auckland

Land of Pies and Hobbits

After finally spotting a gap in the never-ending curtains of rain in Auckland, I escaped in a fast boat to avoid the next batch of showers. I’ve been taking my first tentative trundles into New Zealand since. And, apart from the dodgy weather (and let’s face it, as a Brit, I’m not exactly un-used to that), and now two iffy knees, it’s been a delight so far.

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I’m struggling a little to make sense of how long it takes to get anywhere over here. The roads are sometimes fairly straight and smooth, and sometimes wickedly twisty and steep. So what looks like an easy day’s ride on the map can end up being anywhere between about forty miles (and three hours) and seventy miles (and too tough for a day).

Still, the payback is phenomenal, with mountains dropping into the sea or disappearing into the clouds, and downhills on the bike which are more than worth the climb beforehand. And this is supposed to be the less attractive of the two main islands…

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I’m even pushing my boundaries to discover the local food. Never was a country more in love with pies. Even the most tired and run-down garage in the smallest village has a warming rack full of them. And a bewildering array. Pastry-topped pies filled with beef, or chicken, or veggies. Or a whole breakfast. Pies topped with mashed potato or sweet potato. Pumpkin pies (maybe Halloween specials). Sweet pies and savoury pies. Fresh pies, and pies that may well have been sitting there since God was a boy. And other pastry-and-meat-related delights like pasties and sausage rolls.

I really don’t mind pies.

But what I’ve missed is decent, old-school chip shops, and New Zealand has loads of them. And they sometimes still wrap their ‘chups’ in newspaper. Which is so quintessentially British that hardly anyone in the UK does it any more.

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Anyway, I digress slightly.

I’ve meandered a little way across North Island, reaching Rotorua this evening. This has meant crossing hobbit country, and, in fact, within just a few miles of ‘Hobbiton’ (film set / tourist attraction). Unfortunately, my luck with exotic wildlife remains unchanged; no bears spotted in the US, and no hobbits, orcs or wizards here. Yet. There’s still time, I suppose, but I don’t hold out much hope. They’re quite elusive, apparently.

Rotorua looks nice, and the legs feel like they deserve a day off on Sunday before pushing on southwards and slightly westwards. Hopefully, the weather will hold for a while, so I can appreciate NZ properly. Fantastic so far, and a long way still to go…

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Killing Time

I’ve spent the last few days killing time, as well as swapping hemispheres and seasons and climate. It’s all a little bit disorientating.

I actually tried to use LA’s ‘public transport system’ to kill some of the time I had before the flight went on Saturday evening. I even gave it a chance to take me to the city centre. It failed.

Having waited for an inordinate amount of time for a bus connection to the city, I headed for the beach instead. When I got to the end of the tram line, I discovered I was still two miles away. I waited for another bus. Nothing.

I gave up trying to actually get anywhere, and went for a burger. And then to LAX for my flight away. At least the airport looked nice (or as nice as airports can) as night fell.

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Having struggled to kill eight or nine hours of wait time on Saturday, I killed Sunday effortlessly. By the time dawn broke after about 11 of the 13 hour flight, it was already Monday morning in New Zealand.

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I presume that there’s some tedious law of physics which prevents one from fast-forwarding the date constantly by zipping across the International Date Line. Which is probably a shame, but would also probably make very dull sci-fi.

What’s important for me is that the IDL is directly opposite the Greenwich Meridian where I started. I’m actually halfway round the world. Strangely, every mile west from here takes me closer to home.

Of course, time will have the last laugh again. I’ve used up both my ‘big ocean fast-forwards’, meaning that the vast majority of the rest of the trip will be overland. And therefore slow. I’ve just left the Beast with a local bike shop to prepare.

Auckland feels very much like home initially. There are the obvious marks of proper civilisation. The roads are the right way round. The Queen’s head is on the money. People can spell properly. And it’s drizzled constantly since I arrived.

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It’s actually more complicated than that, of course. Auckland city centre is gridded, like an American city. There are US chains which haven’t made it to Europe, but flourish here. There are masses of kebab houses, sushi bars and Chinese students, adding an Asian tinge to the culture. And of course, there is the Maori influence too.

So it’s very much like home, and a quite different at the same time.

It promises to be an interesting few weeks exploring NZ. The volcanic north island, the fjords in the south. The whole place looks stunning (when it’s not shrouded in rain). It also looks hilly, which makes me happy I’ve got time to explore properly.

Just hope the drizzle stops occasionally…