I wonder if I should bother to write a blog about Auckland, since I should rather write ten or none, but here goes one (very) long one. I didn’t plan on going to New Zealand, since I’d already been there back when I lived in Australia, but I realized there was no way to get from the Cook Islands to neighbouring Niue… or Samoa, or Fiji, or anywhere else except through New Zealand. In Rarotonga, the main island of the Cooks, I met 2 people who pretty much set up my whole New Zealand experience. First was Bjorn, the British-Kiwi guy who has a super Icelandic name. He’s a dancer, a very good dancer, and had a very pretty friend named Amber, who was also an amazing dancer. She met up with me in Auckland for Sunday night salsa dancing, and we salsa’d, zouked and tangoed our little butts off.
I stayed with Amber and her family for a couple of nights, went beaching to some super-hot-black-sand beaches, and attended her friend’s house warming party where the focus of the night was watching the movie “Love Actually” and getting into the holiday spirit. An ever-abundant source of chocolate-dipped strawberries, Lindt chocolates, champagne, and cider helped too. On boxing day, I went to the races with my couchsurfer and his friends, and Auckland already started to feel smaller when I ran into the house-warming host at the Ellerslie race course, where she was Ms. Ellerslie (go figure, she was blonde and beautiful).
I couchsurfed with 4 or 5 nights with Wade, possibly the nicest 30 year old guy in New Zealand, with the friendliest mouthful of braces I ever saw. His front lawn and adjoining neighbours had become the rearing ground for some baby ducks, and my room had a little balcony looking over them. Wade and his friends also took me to some boiling-hot-black-sand beaches and accompanied me to the races (where we won lots of money…. well not lots, but some, and lost some money we won when our winning ticket blew away from the 3rd storey stands).
The second important person I meet in the Cook Islands was Gaylene, a hostel neighbor who donated all her and her friends’ food and alcohol when they left a day earlier than I. The others still at the hostel feasted on eggs and bacon breakfast and vodka raspberry cocktails with me, and I decided I had to visit her and somehow return the karma. Instead of being able to repay any of her hospitality except cooking a few meals, she showered me with more beautiful surprises and Christmas gifts and the love of her whole family.
She lives on a small farm with her mom Raewyn, a handful of sheep and cows, and 4 horses. Yes, 4 horses! And one of them was a grey, purebred Arabian – I had hit the jackpot. When he didn’t buck me off and could keep up with Raewyn’s endurance competition horse, we decided to take him to his own competition. We placed third in the 20 km race, and Raewyn won first in her 50km. We rode some more trail rides in the forest and on the coast, and my last ride with her was a 30km day in the rain on a never-ending black sand beach. I was in heaven.
I met some more ponies along the way – a 1 day old Friesian foal and Wade’s best friends’ girlfriend’s eventing horses. I was happy as. My allergies were not, but at least Auckland has pharmacies. It was just beginning to be full-on summer in the city, so there was tons of pollen floating around and freshly cut grass to tear up my eyes. The weirdest part of summer here is that Christmas marks the start of it, and the last thing I think of doing in summer is decorating pine trees or drinking eggnog. People still get into the holiday spirit, and there’s one famous street where nearly every house tries to out-do the next with bigger and brighter lights, nativity scenes, Santa Clauses and reindeers, and mistletoes to kiss under (complete with a candid camera).
My Christmas was spent with Gaylene and her family on the beach in Coromandel, a beautiful peninsula a couple hours drive from Auckland. On Christmas Eve, I had baileys and coffee for breakfast and Raewyn and I went riding on the beach. Then we set up our tents at the beach house where 12 others joined us, barbequed a feast fit for kings, and drank baileys for desert while playing card games. Christmas day was much the same, and we barbequed breakfast too. We opened our gifts in the morning, and I couldn’t believe the stack of presents with my name on it, in this family where I had just days before been a complete stranger. After a short break came champagne and chocolates and Christmas poppers for lunch, but then we ran out of room for dinner.
I had lots of good food while in New Zealand, and the lamb was nearly as good as Icelandic lamb, but the fish and chips were better. Apparently they say “fush’n’chups” but I finally started to pick out the difference between Aussie and Kiwi accents but I cant quite hear the “u” in fish or chips. Whittaker’s chocolate bars, in all their glorious flavours, were definitely a favourite, and I’ve never eaten more chocoloate in 3 weeks than I did in New Zealand over the holidays.
I did some solo-traveling up north Paihia and Russell, camping for a couple nights in a tent I bought in New Caledonia for 13 euros and a $400 feather-down sleeping bag that I found on the side of the road (I washed it, don’t worry). It probably fell off the back of someone’s’ motorcycle, and a little yellow snail had claimed it, but I figured I’d get more use out of it than him.
New Years eve was spent in Auckland, and it was the only night in 3 weeks that I had to sleep in a hostel dorm bed. I only slept in it for 2 hours, so it was kind of a waste of $25, but I ended up wondering the streets, wharf, and bars all evening and night with a UBC alumni named David. At midnight, we drank pink champagne under an exploding sky tower and kissed, just for fun, and then we spent the rest of the night chasing down Tinder girls he had matched with since they were all at different bars and we wanted to bar hop. When he found one he liked, I snuck away to take my hostel power nap, and then dragged my feet to an 8 am flight to American Samoa… where I could do it all again.