Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Whole reason I took this trip and not another was b/c Hawaiian started flying to Auckland and had cheap under-800 rt fares from LAX, so I took that. Honolulu Airport is fascinating. It’s open-air and on my way back I’m going to try to leave the airport and go get lunch nearby b/c it’s friggin’ Hawaii and it’s lame to only experience the airport and nothing else. Here’s what Hawaiian does right: chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, blankets, seating. My legs never felt cramped (particularly during the Honolulu-Auckland leg, where I had a four-seat row to myself—this trip isn’t particularly popular yet, especially since it’s winter in Auckland), which is a first. What Hawaiian does particularly badly: lack of free entertainment. The rest of the food isn’t great either, but really a nine-hour flight and we have to pay for movies/TV? Lame. Luckily, I had the travel issue of Lucky Peach (best purchase I’ve made in ages), a puzzle book, Swamplandia on my Kindle, audiobook of The Natural, and episodes of Top of the Lake with me to keep amused.
By the way, Top of the Lake rocks.
My first night was at the Ibis Budget near the airport. Due to a lack of info on the site and a lack of response to an email, I was not aware of a shuttle that might take me from the airport to the hotel, nor did I see one as I wandered around the Auckland airport after clearing customs. So I used the free internet at the airport to find myself on google maps and walked a sidewalk-free and dangerous walk in the middle of the night to this supremely crappy hotel. It was not a promising start.
In the morning I got some chocolate, an orange, and dried apple rings from the supermarket across the street, took a shuttle back to the airport, and grabbed the airbus into the city. Then I walked the mile to PBL because I’m a cheap bastard who won’t spring for a bus unless absolutely necessary.
I dropped off my stuff and, with a brief stop at the secondhand bookshop nextdoor, which is run by the sweetest old lady, immediately headed down to the ferry building at Queen Street to take a trip over to Devonport and climb Mt. Victoria. I wanted to do little hike/climbs and lots of walking into the days leading up to the Queen Charlotte track so I’d be in shape. Then I discovered the gelato place at the ferry building has free wifi, so I spent a bit catching up on facebook—and then I got a hoki burger at Dogmatic on Queen. Here’s the thing. I didn’t realize hoki was a fish until I got the burger. It was pretty awful, mostly because I was expecting beef and ordered cheese on it. Then I had a “melting moment” which was brick-hard. I gave up and got on the ferry.
Devonport is just ten minutes across the harbor. There isn’t much there, just a little village, the itsy-bitsy mountain, which is still super cool, and, if you go the roundabout way, an odd Frenchy “antique” shop. I wasn’t there for more two hours and then took the ferry back downtown. I then proceeded to walk down Queen and do a bit of window-shopping (and get some iodine pills for the track). I ended up at the Art Gallery, which was free except for a California Design exhibit that I didn’t feel was absolutely essential I see, considering. It’s a lovely gallery. See photos below.
After that I headed back towards my hostel, stopping to chuckle at the fact that Sharknado is being released like an actual movie here and marvel that somehow Carls Jr got here. How? How?
I had a hell of a time trying to find a place to dinner where I could go alone, in fleece, and not look like an ass. All the restaurants were either fancy or gross, and the local grocery store was closing. I ended up at KFC. I’m not proud.
Then I went back to my place, tired and bummed, and watched some more of Top of the Lake and read some more Lucky Peach. Then I went to bed, the Civil Wars and Massive Attack sending me into a deep slumber.
Got up early this morning and had a shower in the shared/across the misty courtyard bathroom and realized I had not brought only one shampoo, which I had used at the Ibis. So I only conditioned my hair. And now my hair looks stupid.
Took the bus to Queen Street b/c I was under the impression from a misprint in one of my maps that La Cigale was on Chancery. It is not. So I went to a bookshop, had a crummy croissant and hocho from Esquires (they’re like Starbucks here, but also there’s Starbucks), then walked through Albert Park and down to the Domain, where 100 young boys were in the midst of rugby practice in their black clothes. It was weird. I walked over to the Museum and learned a crap ton of stuff about the Maori and other Pacific Islanders, took some photos, went to the weird second floor of the museum, which had nothing of value for me except a creepy “moa,” which I believed was reformed with ostrich or emu feathers. Am a bit glad these things aren’t extinct or I’d be a mite more worried about my hike on Monday.
Utilized the free wifi at the museum and found out La Cigale was in Parnell off St. George’s. So I went to the French market, had my first Afghan biscuit (delish) and a chocolate croissant, then walked back up the hill to Parnell and then all the way down Parnell to Khyber Road, then down Boston Road, then down Normanby to Mt. Eden, which I climbed (best thing I’ve done so far maybe, gorgeous), and then I walked all the fucking way back to my hostel. BUT a few blocks from my hostel on Ponsonby a group of drunk lads made it difficult for me to get past on the sidewalk, and one decided I could only get by if I waltzed with him. I was just trying to dance around so I could get out of it, so my dancing wasn’t so great, and he insisted on going on and on. We looked a right mess. Finally he let me go and demanded a kiss. I let him kiss me on my zitty cheek.
That day was a 12.3-miler. The day prior was more but not sure how many.
Grand total of miles today: 12.3. Yesterday was more but I can’t remember precisely how many.
The next morning I took a super early plane to Wellington and caught the ferry to Picton. BTW, the train station in Wellington is delightful. It has an amazing grocery store.
The Cook Strait can be choppy and nauseating. And it was so. They played such prime cinematic fare as Parental Guidance and Fast and Furious. When I got to Picton, I lugged my luggage to the Villa Bakcpackers Lodge where I was the last person to check in for my room (a six or eight-girl bunkbed share) and where I was forced to sleep on a top bunk. Now that I'm 30, this will not happen again. I refuse. The place was nice enough, but I was only there for one night. I got myself in shape for my hike, and the next morning grabbed the water taxi to the start of the QCT. On the way we got to chill with some dolphins and a tag-along seal. Kind of amazing.
First day was warm and sweaty and exhausting, and I had a bit of trouble finding my place--the Wool Shed. Because it was not marked. I asked the people at the camp across the way who directed me through some overgrown fields packed with chickens.
Positives: lovely hostess, fresh eggs, view, cheap.
Negatives: Oh, holy fuck, the bugs. They are everywhere, and they won't leave you alone. Insects everywhere. They're in the bed. It's awful.
The darkness. I left my flashlight in Auckland, and the bathroom was its own separate locale. I had to walk in the pitch black with my phone directed at the ground. More bugs in the bathroom.
Second day was short, but I was in a lot of pain b/c let's just say my boots were not right for the job. I got to Punga Cove Resort pretty early in the day (I left early, after making myself some egg whites, b/c I had to drop off my luggage for the taxi anyway, and I was afraid my heel pain was going to slow me down, and it's not like I got any sleep). I had not made my reservations there, b/c it's nice and pricey, but Noeline of Noeline's Homestay was ill, and the good people at Punga were taking her guests. I made out like a champ. Far fewer bugs in my room.
Now since my foot was killing me, I took off my boots, and, having no other shoes, walked down to the beach barefoot. Huge, giant mistake. I had 17 bug bites on my feet and a couple where my clothes weren't covering me. Sand fly bites are several times more itchy than mosquito bites. I sat on the beach stubbornly not knowing this for a few minutes that would haunt me for weeks.
Got an expensive terrible burger at the restaurant there. Disturbing convergence: no tomatoes, a tomato-shaped ketchup bottle, a dog with a bulging red eye, and Let's Call the Whole Thing Off playing on the radio. But general, fantastic gorgeousness.
Next morning I got up when it was still dark out. I had washed all my clothes the night before, but my socks weren't dry, so I brought them up to the kitchen and also tried to figure out a way to make my camel pak not taste like detergent. I met a great German girl named Lena, who gave me a bit of apple to fix the taste of the water (worked) and who suggested I microwave my socks (also worked). She had to wait for her lazybones companion to get up, so I didn't walk with her that day. I met a weka bird on my walk, which freaked me out (or was that the day before? can't remember), but this was by far the longest day--nearly 15 miles--and by the end I sat down in the middle of the trail and nearly cried. I had, after all, a deep wound in my heel that was only getting worse. Finally, after walking past a dead possum, I made it to the wonderful, spectacular, homey, cozy, bug-free, real working plumbing De Bretts. So wonderful. The whole place was mine for a bit. I decompressed and watched something called Wild at Heart starring Hayley Mills. Lena and her friend and a couple Australians showed up later, and Lena and I talked a great deal, and I found out she was a nurse. She gave me some skin bandage-type stuff for my heel, which helped a bit, but not a ton.
And then the next morning I left with Lena and her friend. It was cold and wet. We took a wrong turn. We were on the road for ages. We knew we had done something wrong, but we had no idea what to do. We all had a water taxi to catch (especially me--mine was early). Finally, we flagged down a truck, whose driver told us that we had indeed missed the entrance back on to the track and had basically been walking parallel and a bit away from it for a couple miles. He very sweetly drove us to the entrance at Mistletoe Bay (we basically skipped the hard Torea Saddle-to-Mistletoe Bay section, which makes me feel like I failed a bit, and we did all promise not to say anything about our misadventure, but it's the misadventures that make the memories, so I'm including it), and we stomped through the cold and wet and mud and rain to Anakiwa, stopping for some rainforest pictures and to whine. We were plumb exhausted, me most of all.
But Anakiwa, sweet Anakiwa. I'm going to name my first child Anakiwa. We could see the snow in the mountains at the end. I ate some Snickers pods and hard-boiled eggs I had made previously (tinned tuna and pineapple are super to bring on a hike, let me tell you, as well). I called to get my taxi early and bid farewell to Lena and... I want to say, Michael. Lena taught me the word Tollpatschig and suggested I check out the Light House Cuba in Wellington (one of these joints where you feel like you're sitting in a cozy living room). Girl was a boon to my trip.
Went straight from water taxi to ferry building where I killed several hours using free wifi (I had booked the late ferry crossing). I was exhausted and gross, and our ferry got in very late. I walked all the way from the terminal to Cuba Street when I got there and had to ring for entry. But my room had no bugs, and I had a nice, nice shower. I got mostly what I paid for, so it wasn't an amazing hotel room, or hotel for that matter, but it sure did the job.
Wellington: cable car to botanical gardens then walked back down to the city via the "flower" path, Te Papa, the outdoor market by Te Papa where I got a chimney cake and saw the fattest carrots I've ever seen, bookstores (found a complete Man Without Qualities at a used bookshop and bonded with the seller over Musil) everywhere boasting a not-yet-Booker-winning doorstop of a tome called The Luminaries by Kiwi ingenue Eleanor Catton, Weta Cave (didn't do the tour but watched the little movie), bad Indian food, walk along Owhiro Bay, crazy kindergarten-y bucket sculpture, hokey pokey ice cream bar (omg, the Whittakers Hokey Pokey chocolate is so good, it's criminal), two movies--Much Ado About Nothing at the Lighthouse and then something at the Embassy... What did I see at The Embassy? Elysium, I think. Not 100% sure, as the bathrooms are what made the biggest impression. There were Japanese screens. It was sweet.
I saw the Beehive. The name is more impressive than the architecture.
Last day (my birthday, US time), I went to Rangitoto and climbed it. Real lava fields! Great hike. I did it in my sneakers this time, because my heel was still recovering. I was basically back at the bottom, almost to the docks to take the ferry back to the city... and I fell. Left leg ate a whole hell of a lot of lava gravel. Scraped to kingdom come. To the point where, over 2 1/2 months later, it's still not fully healed. My ankle's still swollen and discolored. After all that hiking to bite it on my last day.
The worst part was that my final gift to myself was a massage (including foot) at a spa in the SkyTower. I let my masseuse massage my bloody, swollen ankle and leg, and that was some serious pain, my friend. Way to start 30.
Then I got some superb gelato and took an early shuttle to the airport where I ate my final cheese scone (one of NZ's great foodstuffs) and flew back to Hawaii and then California. NZ, man. What a trip.
To check out pictures from my trip, go to my Facebook page.