Wandering around Auckland has been fun, but I’m dying to see some of what New Zealand is most famous for – it’s beautiful wilderness and beaches! I’ve found that getting around is almost impossible without a car, and while I made sure to get my international driving permit before I left Canada…I’m still not sure I’m ready to drive on the other side of the road. I still haven’t even gotten used to walking on the opposite side, much less driving.
But I’m in luck! One of my closest friends from Barcelona is a native kiwi. He lives in Spain but happens to be home this month and is coming up to Auckland for a visit. Bonus: He has a car.
I spend the morning at my new favourite cafe, Remedy Coffee, leeching their wifi because the quality of the free wifi at my hostel is a joke. That’s what you get for $20 a night, I suppose. Adam comes to meet me once he’s arrived and settled into the hostel, and we catch up over a coffee (or, chai latte in my case).
I’ve got a list of potential places for us to visit today, and we decide on Piha Beach. Neither of us have been before, it’s relatively close by, and it looks epic. I invite a girl from my hostel who has just arrived here from France on her first solo backpacking trip. I remember the feels. Her English is quite good, but I apologize to her in advance, knowing that if she comes on this journey with me and Adam, we’ll be speaking English in two different accents and hella quickly. She doesn’t care and is down to come anyway.
Once in the parking lot, Adam points in the general direction of his car. I joke about it being the silver Mercedes, feeling pretty certain it’s actually the tiny black Pontiac next to it. To my surprise, it’s the Mercedes. Alrighty, cruising to the beach in style today!
Piha is only 30km away, but the roads are so windy that it takes us an hour to reach the beach. Camille, the French girl, sits in the back silently for the majority of the ride. I feel kinda bad and make some efforts to include her, but I also don’t think she cares. It reminds me of my time in Greece, surrounded by almost all Spanish/Catalan volunteers, and rarely being able to participate in fast-paced conversations. It wasn’t ideal, but never bothered me. She’ll be alright. I try to speak French with her, but as usual, everyone would always rather practice their English, which is what she’s moved here to do, so we don’t speak much French.
We’re following pretty heavily tree-covered and shaded roads, but we round a corner out onto the cliffside and suddenly find ourselves at a breathtaking vantage point.
We arrive in the late afternoon, which I think will be better for my pasty white skin. The sun is way stronger down here than in most parts of the world, and I’ve seen far too many people walking around burnt to a crisp, including our French companion. I only have 30SPF and apply it almost constantly out of paranoia.
I’ve been told not to swim at Piha because the tide is so strong. It’s a popular surf spot, but I’m a pretty shit swimmer so I wouldn’t push my luck. I’m extra convinced not to swim after I learn there’s an entire reality television series dedicated to saving humans from drowning here. It’s literally called Piha Rescue. Would be pretty embarrassing to make it onto kiwi television for almost drowning in my first week here.
We hang out on the beach, chatting, catching up and reminiscing about Barcelona for a couple hours. When it starts to cool down, we head over to climb “Lion Rock”. It’s an easy stairway walk to about mid-way up, when it becomes rockier, yet climbable, and then a straight up cliff. The view from the top is beautiful!
Once back in Auckland, Camille is delighted to find some fellow French speakers have moved into our hostel room. Adam and I head out for dinner and go to a pretty chi-chi Japanese yakitori restaurant underground called Tanuki’s Cave, where we order a bunch of things to share – tapas style. It’s a holiday Monday, for “Auckland Anniversary Day” so not much is open, but we wander around the city until we end up at a patio bar down by the waterfront. I’m low key horrified by the price of pints here (about $9 for a standard draft lager, more for craft beers), but there’s no tax or tipping so I suppose it evens out.