Prepare yourself for gushing. I'm about to tell you about my last few days on vacation and it's been so great that gushing is required.
I spent a few days in Auckland, a city I really enjoy. Comedy club, great food and a stellar hotel. On May 18, I hopped a bus to Taranaki. New Plymouth, to be precise. Buses are a common way to travel here and very comfortable and convenient. It cost me $1, plus $2 handling for a ticket for a six hour ride.
I thought I hadn't gained patience in Samoa, but I was very content on the bus. I had the seat to myself and the scenery was so spectacular I ignored my book and just sat and stared and thought. It was great. Two years ago I would have been an impatient mess. Did I mention I saw four rainbows throughout the ride? Along with sunshine, mountain views along with views of the coastline?
There was a bit of a snag in getting my rental car, but in true Kiwi form, people came to my aid. The nice lady at the bus depot let me use her phone even though there was a pay phone nearby. The man at the car rental place said he'd drop off the car instead of me having to go further than expected to where they were. He was prompt and friendly.
Then the only nerve wracking part began...driving. Left side of the road, steering wheel on the right. Beautiful, windy, narrow roads with people driving at insane speeds. Ok, they were only insane to me because sitting in the back of the bus I didn't get the same sense of speed and I was going WAY faster than I've ever driven in Samoa.
It was a bit nerve wracking but I made it to Hawera with no problems (did I mention it was raining, off and on?) and with only one stop for help. There was that one tiny moment when I stopped to ask for directions and the man said no such road existed. Hmmm, was this Kiwi humor? Invite the stranger to come to a non-existent house? No problem, though, it was a new road and I arrived at the beautiful and luxurious home of new friends I'd met in Bay of Islands.
The couple, J. and A. have two fur covered "children", friendly labs and they all greeted me with enthusiasm. J. had prepared a delicious dinner and that was the beginning of a wonderful stay in this incredible part of the world.
A. grew up on a farm here and is passionate about the main feature of the Taranaki region - Mt. Taranaki. On Saturday they took me on a tour of the region, with our first stop half way up the mountain. Incredible. Amazing. Breath taking. Can you feel the enthusiasm gushing? As we stood there, the clouds blew away from the 2 mile high peak of the snow-covered mountain that rises starkly from the relatively flat dairy lands. A. was disappointed that clouds kept us from viewing the other two mountains that are across the country but the views we had were so spectacular, I was far from disappointed. What a region - from seacoast and surfing to mountain and skiiing in less than an hour.
Because of the steep rise in altitude, the cool air was even chillier and there were patches of snow on the ground. I felt at home, though, because we shared the lookout platform with folks from Fiji, who were also wearing heavy coats (mine belonged to A.) and sandals.
We hopped back in the car to warm up and head to New Plymouth, where A. had an appointment. While they took care of business, I enjoyed the really good, free museum. The interactive museum focused on both the Maori and European history in the area. Interesting stuff.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch at a nearby restaurant. I really like my fresh snapper but the green lip mussels in a garlic cream sauce that A shared with me were fabulous. Plus, there was a delicious salad that did not involve cabbage! Shall I gush more about the food?
After lunch they took me to a lovely park, on the ocean, that features a unique walking bridge over a small river. The very cool part is that when you stand at one end of the bridge it is perfectly aligned so that Mt. Taranaki is centered in the distance. Stunning. Plus I had fun with J. as we waited to take photos when there weren't any people walking or riding bikes across the bridge. We compared the Kiwi approach, which was to wait quietly and patiently, to the American approach. I held myself back from yelling "Hey, you...move it along there. Can't you see people are trying to take pictures here?"
After some time on the beach, watching surfers, kids, joggers, dogs and just generally people enjoying the end of a sunny day, we headed back for home. We spent a quiet evening watching rugby and a cooking show, talking and, of course, eating. A. shares my passion for seafood so we started with a special treat. He introduced me to his favorite food, Bluff oysters. OMG. Rich, large, meaty and tasting of the Tasman sea. We enjoyed them raw, with a bit of lemon, served on toast points.
Dinner was more seafood. I helped with a tiny bit of prep but J. did the cooking and made a great salad (no cabbage!), seafood curry with mussels and shrimp and fresh scallops with chili. Spicy seafood. Could it get any better? Yes. A nice white wine and good conversation, along with a fire to take the chill off made it perfect.
Today we're going to a local museum which is highly rated and I can't wait. Photos to follow when I'm not hogging J. & A's. internet.