I had actually first met Brooke and Aaron, I think it was my third week in New Zealand, when they came up to Auckland for a friend's wedding. We had lunch together then went to a preseason rugby match. I really enjoyed my afternoon with them so I was quite looking forward to my weekend visit.
I set off for the three and a half-hour drive after work on Friday afternoon. With daylight-savings now over, the light fails pretty early in the afternoon, so most of the drive was in the dark. Much to my consternation, I discovered that the Chariot's headlights are not tip top, so much of the hilly, windy journey was spent in white-knuckled terror. Okay, so not really "terror," but there were a few spots that were of more than just a little concern. But ultimately we came through unscathed and I arrived at their apartment at a little past 9:00pm. I was greeted with a hearty handshake (from Aaron), a nice hug (from Brooke), a cold beer, and what turned out to be music to my ears--Brooke's Texas accent. As much as I enjoy the lilting Kiwi accent, I hadn't realized how much I miss hearing a good ol' familiar Texas drawl. I was also greeted with an unexpected little boost to the self esteem. The first time I met Brooke and Aaron was during the height of my quest for Auckland's best gelato, and was before seven weeks of good, hard, manual labor at the vineyard. Since then I've lost close to twenty pounds, and I have to tell you, when Brooke asked what happened to the rest of me, I couldn't help but smile.
With our Steinlagers drained, we moseyed down to The Octagon--an area of town with several restaurants, cafes, and bars--to check out the goings on of the Friday-night scene. We bar-hopped to three or four different joints, all of which were playing Kings of Leon over their sound systems. The Kings of Leon are huge over here. They had a concert up in Christchurch three weeks ago that I unsuccessfully tried to get a ticket to. Apparently the tickets sold out the first week they went on sale--last November!
Around midnight, our rumbling bellies led us to The Dragon Cafe for some late-night deep-fried sweet and sour pork (and chips). There was a table of about ten people sitting near us and Aaron knew a few (if not all) of them. Over the course of the weekend I came to realize that Brooke's nickname for Aaron, "The Mayor of Dunedin," is quite apt. Everywhere we went, it seemed Aaron knew everyone there.
On Saturday Brooke had to work until 3:00pm, so I cruised with Aaron down to the Saturday-morning Farmer's Market (the largest in New Zealand, I believe). Aaron owns a fish-supply business and has a stand at the market. Oh, and he also knows everybody there--did I mention he is the "Mayor" of Dunedin? Next we were off for a tour of his factory. Didn't care much for he smell--even though it was closed on Saturday and no fish were being processed at the moment--but it was quite an impressive facility. He has contracts with about a dozen boats that fish for his operation, and he told me if I came back in July or August, he could probably get me out on one of them for a day's worth of crayfish (lobster) fishing. You can bet that I'll take him up on it!
After the tour, we headed down to Port Chalmers where he plays rugby with the Harbour Rugby Football Club. While he was getting ready for his match I took the opportunity to explore this charming little port community. I hiked to the lookout point over the bay where I discovered a fantastic little sculpture garden and a commanding view of the harbour. After admiring the outstanding pieces of art, I just sat down for about a half an hour to observe the operations of the port below from my eagle's-nest-like vantage point. It's quite a fascinating sight to see one of those huge container ships being unloaded no more than 150ft away. I knew Aaron's game was about to get underway to I strolled back towards the playing field, stopping into a corner store for a Bundaberg's Lemon Lime and Bitters soda on the way. It's my favorite New Zealand soda. Followed closely by Bundaberg's Ginger Beer then Bundaberg's Sarsaparilla. Basically, I'm a big fan of anything made by Bundaberg's. With my Lemon Lime and Bitters in hand I cheered on Harbour as they cruised to a lopsided thirty to nil victory over I forget who. After Aaron had showered up from his match, we bought a couple jugs of Speight's and stayed to watch Harbour's premiere team play against I forget who's premiere team. The "Premes" didn't fare as well as Aaron's team and ended up losing to I forget who. But, I don't know that it matters because, win or lose, both sides end up afterwards in the clubhouse to drink beers together anyways. I have to tell you, of all the experiences I've had thus far in New Zealand, I don't know that I've had one more "absolutely Kiwi" as drinking jugs of beer in a Rugby Football Club's clubhouse with two opposing teams that just finished beating the hell out of each other for 80 minutes. It was fantastic!
We met back up with Brooke, now off work, and went and had Turkish food for dinner. I don't know if the number of Turkish restaurants in Dunedin constitute an inordinate amount (Neil), but I have learned that Kiwis like kebabs! We stayed in to watch a movie that night, and I think all three of us fell asleep halfway through "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Weeooweeoooo, woaw, woaw, woaw.
Sunday morning, Aaron tells me that we're going for a "wee walk" before breakfast. What he fails to mention is that by "wee walk" he means we're going to scale a mountain! Alright, so it wasn't really a mountain, but The Pineapple Track traverses some rather large, steep hills. Aaron just strolls along like it's nothing. He looks back every so often toward Brooke and me, breathlessly trying to keep up, and tauntingly asks "No hills in Texas?" I certainly don't remember any on the Katy Trail. Our planned after-walk breakfast morphed into a light snack as we were heading to a friend's barbeque soon. At every New Zealand barbeque I've been to, it seems the rule is to cook enough food to feed twice the number of those in attendance. This one was no exception. That's no complaint, mind you. Just an observation.
With our bellies full and the day getting late, we said our goodbyes to their friends and headed back to their apartment so I could gather my things and get on the road back to Wanaka. We took one small detour on the way, to drive up, then back down, Baldwin Street--the Guinness Book of World Records record holder as the steepest street in the world! It was pretty cool.
I thoroughly enjoyed my big city weekend, and my hosts were positively top-notch! I'm greatly looking forward to visiting them again. I just need to get used to climbing mountains before I agree to any more of Aaron's "wee walks."