View from the Wrong Side of the Road

Today we rented a car. It was our first time driving on the left side of the road, so we decided it would be a good idea to drive out of the Auckland city centre. Ha ha! It’d be great fun!

Well, not really, but it’s not as bad as you might imagine. It was weird at first to be on the “wrong” side of the road, but I think we only made one mistake each, and nothing serious (I pulled out of a parking lot from the right side instead of the left.) And it’s fantastic having a car here: the scenery is unparalleled. Both Japan and the US have wide, gray freeways that really look the same no matter where you are. Luckily, NZ hasn’t discovered that kind of road yet. Their highways are primarily two-lane affairs, winding and hilly, with beautiful vistas on each side of the road. The scenery from Auckland to Rotorua is typical of the North Island, I think; it’s like a thick, lush, green carpet covering the whole country.

Typical New Zealand highway

While the roads are not exactly easy to drive on (due to the oft-sharp curves) they are far more interesting than any interstate I’ve ever been on. Let’s hope they never discover interstate highways.

I Actually Like Auckland…

So why is Auckland so interesting (at least to me)? It’s the biggest city in New Zealand, with a population of about 1.5 million people. More Pacific Islanders live in Auckland than live in the Pacific Islands. There is, of course, the Maori population (not as big as, perhaps, a few hundred years ago, but still there.) Add to this heaps of Asian students undertaking English or tertiary-level studies and you’ve got a very Asian-Pacific city. It’s also, to the rest of New Zealand, the most hated city in NZ. The way New York is the center of the universe to New Yorkers, Aucklanders (purportedly) are out of touch/ don’t care about the rest of the country. We didn’t spend enough time there to crack that nut, but I for one will stand solidly in the pro-Auckland camp. The climate’s nice, the population’s diverse, and there are heaps of events going on.

We spent today at the Auckland Musuem (who suggest a $10 donation per adult, but really force you into paying it) investigating NZ’s history. Naturally there was a very large section on Maori and Pacific Islander culture (mostly, if not exclusively pre-European contact.) The Maori section included a reconstructed marae or meetinghouse. It was stunning. Bob was enthralled and spent about 10 minutes studying the woodcarvings.

Inside of a marae, Auckland Museum

Hello from the Southern Hemisphere

We didn’t have much of an October 26th. We took off from Hawaii at 8 a.m. and crossed the International Date Line shortly after. Actually, we crossed the IDL around the same time as we crossed the equator, which was very exciting. For both of us, it’s our first time below the equator (although we have both been to Singapore, which lies just barely in the northern hemisphere.) October 27th, then, was mostly spent on an airplane, because to get to Australia you’ve got to get much, much further past the equator. After a brief layover in Sydney, we caught our evening flight to Auckland.

We went up the Sky Tower on our first full day in Auckland, the 28th. Sky Tower, for those of you keeping track, is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. About the geography: Auckland has not one but two harbours. (And since I’m in a Commonwealth country now, I’ll be using Commonwealth spelling. Right-o.) And it’s got 48 volcanic cones in the metropolitan area. Here’s the view we got:

Auckland Harbour and Harbour Bridge

I thought Auckland was a rather boring place to really kick off our trip, and Sydney would have been a much more auspicious destination, but it’s turned out to be an interesting city. I’m glad we included it.

A Packing List

We were a bit rushed while packing so this is my first chance to post in detail about what we’ve packed. When packing for a year, there are a few things you really have to remember. 1, you will have to sacrifice whatever standard of fashion/ cleanliness you usually maintain at home. I’m not saying you have to wear old rags, but when you’re out walking every day, comfort takes priority. It’s also unwise to pack certain items; excessive jewelry can get stolen and marks you as a person with a lot of money. Shorts and tank tops are inappropriate in some places, and jeans take a long time to dry. And finally, because we’re washing clothes in the sink, we may not be able to get them as clean as a machine can. (We’ll try to take trips to local laundromats when necessary.) Number 2, remember that you can buy things in other countries. Need more shampoo? Buy some along the way. And number 3, remember that you have to carry everything you pack.  I love the packing list by Doug Dyment at www.onebag.com. For ladies, I also like the advice at Journeywoman. First up, clothes. Here’s what I’m bringing:

All of our clothing excluding jackets and shoes

  • 3 tops: one T-shirt, one short-sleeve button-down, one long-sleeve button-down
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pair of shorts (these will come in handy in Hawaii and Australia; I may ditch them later)
  • 1 skirt with detachable straps; when the straps are attached it becomes a dress
  • 1 set of lightweight pajamas (necessary in hostels)
  • 1 set of long underwear (the top can also be worn by itself as a T-shirt)
  • 1 tankini swimsuit (reversible!)
  • 2 bras
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks: 2 lightweight, 1 thick (for hiking)
  • 1 wide scarf; it can also button up to become a shawl and it is wide enough to be used as a blanket
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 1 lightweight rain jacket (can fit over the fleece jacket if the weather is both cold and rainy)
  • 1 sun hat (also reversible!)
  • 1 pair waterproof hybrid sandals

I also need to pick up a pair of flip flops for hostel bathrooms, and a pair of sunglasses. I’ll get those somewhere along the way. Here’s what Bob’s got:

  • 2 long-sleeve button-down shirts (quick drying and moisture wicking)
  • 2 t-shirts (also quick drying and moisture wicking)
  • 2 pairs of underwear
  • 1 pair of slacks
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 pairs of socks: 1 thick, 1 lightweight
  • 1 rain jacket with hood
  • 1 pair of rain pants
  • 2 pairs of shoes: 1 pair of hiking boots and 1 pair of waterproof hybrid sandals
  • 1 nylon cap
  • 1 bandana

We have all this; yet people keep asking if we have an iPhone

Technology: Although we’re not bringing a computer, we are bringing a few electronic devices. We’ve each got a camera and mp3 player (Bob loaded his with language-learning podcasts.) Also, we have a Kindle, where I’ve stored lots of books relevant to the countries we’re visiting. Bonus: it can connect to the Internet via a cellphone signal, so we’ll be able to send emails from it. The bag holds all the cords and chargers that make the things work, plus a memory stick and extra memory card. Finally, we have a set of of plug adapters. Yet since we’re traveling without an iPhone or netbook, other travellers and locals alike look at us as if we’re from the Stone Age. Just about any request for directions is met with “oh, there’s an app for your iPhone…” at which we have to explain that the only cellphone we have is a prepaid dumbphone from Wal-Mart. We’ll be ditching that when we leave the U.S.; I hope Kiwis and Aussies are more understanding.

Medicine: We went to Target one day and compiled our own first-aid kit. There were many pre-made kits for sale, but they all seemed to contain a ridiculous amount of Band-Aids. We decided to get:

A portable medicine cabinet

  • Ibuprofen
  • Allergy medicine (generic Benadryl and Sudafed)
  • Dramamine
  • Tums
  • Diarrhea medicine (generic Imodium)
  • Constipation medicine (generic Senekot)
  • Water purifying tablets (just in case)
  • Rehydration tablets (taste like a sports drink; just add water)
  • Neosporin
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Digital thermometer
  • Earplugs
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Band-Aids

The container is a makeup bag, also from Target; one side holds medicine while the other holds feminine products. The only major medicine missing is malaria tablets. We’ll try to pick those up in Australia.

Toiletries and laundry kit: The toiletries part was pretty easy. Doing laundry in the sink requires a few things, and a few just make your life easier. Toiletries are as follows:

  • Toothbrush with cover (each)

    Laundry kit and toiletries, ignore the stuff at the top

  • Razor with cover (each)
  • Deodorant (each)
  • Quick-dry travel towel
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Floss
  • Toothpaste
  • Multipurpose soap bar (also works as shampoo and shaving cream)
  • Hand lotion, lip balm, mascara, lip gloss (Katie only)

Laundry:

  • Universal sink stopper (necessary)
  • Detergent (necessary)
  • Bungee cord laundry line (probably not totally necessary, but much much better than drying your clothes on the floor)
  • 2 inflatable hangers, for ease of drying (nice to have)

Guidebooks: We have a few, for the first few countries on our trip. We’ll ditch/ trade these as we don’t need them anymore.

Our trusty backpacks

The things that hold things, clockwise from top left:

  • Bob’s 65 liter backpack (blue and gray)
  • Katie’s 42 liter backpack (red and gray)
  • Bob’s 18 liter daypack (black)
  • Money belts
  • Katie’s travel purse
  • Expandable tote bag (blue)
  • Pillowcases (the reason why is explained below)

Miscellaneous: We’re carrying a tent for the first part of our trip since we expect to use it a lot in Australia and New Zealand; we’ll probably send it back home after that. We each have a silk sleeping bag liner and a pillowcase. The sleeping bag liner is for camping as well as for hostels and guesthouses, who may not provide bedding or the bedding might look dirty. When we need a pillow, we can stuff the pillowcase with clothes. Voila! Instant bedding set. We also have colored pencils, a sketchbook each, a journal each, and playing cards. A cutlery set is useful when self-catering. Crosswords and sudoku puzzles help pass the time on planes. A sewing kit and duct tape fixes things that break. Umbrellas keep you dry and keep the sun off. Ziploc bags come in handy. Finally, the two most important things: passports and wallets!

Some random extras

Hawaii, Day 4

Well folks, it’s our last day in Hawaii. I wanted to get a picture to sum up our few days here. I wanted to show you how it smells, how the breeze feels, and let you touch the water. That’s all impossible, of course. My pictures can’t even show just how blue the water is or how bright the flowers are- you really have to see it to believe it. So instead, here’s something that’s quintessentially Hawaiian. Enjoy.

Spam musubi, fresh and warm!

Hawaii, Day 3

On Sunday we traveled from the North Shore back to Honolulu. It was sad; we enjoyed the North Shore a lot. After a looong bus ride (I slept) we arrived back at Ala Moana Center, where we sat in the food court for an hour and wrote postcards. In that mall (and especially in that food court) I felt like I had stepped back into Japan. It’s been really fun for me to see how many Japanese tourists are here! I’m sure I’m going to bump into someone I know. Like good tourists, they’ve all brought their guidebooks. Though many guidebooks may exist, they obviously all list the same restaurants and attractions:

Line at Matsumoto's shave ice shop