Getaway with Soleil: Auckland Part 1

               The last time I visited New Zealand was in 2016. I flew in July, the southern winter, to surprise my dad for his birthday. I spent a few weeks exploring the city and sights, spending quality time with my family, and thinking through life. I was supposed to return for a trip in summer 2020 but the world had other plans. So, here I am, in 2022, finally returning to my other home, with an Australian boyfriend in tow.

               Meeting the parents would be an interesting experience even without all of the backstory: long distance dating, an international relationship, a pandemic, family history, and more. I wanted to go on adventures with my family and show Soleil some of this country I love. And, as much as we say it might not matter, meeting each other’s family is an important step in the future success of our relationship. So we’ll see how it goes.

               The adventure began at 5am when we landed in Auckland. We grabbed our baggage and got through customs with relatively little trouble. My parents were waiting in arrivals, and a big hug later we drove back to their house. The sun was rising over a gorgeous, green Auckland, the motorway was relatively traffic-free, and it wasn’t long before we arrived. After a short break, we went on our first adventure to Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple and its café. I had the Tom Yum Fried Rice—one of my favorite meals ever—and Soleil had the Laksa soup. Everything was delicious, and I savored every grain and bit of cabbage. We explored the temple, and I went through my usual travel ritual of a quick prayer and donation. We made wishes for the world, walked through a calligraphy exhibit, and learned some of the history of the Venerable Master. Overall, it was a filling trip in body and soul.

               We had a quick stop in a bottle shop so Soleil could grab some local beers. The afternoon was lazy with more tennis watching, catching up, and resting. We had cheese toasties for dinner and crashed remarkably early—jet lag had hit. The temperature in Auckland is definitely cooler than Vancouver or Reno, and I was glad I’d packed for spring but felt my comfy layers were lacking. In the end, my half of the bed was stacked with extra blankets and a cozy sleep was had.

               On Wednesday, we had a beautiful day for going out. We drove to Maungauika / North Head for an investigation of the tunnels, a walk around the bush, and views of the Hauraki Gulf and Rangitoto Island. Last time I visited was in 2012, on my first trip to New Zealand, and it was nice to see what had changed and hadn’t and refresh my memory. After the walk, we explored Devonport. I saw a man catch a fish off a pier, a giant shipping container carried its cargo out to sea, and lots of birds circled overhead. We grabbed fish and chips for lunch, which were greasy, tender, and wonderfully salty. I had the chance to wander through two local bookstores—Paradox Books and BookMark Secondhand Books. I could’ve spent hours in the second but didn’t want everyone waiting on me. Although I’m trying to be strict with my book buying, we left with copies of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Michael McDowell’s The Elementals. Since the Blackwater Saga is one of my favorite series, I’m excited to read another masterpiece by this Southern Gothic author. We snacked on truffles from Devonport Chocolates before our next adventure.

               We stopped at the Dress Smart outlets so I could splurge on my favorite pajamas. Readers will know of my longtime obsession with Peter Alexander, and of course I’m going to stop when I’m in a country with actual storefronts. The outlet had good deals on the super soft sleepwear, and I got a matching set from the Bambi line and a Hokey Pokey shirt. Since there was an additional sale on, the total was less than $80NZD and roughly $50 USD. Which means I have more money left in my pajama budget for the Australia leg of our trip. Soleil bought some new shoes and, overall, it was a successful and quick shop.

               After another night of family time and early bedtime, we woke to another surprisingly beautiful Auckland morning. For weeks, my mum had been complaining about the rain and gray weather, but—so far—we haven’t seen much of it. With another good day, we cramped into the family car and drove off in search of pie. Our first stop was The Baker’s Cottage where Soleil and I tried the chicken, bacon, mushroom pie and a pork belly pie. They were a bit saucier than we were expecting, but the chicken was luscious even if the pork belly wasn’t as rich as I’d been hoping. I also tried a banana cupcake, which tasted a bit artificial and almost too sweet. The best part was the peppermint hot chocolate, and the rich, minty taste was gone too quickly. My family sampled the vegetarian pies and decadent pastries, and business seemed to pick up as we finished our breakfasts.

               We spent most of Thursday at the Auckland Zoo. Last time I visited was in 2012, in the high heat of summer, and most of the animals were hiding or sleeping. On a nice spring day, quite a few were out and about, and the day was perfect for wandering through the various enclosures. Soleil and I watched the red panda feeding and ventured through the animals from the Australian outback. (I am not looking forward to the spiders I’m sure to see in a week or so). I spent the most amount of time admiring the American alligators. Soleil’s favorite part was the kiwi feeding since we were able to spy the quick-moving, nocturnal bird in its dark enclosure more easily. While not every animal was out and about, enough were for me to feel satisfied and full of wonder and awe for nature. We watched a baby baboon play for a while, interacted with a friendly kākāriki, and saw too many kinds of skinks. While the Vancouver Aquarium and all its fishes were quite fun, I think this was a different kind of experience and I can’t wait for our next wild adventure.

               You’d think after so much walking, our day would be done but Soleil and I went back out after a quick rest. We went to Cockle Bay Beach at sunset for a walk along the shore. Although the horizon was only touched by the setting sun instead of fully visible, the colors were lovely and it was relaxing to hear the waves lap at the shelly sand, watch a person paddleboard in the distance, and visit a giant pohutukawa tree. We ended the night with a self-made marathon of Pixar shorts and ranked them from our most favorite to least. Maybe I’m biased, but Piper deserved to win; that little anxiety bird gets me. With a later night than our new usual, we went to sleep and began a new—once again beautiful—morning for more Auckland adventures.

               So far, this portion of the trip has been wonderful. I’m so grateful that the weather is lovely even if the nights are cold. The food, at the restaurants and at home, has been delicious. The only real downside is the sheer amount of traffic and how anxious I am in cars. But in order to go on the adventure, you have to go and sometimes that comes with traffic. Every time I visit New Zealand, I fall in love all over again. It’s not the perfect, idyllic country the American media often portrays it as, but it is a place I can’t get enough of. I’ll be sad to leave again (even if only for a bit), but we have more days left before this part is over and I know I’ll be back soon enough. I’m going to soak up every hour of adventure, ignore my aching feet, and seize these moments.

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               If you’d like to follow my daily adventures, please follow me on Instagram at @karleypardue (for literary discoveries, bookstores, and more) or @karleycooks (for culinary adventures).