Coming Home

This past weekend we traveled to Auckland and hiked Rangitoto Island, a dormant shield volcano in the Hauraki Gulf. The name is Maori for “Bloody Sky,” and is a reference to a historic battle that took place on the island. The youngest of the volcanoes in the Auckland area, Rangitoto erupted a mere 600 years ago. The nature reserve is only accessible by passenger ferry, which leaves the Auckland pier every few hours. On a Saturday, the island is busy, but the views from the summit are worth battling the crowds. The hike climbs through old lava fields, past lava tube caves, to a spectacular lookout.

On Sunday we spent the afternoon at the Auckland Zoo. Unlike Brookfield in Chicago or the San Diego Zoo, Auckland’s Zoo is an easy afternoon walk. Exhibits lead into each other but don’t feel crammed together or too far apart. The highlight of the day was spotting a kiwi bird, albeit in captivity. Although I always enjoy walking around any zoo, the irony is never lost on me. I go to the zoo to escape for a while, only to watch caged animals.

Still, the beautiful weather and conversation made for an almost perfect afternoon. We overate great food, and, as always, the weekend went by too fast. And saying goodbye to Carrie at an airport just never gets easier.

The Kaitaia Airport has one landing strip and one wind flag, and only allows prop planes to land. Last year Air New Zealand was still flying into Kaitaia, but then the airline phased out the smaller prop planes in their fleet. Now, just Barrier Air does the route. Barrier Air does not have any self-serve kiosks at the Auckland airport- you ring a bell at a desk, and someone eventually shows up. The same person who prints your boarding pass collects it at the gate and also loads the luggage (if there is any). On domestic flights in New Zealand, no real security screening is implemented. Someone is available at the main gate entrance with a metal detector wand if needed, but, mainly you show your boarding pass, and walk down a gangway to your gate, and then out onto the tarmac. It’s the way travel used to be and is more civilized than TSA.

Our plane was full, meaning there were 8 passengers on it. Vince, our pilot, gave us the two-minute set of safety instructions and advised he would turn on the heater if it got too cold. I hoped for no turbulence, as my head actually touched the ceiling when I sat straight up.

The flight was on time and smooth, and we experienced a fantastic sunset over the Tasman Sea, something I never tire of watching.

When we landed, Christine, the only shuttle driver in Kaitaia, was waiting in the terminal (Quonset hut). She greeted us with a quick joke and then informed us her rates went up to $5 since last year. Christine is a bit of a fixture in town, with her gumboots, a crocheted cap, a dirty overcoat, and self-rolled cigarettes. Every time I see her, she is wearing the same clothes. Christine is probably my age but looks old enough to be my mother. She talks fast with a strong Kiwi accent, so I can’t understand half of what she says. However, from what I gather, Christine is a part-time police informant. Not much happens in Kaitaia, but if it does, she knows about it. And then the local police know. (Like the “p”(meth) lab that was attracting rats near her house.) She’s a good source of local gossip.

On the slow ride back to the hospital to pick up our car, we passed just two vehicles on the road. Christine updated us on town happenings, which was nothing. At 7:30 on a Sunday night, most of downtown Kaitaia was closed and deserted, except for the local McDonald’s- a stark contrast to our time in Auckland.

Oddly, I felt happy to be home. 

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