As promised last week, I’ve compiled quick top and bottom five lists for my recently concluded trip to Australia and New Zealand. Given that I was gone a month, there were a ton of experiences. The ones that made these lists, however, are the ones that stood out and that I’m sure to remember. Overall, it was a fantastic trip – I got to see some old friends and familiar faces, but also had some new adventures (I’ll get some pictures up on Facebook soon). As with the last time I left New Zealand, I already can’t wait to go back. But in the meantime, here’s the top five:
1. Proposal on the Milford Track: top of the list is a no brainer. Proposing to Claudette – and her accepting – in the middle of the track made it a historic hike for several reasons (the record rains and flooding, of course, factored in). It’s certainly not an experience either of us is likely to ever forget.
2. Australia’s independent bookstores: In doing the rounds with Sex, Bombs and Burgers, I visited a number of indie shops in Sydney and Brisbane, and was quite impressed with all of them. They were better organized than most such shops I’ve seen in Canada, and a few were very on the ball in acting as literary centres of their respective communities. Two in particular – Gleebooks in Sydney and Avid Reader in Brisbane – invite authors in regularly for signings and talks, which are pretty informal but cool affairs. I also dug Kinokuniya in Sydney – the store’s website isn’t much to look at, but it’s a really large and funky place that serves as a focal point for a lot of pop culture. Not surprisingly, Australia’s indie bookstores are doing pretty well, with about 20% of the country’s market, which is significantly higher than Canada or the U.S.
3. Jesters pies: Heading to Australia, I was quite excited to eat Cafe de Wheels’ meat pies. But once I got to New Zealand, I was quickly reminded just how good Jesters’ pies were. I scooped up a “frequent pie-r” card and, with some help from Claudette, almost got to the buy-ten-pies-get-one-free level. Alas, I had to give it away to a friend on my last day in Auckland. (The Billy T, with ground beef, cheese and gravy, was my fave, by the way.)
4. New Zealand motels: without fail, we got excellent service from every small motel we stayed in. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, that small businesses tend to be much friendlier and hospitable than big chains, but the New Zealand hotel industry is proof positive. I have to give special shout-outs to the Edgewater Motel in Te Anau and the Bella Vista Motel in Wanaka, whose proprietors were especially nice to us and, on the occasion where we were shafted by some douches in Queenstown (see bottom five), helped us out of a jam.
5. Auckland: I saw some new places on my trip, such as Brisbane and Christchurch, but the place I enjoyed most was the one that was most familiar. Auckland was my home for a year and a half, and the most fun I had on the trip was simply strolling along the waterfront in shorts and a t-shirt while the warm sun beamed down. I actually got quite sad as my bus to the airport pulled away. Needless to say, I’ll visit again some day (hopefully soon).
But before I get all misty-eyed, let’s get to the bottom five:
1. Rydges hotel chain: without a doubt, the most deplorable part of the trip came when Claudette and I tried to check in to our hotel, the Rydges Lakeland, in Queenstown after our Milford Track ordeal. In a nutshell, those of those unlucky enough to be on the track that particular weekend endured record rainfall, which meant we were all wet, cold, tired and hungry when we were finally evacuated. The lovely staff at Rydges – particularly one manager, Shaylee Price – chose to let several rooms sit vacant rather than honouring our booking (prepaid in full in advance), which we obviously couldn’t make thanks to circumstances way beyond our control. Truly shameful.
2. Qantas: a canceled flight from Los Angeles to Sydney because of a mechanical problems, then another canceled flight to Brisbane because of another breakdown. Then, yet another delay thanks to mechanical issues, topped off with putting me on a later connecting flight for a mysterious reason that no one could explain. All told, a 26-hour delay in getting to Sydney. And has the airline answered my complaint email? Nearly one month later, nope.
3. Whitcoulls: New Zealand’s main book chain is a nightmare. Books seem to be the last thing on Whitcoulls’ list of things to sell. With no discernible electronic guidance system, it’s next to impossible to find the book you’re looking for – unless said book happens to be by a mega-star author. If you’re a writer and haven’t got one of those big displays, I can’t see how your book is going to sell any copies in New Zealand as a result.
4. Ace Car Rentals: the car we got from these people was supposedly a Toyota Corolla, but it must have been the 1965 version because it was an aged clunker. We got one flat tire, which we fortunately managed to change out at Mount Cook, but we spent the rest of our trip worried about whether the thing was going to spontaneously break down in the middle of nowhere. In talking with some locals, it turns out Ace is known for their crappy cars. If you are heading to New Zealand, you may want to consider someone else.
5. Rain: so help me, if I never see rain again, it’ll be too soon. After having several feet of it dumped on me during the Milford hike, and plans to see NZ’s south island west coast canceled twice because of it, I’ve had just about enough of rain. As a result, I told Claudette that all of our vacations from now on are going to be to deserts. Hello Arizona!
Again, don’t get me wrong by those particular bitchings. The trip was fantastic overall and I can’t wait to go back. Maybe I’ll stick to the Australian Outback?