New Zealand Diaries #17 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

New Zealand part 15: The Long Journey Home

12 Jan. Today will last approximately 43 hours. We wake up around 08:00, and we check out by 09:45. Our flight to LAX doesn’t leave until evening, so we have some time to do a few more things. There is a zoo in Hamilton, as well as botanical gardens. Having seen several gardens, we choose the zoo. It’s cloudy today, light sprinkles, pleasantly cool.

The Hamilton zoo is really nice! Good landscaping and design on the paths around the enclosures. We see some black chimpanzees, simangs (a gibbon relative), tamarins, ring-tail lemurs and ruff-neck lemurs. Sumatra tiger, bobcat, a painted hunting dog with beautiful coloration. As we head toward the tiger exhibit, Kelly stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk. I look ahead to see what has caught his eye. The winding path has tall grasses and flowers along the sides, and the zoo has taken a life-sized photo cutout of a tiger and hidden it behind the grasses. It is quite startling!

We head to the plains/savannah exhibit. I look at the giraffes at the far side of the enclosure, and Kelly says “Hey, there’s an ostrich!” I start to look around and then jump as the ostrich approaches me, walking along the other side of the fence about ten feet away. How you can miss a bird like that, I do not know, but I had no clue it was nearby. It is a great mellow morning. The sun is coming out occasionally and the rain has ended. We sit for a few minutes at the cafe, watching the arrogant peacock looking for handouts.

We decide to take one last walk to the aviary, and start hearing strange hooting calls. Sounds ape-ish? Maybe the chimps are waking up and talking? So we walk all around the zoo again locating the sounds. We end up at the simangs. They have a huge inflatable throat sac, and when they inhale, the sac inflates and it makes a low bellowing noise. Then they hoot and call on the exhale. We stand there watching for a long time. Kids plug their ears as they approach, a baby freaked out and the parents had to leave. It was really loud and interesting.

Then it’s on to Auckland. Since we have time to spare, we head towards the coast at Bucklands Beach. There is a long windy road (last time I say that, promise!) barely two cars wide that heads somewhere. We follow to the end, and there is a car park saying “Musick Point” with a sign showing the way to stairs to the water. We pass a radio station (guessing this is where the name came from) that looks active, lots of cars parked around it. Then a short trail down to a series of very steep steps. The sort where you don’t like to take your hand off the handrail. Especially since the bottom of the steps where there used to be a wide rock platform is now barely a foot wide, with the rocks sitting in the water. We squirm around the handrail to a short rocky promontory and enjoy a few last views of NZ. The waves are splashing the rocks, the sun is out, we have a great view of the harbor.

Back up to the car, we find a pub called the Barrel Inn. They can do GF gravy on their roasts, so I get lamb roast with corn flour gravy, and Kelly tries a lamb kofta. We finally try the Speight’s Cider on tap: it is quite good! Then it’s out to the car, and head to the airport. We drop off the car, and get through security. We actually have a bag to check now. We have a habit of packing an empty large duffel bag on long trips, and then the dirty clothes go home in checked luggage and our souvenirs and expensive things stay with us in our backpacks.

Buy a few last trinkets to use up our NZ currency. (I twist Kelly’s arm really hard to make him buy another pair of sparkly earrings.) There is a set of massage chairs, and it’s two dollars for six minutes. Never tried one, but it sounds good right now. Oh, yes, it is good. I go for two rounds, the second right before we board. Kelly tries it too.

We are aisle/center again. Our seatmate is a smaller guy returning from his daughter’s wedding in Australia. It is a long, long flight to LAX. Scheduled for 12.25 hours, we have the winds so it’s “only” 11.5 hours. Kelly takes the center seat. I have the tough decision: get little sleep and walk a lot to spare my back? or sleep and wake with a back that will hate me for a week? I choose not to sleep. As we fly over the Pacific, I think about general NZ things.

The population is so small that unless you are in a city, there are few stop signs or stop lights. Most intersections are yields or roundabouts. Summertime brings a lot of signs along the road for plums, cherries, blueberries, and other fruits. Bumblebees are enormous! Land Rovers occasionally go by with a snorkel attachment above the hood for fording.

“Sweet as” is a Kiwi phrase roughly translated as a really strong “good on ya!” We did hear “good on ya” a few times. The country tends to be windy, and many places have wind-driven art. The mailboxes often have a “no junk mail” sticker or “no circulars” or something similar.

A t-shirt in Akaroa: I married Miss Right. I just didn’t know her first name was Always.

Kelly gets good sleep on the flight, thankfully. He will be driving home! Dinner and breakfast are tasty, with GF meals for me again. We get into LAX on time despite a late departure. An interminable line for immigration leads to a thankfully shorter line for customs. Good people herding by the employees. We need to find a bus to a different terminal for our next flight. It takes a while, but we eventually crowd onto a shuttle. A short wander around our section of the airport, and then head to the gate. Another late departure since the incoming plane is deboarding as we are supposed to be boarding. LAX has some nice gate seating, and good power outlets to charge your devices.

The flight from LAX to MSP is fine, the usual cramped quarters on Delta. Arrive on time, we remember to grab our checked bag, and then hail a taxi. A short ride to St. Paul to pick up our car and then the hour drive home. Our weather luck is holding: the polar vortex has left and it is a balmy 30 degrees, so the car starts just fine.

Home, kitties! It’s still 12 Jan, though it’s 30-some hours after we awoke. Fall asleep to four purring beasties, wake up to four purring beasties. This has been one of our best trips ever, but: East, west, home is best.

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I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.