Tuesday, February 21, 2006 - Melbourne to Auckland, New Zealand

Morning came pretty quickly, but we had to get up because we were going to New Zealand! We still had another whole vacation left! On the far side of Southern Cross Station we caught a shuttle bus to the Melbourne airport. Our flight left at noon, took three and a half hours, and landed in Auckland at 5:30 p.m. local time.

At New Zealand immigration we had to show our plane tickets to prove we'd be leaving. They let us in, but it was clear we weren't welcome to stay. We picked up our rental car at Avis, a gray, four-door Mitsubishi Lancer with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car.

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Helpful reminder

I'd been dreading driving on the left for weeks. I drove first, while Tom navigated. We'd reserved a room at a hotel fairly near the airport, not wanting to do a lot of big-city driving right off the bat. Very wise. Things were a little dodgy at first, especially when I missed a turn and almost had to get on the expressway, but I cut off another driver and managed to whip onto a side street at the last second. Sorry about that, but it was for the best. I circled the block and made the correct turn on my second try.

There are two main difficulties with this left-lane driving: One, every time I try to signal, I turn on the windshield wipers; and two, I'm overcompensating and driving onto the left shoulder. I got it sorted out soon enough, but that first bit of driving was nerve-wracking. I was further flummoxed by the ever-present traffic circles, or roundabouts, very popular in New Zealand. I call them traffic "circus."

We stayed the night at the Best Western Garden Inn-Airport in Mangere, a suburb of Auckland. The hotel is decent but rather blah. There's a swimming pool, but it was closed for repairs, and there's no air conditioning, which would have been nice on such a warm day.

There's nothing we wanted to do in Mangere, so we took a bus into Auckland. The hotel receptionist told Tom we could catch the bus on the corner, but when we got there, we realized we didn't know which side of the street we should be on. Tom asked a gentleman who was watering his flowers nearby, and the man went inside to ask his son, who then called the bus company. How nice!

The bus into Auckland, of course, meandered all about, as buses do, and the trip took well over an hour. It was dark by the time we got to the city. This was a good public transport experience. These Kiwis are uber-polite. Every one of them thanked the bus driver when they got off. Also, the bus driver was very helpful in taking the time to tell us which bus routes would take us back to Mangere and the schedules.

In Auckland we ascended the Sky Tower. At 328 meters (1,076 feet), the Sky Tower is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere (and way taller than the "tallest office building" in Melbourne). Parts of the observation deck are composed of transparent material so that when you stand on it, you really get a good perspective of how high you are. This being New Zealand, for a couple hundred bucks, they'll let you jump off the building, hooked to a wire, of course. No one did it while we were there. We had great 360-degree views of the city lights, and the Sky Tower is a striking structure just to look at from below as well.

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Auckland at night

I saw a Mexican restaurant across the street from the Sky Tower, but we were in a hurry to catch the last bus back, so we had a late dinner at Subway instead. It was a good choice, helped by the fact that we hadn't had a meal all day and were famished.

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Sky Tower

 

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