Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Best. Layover. Ever.

When planning our flights from Auckland, NZ to Bermuda via Los Angeles, one may have thought we were insane to schedule two consecutive red-eye flights. But in the effort to get to the island as soon as possible while leaving significant time in LA to actually leave the airport and do something, this is how it worked. And the flights were pretty cheap. (C$338 each to fly from LAX-BDA-MIA on Delta. C$604 each MIA-UIO-LAX on AA.)

9 June 2009

In our final few hours in New Zealand we hurriedly packed up our room in Dylan’s flat. It took us a while to muster the courage to tackle that room – it had become filled with clothes, books, tourist pamphlets, CD’s, receipts, bags, notes, etc.  We filled a big blue box and found that we had a pile of stuff that would need to be shipped home (that wasn’t surprising).  After considering the costs of click to see larger imageshipping a large, heavy box home, we elected to buy another cheap piece of luggage and ferry it home ourselves. Why pay for shipping when our flights already included two pieces of luggage (@23kg) each?  Then came the fun part of trying to spend every last Kiwi cent at the airport.  (Jenn: you’re requested chocolate bar is in my bag. You may get it sometime, unless it gets smushed or confiscated by customs somewhere.)  The Air New Zealand trans-Pacific flight was pretty good. Food was fine (Moroccan lamb was tasty) but I gotta remember that eggs are never good on an airplane!  We were both surprised at how little we slept on the 12hr flight – me especially since I think I slept more than Julie (!) listening to Kiwi reggae-dub music while she watched a couple of movies.

9 June 2009 - PST

Andrew had researched various activities for us to do during the layover: myriad beaches are within a short drive of LAX – Manhattan, Hermosa, famous Venice beach; television show taping – Tonight Show was sold out due to transition between Leno & Conan, and Jimmy Kimmel promptly sold-out when he booked Paris Hilton before I claimed tickets.  It wasn’t until I had received an email saying that the Tragically Hip (one of Canada’s premier rock bands, affectionately referred to as “God’s Band” by a former Winnipeg DJ Brian Cook) were adding a fourth show in Winnipeg. I went to their website to check the dates, and while scrolling down to find Winnipeg I noticed that they had some gigs in LA – and on the day we’d be there!  A quick scan on Ticketmaster told me that for the price of one good ticket in Winnipeg I could get us both into the show in LA – that and I couldn’t even find 2 tickets for any of the Winnipeg shows.  So we booked ourselves in.  Making it even more of a tantalizing option was that the LA show would be in a landmark rock’n’roll venue in West Hollywood – an intimate venue where many famous rock legends of yore made their debuts. Check it out on

Arriving in LA we were greeted with the same overcast skies that we left in Auckland, which didn’t lend itself to going to the beach.  That didn’t matter anyway because after finally getting ourselves sorted out in the airport (changing terminals & checking in for next flight) we used up a third of our layover time.  We learned a few things here: hawkers set themselves up outside of the international doors trying to sell you stuff; there are no longer any storage lockers in the airport after 9/11; air travel within/to/from the USA is not as enjoyable as elsewhere in the world (holy security-paranoia batman!).

We had rented a car to get around and we had a laugh as we got in the car and the steering wheel was on the “wrong” side. And then we had another laugh as Andrew turned on the wipers instead of signalling. And Julie screamed a couple of times as the car turned into the right lane instead of the left. But we managed. And the GPS helped a bit too.

We had lunch at a “Westfield’s” mall in Beverly Hills. It caught our eye because Westfield’s operates all the big malls in Auckland. We took advantage of the Fuddruckers to fill our stomachs with a big burger and Julie got randomly complimented on her purse - “oh! I like your purse – who’s it by?” – by a bloke, which was the weird part. But I guess this is Beverly Hills…

We desperately needed coffee before heading back to the Troubadour. And luckily Andrew studied the map a bit more and realized that there’s a much faster way of getting back to West Hollywood – take the freeway!  With that, we made it to the show just in time.

A long line-up greeted us at the venue, along with a hand-scribbled note saying “show sold out!” so we were pretty happy we already had tickets. Passersby would see the line and ask who was playing, only to respond with a blank look and a shrug.

The interior of the place was so small! Smaller than the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg for sure.  I’m not sure what capacity was.  Doors opened at 8, and the band got on just after 9 to loud cheers and chants of “Hip, Hip, Hip”.

While ordering a drink at the bar, I noticed one fellow ask for “CC” and the bartender went off in search of the bottle. She found it, came back, poured the drink and place the bottle back on the shelf. The next customer asked for the same, sending her back across the bar to retrieve the bottle. By the time she got to me, and i also ordered a “CC & dry”, I suggested to her that she keep the bottle handy. She exclaimed “yeah, if only we’d known that we’d be getting a bunch of Canadians in here tonight!”

Gord Downie rocks out at The TroubadourThe concert was awesome. It was such a treat to see these guys up close, and perhaps the band also felt it was a treat to be so close to their fans again. Gord had guys in the front strum his guitar and he rubbed some bald dude’s head. The place was packed solid, and it got super hot in there. I can’t say much more about the show other than it was great! They mostly played songs from the new album “we are the same” during the first set, interspersed with some oldies like “new Orleans is sinking”.  They took a break after an hour, and I started to fret that we’d have to leave as soon as they got back on stage. Fortunately they come back and started the second set with an acoustic set, which was pretty neat.  After the third song I tugged Julie to the door, until they started into one of my favourites “Nautical disaster” at which point Julie had to tug me out the door.  dammit.

So off we go! 80mph down the freeway to the airport, return the car (we drove so little we didn’t even have to add gas!), jump on the shuttle bus, run in through security, and then wait… We got there with loads of free time, teasing us with the possibility that we could’ve seen more of the concert. Ah well.  Time to settle in for our second iteration of our “groundhog day” red-eye flights.

Link to Pictures

Monday, June 8, 2009

The best of Nueva Zelanda

Here’s the stuff that I’ll miss from this place.

  1. amazing scenery.  It’s everywhere. north island, south island. everywhere.
    • but there’s a catch – a lot of it’s starting to look the same. Same quaint little seaside towns. Same quirky little small towns in the interior.
  2. Wine. I thought Australia had wine regions! This country’s got them all over! And they do them quite well – sauvignon blanc pretty much put this place on the global wine map. But then there’s all the other varieties that each little climatic zone has targeted: Marlborough Sav Blanc, Otago Pinot Noir,
    Our favourites are:
    1. Rockburn [central Otago] Pinot Noir 2008, ~$50 (full-on good stuff)
    2. Mission Estate Gewurztraminer, $30 (a sweet, light gewurzt but with a bit of spice that makes it good)
    3. Montana Sav Blanc, ~$15 (we drank loads of this during summer mostly because it was always on sale at Foodtown)
    4. Omaha Bay Vineyard OBV “the Impostor” Flora, ~$25 (semi-sweet wine with citrus flavours)
    5. Heron’s Flight Sangeovese
    6. Matua Estate [Marlborough] Pinot Noir
  3. Mac’s Sundance beer – I think this beer wins the “best of the trip” award. Surprisingly it’s a wheat beer (I usually don’t like ‘em) but it’s bloody tasty! 
      Quoth the bottle: “every season plays host to some sort of unhinged behaviour, and this year the sun has bake our brains long enough to give birth to SUN DANCE, Mac’s own summer ale. It’s not so much the wheat malts we’ve used to quench your post-swingball, pre-backgammon thirst, or indeed the Riwaka hops we added late in the boil for a suggestion of citrus and exotic fruits. It’s more the lemongrass.  Only in summer could anyone come up with an idea as crazy as pacific-rim fusion beer.”
      1. Close seconds: Monteith’s Radler (quite similar to above), Mac’s Gold or Speight's (just a good straight-up beer), Steinlager Pure (if you want a premium brew). For such a small country they brew an incredible amount of beer here! And for the most part, it’s all pretty good.
    1. Cheese – New Zealand does dairy. New Zealand produces about 3% of the world’s dairy products, but Fonterra markets about 60%+ of the world’s export dairy products. Anyhow, yeah, the cheese here is good. My favourite is “colby”
      • I’m going to expand this to just say that they’ve got dairy freakin’ covered here. Cheese is one thing, but the milk is super – they’ve got this one brand that’s marketed as “milk for blokes”! Basically it’s low fat, skim milk but it’s creamy tasting instead of watery. Choice!
      • Cheese of choice is Mainland brand Colby (
      • And then there’s the yoghurt.
      • And the ice cream…
    2. Lisa’s Hummus: this stuff’s goooood. Look it up. somebody import it. please. The Jalapeno & Lime is probably our favourite one.
    3. Seafood: NZ’s an island, surrounded by ocean so naturally they’re going to have some good seafood here. Our favourites are:
      • New Zealand green-lipped mussels. Preferably in the pineapple/coconut-milk mixture @ Sahara. Else, they’re good in either a cream or tomato-based sauce.
      • Snapper: lightly breaded and fried at home, or deep-fried at a fish’n’chips shop.
      • Kingfish: we bought it on a whim from a fishmonger, grilled it up at home and it was deelish!
      • Orange roughy: same as the king fish, well no. Kingfish is like a steak, the roughy is light, fluffy and tasty.
    4. Mackenzie Station Seed & Grain Bread. Thick cut, heavy on the grains, great taste. At nearly five bucks a pop it’s expensive stuff, but compared to the rest of the dismal-looking super-thinly-sliced stuff, it’s well worth it!
    5. Fashion. Julie was right – they do like to dress nicely here. Although, it’s all black for the most part.  I’m just impressed with the number of ‘home-grown’ clothing stores for such a small country. Barkers, Meccano, all sorts of woollens, IceBreaker (huge fan!), and others I can’t think of, but they’re probably all owned by some Auzzie outfit.
    6. L&P. No, not Lee & Perrins Worchestershire sauce. Lemon and Paeroa. World famous in New Zealand, this soda is a cross between ginger ale and 7up. Tasty-as, it’s a perfect mix for New Zealand’s 42Below feijoa vodka.  Otherwise it’s just refreshing!
    7. Flight of the Conchords; a comedy duo a la “Bob & Doug”. We’d heard about this show from Julie’s friend Candice, and we happened to catch an FOTC marathon on New Year’s Eve day and were immediately hooked. The two guys have a very dry humour, and you could say it’s similar to Canadian humour in that sense. Check it out:



    Best Day trip from Auckland
    • Waitakere Ranges (Piha & Bethels beaches, forest walks)
    • Matakana (wineries and scenic coastline)
    Best Boat Cruise
    • Haparanda Sailing (boat charter for Andrew’s birthday)
    • Perfect Day Cruise (Tutukaka)
    Favourite Winery
    • Trinity Hill (Hawke’s Bay)
    • Omaha Bay Vineyard [OBV] (Matakana; great views from the hilltop over the bay)
    Fave Restaurant (AKL)
    • Mai Thai (CBD)
    • Sake Bar Rikka (Victoria Park)
    Fave Restaurant (elsewhere) Sahara Mediterranean, Orewa (
    Best Farmer’s Market Parnell
    Or Matakana is good too.
    Favourite bar The chain of Mac’s Brewpubs: Steamship Lines down on Quay street close to our place, Nuffield up in Newmarket and the new one in Kingsland. All have great interior design, and of course loads of Mac’s Beer on tap.
    Favourite Drive
    • Lake Tekapo to Milford Sound if you’re up for a solid 8hr drive through some majestic scenery.
    • For a nice Sunday arvo drive, head east from Auckland around the coastal highway.
    • Andrew thinks that the incredibly twisty road up through the Mangamuka Gorge was pretty fun.
    Favourite mates


    you know who you are

    • Dylan the Villain and our other flatmate Becs
    • Joel, from Vancouver
    • Niall & Nadine
    • Ty & Lauren, the other Canadians
    • Doug & Amy, the “bohemian” Brits
    • JP & Clare, the skydive specialists

    We’ll miss ya! and hope to one day play host for you in the tourist hot-spot of Winnipeg!

    Farewell New Zealand, it’s been a blast!