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My first few days in Auckland. The long version.

Friday morning, Auckland

I woke up early, around 7am, from a pretty decent sleep in my little one-person room in the YWCA. It was on the fifth floor and the window was open to a cool breeze and a obscuring veil of green leaves. I had sweat profusely carrying my big pack from the Airbus drop-off point a few blocks away. My t-shirt was almost soaked through. The evening before I had strung the nylon rope across the room, from the metal pole holding the window open to a handle on one of the cabinets. I washed my shirt and underwear in the communal showers then hung them to dry. Thank you, Adrian, for suggesting I bring the rope, and thank you “Rescue Me” and Xeno Lights for the handful of clothespins I brought along.

Friday morning, I cooked some lentils in the kitchen (easy and tasty), called a backpackers called Nomads to see if they had a bed, packed up all my stuff (a time-consuming process), checked out and walked downtown. At the hostel I paid a buck to store my pack in a large locker.

I spent much of this day walking up and down Queen Street. The day before I had found out the global phone my parents got me wouldn’t take the Vodafone (NZ phone company) SIM card. This day I found out that the phone won’t even work in New Zealand because it is CDMA, and New Zealand is all GSM. Bummer. So I ended up buying the cheapest phone Vodafone had and getting a SIM card and prepay account. In the haze of exhuastion, jet lag and still lingering cold I have been suffering from worse-than-usual absentmindedness. I had bought $20, but lost the receipt before entering the code number on it to actually redeem that money. I didn’t realize any of this until I rushed back to the store hours later after realizing the $20 was not on the phone. Just part of the price of travel, I suppose.

I walked over to the library and set myself up a table next to an outlet. I charged the new phone for an hour and read a little booklet called “Talking Past Each Other” by Joan Metge and Patricia Kinloch. This was a cross-cultural study of the difference in communication style between Pakeha (western, english background New Zealanders), and Maori and Samoans. It was published sometime in the mid seventies. Really interesting. All about the assumptions both have about non-verbal behavior. And it seems that both cultures have a lot that are exactly opposite or at odds, causing much misunderstanding and difficulty especially for kids of Maori and Samoan background in Pakeha-dominated schools.

Here is a link about Joan Metge, one of the authors.

That night I stayed in a ten-person dorm room with bunks at a backpackers called Nomads. I got into bed pretty early around 9:30 or 10pm. I don’t think I slept at all the whole night. People came in throughout the night, and most were careful to be quiet – I know this because I heard every single one of them trying to be quiet. The drunks were the least talented in this. I got up around 7am completly exhuasted, packed everything back up and put in the locker again.

Then walked across town to the car fair in a little parking lot on Gaunt and Hallesley streets. I arrived thinking I wanted a station wagon. There were lots of cars already parked and people arriving as I looked around. Immediately a friendly man started talking to me. I was wary and distant, as this whole used-car buying experience is stressful. And the last thing I want to feel is that I am gullible or an easy scam. He was helping a colleague of his sell four cars. All of which looked in good shape. I talked briefly then started to stroll slowly and thoughtfully through the park. Cars were sort of clumped together by type. The campervans, with small crowds of backpackers around each, were more expensive – in the $3000-4000 NSD range – and more beat up and rusty. I went with the man who first spoke to me out on a test drive of the 1994 Mitsubishi Magna GLX Sedan. He drove first and it sounded fine, took hills easily, didn’t bounce around crazily over pot holes, no smoke coming out the back. Then he let me drive. That man has courage taking an American out on her debut drive in New Zealand. In a stick-shift at that. I know how to drive manual, but haven’t ever done it with the seat on the right side and the stick to my left. There was some grabbing for the door handle when I wanted to shift, and turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to signal a turn. All in all, it went well though. Back at the carpark I talked to the main salesman. The tag said $1650 NSD, so I offered him $1200. He shook his head in a way that meant he really wasn’t going to negotiate at all. He said he priced them to sell and he knows he could get even more for it. Buying the first car you test drive seems a bit dodgy, as they say over here. But it suited me and didn’t seem to have any outstanding problems. I looked at the engine, checked the oil, looked at all the tires. There was some painted over rust along the runners below the doors, but this car doesn’t have to last a lifetime. Just two months. After I offered him $1500 he said he would sell it to me for $1600. Haha. I am one serious negotiator. I gave him $500 down and went off to see if I could get the remaining $1100 out of ATMs.

After such a long and sleepless night, I was itching to get out of Auckland. A woman I had met two days before and befriended, named Emma, had invited me to her 29th birthday party at her parent’s place in a suburb of Auckland called Ellerslie. She was going to pick me up at 2pm, but I resolved to have my car by then. I got the money, walked back to the car park and me and the saleshelper rode over to AA to change the registration. He was a really nice man, who had taken to given me fatherly advice. Put one key on one keychain and the other on another in case you lock yourself out. Just take your time travelling, you have plenty of time. Relax and take things slowly. He had a daughter who had worked for Base ACB, the backpackers I was booked in for the next two nights. She had been in Queenstown for two years working for them there. When I told him I was going to try to get my money back for those nights so I could get out of town, he tried to get his daughter on the phone to ask her about it. He seemed proud and excited for me when he handed me the keys and said “It’s your car now”.

I stopped by Base ACB and they had no problem refunding me my money. The line was out the door trying to get a bed there. I was so relieved to be leaving behind the blaring hip-hop music. There was no way I would spend another night in one of those dorms.

As I followed Emma out of town, and the skies opened up and the trees started to take over, I was finally glad I had come here. Filling up at a gas station in Ellerslie, the guy pumping the gas started chatting with me. He looked possibly part Maori, and had long thin dreads. In fact, he looked like he would fit right in in New York. After a little banter he said, “American accent, right?”. Yep. When he found out I had just arrived he apologized for pestering me with so many questions so soon after I had gotten here. I laughed. It was all very friendly.

The party was fun, though I felt slightly awkward and out of place. Their family actually reminded me of mine. There was this old Irish blessing on a hanging on the wall:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

A blessing for the traveller, in a way. Comforting.

Her Mom was cooking up a storm when we arrived, and ws perfectly willing to let me help. I sliced up the bread. We sat around, ate food, played a bit of balderdash. When I left Emma loaded me up with muffins, potato and fake crab salad, a big slice of chocolate cake and peach cobbler. Amazing. I drove off around 7pm and found the Ambury Regional Park Campsite. You drive your car into a field of sheep and set up camp somewhere.
I was overjoyed to find an almost empty field. I stayed in that tent for close to 12 hours recovering.

Sunday morning I drove out to West Auckland to meet Gavin, a friend I made in Auckland a few days before. We grabbed coffee – a long black for me – and I followed him out the winding road to Piha. He has just started surfing out here, so showed me around pointing out the best places to paddle out. We wandered a bit, grabbed food from the stand near the water. Veggie burger and “chips” (french fries) for me. I gobbled that down quick and Gavin asked me if I had just had my breakfast, lunch and dinner. I promised myself I would remember to eat dinner later.

We stopped by Black Sands Lodge and Bobbie and Julia said I could stay that night even though I couldn’t work that day. Later Bobbie kept saying how clever I was to come and check it out with a friend first. Make sure it wasn’t a brothel or something, you know, work _only_ three hours a day! That wasn’t exactly what I was doing, but it turned out for the best. I am going to have dinner with Gavin tonight, he is cooking fish, and when I told Julia that she asked how I knew him. Both Bobbie and Julia are grandmothers. When I told her I had just met him in Auckland she said I ought to leave behind his address, just in case. You will be happy to know, Mom, that I have a couple surrogate mothers out here right now!

With that I think I have caught up on my doings so far. As a part Irish person I am no good at shortening or editing stories, clearly. This will be good practice, as there is no way I will be able to post every freaking thing I do in here. Look forward to more abbreviated posts in the future!


  1. i second that

    I like the long versions. If it doesn’t take away valuable time from your trip, I love hearing the details.


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