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New Zealand Trip Report

Day 2 of 24

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Saturday, March 2nd
Arriving in Auckland, Kelly Tarlton's, Lantern Festival, Queen Street

The flight from Los Angeles direct to Auckland, New Zealand is about 12 hours. When we arrived in Auckland, we had to go through customs. I marked down all the questionable items we were bringing in. They seemed unconcerned with the dried fruit and tuna, however. Instead, they asked if we had any beef jerky. They're mainly concerned with foot and mouth disease. The only thing they did was wash our hiking boots and we were on our way.

There's a 3 to 5 hour time difference between Auckland and San Francisco, depending on Daylight Savings Time. It was a 3 hour time difference at this time of year, and having lost a day to the International Date Line, we arrived around 5am on Saturday morning. It was raining cats and dogs outside.

We took a shuttle to the car rental office; the radio in the shuttle played "Who Let The Dogs Out" while the rain continued pouring down. I mention the car rental only because I wanted to mention the reversal of dates. New Zealand, as in other parts of the world, writes dates in day/month/year format. Of course your United States driver's license probably shows the date in month/day/year format, so the car rental clerk may be confused and think your license is already expired. This happened with us, but we assured her it was okay.

We drove (on the left side of the road) about 20 or 30 minutes through the rain until we reached our hotel. One thing I noticed about the lanes in New Zealand is that they just disappear with no warning. You'll be driving along in the left lane, and it just suddenly disappears and you have to quickly merge over to the right. The problem is that they continue to show the lane line all the way to the end of the merge, so you have no idea that you're supposed to merge. In the United States (or at least in California), the lane line disappears well before the merge, so you know you have to merge. It was quite frustrating and took a little getting used to.

After breakfast and a short nap, we ventured outside. The rain had subsided, but it was still overcast. We drove to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World. It was packed with visitors and quite humid. We took a short tram ride around a group of penguins standing on ice (or whatever it was) and playing in the water. Afterwards we walked through an exhibit on Ernest Shakleton and his adventures. There are lots of displays showing information on Antarctica. There are also lots of standard aquarium tanks holding such things as sea horses, puffer fish, and piranha. After a short stop at the gift shop, we ventured into the underwater world itself -- a circular walkway underneath a tank filled with sharks and manta rays. It was interesting watching the rays pass overhead -- you can see the holes open and close as they breathe. The underwater world isn't all that big and I have to say that in general the place was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps I've been spoiled by trips to Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is far superior.

Should I jump?


Sea Horse

Puffer Fish

Shark and fish


Next up, we drove around and found some festival at Albert Park. It turns out it was the Asia 2000 Lantern Festival. We arrived in the afternoon before the night-time festivities, but were still greeted by a row of booths, mostly selling food (a few selling various arts and crafts). As the sun poked through the clouds for the first time today, we ate satays and fried rice. Approximately one eighth of Auckland's population is Asian.

Jean getting some soup at the Lantern Festival

More from the Lantern Festival

More from the Lantern Festival

We returned to the hotel for afternoon tea in the hotel. New Zealand is a former British colony, so of course it has many British influences, afternoon tea being one of them. After tea we walked over to Queen Street. It's one of the main drags of the city and was very crowded with pedestrians -- it would remain so late into the night. We stopped into a CD store and got some pretty good bargains. Full price CD's were about $34 NZD; the conversion is about 0.44, so that's about $14.96 USD. Decent, but not great. Fortunately, there were quite a few good CD's on sale for $24.94 NZD (about $10.97 USD), so we got a few. Prices listed generally include GST (12.5 percent), so you don't have to add it. It's not consistent though, so if you're unsure you should ask -- some hotels list their prices including GST and some without. While in New Zealand I found it useful to use the following method of estimating the conversion: take the NZD price, cut it in half, then subtract ten percent of the new price. This gives a conversion rate of 0.45 (close enough). For example, $34 -> $17 - $1.70 = $15.30 USD.

We walked down to the end of Queen Street where there's a big fountain, before turning around and walking back up the other side of the street. We passed lots of trendy shops, most of them now closed (it was around 5 or 6pm now). We stopped at the IMAX theater and bought tickets for a later show. I stopped by an Internet cafe -- you can pretty much find one in any decent-sized city in New Zealand. The prices vary, but are generally pretty cheap. The one I stopped in was just $4 NZD per hour, for a nice high-speed connection. I spent a few minutes struggling with Windows trying to erase the browser history (I had been checking my email), but I eventually got it.

We stepped into a Borders book store next to the theater. Unfortunately, the book prices weren't nearly as good as the CD prices. Afterwards we ate dinner at a Japanese stall in the food mall below the theater. You're probably thinking of mall food in the US (blah), but here it was quite good. And for two people, our whole meal (which was quite a lot of food) was just $29 NZD (about $12.76 USD). This was the general theme throughout the trip. While some things are comparable in price to the US, food is really cheap in New Zealand. We often found ourselves eating a great meal and then getting the bill and feeling even better.

We watched an IMAX movie on Ernest Shakleton, who attempted to cross Antarctica (the pole had already been reached), but instead started a long struggle just to survive without even coming close to the pole. It's an incredible story, and a great movie to see, too. After the movie we stopped into a convenience store to pick up a few items. We discovered that a lot of Kiwis (New Zealanders) now have PIN numbers for their credit cards. However, if you don't have a PIN number (we didn't, and suspect most in the US don't either), they will let you sign for it instead.

Auckland at night

It was 11pm by the time we returned to the hotel. It was still quite warm and humid, however. There were still crowds of rowdy youths out on Queen Street. Thankfully, our hotel was a few blocks away from the commotion.

SkyTower peeking out at night

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