Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it, flying Business Class freakin ROCKS!!!!! We seriously owe our travel agent Bernard, major props for securing the entire 21 legs of our trip with Business Class tickets on Emirates Airlines, at almost the same price as the regular Star Alliance rtw ticket.
The main problem with Business Class, is the amount of free amenities which you just feel like you must indulge in, ie. food and alcohol. As if the 5 course meals on the airplane, prepared per your request aren’t enough, the lounges at the airport offer gourmet food, full bars, magazines, internet connection, etc. Jason even took a shower in one of the private showers in our layover in Sydney, where he had an attendent waiting on him.
The airplane seats are more comfortable then our beds at home, as they almost fully recline, with lumbar support adjustments, leg supports, and padded head rests. Emirates also provides a full entertainment system for each passenger including choices of hundreds of movies, television shows, the best of Van Morrison music station J and about 50 video games.
I must say, sipping champagne and playing Jason in Tetris (you can connect with the person next to you and play games against each other) made the flight go by real fast. Things are off to a good start!
It kind of feels like we’ve given birth (although neither of us knows what that feels like, yet), after the long, exciting, sometimes laborious, stressful, and even painful process of planning this trip, for actually almost 9 months as it turns out.
We are currently in Auckland, New Zealand, actually sitting in an internet cafe as I type. This is definitely an interesting way to begin our travels, since we kind of don’t even feel like we’re half way around the world; everything is in English, there’s a beautiful waterfront (like the SF Bay), and we’ve just taken to our routine similar to home of wandering the streets for hours, observing people, and searching for nice restaurants and bars.
The reality of our foreign destination hits in different moments, like every time we try and cross the street, and forget how cars are on the opposite side of the road, only to narrowly miss being hit. Also, the overall pace of life seems to be much slower. There isn’t a sense of urgency or real hustle and bustle like we experience at home. Although this can translate into what feels like really poor/slow service in a restaurant, I think it could be a cultural norm, and we're actually taking to the more relaxed pace.
Well, the official verdict we’ve gotten from locals is typically people do not leave tips at restaurants. I still cannot get used to this concept. Each time we pay at a restaurant I convince Jason that we need to hurry up and leave, before the waiter notices we haven’t left a tip. He rolls his eyes every time. . .
5 days in Auckland is more then enough. There is not a ton to do here that can't be accomplished in about 3 days. I must say though it's been a great way to ease into the swing of things, especially the working balance for Jason. We've certainly mastered the art of finding cute neighborhoods, and eating tons of yummy food (something SF living trained us well in).
HOWEVER, I'm ready for adventure. Give me sand tabbogoning, sea kayaking, jet-boating, and zorbing. I crave something out of the familiarlity of my own life, which a city like Auckland doesn't necessarily provide. I'm revved up and ready to go.
Tomorrow we pack up the Toyota Corrola, and brave driving on the "right side" of the road as someone so blatantly corrected Jason. We're heading up to the Bay of Islands for a couple nights which should be a spectacular excursion.
And now it's time for the quintessential journal entry about driving on the other side of the road. Sometimes the advice that actually ends up sticking with you comes from really random sources - like the cell phone guy who sold us our unlocked cell phone. He just happened to be from New Zealand and said when driving on the "wrong side" of the road, just make sure the steering wheel is always towards the center of the road. It works! Think about it!
Without a doubt the most confusing part is that the turn signal is on the wrong side. We are constantly turning on the windshield wipers by accident, and then cutting somebody off without signaling. I'm sure they are probably used to seeing wipers on in the middle of a sunny afternoon and put two and two together. Anyways, no accidents yet but we'll keep you posted.
This was one of the coolest things I've ever done, thanks to the Dunerider adventure. Imagine hiking up an incredibly steep sand dune with a boogie board. The trek itself up the hill is a task, as our foot sunk deep into the beautiful, silky sand. You get to the top, of what is actually a really steep sand dune, jump on your boogie board, and high tail it about 40 mph straight downhill.
It truly is a rush, especially since it feels like at any moment you're going to start tumbling head first into the ground (actually, we both managed to do this, which just covered us in fine sand that was impossible to get off from head to toe!) Now that's what I call ingenuity--if you don't have snow to tobbagon down, why not use sand.
This was just one of the many adventures we had in the Bay of Islands. This area is the Northern most part of New Zealand, which is dotted with gorgeous beaches, small islands, and lots of beautiful clear, blue bays.
Sea kayaking to the Haruru falls was also a spectacular day trip. With the guidance of Liz and Kylie of Coastal Kayakers, we managed to manuever through mangrove swamps, and arrive at these mesmerizing falls. Jason was even brave enough to go directly underneath the falls, which the person before him capsized attempting. Jason made it through saf eand sound, although the water bottle on the front of his kayak was crushed from the pressure of the water--that's how powerful the falls were.
That's how I was taught to remember that stalactites are the ones that come down from the ceiling, and stalacmites are the ones that come up from the floor. Why does this matter you ask? Because you'll look really smart knowing that on the glow worm caves of Waitomo tour.
While the tour is worth doing if you're in the area, I will say that I wasn't floored by it. One problem is that you're in a group of 50 people. The other is that the actual glow worm area is really small. Since it's pitch black it took me a few minutes to realize the boat was just going in circles and we were looking at the same patch of ceiling the whole time.
Excuse the stolen photo from the website, but apparently it's a "sacred" place so we couldn't take pictures. I guess exceptions can be made for advertising materials.
So this was kind of funny. We had just finished a delicious dinner at Bistro 1284 with jennathan, and were outside having an after dinner drink. All of a sudden the girls working at the restaurant hurried outside, and starting pointing and whispering like little school kids at these guys across the street.
It turns out the Auckland National Rugby team happened to be in town, and had just caught a movie at the local theater, and were waiting for their van to pick them up. The girls were literally in awe of these men, naming who they all were, including Troy Flavell (center in our picture). One even said that her "nan would have an attack if she saw her in a picture with them."
So, the girls dared us to go over and take a picture with them, since they were too embarrased and nervous to approach them. Feeling little inhibitions after our overly indulgent meal, we walked right over to them, introduced ourselves, and asked if we could snap a photo.
We finally convinced the girls to go over and that we would take a picture, and begrudgingly they did. I'm sure the couple moments of embarrassment was worth the lifetime of having a picture with the Auckland Blue Hotties!
It finally happened, I finally got the chance to meet my hero who I've been cyber stalking for the past 6 months. Her name is Jen Nathan, although I solely refer to her as jennathan, the name of her website.
I initially thought that her website was her way of refering to her trip around the world as a "jennathon", like a marathon, but came to realize it was actually just her name, Jen Nathan. None-the-less, she is jennathan to me. Funny thing is, she told us last night that she thought that our website name was just a cute way of saying we like to wander and walk, not realizing until recently that Walker was actually our last name.
I was introduced to her via e-mail by our original travel agent, who had helped to plan jennathan's trip around the world. I was instantly mesmerized not only by jennathans website, but also by her courage to travel the world for a year as a single person. So, I started e-mailing her, asking lots of questions about her trip, sharing bits about Jason and mine plans, and hoped our paths would cross along the way.
Jennathan, now in her 9th month of travel, just happened to be in New Zealand. So, we worked it out that our paths would cross in Rotorua. She told us to choose a time and place and she'd be there. Low and behold, we walked into Bistro 1284 last night, and to my amazement, as planned, she was there.
We had an awesome evening of sharing stories, mainly listening to her wise words of travel wisdom, drinking lots of wine, and gorging on sumptuous food. Our main regret is that we wouldn't have more time to travel together. We did however manage to get a photo with the Auckland Blues Rugby team that night, and check out Sheepworld together this morning. We also both share SF as our homes, so jennathan can't escape from me so easily.
When you first arrive to the reception area, there's a menu of options of how you can do it - tandem, strapped in to a harness, straight down, zig-zag, dry or wet. It's kind of overwhelming since you don't really know what it all means. We opted for the tandem, and just hoped for the best.
We hopped into the back of the van which drove us to the top of the hill where the adventure would begin. They fill just the bottom of the Zorb with some warm water, enough to basically lubricate the whole thing so you don't stick to it. First Jason dove in head first into the small opening, next me, and then it's zipped close.
1,2,3 the gate was opened, and off we went rolling down the hill. Water splashing everywhere, our bodies flailing all over the place, and endless laughter sums up the scene from inside the Zorb.
When we got to the bottom we both looked at each other and instantly knew once wasn't enough We splurged for the 3 pack giving us two more times each. We decided to go solo, once on the zig zag track, which the above video is of, and lastly on the straight track right down the hill.
What an awesome experience. If you ever get the chance to Zorb, do it! Jason actually has it in his head that they should start up Zorbing in SF down Lombard Street.
I honestly was amazed at the absolute skill of our driver, not to mention more impressed at my willingness to trust this total stranger to conduct such an intense ride. The drivers of these Jetboats actually take psychological tests to ensure they are sane enough to be manuevering these high speed boats, and they have over 100 hours of training, before they even take their first passenger.
Our final destination of the ride was to Huka Falls, a spectacular waterfall, that is supposedly the most visited site in New Zealand. Although the trip is only 30 minutes total, we certainly felt like we got our monies worth on this totally unique experience.
To top it off, right next door to the HukaJet was the Huka Prawn Park - Grandpa Art would have something to say about the Kosher aspect of that one. Although a completely cheesy, tourist place, we couldn't resist a plate full of peel and eat prawns to end our HukaJet experience.
So it turns out my mother has a first cousin that lives in Havleock North, a beautiful little town in the heart of Hawkes Bay wine country. Apparently only "my side" of the family calls him Danny, which he hates. Anyways, we had a super killer time. We had dinner at a winery down the street from them, and in the morning they stuffed us full of breakfast and gave us a tour of the town.
Dan's wife Judy was hilarious and a lot of fun to hang out with. I guess the three bottles of wine we polished off at dinner didn't hurt the jovial vibe. It was a bit like hanging out with Sharon Osbourne and Jeffrey Tambor. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see them next time they visit the states!
The next destination of our adventure was Bleinheim, a small town in the heart of Marlborough wine country in the South Island. Although our original plan was to only spend one night here, once we discovered how beautiful the area was, with tons of wineries to visit, we decided two nights would do.
We immediately booked a wine tour for the following day through Bubbly Grapes. When the driver arrived at our hotel to pick us up, she informed us we would be getting a private tour, since no one else had signed up that day. So, we had Kerry, our driver, and 5 hours to see and go wherever we wanted to in the Marlborough wine region - we were certainly not going to complain about that.
An interesting part about having a "private tour", was that Kerry was with us the ENTIRE time. She escorted us into the wineries, stood close while we sampled the wines, and even sat with us while we ate. At this point in the trip it was welcomed company, however Jason and I definitely noted how some people, possibly on a romantic afternoon in wine country may have looked at it differently.
The absolute funniest part about our "wine tour", was that our fearless driver had very little knowledge about wines and the wine country. She even admitted to rarely drinking wine, which we found to be interesting. None-the-less, we had a fabulous time, thanks to the wonderful Savignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs of the region - these are the wines most predominately produced in Marlborough.
Lets just say after the 6 wineries we hit up, we certainly had that "tingly" feeling our driver hoped we would by the end of the day. . .
Coming from California, I've experienced some pretty spectacular National Parks - Abel Tasman, however was a completely unique experience. The only two ways to even get into this park were either to hike, or take a water taxi - there are no roads for cars to drive in. We opted for the water taxi, and hiked most of the way out of the park (about 15 kilometers or 9 miles.)
The weather on this day was perfect, so the colors in the water were crystal clear and truly amazing. Along the water portion of our journey, we stopped at Split Apple rock, and Tonga Island Seal colony, both amazing sites to take in.
The water taxi arrived at the shore, literally pulling right onto the beach for us to disembark. From here we hiked first to Barks Bay, eventually ending at Torrents Bay. The timing of our hikes corresponed with low tide, so we got the luxury of playing along the huge outstretch of beach, which was so neat.
The views along our hike were mesmerizing, at times almost making it easy to slip off the edge while not paying attention to where we were stepping. We even crossed a swingbridge, which was a thrill to jump up and down on, as some of the video captures.
I truly felt energized after our day at Abel Tasman, one of the most gorgeous places I have ever had the fortune of experiencing in my life.
It's not often things freak me out, but this one had me a bit on edge. It wasn't so much the idea of hurling ourselves face forward off the edge of a cliff (called the "SupaMan"), or even the ten zillion foot drop into the river below. It was more the idea of "Dumb" being the one who was setting us up into the harness while she trained "Dumber" on how to do it. Let's just say neither one of them instilled any confidence in the whole process. Check out the video - this one's pretty funny.