Dinner was more parsnip soup and a cheese and tomato sandwich with french fries sent to mock us (they were fried in oil used for duck). By Day 6, we were craving a really good filling meal. I mean a reallllllly goooooood filllllllng meal. My stomach is growling just thinking about it.
My presentation was at 5.20pm, but the session started at 3-ish so we decided not to waste the morning and after much research the night before and thanks to a good recommendation from Dawn, we booked Fuller’s Explorer Tour of Waiheke Island– a four hour tour which would start off in the morning and bring us back by lunch, giving me enough time to get dressed for the presentation. We bundled up, packed our raincoats again and walked down to the harbour where we took our first ever ferry ride from Pier 2. Having never been on a ferry before, we were a bit apprehensive that we may get seasick but the ride was so smooth, we had no such trouble. It’s a 40 minute or so ferry ride to Waiheke and we decided we’d sit inside on the way there and outside on the way back.
The views were breathtaking, the landscape dotted with tiny green islands in the distance, remnants of the last volcanic activity, and after a while you start wishing the ride never stops. Yet, despite how remote the islands seemed, almost all bore some visible trace of human presence, past or present, in the form of fences, homes or cleared patches of land. I wonder if there is any place on earth left untouched by human hands?
The ride did come to an end, and we found ourselves on Waiheke at last. At first glance, Waiheke seems like a lush green wilderness, but there is evidence enough of the roughly 6000-7000 population living there, especially in the form of parking lots next to the pier at Matiata Bay for those who commute to Auckland every morning for work. That must be one of the most scenic commutes in the world. Sure beats what my work commute used to look like.
Now, Waiheke has a lot more to offer than just its famous wineries, in which we had no particular interest. Not only are there walking trails, activities like zip-lining (at some point, I will do something crazy like this…at least once), but the beaches on Waiheke are close competition with Piha despite have just regular sand. We had packed our raincoats but were blessed with another fabulous day with clear skies and visibility all the way… to Sky Tower! How is it that every thing seems so close, yet so far away! Apart from the clear skies, Waiheke was also decidedly warmer than Auckland, which I just loved. We left Matiata Bay, went through Onerwa over Causeway Road (a 1 km stretch with water on either side) and passed countless cute (there’s no other word for them I assure you) homes built on paper roads with steep driveways disappearing into the steep hilly faces. Now while the homes seem super cozy, it was pointed out that every home had their own rainwater tank for water collection, and if you ran out, you’d have to call the water company to fill it back up again. Moral of the story – all that glitters is not the water of the dams in Waitakere. Also, we were surprised to learn that the island has no dedicated power station, instead drawing its power over a single connection from the North Island. The engineer in me would like some redundancy measures in place, the traveller in me would like to see the island as it used to be when men first arrived.
We eventually reached Little Palm Beach which was not so little and visibly devoid of palms, but a beach which made you question the order in your “My Favourite Beach in New Zealand” list.
From Little Palm Beach we wove our way around the island, past wineries and souvenir shops in little neighbourhoods and finally reached Onetangi Beach. Now I was about to add this as another point in my I-wish-I-lived-here list but was scared away by the property prices. Our German guide who’s been living in Waiheke for ages told us that the average market price for even the tiniest house was easily NZD 750k. Scratch that plan. But it didn’t stop me from enjoying the brilliant jewel of a beach and finally getting to see some shells which I couldn’t find on Piha.
Also, here is where I finally uncovered the mystery behind the teeming Asian population in Auckland. It appears that one doesn’t need to be a citizen of the country to buy property here, which means a lot of homes have been snatched up by a lot of wealthy Asians. The Chinese are leaving China with a lot of wealth which buys them options almost anywhere in the world, but NZ is not too far away, which means its a viable choice. For the Japanese, people are leaving mostly post-Fukushima and again, the close proximity makes NZ a good candidate country. In addition, a lot of Asians come to Australia and New Zealand to learn English and also for higher education, which would explain the large expat student population. And finally, a lot of Indians come to New Zealand, as students and also to work in the hospitality industry, as we saw at our hotel. Mystery solved… case closed! :)
Back to the beach… With the ferry tour comes a complementary bus pass so we were free to stay behind at any of our favourite sites and then catch a bus back to the ferry to take us back to Auckland. While I would have loved to stay at the Onetangi Beach, we were pressed for time thanks to my presentation and had to bid farewell. The ferry ride back was enough compensation for the missed view though, with a fading panaroma of the beautiful islands in the sea, but we suddenly realized that the beautifully sunny skies had turned oddly grey and dreary as we approached Auckland.
And by the time we reached Auckland, we had moved from the toasty warmth of Waiheke to the 3-5C freezer of a walk back to the hotel, after our last Subway lunch for the trip. I dressed in a hurry, ran down to Ballroom 2 to get my slides uploaded on the PC and then decided to stay there and sit and review my presentation. It was actually a very good thing that I came way ahead of schedule. It turned out that some presenters couldn’t make it due to delayed flights in Hong Kong, so their colleagues had to present on their behalf…which meant a quick run-through of the slide deck because they didn’t have much background in that research area. When all was said and done, the entire session wrapped up by about 4.30pm (imagine I walked in at 5pm, a good 20 minutes before my session only to find… no one there!) The presentation went smoothly and yes, there were questions but only two, one from each session chair and so the main purpose of my trip ended on a high note.
That meant all that was left was packing up for the flight the next day and figuring out how to make the best use of the morning… well that and dinner which was… you guessed it! Parsnip soup, but this time we treated ourselves to some rich and gooey chocolate filled cake with vanilla ice-cream. Not a bad way to the end the day, if I do say so myself.