6 January 2007, Auckland, Auckland Int'l YHA
    I've been in-country about a day and a half. I'm a little freaked out, to be honest, but for no good reason. I've screwed up some of the logistics and that's going to make my timetable more difficult, but nothing's seriously wrong yet. It's Saturday today; I couldn't find any banks open to ask about opening a temporary account. That shouldn't be too surprising considering the old adage about "banker's hours", but I'd've been able to find something in California. I didn't think about it yesterday, on my arrival, and so now I have to wait until Monday. How much time will an electronic transfer take for the money to be available, so that I can buy a car? Fneh.
    I'd been dreading the flight, a 12-hour direct from Los Angeles to Auckland, but it turned out not to be that bad. I still wouldn't recommend sitting in a confined place as a way to improve my general outlook and attitude, but Air New Zealand really is a step above the current condition of most American carriers these days, either the budget carriers or the normal airlines. Finally, seats that don't feel as if they were designed for someone 4'11" with a recurved spine. And excellent service. First time I've ever flown on a 747, either; with the advent of hub-and-spoke systems in the 80's, most of them have been phased out of service in the domestic US flights. I didn't try to sneak up to the upper floor, but there was notably more headroom even down in the cheap seats. The flight left LAX at about nine-twenty at night and we arrived in Auckland at about six-thirty (local time and a day off). I read some of Peter Senge's Fifth Discipline sourcebook for schools, watched the movies The Departed and Pirates of the Carribean 2 and got maybe four or five hours of fitful sleep before waking back up. Two benadryl didn't seem to do anything, even if they were spaced about an hour apart. So much for experimental self-medication.

Arriving at the Auckland airport, just about sunrise.

    I took a shuttle into the city and dropped my large bags off at the hostel in one of their lockers, bringing my daypack with me for some small exploring. I reconned Queen Street, clearly not a local but blending in to the hordes of other international backpackers. Evidently this is the young part of the city as everyone appears teenaged or in their twenties. It can't hurt that the University is only a few blocks away, as I stumbled on later. I walked down to the piers and poked around briefly, but they were set up for business, not casual nosiness. The climate seemed an odd mix of San Francisco, Norfolk, and a hint of southern California; Monterey or San Luis Obispo seemed the closest analogues, but with east-coast clouds and vegetation. Of course, it's its own distinct place and not a combination of my own former memories, but that's a starting point for comparison.

Looking back towards the city from one of the piers

    I had lunch at a greasy-spoon noodle shop and wandered over to Albert Park, having seen a sign for it. I passed by the Central Auckland Public Library on the way. I do seem drawn to libraries, but (sadly) this one didn't seem to have free wireless... I hung out in Albert Park for a while, but given its manicured design, I soon headed over to the University. I wasn't really looking for anything in particular, but saw signs for the Geology department and rooted around until I found Darren Gravely (CMC '96), who I'd had a couple of classes with a decade past while I was at Pomona. I'd asked Rick for his email a couple of times, but never followed up on it, so it was a complete surprise for me to walk in unannounced. I've got to stop doing that. We talked a while before he needed to meet with a colleague.

Albert Park and the Sky Tower in the background

    Walked back to the hostel, checked in, spent an hour searching for a backpacker's used-car market before finding it. I'm not sure if I'll use it or not, but it's a potential resource. The flyers at the hostel and TradeMe seem to have better prices.
    Haven't done much today. Went out briefly in search of an open bank, came back and read, went out to a mid-sized grocery store. Prices in general have been an unpleasant mild surprise, with everything more expensive than I'd expect. New Zealand apples are more expensive here than in the States. How does that work?
    I guess I'm paranoid about looking like a tourist, even though I am one. Even with no cars at all visible, people seem to largely adhere to the walk/don't walk signals (I've seen one where the "walk" symbol is a cute animated figure in green LEDs). Furthermore, some of the large intersections have a setting in their cycle where the entire square is open to pedestrians--both ways or diagonal. Odd to my eyes, but there's no reason against it. I'm trying hard to reprogram my brain for driving on the left before I actually have to do it, but I remain skeptical. I'm also afraid of making mistakes, but I should get past that and recognize that of course I'm going to make mistakes and get over it. Furthermore, in a refrain common to my traveling, I've got too much stuff. Should have gone all-in for one large backpack rather than two large duffles. It's hard to compromise mentally while in the planning stages, but so easy in retrospect while actually in the field. I'll be more comfortable once I've managed to buy a car, and much more comfortable once I get on trail.

10 January 2007, Auckland City YHA.
    Six days in. I'm headed out tomorrow on Magic's backpacker's bus. Never did find a way to transfer cash readily to NZ in order to buy a used car, despite setting up a local bank account. The bus should work out nearly the same, financially, after factoring the cost of gas (the equivalent of just over 4$US per gallon) and the ferry fees for a car crossing the strait twice. There's a loss of flexibility that worries me, though. Timing is so critical for photography, and I'm just not going to have it. There's no best way to do this. I still think about bike-touring the country; I'd love to come back some day to do it.
    Dropped a bag's worth of stuff off to storage, but I still have too much with me.
    Large questions loom just over the horizon, like: at thirty-three, who am I? Where do I go from here? Heh. I forsee many hours of staring off into the mountains or the ocean.

12 Jan 07, Central Whirinaki Hut.
    About five and a half hours up the trail today. Picked up from the Rotorua YHA this morning, bought a gas canister in town, shuttled out to the trailhead. At least an hour's drive, with commentary on the local geology, timber, and agriculture. Took the bus yesterday, leaving Auckland early and fetching the other backpackers from the various Auckland hostels. Lots of going in circles, it felt like. On the road after a brief stop atop Mt. Eden, through suburbs then rolling farmlands. Very glad to have finally left the city.

Looking towards downtown from Mt. Eden

A long ways from home

    Came down through Hamilton to Waitomo and the glowworm caves. I, ah, chose not to partake, having an inveterate dislike of tourist traps. Had a picnic lunch while musing about kids on swings, pendulums, and harmonic motion. Did a humid, hot, and short bushwalk for about an hour.

Lunch and some inspiration for physics classes

    Back on the road down to Rotorua. Lots of people were napping on the afternoon shift--nice not to be driving, at least. I'd picked up a copy of Anne Rice's Pandora at the Auckland City Hostel and got about halfway through that. Any reading will be pure serendipity the rest of the trip; I left everything but the guidebooks behind. We made an obligitory circuit of historic Rotorua, but I suspect we were most interested in the grocery store, the restaurants, and the bars. Although not necessarily in that order. Very jarring to see fumaroles, hot pools, and other thermal features surrounded by manicure lawns and cultivated gardens.
    Walked across town to buy supplies for the backpack, then had good Thai (yellow curry) before coming back to the hostel to repack again. Slept fitfully. Considering I already have (paid) reservations in Taupo and Wellington, I hope I can get some solid sleep in the huts along this tramp.
    Not too much to note for today's hike. Mostly flat, following the Whirinaki river. "WH", in the Maori, by the way, is pronounced as "f". So it sounds something like "fear-in-ah'-kee". It was semi-continuous drizzle with light rain at times. I didn't photograph much, despite bringing the Mamiya. Te Whaiti-Nui-A-Toi canyon was close in and interesting, but even at only f11, it needed an 8-second exposure at ASA100. By that point, even the slightest breeze pushes leaves and ferns around. I'm trying out the tiny Gitzo CF tripod, but even so I'm not used to the weight of a full pack. Probably a little over 40 pounds today.
    It gets harder from here, turning into a track rather than a trail.

Whirinaki Falls

Fern fronds

The Central Whirinaki Hut

13 Jan, Central Whirinaki again.
    Rain. Change in plans. Up to Plateau road, over the ridge to upper Whirinaki hut, towards Mangamate, down the stream to Central. About 8 hours moving. Some crazy trails, straight up and straight down, no switchbacks. One section of the route came straight down the stream, in water up to mid-thigh depth. My thigh, at least, and I'm 193cm or 6'4". The Kiwi way is to just walk straight in, with your boots and socks on, and just get wet. They do things a little differently over here...
    Rain threatened flooding on one of the side-streams I was going to use to complete a loop, so back to the same hut.

Trail time on the North Island

New fronds unrolling

14 Jan. Day 3 on the Whirinaki and out. Rotorua YHA.
    Rain again. Pouring at times; the river seemed up about 0.5 to 1m, judging by the amount some of the rocks were submerged. Soaked to the skin by the end, with rivulets of water pouring down my back. Successful pickup and shuttle back to Rotorua. Did laundry, cooked dinner. Unmotivated and didn't want to risk getting wet again walking back into town. Watched an episode of Lost, understood very little, and read the first Harry Potter.

A glimpse into the ancient podocarp forest, looking a bit like the Jurassic


Sabbatical notes
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