only to find the GPS in the front pocket of my camera bag! Well, at least it wasted a good few minutes!
I needn't have worried, however, as when our motorhome was finally ready, the first thing we were shown how to use was a large-screen Tom-Tom GPS loaded with the CamperMate application!
After a thorough introduction to PGN334 (our motorhome's registration), we wre presented with a bottle of wine to compensate for the delay and we were off on our way... to the supermarket not more than half a mile away! Here we loaded up with essentials - food, beer and wine - and then we set off again, finally hitting the road north (route 1) at mid-day, after scoffing a sandwich Tracy made whilst I programmed our destination into the supplied GPS.
The route took us through Auckland on the main motorway north, affording us glimpses of the city landmarks that were now quite familiar. We arrived at the campsite at Paihai around 5:30pm, and quickly checked in before setting about re-organising our luggage. I then cooked us our traditional first-night camp meal of Hot Tuna and we sat in the early evening sunshine by the lake, a perfect end to a great first day on the road.