March 10 was an odd day because I arrived in Los Angeles before I left New Zealand. The International Dateline is an amazing imaginary line on the planet.
I am not much of one for numerology, but I found it unique that my flight was NZ6; it departed from gate 6, and my seat number was 6K.
The flight pushed back from the gate at 19:42 (on March 10), eight minutes early. Once we made our cruising altitude, the flight attendants began serving. The meal started with the following:
Prosciutto with radicchio salad, asparagus, grilled artichokes and blue cheese.
Roasted chicken breast with roasted cauliflower and currant couscous, green olive tapenade salsa and broccolini.
A selection of fine New Zealand cheese served with plum and tamarillo chutney and cracker selection.
After dinner, I settled in to watch a movie. I started with La La Land because of all the hype, but it did not last long. I could not get into the film. I switched to A Cat Named Bob, but I had the same result. I ended up watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a movie I have probably seen a dozen times.
Finished with the movie, I went to sleep with my other 28 roommates. It surprised me how bumpy the flight was, all through the night.
When I awoke, I asked for a cup of black coffee. It was very relaxing to drink my coffee while listening to Vivaldi. Then came breakfast:
Fresh fruit salad with a croissant.
Omelette filled with sun dried tomato and spinach mornay, roasted tomato and piccata ham.
I arrived at LAX at about noon (on March 10). That was nearly eight hours before I left New Zealand!
I checked into the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard. One thing I wanted to do was visit the In-N-Out Burger near LAX. Mr. Google was kind enough to let me know the restaurant was only about one mile from the hotel. I decided to walk.
In about 20 minutes, I was within a few hundred feet of the In-N-Out Burger. I stopped there because I was directly underneath the flight path for runway 24R at LAX. It was fascinating watching the planes overhead, seemingly so close that one could almost touch them. When I tired of that, I finished my walk to the restaurant.
In the parking lot, one must navigate through the endless stream of vehicles in the drive-through lane. Entering the In-N-Out Burger, I was instantly in a sea of people. I was soon able to discern there were three less than perfect lines leading to three cash registers. I began my wait about seven or eight people from a cash register. I used my time to review the surprisingly short and inexpensive menu. For example, for only $5.95, one could have a cheeseburger, French fries, and a drink. That was my meal of choice.
After ordering, the sea of people shifted a little to one side while everyone waited for their order. I found a small piece of real estate near the drink machines on which to stand. From that vantage point, I could see there were nearly as many employees behind the counter as people were waiting. The choreography was amazing as an endless stream of orders made their way through the galley and back to the front counter for distribution.
Soon, I heard my order number called. I picked up my order and walked out. There are several tables outside. I found an empty table on the south side that was directly adjacent to the flight path for runway 24R. I sat there enjoying my lunch, thrilled by each jet that flew by me. It reminded me of watching the planes landing at Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten (please see my St. Maarten post).
I walked back over to the flight path when I finished lunch, to watch a few more jets. That was when I saw an Emirates Airlines A380 fly overhead on final approach. For those that do not know, an Airbus A380 is a double-deck airplane, the largest passenger airplane in the world. Watching that lumbering beast approach, I found it hard to believe that nearly 1.5 million pounds (700 tons) of metal can fly. The plane appears as though it should fall out of the sky.
The second item on my to-do list for the day was to visit Venice Beach. I hailed a taxi and sat back for my $40 ride.
The taxi driver dropped me off at North Venice Beach Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk. I walked through the parking lot and across the beach. I stood there, watching the Pacific Ocean roll onto the beach.
Back on Ocean Front Walk, people were swarming and strolling along in both directions. Mostly food outlets and tourist shops populate Ocean Front Walk. I began my stroll heading north. I quickly noticed one additional type of shop, medicinal marijuana. Each medical marijuana shop had several people standing in front. As pedestrians stopped, the medical marijuana staff tried to determine what medical problems the pedestrian may have and if medical marijuana was the cure. As anyone who knows me might imagine, I kept walking.
Very shortly, I found myself standing near a garish orange building at Muscle Beach. There were a few weightlifters in the “weight pen.” I enjoyed seeing something I had heard about for so many years but never visited.
Near the “weight pen” were some benches. I sat on one of the seats and watched the other people on Ocean Front Walk. I captured photos of many of them.
A little farther along, I found Zoltar in front of some small shops. The fortune-telling Zoltar machine had a starring role in the film Big. It was a wish at Zoltar that turned a 12-year old boy into an adult, played by Tom Hanks. I do not know if this may have been “the” Zoltar, but I took a photo anyway.
There were many eclectic people on the Walk. I saw a man playing a grand piano. Hunching over the keyboard meant I never saw his face. His mopish hair also made it difficult to see his face. Not far from him, I saw a man on a tricycle decked out in full mountain-man buckskin; including a fox hat. I do not know how he stood that outfit. I thought it was entirely too hot to dress like that. He was talking with some men that appeared to want to film him for some film.
Ocean Front Walk is a pedestrian walkway. However, from time to time, a police car, a lifeguard car, or even a firetruck drove along the Walk.
By far, the oddest sight was the Venice Beach Freak Show. It is a greenish-gray building on the Walk. The signs on the building touted such things as “See the Freaks of Nature,” “Lady Twisto,” and “Giant Rat.” Sitting on the stairs to the Freak Show was a bearded lady. In front of her, on the sidewalk, was a little man. They both tried to get passersby interested in buying a ticket for the Freak Show. I opted out.
The last sight of the day was a man carrying a cross along the Walk. After seeing him, I found a taxi and rode back to the hotel.
I was at LAX early the next morning for my flight to Denver. The trip was uneventful. The plane went right by Grand Junction, my final destination. I found myself wishing I could get off right there. Regardless, it was on to Denver. As we flew, it was easy to see just how much snow was still in the Rocky Mountains.
At the Denver International Airport, I had time to kill before my final flight. I went into a restaurant overlooking the tarmac. I had some nachos and a beer, something that is very hard to find in Wellington, New Zealand (the nachos, not the beer).
After a one-hour flight, I had finally made it to Grand Junction. I had not seen Leslie since the first part of February. Even worse, I had not seen our son, Tyler, since December 2014. It was a great reunion.
I arrived at the airport in Singapore with plenty of time to spare. I cannot stand to be late. I do not like the drama that comes with being late. It was lunchtime. I opted for Sweet and Sour Chicken at Central Thai.
With my belly full, I went through passport control and then sat down to wait for my flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was on my way to a training class. The seating area was in the concourse as opposed to at the gate. There was an unmanned security checkpoint at the gate. That meant no one could sit in the waiting area. Once the security team arrived, I went through and sat in the gate area.
While I was waiting for my Silkair flight, a woman wearing a non-descript uniform approached me to ask if I would participate in a survey. I agreed. She read the questions to me from her iPad. In total, the survey took about five minutes. At the conclusion, she gave me a box containing a very nice pen engraved with “Changi Airport,” the name of the airport in Singapore.
Onboard the plane, I found my exit row aisle seat had more legroom than I think I have ever experienced. I did find it odd that those sitting in the exit row cannot place anything under the seat in front of them. All carry-on items went into the overhead bins. The second thing I found odd was one of the flight attendants sat in the exit row aisle seat across from me. I think it is much more common to see the flight attendants sitting in jump seats. Regardless, the three-hour flight was uneventful.
The Silkair flight arrived in Chiang Mai at about 17:40 local time. I quickly went through passport control and customs. With my baggage in hand, I arranged for a taxi. The taxi boss said the cost for the trip from the airport to the Le Meridien Hotel was 200 Baht (just under US$6).
The driver did not speak English. I certainly do not know the Thai language. Luckily, the driver had a translation app on his cell phone. He spoke into the phone in Thai, pressed a button, and I heard the question or statement in English. I responded in English, speaking into his phone. He played that back in Thai. We had quite a good conversation on the way to the hotel.
About an hour after landing, I was at my hotel. Here comes the snobbish part…my room was lovely; but the room, bathroom, and entry area could have all fit within just the bedroom I had in Singapore.
The view from the room was generally to the west. The air quality was not good. Through the haze, I could make out Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep near the top of a mountain in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Periodically, various commercial jets rose diagonally across the face of the hill; ultimately rising above the horizon.
One afternoon, a group of us decided to walk to a Buddhist temple. I thought we would walk to the temple, go to a restaurant, and then return to the hotel. Little did I know the adventures that lay ahead.
A few blocks from the hotel, we arrived at the Tha Phae Gate that allows passage through the ancient wall that surrounds the old city of Chiang Mai. The wall provided protection, and the accompanying moat added to the level of security. This gate only allows for pedestrian traffic. Other portals allow vehicle passage.
We continued west along Rachadamnoen Road. Although it was not our final destination, we stopped for a quick look at Wat Phan On. A wat is a Buddhist temple. In Chiang Mai, there are around 300 wats; literally wats everywhere.
Entering the wat compound, one immediately sees a gilded chedi. A chedi is a burial structure. Those buried in the chedis are in a seated position. The chedis become a place for meditation. The chedi at Wat Phan On is directly across from the main temple. We took a quick look at the temple and left to continue our journey.
Our 2.5 kilometer (1.5 miles) walk concluded at the wat we sought, Wat Phra Singh ( วัดพระสิงห์ ). I included the Thai spelling because it is such a beautiful and unique alphabet. The wat dates from the mid-14th Century. It is one of the most revered wats in Chiang Mai.
The beauty of the wat is stunning. One of the things that immediately caught my attention was the gilded dragon (nāga) at the entry to the main temple (viharn luang). The level of detail and ornamentation are incredible. An interesting point about this dragon and others I saw during this trip; they emanate from the mouth of another dragon.
In the main temple, the gilded Buddha was huge and imposing. I must admit I do not fully understand the Buddhist religion, so a lot of the items and décor in each wat left question marks above my head. Regardless, the beauty was such as I had never seen before.
When we left Wat Phra Singh, we began walking east. I thought we were heading to dinner. I was wrong. Along Arak 5 Road we found Wat Inthakhin Sadww Muang. The wat is very small. That did not deter the decoration. Although tiny, it was beautiful inside. At this wat as well as at many other locations in Chiang Mai, one saw portraits of Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej the King of Thailand. The King died on October 13, 2016. The country was still in mourning during my trip. I believe the period of mourning lasts for one year.
At Ratvithi Road and Ratchapakhinai Road, we came to 48 Garage. It was like a German beer garden plopped in the middle of Chiang Mai. My mates and I ordered a beer. While we sat there, a woman came to the table holding dozens of woven fabric bracelets. Those on display were country names; like Canada, U. S. A., and Sweden. However, she also twisted by request. One could select nearly any word or phrase, and she would weave it into a bracelet. Her work was fascinating. She completed a bracelet in about ten minutes. I did not get one. Many others did get bracelets with words and phrases that I will not bother to list here.
Besides 48 Garage, there were several other bars and street food vendors. A couple of my favorite names were New York Pizza and Tacos Bell (yes, there is an “s”). Some of the guys ate various fare from the food vendors. I opted out. I had no desire to have a run-in with a runny tummy.
We went into a bar across from New York Pizza. What drew us in was the live band. Of all things, it was a Reggae band. The group consisted of three guitar players, a keyboardist, a trumpet player, and a drummer. They played very well.
Leaving the bar, several of my mates spotted a bar touting a “Shot Gun Beer Can Competition.” Much like the bracelet incident, I opted out. The bar employee willingly prepped beer cans for anyone wishing to compete. The preparation was putting a small hole on the side of the beer can, near the bottom. The competitor places their mouth over the small hole while holding the beer can upright. Then, pulling the tab open, the beer shotguns through the small hole and into the mouth in a matter of seconds. For those keeping score at home, the U.S.A. is in the lead with 322 cans downed. Several countries; such as Cyprus, Gambia, and Armenia, are tied for the last place with one can each. This is a popular sport. The leader-board tracks a total of 64 countries.
Continuing in the general direction of our hotel, we ended up at the Tha Phae Gate again. This time, the plaza on the east side of the gate had a didgeridoo band playing. Much like the Reggae band, they played very well.
About a half-block down the road from the plaza, we found the THC Rooftop Bar. THC is one of the chemical compounds in marijuana. I was a little worried that we might encounter a marijuana haven. We did not.
Had I been by myself, I am confident I would not have gone in, but… The front door to the stairs had a low head height. Many of the flights of stairs were a long way from OSHA safety standards. Regardless, we made it to the level below the bar. There, we found something more akin to a ladder than stairs. Making this all the dicier was the nearby sign; “SHOES OFF PLEASE If you have expensive shoes, take them upstairs with you! We take no responsibility! THANK YOU.”
In addition to the sign, there was some wild graffiti on the walls. One of my mates and I stayed at that level for a few minutes. One of our other mates came back to the top of the stairs/ladder and coaxed us up. As I took off my shoes and climbed the very uncomfortable stairs/ladder, the horror of completing my walk to our hotel in my stocking feet continued to play over and over in my mind.
Having risen those last few feet, we were at the bar level. Much to my chagrin, to get to the final level, we faced one more stair/ladder. As if that were not enough, once I reached the last level, I saw dozens of small tables about 18 inches above the floor. To use the tables, one sat on pillows on the floor. As I squatted down and left my fate to gravity, the next horror show played in my mind; wondering how would I possibly get back to my feet.
When we prepared to leave, somehow, I made it back to an upright position. My mind was not on the very uncomfortable rungs, but rather on the actual location of my shoes as I descended my favorite stair/ladder. I could not have been happier if I had won the lottery; my shoes were still there!
From the THC Rooftop Bar, we began our walk again. Surprise, we stopped at yet another bar; the Baba Bobo Music and Restaurant Bar. Luckily, I recognized the street was the same one on which our hotel was located. Since it was well past my regular bedtime of 20:30, the entertainment value of our trek was waning. I decided to hit the eject button and walk the final 800 meters (one-half mile) back to the hotel.
Later in the week, I decided to walk to Wat Chiang Man. It is one of the oldest in the old city, dating from the late 13th Century. My planned walk was about four kilometers (two and one-half miles). On my way, I walked by Wat Mahawan. I walked through the wat quickly and went on to Tha Phae Gate.
That day at the gate, there were many sights; tuk-tuks waiting for fares, a divey looking bar (probably one of the best places in town), and monks walking through the plaza.
After passing through Tha Phae Gate, I walked to Wat Phan On. For those keeping track of what’s wat; Wat Phan On was the first wat I visited during this trip. It is the first wat I had ever seen. On my own, I had much more time to wander through the wat compound. It is beautiful. A few items I saw there that I had not seen in any other wat included small brass bells near a chedi, two large gongs near a chedi, and several inspirational signs. The signs are in both Thai and English. I think my favorite is “Self-winning is pretty good.”
It was a warm afternoon, so I was hot when I arrived at Wat Chiang Man. At the main temple, as was the case with all the other wats, one had to remove one’s shoes before entering. At this temple, there was a guard dog of sorts. Actually, “guard” may be a bit of a stretch. The dog lay on the marble, not paying much attention to shoes or people. Odd, but at the temple, I did not have the same feeling of dread with leaving my shoes behind as I had at the THC Rooftop Bar.
I thought the Chedi Chang Lom was fascinating. It is the oldest structure at Wat Chiang Man. That means it was built in the late 1290s. The many elephants emerging from the chedi at the base are all full-size.
The small side of the temple had two very beautiful dragons alongside the stairs. They are every bit as ornate and beautiful as the dragons at Wat Phra Singh.
I walked back to my hotel and took a nap. Shortly after waking up, a friend and his wife invited me out for dinner. We went to a food court about two blocks away from the hotel. I did not do any of the ordering, but I certainly helped with eating. The main course was a huge seafood boil served on some new paper used for printing newspapers. Rubber gloves helped one stay somewhat clean while eating the boil by hand. It reminded me of the meals I have had in Louisiana. To say it was delicious does not do it enough justice.
While I sat at the table with my friend, his wife and her friend continued bringing different fare from the various food vendors at the food court. If I had known the Thai street food was so good, I would have joined my buddies eating during the night of the “death march” and shotgun beer competition. I enjoyed every morsel of food I tried that evening; and best of all, no runny tummy!
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for some shopping at one of the tourist bazaars. I found a wood-carved dragon that I had to have. I think it cost US$10. I bought several other gifts; such as embroidered bags, and various small, painted, ceramic elephants. My friend’s wife is Thai. That made it easy to “negotiate” with the vendors. They all spoke some English, but I am sure the back and forth in Thai helped make things easier.
For my last afternoon in Chiang Mai, I decided I would see something different; the Flower Market. I set out from the hotel on a sunny afternoon. Before going too far, I walked by Wat Upakhut. It was not “different,” but I am glad I decided to go in and explore.
In the main temple, two or three monks were wearing plastic gloves. They were mixing something in some large metal bowls. I am not sure what it was, but it must have been edible. From the ceiling hung what must have been donations. Ribbon-like holders were hanging from the ceiling. They each contained varying amounts of Thai baht. Each also had a card at the bottom with something written in Thai, possibly a prayer.
I took some interesting photographs in the compound. I think one of my favorites was that of two men working on restoring one of the dragons at the entry to the main temple. I enjoyed watching their handiwork in plaster.
I walked on to the north. As I approached the Flower Market, I found several gold shops. There was so much gold jewelry for sale; it was hard to see the individual pieces because of the bright glare.
The Flower Market was in a structure that one might liken to a department store. The flower vendors were on the Ping River side.
After all of my walking over the last few days, I was tired. I spent very little time in the Flower Market. When I emerged, I flagged down a tuk-tuk. I took my first ever ride back to the hotel. It was entertaining.
That night, I went back to the food court by myself for dinner. I arrived a little early, so I partook of a Thai foot massage. At times, it was much less than relaxing. A 30-minute foot massage was 120 baht (US$3.43). In Auckland, the only other place where I have seen Thai foot massages advertised, 30-minutes go for NZ$45 (US$32.64); ten times the price!
For dinner, I tried some of the grilled items. The pork and chicken on a stick were delicious. I had two of the pork on a stick and one of the chicken on a stick. To wash it down, I had one liter of Leo beer (a Thai beer). The total cost of my dinner came in at 220 baht (US$6.29).
On Saturday, I caught my 200 Thai baht taxi back to the airport. From there, it was back to Singapore for another rest stop before flying back to New Zealand.
We left home around 05:00 to make our early morning Air New Zealand flight to Auckland. The Mount Victoria tunnel was closed. Because of that, our taxi driver took us along Oriental Bay. Even though it was dark, it was stunning.
After checking in, we had coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Then it was off to the gate, onto the plane, and on to Auckland. It was smooth sailing all the way.After our uneventful arrival in Auckland, we walked to our next gate.
There was some delay in boarding the aircraft. One of the gate attendants told us it was because they were trying to load a stretcher on-board. There was someone in Papeete, Tahiti that was waiting for evacuation to New Zealand.
Once we got on the plane and pushed away from the gate, everything was fine.
Our trip to Tahiti is one of the oddest trips I have ever made, for one reason in particular; our travels took us to yesterday! We left New Zealand on Monday morning. We arrived in Papeete, Tahiti on Sunday evening. That is what happens when one travels to the east across the International Date Line.
Well before our trip began, we applied for and received French visas. We needed the permits because I was traveling to Papeete for business (indeed a sentence I never thought I would write).
The plane landed around 16:00 Tahiti time. When we arrived at passport control, we went to the Diplomatic line as usual. The immigration officer did not speak English very well. Leslie and I speak nearly zero French. As his questioning began, I knew it would be a problematic entry because I was having a challenging time hearing him. At one point, he asked if I had a military escort or an entourage waiting for me. I assured him all I had waiting for me was a taxi.
I could tell he was getting frustrated. I assumed that it was because of our language difficulties. At that time, an Air New Zealand employee happened to walk by the booth. The immigration official called out to her in French. He emerged from his booth, continuing to speak to her. Soon, all four of us were huddled in a group. We both used her as a translator. Finally, after numerous questions, he stamped our passports and allowed us into the country.
When we finally had our luggage and emerged into the terminal area, we spotted our driver. As we approached, she placed a beautiful flower lei on each of us. I put our bags in the rear of the van. Within 15 minutes or so, she delivered us to the Le Meridian Hotel.
At the check-in counter, the attendant immediately offered us a small glass of cold mango juice. It was both refreshing and delicious. After receiving our keys, we walked to our room. Our baggage was already there. I grabbed my camera and we walked down to the bar near the beach. The sun was just setting as we arrived at the bar. The views were absolutely stunning.
We transitioned from the bar to a table by the ocean for dinner. The beautiful setting, the food, and the wine made it one of the most romantic dinners we have had in quite some time.
Our room rate included a daily continental breakfast. One morning, we decided we wanted a hot breakfast. We went to the breakfast buffet to get eggs, bacon, and potatoes. That was the last time we did that. Breakfast cost us the equivalent of US$75. When we complained about that; the staff responded that it was an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. They were not interested in reducing the price. For the remainder of our stay, we kept ourselves to the continental breakfast side of the restaurant.
The restaurant was a beautiful setting. Along the oceanside of the restaurant, there was a large pond containing koi and water lilies. On the other side of the water was a large stone patio. Beyond that were palm trees partially obscuring the ocean view ocean. It was very relaxing to sit there and enjoy coffee in the mornings. The beach at the hotel sloped gently into the ocean. No waves were striking the beach because of the barrier reef. The reef and breaking waves were about a half-mile offshore. The water was warm and crystal clear. In the water, there were large clumps of coral. Several types of fish swam around the corals. It was beautiful to behold.
On one of my days off, we took a morning shuttle from the hotel to downtown Papeete. Our guide parked at the ferry terminal. We walked from there toward the tourist information building. From there, she led us across a busy street for a block until she pointed out the market. The walk was close to one-half mile.
The market was very clean and nicely done. In addition to some tourist trinkets, the ground level housed fruit and vegetable stands, butcher shops, and fishmongers. The upper level housed an assortment of tourist trinkets, clothing, jewelry, and artworks. I bought a couple of Tahitian shirts. On the way back to the vehicle, we stopped in another store where I bought some more shirts.
When we walked back to the ferry terminal and port, we had some time to kill. The most impressive yacht we saw was the Arctic. Doing a little research, I found the boat began life as an icebreaker. It is nearly 88 meters (289 feet) long. It accommodates 12 guests and 25 crew. I guess that would be an OK way to travel the world.
Later that afternoon, I used the hotel’s plastic kayak. I paddled nearly halfway to the barrier reef. It was during low tide, so periodically, the bottom of the kayak scraped slightly against the tops of the coral. I could look down on either side of the kayak and see the ocean floor. It was not very deep, probably eight to ten feet. Looking down, I saw all of the fish. The whole experience seemed surreal.
One morning we walked to le Musée de Tahiti et des İles (The Museum of Tahiti and the Islands). Similar to downtown, the walk was about one half-mile. For a small museum, the displays were numerous and well done. The vast majority had descriptions in English as well as French.
When we left the museum, we walked about 100 meters to the sea wall. There, the ocean waves crashed against the wall. There was not a barrier reef at this portion of the island.
Our afternoon highlight was sitting in a chaise lounge, enjoying a glass of wine, and watching the sunset. The sunsets we saw were just stunning.
The highlight of our trip, by far, was the Polynesian dance show. The show happened on the patio near the restaurant. The dinner buffet was a part of the price paid for the show. The performers included about ten men and ten women dancers. The drumbeats during the various dances seemed to reverberate right through our abdomens. If only I could move like the dancers, I probably would not be fat!
We woke up early and departed our hotel. We arrived at the airport at about 05:30. Getting out of the country was much more manageable. The passport control officer quickly stamped our passports. We breezed through security and sat down at the gate to await our flight.
We boarded the flight a few minutes late, but we did take off on time. During the trip, there was some turbulence, but nothing too severe.
We arrived in Auckland a little late. The Air TahitiNui pilots taxied the plane to the arrival gate and switched off the fasten seat belt sign. Everyone stood up and began removing items from the overhead bins. While that was happening, I noticed I could still hear the sound of the jet engines. I also noticed the plane’s door was not open. We stood there for twenty minutes. Finally, one of the pilots announced we were waiting for gate personnel to respond. We stood for an additional 10 or 15 minutes before the engine finally stopped, and the door opened.While we were standing, Leslie and I were getting nervous about making our connection to Wellington. Waiting for us when we finally got off the plane was a wheelchair attendant for Leslie. We informed him of our tight connection. While he nearly ran through the terminal, he told us the reason for the delay is that the engine had not stopped. That did not make sense to me. Regardless, the race was on to the Wellington gate.
When we entered the duty-free area of the terminal, people packed the central pedestrian aisle, of course. The wheelchair attendant veered off and rushed us through the paths of one of the duty-free stores. Shortly after merging back into the central aisle, we arrived at passport control. The immigration officer quickly stamped our passports.Our focus turned to the baggage claim area. We all rushed there. We waited and waited at the baggage claim carousel. Soon, there were just a few bags left on the belt, but we did not see ours. The wheelchair attendant asked for a description of our baggage. We described our bags. He quickly moved to the access-controlled door, went through, and within about a minute, he emerged with our bags.
An oddity of the Auckland International Airport is that the international terminal and the domestic terminal are not connected. There are two ways to get from one to the other; a free bus or a 10 to 15-minute walk, following a green line painted on the ground. The bus runs approximately every 15 minutes. We were lucky when we emerged from the international terminal; we could see the bus arriving. We boarded the bus with our luggage.The bus has to travel on public streets to get from one terminal to the other. Of course, that means traffic and traffic lights. It seemed we would never arrive. We still had to re-check our bags and make our way to the next gate. When the bus finally arrived, we dashed inside, found an Air New Zealand employee, and told her our following flight number. She broke the news that we would not make that flight. Luckily, Air New Zealand has multiple daily flights from Auckland to Wellington. She booked us on the next flight.
We made it to our gate, waited about 30 minutes, and boarded the flight. Our 65-minute flight to Wellington was uneventful.
We arrived, retrieved our baggage, and hopped in the Corporate Cab for our 30-minute ride home.
Leslie and I drove to Napier today. It was about a four-hour drive from our home, north on Highway 2. As we got closer to the mountains, the slopes got steeper. At times, it seemed as if we were driving on a cliff face. Regardless of the pitch, the hues of green were just amazing. It was like driving through the green-section of a box of 120 Crayola Crayons.
The road became very narrow, with numerous curves. The scenery seemed to get more and more beautiful. At a couple of the sharper curves, we encountered logging trucks traveling the opposite direction. It seemed mere inches separated our vehicles.
The road summit is at Rimutaka Hill. There was a turn-out there, so we stopped to look. The short trail to the overlook was dirt and gravel. It was also steep. Because of that, Leslie opted to wait in the car. Within 50 meters, I was at the top of the overlook. The view up and down the rugged valley was spectacular.
Signs at the turn-out told the story of infantry reinforcements crossing at Rimutaka Hill during World War I. The pass is at an elevation of 555 meters above sea level, about 1,800 feet. The weather there must be terrible in the winter. I make that assumption because of the drop-arm at the side of the road, near the bottom of the hill. On the downhill side of the pass, we mused that the mountain road reminded us of Independence Pass in Colorado. The road was very narrow, especially on some of the curves. I am not sure how two logging trucks could pass each other on such a route.
In the valley, we drove through the town of Carterton. As we drove along the main street, I saw a sign for Paua World. Even though it was a kilometer or so off the main road, I thought we should see Paua World for ourselves.
Paua (pronounced pah-wah) is a fist-sized shellfish with beautiful mother-of-pearl on the inside surface. In English, we know it as an abalone. Paua World is a “factory” that makes a multitude of tourist trinkets from the shells. We bought a couple of things and then hit the road again.
About two hours into our drive, we approached the town of Pahiatua. It was nearly noon, time for lunch. Along the main street, we spotted The Black Stump Café. We decided that was the place for lunch. Inside, the lone waiter immediately brought us water and menus. I spied beer-battered Terakihi, fries, and Harrow’s tartare sauce for $18.50 (about $12 U.S.). I decided I would try that, even though I am not a big fan of seafood. However, I am determined to do better since we live on a beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Little did I know at the time, my selection was better described as fish and chips. I found them to be the absolute best fish and chips I have ever had anywhere on this planet.
Continuing our drive northeast, we turned onto Highway 50 shortly after the town of Norsewood. We understood Highway 50 had less traffic, and it was more scenic. The route was incredibly beautiful. It was a good thing there was not as much traffic because there were three one-lane bridges we had to cross. Luckily, one could see far enough ahead to determine whether one might meet another vehicle on the span.
Much of the trip wound through rural areas. We saw several hay fields in which there were the large round hay bales. The plastic shrink-wrapped hay bales look much different from those in the U.S. That makes sense, given the climate in New Zealand.
With the one-lane bridges behind us, we began driving through some rolling hills, which were thick with grasses. The wind had picked up speed. It was mesmerizing to watch the wind blowing the grasses. It made the hills look more like a green ocean.
For the last 30 kilometers (18 miles) or so, we drove through one vineyard after another. The Hawke’s Bay area is well known in New Zealand for its wine production. A local map touted the locations of 32 different vineyards near Napier. We were glad to know we would be contributing to the wine economy during our stay.
At about 15:00 we pulled into the parking lot of the Pebble Beach Motor Inn. It is located on Marine Parade, directly across from the ocean. We walked into our top floor room and immediately fell in love with the view from our terrace. It was stunning. If I had a stronger arm, I probably could have thrown a stone and hit the ocean. Just 400 feet down the road to our right sat the National Aquarium of New Zealand.
After checking in, we made a quick trip to the supermarket to get a few items to stock the kitchen of our room. When we returned to our space, we did not feel like going out. So we ordered pizza for dinner. It was brilliant, sitting in our room, eating pizza, drinking wine, and watching and listening to the Pacific Ocean’s lap at the beach along Hawke’s Bay.
Across the street from our room, in the park between us and the ocean, was a fountain. It was a beacon to all things children and all things seagull. If a group of children was not splashing around in the fountain, then a group of seagulls was there, trying to clean up and taking a drink.
Once we got things sorted in our room, we decided to walk to the beach. On the way, we saw a seabird of some sort sitting on a nest in the pebbles under a log. As we watched her, she watched us. She turned her head to keep a close eye on us even though we never approached too close. Unfortunately, the next morning, we noticed she was dead. We have no idea what may have happened overnight.
The beach was not one of sand, but rather one of gray to black pebbles. The sun heated those small pebbles. I think the largest ones we saw were maybe two inches across. They were all reasonably flat. One afternoon, we decided to lay on the beach. I cannot express here just how comfortable that was. As one wiggled, the pebbles formed to one’s shape. The stones were nice and warm, which made the lie-down all the more relaxing and comfortable. I would highly recommend that to any visitor to the beach.
On our first full day in Napier, we agreed we would go to the aquarium. Over coffee, we read up on the aquarium. We found that it opened at 09:00. We were at the door at 08:55. As soon as the aquarium opened, we made a beeline for the penguin exhibit. The literature noted that penguin feeding occurred at 09:30 every day.
We sat at the penguin exhibit, enjoying the antics of the penguins as they and we waited for feeding time. One penguin swam erratically in circles, appearing quite excited. Several others stood on the wooden pier, looking longingly at the door from which the feeders no doubt used to enter the exhibit. They too were quite animated.
Ultimately, a woman and a man entered the exhibit. The man, carrying a bucket, went to the far end of the enclosure, followed by a flock of penguins. There was also one lone seagull there. As the man fed the penguins, the woman spoke to those of us gathered about the penguins. All of the penguins there are Little Blue Penguins (the smallest penguin species), each of which was rescued from the wild. The rescues were necessary due to any number of maladies; for example, one penguin had lost an eye, another had lost a flipper. Even the seagull, a rescued bird, was missing a wing. The seagull received some fish too.
Because of our visit to the penguin exhibit, I realized I saw Little Blue Penguin on a rock in Wellington Harbour. As I rode the train into town alongside the harbor, I saw a lone penguin standing on a small rock, just off the shore. I was surprised to have seen only one that day as I thought they were more of a social animal.
When the penguin feeding finished, we walked to the Oceanarium area. This large aquarium includes a glass “tunnel.” The tunnel allows one to walk literally through the aquarium while many of the fish swim overhead. It was similar to the tunnel we encountered in the aquarium in Valencia, Spain, but for one detail. At this aquarium, in addition to a carpeted path through the tunnel, there was a moving sidewalk too. All one need do is stand still and watch the fish as the sidewalk moves through the tunnel.
We took a trip through the tunnel. Just as we exited, we saw a diver in the tank, right on time for the 10:00 feeding. The diver was adept at communicating to the audience via hand signals and pantomime. It was fascinating to watch the fish swarm the diver each time he pulled his hand from the feeding bucket.
We continued through the rest of the aquarium at our leisure. We finished up at the Fish Bowl Café with a cup of coffee. We sat on the terrace while we enjoyed our coffee. When finished, we took a quick stroll through the Treasure Chest Gift Shop, emerging with our requisite refrigerator magnet.
Our next stop was the Art Deco area of old Napier. A disaster is the reason there is so much Art Deco architecture here. In 1931, an earthquake destroyed much of the city. The townspeople vowed to rebuild. At the time, the fashionable architectural style was Art Deco. For that reason, the central portion of old Napier has an abundance of Art Deco buildings. It was like going back in time. The town celebrates that heritage each February with an Art Deco festival.
We stopped at a street-side café for a leisurely brunch. As we have done so often in the past, we enjoyed our meal as we watched the world.
Near the Art Deco center of the town, there was a bronze statue of a mermaid. It was ever so slightly more significant than the famous mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark; although it does not seem to be thronged quite as much as that statue. The figure is known as Pania of the Reef. A plaque at the base of the sculpture relates the following story. “An old Maori legend tells how Pania, lured by the siren voices of the sea people, swam out to meet them. When she endeavored to return to her lover, she was transformed into the reef which now lies beyond the Napier breakwater. To perpetuate the legend the Thirty Thousand Club presented this statue to the City of Napier – 1954.”
We went for a swim near the Port of Napier. The water was anything but warm. Regardless, it was fun. When we left the beach, we drove back toward our hotel. I just happened to see a sign pointing up a road to Bluff Hill Overlook. I took a quick right turn and headed uphill. The closer we got, the more narrow the road became. I was delighted we did not meet another vehicle on the way up.
Once we parked on top of Bluff Hill and walked to the fence, we were astonished by the view. It was probably a 270-degree view of the area. We had a commanding view of the port. It was just amazing how many trees were on the dock, waiting for shipment out of New Zealand. One of our taxi drivers said the logs were destined primarily for either Japan or China. Quite frankly, with the environmental consciousness in New Zealand, I was surprised that so much timber is exported.