Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand
Part I - Australia, Part II - New Zealand

Saturday, October 29, 2016

28.Oct.2016 Part 2 - Back in San Francisco

No Window shade, just a dimmer switch

We got on and had a row to ourselves - 2 people with 3 seats. We were in the bulkhead, so it didn't have armrests you could lift, but instead had those tray tables and entertainment units that pop up from the arm rests. This is a Dreamliner, and yet again has a dimmer switch for the window instead of a window shade that you open or lower.

Despite the fact that I am an elite flyer with United - and now Victoria is too - we didn't get what you would call great service. The tray tables tilt towards the passenger - fine for an adult, but after a moment of looking stable, in the blink of an eye, Victoria's scalding hot dinner flipped onto her. She shrieked in pain. I moved her to the other empty seat, but the flight attendants were not very concerned about the burnt child. Seriously. I said to two different flight attendants "she was burnt by the scalding hot peas and potatoes", they offered napkins. When I asked if she could have more food they said that was all that they had. Lack of empathy and lack of food was not a win for United. Watch this space for updates after I raise my concern.

Anyhow, most of the flight went well outside of dinner. Victoria watched a couple of movies and slept most of the flight - seriously, she must have been out for 7-8 hours of a 12 hour flight. I binge watched the entirety of Game of Thrones Season 1. (In case you're wondering, no, she is not curious what is on my screen when her screen works well and has Little Mermaid or Kung Fu Panda 3)
Landing in San Francisco was extremely efficient until we got in the taxi. Literally, from the plane through passport control to baggage through customs was less than 30 minutes. From the airport to home is always between 25 and 40 minutes - it was an hour and 15 minutes. It's never taken anywhere close to that long. Turns out a fuel truck flipped over on the Bay Bridge ruining Friday morning traffic for everything to and from San Francisco. On the plus side, we had a chance to slowly take in our return to San Francisco and i could read multiple articles about Virginia Tech's dramatic victory over Pitt in football while we were flying.

Got home and actually put Victoria into pre-school. She slept well enough and it was a chance to see her friends. I watched (ESPN Replay) the Virginia Tech game and napped. Then I had to take my son to two places where he is putting on Halloween shows. My son is now 11 (for those reading the earlier blog entries, he has gotten older) and runs his own sound and light business. Anyhow, I took him to one house where he was putting on a Halloween party (tonight - about 30 kids, 30 adults - seriously good party) and another where we are helping to put on their Halloween night decorations and show. In my neighborhood, we got two kids trick-or-treating last year. TWO! My friend says that they get over a thousand (!!!) and it's a bit of an arms race in his neighborhood to have the best setup, so Alex is going to professionally support him.

For me, the net of this was a) trying to attend a party on hours 37-42 of October 28th with maybe one hour of napping, and b) re-acclimate to driving on the right. At least for me, the funny part about driving in New Zealand and Australia is not the act of driving on the left. Aside from one brief moment when I did a U-turn in the country and came out of it on the right (with nobody around), driving on the correct side is not the problem. When I took Alex around, my problem was approaching the wrong side of the car when I could come out to the car - walking up to the front left door (then circling to the front right), although I seem to have gotten past that these last two trips to the Antipodes. No, the funny part for the first week and again back home today is that I keep hitting the windshield wipers when I mean to use the turn signal. One other things is that is different (and important to keep in mind) in New Zealand and Australia is that the speed limit is the limit. In a 100 km/ hr zone, they don't start ticketing at 115 or 120, they start at 101 or 102 km/ hr. Something tells me it won't take long to re-acclimate to 65 meaning 73.

Hope you enjoyed it. All the Best...

Friday, October 28, 2016

28.Oct.2016 Part 1 - Farewell New Zealand

It's rare that you wake up expecting the day to be literally longer than 24 hours. [Note: for those who use the term literally to mean figuratively (e.g. "he literally destroyed the guy" yet the guy remains), please understand I mean literally literally] I've awoken to what will be literally a 44 hour day. (San Francisco is 20 hours behind Auckland, thus, my October 28 will keep going and going).

Victoria and I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at our hotel, the Esplanade. From there, we went for a stroll - along the water, to the playground, and up the street. As you can see, she is enjoying her new Kiwi shirt.

Auckland Skyline, Devonport Beach, and Victoria

Those who are married to me (there aren't many) know that I like getting to the airport a little early. Yeah, we got to the airport just before the United desk opened for check-in, so I had Victoria run a few slalom runs through the empty lanes for both general boarding and Premier Access. Thanks to the stopwatch function on my phone, she was interested in this exercise and I am optimistic she'll nap shortly after we board. Her personal best on the Premier Access slalom was 10.11 seconds. You'll note above and below that the fox has quickly re-assumed the #1 spot because after it was washed and dried, she dropped the penguin on the dirty mats under her car seat, so it's on the checked luggage DL (Disabled List for the non-sports readers) until it gets washed at home. Yet again, the lounge is a good place for kids as there is a little kids-zone in the Air New Zealand lounge.

As an added bonus, I just got an e-mail from my new employer about my first few days of work. It's going to be fun, but this has been fun. Time to fly is coming soon. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

27.Oct.2016 Back into Auckland

This morning we said farewell to Phil and Wendy at the Decks of Paihia. From there it was an easy drive into Auckland (with only three rounds of the Frozen soundtrack).

One quirk in New Zealand is that there are only three toll roads in the whole country with tolls of about $2 each. The way to pay it is to go online - I just can't imagine that they collect enough to make it worthwhile. I also feel for those who are uncomfortable with technology trying to fugure our how to pay their fees.

So we fueled up one last time before returning the car to Hertz tomorrow. Victoria is loving the Kinder Surprise Eggs that we find at the gas stations. The prizes right now are mostly Frozen and Finding Dori related. Too bad the US government bans these fun little things back home.

So Devonport is a charming, cute little town analogous to Tiburon or Sausalito in San Francisco. We are staying in a historic hotel right across from the ferry. After dropping off our luggage, we hit the playground across the street then jumped on the ferry to Auckland. The earlier Auckland bay tour included a round trip ticket on the Devonport Ferry, so I was hoping to use it today or tomorrow.

As soon as we landed at the Auckland Ferry Terminal, Victoria asked if we were getting on a bus today. We weren't planning to, since we already did bus tour of Auckland. But it wasn't a bad idea and I figured I'd be carrying her in a few blocks anyway. So we crossed the street from the Ferry Terminal and saw a duck tour bus - water/land. Having enjoyed a Duck tour in Seattle, the Auckland Adventure Duck tour seemed worth a shot. Yet again, Victoria was free- although it was a close win (3 & under - whew, made it by a month!). It was good. As a quick aside, I had said on day one that their road signs look like ours. Problem is, I tend to be driving when I see them. This time I was on the duck and caught a photo of a freeway sign. Tell me that last photo couldn't be one of ours.

Not Foreign, aside from being on the wrong side of the road
When we finished the land/water tour, we just took the ferry back, hit the same playground again, and got dinner at an English Pub up Victoria Road from our hotel (and the playground). The mixed grille was good - and rather carnivorous as you can see. We heard a group of guys with American accents behind us discussing airplanes and routes. As they were leaving, I asked who they fly for. They fly for American Airlines, so we won't see them tomorrow.


After strolling further up Victoria Road, we found "the Vic" - The Victoria Theater is more than 100 years old with a little bistro for the side featuring tapas and ice cream (sounds like our speed, if we hadn't just eaten). We got back to the hotel and noticed that they are ready for Halloween and so are we. I'll bet Victoria is ready for her friends and above all, mommy. And that's the agenda for tomorrow. Seriously. After a full Friday morning, we'll fly home at 2:30pm, land the same Friday in San Francisco, just before 7am, and Victoria will get the chance to jump right back into things. Should be fun.

The Vic
Ready for Halloween

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

26.Oct.2016 Bay of Islands

Today was a fun day in the local area. We were awoken by a friendly call from mommy. Yet another wonderful breakfast at our B'n'B (The Decks of Paihia). Next thing you know, we jumped in the car, went down the hill, and caught the passenger ferry over to Russell. The Bay of Islands really is beautiful.
Victoria was not supportive of the "sitting on a shark" option

Russell is an interesting little town - we took a one-hour tour that was absolutely fascinating. Most are perfunctory and worth it primarily for the views, this was worth it for the narration alone. Russell used to be a nasty whaling town called Kororareka, known as the "Hell Hole of the Pacific" (now a bagel shop is called the Hell Hole). So they rebranded as Russell and it's an upscale little town with loads of million dollar houses and a resort that costs $17,000/ night. By nasty, I mean that in addition to the fine tavern, brothel, and brawling amenities that a sailor might reasonably expect to find on shore leave in various ports in the 1800s, there was still a little mild cannibalism going on. Apparently Charles Darwin was afraid he would become part of the food chain when he visited on the HMS Beagle. We very much enjoyed our tour and were pleased to see that "Human" was not on the menu for lunch.

This seems like a good time to point out that - yet again - as a child under 5, Victoria was free for everything (except food). Free on the ferry to Russell and free on the tour bus in Russell. Sound familiar? It should. She was free on the tour bus of Auckland, free in the harbour cruise of Auckland, free on 2-hour Hobbiton tour, free in the Haka performance & dinner, free on the boat ride/ sheep shearing in Queenstown, free at the Antarctic Experience in Christchurch, free at the Valleys of the Moon in Lake Taupo, and probably some other things I am missing. Being a tourist in New Zealand with a child of Victoria's age is fantastic.

After the ferry back to Paihia, we wrapped up the pre-nap afternoon with a little playground action, which was boring as the local kids were all in school.

On the sundial

Pitt Street, but not exactly Pittsburgh on the Pacific

As she napped, I got a bit of a sunburn sitting by the pool and typing things to this point.

Sunshine on the Decks of Paihia

She awoke, ready to enjoy the pool and get on with the day. We hit the pool, then a different playground near the one we saw above. The school next to the playground has looks sort of like a Maori meeting house (I haven't seen "Whale Rider" for at least a decade, but it looks the part. Attached to it was a little artistic rendering, like a mini Parc Guell (Gaudi in Barcelona). If you blow up the picture below you can see it even has a title ("the Corner of Dreams") in Maori, English, and Spanish. Maybe I have not visited enough remote elementary schools in the South Pacific, but it was certainly unexpected.

Lastly, we got dinner at a restaurant located on the pier, over the water, with an aquarium. Yet again, we went quiet and low key - all good.  Funny thing is that every restaurant costs the same no matter if it is a loud ribs joint or a nicer one with great views.

Tomorrow is our last full day. We'll say goodbye to the good folks running the Decks of Paihia - Phil and Wendy - and return to Auckland.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

25.Oct.2016 Cape Reinga and some Turnabout

One of the fun things about breakfast at a Bed and Breakfast is meeting your hosts and the guests. This morning was no exception. So the two Australian couples are retired and traveling together. They are off to Auckland, continuing on to Fiji and points in the South Pacific. The Dutch couple is also finishing up their visit to NZ and heading to Auckland - then home. It was fun to chat with them and Victoria loved being the center of even more attention.

Cape Reinga is the northernmost point in New Zealand, the point at which the Tasman Sea (on the left/ West) meets the Pacific Ocean (on the right/ East).  We drove up today and hit lunch, a beach, and a bit more on the way back to the hotel. Yet again, the view is absolutely spectacular and lives up to the hype.

Victoria may not be reading yet, but after seeing Pukenui, Puketi, Pukekohe, Puketotara, Puketona, and Pukepoto, she got sick as we were cruising at 90-95km/hr on rolling hills. No photos go with this, but if she's going to do so, I appreciate her waiting until the end of the trip.

So, this brings us to our Penguin, who was in the middle of things when Victoria (ahem) let it go.  [Quick Aside: I have listened to the Frozen Soundtrack about 4 to 7 times per day every day since I got here - consider yourself fortunate that I am not using the phrases "Let it Go", "First Time in Forever", and "A Bit of a Fixer Upper" in every post. Seriously.] The Fox, which went from special loved one to afterthought in mere moments a week ago (see 17.Oct.2016) has lived to see the worm turn. Well, as the Penguin looks like a pathetic victim post-Exxon Valdez cleanup and sits on the not-yet-dry disabled list, the Fox has pounced, retaking the role as the starter at bed time. #DarwinStrikesBack Not sure if this will work out like Toy Story. Either way, Victoria was the winner tonight with "Learning Football with the Hokie Bird" - truly an under-appreciated work of literature.
Stay Down, buddy

Bedtime with the Fox and some fine literature
Things didn't really slow up our day as much as it might have. She was down to a bathing suit, so we went to a beach en route back to the hotel. Victoria discovered that beaches are sandy, messy, and kinda cold. Got back to the hotel, showered, went to the pool, then hit the local playgound on the beach. Who doesn't love a playground on a beach?

We wrapped it up with a really good dinner at Alfresco's that (in a change of pace) was neither loud nor greasy. The sunset is beautiful around here. I've got to say that the islands are so close offshore, if I was with the whole family, I'd likely swim to one of the islands while Victoria ignored me in favor of Aneta. They are close and the water is so calm here.

Tomorrow, we'll do some fun things around the Bay of Islands.