It was our first trip out of Tasmania in more than two and a half years, and I reckon it’s fair to say we were all a little rusty.
DorkySon was now so tall, and so out of practice at air travel, that the simple act of standing up from his seat caused him to bang his head on the buttons above and accidentally call the flight crew. DorkyDad gave an Auckland taxi driver the tip of a lifetime when he glanced over and read the frequency of the radio station we were listening to rather than the metered fare. And I packed a comprehensive first aid kit that contained absolutely everything except the one thing we actually needed.
However, as international travel goes, it couldn’t really have been more convenient. A direct flight from Hobart to Auckland. One night in Auckland. A quick flight down to Wellington for five nights there. One more night in Auckland on the return leg, and then back across the Tasman for home. Short flights and a time difference of only two hours meant that for once, jet lag wasn’t an issue.
We were there to see dear friends – a couple who have known DorkyDad since his high school and college days. We saw one of them six years ago – on our chaotic trip to South Carolina that coincided with Hurricane Matthew. But it had been nine years since we had seen the other – when DorkySon was just four. They live in the US, but were over visiting family in Windy Welly, and it made sense for us to hop over at the same time. A New Zealand trip is so much quicker, easier and more affordable than that long, long flight to the East Coast.
Auckland is a really fun city. We had been there before for DorkySon’s tenth birthday, so we knew our way around, at least in the very centre of the city. Unfortunately this time we didn’t have the chance to explore the beautiful waterfront, but we knew exactly where to head for food when we arrived hungry. An Air New Zealand cheese and meat pie can only take you so far through a day, and things were much improved by some tacos and margaritas.
We got a reasonable night’s sleep in a MASSIVE apartment on the 29th floor of the Sebel Quay West – although I learned that I’m not quite as good with heights as I used to be. Fine looking out to the horizon, not so hot standing right by the glass wall of the balcony and peering down at the people scurrying around like ants below. It was pretty cool to watch all the activity at the docks though, and to see the weather coming in across the water.
It was an early start the next morning – although not as early for us as for the poor guy in the PWC building opposite who was already suited up and at his desk by the time we opened our curtains at 6am. There was just enough time for a quick coffee and breakfast pickup at Best Ugly Bagels before it was into a cab and back out to the airport – making sure this time that we weren’t paying the 98.2 FM special fare.
When we’ve mentioned to friends over the last few months that we were heading to Wellington – or Wellybobs, as the airport check in staff called it – the first thing they’ve all said is how windy the landings at the airport can be. After watching numerous YouTube videos of crosswinds and go-arounds, we were prepared for the worst, but in the end we got off very lightly with barely a bump. It’s a really pretty landing coming in over the water, with lovely views of the lush green hills surrounding the city.
I have one piece of advice if you’re ever planning on visiting Wellington. Don’t arrive on a Monday lunchtime. Our hotel – the QT Museum, right opposite Te Papa – advised a forty minute wait for food due to a function, so we blithely headed out into the city assuming it would be easy to pick up a quick bite somewhere. Not so. Almost everything was closed. It took almost an hour of walking around, including a very blowy walk along the waterfront, before we found one place that was open – just as we were on the brink of heading back and making-do with minibar popcorn. Never has a plain old burger and chips tasted so good.
That evening, we met up with our friends in the hotel lobby, and after a joyous, hug-filled reunion, we ventured out again. Same story. The majority of eateries were closed, which meant the open ones were absolutely packed. Another hour of walking around in circles before we headed back to the hotel for the day’s second burger. Oh well. The holiday proper would begin the following day… or so we thought.
Not long after we got back to the hotel room, ready to tuck in for an early night, poor DorkySon started to feel a bit icky. Then he started to feel very icky indeed. We’re not sure whether it was something he’d eaten, or just a stomach virus picked up somewhere during our travels, but either way it was a long, long night and I was kicking myself for not packing rehydration sachets in the first aid kit. First thing Tuesday morning I headed out to a nearby store for electrolyte drinks, icy poles and plain crackers, and we apologised profusely to housekeeping for needing an entirely new set of sheets and towels.
He spent all of Tuesday sleeping it off, while I sat and read, occasionally nudging him awake for another sip of Gatorade. DorkyDad headed out for lunch with his buddies before rejoining us for the afternoon, and we agreed that the holiday proper would start on Wednesday. Which it did, thank goodness.
Wednesday arrived dry and bright, and we managed to do the one thing that had been on everyone’s wishlist – a ride in the cute little red cable car to the Botanic Gardens. Our core group of five was joined by some of the Wellington fam – two adults and the world’s most beautiful baby, whose wide smile and bright little eyes even charmed DorkySon. We had lunch in a great fish place called Dockside, dinner in a casual pizza joint, and plenty of catch-up chat, group photos and scenic walking. 18,000 steps later, everything was back on track.
The next two days continued in a similarly positive vein. We started each day with hot coffees and pastries from a bakery over the road. We spent a morning wandering around Te Papa, admiring the ancient rocks, natural history exhibits, and Māori meeting places. We enjoyed so much good food: sharing plates at a contemporary New Zealand restaurant called Loretta; eggs and hash browns at Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, a New Orleans style brunch joint; oysters and champagne at an award winning seafood shack called Ortega, and the best Spanish flan I’ve ever had, to finish a beautiful home-cooked meal at our friends’ place north of the city in Porirua. We spent time with babies and toddler and dogs. DorkySon squeezed in a quick swim at the hotel pool. We took a train ride (such a novelty! We have no passenger trains in Tassie…). We were even treated to the full Wellington performance when I was shuddered awake at 3am one morning by an earthquake.
(The boys thought I was joking in the morning when I told them.)
And then, just like that, it was over already. Too soon, we said. Too soon. We’ve only just got here. There’s so much more to do. What about Zealandia? Matiu/Somes Island? The Martinborough Wineries?
But we had done the important bit, which of course was all about the people, rather than place. We’d had the conversations, the making of new memories and the laughter over old ones. Each night, DorkySon and I had headed back to the room to tuck in with our books, and DorkyDad had gone out for one more beer and one more hour of the kind of chat that’s only possible with people who have known you for sixty years. And after four nights of that, he was sure that it was about as much as he could do. We had topped up our love tanks and it was time for us to fly back west, and others to fly back east, and others yet to get back to their regular daily routines in Wellington.
We had one more night in Auckland on the way back – another apartment, another view, another not-quite-right-bed and noisy aircon, another not-great pizza eaten from the box, just for the sake of eating something. Another early start and another few hours wait at the airport, DorkySon moving from window to window with his camera, ticking planes off his wishlist. Much more to see there than at Hobart.
It was time to get back to DorkyDog, to the treasured Tassie friends who had agreed to housesit, sending photos each day to show that she was still wagging her tail, still walking her regular trails. We needed to get back to school, and work, and saving up for the next trip – wherever that may take us.
Sometimes it takes going away for a while to appreciate what you already have. We have longed to travel these last two years. Tasmania has often felt small and quiet, and too far away from the people we love. Visiting other cities has reminded us that we like small and quiet, that it fits us well, that it is much less tiring than the hustle and bustle of high rises and heavy traffic. We love our house, we love our quiet neighbourhood with no neon lights shining through the night. We love our own beds, our own mugs of coffee in the mornings, our own little garden with its blossoms and its birdsong and its overgrown grass.
But we have also been reminded that spending time with friends and family is so necessary, such a fundamental part of being alive. And that it really doesn’t matter where in the world you see people, or how many days you see them for, or how long you have to leave between visits – if they are true friends, you will be able to pick up exactly where you left off. Again, and again, and again.