RTW Day 2 – A shy Mount Fuji in the rain from Hakone and Gyoza in Shibuya

Since we were in the neighbourhood of Mt. Fuji, we decided to head there to get a glimpse of the mountain. Unfortunately, the weather was planned for rain, however, when you have the luxury of a Japan Rail Pass, the more you use it, the better value it becomes, so we decided to make the ~100km trip towards Odawara.

Odawara is the nearest bullet train, or Shinkansen, station to Mt. Fuji, and the Kodama Shinkansen stops there. There’s three types of Shinkasen, one that stops only at major stations, Nozomi, one that stops at most stations, Hikari, and one that stops at every station, Kodama. Nozomi isn’t valid on a Japan Rail Pass, but the rest are. You can reserve seats at the train station in advance, or you can risk it, and grab a seat in an unreserved car. Unfortunately, if they’re all full, you’ll have to stand.

Anyways, from Odawara, it’s a transfer to a local train to Hakone, then another local train, then a cable car, then two ropeways, to get to the views of Mt. Fuji. However, the rain was coming down this day, which meant that the mountain was shrouded in cloud. While this may seem a little disappointing, it’s very dramatic to see the mountain ranges and hills poke out behind clouds, with the pine trees on the hillside all covered in mist, it’s very serene, and peaceful.

DSC_0152This is in contrast to the actual trains itself, which were packed. This wasn’t surprising as this was a Saturday, and Hakone is a popular day trip from Tokyo. In some of the trains we were packed in like Sardines standing, while in others we managed to grab a seat. The most enjoyable views were from the Hakone Rope way. Ascending through the clouds all you could see was cloud and the cables, which made it a very heavenly experience. Kathryn was freaked out about Rope ways, so my comparison about ascending towards Heaven wasn’t really appreciated by literal Kathryn.

At the top of the Ropeway was a restaurant where we had lunch. In Japan, “set” means including drinks, and we decided to have a “Sausage Set”, which was a few mini frankfurters, some wedges, and an iced coffee. We also ordered a Minestrone Soup Pan (or bread) set as well. All up, by sharing mains, we’re having smaller portion sizes, and enjoying different types of food.

DSC_0159One type of food we didn’t try was Tamago, or boiled egg, that had been boiled in the geothermal waters. This made the eggs turn black, which seems like a wholly unappealing colour for an egg. Really by definition they should be white. If they’re not white, they’re not alright. That’s like a slogan for parts of the South Island. At the end of the rope way is a lake. It looked awesome, but we decided not to go on it, since once you’ve seen a lake, going on it for an hour doesn’t add that much more to the lake views.

We then decided to head back into Tokyo and have a walk around Shibuya. Whenever you see pictures of Japan with hundreds of people crossing at an intersection, that’s a picture of Shibuya. The place is famous for having lots of people. It’s also famous for a dog that waited for its owner long after the owner had died. So all around Shibuya are references to Hachiko, the remembering dog.

It was time for dinner so we headed to a family restaurant chain. We ordered Gyoza, or Pork Dumplings, Miso Ramen, Fried Rice, and two beers, which came to about $20. This was amazing value, considering the same thing in New Zealand would cost about $40. It was delicious, or Oishi in Japanese.

We headed to one of the massive variety stores in Shibuya, Loft. Loft is like going to Iko Iko, except it has 6 floors. There was half a floor of notepads. Japan believes in choice when it comes to goods for purchase. And yet, all the pricing was really reasonable. There were some amazing tables that would be $400 in New Zealand, for sale for $90 NZD here. New business idea, import all goods from Loft into New Zealand, add 20% markup, profit.

RTW Day 1 – Old Air New Zealand planes, and welcome to Tokyo

For those of you who didn’t know, my wife and I decided to go on an around the world trip. The first stop on our trip was to Tokyo. Air New Zealand have an excellent brand, which doesn’t always align to the actual planes that fly. The plane from Auckland to Tokyo was a Boeing 777 that felt pretty ancient. Modern planes have touch screens that are responsive as soon as you touch them. This plane had this old school wired remote control that reminded me of using a TV from the late 90s. Thankfully, the screen also reminded me of a TV from the late 90s, with its low resolution that made eyes hurt, and TV shows blurry, like they’re suffering from poor reception.

The guy next to me was first to his seat, and had already claimed the armrest, like he was the king of the aisle. This bummed me out until he decided he wanted to sit next to his wife in the middle set of seats, which left a blank seat between Kathryn and I. This was treated like a gift from Heaven, and enabled Kathryn and I to sit with our legs up, or the switch seats, or just to wriggle around. Given you’re in the air for 10 hours, a bit of wriggling is OK.

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I’ve always wondered how chefs go about creating recipes for airlines. Sometimes the food is nice, but most of the time, it really gives hotel breakfast food a run for its money in “deliciousness” stakes. The breakfast I had was pretty rough, Scrambled Eggs, a Chicken Sausage, and Baked Beans. You could sense that once upon a time that sausage had been near a grill or pan, but after being chilled and microwaved, it really didn’t have much heart or soul left. Why not provide cereal and fruit instead? At least you don’t have to microwave it.

Anyways, 10+ hours later, we landed at Narita Airport. First thing’s first, get some cash. Head to the first ATM, didn’t work. Turns out it’s a “local only” bank. That’s a bit racist. I’m just kidding about the racist bit, but I don’t understand why there’s local only ATMs. Then at the second ATM, the Onesmart Card from Air New Zealand fails again. I think it’s because I tried to withdraw too much cash. The ATM doesn’t tell you much, but thankfully the automatic emails from Onesmart after each transaction through some light on what’s happening. However, in a bit of a panic, I decided to withdraw an awfully large amount of cash from my credit card. Japan’s a cash based society, so it makes sense. It also is very safe, so I don’t mind walking around with stacks of cash.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ie9wM7oA58We arrived into Tokyo after a nice relaxing train ride on the Narita Express, and then after a couple of transfers we were back in Asakusabashi. We’ve stayed here the previous three times we’ve both been to Tokyo, so it’s becoming a familiar neighbourhood. Khaosun Tokyo Ninja is based in Asakusabashi, which is about a 10 minute walk from Akihabara, the famous electronics district of Tokyo. The hostel itself was cheap at 6000 yen a night for a private room. However, we didn’t realise that for free they included a pervasive damp ‘wet towel’ smell. In the end we figured out that it was the air conditioner, so once we turned that off and opened the window, things were OK. We were tired, so after 24 hours awake, we called it a night.

Walking to Bondi, getting interviewed, and avoiding death

Blog Spoiler: I avoided a snake that wasn’t in a zoo, which is where they belong.

After an action packed yesterday, I decided I wanted to take it easy. It was going to be an amazing sunny day in Sydney, cool for the locals at 26 degrees, but for a New Zealander, it’s pretty much the peak of summer for me. And what better to do in the peak of summer than go for a walk.

But before going anywhere, I decided to top up my Opal card with another $10. So it turns out just like I talked about in previous posts, all travel on Sunday is $2.50 for the whole day. So I’m not sure why I topped up, probably because I’m not a smart man. Then it was time to catch the bus. There’s a few different bays before Bondi, like Bronte or Coogee. Rather than waiting for the the packed Coogee bus, I decided to catch the one to Bronte.

Along the way, there was a surf lifesaver saying keep moving, there’s a Black Snake, and if people stop, it’ll start to get freaked out. Here’s a quote:

The venom causes blood-clotting disorder and muscle and nerve damage, enough to knock you off your feet, but rarely deadly.

So that’s good news. It might be deadly, just not all the time. Like attack helicopters, and visiting Somalia.

On reaching Bondi, I sunbathed. It really is amazing to relax on the beach, and play spot the white people. Everyone in Australia appears to be brown and blonde, so when someone isn’t brown and blonde, odds are they’re a German tourist. With all the blonde people around, no wonder Germans like the place so much. But I digress. I was originally supposed to go on a Sydney Harbour Drinking Cruise, but after last night’s drink-a-thon, I decided I enjoyed my life too much to do it again any time soon.

Turns out Australia’s second largest shopping mall is at Bondi Junction, so one quick free bus later, and there I was, Westfield Bondi Junction, featuring over 500 shops. Think of it like adding about 4 of New Zealand’s largest shopping malls together into one place. The Myers there is over four floors, and takes about 10 minutes to get down all of the escalators.

There’s no Oportos in Wellington any more, so  Idecided to take advantage of the one in front of my very own eyes, and ordered a half Chicken. This was a decision I ended up regretting. It’s always good value, but are there many times in life when a quarter Chicken just doesn’t satisfy? I thought today was one of those times, but I was sadly wrong, and proved that I’m not a good judge of portion sizes.

I then decided to catch the train from Bondi Junction to Central. While walking to the station, I was selected to do an interview for the Australian TAB for a commercial. They asked me a lot of horse related questions, like what’s a gelding, or what’s a swimmer, to which I looked foolish and couldn’t answer any of them. If I end up on Australian TV, this could be my shot at fame.

Moving along, I ended up getting off the train at some random railway station. Without a solid destination in mind, sometimes the city can seem overwhelming. So I took a seat, and decided to head to Luna Park.

I never made it to Luna Park. But I did make it to North Sydney, and decided to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge instead. It looks like a massive walk, but it’s actually pretty reasonable, probably took about 40 minutes. The views are nice, though I’m not too sure if it’s the wind, or my legs, but it felt like the bridge was swaying a little. Probably just my mind.

How Germany took over Sydney, or the Sydney Pub Crawl

Before I start the blog post, things I’ve noticed while writing blog posts for an hour, massive massive backpacks. Seriously, stop it. These things must weigh north of 20kg, and people would wear two of them, that’s 40kg you’re carrying around on the train, on the bus, at the airport, on your first date. Just because the airline weight limit exists, it’s not a target. Also, someone either took a selfie of their breasts, or their breakfast. Kinda weird.

Anyways, in my constant quest to relive my youth, I decided to go on a pub crawl. This is because I’m old, and it seemed an easy way to drink without worrying about logistics, and $20 for 4 drinks and a slice of Pizza is a reasonable price. Nobu decided to come along as he is equally old. This provided me much entertainment, because as a married man, I wasn’t there to pick up women. However, what I could do is break the ice with women and introduce them to Nobu.

We started out at Side Bar, which is a backpacker bar in Sydney just across the road from Central Station. As were signing up, it dawned on us that initially there were only two guys who had signed up, and about 30 women. And of the 30, I’d suggest, around 30 of them were German. Throughout the night many of my interactions were with German women, and it’ll be the main theme of this blog post.

I enjoy talking to people, finding out about themselves, how they got here, what they’re doing. I talked to one couple, a Swede and a Chilean. The Swedish guy just arrived, he was organising beer pong at the bar, and told me that Sweden has no rivalries, though if they had one with Norway, they would win. The Chilean woman told me that they’re racist towards Bolivians and Peruvians, but Argentinians are racist towards them. I told them all to visit New Zealand, it’s like Australia, but friendlier, and with less things that want to kill you. Like the people, animals, and plant life.

Now, just drinking in a bar with the group of people you’re not talking to defeats the point of a pub crawl. However, I’ve noticed that because there’s a great number of Germans in Sydney, there’s already default groups of people that hang out with each other, bonded together in their journey of going to the other side of the world to practice English, by speaking German to their fellow German backpackers. I didn’t judge it too hard, I always thought it was weird that New Zealanders go to London just to hang out with New Zealanders. Anyways, I set Nobu the challenge of talking to a few groups of these men and women just to see what would happen. First, all the women were wearing plastic leis. I asked Nobu to go grab one for himself. He did, and they said it was just for women. I said my new Japanese word, “Joodan” or joke. He laughed. I taught some women how to do the moonwalk. It looked appalling, but it broke the ice, and we started chatting.

During clubbing I enjoy dancing like a guy. this involves not really moving your feet, moving your body up and down in time with the music, and sometimes closing your eyes and waving your arms and hands around as if you’re slowly trying to make a clay bowl using an invisible pottery wheel. Women naturally look good dancing, and guys naturally look bad. It’s the natural state of affairs. I also enjoy watching people interact. There was one group of German women who valiantly resisted any guy who tried to dance with them. They danced in a tight defensive circle, backs to everyone, an inverted version of the movie 300, but instead of Persians coming to attack, it was guys trying to do the invisible pottery wheel dance move in the middle of the circle. After say, about 10 seconds of scorn later, they would bust a move out of there feigning a need for another drink or a smoke. Nobu asked me if I would talk to one of them.

This was obviously impossible, though at the very end of the night as the dance floor broke up, I managed to chat to one of them. The first thing I asked her was if she was German. She said no, she was Swiss, and that was the end of the conversation. It was there I knew, that they had won the game of resisting all efforts of attention from every person ever.

Which is not surprising, since it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out if someone wants to talk to you or not. At the end of the night I was sitting outside and sharing some of my tales of getting Nobu to talk to women to a German guy. He laughed and said it was impossible to talk to German women. He said they were hard work, and you had to know them for ages. But British women were a different story. I think all the German guys try and go for English women. English guys get drunk and then start doing chin ups on street signs and not impressing German women. New Zealand and Japanese guys hang out with each other, and dance like old people.

And the night finished with a woman handing me a bag with three loaves of bread, which I then shared with two German guys and Nobu. It was bizarre, fun, tiring, and a blast.

Trying not the drown in front of 8 year old surf lifesavers

Anyways, next on the day’s activities was to head to Manly and go surfing. Can someone say cliché. As we were making our way towards Circular Quay, one of the bridges over the harbour tested out its rotate function, designed for boats to pass by. Nobu kept looking for the boat until I told him they were just testing. He told me that the harbour was a nice place to take someone on a date. I told him I was already married, and that Japanese men weren’t really my type. He apologised, and told me he was saying the area was nice for a date, and that he wasn’t asking me on a date. And that’s where I learnt my Japanese word of the day “Joodan”, or joke.

Ferrys are now Opal enabled, so I helped Nobu buy an Opal card. I told him they were good for pretty much any travel around Sydney. He said what about the Tram? I said no, everything but the Tram. That’s what I meant by pretty much any travel, pretty much any travel except the Tram. And that’s why I’m not a tour guide. One thing that is nice about the Opal card is the ease of use. I used to hate buying tickets and having cash, and then having change and blah blah blah. Now it’s all just use the card, don’t notice how much you spend, and top up regularly. Easy.

Manly while part of Sydney, really doesn’t have the feel of Sydney city. It’s like a big Mt. Maunganui. It’s really cruisy, relaxing, and enjoyable. The people are incredibly bronze, blonde, skinny, and good looking. There must be tremendous pressure on you to look good in Manly. I imagine it’s part of the prerequisites of living there. That or money. Lots of money. There didn’t seem to be that many broke people in Manly.

We made it to the Surf School, and because we hadn’t booked in advance, there weren’t any places for us. To be honest, at $70, for a one hour lesson, I wasn’t terribly sad. $70, that buys me 21 Scallop Morneys! However, we decided to rent some gear and just go without lessons. I mean, the surf only looked a little aggressive. Nobu went for a hard long board and wet suit, and I went for a bodyboard and a wet suit. Turns out old Nobu’s a bit of a pro when it comes to surfing, and was quickly riding all the waves. There was an area of the beach that had signs up saying to stay away because there’s a strong current, a bit like a rip. That’s where a Junior Lifesaving competition was being held. I decided to enter the sea to the left of that, and due to the current and waves, was pushed right in the middle of that section, and then got stuck. The current decided that was pretty cool to hang out about 100m from the beach, and the harder I tried to go left again, the less left I went. So that was exciting. Oh yeah, the guy rented me flippers as well, that were too big. So imagine paddling with a couple of plates tied to your feet. That wasn’t the best. Anyways, I was determined not to get rescued by an 8 year old, so I pushed past it, and just went far right. Turns out since that’s where the current was pushing me the whole time, it was really easy, and by then I was back in the beach.

Feigning total surfing enjoying exhaustion, I hung out on the beach. I did that whole sit on the board with my wet suit half down look. If only I had an Up and Go, then I could have looked in a commercial. A commercial for people who don’t understand the sea.

We then made our move back to Sydney, via the ferry. Along the way I stopped at McDonalds for an Ice Cream. Still 30 cents. Still amazing. They must make about 3 cents profit on it, but I didn’t care. When you can buy something for 50 cents, and get change, well, that’s amazing in my opinion.

We were in a hurry to return to Sydney so we could see their Night Noodle Markets. This was a massive night market filled with generic Asian street food. I enjoyed it, but don’t come expecting to see the best of Laos street food, or Cambodian, or Filipino. It was Thai, Malay, and a couple of Japanese street stalls, but the atmosphere was really nice. Everyone was relaxed, it was a family affair, the lines were small, people were happy, the sun was setting in Hyde Park, it was great. Nobu went for a Pad Thai, while I went for BBQ Pork on Hokkien Noodles. Ever had food envy? That was basically me the whole day with Nobu. He ordered stuff, it would look delicious. I ordered stuff, and it would be a facsimile of what I was expecting. $12 dollars later, I had my fill of BBQ Pork and noodles, and after a long day it was time to head back to the hostel, have a nap, and prepare for the Pub Crawl.

Pretty much the worst food ever invented

All of yesterday I hung out with a Japanese guy called Nobu. One of the essentials when travelling is to find someone of a similar age, a similar level of racism, someone you can share a laugh with. For breakfast I went to Woolworths and bought some Blueberries, Mandarins (Mikan in Japanese), and a bag of Carrots. This was part of my “surely one of the meals of the day should be healthy” diet. Though that was kinda ruined when I saw that in Australia they sell Vegemite pinwheels. In New Zealand, these are made with bread and cheese making them really unhealthy, but pretty much the most delicious thing ever invented. Turns out over here they’ve changed the game, and replaced white bread with pastry. Because that’s really what was needed, a switch to an even more unhealthy food ingredient. I’m surprised they haven’t decided to just spread cheese and Vegemite on KFC Chicken Skin.

Anyways, as I was eating my raw Carrot for breakfast, Nobu looked at me and asked if this was just something I do, or was this something that New Zealanders do. I said most New Zealanders would probably peel them first, and then cut them into sticks, but yeah, New Zealanders eat raw Carrots. He said that was wild, and wouldn’t really happen in Japan. I offered him a raw Carrot, which he ate. He did not really enjoy that at all, and said it had a subtle fresh taste. I think that’s a polite Japanese insult.

We then caught the Tram to the Fish Market. On the way I ended up talking to a University Graduate who worked at The Star, the casino on the Tram line. Nobu had been quite insistent that we go to the Fish Market for Fish and Chips, and she replied that grew up in Sydney, and had never been the Fish Market. So that’s good. It does seem like a weird place to take someone, like, hey, we’re new to town, so come check out our Fertilizer Plant, or the Garden Centre.

We made it to the Fish Market, which has a big market bit not for customers, and a big grill bit which is for customers. If you like seafood, it seems like a good place to come. Most of the fish wasn’t from Australia, which for me sort of takes away the charm of the fish market. It’s basically just a supermarket with a very limited selection of protein.

Nobu true to form ordered Fish and Chips. They looked greasy as hell, and he confirmed that. They weren’t made with love. At the same place, I went for a King Prawn marinated in Chilli and Lime, and the special of the place, Scallops Mornay, 3 for $10. I didn’t really understand what Scallops Mornay were, so let me explain. Take a scallop shell. Add about a teaspoon of cold cold rice. Cold like the heart of the person who invented this hell dish. Then sprinkle grated cheddar cheese around it, as if you were sprinkling disappointment itself. Next, slice up some scallop meat. Really, the less the meat, the better and cheaper. Add a little bit of mayonaise for surprise. Top it off with fish roe to communicate that you don’t understand how food works. Then, cook this using a handheld flame torch, making sure the cheese is oily, but yet, still cold under the scallops. Serve to people that you hate, greedily taking $10 in return for dishing misery.

Yeah, so I had the scallops and didn’t super enjoy them. The King Prawn was a lot nicer.

Jim Gaffigan’s The White Bread Sydney Tour Review

Because work have been kind enough to send me to Sydney for a conference, I decided to fly over early on the Friday night and see Jim Gaffigan’s The White Bread Tour at the Sydney Opera House.

But before that, a bit of back story coming into Sydney. Kathryn and I are planning on going around the world using only 7kg worth of luggage for the entire trip, and so I decided to use this trip as a bit of a trial run. Apart from the bag weighing 8kg, everything was going fine, I was ultra-organised, and had packing cubes for Africa. Turns out that if you’re going for the carry on only thing, you still have to take out laptops and liquids. Somehow the liquids thing completely escaped my mind, and so the security guy and I had a wee chat about that. But because it was Wellington, he was relatively chilled. I imagine in a place like America, that would be considered quite a faux pas, nearly taser worthy.

Turns out I talked a bit on the plane with my work mate. So much so that the guy in front of me kept starring back at me through the seat cushions. He was about 50, white, and gruff looking. I figured he either was trying to tell us to shut up or he had a crush on me. Next time he glanced back I made sure he could see the wedding ring on my finger, just to let him know I was taken.

Landing at Sydney Airport at 5pm, the place was deserted. It felt about as quiet as the Hamilton Airport International Arrivals lounge. My trip for quickly getting through customs and biosecurity is to be honest, and carry nothing. I was carrying medicine which I declared, and because it’s prescription, they don’t even bother looking, and you’ve just skipped a massive line.

Sydney transport has switched to a contactless card like Snapper or Oyster Cards called the Opal Card. It’s awesome, and I recommend anyone visiting get one. The card itself is free, after 8 trips a week you no longer pay for travel, the most you can pay in a week is $60, and all-you-can-eat travel on Sunday is $2.50.

Anyways, back to the comedy. The show was really good, well worth the $60. The warm up act was a young dude talking about how ungrateful we are to our parents, because they always annoy us by calling them and asking how to install Itunes on their phone, when really, all they’ve done for us is given birth to us, and provided for us for the first 20 or 30 or 40 years of our life. That’s a fair call.

And then it was Jim Gaffigan‘s turn. I was sitting next to two 65 year old gentlemen in a very packed play house. One of the guys was gruff, looked like a farmer, and was dragged to this “comedy” show by his family. I imagined he drank Tooheys New and owned a ute. I wasn’t too sure how Jim’s comedy was going to go down with this guy, and it was a bit hit and miss. Jim talked about everyone loving elevators, because they’re magical, and why would anyone ever take the stairs. When you’re in a stairwell and you met the only other person in the stairwell, you always give this knowing glance to the other person that says “I won’t rape you if you won’t rape me” since there really wasn’t a good reason for either person to be on the stairs because elevators. I laughed. Gruff farmer dude folded his arms. There was more comedy, it was good.

Then it was time to grab some food, and hang out in the common lounge of the Railway Square YHA. I was a no friends Nigel for ages. Because I was only drinking water, I spied the only other person drinking water and sat beside her as we were eating dinner. She immediately left. So that was nice. I figured she was Israeli. When it comes to hostel friendliness, Americans and Japanese are at the top. Germans are little wooden. Israelis are as friendly as polar bears.

Turns out that one of my dorm buddies, Nobu, was really good fun. He’s from Japan, studied how to teach Japanese to foreigners, and is a Sushi Chef in Sydney. He mentioned to me he’s here for 3 months and has a car. So he decided to rent a car for 3 months for $2000! I laughed and told him he could have bought a car for that cash. He parks it around the corner of the hostel for only $100 a week.

Anyways, he told me about this Noodle Night Market that was about 30 minutes walk away. Since it was 11pm, we decided to go investigate, though I did tell him I’d be pretty surprised if it was still open. Turns out at 11.30pm it wasn’t open. Then we walked all the way back looking for a bar, and decided to go to the one across the road from the hostel.

Nobu is 35. He looks about 22. In that club it was there I decided I’m getting pretty old for this. My highlights of the night were two women who were dancing next to us, and I told them that my friend was from Japan and couldn’t dance, so if they could show him some moves, and one decided to do the worm on the ground. It was amazing! Mainly because I was wondering, that must be disgusting for her top. The ground is covered with spilt beer. But good on her.

How a simple trip to Auckland can get stressful

So Kathryn and I decided to escape the Hamilton city boundary and head to Auckland for a couple of days that just so happen to be the days before New Years.

First things first, we needed to book accommodation and transport.

I’d never tried to book accommodation using the Expedia mobile app before so I decided to give it a go. Went online, found the cheapest place available for a couple of nights and pounced on it. Turns out that was the YHA in Auckland Central on Liverpool Street. Two nights in a double room with a shared bathroom was $160. Booked that, entered my credit card details and it was all done.

Next thing was the bus. Intercity regularly have buses from Hamilton to Auckland for around $20 per person each way, so we booked these.

Buses are always cheap and you may be tempted to book one. It really is always a mistake every time. On today’s delightful journey we had Mr. Recliner who felt the need to recline his seat to maximum for the long arduous journey from Hamilton to Manukau. He looked like ae was on a night flight to Japan based on the immediate reclining and relaxing pose he assumed. Like one of those stock photo models you see relaxing with one knee up using a laptop casually. This was this guy sans the laptop.

Our neighbour on the bus was a young Korean looking teenager who sadly did not have enough money to buy headphones for his iPhone 4 and instead decided to share his love of gangster music with everyone on the bus. Nothing enhances gangster music like a total lack of bass, and this iPhone 4 speaker delivered. On the totally lack of bass I mean. He kept turning it up and down as if he was both staunch and ashamed of what he was doing.

His neighbour turned out to be a 16 year old stockbroker discussing why Xero was such a good valued share. After all, all the big time stockbrokers travel between Hamilton and Auckland using a $20 Intercity bus ticket. Why bother taking the Mercedes out of the garage for that we jaunt when the bus will do.

However we finally made it to Auckland.

So it turns out that the YHA is just a wee walk from Sky City according to Google Maps so we decided to walk. Kathryn had a warning though and said it was all uphill. I was nah, how uphill can it really be?

Turns out basically K Road. For those unfamiliar with Auckland imagine a steep hill carrying a suitcase, and then at the end of that steep hill imagine another one.

Sweating profusely we made it past the homeless guy and the people drinking outside to the Auckland Central YHA. There we waited in line for about ten minutes while a French woman decided to apply the most onerous conditions to her staying the night eventually ruling out all available rooms. She must have forgot that this place wasn’t the Langham, that’s next door.

Eventually we got to the front of the line. They found our booking and then asked us to pay. This was surprising as when I booked on Expedia I had to provide my credit card and I thought I had already paid. After trying to reach Expedia by phone we just paid again by credit card and decided to contact Expedia later, since we had been waiting for more than 30 minutes now, and were very cranky.

My tips for talking to Expedia on the phone are to note your booking number since you’ll need that, and select option 2 “change your booking” since option 1 “about your booking” doesn’t actually do anything. Anyways, it turns out that there are two types of bookings with Expedia, one where they take the money, and another where the accommodation provider takes the money. The mobile app doesn’t make this clear at all. If you book with the Expedia mobile app and don’t receive an invoice or a booking email then it’s probably pay on the door.

So my useful accommodation booking tip is if you’re booking hotels use Expedia. If you’re booking hostels use Hostelworld. Now you don’t have to guess if you’ve paid or not. We were just lucky we were in a country that spoke English, imagine being in China and finding out this. You wouldn’t pay the hostel since you think you were being scammed, and the hostel would think that you are trying to scam them. Stupid Expedia mobile app.

IHOP, Maitais on a catamaran, and the Cheesecake Factory

This day was the last full day in Waikiki, so we decided to cram in some things we wanted to do. First up was breakfast at IHOP. For those of you not familiar with IHOP, and they basically do breakfasts. All day and night.

I think it’s a weird request to go to IHOP because of all the places in the world we could go to, of all the foods we could have, pancakes are the thing we want to do. It’s a bit like going to the Waikato and wanting to go to Ronnie’s Cafe. Great bacon and egg breakfasts there too.

Since I’m sure I’ve packed on a few pounds since getting here (back to healthy eating when I get home!) I decided to get a healthy bacon and eggs. This included an egg substitute that I guess tasted like eggs, so that was new. I had Turkey Bacon which actually tasted pretty good, and a fruit salad which was really nice as well. Kathryn of course had the pancakes, which makes a lot of sense.

The next thing we did was the Maita’i Catamaran on another Groupon deal. This was a 90 minute trade-wind sail for two people for $28 USD, which was exactly half price, and a really good deal.

Kathryn decided to jump down some stairs like me, and then nearly lost one of her jandals in the surf. Somehow that was my fault, but little did I know she would get her revenge.

We lined up outside the boat, front of the queue which was great, and then found out the queue was at the beach, and it turns out we were last in line. There was one good looking couple that jumped to the front of the queue by lining up next to the queue which was rude. I don’t understand, do some people not understand how lines work, or do they just not care about other people? We’re not in Shanghai!

While you may not be able to hear what I’m babbling about, you certainly get the idea of what we were up to, cruising on the waters, drink in hand, it was great. Kathryn was a bit sceptical about the sailing (since she’s sceptical about doing anything even remotely fun) but once on the water she really enjoyed it.

We saw sea turtles, and we saw Spinner Dolphins, which I’m guessing are named after the fact that they jump out of the water and spin. Creatively named! It was an awesome experience.

Next up was a late lunch, and another one of Kathryn’s dreams was to head to The Cheesecake Factory.

I’m not sure why, but we had deep fried Macaroni Cheese balls for an appetizer.

They were actually so massive that I couldn’t eat my far healthier Herb-crusted Salmon, which became a takeaway dinner. And that was it for the day, we relaxed, had some swimming in the pool, did some washing, relaxed some more, and had a steak plate from Hi Steak. There were fireworks outside one of the Hilton hotels in Waikiki, but alas, we forgot about it, and only saw the tips of it from the hotel balcony.

Going surfing and an excursion to Chinatown Honolulu

As you know, I’m a bit wary now of scams in America, and a lot of things are scammy. One thing that has actually been awesome has been Groupon, to date (fingers crossed), I’ve never had trouble with a Groupon yet! One Groupon I saw was for a day’s surfboard rental for $15 USD. It seems rude to come to the home of surfing and then not do any, so even though I’ve only technically surfed once (and I didn’t know which way to put on the wetsuit), I decided to give it a go:

I got the beginner’s board which was massive, especially if you’re just carrying it by yourself. Thanks Kathryn for the support.

It took me a few minutes to get out to where the waves were. I’ve been hitting the beach a bit, and been a bit casual with sunscreen, so after a while I started to notice a burning sensation… I’d had it before, I had sunburnt nipples. Surely not a problem that affects women (I didn’t see any topless bathing here), but clearly a problem that was affecting me, as I felt two stinging nipples fighting against my surfing progress.

In the end I didn’t so much catch a wave as the board caught a wave, and I was on the board, so ‘technically’ I caught a wave, through no skill of my own. Still, it was awesome fun!

We then decided to head out to Chinatown, which is a downtown suburb of Honolulu. We caught the number 2 bus to School Street:

However, I needed to take a pit stop along the way. When you need need a restroom, the first thing I look for is a McDonald’s. Of course, it’s a little rude just going to McDonald’s without buying anything, so decided to buy a dipped ice cream, a bit like the ones you find at Mr. Whippy’s. Well it turns out that this McDonald’s didn’t have a public restroom which threw me, since, I’ve never seen a McDonald’s without a restroom. And to add to my tale, when you purchase an ice cream in 30 degree weather, it turns out it melts immediately. Which it did with much haste.

I think this guy can explain it better than me:

Then we decided to return back to our hotel room in time for a sunset: