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Kia Ora: The First 24 Hours…

(Note:  The best way to see all of the pictures from the trip on a regular basis is to check out the Photo page, where full galleries and slideshow are available…)

After a new travel record of 6 total minutes from check in counter to completion of security checkpoints, Natalie and I made our way to gate G93 at SFO to meet up with a massive 747-400 that would be taking us over 10,000 kms over the next 13 hours…  Air New Zealand was our carrier for this trip and everyone from the front desk, to the cockpit, and everywhere in between was exceptional.  So much so, that I would welcome another long-haul flight with them.

Arriving into Auckland at 5:40am, a light rain was striking the airplane windows, sending those diagonal streaks of water across them in every direction, but fortunately, that was pretty much all of the weather we would see today.  Though there were plenty of concerns from dark clouds in the sky, really all that we ended up see was a bit of drizzle in the morning, and by the afternoon, there was plenty of blue sky and clouds.

We decided to spend the morning just exploring and getting our bearings, so our first stop was to The Quadrant Hotel, our home for the next 5 days.  Centrally located in the Auckland CBD (Central Business District), it is bordered by Albert Park and the University of Auckland campus, so it is a bustling, but mostly quiet and calm flow of students and families going from place to place.  We dropped our bags off at the front desk and set off on foot.

Our first stop was downtown, marked by Queen Street, the main North/South road through the central city.  From here, one can find anything and everything from McDonalds/BK to Shopping Malls, clothing stores, restaurants, and plenty of major global companies and banks.  Watching the morning rush hour as folks sped their way to work in cars, buses, and on foot proved quickly that this is a thriving and busy major world city.  It was easy to get from place to place on foot, with most of our sights this morning being less than a 10min walk from one another.

SkyTower is part of the SkyCity complex in Central Auckland.  Housing a hotel, casino, and the signature SkyTower (think Seattle Space Needle), it is a fun photographic spot, and we’re looking forward to watching some folks cable jump off the side of it…  (Yes, you can pay good money to jump off of the side of this massive tower and “fly” down the side of the building, guided by two steel cables…)  One thing becoming apparent is just how much adrenaline plays a part of the Kiwi experience.  In the first 30 minutes of walking through downtown, one could sign up to bungee jump off the Auckland Bridge, walk around the top edge of the SkyTower at a height of more than 66 stories, cable jump off the top of the thing, or take a high speed jet boat ride in the Auckland Harbor.   Not too worry!  There are tons of other great things to see and do that don’t require your heart medication, but simply proves that there is truly something for everyone here, and we look forward to seeing and experiencing the entire spectrum of activities while we are here.

Next, we continued down to the waterfront, onto Quay Street and headed west to the ferry harbor, Te Wiro, and out to the fishing harbor, where the daily Auckland Fish Market provides the fresh catch of the day, right from the boats to your shopping bags.  Though smaller than Pikes Place Market in Seattle, there was plenty of variety of seafood, fresh produce, and a bakery on site, so one could pick up whatever might be needed for the day’s meals.  It was great seeing a number of families out on the harbor with young kids as they strolled along the waterfront.

From here, we headed back onto Quay Street, back into the downtown center, passing by the beautiful Ferry Building.  Built in 1912, it was recently updated (probably to align to earthquake retrofit requirements), but makes for a beautiful landmark, along with a number of bright red lampposts along the waterfront edge.  Everything seems to be getting a good scrubbing and brushup here as the country prepares to play host to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, a signature global sporting event for nearly everyone, but Americans…  We’re looking foward to learning much more about the sport and to gain a better appreciation of it while we’re here.

It was about this point that hunger set in and we had to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the world’s greatest (our claim — not theirs) Gluten Free pizza, Hell Pizza for lunch.  We originally had the chance to enjoy this amazing pizza in Dublin, Ireland and once we found out that this amazingly tasty GF substitute was born in New Zealand, it was at the top of our list for this trip.  We enjoyed a GF Mayhem pizza with Peanut Satay, Chicken, Sweet Chili Sauce, Capsicum (Bell Peppers), and Onions.  Amazing lunch and a great way to start our culinary quest through the country.  (If you have never followed our trips before, you will learn quickly that great local food is a major player on the journey — one needs to keep the energy level up to see and explore all these places, right?)

From here, we took a quick stop at the local supermarket to pick up groceries as our apartment at The Quadrant has a complete kitchen with dishwasher and clothes washer/dryer.  Once complete we headed back to the hotel, making our way from the waterfront up the hills to our place.  Once we arrived and finally checked in, we settled into our 10th floor apartment and spent the afternoon just taking in the view.  After a dinner of Chicken and Garlic Risotto (Don’t say I didn’t warn you…) we spent the evening making a few bookings and reservations for the next week or so of the journey and then collapsed into bed to catch up on some sleep.

It was a great first 24 hours in New Zealand.  I think it is fair to say that they won’t all be this way, and that is ok — it’s about all of the things that come with the journey that makes it what it is.  But on days like today, it is wonderful to just appreciate all that this world has to offer and gain a smile and a sense of welcome to this great place.

Kia Ora Aotearoa.

Anything that you would like to see (in photos) or hear about here in Auckland?  Ideas of things to see and do, or someplace we shouldn’t miss?  Let us know in the comments box below!  We’d love to hear from you!

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