|I arrived In Auckland on Thursday afternoon, after 40-some hours of flying from Washington, DC, through LA, then Tokyo, then Kansai before finally landing here in NZ.
I spent Thursday through Sunday in Auckland, staying with my friend Xavier, who swims for Team Auckland, a local Masters team. I was able to swim with them on Thursday when I arrived (and again on Saturday when they had their annual swim meet called "Chocolate Fish"). It was nice to get a swim in right away after the long flight, but just like how Kiwis drive on the other side of the road, they swim the same way, and I have a hard time doing a flipturn while pivoting to my right (my whole life I've pivoted to my left).
When I arrived into Auckland, I had a few hours to explore before meeting up with Xavier, so I walked down Karangahape Road (which is a lot like Hawthorne Ave. in Portland, or Broadway Ave. in Seattle, or U St. in Washington DC -- meaning it is cool, but a bit rough around the edges). From there I walked down Queen St. down to the waterfront. Queen St. is a major shopping and cultural street in the city, and very crowded for a Thursday afternoon.
In the evening, we had a beer at an Irish pub (there are lots of Irish & British pubs in Auckland) called O'Hagan's in New Zealand Cup Village, a section of the waterfront where all the America's Cup boats are housed. By the time we got back to Xavier's place, I was pretty tired.
On Friday night Xavier and I met some of his friends at a bar in Ponsonsby called Hydrant. Once they know you're from America you're in, dude. When you say that you live in Washington, DC, everyone is like, "Oh, that's where George Bush is." Uhh, yes. "Did you vote for him?" Uhh, no.
Here in New Zealand it is not customary to tip the bartender. So when you do (which I did all evening), they start to treat you nicely ;-). By the end of the evening Xavier and I were hanging out at the bar, and the two bartenders would top off our drinks (although one of them had trouble remembering that I was drinking rum & coke, not whiskey & coke (while I am the last to complain when the drinks are coming steadily and free, I don't have the stomach for the Crown Royal). This same one was wearing a shirt that read "Oregon Department of Corrections" so I asked him if he'd ever been to Oregon. He first gave me this look like I was crazy. I'm not sure he was convinced that Oregon was a real place, so when I said, "Hey, I used to live there!" and showed him my Oregon drivers license, he gave me a free drink. It was like it was my birthday.
After just three hours of sleep Friday night, Xavier and I hopped in his car and went to Karekare Beach, a famous beach on New Zealand's west coast, and just about an hour's drive from Auckland. I'd wanted to go to Karekare because it is where my favorite band Crowded House recorded their final album, the title of one of my favorite CH songs, and it is also where several scenes from the movie "The Piano" were filmed. Karekare is not unlike the Oregon Coast beaches, but a bit more grand. We went for a swim (more just so I could say I did it; the water was very cold!) then sat on the black sand for a bit to warm back up. Karekare is a Maori word for easily agitated. Luckily the beach itself was really peaceful and calming (or, it could have had more to do with me being exhausted. Not sure.). One of my favorite places on the trip so far. From there we went north to Piha, which is a popular surfing spot. The views of Piha from the cliffs are breathtaking, and on a good surf day (like Saturday) the entire beach is filled with surfers. I've never seen so many in one place. Xavier and I then went for an hour-long hike along the cliffs facing the Tasman Sea. This would have been better if I had worn something besides sandals. Now I got blisters from it. Grrr...
Woke up Sunday morning after just an hour of sleep to join in on the annual St. Heliers Bay to Tamaki Yacht Club Swim. I wasn't planning to participate, but got talked into it the night before after several drinks at Urge. It has been a few years since I've done an ocean swim, so what the heck. St. Heliers is just east of Auckland's CBD. The swim is 3k, swimming towards downtown in Waitemata Harbour, which is the bay that central Auckland sits on. Essentially, the course runs parallel to the shore, and swimmers follow a series of buoys. There were about 220 swimmers at the event, most of them Masters and Triathletes, but also a few fast younger swimmers (college and maybe high school). At the go, we began to swim out towards the first buoy (which was about 400 meters out into the Harbour). The water was very choppy, and the current worked against us, but the water was warmer than I expected (in hindsight, I likely didn't need a wetsuit). Because the water was rough, the waves completely eliminated the horizon line, making it next to impossible to see the buoy markers and know if you were swimming in a straight line. Every once in awhile, I needed to completely stop, tread in place and lift myself out of the water just to see if I was still on course. (On two different occassions, I did get way off course and needed the kayaker guides point me in the right direction, which added time and distance to the race. The silver lining to this was that virtually everyone else also got off course, which effectively leveled the playing field.) Despite all this, I was having a blast. I never imagined that I'd do something like this while in New Zealand, and I was on a high. About 20 minutes into the swim, the course rounds into Mission Bay and gives an incredible view of the Auckland skyline, directly in front of you and getting closer. At one point during the swim, in order to breathe without swallowing water, I crained my head and neck directly upwards to sky, and the image of the blue sky and whispy clouds froze in my mind, and I had the realization "That's New Zealand sky and clouds above you" -- which sounds a little trite on paper, but it was an amazing feeling. I finished the race in an hour and three minutes, and I was the first in my wave out of the water. I placed 13th overall, and I figure I probably placed 3rd in my age group, which I thought was pretty good. Regardless, I was just grateful to have experienced it.
Later in the day, my friend Jonathan took me for a tour of the North Shore and Devonport, which is where he grew up. We went to Mt. Victoria, which I think has the best views of the Auckland skyline.