6 countries from home – Aotearoa New Zealand
Day 3,179 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
The land of the long white cloud
Well, it hasn’t been long since I released the previous entry. But we’re in a new country now and there are already stories to tell. So, here’s a short but sweet entry from “The land of the long white cloud”
Last week’s entry: MV “Toronto Trader” – passenger no. 1 (crossing the Tasman Sea)
I think it’s interesting that 800 years ago there were no people living here. The Viking Age lasted from 793–1066 AD. Not all that long ago things considered. And it ended before, what we now know as New Zealand, was settled by humans. Vikings were famous for their navigational skills and traveled far and wide in their longboats. In fact, they made it across to North America, to Africa, and even to Asia during their exploits. New Zealand is almost the antipode of Denmark so that would have been quite the voyage for them. But just imagine; we could have been raising the Danish flag over the North- and South Islands today...if they had just made it a bit further. Nah – that’s a little silly. In reality it was skillful navigators from Polynesia who first arrived on the shores of what the Māori call Aotearoa: The land of the long white cloud.
That red marker is where I spent 17 days onboard Toronto Trader! I could have reached New Zealand on the 5th. But nobody cared enough to come and get me.
There is something to be said about NZ Customs Service. I have only had good experiences with them. It was NZ Customs Services who in detail explained how, according to NZ rules and regulations, a passenger could in fact arrive to NZ onboard a container ship – even during COVID-19. And when I met the two customs officers at Toronto Traders gangway in Auckland, I found them to be calm, kind, and very easy going. One of the officers even mentioned he had been to Denmark in 1981 (when I was three years old). Then when I reached the gate, just before leaving Auckland Port, I met another customs officer who likewise made my life really easy and was nothing but friendly and easy going. The attitude of these customs officers had me wondering if I should just have left Toronto Trader with the diver’s boat on June 5th to Tauranga. There was a distinct possibility that things would have worked themselves out without waiting for customs approval. Oh well, water under the bridge, at least we know things were done by the book as usual.
Being taxied within the Port of Auckland to the main gate.
There was a huge difference between my arrival to Australia and my arrival to New Zealand. On arrival to Townsville in Australia I was greeted by the port authorities at the ship’s gangway and presented with a little welcome gift. Then I was greeted by media at the gate of Townsville Port and did an interview. I was then offered a ride to where my host (Kara) was waiting for me. Kara welcomed me to Australia, showed me all the sights in Townsville, and hosted me for two nights. In New Zealand I simply walked out the gate and then I was on my own. My first action was to buy a simcard and get connected to the world. Ultra-wifey and I were originally meant to get married in NZ sometime during 2020. As such I have been in touch with Inger for years already. Inger Mortensen is Denmark’s Honorary Consul-General in Auckland and we have been communicating a lot over the years. While in Sydney I applied for a new Danish passport and had it sent to Inger thinking I would get to Auckland a lot sooner. In reality the passport arrived more than a month earlier than me. After a FEW HOURS of dealing with Vodafone’s “service” my simcard was all good and set up. I found a hostel, checked in, bought an AT public transport card, and then I was off to have lunch with Inger and her husband Robert.
Inger handing me my passport no. 10 within the Saga after she cancelled passport no. 9. More about Inger and Danes in Auckland next week!
It took me a few days to find myself after my arrival. I’m well aware that the Saga is a rough and demanding project. It requires a lot from me – especially mentally these days. I don’t always want to see people. Sometimes I just want to be alone. I long for a more “normal life” back home together with my dear Ultra-wifey. The twenty-eight-day voyage from Melbourne to Auckland had me a little shook up and I needed to find my smile. I was certainly agitated but as always, I need to cover it with a smile and patience. I can’t walk around biting peoples head off. I need to be polite to strangers. And in any case, it is not New Zealand’s fault that it is among the last countries of the Saga and that I have long ago lost the enthusiasm which I left home with. New Zealand deserves a proper promotion just like any other country. New Zealand happens to be a remarkably lovely country so promoting it should not be hard. I have been to New Zealand before together with my Aussie friend Cam. It was back in 2008 and we had two weeks in which we toured the North- and South Island doing everything! I bungee jumped (Nevis, 134m/440ft), we went caving and saw glow worms, we went skiing, we visited Arrowtown and had whiskey at The Blue Door Bar, we sat and enjoyed a movie at Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka, and a whole lot more. The entire time we lived out of a “Spaceship” (Toyota Estima MPV) which had been converted to a campervan. Good stuff!! For many years I have said that I only know of two countries where you can set your camera for self-timer, throw it in the air, and have a stunning photo when it comes back. One is Greenland. The other is New Zealand.
The Spaceship still exists!
This is the closets we have ever been to completing Once Upon A Saga! Six countries do not sound like a lot but it certainly is! Especially when you consider that four of them are still closed due to COVID-19. In the South Pacific we are left with Vanuatu which might open its border on July 1st (fingers crossed). There is Samoa which may open its borders in August). And Tonga and Tuvalu are just kind of staying shut down but one would think they might follow suit and open up when Vanuatu and Samoa are open. These four countries are all relatively near to Fiji where we went back in 2019 and likely need to return to in order for the logistics to work out. I’m aware of three shipping companies which connect the region and are likely willing to help: Neptune Pacific Direct Line (NPDL), Swire Shipping, and Matson. NPDL has helped out before and I am in touch with Rolf Rasmussen who’s NPDL’s General Manager in Sydney, and has said they can certainly help albeit currently we are bound by strict protocols. I would likely have been home almost two years ago without this darn pandemic. My friend Paramesh at Swire Shipping said they can help out if I can reach Noumea (New Caledonia) which is French territory. And we have never been in touch with Matson which is an American company. But I was recently introduced to Kim who has a lot of experience within shipping and has offered to introduce me to Matson’s GM in Auckland. It somehow seems like the bigger issue these days are getting access to the countries – less so finding a ship to join. Neither is however straight forward.
I treated myself to a Thai-massage and the new Top Gun movie! The massage helped and the movie was fantastic!
In other news, Auckland is a really fine city! It is by far the largest city in New Zealand with more than 1.5 million beating hearts. The capital is Wellington which is about 500km (310mi) south of Auckland and home to a whopping 400,000 people. I always find it interesting when the most populous city isn’t the capital. It is however not uncommon. Anyway, Auckland is a really cool city which feels like a big village. People are kind and helpful. Auckland is clean, green and safe. There are many things to do but less than normally. Winter is upon New Zealand and it is getting cold. Temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius (50F). Many things also had to close down during the pandemic due to a lack of tourism and New Zealand has only just opened its borders up. Buildings generally seem cold. For whatever reason New Zealander’s decided that their country doesn’t get cold and made all their walls out of paper! The country has plenty of rock and timber. But buildings are generally poorly isolated.
I spent my first two nights at a cold hostel in the Central Business District (CBD). I was in a 14-bed dorm room which was nearly full and had a few people snoring at night. It was the cheapest thing I could find at NZD 14/night (USD 8.77). Good for the budget but otherwise just a bad call. The bed wasn’t comfortable, the internet was average, the shower water was lukewarm, and it was really cold. The location was quite good though. After a few nights I relocated to a much nicer place at a higher cost (NZD 31.50/USD 19.70) but absolutely worth it. I chose a 3-bed dorm room and got it all to myself. In my head I have a list of some of the best hostels I have come across and Verandahs Parkside Lodge went straight on it!! What a place. Really nice on every level, very clean, heaters and extra blankets in the room, great location near Western Park and in walking distance from the CBD, good Wi-Fi, great kitchen facilities, the list goes on! I’m getting too old for 14-bed dorm rooms. Verandahs is the way to go in Auckland!
The view across Western Park and the CBD as seen from Verandahs.
Auckland is dotted with around 53 dormant volcanos and a kind of must do thing when in Auckland is to head up on top of Mt. Eden known in Māori as Maungawhau. And in Māori “wh” is pronounced as “f”. It’s walkable from Verandahs and on the day the sky was blue and visibility was great. Maungawhau was historically one of the largest and most elaborate Maori Pā (fortified village settlements) in Aotearoa / New Zealand and was home to thousands of people. Today, Maungawhau is among the finest examples of prehistoric earth fortifications in the world. You can see the remnants of terracing for whare (houses), pits for food storage and banks and ditches for defense. Keep in mind, the first humans arrived about 1280 and the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman did not discover New Zealand until 1642. There was plenty of time for Māori culture to develop and flourish.
The view of an overgrown volcano crater from Mt. Eden Peak. Auckland CBD in the back ground.
On my way back to Verandahs I walked past an old looking building called Galbraith’s Alehouse and decided to step inside. It turns out they have only been brewing beer since 1995. But the alehouse used to be Grafton library building which was completed in 1913. A charming place and quite atypical I sat down with my lonesome self and ordered a beer. I rarely drink beer and and almost never drink by myself. But the alehouse called for it. Just as I sat down my friend Thomas of the Andersen Clan in Hong Kong called me. We ended up having a nice chat over 45 minutes while I had two beers – technically not alone. It was good to catch up with him and hear how things are going. And that brings us to the end of this entry.
Having a beer with Thomas (9,127km/5,671mi away).
I do not know what the future holds. Perhaps we can negotiate with governments, perhaps its better to relocate from New Zealand to New Caledonia or Fiji, and perhaps it will work itself out soon. Who knows? Six countries does not seem like a lot. If everything goes our way then we might be able to reach Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu before this year is over. And Sri Lanka and The Maldives by early next year. But when is the last time things went our way? Good thing I was born with sisu. If I end up getting stuck in New Zealand for some time then I might just rent a Spaceship, live in it, and cruise around Aotearoa.
My first NZ meat pie. Good!
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - grateful for all the help and support!
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Once Upon A Saga