At A Corner of the World

I applied for Permanent Residence in Australia in June 2006 based on my IT experience of 3.5 years. After close to 1 year of waiting, I finally got a mail saying its granted on the 10th of May 2007. However, since it was an off-shore application, I had to travel out of Australia, get it stamped in the consulate of that country and then return. Since my future plans were still not concrete, I decided to wait.

Once it became clear that I would be traveling west to the US in October, I decided to return to Bangalore in August and proceed to the US from there. Now, I needed to be out of Australia and return back before the 6th of October 2007. Asking around I was given the option of New Zealand.
Now that was an inviting suggestion, but also expensive. Not sure when I’d be back this side of the world, I decided to go to NZ.

I promptly mailed a long-lost friend whom I recently got in touch with through orkut. He however was spending his vacation in Bangalore and was planning to return only in early August. I, however, was finishing my work in Aus on the 19th July and intended traveling on the 23rd July to NZ. So I booked my tickets, accommodation etc and applied for a tourist visa. I sent the documents required, to their embassy in Sydney on a Wednesday evening and 2 days later on the Friday, the passport was back stamped!!!

On the 23rd, the flight was at 7:45 AM. I woke up at 5 and at 5:30 I saw the e-ticket again and saw that the 4 had transformed into a 1!!! The flight was now leaving at 7:15 AM!! I reached the airport at 6:30 AM and was greeted at the check in by “Are you Vaidyanathan Ramany?”. Well, being late has its advantages I guess :). The check-in done, there were no other problems and I reached Auckland Airport on time at 12:45 PM their time, which is 12 hours ahead of GMT and I was thus on the official date line, anything beyond me was the previous day!!!

At the airport I was greeted by a long queue as I guess quite a few international flights had landed at around the same time. After getting past immigration, customs etc, I boarded a bus which took me to the hotel I had booked myself in. I reached the place at 3:00 PM.

This wasn’t exactly a hotel, more of a backpacker’s Inn. I had a room for myself and had to share the bathroom, toilet and a kitchen with 5 other rooms. This, however, being off-peak season, was none of those rooms were occupied. Having arrived a bit late, I just strolled around the city, identifying places to eat, the Australian embassy etc.

On the 24th July morning, I checked my mail to see that I had been mailed the grant letter by my agent. Taking hard-copies I went to the Australian embassy and after a short wait I got the visa stamped and became an Australian Permanent Resident!!

At 10:30 AM, I boarded a free city tour bus, whose guide was an over-enthusiastic guy with loads of stories of NZ and different places. Quite an interesting trip it looked like. First stop was the sky-tower. One of my fellow travelers wanted to do a sky jump, where you are tied to a rope and dropped from the top of the tower at a speed of close to 80 km/h. The tower itself is 328m tall and supposedly the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

After that, we were taken to the viaduct harbor and saw some ships docked there. I kinda started getting the feeling this trip wasn’t going to be as interesting as I had expected.

Next, we were carted off to a place which was a memorial for an ex-PM of NZ. The place was well maintained and offered some stunning views of the Auckland skyline and the islands around it.

Next stop was Mount Eden. Now, this one was a stunner!! A volcano that erupted some 1500 years ago. The crater was considered sacred by the Maoris and tourists were requested not to enter it. But the best part was, from this peak you could see both the coasts of NZ – the Pacific Ocean on the east and the Tasman sea on the west.

After this, we had a short break for lunch, followed by a trip to the Auckland harbour bridge where one of the fellow-travelers wanted to do a bungee jump. Since the place was pretty crowded the idea was abandoned and people were dropped off at their hotels.

Towards evening, I walked over to the Sky Tower and had lunch at an Indian restaurant on the way. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect to visit the observation deck of the Sky tower. The views were stunning with the sun setting on the city and the islands around it!! I spent close to 2 hours taking in the sights, before I decided to call it a day and retired to my room.

Next day, I set out to the sky tower early in the morning. From there I took a free shuttle to a place called Kelly Tarlton’s Sea World and Antarctic Center. The main idea was to see some penguins, not the tiny ones found in Australia, but the big ones which have the yellow streak around their necks, the ones we are used to seeing in TV. The place turned out to be fantastic.

I was taken in a small box which moved on rails, called a snow-cat, around a place maintained at 0 degrees temperature with lots of penguins moving around. Initially they were sleeping with their heads fallen on their shoulders. Later, many started moving around and following the snow-cat. They are supposedly showy and like showing off to the snow-cats. I did find quite a few penguins flapping their wings and following the snow-cat.
After the snow-cat trip, I went around the place and saw some huge short-tailed sting rays which are pretty common in most aquariums. Their shark center had just a few sharks, none too impressive. The highlight was definitely the penguins. I took a trip on the snow-cat again and was lucky to see them being fed. They would come running to the guy feeding them, grab the fish given to them in their beaks, and go back to where they came running from, almost looking like kids, running with just 2 feet.
On exit, I took the shuttle back to the city and retired to my room for lunch.

Around 3 in the afternoon, I took a bus to the Auckland Zoo. Right at the entrance there was the kiwi enclosure. The birds, however, being nocturnal, were maintained in a simulated environment and people were asked not to use flashes. Took some snaps on night mode, but they were just not good enough. Guess some things are just for the eyes. After the kiwi enclosure, I moved around the zoo. Most of the cages were empty and though it boasted of a tiger enclosure there were no tigers there! The signboards were pathetic and there was no map provided. At one point I started moving around the same region and was coming to the same place without knowing how to get out of there. Somehow managed to extricate myself. During this time, the weather started playing truant and it would rain for 5 minutes, be sunny for the next and cloudy for the next 5 minutes and so on. As expected I got to see a couple of rainbows – a couple of rainbows at the same time!!

All of a sudden it started pouring and running from the downpour I stumbled into a shelter near an enclosure for Cheetahs. Those animals too had settled close to the shelter, right next to the glass wall separating humans from the animals. Managed to take quite a few good snaps.

Sighted a lion enclosure and a giraffe one close to the exit as I made my way out. I returned to my room, and called it a day.

Next day, I decided to sleep in. Woke up at close to 10:00 AM and took the 12:15 PM ferry to Rangitoto Island. This Island happens to be a volcano that erupted close to 600 years back. In terms of volcanic age, this is a pretty young volcano. The ferry ride was awesome, with wonderful views of the Auckland skyline and other islands around it. On reaching the island, it was a 1 hour trek to the summit. The path to the summit was strewn with volcanic rocks.

The crater of this volcano is however full of natural vegetation and not as much a clean grassy lawn as mount Eden. The views from the top were, however, simply stunning! The place was home to a species of beautiful red sparrows which were brave enough to climb onto the hands of tourists who had some food to offer them.

The best part was that it was raining in Auckland city and the clouds seemed to be approaching Rangitoto. The rain however skirted the island and I could see it raining just a couple of hundred meters away!!


The views from the place and from different points along the rim of the crater were simply astounding!!


On the way back there was a deviation to a cave formed by flowing lava. The cave itself was pitch dark but was wonderful to walk into.

I trekked back to the base of the island and took the last ferry to the city and retired for the day.

Next day, I checked out of the hotel at 10:00 AM and after breakfast went to the National Maritime Museum. Am not exactly a connoisseur of sailing, boats and stuff, but the museum did hold some interesting stuff for everyone. There were boats on display which I could climb onto and stories of ships that sank and German destroyers that sank many ships.
After spending a reasonable amount of time, I had my lunch, collected my luggage from the hotel and made my way to the Airport by bus. The rest of the journey home was event-less with pretty much nothing to write about.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip with many interesting places to see. Saw things that I had never seen before, like Penguins, Kiwis and Volcanoes.

To see more snaps of the trip, click here.