As you can tell from my first few photos, I've arrived in New Zealand for a 17 day adventure, touring the multi-island nation in the south Pacific. I'll mostly be posting pictures, but owing to the short daylight hours (as it's mid-Winter here) I might have time to blog after the sun sets at 5.15pm each day.
I'd been saving up airline miles for years, so managed to snag a business class ticket, which made the 29 hour trip seem like only 27 hours. We arrived on a crisp clear morning, the coldest of the year so far for the North Island, where Auckland is located. It's the big metropolitan city where 1/3 of all New Zealanders live, and all flights from the US arrive, so it was a natural starting place for my journey.
After customs and immigration, it was time to start driving on the left again, as I had done when I was in South Africa. It's always a bit disconcerting once you first start, but I was feeling comfortable with it pretty quickly, despite turning on the windshield wipers 11 times. The turn signal is on the other side of the steering wheel, and I think remembering that is the hardest part of driving on the left. Fortunately, the foot pedals are the same, or else I'd be taking the bus.
It seems that about 95% of the cars here are beaten up, with dings and dents and scratches. The other 5% I couldn't see, due to the low winter sun blinding me. I don't know if drivers are not very careful here, but I suspect owing to the relative isolation of the country, getting parts for cars might be tough, so they just live with the minor damage. Drivers don't seem to be too terribly rude or aggressive, yet.
The license plates here are also amusing to me, as they are the most generic plates ever, completely plain black and white with nothing but the registration on them. Since you can't drive off the island, I guess it's not necessary to identify the country or region even. The font is the same we used on the mainframe, including a slash across the zeroes. Personalized plates seem to be common here, and they enjoy swapping out letters for numbers, like TH3B0SS or ORE0.
It's always a little nice/horrifying to see a touch of home when driving around a foreign country, and I quickly saw all the trappings of the US economy, as I drove by McDonald's, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, Subway (where they serve roasted lamb), Starbucks, and most regrettably for the locals, a Denny's.
I was able to check in my hotel a bit early to shower and change and then headed in the city to visit the Art Museum, which was recently expanded in 2011, and found myself one of just two people to show up for the excellent guided tour. Helen, a docent from Scotland, pointed out a number of architectural features of the buildings and how they joined the original gallery with the modern addition. There was a nice mix of European art done in the classic style along with contemporary New Zealand works, and some very interesting Maori portraits, done by Europeans who visited New Zealand early in its colonial days, and painted impressive portraits of the rulers of the native Maori peoples, the original inhabitants of the country.
I then did some more practice driving, across the harbour bridge, looking for some good views of the downtown harbour, and finally weaved my way under some secret access to a small beach opposite the main marina. I then headed to the Sky Tower complex, where the 1,076 foot tower dominates the Auckland skyline. It's the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, so I decided it would be a good vantage point from which to survey the landscape.
A quick dinner and time to return to the hotel to try to catch up on sleep.