Auckland's CBD & Waiheke with C.J.

Recently Emmett and I left Invercargill, our home of five months here in New Zealand. Our first plan of action before finding a new place to live and work was to fly to Auckland. Why? To meet his sister - and one of my very good friends - CJ at the airport and then spend a few days in her company before she began her exchange semester at University of Auckland.

We were super excited to see her - even before we left Invercargill, we made her a little sign to greet her at arrivals with. So: we left Invercargill, spent a night in our car in Christchurch then flew to Auckland. We got to Auckland about 15 hours before CJ's flight was to arrive so we ended up spending a night at the airport. We got a pretty good spot to spread out that was out of the way - between a dwarf statue from The Hobbit and the escalator. It was not particularly comfortable (airport floors never are) but it was free. 

We woke up pretty early (around 5:30) and brushed our teeth. Then we went to stake out our spot near International Arrivals. Holding our sign and watching all of the tearful reunions between other families made us even more happily anxious to see her.

The arrivals board alerted us that her flight was indeed in Auckland - that much we knew. The flight from L.A. had landed shortly before 7 AM... but we didn't end up seeing her until 8:30. It was my fault, honestly. I'd asked her to bring a pair of my hiking shoes from home and she had to declare them for the persnickety New Zealand Immigration officers to examine for dirt or potential invasive microbes. When she finally came through the gate, it actually surprised us! We'd been standing for over an hour and only just sat down on one of the seats near Arrivals when she popped out of the security gate.

We had a little tearful hug-filled reunion, she exchanged some cash and then the three of us took an Uber to her student apartment building. CJ was definitely a bit knackered from her flights but I could tell as the sights of the city flickered before her stylish circular specs that she was pretty jazzed to be in New Zealand.

We checked into her student flat which was pretty "flash" (quality), as they say here in NZ. She had a room to herself with an ensuite bathroom and kitchenette. She unpacked a few bits and bobs before the three of us headed out into the city with two purposes: a) to begin getting her acquainted with the city and b) to get some delicious brunch. We walked through the Atrium  on Takutai, the diminutive La Cigale Market, and the shops around Britomart. Emmett couldn't stop expressing how excited he was for CJ to be starting her new adventure in Auckland. He was almost bursting with glee & brotherly love.

Shortly after that, we realized we'd gotten off track from our route to a brunch spot we'd looked up previously. Unfazed, we walked along the wharf to look at the Harauki Gulf and the Fuller's ferries. There we stumbled upon a samurai fighting technique demo for Japan Day 2017 in front of The Cloud. When we'd had our collective fill of faux sword fighting, we walked directly to our brunch destination: Oaken, a hip little place just next to Britomart. (We'd walked right by and hadn't realized...) We started our meal with some refreshing smoothies (Emmett & I) and fresh pressed juice (CJ). It wasn't too long after we'd knocked back most of our colorful drinks when our plates arrived: Saganaki (fried cheese) with a sourdough side for me, a mushroom & two-cheese Oaken toastie for CJ, and petite liege waffles for Emmett. Fancy and scrumptious.

To get an even better feel for the city, we then walked up the main thoroughfare of Queen Street. We mostly people-watched and window-shopped. Eventually we rounded a corner, strolled through an atrium, and found ourselves at Myers Park. The place was booming, literally, with a locally based hip-hop group playing as part of the Myers Park Medley event that day. We watched the group get funky & got nervous about some tinsel monsters. Then we had to make a stop at Real Groovy so that Emmett could spend spend spend - I mean, add some vinyl to his collection. CJ and I didn't mind too much; the upstairs portion of the shop had endless knickknacks, books, and ephemera to keep us entertained for a bit.

After Emmett had new records in hand, each one of us were starting to physically feel our respective lack of sleep. We walked through the city, making a quick detour through parts of University of Auckland's campus to see what CJ's new school is all about.

After that quick U of A tour: group nap time. At CJ's student flat, we all fell asleep. Emmett and I woke up after an hour or two but CJ was really down for the count with her jet lag. We left her to rest in full nap mode and then the two of us went to Saigonz to get some delicious Vietnamese vegetarian fare. What we got: three orders of vegetarian fried noodles, and a three-pack of summer rolls. The verdict: yum. Would do again, for sure.

Immediately after waking CJ and chowing down while sitting on the floor of her flat, we all pretty much passed out.

The next morning, we woke up and got ready - Orientation was on the schedule. We briefly joined the surprisingly (intimidating, even) large hordes of international students awaiting the afternoon's informative events. Then we tried to inquire about CJ's student ID card, but found more hordes and a long queue. Back at the initial super group of foreign students, we grabbed some free cookies (Thanks, U of A!) and then stood around a jam-packed auditorium while CJ and her ilk got the rundown of how to navigate the city & campus.

After that, I think CJ was quite tired of the whole forced newbie-mingle vibe so we decided to check out the Auckland Domain. Auckland Domain is a massive green chunk of the city (and Auckland's oldest park) located pretty close to campus. We walked up to the Wintergardens and oohed & ahhed over the exotic plant life there. (I was personally most surprised and excited to see a cacoa tree).

After goofin' in the gardens, we walked back through the giant fern-forested portion of the park. It never ceases to amaze me to be beneath ferns much taller than myself.

By then, it was well past noon and we were all quite peckish. We walked across the city to the Foodcourt at the Atrium on Elliott. A bit of background: when Emmett and I first arrived in Auckland in late August 2016, on our first day in New Zealand, we stumbled upon the very same foodcourt. We ended up getting a vegetarian curry noodle soup from the Bali Star counter and it was so divine that we had it again only two days later. So, of course we had to get CJ to try it. And I had it again, too. Just as perfect as I remembered. Also: not only does it taste great but it comes in an enormous portion fit for two meals. (Though I ate the whole bowl, whoops!)

After the curry noodle soup, we were all feeling like a cold thirst-quencher was in order. We walked around the foodcourt to the Taiwanese Quickly Fresh stall and ordered some bubble tea. They have about a hundred (only a slight exaggeration) different combinations of tea and ice and bubbles (or jelly) available. I ordered a strawberry milk tea, Emmett ordered a lychee fruit tea, and CJ got an iced coffee - all with tapioca "pearls" on the bottom.

After chilling with our bubble teas, we helped CJ on her first grocery run and then returned to her flat. There we briefly talked to Emmett & CJ's parents who said it was kinda "weird to see the three of us together again" on video chat. After the chat, we helped CJ set up her room to make it feel more homey. Look at how cute she and the little U of A kiwi-logo that matches her bedspread are:

We took it easy at the flat for a bit and then decided dinner was next. We weren't super hungry and definitely weren't feeling like spending much. Ultimately, we ended up grabbing a five dollar pizza from a place near her dorm then hit the liquor store for some Scrumpys. We'd missed CJ's 21st birthday a few months before, so it was time to celebrate. Scrumpys are one of Emmett's and my favorite alcoholic beverages available here in New Zealand. They taste great and are the best bang for your buck, so to speak. We drank them and watched Arrested Development and chatted till we got cider-sleepy.

The next day, Tuesday, was the last day of our reunion trip to Auckland. We tried not to think about how we'd be parting ways and instead distracted ourselves with a day trip to Waiheke Island. Waiheke is technically an island-bound suburb of Auckland CIty, just a 30 minute ferry ride across the Hauraki Gulf. On the boat ride over we chatted with two different older American duos until we were suddenly pulling into the Matiatia Bay of Waiheke.

Before we headed inland, Emmett and I took CJ part of the way up the tramping path from Matiatia to Oneroa. Back in September, we had stayed on Waiheke for four days and the tramp was one of our favorite things we did - just because the views were so lovely. The views this time around on our abridged tramp with CJ did not disappoint either (click the panorama below for more detail). In fact, it was the perfect place for a little impromptu photoshoot.

We really wanted to visit one of Waiheke's numerous acclaimed vineyards next. Buses were costlier than we'd have liked so we decided to try our luck at hitch-hiking. We caught a ride from a very cute and knowledgeable resident of Waiheke, the elderly Dutch-born Frito. Frito told us about his life and spoke about everything with a childlike wonder. He first took us to Waiheke's oldest vineyard; unfortunately it was closed due to roadwork. Next he took us on a detour to a spot where all of Waiheke's illegal roosters roosted before dropping us off at another winery where we parted ways. Frito was an excellent unofficial tour guide; I'm glad to have snapped his picture with Emmett before he was gone.

At Wild on Waiheke, we settled in for an afternoon snack and a wine tasting. We decided on a bread and spread platter with local olives. Each wine we had was delicious but I'm partial to rose and this one tasted/smelled like strawberries, so... I'd definitely recommend it over the others.

We thought about visiting some more vineyards but it wasn't really in our group budget. So, instead we ended up heading for the beach by way of the Onetangi Vineyard Walk. The trail took us along the properties of about four or five wineries on the way to Onetangi Beach. We strolled through olive groves, alongside vines loaded with grapes, and through gorgeous rolling hills as cicadas buzzed loudly in the trees above us. It wasn't long before we found ourselves at the steep steps descending to Onetangi Beach.

After a quick detour for snacks, sunscreen, and a local bottle of wine from the gas station nearby, we were ready to cool off on the expansive sands of Onetangi. We settled into the powdery white sand under the shade of a tree-lined cove at one of the beach's ends. We drank some wine, ate a snack, and then eventually jumped in the cool surf. It was the perfect way to spend a few sunny hours in the late afternoon.

After our magical beach time, we caught a ride to the closest bus stop with a Kiwi guy and his pup. Then we hopped on the bus, arriving at the ferry terminal as the sun began to set. Onboard the ferry, we made friends with some tipsy Australians, hooted at the next incoming ferry (to our weary captain's chagrin), and watched the light fade over Auckland's skyline.

Back at CJ's flat we took turns showering, ate a small dinner, and then turned in.

The next morning we packed up and said goodbye. But not for long - I hope it's just a matter of time before we take on even more of New Zealand as a trio.

P.S. For CJ's take on our reunion in Auckland, check out her posts about it on her fledgling blog here and here.