Eleven months and five days ago, I started from Munich aboard a plane headed for the far side of the world. And in only two more days, I will once again be on board of one of these mighty steel birds, headed back for the place called home.
That is then.
Now, I’m still in a Whangarei, and am preparing to depart for…
Day 1: Auckland (Again)
I start my day with yet another sparse breakfast at the Bunkdown Backpackers Hostel.
I might have mentioned this before, but this place is mega-freaking HUGE! It is, in fact, so big that it easily deserves its own tour.
Among other things, I also find a Japanese travel guide to New Zealand in the book exchange. And I say, you’ve got to admire the style of these people!
The day starts out with a nice little rain shower. Fortunately, Peter, the owner of the hostel, kindly offers to give me a ride to the bus station. That is a great service which I am not going to forget!
There, I wait for the rest of the time until the bus arrives, next to a giant metal moth, close to the National Clock Museum, and somewhere under the rainbow.
My route today should be the one repetitive journey on my trip: Back down along the same road I came up on my way north. To compensate for this, I resolve to try and get a seat facing east this time around.
This trip should be dominated by a cacophonous interplay of rain and sunshine, nicely accompanied by the alteration of mountains and shoreline dictating the course which the road runs.
I arrive where I started: At the modern Akoranga Bus Station in the northern district of Takapuna. Once again, I am going to find shelter with MJ the dragon. However, since he is busy with work at the moment, it is his flatmate, Red the wolf, who picks me up today.
Our first goal for the day is the palpable Sky Tower, which not only happens to be Auckland's telltale trademark, but also is the place where both MJ and Red happen to work. Along the way, I finally get to cross the famous Auckland Harbour Bridge for the first, and quite possibly also the only time.
MJ and Red are both working in the backstage department of the SkyCity Theatre, which is where I can deposit my heavy backpacks for the day.
Since the two of them still have a full day’s work ahead, I have some time to take a tour through the city centre of Auckland again, starting with the SkyCity Casino.
Having only a few hours, I should focus mostly on shopping for souvenirs, so I don’t get around a lot. But oh well, I already had some pretty nice walks through the districts of Auckland eleven months ago (see Chapter 2 ~ Absolutely amazing and astoundingly awesome adventures at Auckland).
But before that, I have to re-fuel my energy-cells with a tasty sandwich.
Now, it’s time to see what has changed in the last few months. For one, there’s this wall of reverse-graffiti: You use water to paint on it, and it automatically disappears as the water dries.
Also, I’m pretty sure this huge gatey-thingy is new….
…whereas this Chinese tower was probably already here during my first visit.
It took me a while to figure out just what was wrong with this billboard…
…and the people who bagged my souvenirs have obviously been reading too much xkcd. Well, at least they didn’t double-bag it.
While walking through the streets I come across… whatever the hell that is…
…and finally find a proof of existence for Auckland’s suburban railway system.
Now, let us talk about the weather today. My best friend – who by now is a PhD of chemistry – once told of EXTREMELY volatile substances incorporating among other things Nitro-3-Rings, which spontaneously explode if they are either exposed to oxygen, or reach temperatures above 5 Kelvin. I’d say today’s weather is in no way less volatile than these substances. One minute, the skies are clear and it’s nice and warm and sunny, and the next minute, I’m pelted with a freezing rain shower for exactly 53.8 seconds, before it clears up again, fresh puddles on the ground the only indicator that it was raining cats and dogs just a few moments ago.
Due to my pedestrian nature today, I am able to take a number of shortcuts on my way back to SkyCity, which would be rather impractical on a bike.
And as the sun starts to set behind the western hills, shining its light through the valleys of skyscrapers…
…I wait for MJ inside the SkyCity lobby, admiring both the creative use of escalator stairs as guide posts…
…as well as the creative SkyTower artworks and background stories. Legend has it that it was only the with the construction of the SkyTower that Auckland started blossoming from a mediocre run-of-the-mill-city into the resplendent metropolis which it is today.
After that, it’s off to MJ’s place again…
…and this time around, it’s the dragon’s turn to cook for me. He whip up a delicious steak with fried onions for the three of us, and while the steak is quite savoury, I have to say that the one part of the meal I am most impressed with are the mashed potatoes. You see, I don’t normally like mashed potatoes, but MJ somehow managed to prepare them in a way that actually makes me go for seconds. “Cheese,” he eventually discloses his secret method. “Cheese and butter. Most people think simply mashing up the potatoes is enough, which is why those dishes end up tasting bland. But if you want to make proper mashed potatoes, you need to put a little bit more effort into it."
With a tasty meal in our bellies, we gently let the evening fade away. Now that I have bought my share of souvenirs, there’s nothing more which I really need to do here in New Zealand, which frees up my final day for…
Day 2: One Last Lap in Lynfield
I should start my last full day in New Zealand with a quartet of toasts covered in totally-not-Nutella.
After that, I embark on the last of my strays here in New Zealand. This one should take me to Lynfield Cove, a bay of Manuka Harbour, which in turn is an extension of the Tasman Sea in the east, along the shore of Blockhouse Bay, Green Bay, and eventually, after a brief lunch-stopover back at MJ’s, north to LynnMall.
Much to my delight, the weather today is considerably more steady, and so I should manage to complete my entire stray today without getting wet… at least from above.
I pass by a curious variety of Christmas tree…
…and eventually make it to Craigavon Park…
…where I once again come across a cleverly hidden geocache.
I have already mentioned New Zealand’s “Art against Graffiti”-campaign, but I never get tired to enjoy the fruits it bears.
Next up is Gittos Domain, a lush green park in the middle of the city. They simply don’t have that back in Germany, and I’m going to miss it, so I enjoy every last second of my time here.
After leaving the domain, the ocean is quite literally just down the road.
Though beware! There be ducks around!
One park further, I come across what must be the world’s smallest traffic island – on a footpath!
Shortly thereafter, I should get my totally rain-free daily soaking while looking for a geocache in a river valley. Since the coordinates were a bit off-key and the hint kinda generic, I searched the river bed a little bit to determinedly, and ended up slipping, with one leg knee-deep in the water. Well, at least I managed to find the cache on my way up, and the warm climate of today helped get my clothes dry relatively quickly.
After that damp squib, I soon arrive at the shore of Lynnfield Cove…
…where I’m surprised to find what can only be Poseidon’s personal driveway. That, or the off-ramp to the lost continent of Mu. I don’t know the precise address of this place, but personally, I’d go for “1 Neptune’s Place”.
One bay further, I come across another splendid example of “Oh fuck it! We'll just do it the direct way! Water or not!”, the likes of which I’ve last seen in Golden Bay (see Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround)…
…and then it’s back into the primordial parks of Auckland, where I must watch my head carefully lest I run into some precariously low-hanging branches.
Somewhere in that wilderness, I come across a secret military base and…
Who are you?
I didn't mean to…!
I can explain!!!
*coughs* Never mind that.
Let’s continue. It’s definitely still me, Kira Resari, the Travelling Ferret...
What? Oh, sorry. I meant “The Travelling Fox”. It’s most definitely me, and not some agent from a secret government organization writing this to cover up the fact that the original author of this blog has become rather permanently unavailable due to certain circumstances. The very thought would be absurd.
Now, where did he… I mean… where did I stop? Ah yes!
I continue my tour all the way over to Green Bay, where I should touch the water of the Tasman Sea possibly for the last time in my life. I stand on this beach, wondering whether the winds of fate should blow me back to this country at one point in the future. With all the pollution airplane trips cause, I don’t want to make any more trips than absolutely necessary. And yet, I can’t deny that my heart aches when I think about leaving behind all the nice people I met on my travels.
But for now, it’s already quite some time into the afternoon, and despite my hearty breakfast, I am getting rather famished. So I return back to MJ’s place, stopping only once along the way to take note of a rather accurate hazard warning. It’s true, without humans around, there certainly wouldn’t be any hazards for people.
My day is not quite done yet. I still have to buy ingredients to bake one last legendary tri-Tail pizza. But for now, I contend myself with a simple soup to satiate my hunger.
And after that, I’m off again, coming across the most ecological mailbox ever on my way to the Lynnmall.
I hear some people are having troubles accepting mosques in their neighbourhood. I can’t comprehend that sentiment. I find that they add a good deal of oriental charm to their surroundings.
And here’s what I’m lovingly going to call the troll-crossing.
I also like this solution for what you do when the road is simply not big enough.
After my successful return from the Lynmall, I set about to prepare one last pizza, and although MJ returns only late at night, Red is there to enjoy the final pizza of my stay with me.
And with that, my final day here in New Zealand comes to a close. I sink into sleep, thinking about all the fantastic adventures I’ve had here, not wanting to leave it all behind, and yet looking forward to seeing my friends and family again. Tomorrow, my trip home begins, two subsequent journeys by plane, interrupted only by…
Day 3: A Singapore Stopover
The final morning arrives much too soon. It’s the morning of a day that should be longer than most, yet not the longest in total. Chasing the sunset, I would gain four additional hours of daylight today on my flight to Singapore, and another six hours of starshine on my way from there to Munich. In preparation for this long journey, I allow myself another hearty breakfast with hazelnut-spread toast. This should be my final meal in New Zealand, and indeed my last meal on the ground for almost two full days.
My bags are packed and ready, every last thing in its proper place. Altogether, my entire belongings amount to just over 35kg. I’m just glad that I won’t have to carry the heavier backpack for most of the way.
MJ is a really kind dragon. He even volunteers to take me all the way to the airport, allowing me to capture one last glimpse of New Zealand infrastructure as we drive through the sprawling suburbs of Auckland, the busiest place in the country.
At the airport carpark, I promptly run into another masterpiece of infrastructural planning, in what must be the world’s most useless pedestrian crossing.
Subsequently, MJ and I enter the airport building, which I’ll admit properly reflects Auckland’s nickname as the City of Sails.
After I manage to check in with only minor complications because of my official pseudonym – it posed no difficulty for getting my visa, coming into the country, or national flights, but for some reason, they felt like making a fuss about it now that I was about to leave – I spend a little of my remaining time here in New Zealand keeping MJ company while he has his breakfast in the food court. Even right here at the airport it feels hard to believe that I’m going to leave all of this behind in just a few short hours.
But I’m certainly not leaving without giving the nice dragon a lovingly drawn piece of gift artwork, after all, we’re…
However, all too soon, the time of farewell arrives. We take one final picture…
…and then I’m all on my own again, taking the final hurdle through emigration and the security check, and making my way through the vibrant duty-free gauntlet.
A brief check of the departures board informs me that I still have time to relax…
…so I spend some time walking around, taking in the sights of the airport, and some of the more curious departing planes…
…before sitting down at one of the conveniently placed and extremely busy work desks. This should be the last time I’d enjoy such spacious luxury in public places for quite a while – possibly forever.
Inevitably, the time to board the plane arrives, and only as I step aboard the metal vehicle does the immutable inevitability of my departure finally sink in. With this, I am now officially departing the country I’ve travelled for almost a year, perhaps never to return. It carries with it a certain melancholy, that even the hot towels which are served prior to departure can’t wash away. Speaking of which, why do they serve these things anyway? Is that some sort of Asian tradition?
Normally, these flights are pretty crowded, but for some reason, there are plenty of seats free on the plane from Auckland to Singapore. In fact, I literally have the triplet of seats to myself, which means that I simultaneously get to enjoy the views of a window seat, but am also free to get up at any time.
One obligatory safety video later, the plane taxis to the runway, and as the great metal bird takes to the sky with a mighty roar, I take one last look at Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. The spirits have blessed me with wonderful weather today, and so I get a great look on the isthmus of Auckland as we fly across Manukau Harbour – more specifically Lynnfield Cove, Blockhouse Bay and Green Bay, at the shores of which I have stood just yesterday, looking out over the ocean. We soar over a number of hydroelectric lakes in the valleys of the Waitakere Ranges west of Auckland, and after we cross the western beaches of New Zealand, an overwhelming feeling of sadness fills my heart as I watch this amazing country fade into the distance. I offer up my prayers to the spirits calling this place their home, thanking them for the opportunity to visit their domain, as well as for keeping me safe through my travels. But now, it is finally time for me to return home.
The food aboard the aircraft is, as usual, top notch – they even serve the traditional New Zealand dessert: Ice cream.
Keeping my dental hygiene in mind, I’ve packed toothbrush and toothpaste in my carry-on luggage. It turns out needn’t have, although the complimentary toothpaste is really, really cute.
However, while I’m in the lavatory, I observe another curiosity – or quite possibly a relic from an age long past. Can you spot it?
The flight to Singapore should take about ten hours, and take us across Australia and the islands of Indonesia along its 8,500km long journey. The trip should be mostly a relaxing one, apart from a series of considerably worrying turbulences hitting the plane just above Borneo. I’m just glad it did not strike during dinner. That would have been… interesting.
On my way to New Zealand, I passed over the red continent in the dead of night, and consequently did not witness anything of Australia’s landscape. This time, however, it’s different, and I get a good look at the amazing red deserts as we cross into Queensland just south of Brisbane, enter the Northern Territory just west of Mount Isa, and leave the continent behind above Palmerston, Australia, close to the Tiwi Islands and the Kakadu National Park.
And after that, we’re above the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Precious little ecosystems, threatened by the undeniable effects of global warming. I wonder how much longer they still have at the rate at which we’re going…
It’s sometime around Sulawesi that a wholesome dinner is served, and once again, I can’t complain. The times when you used to be served bad food in airplanes seems to have passed long ago.
Approximately an hour before landing in Singapore, we get rocked by aforementioned series of fierce turbulences, as the path takes us straight through a storm cloud. However, despite the adrenalin boost this provides, the view is nonetheless quite spectacular.
Not much later, the plane lands in Singapore, approaching over the archipelago of islands and mixing bodies of water, passing scores of ships and tankers along the way, before finally touching down on the runway of Changi Airport.
So here I am, once again back in the sprawling halls of the massive Changi Airport of Singapore.
This time, I have only a few hours until my next flight departs. My original plan for that was to take a refreshing dip in the local swimming pool…
…however, the weather is not exactly stellar, and on top of that, the open-air swimming pool costs money, with me not having any Singapore Dollars on me.
So I eventually decide to give the pool a pass after all and instead end up wandering around the airport for some time – after all, there are plenty of peculiar sights just waiting to be taken in absolutely free of charge.
Believe it or not, but I also manage to find a Geocache hidden in the Butterfly Garden here, allowing me not only to add another country to my statistics, but also providing a great waypoint for the trackables I’m carrying.
Eventually, I decide to spend the rest of the time waiting until the plane for Munich departs continuing my recently begun online Japanese course, and so I set out to look for a work station where I can set up my trusty laptop Liete. Ironically, this task takes me significantly longer than it did back at Auckland, and when I finally find a valid work station, it’s nowhere near as comfortable as the one back in New Zealand. Oh well, but I guess it’ll do.
As midnight approaches, I make my way to the gate, since my flight to Munich departs in the middle of the night. And so, I make my way through the security check already quite sleepily, determined not to doze off until I am safely aboard the plane, and we’ve taken off towards my home, trying to outrun the sunrise.
Final Day: Back to Bavaria
So here I am, face-to-face with the mighty mechanical beast that is to carry me home on wings of steel, in the middle of the night, and mere moments from boarding.
This time around, I was not able to secure a window seat. That’s certainly not ideal, but since the majority of the flight is in the middle of the night, it should not be too upsetting. However, this should mean that – while still able to take a number of pictures through skillful use of zoom and perspective – I wouldn’t be able to take videos of takeoff and landing.
This final flight of my long journey should take a whopping 12 hours, yet arrive just after sunrise thanks to a -6 hour time difference. Along the over 9,000 km long flight, our route would take us over the Bay of Bengal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus, the Black Sea and finally into Europe.
It is no sooner than I sit down comfortably in my chair that I start napping, waking only briefly for a late dinner, since the last meal already lies comfortably 7 hours in the past.
Eventually, the cabin lights are turned off, and I cyclically drift back and forth between napping and sleeping. One time, as I wake up and look around, I suddenly realize why so many people complain about jetlag after long flights such as these.
Well, each to his own, I figure, and while the humans around me set themselves up for headache heaven in the days to come, I resume napping, allowing my brain to defragment itself by keeping my eyes shut, and allowing my thoughts to wander. Being someone who often has trouble sleeping properly, I have observed that even without losing consciousness, it’s still possible to get the same amount of mental rest in the same amount of time by simply acting as though one was asleep. All one needs to do is accept that it’s not the sleeping, but rather the resting part that is important for mind and body.
About nine hours into the journey, I regain full consciousness again, just as the first glimmer of dawn begins to appear on the eastern horizon. By now, we are flying across the Black Sea, and as such are almost back in Europe.
We’re at about the longitude of Ankara when breakfast gets served: For me, that is a savoury bowl of Bami Goreng, while the chavy couple next to me contumeliously orders bacon and eggs. That’s something I am never going to understand: Why would someone pay the money for this authentic Singaporean flair and then shun the delicious and genuine Asian food?
And just a short time later, the orbital photon blaster catches up with us, shining its prismatic light straight through the cabin. For me, this is the first time in almost a year that I see the sun shining from the south again, and it feels just a little bit strange.
It’s an equally strange feeling to be seeing the mountains, lakes and forests of home again, which are so familiar, and yet so very different from the landscapes which I’ve learned to love so much over this last year.
As the familiar cityscape of Munich comes into view, however, it’s finally starting to sink in. I may have left a lot behind in New Zealand, but now, I’m finally coming home, and after the longest absence of my life too.
The plane docks at the very recently completed Terminal 2-X, which is a fully autonomous satellite of Terminal 2, connected by means of an underground shuttle. As a result of its peculiar design, I first need to go several floors up to immigration…
…before taking an elevator nonstop into the basement, where I transfer to the subterranean shuttle headed for the baggage claim.
There, my patience is tested for one last time. I had assumed that since I was one of the first persons to check in at Auckland, my bag would be among the first ones to be loaded into the plane there, one of the last ones to be transferred to the next plane in Singapore, and consequently one of the first ones to be unloaded in Munich. Alas, I was wrong, and by the time my big backpack finally pops out of the chute, the conveyer is so stuffed with bags of people who have yet to make it through immigration, that it takes at least a minute for the “smart” system to find a gap into which it can insert my luggage, leaving me to wait literally two meters away from it, separated by a seemingly endless stream of suitcases.
After this last trial, I easily make it through customs, and are welcomed my father Peter, who has spared no efforts to prepare a proper red-carpet welcome for me, as well as his girlfriend Doro, who is equally glad to see me again after all this time.
I’m finally home again.
The Days to Come: A Homely Homage
I’ve travelled to so many places in New Zealand, and written a chapter about each and every last one of then, originally intending to use my blog to tell my friends and family back home about my travels. However, over the course of my journey, I’ve met a great many new friends, and conversed with people from all over the world, and looking at the statistics of my blog, I can tell that some of them must still be following me around. So, for those of you who do not know my home, I shall now tell you about this fantastic place I’ve returned to, just like I have told you about all the amazing places in New Zealand. Allow me to welcome you to…
Munich is the capital of the federal state of Bavaria, which is located in the southeastern corner of Germany. Bavaria is easily the largest of Germany’s 16 states with a total area of just over 70,000km², which is roughly the equivalent of the combined area of Waikato, Auckland, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui and the Bay of Plenty. This former kingdom – the most famous monarch of which is probably King Ludwig II, who built many lavish castles, Schloss Neuschwanstein among others – nowadays is populated by an astounding 13 million people! That’s almost three times the population of New Zealand on an area equal to barely three quarters of the North Island!
And Munich is, in turn, located in the central southern part of Bavaria. With a population of 1.5 million inhabitants, it rivals Auckland, although Munich is more densely populated. However, although it is the third-largest city of Germany, and the twelfth-biggest city of the European Union, it nonetheless feels more like a giant, sprawling village due to the fact that skyscrapers are considered a threat to the historic heritage of the city, and building permits for those are only handed out sparingly, if at all. As a result, Munich retains a rustic charm to this very day, with only few buildings exceeding a height of more than a few stories. It’s still nothing compared to the mostly single-story suburbs of New Zealand, but if I had to pick a city in Germany that was to be closest to New Zealand in flair, it would have to be this one.
Latitude-wise, Munich is located at 48.15°N, which is even further north than Steward Island is south. Nonetheless, the amicable combination of the gulf stream, the Mediterranean sea, and the alps make the weather conditions here considerably more agreeable than in the per-se more equatorial New Zealand. In fact, in the week following my return to Munich, we get a regular local weather phenomenon known as foehn, where warm air from the Mediterranean, drained of humidity by the alps, sweeps across the country, and gives us sunny, dry weather with temperatures of up to 38°C. Now that’s what I call summer!
My humble fox den here is an apartment at the outskirts of the city, located in a district with the melodious name of Untermenzing. “Has this place always been so small?” is my first impression upon my return, after having gotten used to spacious New Zealand accommodations during the last year.
Now then, just like I have given you tours of the places I’ve visited, it’s now also time to give you a short tour of my own humble place, so that you might see where the Travelling Fox makes his den.
In the days to come, I should mount up my trusty old bicycle…
…and set about re-exploring the neighbourhood after one year of absence, checking out what’s changed, and what has stayed the same.
The trips of the following days should take me, among other places, to the two closest palaces, the Blutenburg (Blossom Castle)…
…as well as Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymph Castle Palace), which up to this date is connected to the Blutenburg by a path known as the “Durchblick”, or see-through, connecting the two castles by a 4km-long strip of greenery, that is only occasionally broken by roads.
However, it is also a pleasure to simply walk the meadows of my home land again, which are distinctly different in a manner that is inherently difficult to describe.
There have also been quite a few changes. For one, Tengelmann – a major super market chain – has gone bankrupt in my absence, and taken over by a different chain – Edeka. This takes me quite by surprise. Imagine returning to New Zealand after a year of absence to find that all 4Squares in the entire country are now Fresh Choices.
Also, an entire lot of former factory halls has been levelled, and is now in the process of being converted into a residential area. This is also quite the change in scenery for me, especially since I used to ride by that lot almost every single day during my time in school.
The public transport system, however, is mostly still the same. Featuring an intricate network of trains, subways, buses and trams, it is possible to get to almost everywhere in Munich within less than an hour – provided you don’t happen to run into one of the many infamous delays.
The city centre of Munich is also mostly still the same…
…although I find that the one branch office of my bank where I had intended to withdraw some cash after my extended stay abroad appears to have departed for a spontaneous vacation in the afterlife for castles, manors and other large, immovable properties.
Fortunately, I find another branch office not far from there, and so I can go about my business in the city, before returning to the less densely populated suburbs. However, even in this less crowded part of the city, the streets still feel narrow compared to the spacious conditions found even in Auckland.
And to wrap this up, here is how authentic, German bread looks like, freshly bought from the bakery. Oh, how I’ve missed it!
The Road Ahead
…should this really be the end?
Well, for those of you who have enjoyed following me this long, I can give you a little hope.
For one, I am still going to write an epilogue over the course of the next month or so, reflecting on the entirety of my journey, comparing the places I’ve been to, and giving you an insight into the statistics I’ve gathered over the course of the year.
And after that… my next target is already set.
It will not be until February 2018, but the Travelling Fox shall go on another adventure in a distant land. And once again, I shall write about my adventures in this here blog. You might want to consider it the second season of The Travelling Fox Blog.
Wherever are the winds going to spirit the Travelling Fox away to this time? I shall keep it a secret for some time to come yet.
But here’s a hint:
My next destination is going to be the Land of Foxes.