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Catching up with friends

Bye bye Bali, it was great to meet you. It is time to “git on ye bike” now, and get to Auckland and, hopefully, a whole bunch of sailing

The start is less than auspicious, for the first time in the trip I get asked about forward traveling and I am unprepared. I had not planned to get a ticket out of New Zealand well into my stay. Ah well, change of plan then, gotta buy something. The choice is obvious, buy a rather expensive and yet refundable ticket from a main carrier so that I can then ship it back as soon as I get on the outer side of Auckland airport.  Off they go 42o pounds to Air New Zealand, I’m not completely sure but that’s not far from what it costed me to get all the way to Singapore, and that was taking some 8 flights. Anyways it does the trick, and in a short 18 hours, after a painless change in Sydney, I’m in New Zealand.

The overwhelming feeling, coming out of south east Asia is how shockingly clean everything is, I will later discover they don’t even sell chewing gums in the airport.

I make it to the city centre with a few minutes to spare to catch the bus home with Adam. He still works in the heart of town and we use the bus ride to catch up on things that the rest of the family will not be interest in hearing. As we get home I am greater like a rock star by the girls. Aroha is all grown up, 12 going 25 and Nadira is her usual lively self even at seven. They have arranged for someone to look after the kids while we go out for dinner and, believe it or not we go to an Italian restaurant. All that way you’re thinking but the food was excellent and catching up in a childless environment was a great idea.

The plan for this section of the trip is to see all my friend along the two islands in the intervals between the unpaid sailing experience and the costal skipper sailing course. This plan while terribly well laid and smartly conceived is one of those that does not survive first contact with the enemy. Anyways, between me and the search for sailing position there is a whole week end of entertainment where we part take of a little Argentina in the heart of New Zealand, going for an asado at Leandro and Araceli’s.

Some of you might not remember from my post of two years ago, there is ago definite Hispanic feel to the network of friends of Adam and Arantxa. This and the other new variable in the equation, my semi fluency in español,  make for an interesting mix of languages around the dinner table. As well as the hosts and the tree of us there is also another mutual friend, Saray. Her husband, Ben is in Australia pursuing a surgical fellowship and she is due to reach him as soon as their house is rented in new Zealand. Saray is and special person and Ben is a truly lucky guy. Over the next four weeks we get to see quite a bit of each other and, in the process of torturing her with my Spanish, I get to know and really like her a lot. As I said so many times, in these travels of mine I keep meeting some very special people.

And now for the bad news, the weather is a bit crap and I spend two days unsuccessfully tracking down sailing opportunities. By the time I get around to give up the chase, I also discover that the practical skipper course presupposes the passing of the theory course for which, while having had the material for a whole year I have done jack-shit about.

I spend another week end at Adam’s where we meet up with Paula and Pedro, a couple of Colombians that will be my remote guide through the mountains of their native country when I get there next October. Another fabulous day spent immersed in the Spanish language which I find I’ve retained and improved on from my time in sud America. By now I have decided that sailing was going to take a nondescript back step in this trip and I was going to change my plan in four ways: spend more time traveling around New Zealand and make sure I see all my friends I have not seen in a nondescript couple of years, shorten my overall stay in New Zealand, focus on more scuba diving by inserting a ten days stop in the Philippines and adding a stop in Hong Kong and Macau on my way to Bangkok.

How about that for flexible plans? So, white all of this decided it’s time to head south, catch a one way flight to Christchurch and meet up with Hamish and Mary. They are of course as much fun as always and in the time I spend with them, not only I pack a day at Hamish’s work, seeing the innards of a multi million sailing boat, a week end at Mount Cook  and a day trip to Akaroa.

It all works out really good, we go to Mount Cook the day when it rains in Christchurch and the day after, while gloriously sunny I’m off to Akaroa for a rather adventurous route that cuts the outer side of the Banks Peninsula.

Time with friends is always too short and I suspect it will be a while before I see them again but we top the visit with a real gem, a super meal out followed by a spud gun shooting session. #thisisnewzealand

All is left for me to do is start the way north back to Auckland and doing so clock up a fair bit of bus rides while zig zagging between a whole lot of other hosts.

I leave Christchurch on an intercity bus heading for Greymouth,  I purchased a rather clever 25 hours bus flexipass, which gives me the freedom to use these travel hours across the national network, as it turns out, it will deliver me to Auckland with no more than 15 minutes to spare.

So, the first stop is Greymouth, almost two years to the day I was there two years ago on my way south on the bicycle. I’m visiting Henry and Kim Escott. I stayed with them two years ago while they lived in Dunedin, in the intervening 2 years they have done a bit of cycling of their own, through Australia, Europe and finally, North America. Kim is a doctor and she is going to be in Wellington for a course so I only spend a few hours in the afternoon with her while I chat long with Henry in the evening and in the morning before I get back on a bus on my way north to Nelson.

Greymouth to Picton, and the ferry to Wellington, is too long for a one day ride so I have to break it down for a night in the hostel in Nelson. The trip is made all the more worth while as I was not aware there was going to be a pause of an hour in Punakaiki, allowing for a proper exploration of the pancake rocks that I could not see properly last time I did not feel comfortable in abandoning the bicycle. 

As exciting as Punakaiki is the overnight stay in Nelson is tranquil. I get myself some food from the supermarket and consume it in splendid isolation while surrounded by too young and too noisier European first time backpackers. I sleep well though and I’m ready for the next short hop to Picton and the inter-islands ferry.

On the other side of the ferry there is a long looked forward meeting. I’m staying a couple of nights with Dawn, a friend from back in the university days that now is working in the New Zealand diplomatic core. Dawn and her son Luca are a great deal of fun, just back from a 5 year posting in China, they both speak mandarin, Luca would say he’s better. He’s a rather mature and very knowledgeable 11 years old boy that can withstand a conversation on the merits of Scottish independence as well as the future of the EU in the face of the current wave of populism. I cooked for them carbonara and we had a bottle of wine while talking away away out the days gone by. As in many other occasions this was away out long time catch up and we agree that we should leave it that long until the next time we see each other, if Dawn gets posted to Rome as she’d like next I’m sure I’d love to pop down and be entertained by an Ambassador in the eternal city.

As a Wellington interlude to my visitations I spend the morning with Alice, a Belgian girl I met in Bali who is now going to spend a couple of months in middle earth. 

The next stop is with the Neasmith, Adam’s parents on the other side of the Wellington gulf. With my revised timetable of leaving NZ on the 15th of March I will not be at her 80th birthday in Taupo so I thought it would be good to spend a day or two with them. They are fun to be with, not just because they give me single malt whiskey. They are also really fit for their age as on different days I go swimming in the sea with Angela (80) and hiking up are really forest track with Derek (79).

The final visitation.os the Marsden up in Masterton. I was there two years are regole and little has changed. They are reforestation lovely and I help out with a bit of photography at Otto’s triathlon. Stuart and Nicole are a great couple and their kids are super. I expecially connected with Imogen, the elder, confirming that I am not really suited to deal with young kids. The first night BBQ was followed on the second night by are bis of pastas, carbonara and tomato sauce that was a relative success. Stuart and I then capped the evening drinking and discussing world single malts.

And that’s it, back on my way to Auckland I stop overnight in Rotorua where I finally become a fully fledged zorbanaut by completing the crazy rolling extravaganza that has its home here on the volcanic hills of the central North island.

Three more hours on the coach and a bus ride to the north shore bring me back to Auckland and the last week end with Adam, the family and the friends, before spreading my wings on the long way back to Europe.

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