13 - 16 December 2016
13.12.2016 - 16.12.2016 17 °C
Back in Auckland from Queenstown, still elated from our skydive, bit warmer weather, although not as good as might have hoped. Bit of shopping at Sylvia Park Mall, where Jess's branch of STA is located - very busy shop and long days, as mall hours apply. It has been good to see that NZ is neither as expensive nor as choice-restricted as Tom and Jess initially felt, but I can understand how it seemed that way, when they had everything to buy, having arrived here with just normal luggage, but then had to set up home. Quite a contrast with their life now, having furnished and equipped a two-bedroom flat and bought a car!
Burgers on the way home, but although the usual international brands are all available, Kiwi burger-companies serve up a very different product. They take a bit longer to prepare, but are generally much larger and offer additional ingredient choices such as avocado, beetroot, a fried egg, onion rings, mango, chia seeds, peanut satay sauce...as well as the obvious bacon, cheese, salad. You may imagine things can get very messy, but it also shows why McDonalds (Maccas), Burger King etc have made less of an impact. Similarly, barista coffee is almost universally available, even in filling-stations, so branded coffee-shops are far less evident - New Zealanders expect good coffee as a matter of course.
Wednesday 14th December - Happy Birthday Tom 😊 Jessica had booked a "bach" - a holiday-home - on Waiheke Island, forty minutes away from Auckland via a half-hourly ferry. Waiheke is described as having "its own unique warm micro-climate and is celebrated for its beautiful sandy beaches and world-class wines". It's an extraordinary contrast to the bustling city across the water, although we were quite surprised by the volume of traffic on the primary roads. I read a newspaper article saying that the island has ceased to be mainly a holiday destination and is now more like suburban Auckland,' the population having quadrupled in 25 years to 9000, with commuting on the rise - and house-prices with it'. The bach is lovely and actually a pretty good blueprint for the future home I would happily live in - hill-top, coastal location with dual-aspect wide-ranging views; open-plan living, two sides almost completely glass, verandah and decking all around; path down to the beach, local shop and takeaway; 15 mins walk to the village with shops and restaurants, where we dined on a terrace above the beach and watched the full- moon rise.
Thursday 15th - Island and wineries tour in a small mini-bus, which we shared with six others who turned out to be the owners and staff of a small, fashion-design company on their Christmas 'do' - what a great day out! There are thirty boutique wineries, of which we visited four for tastings, as well as having a leisurely lunch at Stonyridge, one of NZ's top producers, and whose busy restaurant was reminiscent of the south of France, including the popular "degustation platter" on offer. The company became most entertaining as the day progressed and more wine was consumed - a great day out, thank you again Jess. We enjoyed the evening back at the bach with the views, the hot-tub and sparkling rosé from "Thomas's Bach" Batch Winery (from where Jess felt compelled to buy two large glasses for the obvious reason!).
Friday 16th - Ferry back to Auckland and the reality of it being the last day of my New Zealand extravaganza. It has been a fantastic month in which I've seen a very great deal of this terrific country. I don't have a favourite island between North and South - both so different but with so much to offer. South - the dramatic scenery, wide-open spaces and sparse population, the excitement of Queenstown - perhaps an unexpected highlight unduly influenced by the skydive! North - big advantage of better climate, especially the sub-tropical north (that still seems wrong!), lots of lovely albeit less dramatic scenery, but with all the volcanic influence and the best beaches. Asked to identify my favourite place, I truly can't. I've been so fortunate to have the company and input of Tom and Jess - can't quite believe tonight is my last NZ sleep.
It's not quite all over. Tomorrow Tom joins me for the first leg of my homeward flight. Team Wardell will reunite for the first time in almost two years since Tom departed for NZ - we'll meet up in Las Vegas on 17th December to celebrate the 21st birthday of youngest member, Zack, an event we've been planning and looking forward to all year. For anyone not in the know, Las Vegas has a special place in our lives, as we lived there 1988-1990 when Graham was on an exchange posting from the RAF to the USAF. Josh was born there, so it seemed a fitting place for him to celebrate his 21st with Tom 6 years ago, with Ben and Zack on a promise they would go for Zack's 21st. Some time ago, Zack expressed a hope that the brothers would have another holiday together one day, the only previous time being when Ben worked a winter-season in the French Alps and Zack, at 17 was still at school and a little young to fully 'appreciate'(?!) it. When I proffered the Las Vegas 21st, the boys said it wouldn't be right without me there (thank you 😊), especially as it happens to be my birthday too, so the plan was hatched to tie-it in with NZ - a fitting finale for Susie's Big Trip. I will have an exceptionally long birthday, with time-zones meaning we land in LV earlier than we take off from here (21hours difference), arriving at 0930 there, and Zack will also gain an extra 8 hours - the UK three land noonish after taking off at 10! It will be quite a day for all of us... Late on the 18th I'll continue my return home, leaving the four brothers to create mayhem together for another four days and nights.
Mutti - sorry the 'bulletin' days are drawing to a close. I'm glad you've enjoyed them, hope others have too, while I have a record of what, where and when. Perhaps one more to come, although what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas!