Sometimes you just go for it, because if you let fear determine your ability to live fully, you’re screwed. “We must risk delight, we must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” (A quote by Jack Gilbert from Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic) So when the opportunity came up to take a trip down under, we said yes, and started our countdown to Tony.
Doing things last minute does have its advantages but not when it comes to air travel. Ten hours into a flight to New Zealand (In route to Australia) more than proved my point. As we boarded the plane I remember passing through the first class cabin, then business, and down into the bowels of the aircraft, where the economy seats are packed in like sardines. Larry and I squeezed into our pair of assigned seats at the very back of the plane. Yes, a shared wall with the bathroom was a bonus, and we settled in for a fragrant twelve hour flight. The airplane is the perfect microcosm for life, with built in status symbols, and blatant structuralism. Once you are seated, your options for upgrades are severely limited, and by the time they get to the back of the plane so are the meals. I also need to rethink my carry ons because it’s the stuff one must travel with that puts you over the edge. Phones, handbags, books, pillows, backpacks, blankets, neck guards, iPads, newspapers, magazines, headsets, reading glasses, compression socks, plugs, batteries, blackout masks, chapsticks, passports, and bottled water. (Always an eye on the slippery passports, “Do you have the passports?” “I thought I gave them to you?” “Wait, did we leave the at the airport bar?”). We also had some little blue pills, over the counter sleeping medication (that look a lot like viagra but purchased for a completely different purpose), guaranteed to put one into a deep slumber. I could really run with this one but my mother would not approve. Let me just say I was dreadfully uncomfortable, couldn’t actually sleep, but too relaxed to read (and sex was not an option). We arrived in Auckland, New Zealand at 6:00 am, it was still dark, and our room would not be available until two in the afternoon. We crossed the IDL (International Date Line) and now I have no idea what day it is or what time it is in my zone. I think zombie says it all. So we clamored into a taxi with our oversized luggage, backpack, purse, carry-ons, and headed into the city. Now I know it’s the middle of the summer in the United States but in New Zealand it is the middle of winter. Down jackets in July, it’s just wrong. I packed boots, long pants, sweaters, sweatshirts, scarfs, and a bathing suit in case we come upon a hot tub. It happens. We left our luggage at the hotel and went in search of adventure. We found it down at the wharf.
New Zealand is a bunch of small islands, all gathered in the same vicinity, in the middle of the damn ocean, something to do with volcanic activity. Comforting. I have no idea how the pilot found it. Without a lot of forethought we decided to hop on a ferry and check out Devonport. It’s a ten minute ride to this charming city from the Auckland wharf. After landing in Devonport we walked across the street to a quaint downtown, old brick buildings, cobbled walkways, and lush greenery. I’m talking exotic flowers, ivy covered walls, and Bayan trees as old as Christ. It’s right out of Michener novel. There is about three blocks of intriguing shops, restaurants, and believe it or not real bookstores. I wanted to snatch up an original printing of Moby Dick but even with the exchange rate it was pricey. In order to keep me from a well deserved shopping spree Larry discovered a walking trail that takes you around the entire city. Thank god I was wearing tennis shoes. We walked, and walked, and walked, and walked until I practically begged for a bar stool. On this scenic, twelve mile, all uphill hike, (New Zealand is designed this way), we stumbled upon a writer’s cottage located on the edge of a cliff! I know, I know, what luck. A vintage seaside home, charming as shit, overlooking the Hauraki Gulf, exclusively reserved for writers in honor of the late author Michael King. Verbs were crowding into my head just scanning the seascape. Send my suitcase on over, I’m so moving in, tell Notre Dame I’m on sabbatical. But no, like the devil himself, Larry tempted me away with an adult beverage and warm chowder. I’m easy. We slipped into a rustic pub, crackling fire in the hearth, ate and drank like sailors. Ahoy!
Hotel DeBrett will be our home away from home for the next three days. They offer a complementary beverage upon arrival, so we freshened up, and headed to the hotel bar. Sipping on very expensive New Zealand wine, screw top mind you, we scoured a travel magazine on the must does while visiting New Zealand. This whole trip came about when we discovered an unexpected pocket of free time in July. Larry said, “You want to go see Tony?” Me, “Yes.” So he booked two tickets to Australia with a three day layover in New Zealand. Tony can only take so much of us. So this is how we landed in a hotel bar, in the middle of a July winter, scanning a travel magazine in Auckland, New Zealand. I mistakenly pointed out a zip line excursion on the island of Waiheke. It was called Zip, Wine, and Dine. Before I could mention my fear of heights Larry booked two tickets for the very next day. Nothing like facing my fears in a foreign country founded on courage. What does one wear to a zip, wine, and dine? I settled on my normal attire, black Lucy sweat pants, white tank, grey over shirt, white vest, and matching scarf. A go anywhere kind of outfit. Larry wore khaki pants and a tuck in shirt. Total nerd. It is a forty-five minute ferry ride to this island. We are greeted by a spunky tour guide who shared tidbits about the local lore as we shuttled to the top of the island. We passed several villages that begged to be explored, but instead we were dropped on a platform, harnessed up, cabled to a rather thin wire, and told to jump. I don’t even have a will. We did three, risk your life zips, right in a row with the same partner. It’s like marriage, a fearful jump, amazing ride, but you land on the platform with two completely different experiences. “Did you love the view of the ocean?” “No, I was lost in the mesmerizing forest.” “Did you see the whales?” “No, I was watching a flock of birds.” All I can say is I’m no longer afraid of heights. I hugged a really old tree, talked with some endangered birds, and tripped over massive roots on a brisk two mile hike back to the shuttle. We slipped out of the harnesses and into the waiting vans that took us to the first winery. The tour guide kept our glasses full as we explored the vineyard, ended up at a hill top restaurant, where we ate quiche (even the real men), and drank more wine. Our second stop was a brewery! Ice cold beer and a gift store that I never made it to. The next stop was a olive oil factory. We learned all about making and tasting olive oil. Larry said, “Maybe we should open an olive oil factory in Lake Country?” Me, “That’s a slippery business.” “I’m Italian, I could do it.” Me, “You could grow your hair out and adopt an accent.” He’s thinking about it. Our final stop was Mudbrick Winery at the top of the island, overlooking the ocean, and a smattering of tiny villages. Some of the finest wines in New Zealand are produced at this winery, it boasts an onsite five star restaurant, and several ridiculously charming tasting rooms (I even bought a hat). This is where we veered from the scheduled tour. We decided to stay at the winery, order a cheese tray, more wine, and soak in the views. We hired a cab to take us down to one of the seaside villages which we explored on foot. What an incredible place. On one of the beaches there was a open pizza oven. Some yachts buoyed offshore were rowing in for a slice of pizza. The sand is as soft as powder surrounded by lush foliage and seaside cottages. We ordered a dozen oysters at a restaurant overlooking the small bay, sipped more wine, before finding our way back to the ferry, on to Hotel DeBrett, and a welcoming bed. What a fine day.
For our final day in New Zealand we rented a car so we could explore the villages and beaches on the northern part of the island. Now driving in New Zealand is tricky because they drive on the wrong side of the road and the driver is positioned on the wrong side of the car (like a boat). Every instinct you have gathered about driving over the past forty years is life threatening. But after a few near misses we got the hang of it (when I say we, I mean Larry). We headed north on highway one and landed in the village of Mangonui. After the anomaly of shopping around, but buying nothing, we slipped into a pub for a pint of IPA, and calamari. It hit the spot. The rest of the day was spent driving along the coast, stopping to hike along the many coastal trails, and pulling into every small villages that looked interesting to me (Larry loved this the most). We had to have the car back in Auckland by 5:30 pm or pay for an additional day. By the grace of God we made it back with very little damage to the car, not so true for Larry, who was sporting a headache from all the unexpected stops. I handed him an aspirin, “Let’s go big our last night in NZ.” Since it was pouring rain all evening we had to race from pub, to pub, to pub, to restaurant, to pub. We reserved a taxi for a 4:30 am pick-up tomorrow morning. I totally missed my beauty sleep. Tragic.