Auckland, New Zealand: A Welcome Start to a Two-Week Vacation!
New Zealand was never a dream destination for us, but the Travel Zoo price was too irresistible, so we booked.
And here we are, somewhere above the Pacific Ocean, with no idea what time of day it is, just that we’ve lost an entire day (our travel agent promises we’ll get it back when we fly west), and we are exhausted from a LONG flight from Los Angeles.
We are flying Air New Zealand, in economy class. So, my larger-size husband sits cramped for most of the ride while the passenger in front of him domineers the seat space with his reclined chair, his noise-cancelling headphones keeping him from being pestered by any of our complaints. Thank goodness for the mini TV sets in the headrest; they offer recent TV shows and movies to help pass the time.
My watch says 6:52 AM and we are about to go into our descent. But what time is it really? I have no idea, but I don’t care. Right now bright morning sunshine is streaming in through the airplane windows, almost blinding in it intensity as passengers emerge from their mole-like state.
I am about to land in Auckland, New Zealand. I barely knew where the city was a few months ago. Now I know that it is on New Zealand’s north island (there is a south island, too) and that the correct Maori greeting to newcomers is, “Kia Ora.”
We are part of a large group of Canadians headed for the Mercury (Celebrity) cruise ship. None of us have any idea what’s in store for us, so we are pleasantly surprised by all the attention we receive at the airport.
TIP: New Zealand is hot and muggy. Carry a quick change of clothes (shorts, Capri pants, sandals) in your carry-on, or wear the zip-off leg cargo pants, or you will be overcome by heat. Change in a washroom on the plane, if you can, or in an airport washroom; things move very fast outside the airport as baggage and passengers are sorted and assigned to their respective coaches.
It is now 9:05 AM Auckland time, and I am already entranced by the organizational abilities of the cruise ship company. Many greeters help us get from the baggage carousel, to the baggage truck, to our waiting buses. No muss, no fuss. It seems like we were on a plane one moment, and packed into a comfortable coach the next.
Now comes our next surprise — we are taken to a park area in Auckland, home to the Winter Garden Conservatory. We pull up outside the Winter Garden Pavilion, a place of quiet enchantment where geese wander free on the lawns, and fat sparrows beg for morsels. The chirping and twittering of birds fills the air; it’s a wonderful contrast to the sounds motor travel.
We are invited to view the conservatory: Fernz Finery, Tropical House, and Cool House. Celebrity has even provided a classical quartet for our entertainment. The music entwined with the lovely flower gardens are the perfect transition from crowded airplane to vacation mindset. And there is still tea-time.
An elegant woman reminds us that we should go to tea. Tea? Okay. What’s at tea? Oh my…tiny cucumber sandwiches, tiny lobster pastries and mushroom quiches, lemon-drop cookies, and moist chocolate squares, oh, and yes, tea. Spoiled fat sparrows eye our tasty repast (we are seated outside on a patio overlooking a garden). Their fat bellies suggest they have dined on tea sandwiches before, and so I oblige and share a crumb of my sandwich.
I feel my anxiety and my fatigue drain away. Is this a sign of things to come, I wonder? Another sparrow shows up. I acquiesce and part with a bit of my lemon-drop cookie. I can afford to share; I have 14 days of cruise ship buffets and fine dining to look forward to.
Stay tuned for more of my adventures during my 14-day tour of New Zealand and Australia (Jan 2008) while a passenger on the Celebrity Mercury. Watch for hi-lights of Napier, Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, and in Austalia — Melbourne, Newcastle, and Sydney. If you are a fan of the late Princess Diana, I will be covering a Sydney exhibit celebrating her, too.