2008-01-17. Los Angeles to Auckland to Waitomo. Day One.

I took a cab from Shawn’s house to the Airport. For $30 I had a full sized passenger van freeway ride to LAX.

I arrived at the airport at 4.15p and was set to meet a group of 18 students at Starbucks in terminal two at 5.30p. I first checked in and found the experience to be trying at best. The counter lady made me buy an Australian visa for my visit there in March where typically this is negotiated in Auckland where, due to the exchange rate, it is cheaper to acquire. I am not worried about the $25 that it cost me to electronically purchase my visa.

I got my last bacon double cheeseburger from Burger King at a price of $8.35 and played a few lives of Bomberman on my Game Boy while waiting to board my Boeing 777.

The flight rewarded me with lots of sleep jarring turbulence. I found the time to watch Into the Wild, Rush Hour 3, and the first half of 3:10 to Yuma, all of which were movies that I do not care to watch again however it was a fine way to pass the time.

Nearly 13 hours later we began our approach into Auckland International, which is a smaller airport strip on the edge of the Ocean. Upon touch down my turned off cell phone turned on when I received a text message from Sprint New Zealand with instructions on how to call home to the States. I tried it and it did not work.

In the terminal we first when through a passport check, where there was a Beagle breed sniffer dog, picked my luggage from the carousel, went through the biosecurity check point and had a chat with the agent about keeping my fishing gear safe, had my luggage rescanned, and met Pacific Challenge Group Two’s leaders Katie, Eugene, Oregon, and a dread headed middle aged Garry, from Australia’s northeast coast.

We piled into our Toyota tour vans and headed off to Auckland’s One Tree Hill monument where we had a look at Auckland, had lunch, went over the trip rules, and relieved ourselves at the public bathrooms. One Tree Hill is an interesting place as it is a park and an active Merino sheep farm. The New Zealand Kiwi’s and Oranges were very tasty as well as the generic labeled white cheese. The students in the group added their visit to the bottom of the hill by arranging rocks to feature the acronym PC 2, Pacific Challenge group Two.

With that we were off to Waitomo, driving two lane roads through the hills and over miles of trout bearing creeks.

The day was hot and sticky and we had some time to kill before dinner would be ready. As a group we walked to Waitomo Stream, across the road and down a bit to cool ourselves. We found a good jumping rock and cooled our selves in the spring fed creek. We walked to the Raukuri Bush Walk where we met the vas and headed back to the Marae.

Luckily it was one of our group members’ birthdays today. After I ate dinner, which consisted of my first ever taste of SPAM, sausages, and a super salad, we celebrated with blueberry and apple cobbler served with Champaign.

The pasteured hills of Waitomo are beautiful at sunset.

Some of us headed to the Village to the one bar, Curly’s and got a few pints. I stayed after the vans left and walked back. I came across a family of cats, mom and two kittens, and my first wild hedgehog, which rolled up upon greeting and became docile enough to touch.

I met my first Kiwi Possum back at the Marae. It was eating flowers in the locust tree. It was a good day.