After a few days, I can safely say I didn't catch any diseases from the woman who sat next to me on the airplane, coughing violently the entire 13 hours from Los Angeles to Auckland. That was lovely. Thankfully, there is very little time zone adjustment in flying from the West Coast to New Zealand. I recommend flying out at night. I hopped on the plane at 8:30pm in Los Angeles, fell asleep, woke up in the morning one day ahead in New Zealand. Imagine staying up slightly past your bedtime. That's what it takes to adjust to New Zealand time. I hit the ground running.
Auckland is like Seattle. Both are coastal towns. Both have high rates of boats per capita, though the boats in Auckland are nicer. There's an entire harbor full of super yachts (this is an official term referring to yachts over some obscene length, I think it's 92 meters or something like that). Larry Ellison's super yacht Katana was docked there, with his minions scrambling around all day to keep it polished and gleaming. Auckland has a tall, artificial structure called the Sky Tower. It's slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower. Seattle has the Space Needle. They look alike and have circular restaurants about 2/3's of the way up.
Auckland has the Victoria Park Market, which is like Seattle's Pike Place Market, except without the good restaurants and fresh fruit, vegetables, and seafood. In other words, a junk bazaar. The people in both cities are extremely laid back. Both have plots of land across the water. Seattle has West Seattle and Bainbridge Island. Auckland has Devonport and Rangitoto (sp?) Island.
The weather has been perfect. 70's, sunny, very mild humidity. The sun will cook you to a crisp--one bus driver said it was because the many cows on the island produced enough methane to punch a hole in the ozone layer. I can't say I mind and hope the weather holds.
A few things I can't get used to yet. This whole "driving on the other side of the road, steering wheel on the other side of the car" deal has me befuddled. Have I gotten so old that I can't learn new tricks? I stand at roads, looking both ways, afraid to cross for fear some car will appear from some unanticipated direction to run me over. On a related note, the sequence of the Walk/No-Walk signs is difficult to figure out. Crossing-the-street has proved to be the most challenging extreme sport I've done yet.
That Sky Tower? I jumped off of it. 192 meters. They put you in a jumpsuit and attach you to two cables, then they toss you off of a platform that's outside the observation deck. It's a controlled descent, but still, I found it terrifying. My legs were jelly out there on the platform. I'm not sure why. I think it was because it was like jumping off of a building and committing suicide, with all the city buildings around me to measure my descent. Much more frightening than bungy jumping in Africa, at least until I had fallen half way. For those of you in Seattle who wish to imagine what it's like, go up to the top of the Space Needle, climb up about halfway up the needle, walk out to the edge of a plank, and throw yourself off.
Everyone has a cute Kiwi or Australian accent. Occasionally I have no idea what they're saying to me, and after asking them to repeat themselves I'll just nod and smile. I've met very few Americans thus far, which might be a good thing. Every newspaper's headlines sport a large portrait of Dubya with headlines like "Bush Pushes for War" and "Prime Minister Urges Kiwis to Leave Iraq".
I saw the movie Whale Rider on opening night with a theater full of Kiwis. It's about a Maori tribe looking for a leader in modern times. Very fun to see it with the Kiwis, most of whom were teary-eyed by movie's end. I highly recommend the movie which focuses on the usual challenges in retaining cultural identity in the modern age (hint: eliminating some of the patriarchal and sexist attitudes towards women are a good start). The lead, 12 year old Keisha Castle-Hughes, is adorable.
The languorous pace of life takes some getting used to. At times I'm at a loss as to what to do next. For now, I'm headed out to the beach here in Paihia to soak in some rays by the warm, blue-green waters of the Bay of Islands. The beautiful sun makes even lazing around on the beach an acceptable activity. I hope to achieve the preternatural calm and zen of the models in flight safety movies as they illustrate how to inflate their life vests as their planes plummet into the ocean.
G'day mates, as my new Aussie friends would say.