My flatmate’s best friend, on her first time out of the States, flew all the way to New Zealand for a visit. Wanting to truly give her the trip of a lifetime, we booked some cheap flights with Jetstar, created an itinerary, and set up an elaborate, around-town scavenger hunt that ended with “Surprise! We’re kidnapping you, putting you on yet another plane, and taking you up to Auckland!”
Having not heard overwhelmingly complimentary things about Auckland, I was pleasantly surprised upon my arrival. Place is like a city in a jungle. And I loved it. My foodie flatmate had intensely researched different eateries, and we ended up dining at a hip restaurant called Libertine.
Afterwards, in need of some post-dinner sweets, we explored Queen Street where we satisfied our cravings at Giapo Ice Cream and Research Kitchen (my, what intriguing flavors you have….) and Moustache – the Milk and Cookie Bar (which is quite possibly the greatest idea ever). Across the street was an Irish pub blasting the sort of music that makes you want to do a sprightly jig (and reminds you how badly you want to go to Ireland to drink at an authentic Irish pub with gnarled, weather-beaten old fishermen smoking gnarled, weather-beaten old pipes).
That night we stayed in a holiday park that reminded me of the movie Hanna. It was nice and cheap with cozy (or cramped) quarters, the kind of mattresses that leave you feeling every joint come morning, and sheets that left me questioning the need for smallpox shots. I wonder if I would have been more comfortable spending my night wandering around outside; the environment of the holiday park was friendly and comfortable, and the night air was cool and fresh. I took a nice walk before bed, during which I found the girls bathroom. Funny story: my friends and I were looking for the bathroom. Because we’d just arrived. And because we all really had to pee. There was this big building next to the kitchen area. It had a small sign at the corner that read, “Men’s,” and a large opening in the center of the wall. It was one of the only buildings in sight, so some of the girls thought, “Maybe it’s a bathroom for everyone and the girl’s sign is on the other side corner,” while the others decided, “I’m pretty sure this is the man bathroom, but I’m about to wet myself, so I’m going in there.” We all used to bathroom without any repercussions. I began to think that perhaps this was, in fact, the boys and girls room. Then I returned to brush my teeth. An older gentleman walked in, stared at me wide-eyed with a small, shocked, “Oh!” and then scurried out of the bathroom. At that point I returned to our bunk and broke the news to my fellow travelers: “Guys, I’m pretty sure that’s the men’s room.” But all’s well that ends well because I found the ladies room on the other side of the cafeteria area. And so it was that I spent the next morning putting in my contacts around massive amounts of women who all be takin’ up the mirror space to apply their makeup.
The morning after our arrival we drove to the Coromandel Peninsula. We’d rented a car at the airport which, in light of all the adventuring we wanted to do, turned out to be a cheaper and simpler option than relying on buses or taxis. The drive to the peninsula was spectacularly beautiful in a way that only New Zealand can be – the lumbering and ridged hills, the lush yellow-greens and shimmering flaxen shades, the verdant jungles. Come here to satisfy any and all foliage fetishes. One can also find a number of small beaches along the way. My friends and I took multiple car breaks in order to lay on the sand, play in the cold water, climb trees, and play cricket with a plastic set from the dollar store….
We were spending the next few the next few days in a non-touristy area, Coromandel Town, at someplace called Anchor Lodge. We figure, “Alright. Everyone’s ready for another hostel-like situation. Hope y’all brought long-sleeve sleeping gear and/or anti-itch cream.” And then, we saw it: A beautiful haven with Tarzan’s bungalow, an outdoor grill, free wifi, a stocked kitchen, TWO TVs, spacious rooms, and (oh the glory) clean sheets with soft mattresses. It was in this paradise that we were destined to cook our own delicious meals, dine al fresco in the fading twilight, and sleep soundly like tired babies.
Early in the morning, we began a scenic drive down the peninsula. I held my head out the window, feeling the wind, taking in the view, and feeling incredibly happy and fulfilled – like I was meant for this. On the way, we saw a rainbow that reached the ground. It was beautiful, unusual, and seemed like the best of omens. However, we were also able to dispel that old myth about the pot of gold. We checked. No gold. Whilst stopped at the lovely Jandals Café in Whitianga for breakfast, a cute little girl with blond ringlets looked at me and, without any provocation, made a truly hideous and evil face before skipping away gaily with her dolly. I don’t quite know what to make of this. I cannot hope to compare, but here is my best approximation of the face:
Clearly, this child has an exciting and fulfilling life ahead of her.
Anyhoo, we’d woken up early in order to snag a spot at Hot Water Beach. Natural hot springs under the sand mean that you can dig yourself a hole and sit in a natural sauna on the beach. Very cool in theory. However, we found the beach to be, even at an early hour, too touristy and crowded. There was also an unfortunate situation with a cranky older man, some shovels, and a good deal of unwarranted rebuking. So, after about five minutes, we figured, “Well, it was good to stop by and dig our toes into some hot sand. Now, time to go.”
The second beach of the day was much more magical. Cathedral Cove: aka my new favorite place. You also might recognize Cathedral Cove if you’ve ever seen the Chronicles of Narnia movie Prince Caspian. Yeah, I had yet another New Zealand film geek-out moment.
The cove is harder to access than, say, Hot Water Beach, so it is much less touristy. The beach can only be reached by hiking or by boat. Hence the lack of lazy and grumpy older folks. Not too many people + an enchanting location = killer combo. As of late, I spend the majority of my beach time curled up on a towel, sunbathing with a good book. But Cathedral Cove took me back to my childhood. I spent my entire visit running around, splashing in the water, swimming out to rocks that turn out to be grossly covered in squishy, fibrous seaweed (feeling like how I imagine the sweaty, hairy back of an obese man would feel), exploring caves, and climbing rocks; I didn’t lie down once. If I were ever marooned somewhere, I would like that somewhere to be Cathedral Cove. My friend and I already figured out how we’re organizing our cave home. Plus, there’s a natural shower all ready for us.
The rest of our time on the peninsula included: driving on a traumatic and ridiculous dirt road, scenery that was probably in Jurassic Park (that makes me Jeff Goldblum), cliff jumping at a river, a visit to a fairy-tale waterfall (it was a water-filled kind of weekend), playing in a sandbox that was randomly in a café (I didn’t realize the waitress was watching and laughing. Oops), and shopping. During shopping time, I found a store called “The Cave” (the name filled me with uncontrollable glee) where I purchased a journal in which to record my memories. We also went to a store where the sassy owner told us a story: Macklemore had recently visited that same store, and had kindly taken off his shoes, signed them, and given them to a young fan. Apparently, Macklemore is both a boss and a philanthropist. I’m not even surprised. At this point, I also had the pleasure of introducing my friends to what was essentially my high school class’s epic anthem, Macklemore’s “And We Danced.”
On our last day, we returned to Auckland where I visited the most wonderful vintage stores (cue drooling), and my friends decided to go skydiving.
During their jumping-out-of-a-plane experience, I waited, took a wee nap in a beanbag, snapped some photos, and balanced precariously on a scooter thing because, like my friends, I am also a daredevil. I actually held off skydiving simply because I’d gone a few weeks before and a second jump just wasn’t in the budgetary stars. I would’ve been totally up for going for free. New Zealand has this thing where they like to let people bungee or canyon swing for free if the person goes nakey. However, nude skydiving attempts just don’t pan out as well, probably because of the excessive airflow (I imagine women getting slapped hard in the face with their own, ahem, breasticles. I apologize for that visual). I think the parachute would also be uncomfortable… lots of chafing. And then there’s the fact that you’re tightly strapped to a stranger for a solid period of time. No, I don’t see naked skydiving gaining widespread popularity any time soon.