North Island – Days 1 & 2
Travel: Denver to San Francisco; San Francisco to Auckland; uneventful flights, early arrival.
United wanted to move me to a less desirable seat to accommodate a couple who wanted to sit together. I said no. Everything they offered was not great, and I’d picked my seat 6 months earlier. I felt like a bad person for saying no, but it was going to be a very long flight. After boarding I didn’t feel bad anymore. The United gate person had tried to convince me Economy Plus was full, so that even if I didn’t move, I’d have a person near me. Liar! The seat directly next to me was empty, for all 12+ hours. I watched 3 movies and read a novel. I wish I could sleep sitting up.
Slow customs process in Auckland airport. They are diligent about ensuring that contraband food and plants are not brought into the country.
I rented a car. Driving on the left is OK. I’ve done that visiting my now deceased uncle in St. Croix, USVI. The steering wheel on the right is very odd. I keep turning on the windshield wipers trying to use the blinker. Visual cues are off. Drivers seem to go the speed limit or under which is all very strange. Max speed seems to be 100 km per hour which is very slow vs. USA.
First stop: Auckland – the largest city in New Zealand
Lodging: Sky City Grand – Harbor View – 20th floor
Weather: drizzle, clouds, 50’s at night, 60’s in the day. It’s springtime, so rain seems to be the theme for this trip.
First of all, the hotel was great and centrally located, very walkable with easy harbor access. Apparently they had a casino on site and even gave me some casino money to go gamble with but I didn’t. The room was excellent – quiet, clean, spacious, fantastic views, high quality bath amenities, comfortable bed. The fitness center was well equipped and never got crowded.
I slept for 12.5 glorious hours after checking in. This might be my new jetlag remedy. Do not sleep on the plane. Sleep for 8+ hours at destination and wake in the local morning time, work out, eat, explore. I felt fantastic on day two.
Auckland is booming. Cranes and construction abound. Former industrial zones are getting turned into posh mixed use neighborhoods. The Park Hyatt will open on the water in 2018 near the Sofitel. Women in pretty summer dresses were gathering at fancy boutique restaurants and wine bars even though the weather was windy and brisk. I was wearing all 3 jackets that I brought for the trip.
- Auckland Maritime Museum. Model boat makers had a field day making exhibits for this museum. But interspersed with all of the collectibles, where interesting historical tours on how New Zealand was populated, mostly in the last 150 years, with several exhibits on Maori traditional boat making and of course some World Cup winning boat exhibits.
- Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari. You will see dolphins and whales guaranteed, or you’ll get a voucher to come back again. You will take a very long boat ride – on a quest for gannets (birds) – because where the birds are crazily dive bombing the water and this bit was spectacular – mirabile visu – just amazing –there are dolphins and whales nearby. Apparently the whales hear the bird cries and swim to where they are fishing. The dolphins just play in and about the birds and whales. They played a video for us of the gannets hitting the water at 100 mph, and then swimming 80 to 100 feet down to catch their prey – among the whales and sharks and dolphins. This outing was worth every single penny.
Food & Wine:
Two average meals:
- B’fast: Crew Club – near museum, good views.
- Lunch: Elliott Stables an Epicurean Village – ordered lamb skewers from big little grill. Good concept. Execution could improve.
One excellent meal:
- Dinner: The Grill by Sean Connolly. Sashimi starter, Filet Mignon, Mixed Greens Salad. Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir, 2011. Delicious. This was my first Pinot Noir from the Central Otago region of New Zealand. These are soft and fruity. This apparently is a boutique vineyard, harder to find, even in New Zealand.