Prescott and I started our journey to New Zealand on Christmas Eve Day. So when we stepped through immigration at Changi Airport in Singapore, we immediately encountered this guy:
I said, “oh look, a fun Christmas gnome!” But when two little kid ran up screaming, “Santa, Santa,” I realized that I had actually been standing next to the big guy without knowing it.
Changi was all dolled up for Christmas:
And because it’s Singapore, it wouldn’t be complete without something a little unusual. This is the first (and, I hope, the last) Christmas that I spend with characters from Hello Kitty land).
I really liked that we were given the chance to rate Christmas:
Our flight to southeastern Australia — just under eight hours — was uneventful.
The flight put us into the Melbourne airport on Christmas morning at 6:16am. And then we waited. And we waited. What was supposed to have been a two-hour transit time became four hours, and then six, and then seven, and then eight. It was not a good start to Christmas day (thank goodness for smashed avocado toast at the tapas bar in the airport, or I would have given up entirely). Here we are waiting some more:
We finally made it to Auckland, at the top of New Zealand’s North Island, just after 8:00pm. Thank goodness it was still a little bit light out (it’s summer here, so we have really long days), because otherwise, it would have felt like we missed Christmas entirely.
We drove into Auckland for a special Christmas dinner at a restaurant called Hector’s which I had booked well in advance. They served us a terrible five-course vegan dinner that ended up being only four courses (the mandarin sorbet was forgotten somewhere along the way). Exhausted and grumpy, I decided to call this my worst Christmas ever. With a look up Auckland’s Christmas-lit Sky Tower as we drove to our hotel (the Britomart Andina Apartment Hotel — perfectly serviceable), we called it a night and looked forward to better days.
Our first day in New Zealand started at a shopping plaza! It was like being right back in the US, with huge parking lots and one big box store after the next. But it was the perfect place for us to pick up a tent and to smile at this sign — I like the idea of anything being called a “trundler.”
After our shopping trip, we went walking among the huge evergreens and tree ferns at Riverhead Forest …
… had a little lunch at Carriages Cafe …
… and then wended our way down to Muriwai Beach.
This beach is long, with sort-of black sand and a good number of surfers. It comes with a slate of warnings:
This is the first time I’ve ever seen a warning about “deep holes.”
The surf was considerable — strong enough to create a beautiful spray in one spot — and it was just a little too chilly to consider swimming.
The attraction of Muriwai Beach for many people is not the beach itself, but the birds!
These are gannets, shorebirds that come to this part of New Zealand to nest and start raising their young. Seeing so many of them was like being in the middle of a National Geographic special:
Some of them were still incubating their eggs…
…while others were sitting with (or sometimes on) their chicks:
The chicks are not especially attractive, but I could have watched them for hours.
And it was wonderful to watch the birds in flight:
Prescott eventually came up to join me:
The quick walk down the cliff afforded beautiful views:
We spent the night at the home of a Singapore American School elementary school teacher just north of Auckland. She has planted a beautiful garden — this was the view from our room:
Her flowers are lovely:
And she has sheep! These were the first of thousands that we’re going to end up seeing on our trip.