We arrived in Auckland on Sunday afternoon, knowing our flight out was on Thursday. It was a strange feeling to have reached our final stop on the trip, and I had a very mixed bag of feelings: sad to have come to the end of it, nervous at the prospect of finding a job again, happy at the thought of seeing home and friends and not being transient any more. We had also both started to focus on reviving our CV’s, talking to our networks, and everything that’s involved in getting back into a career mode, which makes it harder to stay in a “holiday” mood.
On the plus side, we earned so many hotel-booking points in Southeast Asia that we were able to use them to book into a fairly decent hotel, with pool and gym, in Auckland as a final treat. We also had a commitment to have dinner with my ex-colleague Paul and his wife, and so on Sunday evening we drove out to St. Helier alongside Auckland harbour. Paul and Morag’s house has to be seen to be believed; incredible floor-to-ceiling plate glass and a deck overlooking the water and the city. We saw the sun go down while barbequeing on the deck.
On Monday, we drove out to the Coromandel Peninsula, which has a rocky, forested spine surrounded by spectacular beaches. Our particular destination was Hot Water Beach, another delightful literal description. The beach is a lovely surf beach in its own right, but at low tide an area of sands is exposed under which geothermically heated water is constantly welling up, and with a small spade you can dig yourself your own personal spa pool. Even walking through the surf around this area is quite pleasant: the combination of seawater and boiling hot spring makes the shallows a lukewarm temperature. The beaches in New Zealand are not quite as deadly as those in Australia, but mainly because there’s no poisonous sea life; the currents and rips are pretty much as bad. Still, we had a pleasant swim, paddle, and laze, but Loz was tired out by the nearly-5-hours round trip drive.
In the morning, we had to return Shadowfax, which we did sadly, having put more than 4,000 kilometres onto his already formidable total. While he lacked audio facilities more sophisticated than a tape deck and complained bitterly about having to go up hills above 70kph, he had proved a noble and reliable steed. We spent the day in central Auckland, principally at the Auckland Art Gallery, which had some of the best curation we’ve seen and a collection of New Zealand art from the 1830s on thoughtfully arranged and explained, with individual artists spotlighted. It also had an outstandingly sentimental collection of Victorian art and some modern landscape photography. Auckland was, to my mind, the only “real” city we visited in New Zealand, and the only one to have more than a few kilometres of motorway – all our driving around the country was on winding, single-lane roads. Even Wellington, although a lovely place, has the ambience of a large town much more so than a “real” capital. I’ve really enjoyed some of the cities we’ve been to, but if this trip’s done anything, it’s reinforced my love for London. Apart from my time living in the rural US, I’ve never lived outside a city – and some of them, like Oxford and Cambridge, punched above their weight from a cultural perspective – and I’m too spoiled now to go back.
On Wednesday, we didn’t do much, by choice. Each of us had begun to feel that we were mentally focused on coming home more than exploring Auckland, so we took it easy and took advantage of the hotel’s facilities while we could. At the end of the day, we had twin appointments with some of Auckland’s best needle artists, and we both came away with beautifully done mementoes. On Thursday, we rose and checked out, then spent our remaining time at the New Zealand Maritime Museum, which is filled with full-sized ships, boats, and vessels of all kinds, from Maori waka and Pacific Islander canoes to the enormous monohull sailed by New Zealand in the controversial Americas Cup in 1988. The museum tracks the full history of sailing from the arrival of the first Pacific Islander explorers a thousand years ago, through the immigrant experience to New Zealand as a competitive sailing force. I didn’t have time to see it all, but I’m pretty sure Loz loved it.
Then it was a cab to the airport, and now here we are, at the end of a long continuous journey, with a trip of many hours to go: Auckland to Brisbane to Dubai to London. I have a lot to say about what the trip has meant and how it’s gone, but I’ll save it for a retrospective. See you on the flip side.