|We had been driving for hours through the scenic Coromandels when we finally approached a 'highway' with more than 1 lane. This could only mean that we were approaching Auckland and as we have discovered that we are in strong agreement about being city people, we could not contain the excitement at the thought of 2 legged, upright creatures as company for the next few days! Only problem was navigating the boy racers and lorries to get across the harbour bridge and to our campervan park, where an Indian girl (temporarily here from Bombay) was waiting to interrogate us as we were the only indian tourists she had ever seen in a campervan (this explains a lot we feel).
Auckland is a sprawling city with a cultural melting pot that makes up for the rest of New Zealand. It seems that the white Kiwi is truly a minority here and we could actually be in any SE Asian city if it weren't for the orderly nature of the traffic and the cleanliness. This feeling is compounded by the many Asian food halls that we encountered. After attempting to avoid them for a few hours, we finally gave in and feasted on noodles and rice along with every other backpacker and student in town. It was the cheapest place to go for food which wasn't a burger or a subway sandwich!
Neha was thrilled at finally being able to withdraw cash from machines again after spending over a month and a small fraction of our savings on communication with HSBC call centres all over the world while Kiran was busy spotting the Deloittes, PWC and KPMG offices (think he's missing work?!).
We spent an afternoon people watching in the trendy Parnell area. With it's numerous cafes and boutiques it is billed as the 'shopping area with a European feel'. As we couldn't afford to do more than window shop, we decided that watching the eclectically dressed ladies while lingering over our drinks was the next best thing. After all, that in itself is a very European activity!
Taking the European and people watching theme further, we went to a place called the Lenin bar. Our seats had views into the ice bar next door which as the name suggests is made entirely out of ice. Rather than paying the cover charge to get into the ice bar, we spent the money on passionfruit vodkas and enjoyed the comforts of the plush Russian themed interior.
Over the weekend, we managed to take in the hot air balloon festival in Hamilton, which is not otherwise a very interesting town. Unsure as to when the activities were to begin, we sat on the Common listening to a live band practice; watching the Salvation Army volunteers get briefed for what seemed like hours and baking in the strong sun.
Suddenly there was a flurry of activity and we were surrounded by local families oohing and aahing at the sight of a dozen skydivers, signalling a start to the blowing up of the balloons. We were amazed at the sheer size of the balloons and consequently the time it took to get them up and ready, only to be paraded in a line for half an hour and then taken down and packed away. Not quite what we were expecting .... we'd been looking forward to them flying away in turn. Isn't that what hot air balloons do?
A long wait followed as the sun went down and darkness took over. People started jostling for prime position for the highlight of the show and as a result fights broke out all around us. We stood our ground (the crowd mannagement survival tactics learnt in Asia have benefitted us greatly) and managed to secure front row positions so as to watch a second batch of balloons light up to music. Maybe this is what hot air balloons are meant to do when not flying?
After all that commotion, the locals voiced their disappointment at this year's show. We had nothing to compare it to and so not only enjoyed the organised balloon show, but also the impromptu scuffles in the crowd.
We drove back to Auckland with the fireworks display as a backdrop and Neha's mother providing all the news from back home on the phone.
Back in Auckland the only thing left to do was take in the views of the city from the Skytower observation deck before treating ourselves to a delicious dinner in the revolving restaurant. After a month of cooking in our cosy campervan and eating in food courts, this was truly a luxury!
Clearly addicted to views over Auckland, we hiked up Mount Eden the following day so as to enjoy views which included the Skytower and the magnificent building which houses the museum as well.
Feeling artistic after the many photos taken of the views, we headed to the Art Gallery to see a visiting photo exhibition. We have a long way to go before our pictures are anywhere near as good as those exhibited but at least we could appreciate the composition and styles.
We have enjoyed our adventure in New Zealand with its stunning scenery, delicious food and western comforts. The North Island was our favourite as we experienced the Maori culture and met many friendly people along the way compared to the South Island where 2 Indians in a Campervan was clearly a novelty.
However, we are now ready to swap the Kiwi wine bottles for the South African ones and resume our adventures in a more chaotic, colourful and warmer part of the world. The next 4 months in Africa are guaranteed to be both exhilirating and challenging, but hopefully an eyeopener too. Neha is looking forward to returning to Kenya (particularly Mombasa where she was born and the village she lived in as a child) as a backpacker as her previous visits have been with family many years ago and Kiran is hoping to see Uganda where both his parents were born.
In the short term however, we are both looking forward to meeting friends (Martin and Ali) for a weekend break in Cape town.