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New Zealand: Auckland

Saturday, January 17th 2015

Due to the complications with the campstove the previous night with the motel manager, Bryan and I were up and at it at 6:30am, packed and ready to go at 7am.  By 8am we were already in the Queenstown Airport with our flight not departing until 11:30am.  We were also bitter and tired.  We spent some time outside in the sun with our Long Black coffees waiting for our flight.  Finally, we set off with JetStar for our 90 minute flight to Auckland.

Amy and Colin were there to pick us up in baggage claim.  This was our first time meeting Colin.  We managed to fit all the luggage in Amy’s car and hit the road.  The first stop was for a late lunch.  They took us to a super cool market in one of the neighborhoods called Ponsonby, five minutes from their apartment.  They had several options of dining places to choose from and we pulled up to a Brazilian churrasco eatery with fantastic smelling meats grilling up.  Amy and I sat next to each other to catch up and shared the combination meat platter with pork roast, chicken thigh, steak and pork belly and a tossed salad, all doused in chimichurri.  It was super delicious and more than enough for Amy and I.  After lunch we strolled through the market buying some good cheeses, a bottle of red wine from NZ, some fruit smoothies, and to watch everything else going on.

They took us back to their townhouse down the road where we settled into Amy’s wonderfully stocked guest bedroom, they made us cappuccinos in their new espresso machine and where we talked from 4pm to 8pm before even thinking about what to do for dinner.  We then set out to Countdown for groceries for the week.  They picked up some must-try snacks for us from NZ including Tim Tam cookies, pineapple bites and NZ beer.  Once back at the house it was a team effort making Amy’s white BBQ sauce chicken thighs, rice pilaf and apple and gouda salad.  We spent many more hours talking and got to bed some time after 1am.

Sunday, January 18th 2015

Sunday morning was a sleep in day for most all of us.  It wasn’t until nearly 11am that Bryan and I were up.  We had fantastic plans for the day.  The first was brunch at the Belgian Beer Café on Misson Bay.  We got to sit outside on their deck, all ordered coffees and three of us ordered their famous Belgian waffles with slab bacon and caramelized bananas.  Add chocolate sauce and whip to mine and call it decadent.  After brunch we briefly checked out the beach before heading to the West Coast Piha Beach.

Brunch on Mission Bay
Brunch on Mission Bay

Piha Beach is a vast surf beach with super fine black sand.  We targeted low tide to get there and pick mussels on the rocks.  We all had our own plastic bags and were each allowed to collect 25 mussels.  We saw many starfish and crabs while we were at it.  It was quite the experience and ended up with quite a good catch.  We had worked up a sweat and cooled off in the beautiful water before laying out on the beach.  We decided to head back to Auckland (30 minute drive) when we started to get hungry.

Piha Beach
Piha Beach
Picking
Picking
Scared
Scared
Beautiful Piha Beach
Beautiful Piha Beach

Once back we rinsed off, the boys cleaned the mussels and Amy and I got the sauces ready.  Colin grilled half of the catch and steamed the rest in the oven.  They did come out pretty tasty and were mighty plentiful with bread for soaking up their juices and glasses of wine.  We again spent the night talking with each other until late in the night.

Monday, January 19th 2015

Monday was all about the NFC Championship game with the Packers at our Seahawks.  The game aired at 9am NZ time so Bryan and I woke up at 8am, put on our jerseys and carpooled with Amy to work downtown.  But instead of going to work we headed to the Viaduct to Fox Sports Pub to watch the big game.  We were with many Seahawks fans, all in team gear.  On the contrary, the Packers fans showed up late and none were in jerseys.

The game kicked off and it started awful.  From feeling excited to sad and stunned and speechless Bryan and I tried to keep our chins up.  But it was hard to do with Wilson not playing well at all, throwing four interceptions and Lynch not able to run for any yards.  With less than four minutes left in the game everything started turning around for us.  It began with a fake field goal pass into the inzone for a touchdown to make the game 14-19.  We then kicked an onside kick and GOT IT!  With the ball nearly on the 50 yard line Lynch ran for some solid yardage before Wilson ran in the TD.  Game at 20-19.  Then we had a completed lob pass to Baldwin for the 2-point conversion; 22-19.  The Packers managed to get the ball in field goal territory in under a minute and tied the game up 22-22.  Overtime!

Pre game
Pre game

The excitement of the game in the last 4 minutes cannot be described.  Our fans in the bar were LOUD, chanting “Sea” “Hawks”, high-fiving, and jumping up and down.  We got the ball first in overtime and in two back-to-back stunning passes to Kearse we scored a TD which ended the game and sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl for the 2nd year in a row.  Wilson and Kearse both crying on TV had me almost crying.

Feeling pretty high we left the bar and walked down Customs St. to Amy’s office.  The three of us headed to a place for lunch, resembling a garage and with a nice rooftop patio.  We had a nice lunch before Amy returned to work and we were on our own to explore the city.  We set out with a map in hand on the Cosat to Coast Walkway.  We strolled some shops on High St. before climbing to the beautiful Albert Park, through the University of Auckland and then into the expansive Auckland Domain Park.  We relaxed at the duck ponds for a bit, explored the gardens in the Wintergarden for free and then set out on foot back to Amy’s hood.  We got a milkshake along the way and explored the interesting and eclectic happening of K Road.  We arrived home just before Amy.

Downtown Auckland
Downtown Auckland
Cool tree in Auckland Domain
Cool tree in Auckland Domain

We had plans to make dinner at their place once more.  Another team effort; baked herbed bone-in pork chops, the NZ kumara (sweet potato) and salad.  Much more conversation insued but we also watched some intense murder mysteries.  With the extreme highs of winning the game earlier, a long 6 mile walk and a good dinner made us very sleepy travelers.  Off to bed!

Tuesday, January 20th 2015

We really didn’t have any plans for Tuesday.  Thus, we didn’t pull ourselves out of bed until 11am, did a light breakfast in, watched the news and then set out on foot at 1pm with still no real plan for the day.

Our first stop was lunch around the residence.  I had my mind set on some kind of fresh salad meal and Bryan spotted a burrito place so he got his burrito and churros to share and I went to Bird on a Wire for a trio of deli salads and pulled rotisserie chicken.

After lunch we walked back downtown to the free Auckland Art Gallery.  There were three levels in a beautiful building displaying NZ (our least favorite), mid-century, and surrealism art.  It was time well spent in my opinion and an escape into the welcoming atmosphere of AC.  After we toured the gallery thoroughly we set back out towards home and actually shopped in the cute stores on K Road.  We again beat Amy home barely and caught up with her while we waited for Colin’s arrival.

We dressed up for dinner at Amy and Colin’s favorite restaurant, SPQR, again in Ponsonby.  The menu is classical Italian with a huge emphasis on NZ seafood.  I ordered the scallop and shrimp spaghettini with a light white wine, chili, garlic and parsley sauce.  It was summery and tasty.  Others ordered the seafood paella, snapper with saffron risotto, and crayfish with parsley risotto.  I also had a glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc.  We decided on seeing the dessert menu and Bryan and I shared the super amazing sour chocolate pudding with vanilla ice cream, their rendition of molten lava cake but with the addition of cherries in the center.  Lick your plate clean good!  Amy and Colin surprised us by paying for the pricey dinner in celebration of our engagement.  That was REALLY too nice of them.  What a nice night out!

Dinner out at SPQR!
Dinner out at SPQR!

Wednesday, January 21st 2015

Our last full day of the trip was unfortunately upon us.  We wanted to spend a long day on the resortlike island of Waiheke that had come so highly recommended.  We had made arrangements to go on a 3 hr sailing tour to Waiheke but after waking up early, catching the bus downtown and walking to the harbor did we find out that they did not have the numbers they needed to go out and so we were only left with a refund and two vouchers for a free lunch in the Viaduct.  We were super bummed!  It was essentially the one excursion we had really been looking forward to in Auckland the whole week.

After contemplating our options we developed a new plan.  First, we needed coffees and got them and a muffin to enjoy in a coffee shop in the harbor.  We reminisced about the trip and also talked some wedding plans.  Once caffeinated we strolled the whole harbor browsing the many yachts and sailboats, including the newly arrived $.5 Billion Russian Czar yacht and a yacht all the way from Ann Arbor, MI.  Around 11am we decided to use those lunch vouchers at the Irish restaurant in the Viaduct.  I got a chicken satay slad and Bryan the fish and chips.  Just after lunch we got on the noon ferry to Waiheke.  The ferry was a smooth 40 minute ride to the island.

Auckland harbor
Auckland harbor
We're going on a boat
We’re going on a boat
View of Auckland from asea
View of Auckland from asea

Our two main priorities on Waiheke were the wineries and the beaches.  They have great signage and walking paths to the destinations of interest for those on foot.  Bryan and I took the 30 minute path to one of the most acclaimed wineries on the island, Mudbrick, which we also had coupons for two free standard tastings too.  For this tasting we were able to sample their Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Merlot, and Syrah.  They were all quite delicious and interesting.  We were lucky enough to get a great gal pouring us who learned we liked Spanish reds.  She gave us an additional tasting of their Tempranillo, one of only two varieties on the whole island.  And this $60 bottle was indeed exceptional and our favorite.  She gave some recommendations on where to head next so we set back out on foot, taking in the beautiful sights and Auckland in the distance.

Wine tasting at Mudbrick.
Wine tasting at Mudbrick.

We walked the short distance to the beach town of Oneroa.  We found a shop selling island bead bracelets for 3 for $5 and Bryan is now wearing one and I the other two.  We then caught the bus to Onetangie Beach.  The bus was packed and the ride was longer than necessary but we made it to the beach around 3pm.  We quickly changed into our suits and pulled up on the super fine white sand beach.  Although a bit cloudy it was still awful pleasant and relaxing.  We soaked in the last of our NZ sun before packing up.

Onetangi Beach on Waiheke
Onetangi Beach on Waiheke

Bus, return ferry, bus back to Amy’s, returning around 7pm.  Colin had to work the late shift and Amy had steaks marinating and was in the process of attacking fruit flies.  We were able to break open the wine they gifted to us and have a good heart-to-heart with Amy about her NZ life.  It was so good to be there to emotionally support her and see that she still feels close enough to us to do that.  Around 9pm we got around to grilling the steaks and asparagus and Amy made pan-fried potatoes.  One more delicious dinner in her casa.

We all pretty much veged out after dinner and Colin coming home.  We didn’t want to say our goodbyes yet so we saved them for the next morning.

Thursday, January 22nd 2015

One crazy long day…of all flying.  We said our goodbyes and thank you early to Amy as she left for work.  We had a light breakfast and coffees with Colin and got to talk with just him for a while, which was great!  We both give Colin two big thumbs up.  We walked back to Ponsonby for a thank you present for Amy (and Colin).  We bought an award winning bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, four fresh herb plants to replace their dead ones, and a bouquet of Amy’s favorite orchids.  I had also gotten Amy a “Louisiana Girl” t-shirt.  We left all of these as a surprise for her when she got home.

We then said our goodbyes to Colin and waited the short time for our Super Shuttle to the airport to pick us up.  From there it was nearly 24 hours of travelling to return back home.  We had a 5 hour flight to Tahiti, had to depart the plane, go through screening and then reboard the same plane.  We had an 8 hour overnight flight to LAX.  We had less than 2 hours to get through US customs, get our bags and walk the full length of the airport to check in with Southwest.  We made it with 30 minutes to spare but thoroughly sweaty.  Then we had a short 1 hr flight to Oakland and another 1.5 hr flight to Seattle.  Five airports, four planes in one day.  And we actually arrived before we took off.  Light rail to taxi to home.  Thai and groceries and so glad to be back on Olive St.  Boy what a wonderful and lengthy trip.  I think we were there just the right amount of time!

Chelsea

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