The New Zealand Trip (this is a long one)

Stephanie and I finished our trip to New Zealand late yesterday after a thrilling ~20 hours in airplanes.

Before I get into things:

Videos of some of the trip’s highlights are on my YouTube channel.

This includes the Shire, a lot of our hotel rooms (including a beachfront motel and a spot with its own onsen baths), and other sundry. DEFINITELY check them out. ūüėÄ

What we did not like about New Zealand:

  1. Veggieburgers are not ubiquitous over there and Stephanie almost lost her mind after ordering a “salad burger” from Burger King (which is a burger bun with some onion rings, mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes —¬†not what she wanted).
  2. All the children have to wear school uniforms.¬†I understand how this came to be and why this is, I just dislike the idea of anything stifling my (eventual) child’s creative expression.
  3. New Zealand is far away. Getting there actually took longer (flying against headwinds) and I am not going to fly American Airlines when traveling to/from what I have come to believe is Neverland.

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I started with this list because frankly, there’s very little about New Zealand that I¬†didn’t like! Everything¬†made f#$%ing sense!

Stephanie is on Instagram as @inpartiesss and has many photos of New Zealand I do not have.

DRIVING IN NEW ZEALAND
Cars drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand but this is easy enough to adjust to quickly in an automatic–except for constantly hitting the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. There’s also a bunch of roundabouts but people are much, much friendlier about merging than here in the states. On top of that when getting onto the highway, most city on-ramps have signal lights that gradually feed cars onto the highway in such a way that there is almost NEVER a dead stop. Add in kilometers (which make it feel like you are going faster and further than you do traveling than in the US despite traveling more slowly) and countryside that literally makes you say “jesus christ is it every going to stop taking my breath away?” about 50 times in a week, and you have what is a much more pleasant driving experience than what I’ve become accustomed to in the rustbelt. Cars are also thinner so I felt way more confident about staying inside the lane/not being hit by things.
Of note: I specifically did not want to get navigated around by a GPS so we printed out directions and had very little trouble getting around. Like I said above, this place makes sense.

GROCERIES AND SUCH
We went to several different grocery stores (both in downtown Auckland and out in the boonies) and generally prices are the same with two exceptions: soda is more expensive (about 50%, and there’s no Wild Cherry Pepsi) and cigarettes are¬†way more expensive. I don’t count these as negatives though because they’ll pressure me into drinking less soda (I down about a 2-liter or more a day) and get Steph off of cigarettes (which are double or triple what they cost in the US, depending on if you are buying it outside or inside of a major city). On the whole, we’re confident we can get by with just about the same grocery budget as we have¬†now.
Of note:¬†Restaurants cost a bit more but you don’t tip and you walk away with leftovers every time (about a second meal’s worth). Also very doable for us. Service didn’t seem to suffer and ended up being more honest–one guy was like “look we’ll seat you, but two huge tables just sat down and we have one cook so it could be an hour before we can serve you” which I think most waiters wouldn’t be candid about.

KIWIS ARE SERIOUSLY THE FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE ON THE GOD DAMN PLANET
This is not an exaggeration. You will find¬†multiple¬†examples of this below and as an American–the land of aggressive people–I was constantly bewildered and confused by it. I mean, these people are even nicer than¬†Canadians.
NICER THAN CANADIANS.
What more,¬†everyone that found out we were there on a fact-finding mission and considering moving to New Zealand was¬†enthusiastically kind¬†and¬†genuinely wanted us to do so. Disturbingly encouraging, like there is some deep dark secret that I just don’t know about–not that there is, at least as far as I’m aware, but whatever, it definitely threw me off constantly.

DAY 1

The flight to New Zealand was long and expensive, and because we flew American Airlines, crazy uncomfortable so I¬†slept perhaps 20 minutes and Stephanie grabbed maybe an hour. Shortly after landing and speedily getting through customs, we snagged a travel SIM card for my phone for $50–now able to call in-country for free and out of country for like 200 minutes–and were picked up by the rental car company.

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After some paperwork we got on the road and went straight to Kelly Tarton’s Aquarium. I’m already behind where I should be for work, so if you want to check the videos for that out they are still on my Google Drive. There’s a glass tunnel aquarium you walk under that’s pretty dope!

We strolled around the harbor nearby for a bit, made friends with some old folks also visiting the country¬†(my extremely limited Chinese came in handy!), and then, quite hungry, began looking for Dominion Road–Auckland’s Chinatown. This would be the first and most troublesome obstacle for us and after roaming around it for 20 minutes, I pulled up beside an older woman walking down the sidewalk. The following exchange is in no way embellished.

Mike:¬†Hello! I’m sorry to bother you ma’am, but could you point us to Dominion Road?
Kiwi: Dominion Road? Oh it’s just down the way, take the second right, head down a bit to the next light–you know what? I’ll just show you.
<Kiwi woman gets into our car.>
<Stephanie and I are dumbfounded.>
Kiwi: Head straight and get into the right lane.

Our passenger was Greta, an¬†extremely¬†kind and trusting lady that was on her way back from the dentist and could get her walk in from a few blocks away after helping us out. Which she did! We exchanged pleasantries and explained why we were so awestruck–and in what I have found is the typical New Zealander fashion–she was quite amused but not terribly surprised.

Stephanie first succumbed to my unending desire for chinese food here (something I am very happy to say repeated many times) and we found a nice little place to fill up our stomachs. I particularly like it when I get into a restaurant and there’s a language barrier because while in my experience these may not at first seem to be the most elegant high-ranking spots, the food can’t be beat.

Next we headed to our first hotel to wash up and prepare for a night out, but we ended up taking a “power nap” that became a 14 hour sleep marathon. Kind of a bummer (Queens Street was less than a block away and is the center of Auckland’s night life) but ultimately not so bad as it reset our jet lag on the first day.

Here’s the view from the balcony of our (upgraded for free) $60 room at the Ibis Budget Hotel:

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DAY 2

Waking up bright and early we took in the gorgeous sunrise from high up in the Auckland skyline then headed down to a charming little spot called Remedy Coffee, went about to various shops (notably a spot called Japan Dollar Mart that I loved to death) and played a bit in Time Zone Games, then grabbed bento boxes in Nikko Japanese.

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I acquired THE BEST DRINKING GAME EVER (confirmed by our chef at the restaurant who pointed out to us that he used to have one for just that purpose).

The rest of the day was spent visiting the various LUSH stores around Auckland so Stephanie could introduce herself to the staff and get a feel for what it would be like to transfer here. This went quite wonderfully–we found our way around the city without much trouble and she got along with folks very well. ūüėÄ

For dinner we met up with Bevan and Sarika at a place called Burger Burger where we were introduced to Roman, Emma, and Bruna (the latter two our hosts for the evening). After a hearty dinner–although at no point did I get a burger in New Zealand where I was down with everything going on–I lost the keys to the rental car while transferring like 60 pounds of books into Bevan’s car! We scoured everywhere for a good 20 minutes until after a second pass looking in his trunk, my kiwi buddy found them in one of the recesses where the hydraulics holding it up are.

Lost Key
THIS is what a natural 20 Perception check looks like.

Roman and Emma were fantastic hosts and we were treated to a CRAZY expensive scotch tasting while arguing about art, mythology, literature, and had genuinely the best night we’ve had with another couple in years. He also gave me a memory boost for my phone and suggested (rightly) that we download an offline map from GoogleMaps just in case we need it while on the road. I have to admit we did use it once or twice when really at a loss so Roman–mad props sir!

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The view from Roman and Emma’s awesome place.

DAY 3

Both Emma and Roman had to work early so were already gone by the time we woke up (again, incredibly trusting and generous). Humorously, I had the thought to make up the bed with sheets and such from their closet but we were undone from the start–apparently Roman’s mom was the next person to visit and was not super pleased that the backup sheets were on the mattress (and they, of course, were humorous about it and genuinely thankful that we made the effort.)

Grabbing breakfast at a nearby restaurant Emma suggested called Meadows (an elegant little place Stephanie was all about!) we got on the road to Matamata for the Shire. We made it to the town quite early so went about shopping (I found a blue man bodysuit for just $20! WHAAAAAAAAT!) then had a few beers in a tavern. One thing we very quickly realized is that New Zealand has a lot of immigrants and we wasted no time in pumping them all for information about their experiences with the move, all of which was overwhelmingly positive.

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Regulation in New Zealand is not amazing.

I’m going to drop a few photos of Hobbiton here but I have to tell you all–you have to go to The Shire. It is an AMAZING place and you will instantly be enchanted.

Once again, there are a bunch of videos on my YouTube channel. Unfortunately my phone died during the Green Dragon Inn 8 minute walkthrough but it was just as fantastic as the rest of the movie set.

Shortly after arrival I noticed this young guy was going barefoot and I was like “Shit! That’s brilliant!” so I rolled up my jeans and tied my shoes off on the sides of my belt, walking across Hobbiton as a hobbit ought to.

Once again, these photos and the videos DO NOT DO IT JUSTICE and you should make going here before you die a priority.

And again, @inpartiesss on Instagram has more photos of the trip.

I ended up befriending the barefooted fro-kid and after we got back to Matamata, realizing he was a hitchhiker, offered him a ride to Rotorua.¬†Thilsje (? pronounced “Daishe”) is an 18 year old from the Netherlands that had spent the last 8 months backpacking across the country so the ride to the next town was filled with lots of excellent discussion. Unfortunately that night he realized he lost his iPhone and while we tried to help him find it, as of yet he hasn’t had any luck. :/ If you happen to be coming across this while on the way to the tour and find an iPhone in Dutch, please turn it into an Apple store!

After dropping him off near city center we navigated to our hotel for the next two days–the Terume Hot Springs Resort–and hopped into the onsen bath after snagging some excellent thai food.

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I REALLY liked this hotel. Normally mixed genders in the public onsen are verboten, but Raymond (the proprietor) only had one other guest so made an exception for us. A+ buddy! (and don’t worry, we just took an excellent relaxing bath–she *did* get a footrub¬†but trust me, she’s the only one that enjoys that activity). We will definitely be going back here.

DAY 4

A cyclone hit New Zealand and dropped a crazy amount of rain all over the country so we were a bit bummed, but much to our surprise all the outdoor activities we had planned were still good to go!

Radio Stations and Advertisements
It occurs to me that I should mention these two things: New Zealand is not f#%(ing covered in advertisements like America and their radio stations kick ass. They played all the songs we (including esoteric Stephanie) would be playing had we brought CDs. It was crazy. Also their morning television news program? 300% better than anything on our cable networks.

First we went to some coastal bistro for breakfast then to Offroad New Zealand and hopped into 60 mph go-karts on a track covered with 2 inches of rain. Stephanie drove like a grandma and though I spun out 3 times, I also lapped her twice (and was 30 seconds from the leaderboard despite horrendous conditions). Next up was luging at Skyline Rotorua which ended up being way more fun than anticipated.

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For dinner we snagged some EXCELLENT Sichuan Chinese¬†then got back to the hotel for some more relaxing. Here’s another shot of how stunning this place was:

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DAY 5

I couldn’t resist another dip into the onsen baths before leaving this hotel. God do I want to go back there.

 

 

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Even the indoor baths are excellent.

We went to the 3-D Trick Art Gallery and had a BLAST! See Steph’s Instragram for photos! It was a great time, cheap, and will be entertaining for everyone of all ages–go do it. Then we filled up the tank and headed southeast toward Napier. I have to say again that the countryside of New Zealand is just stupid gorgeous, even in a rainstorm, and when I realized we were driving through the F#(%ING HILLS OF ROHAN I LOST MY MIND.¬†I surprised Stephanie with a visit to The Craters of the Moon in Lake Taupo whilst on the way and got lucky with the rain reducing to a drizzle while we walked around the (cheap, awesome) state park–also recommended.

By the time we got to Napier we were tired so just grabbed some food then got into the Beachfront Motel, a very snazzy spot with a big hot tub in the room and a balcony facing the sunrise.

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DAY 6

Despite weather predictions the rain didn’t fall in Napier so we dallied longer than we should have so I could snag about a dozen awesome art-deco pictures–which will totally be showing up in the¬†Book of Exalted Darkness! It was a long (gorgeous) drive to Waitomo and on the way we stopped at Lauren’s Lavender¬†where I tragically realized we were¬†not going to make it to our cave tour on time. The farm’s proprietor let me use her phone to call ahead and we organized a $50 upcharge to switch to the next morning (whew!) but do not worry–this was a blessing in disguise (see below).

In a few hours we made it to Waitomo proper, stopped by the caving place to apologize in person (and nail down exactly where it was so we could find it easily the next day), then made it to the Big Bird Bed and Breakfast to check in–another spot I loved. Not only did it involve a pretty sweet animal tour (including a miniature bull that will be declared the World’s Smallest Bull in 3 months time!), but the lady that owned it is named Anne and is the spitting image of my grandmother 20 years younger. The room itself was charming, rustic, crazy affordable, and the breakfast we got was awesome–we will be staying at this place in the future. With full bellies from sumptuous meals at HUHU Cafe¬†we turned in early.

DAY 7

That mishap with the Glowing Adventures cave tour? Turned out that the time we were scheduled for ended up going on the alternate path but with our new group, we got to take the main route at the maximum level of water! WHICH WAS AWESOME! I got a ton of excellent cave photographs (once again for use in the book I’m Kickstarting next week), Stephanie loved it (her favorite activity from the trip–even more than shopping), and it is a must-do activity if you are headed to New Zealand. Our tour was through untouched caverns so there were no railings or concrete paths, it was straight up spelunking and it was fantastic (even if the water was cold).

Afterward we decided to head straight back to Auckland, going to the Auckland VR Studio¬†before our appointed time. Unfortunately we couldn’t start early but they¬†did have a retro room that included the (unbeknownst to me) Sailor Moon arcade game which Steph bit into with zeal.

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Getting to play in their VR rooms was amazing and convinced Stephanie that we need to get a setup in the house. I was particularly impressed with her doodling with Google Tilt Brush and had a hell of a good time playing both¬†Quiver and¬†Accounting¬†(among others). Another great activity if you’re in the city.

Stephanie needed a break so we checked into our final place to stay: The Ascott Parnell Boutique Bed and Breakfast. Bart, I know you are going to come across this blog post and I want you take this in the best way possible because you are a consummate host and gave us a wonderful stay far exceeding our expectations, but what we could not tell you in person is this: you are totally a Bond villain, my friend. It was crazy entertaining and dubiously charming and I look forward to enjoying your particular charisma again over more drinks in the future, but it was truly uncanny.
For anyone considering staying with Bart and Therese, Stephanie and I both strongly, strongly recommend you do so and I look forward to the overwhelmingly positive impact I know they will have when Stephanie’s mother stays with them after we make the move to Auckland ourselves.
Once again: thank you both for allowing us to be guests at your wonderful home!

As a bonus, before we even set down our bags Bart pegged my hankering for malaysian food and suggested a delicious restaurant (Kopio) where I finally got myself some (phenomenal) rendeng.

DAY 8

Obviously, this was Stephanie’s favorite place among the hotels and so on that we stayed¬†at throughout the trip. Not only was everything modern and tres-chic (including a heated floor in the bathroom!), Bart and Therese cook great breakfasts and have some excellent wine on hand.
Unfortunately Therese does not come off as an overwhelmingly kind Bond villain, just an overwhelmingly kind host (but I’m not going to hold it against her).

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We spent the day checking out more of Auckland, Steph grabbed some Gucci shoes (and I got to give some tips to an aspiring childrens book author!), we ate INCREDIBLE ramen at Kiraku off the Queens Street Arcade, and then turned over the rental car. Afterward we wandered about, I bought a book from 1844 for my mom for Mother’s Day (it has flowers in the title because I keep it fre-fre-fre-fresssshhh), then I met someone very important about something¬†very¬†important, solidifying my move to New Zealand–so I got my drink on at Galbraiths Alehouse where the bartenders totally hooked us up with extra booze on the house to celebrate! More drinking was had back at the BnB (where Bart joined us for a great nightcap–again, I cannot stress how great of hosts he and Therese are, not to mention their honed talents for intriguing and lively conversation), and then we passed out for our last night in the city.

DAY 9

We took our time getting things together, having another great breakfast at the Ascott Parnell, and during the ride to the airport much to my chagrin Bart managed to guess¬†my age down to the year (he was just a year off for Stephanie but I suspect he shot low because, as a Bond villain, he is a ladies’ man). The ride back was just as uncomfortable and unpleasant as the ride there but mercifully shorter, and my parents–my great parents–picked us up from the airport with a sack of Chic-Fil-A, drove us to their house to snag Steph’s car, and we booked it back here so I could slide in late for an appearance on the Tome Show (which goes up this Monday).

WHEW!

Unfortunately I can’t¬†yet talk about what the job I’ll be doing is, but rest assured: it is awesome and many of you are going to be like “daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!” when I can hit the ground with it and get running. Until then though I’m going to diligently get up to speed on¬†Veranthea, Hypercorps 2099, 2099 Wasteland, Mists of Akuma,¬†and¬†Book of Exalted Darkness but within 6-9 months¬†my output is going to shrink considerably because I will be working a salaried gig halfway across the world.

If you made it all the way down here: thank you. Please comment and ask me any questions you might have and so on and so forth.

And for heaven’s sake: visit New Zealand!

 

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