Hello Sweet Friends and Family! Happy Holidays from the other side of the world.
My time in Auckland has been so wonderful and blessed as I have felt very connected to the culture and people in this great city. At the beginning of the month, I sadly moved out of my flat in Grafton and packed up my stuff. Thankfully, my flatmates have said I could stay with them when needed and we've already made plans to share New Year's together.
In early December, I flew to Sydney to meet Laurel, one of my bestest girls from home. We had a lovely holiday together. Beginning in Sydney we explored the city including downtown, the Rocks (which is the first place that settlers built, which is amazing buildings built entirely out of rocks), the Botanical Gardens, and Newtown, which is where we stayed. Newtown is an eclectic part of town where hippies, gay people and other funky young people live in harmony. There are fun shops, restaurants, theaters, cafes and more in Newtown. Laurel also treated us to a beautiful dinner at Cafe Sydney in the Customs House, which overlooks the Sydney Cove and has breath-taking views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
After a few days in Sydney, we flew to Queensland and the Whitsunday area. We flew into Hamilton Island and took a ferry to Airlie Beach. Our days consisted of relaxing by the lagoon (an enclosed sea water area, because the actual ocean is full of stingers this time of year), reading, and just enjoying our holiday time. Airlie Beach is a very small town full of other young locals and backpackers, so the entire town felt very much like a summer camp for young adults. We did a kayak and snorkel tour, which was a fun and somewhat challenging trip at times. We kayaked to a small island, had morning tea (an Aussie and Kiwi tradition, which basically means a snack, as no tea is usually served) and did a short snorkel session. The island had a beautiful rocky look out that we climbed to see several of the 72 islands that comprise the Whitsunday area. The kayaking was challenging, because we crossed a ferry channel and had to paddle super hard to get across the choppy waters before a boat crossed our paths. We made it after a bit of a hard work out. :) We also saw a magnificent sea turtle during part of our paddling. He came up for water, with some curiosity as we paddled back to shore.
After a few days at Airlie Beach, we took a ferry back to Hamilton Island and stayed on the resort for two nights. Hamilton Island has 16 hotels and is the largest resort in the Southern Hemisphere, we learned. The entire island is traveled by go-carts and it's quite touristy, which I wasn't really expecting. However, the beaches and pools were relaxing and so gorgeous. Laurel and I took another snorkeling tour and were guided by boat to a coral reef bay where we swam with the tropical fish and saw wonderfully colorful coral reef displays. We saw clown fish, parrotfish and so many other fish I can't name. The snorkeling was just magnificent. Our boat tour stopped off at Whitehaven Beach, where the sand on the beach was 98% silica and so pure, white and gorgeous. The water was a deep blue and so amazing. I had seen pictures of this beach, but didn't believe that such a place could exist (without the help of Photoshop and color manipulating pictures), but I was so mistaken. Whitehaven was easily the most beautiful beach I have ever visited.
After spending a week in the sun and sand, Laurel and I returned to Sydney for a few more days of the city, a "jungle out of concrete" as one local described the city to me. We took a surfing lesson one day and headed out to North Cronulla beach with a group of mostly Americans and French tourists. The class was an all day affair and was quite intense, but so much fun. We all stood up at least once and I stood up and surfed 2.5 times. I was surprisingly pleased to learn that surfing is somewhat similar to yoga. I also learned that surfing on a giant foam board, when an instructor is pushing you through the waves, is easier than doing it on your own. However, the surfing was one of the highlights of the trip, definitely.
Some of you may have heard about the rioting taking place on the in the neighborhood of Cronulla in Sydney. Indeed, there was some rioting that resulted from a "peaceful protest" on the beaches, but the police had things under control and people have been doing their best to have their lives return to normal. Sadly, the racial tensions between Lebanese men (mostly) and the locals have come to a head. Laurel and I weren't in the area during these riots, but heard a lot about them in the media. As you can imagine, the actual troublemakers were very small in number (approximately 50 people out of 5,000), but the media inflated the situation making it seem worse than it actually was. The following weekend, however, they did arrest a handful of men, dressed in camouflage with the makings of Molotov cocktails and other home made weapons headed to Bondi beach, which is north of Cronulla. A few were arrested in their cars (complete with white supremacy stickers on the back) and a few were arrested on the bus. All in all, these events brought much needed attention to some tension and issues that need to be addressed. Hopefully, soon all businesses in those areas will be open and positive progress will occur for all.
After Laurel returned to the US, I stayed in Sydney for a few days and visited many museums and other parts of the city. Sydney weather was warm and humid, but beautiful! Now, I'm back in Auckland and had my first Kiwi Christmas with my flatmate Chris and his family. We had a lovely lunch in their beautiful home in Mission Bay with champagne, wonderful food and gifts... Then, we took a walk on the beach. Very different from the holidays I'm used to having in Seattle, but still wonderful in many ways.
I hope this message finds all of you happy, healthy and full of life and love. I am thinking of each of you on this special Christmas.
I've had many fun adventures since I last wrote. For New Zealand's Labor day weekend (which is similar to our same holiday in the US, but this marks the beginning of summer and is also a three day holiday), I attended the Coro Do festival on the Coromandel Peninsula, which is about 3 hours away from Auckland. The experience was breath taking as this was my first trip out of Auckland and I love every bit of it. The landscapes, beaches, clouds, bush and atmosphere was just breath-taking. The festival took place in Corodmandel Town and it's basically a hippie festival (and you all know how I love hippies!) During the day, the festival lawn was full of tee-pees, vendors, arts and crafts booths with yummy food, cool jewelry and other random items. By night, various music groups played and the first night we danced the night away to a funky funk band called the "Hot Grits". They were rockin'! During the day, Jill and I drove up the western side of the Peninsula and enjoyed the beaches and quite nature. Also, the Miskell's have a family home in the heart of Te Kouma bay. The family home sits on 30 acres of land and the old house is surrounded by untouched bush. The property has been in their family since the late 1800's and we stopped by for a glass of wine one afternoon. It was fun to meet Stephanie's family and sit in the sun for a bit. Also, we took a train tour up a tall mountain to see a beautiful view of the peninsula and water. The train was a bit dodgy in that it was built by a train fanatic man (yes, there are foamers all over the world and for a short while I was reminded of my work at Capitol Corridor and BART :)). The train and the train tracks certainly didn't have to live up to the same standards as what we experience in the US, but the experience was different, fun, quite touristy, but worth it all when we reached the top of the mountain. Overall, the weekend was really fun and very relaxing.
Towards the end of October and beginning of November, my friend Glen visited from San Francisco. He had a "whirl wind tour" of NZ, as he likes to put it. He came to Auckland for the weekend. Not only was it the first time that I explored the night life of Auckland, including some favorite bars and clubs on K Rd., but we also celebrated his birthday, which was very fun. On Saturday, we drove to Rotorua, which is known for it's thermal hot pools. We enjoyed a long dip in some hot pools at the Polynesian spa, then relaxed during some spa treatments. We also visited "Hells Gate", which was a very cool location where naturally hot pools and geysers had erupted. One of the pools grew to be 145 celius. Obviously, we didn't soak in these pools, just admired them from afar. The smell was a bit stinky, however, because of the sulphur oozing from the earth. Imagine only smelling rotten eggs every breath you took, well, that's what we smelled. After a while you didn't notice it... The drive home, was full of surprises, when the cam belt (aka timing belt) broke on my car. Luckily, we found a tow truck driver that was working on a Sunday and had an entertaining ride back to Auckland. Dave our tow truck driver, spent 6 months in Century City, LA in 1981, as an exotic dancer for Beverly Hill pool parties. Dave was clearly the best and most entertaining part of the entire experience related to my car! (Luckily, there was little damage to my car and after a fairly inexpensive trip to the mechanics, my little car was back on the road.)
During the week, I returned to being a working girl and Glen traveled onto Wellington, which was a city he thoroughly enjoyed. The following weekend, we met up in Christchurch, which was my first visit to the South Island. We stayed in a fun little backpackers lodge called "The Foley Towers", after the John Cleese movie and had such a delightful time in the city. The weather was gorgeous that weekend and we spent much of the weekend, wandering the streets and exploring the city. Christchurch is NZ's oldest city and is marked with beautiful botanical gardens, amazing historic buildings, like the Christchurch Cathedral and Christ College and again exploring the night life. Christchurch has approximately 330K people and is very flat. The homes are mostly one story homes because the city is on a fault line and they constantly receive mild tremors of earthquakes. Also, the drinking water is supplied by aquaducts that receive water directly from nature, as I understand. The water is so pure and actually tastes quite good. The people in Christchurch were really outgoing, friendly and it seemed that everywhere we went, we met new and interesting people. It also helped that Glen was from the UK originally, because people picked up on his accent and conversation always evolved. We also met up with Trond, who worked for Gen Con earlier this year. The three of us had a nice, long lunch at the Cafe which sits in the Art Centre. Trond was like a NZ encyclodpedia and I learned quite a bit about the government, the Internet industry, the ozone hole and much more. The hole of the ozone is right above NZ and Australia, which not only makes people more prone to melanoma and creates much more extreme weather patterns. All in all, it was a wonderful trip because not only did I explore more of NZ, but I became closer friends with Glen who is a friend with a kind heart and loving attitude.
A few people have asked me to describe the kinds of people that I've encountered in NZ. Overall, people are very nice, polite, a little reserved, but very down to earth. The culture is unique because the country is an island, so the sense of style is quite odd to me at times. For example, among young people in Auckland the look is retro 80's, but in a more urban, street way. Of course, like in every big city, there are people who are consumed by work, a fast pace, rising to the top of a corporate world, but there are people that I've met who come from the other end of the spectrum. I seem to be drawn to a more liberal, fun-loving and very real sense of being.
Summer is nearly here and the weather is just gorgeous. Last weekend, we had a Thanksgiving BBQ and rather than bbq a turkey (we tried, but turkeys were super expensive and just didn't look that good), we decided to bbq a lamb and have a kiwi-style holiday. We bbq'd a leg of lamb and I made a cranberry-apple chutney. It was delicious and I've attached the recipe for those of you that would like to try it. We spent the afternoon eating delicious food, drinking wine, and enjoying music in our backyard, surrounded by loungy pillows, hammocks and terrific company. John Miskell joined us and we all shared a magnificent holiday together. At different times through out the BBQ, we all stated what we were thankful for. Jill, my flatmate stated that she was thankful that I moved in with them. Her comment was so sweet and greatly appreciated. I am very thankful for all of my flatmates, I have met some of the most fun, interesting and really cool people while living here and I just feel so blessed to live with them.
Christmas is just around the corner and it's so, so weird to be walking in downtown in the hot sun, with blue skies and white glistening clouds all around and then see Christmas decorations and music all around. My brain just filters the holiday advertisements so strangely. This is definitely my first Christmas in a warm climate and I keep forgetting that Christmas is in about a month.
I'll be moving out of my flat in just a few weeks and am getting sad to already be leaving the wonderful friends and atmosphere I've enjoyed for this last month. But, the world calls and my next adventures are coming up soon. I'll write more soon!
Hope you are all well. Love and miss each of you! May this Thanksgiving holiday bring you all much love, joy and light.