Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Haere ra, Aotearoa

Greetings! At time of writing, I've been back in Belgium for a few days, not back at work yet. It was my aim to finish my NZ blogs before going back to work, because I know myself and my lack of motivation that will kick in the longer I leave it.

EDIT: Since time of writing, I went back to work, then the bastards blew things up, then a jittery few days of arrests and searches in various familiar and not-so-familiar parts of Brussels, then Easter.

We arrived back in Brussels on a Thursday at around 7 am, which is a pretty tough time when you're trying to deal with jet lag. This time round, we only stopped for a few hours in Bangkok, a 28 hour 10 minute trip (not counting airport transfers, waiting around etc.) I found the trip to NZ fairly hard, even with the stopover, so I wasn't looking forward to this one. In the end, it wasn't so bad.

From Auckland to Bangkok, the plane was fairy full, and I had a window seat, with Jules in the middle and some dude on the aisle. I was sending probably fairly unsubtle "move" vibes to the guy shortly before and after take-off, to no effect. In the immediate vicinity, I could see at least five rows with only one person in them, so it seemed pretty unfair that we were three in our row.

Shortly after the meal service, the guy on the aisle fell asleep and I needed water and was panicking that we would be trapped in the row like that for the whole flight. After quite a long period of whispered argument as to who was going to wake the guy up, he briefly stirred awake to the sight of us both staring at him and we asked to get out. When I came back from the loo, I asked him if he would prefer taking the window seat. He said it was up to me, so I told him I wasn't going to sleep and didn't want to keep disturbing him if he was going to sleep the whole way. He graciously took the window seat, and then spent the vast majority of the flight awake, so I felt pretty guilty for making him swap (he only got up once one time when we got up as well, whereas I got up like half a dozen times, so it probably was the best arrangement). Much as I like looking out the window and leaning on the window frame (even more crucial on long flights), I think I'll always go aisle from now on. I was seriously feeling panicked by the prospect of being stuck in my seat.

In Bangkok, we were quickly through a bag check and into the airside shopping, where I got an hour-long foot and neck massage (more of a leg and back massage really, not that that's a bad thing). We had already been awake for nearly 24 hours at this stage, so I managed to drift off at one point during the massage, even though most of it was quite painful. Definitely a good way to spend the stopover though, I had started getting some neck and back pain already on the first flight, so I came out of the massage feeling pretty refreshed.

On the second leg, the plane was even more full and we were three in a row again. Thankfully though, the guy next to us spotted a free exit row seat and disappeared, so we got to stretch out a bit. I took a sleeping pill which enabled me to doze on and off for a lot of the flight, so it wasn't too bad. Time just seems to crawl on these long flights, though. I'd look at the time - 5.27 am, look again what felt like 10 minutes later and it would only be 5.30, and you'd just feel like time was standing still.

Here in Brussels, it was cold but sunny. I was very grateful that the apartment was clean and tidy and there were fresh sheets on the bed and the house sitter apparently didn't steal any of our stuff. We had to take the poor cat to the vet for a urinary tract infection, possibly caused by stress :( but at least we had the time to take care of that and he's hopefully fine now (waiting for lab results).

After five weeks off, it's going to be an adjustment going back to work on Monday! We're currently waking up very early (4.30 am yesterday, 5.30 today), so that part at least shouldn't be a problem, but that's obviously balanced out by being tired in the afternoon. At least this first week is a short one followed by a four-day weekend for Easter.

Anyway, back to the last little part of our NZ trip. We drove from Napier to Otorohanga via Taupo for lunch and a stop at the Huka Falls. I didn't remember how impressive they are. They're not a big, high waterfall, but the sheer volume of water passing through is pretty awesome - 220,000 litres per second.

Baby trees!

Turbulent river leading to the falls (The Waikato)

The Huka Falls

We then visited the Otorohanga kiwi house. This was a bit more in line with timid kiwis hiding in the darkness. One actually was down by the front of the glass, but spend most of the time just sitting there sleeping. This is, until the keeper came in to feed it. She explained that she would have to put on rubber wading books and protective pants, because the kiwi was quite territorial and aggressive, and had even injured one of her colleagues. You sort of hear this and think "yeah right", because I've never seen or heard of kiwis being anything but cute and passive. But as soon as she approached the pen, the kiwi became agitated and went from sleeping in the corner to running back and forth the spot where she was climbing over the fence. And then it totally went for her. It was hanging off her crotch by its beak, clawing at her legs, sticking its beak in the turn-ups of her pants, etc. I couldn't find any videos online, so you'll just have to imagine the sight of a mad, fat kiwi hanging off a girl's crotch. Quite amusing.

Jules and a parakeet (kakariki)

I forget what this is, some species of native duck I suppose. A little cutie anyway
A cheeky kea
We spent our last night on the road at Waitomo, to visit the famous glowworm caves. Setting off in the morning, Jules backed into a grass bank and broke the plastic taillight surround off. Poor van, it had one day left till retirement!

The caves are another place I'd been before, but only remembered vaguely. The walk through the caves was nice enough, but the boat trip with the glowworms was average. I say average to mean really a blend of good and bad. The good was the glowworms themselves, they were really pretty and it is a cool feeling to be gliding through the pitch black in silence (apart from a noisy kid) looking up at them. It really does feel like you're looking up at stars in the sky.

The bad is that they make out like you're really voyaging through a glowworm universe or something, when in reality they just turn the boat around a few times in a relatively small space. Photos aren't allowed until the very end, which is allegedly for "safety", but I don't really see how it's safer encouraging people to take a few panicked snaps at the cave entrance. Presumably if you can't take your own photos it's easier to sell you the photoshopped snap of you in front of a glowworm background that they make up. Everyone taking photos all the time would detract from the overall experience, but since you're essentially just going around in circles, it would be better to have the first few turns photo-free and then let people take one on the last circuit. We probably should have taken the rainy-day opportunity to go to the much less famous glowworm caves in Te Anau, instead of what we did do, which was just sitting in the van.

My hurried glowworm snap

Outside the cave
And so, that was pretty much that. We drove back to Auckland, where our time was mostly taken up with house-keeping (packing, cleaning the van, shipping my old books and stuff back to Europe) and winning "New Zealand's biggest pub quiz" (high five?) It was a lot of fun, but it's nice to be home. I hope those of you who don't know a lot about NZ enjoyed exploring the country a bit with us!


  1. Oh man, I used to be a window girl all the way, but then I spent one very long 12h flight to Bangkok with an extreme need to pee and two sleeping folks next to me, and that was the end of that. Now I am very strategic in my seat picking - if I can, I either take one of the two first economy class row window seats - cuz then you can lean on the window but still get out when you want, or if not, than I definitely choose an aisle seat.

    And I very much enjoyed your posts, I don't know a lot about NZ, but I would love to visit someday (preferably when I'm already in Asia lol so at least half the journey is done).

    1. Thanks! Yes, definitely, if you ever got the chance to tack it on to one of your Asia trips that would be a great way to do it.

  2. We are the idiots na na na naaa na!

  3. Among all the things we went to see during our trip I think the glow worm cave had the most touristy vibe of all, but I still enjoyed the glow worm cave a lot. Even the boat ride! I wish we had more time wandering around the caves (I think there's some tours where you spend more time in there, but we didn't have the time or motivation to wait for those tours, as the morning ones were all sold out IIRC)

  4. I started going for aisle seats a few years ago. I hate disturbing someone who is sleeping, and sometimes I have to get up many times. Plus, I find that I have a little more leg room.

    I really enjoyed your NZ posts! I know very little about it, so it was fun to read and see places that I'm sure a lot of people don't visit.

    1. Thanks a lot! It was fun to be able to share a bit from home for a change :)

  5. Prompted by Shannon's comment, I have just had a flick backwards through your NZ posts. What a great trip and what a great variety of scenery, climate and experiences in one country. Your blog is a great resource/memory bank for you - well worth all the work you put into it! :) xx

    1. Definitely. I'm not exactly looking back over old posts all the time, but it's always fun if I have occasion to!

  6. Have just re-read your NZ posts (because I sent the link to the Canadian branch of the family, who "might" visit NZ). This brought to mind that we had the window and middle seat (me, of course) on the journey back from Honolulu earlier this month. The woman on the aisle promptly went to sleep and slept for over four hours (this was a DAYTIME flight). She had the space in front of her filled with a huge tote bag and there was no way I could get out. In the end I just shook her awake, as I had just got to the end of my tether by that time. I told your Dad if he ever books us window and middle again he's for the high jump, haha!


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