We've been in the country of many names for the past two weeks: New Zealand, Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud), and to most Americans, the land of Whale Rider, The Flight of the Conchords, and of course, Middle Earth.
The best place we stayed (and how could it not be?) was the former Queen of Tonga, Queen Salote's embassy house in Parnell, an upscale area in Auckland.
|The Queen's house, with backpackers modifications here and there|
|Queen Salote's room (supposedly)|
While simple, the house is certainly fit for at least a basic headquarters for an away-from-home queen. Its' dark wood staircase sweeps up to the second floor of high doorways, intricate moldings, and room fireplaces.
|The Auckland Museum|
|Auckland Domain greenhouses|
|An Orc at the WETA studios|
Two highlights throughout the trip was visiting art galleries and museums, and eating.
Most days, all we did was visit an art gallery in the morning, have frites and a glass of Leffe at a Belgian cafe, go to the national museum, Te Papa, in the afternoon, and make it out in time for a Malaysian spicy lamb curry. We made sure to eat every kind of nationality of food that we can't find in Tonga: French, Belgian, South Indian, North Indian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Japanese... and with a good appetite too, from walking six or seven km a day while exploring Wellington.
|Went shopping at the amazing huge grocery store|
|Walked around the Wellington botanical gardens|
|Rode the cable car from the Wellington botanical gardens to downtown|
We had a great time riding the cable car down the steep slope to downtown, and even visited the cable car museum. Some of the nicer houses on steep hills all across the city even have their own personal little cable car! We resisted the urge to hop in and try one out.
|Saw a play: Apollo 13|
|We saw kiwis at Te Papa|
|and saw kakas (this parrot eating an almond)|
|We went to the Saturday farmers market for delicious vegetables|
|Went to the Wellington city library - 3 floors!|
|and late at night, saw Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 3-D|
Finally, we will leave you with our impressions of arriving in NZ for the first time, and then coming back to Tonga:
After our three hour flight, we arrived in the Auckland airport after not leaving Tonga for over a year. In the airport bathroom, I approached the gleaming grey marble sink and when I stuck my hands under the gushing hot water from the automatic faucet, I involuntarily whispered a reverent "oh my gosh," at the marvelous feeling, at which my hand-washing neighbor gave me a skeptical and suspicious look. We got more looks right outside the bathrooms when we both were loudly giggling at being able to fill up a water bottle from a real drinking fountain that produced forth amazingly delicious cold, sweet water.
Then, after two weeks in New Zealand, we took huge breaths of flower-scented tropical night air on the way home from the airport in Tonga, feeling our dry skin come back to life in the humidity. I laughed with delight when I went to the market and got two huge bags of fresh, garden-grown local vegetables for under the equivalent of $7 USD, and then was given an extra bundle of bok choy by the vendor who knows us, and a huge passion fruit and three mangoes by friends at work.
There are obviously much more important things that we appreciated in New Zealand and like about Tonga, and the day we came back, both Mark and I agreed hands down that if we live in the Pacific region after Peace Corps, we will have to make frequent trips to both countries. We're lucky to experience both.