(2/24 – 3/9/2010) After Vietnam, we had tentatively planned to go to China as it seemed the natural choice in terms of its close proximity in the region, coupled with its obvious allure as a destination. Ultimately, however several factors militated against it: First, we had been living “out of our suitcase” for more than 5 weeks in Vietnam and it was beginning to wear on both of us. Unfortunately, China would have to be the same not only because of similar impracticalities of renting an apartment as we encountered in Vietnam, but also because there would be so many places inside China we would like to travel to and see. Second, there would be the hassle of obtaining a Visa. It would take too long and cost too much to apply for one in Vietnam, so the next best choice was to fly to Hong Kong, where our research indicated a Visa could be obtained within a couple of days at a reasonable cost. However, as a destination Hong Kong we learned is INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE … even for just a few days visit. Third, speaking of expense, then we would have to contend with travel within the interior of China, which because of the vast distances and poor ground transportation options, would mean multiple domestic flights. Bottom line, after being worn down by Vietnam on all fronts, we chose to forego a visit to China at this time.
So, our dilemma, where to go next? Turn around and head back West – perhaps to Turkey or Greece? Bit too early in the climate category. Continue our path East, somewhere in the Pacific or all the way back to South America or even westcoast USA? Looking at the Map, Sydney Australia immediately came into focus. We had heard great things about it from others during our travels, as well as from our good friend Mike Shaker. So, desiring to leave Hanoi pronto, we booked a flight to Sydney without making our usual advance inquiries regarding accommodations. We assumed that being a large city in a western-oriented English speaking country, it would not be difficult to find a reasonable apartment for rent where we could stay for a couple of months. We could not have been more mistaken. Although we sent out dozens of email inquiries after booking our flight, all of the replies were negative. It seems that besides being "high-season", our scheduled arrival also coincided with Sydney's annual sailing Regatta and an international art and music exhibition. Apparently, a big deal there and everything was booked solid. So even before we left Hanoi, our plans had to change once more. Next best thing to Sydney -- we decided to book a short and relatively inexpensive flight to neighboring Auckland New Zealand. Surely, we could find reasonable accomodations there -- Wrong Again!
But we had another hassle/problem to deal with even before getting to New Zealand. After arriving at Sydney's Airport after an exhausting flight, we proceeded to the Check-In Counter, we encountered our next major problem/hassle. The Airline Rep. Refused to check us in without documentation of an onward flight from New Zealand, claiming that New Zealand Immigration Authorities would absolutely insist upon it when we arrived or we would be deported back to Sydney. Despite my protestations that we had heard the same ‘cock and bull’ at many other destinations during our travels and had never had a problem anywhere, the Airline folks said New Zealand was ‘different’ and ‘very strict’. So, I was forced to get out of the ‘miles long line’ at the Check-In Counter, get on the Internet and book another ‘one-way’ flight out of New Zealand (without really any intention of using it, since we had no idea how long we would stay in New Zealand, or where we would go after that). Of course, I paid 4times as much to book a “refundable” ticket, but ultimately still had to lose a $25 booking fee in the process. Not to mention, literally running around the airport to find a place to print the documentation, and barely getting back to the Check-In Counter in time to make our flight, with a little help from “express” passes given to us by the Airlines to get through Security, and Immigration Exit.
Of course when we arrived, we passed thru New Zealand's Customs and Immigration, no questions asked -- just as we have throughout our prior travels. So, the whole hassle at Sydney's Airport was B.S. just like I knew it was. Unfortunately, that was hardly the end of our problems. Now after nearly a full day of traveling, we then spent another 4-5hrs at Auckland's Airport on the internet and telephone, trying desperately to even book a reasonable Hotel for a couple of days while we continued our apartment search. Again, 'high-season" was the excuse, coupled with one festivity or another. We could find nothing better than a 1-star hotel for anything less than US$100 – far above our budget. We finally bit the bullet, and stayed at some dive of a Motel a few miles from the airport. Next morning, it was back to the Airport where we at least had internet capability not provided at our crappy Motel, and it was back to the drawing board. After spending another 4-5hrs of internet research and phone calls, we were feeling defeated and just about ready to give up on this part of the world, and just head on back to the Americas. But then a thought occurred to us, why not rent a car and just drive around the Island. Presumably, once outside the major city, at least Hotel accommodations should be a bit easier and less expensive. So, we spent another couple of hours trying to find a reasonable rental car value – another major hurdle, but somehow finally got lucky and found one we could rent starting the next morning for a couple of weeks.
And, so began our “Road Trip” around the north island of New Zealand. Truthfully, it was a whirlwind of images as we drove each day for most of the day from one destination to another. Unquestionably, New Zealand is a beautiful country, from pristine coastline lined with rocky cliffs, to miles of sandy inviting beaches, to rolling pastures greener than nearly any I have seen and most covered with thousand upon thousands of grazing sheep. Its people seem laid back, happy and friendly. But alas, nothing is perfect. The big “Flaw’ is this is one very expensive place to live (or visit). I’d say prices were on par with New York City, which for us is a major drawback, when living/traveling on a fixed budget. So, we sort of ‘lived out of our car’ it seemed for most of our visit. Searching long and far for reasonable Hotel rooms, and restaurants where we could eat without going broke. Naturally, we had to skip any ‘touristy attractions’, and just enjoy the view … much of it from our car window. Not quite sure how the locals can afford to live; and, we actually asked several exactly how – are they paid a higher wage or what? The answer was never clear, but they definitely denied being paid a higher wage. I suppose this would be a good place for us to live too, if we could get jobs paying us enough to be able to enjoy it. Then, of course, we would also have to contend with obtaining a resident Visa, something we understand is extremely difficult for USA citizens. Whatever, that’s for another time. Ultimately, we covered the entire north Island, from Auckland north thru Whangier and up to the very tip, and then south through Hamilton, New Plymouth, Taupo, down to Wellington, back up through Hastings and Napier Gisborne, and Rotorua. We had hoped to also travel by Ferry to the south Island, but not surprisingly it turned out to be cost-prohibitive – they wanted something like US$450 for roundtrip with our rental car. Sorry, but don’t really have much more details to provide, because as we said most of our visit was literally seen through a car window. So our Photos will have to mostly speak for our time in New Zealand. But, all-in-all it was a pretty decent Roadtrip.
Time to head back to the Americas – starting in our favorite City to date – Buenos Aires.