Friday, January 08, 2016

In the air

Road-trips are a great way to re-acquaint yourself with your own country: the beauty, tastes and convenience through fresh eyes and tastebuds; the subtle changes to roads; places in different seasons; and those clouds and that weather. We recently went on a short day trip to the west of Auckland and then a seven day trip to Wellington, the Hawkes Bay and back, to see family, friends, sights and generally just to get a feel back.

New Zealand has advanced and modernised its roading network slowly but surely since I'd been away. There are new expressways (even one or two not recognised on Apple Maps), the tunnel to the North Western motorway is almost connected and other projects are nearing completion and generally things are quicker and smoother. You can avoid bottlenecks like Cambridge and some others like Huntly are in the process. (There could be discussions about the effect this has on small towns, but let's just keep it from the point of view of road users, shall we?)

But the drivers were modernised, too. This was the first time I'd fully utilised GPS as a driver, airbnb, virtual traffic information and smartphones in general. I am rather slow on the uptake of new technology. Probably the most interesting part was our experience of airbnb. It was on a whim that we gave it a try, downloading and setting it up the morning of departure, then booking a place for two nights in Hamilton, and that's when the surprises began.

I guess I'd expected to be in a disused room of a now-abroad child, with the feeling that you were invading someone's privacy by living in their house. This was dispelled pretty quickly. All three places that we stayed in were rooms specially made for the purpose of accommodating airbnb guests, two hosts, despite social and family arrangements, made us feel like friends visiting rather than outsiders; the other one was a bit more aloof and formal (mentioning "it's stated in the listing" whenever we queried things) but even her place you felt at home because that was a big part of her living.

The two that made us feel most at home had something in common: they are retired or semi-retired couples with the children abroad, certainly a large demographic in New Zealand; they love visitors, we chatted with one couple for about an hour one night, during and after they had guests; and it was clear that airbnb wasn't a personal project of one, both were into it. Both of them provided breakfast, one of them being a luxurious breakfast with homemade muesli, greek yoghurt, milk, strawberries and blackberries, half a banana each and a mandarin. I was served a cup of brewed coffee to go with it. And this was for NZD65 per night. I could also add that they introduced and offered our bookshelf to read from, stupendous views and their vegie patch to take from to cook our evening meal!

We had lots of fun with cats on our journey meeting a total of eight in five homes we visited or stayed in, too. Mr P., in the photo apparently didn't warm to many but we had our moments that floored the hosts.

Could this count as a cat tour? A cloud tour? A real estate tour? A road survey? Well, that's the beauty of road trips. I enjoyed picking blueberries for the first time as well as revisiting places like Puhaha Mt Bruce nature sanctuary, Mt Victoria, Karangahake gorge and Te Aroha spas. I have another two in mind if employment doesn't occupation over my time soon.

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