1/9/11 – 6am we land in Auckland after a 14 hour flight from Vancouver, BC. It’s cloudy but warm and the air tastes of sweet, exotic blossoms. Everyone is incredibly friendly. Our first challenge comes at the rental car station, where the “minivan” which I reserved online looks like a Toyota Corolla. How exactly, do we fit 5 people, 5 jumbo duffels, 5 medium bags and 5 backpacks? No, there are no larger cars… But everyone is so nice, and of course we can leave luggage at the rental office.
Yet somehow these nice people drive on the wrong side of the road and the first few minutes on the road are trying. Hemispheric coriolis forces have swapped the car’s directional signals with its windshield wiper controls, and every turn is confused by the flap-flap-flap of the wipers obscuring the view. After a poor night’s sleep, the drive (while beautiful) takes too long, but eventually we end up at the Papamoa Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort.
It’s a delightfully relaxed location, teeming with bouncing kids and packed with tents, cabins and motor homes. Our cabana sits on the edge of a grassy bluff, overlooking the wide, white-sand beach. The striking cone of volcanic Mt Maunganui punctuates the beach several km to the West; apparently there are salt-water hot springs at its base. Body surfing , castle construction and photography occupied most of the afternoon, and a long walk on firm sand relaxes my body and finally tells me that vacation has begun.