The Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island); eight family members, two camper vans, three weeks, and countless miles/kilometers. It sounds like the making of either a hilarious comedy or a gory horror flick.
I know what your thinking, spending hours on the road with your in-laws, waiting excitedly for your hemroids to flare up, sounds like an amazing way to spend the holidays. But the in-laws passed the cool test and from what I hear, there is no better place to have a slimy asshole full of Preparation H then in the beautiful country of New Zealand.
The idea to test the family’s tolerance and patience for one another was put forth by Sally’s parents (Richard and Kaylene – aka ‘The Olds’). The inescapability of the close quarters and unavoidable stress of integrating the various personalities and preferences (vehicle speed, cleanliness, whose turn it is to do dishes or cook, choice of route, activity, and music to name a few) will surely have us walking that fine line between the most memorable family trip ever and a front page spread depicting a homicidal family feud. Regardless, I am sure we can squeeze at least one entertaining blog post out of the next 21 days.
Once we stepped off the plane it only took the Kiwis ten minutes to dethrone the Canadians as the friendliest people on earth. I don’t care how many more times those friendly neighbors to the north pay for the car behind them at Tim Hortons or kindly give us directions after pulling Sally over for busting a U-turn across three lanes of traffic, in the snow, while running a red light (true story). Until they get their immigration process on par with New Zealand they will forever be the second friendliest populus, followed closely by Colombians.
Our agent was more interested in hearing our plans for our trip and giving us advice about the area we were staying in Auckland, then the standard flipping through our passport five times and doing the over exaggerated photo to face comparison. If you really need to hold my passport in the air inline with my face and perse your lips while your squinty eyes dart back and forth several times from photo to face just to ensure the two match up, you’re in the wrong fucking profession. The pleasantries didn’t end with immigration, when we went through security, even they took the time to smile and converse with passengers. Realizing they’re not hording cattle but rather dealing with actual people. Something the TSA in the States has yet to figure out. But to TSA’s credit, I’m pretty sure the only requirement to become a member of the TSA is being able to find Waldo at least three times, throughout the entire book collection.
Sally and I flew to Auckland a couple of days ahead of The Olds to conduct a few alcohol quality control tests and to meet up with Sally’s partner in crime from back in the day (Randa). We found a hostel in the neighborhood of Ponsonby at a backpacker that was cleverly named Ponsonby Backpackers. The hostel was perfectly located at the top of Franklin road, intersecting with Ponsonby road. It was a reasonably well laid out hostel with helpful staff. But we did have a little sticker shock when we had to shell out $60 for a room that was basically just a bed. Having enjoyed ensuite, T.V., fridge, and a patio at our last hostel in Cambodia for a 1/3 the cost.
In the common area they had advertisements for backpacker specials at a couple of the local bars. It just so happen that the time and day lined up perfectly with our arrival, lucky us! We had a couple of drinks from our duty-free Jack Daniels (half a bottle) and headed out. After strolling up to the bar that was offering the backpacker specials, we ordered up their ‘discounted’ jug (pitcher) of Tiger beer (cheap ass Asian beer). I almost impulsively bitch slapped the bar tender when he said, “That’ll be $25 please”. This fucking jug only filled three fucking pints and it was fucking Tiger beer! I guess they meant backpacker ‘special’, as in you must be ‘special’ (fucking retarded) to think you’re getting a deal.
We spent the next day and a half checking out Sally’s old stomping grounds and I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Auckland and Seattle. Seattle has the Space Needle, Auckland the Sky Tower. Both are on the water with a fleet of personal boats dotting the water and large shipping yards close to the city. They are both rich with green vegetation due to similar weather patterns (shit overcast and rain) and have plenty of hills inside the city limits. Auckland is in the land of the long white cloud (Aotearoa) and with Washington’s recent legislation there will be plenty of long white clouds in Seattle as well. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it made me a little home sick. But I think the similarities between the two cities made me have an instant attraction to Auckland.
While kicking around the streets of Auckland we did manage to find what I would call the best nachos I’ve had on the trip to date, by far. My endless search for a halfway decent attempt at this simplistic dish has been foiled by pathetic renditions and variations that make me sick to my stomach (sometimes literally). In Australia they actually substitute salsa with sweet chili sauce. WTF? Why don’t you just throw some greek yogurt on instead of sour cream? Or better yet, dog shit instead of beans?
We also had a chance to catch up with Rally’s friend from way back, Sanda. The dynamic duo wreaked havoc on the streets of Auckland with their fists pumping (sometimes with excessive force) to the idolized beats of the Beastie Boys. The girls understood that the three white boys from Brooklyn lived, fought, and eventually would quite possibly die for their right to party. Thus they conducted themselves in a manner that they felt upheld the Beastie Boys standard. It was great to see them briefly revisit their glory days and finally meet Sally’s counter part from her childhood.
Renting a camper van in New Zealand is as common place as getting a tuk tuk in Asia. There are more choices in company, size, and style then there are items on a Cheese Cake Factory menu. The Olds shouted the camper vans and we were more than thankful to not be apart of the selection process. They decided on two Britz campers, which I found ironic because that is the same way Sally would say my name if the vehicle belonged to me.
The first three days of The Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island) were conducted with just one camper, as Sally’s sister and family (Nat,Drew, Zak, Brodie) had yet to arrive. We wasted no time getting on the road, as The Olds did a snatch and grab from outside our hostel and we hit the great open road, for about thirty minutes. We headed just around the corner to Matakatia to one of Richard’s mates spot for a couple of drinks and a feed.
Our first night in the camper proved to be a difficult one. After drinking excessively and eating ourselves into a food coma, we passed out around midnight. Not less than an hour later we were awaken abruptly to a loud banging noise and the quick scampering of two teenage boys running off to the bushes. A communal grovel about the disturbance, 30 minutes of tossing and turning, and we resumed our passed out slumber. Five minutes later we were awaken again. This time Richard and I exited the vehicle in attempt to assault one or both of the perpetrators. A five-minute search of the area exhausted our motivation and we headed back to the van. We collectively agreed that we needed to either set a trap for the young kids (Richard hide in the bushes with a table pole and myself under the camper with the tire iron) or move to a more remote location, away from the board teenagers. If we weren’t exhausted from our late night and heavy drinking I don’t think the second option would have been on the table.
The next day we got our first true experience as passengers in the back of a camper van. It didn’t take us long to discover that Richard drives the van like a soccer mom in a suburban, trying to race to the last available space in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m surprised that with all that lead in his foot he doesn’t have more trouble getting though airport security. The swaying bounce of the vehicle combined with the excessive speeds, makes ridding in the back feel like your on a shitty carnival ride. What initially puts a small smile on your face quickly becomes a nauseating and tiresome experience. To Richards credit, the camper does shake and sway like a 4.0 earthquake hit every time someone so much as sneezes. Also, Lonely Planet states that it takes about a month to a month and a half to see the north island properly. So given our light-force speeds, I think we’ll be able to do several loops around the north island and have a couple of days to spare. As Richard noted, “Where here for a good time, not a long time”
Once we were off the highway and weaving our way through the country side I couldn’t help but notice two things; One, the geography of the north island is very similar to that of the north-west of the United States. Giving my Seattle Auckland comparison even more clout. Of course New Zealand has the luxury of being surrounded by gorgeous green ocean water and has a more diverse range of plant life.
Two, I saw more camper vans then I did sheep. Which I found quite dissapointing considering some of the Aussie ribbing. They would have you believe that the Kiwis utlized sheep as drug sniffing dogs, substitute ottomans with sheep, and of course a few unmentionable after hours activities. As we barreled our way through another small country town, I spotted the 312th camper van of the day and I wondered to myself, “How well recived are these traffic jam causing, parking space hording, eye sores?”. Just as I finished the sentence in my head, I glanced out the window and made eye contact with a young Maori boy who must have been about 8 years old. I was about to smile and wave when he flipped me the bird. Question answered.