Well, readers, Tyson and I have officially embarked on our next journey – a four-and-a-half month backpacking trek that will take us through New Zealand, Australia, and perhaps even a smidge of Asia. Our trip started – well, slowly. Thanks to some perks from our credit card, we initially spent a four-hour layover in Calgary in the new international wing at the Aspire Lounge. This was nice, considering we could lay back and have a glass of wine with a buffet-style dinner; what was unusual was the fact that everything seemed to be out of order despite being relatively new. However, for one of our first airport lounge experiences, we were quite happy to have a comfortable, quiet place to await our next flight.
On Monday evening, we landed in Los Angeles for a 24-hour pit stop. We spent the night in the Hyatt Regency, a hotel whose modernity was immediately apparent upon walking into the lobby – the open space contained a handful of circular leather ottomans and nothing else – and promptly went to bed. The following morning we shuttled into the city, caught a Lyft, bought an iced concoction from Blue Bottle Coffee, and walked our way down to Venice Beach and on to the Santa Monica pier, all the while reveling in the sand and sunshine – made all the better by the knowledge that we are skipping our usual frosty winters altogether this year!
After our short time under the California sun, we returned to the airport and scored another free pass to the One World lounge at LAX, thanks to a very beneficent Qantas agent who was helping us check in. In our very limited experience, this lounge was by far the cream of the crop. It was suave and decadent, and alongside a few choice beverages we sampled a sweeping selection of palatable buffet items, experienced a vegetable bar exclusively for juicing, and had desserts that satisfied my sweet tooth a little too well. Unfortunately, all lounging must come to an end – and finally we boarded the 15-hour flight that would take us to Sydney, Australia.
While traveling through time was a somewhat anticlimactic experience (we slept through most of it), landing in Sydney was indeed very exciting – we even caught a fleeting glimpse of the white sails of the Opera House on the harbour before descending from the skies to meet the tarmac. Unfortunately, that was the most excitement we could hope for in the hours that followed. Having booked a separate flight that would take us on to Auckland that same day, we encountered a few hitches – the main clincher being that, with an hour and fifteen minutes left before our plane departed, the agent checking us in abruptly informed us that she could not put us on the flight to New Zealand without proof of an outbound flight from the country as well.
Yep, you guessed it – completely unaware of this policy, we had yet to book an outbound flight! Fast-forward through Tyson’s mad scramble to book said flight at a kiosk and our mad scramble to get through customs and security, and arrive upon discovering that the kiosk agent had significantly overcharged us for the outbound flight as we’re in the line to board to Auckland. For the next day and a half, Tyson’s attempts to sort the issue out with the agency finally proved fruitful, and thankfully we were refunded the discrepancy. Still, as you can imagine, by this time we were quite happy to be done with airports for a while – and on Thursday evening we checked into our first AirBnB in Auckland.
Friday morning found us well-rested and refreshed, ready to explore the city. We walked the harbour as grey clouds rolled in, and ducked into the Auckland Fish Market (complete with displays of eels, sharks, fish heads, headless fishes, and all manner of slimy sea creatures staring straight back at you) just as the first raindrops began to fall. From then on, the rain kept on falling; sometimes in a misty blur, sometimes in a torrential downpour. Luckily, we’d brought our raincoats with us, and so we took it in turns to weather the – well, weather – and catch a break under an easement, or in a café to enjoy a warm latte.
We picked up our rental car in the afternoon, which we’ll have throughout our time in New Zealand. This is going to be a new experience for us, as we’re used to navigating via public transport, but I’m looking forward to the adventures that will come from the freedom of having a personal vehicle while we’re here. I’m happy to report that Tyson had a successful first day of driving on the left-hand side of the road. The first stop we made as free birds was to One Tree Hill – one of many volcanic cones that serves as lookout points across the city. The greenery here is something I’m in love with already. Everything feels tropical and lush, and instead of those overpowering cookie-cutter neighborhoods that ultimately seem to detract from their surroundings, the houses here stand as unique testaments of style that are seamlessly stitched into it.
The Hill proved to be just as lush as we climbed to the summit with its monument memorializing the Maori, and after going a little trigger-happy behind my camera, we returned to our car and drove back to our AirBnB. From there, we decided to go for a run in the rain. Along the way, we stumbled upon the Kepa Bush Reserve, and proceeded to run along an empty and narrow dirt trail through what soon felt like a legitimate rainforest, brushing past fronds and ferns and branches and trunks that muffled the world until all that was left was the sound of rain pattering on leaf and ground and the occasional cry of native birdsong. This was a definite highlight for us both – an unexpected adventure brought on by a little carefree spontaneity within a beautiful speck of our infinitely wide and wonderful world.
And that, my friends, is why we wander.
From my wandering heart to yours,