Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Tuesday, November 02, 2004 04:44:11|
S. Pacific 2004: 8 - New Zealand to Costa Rica
Saturday, October 30, 2004
This morning I was on the road by 8:30, heading south but by the less used west coast road. It was spitting rain again, and while temperatures yesterday were a balmy 17 C today offered a low of 11 and a high of 14. Now and then the sun broke through, crowning the beautiful countryside with some dazzling rainbows.
The road headed along Hokianga harbour, actually a large inlet, where huge sand dunes border the northern side of the entrance. I parked at a lookout and hiked to the edge of the cliff on the southern side of the entrance in a howling gale. The ocean was pounding the beaches and rocks, and there were places on the narrow trail it was necessary to hang on to avoid being blown over.
The west coast road has good pavement with lots of curves as it negotiates the hilly area. The highway speed limit is a sensible 100 km/hr, so it gave me a great opportunity to test out the sports car handling characteristics of my rented Peugeot with little worry about other vehicles getting in my way - there was almost no traffic.
The road wound through the Waiutama Forest where giant Kauri trees grow. At one point the road narrowed to one lane between two enormous trees. Most of the bridges on this route are one lane as well. There were hitchhikers along the road, one of the throwbacks to more trusting times, and gas stations had full service. On the advice of a hitchhiker I travelled 11 km up a side road to look at the area of the Kai-iwi lakes, a pretty area not mentioned in any material I read.
At Dargaville the very kind owner of a computer store called Polynesian Airlines for me and confirmed that the flight was still scheduled to leave at 6:15 PM. He also let me check my email. A message from Samoa confirmed that I could check into the hotel at any hour, but that the weather was stormy.
The next turn off was to visit the famous Kauri Museum, where there are displays of logging and sawmill techniques from the days when the Kauri forests were a major source of material for buildings and furniture. It is large, and very well done. There were a number of pieces of furniture made from this beautiful wood on display. Shortly after leaving the museum a tiny pub came into view, where a horrible bacon and egg pie and two excellent beers passed for lunch.
The west coast road swings back to join the main road where Kaipara Harbour, a big inlet, almost cuts across the island. 28 miles south the road forked again at Wellsford with another road heading south down the west coast. These secondary roads are much slower going due to the greater distance and the curves, but in spite of time running a bit short to get to the airport I decided to take the west coast road - I've never liked retracing my steps!
It was a pretty drive along the inlet, then through sheep and cattle country. Things went smoothly until I got into urban Auckland from the west side. The road then splintered into a maze of streets with no main highway. Each roundabout gave another selection of routes to choose from. There were direction signs, but for various districts of Auckland that meant nothing to me. Although I had a city map I could not read it while driving, and there were few places to pull over. When I did find a place to pull over I couldn't find anything on the map that matched the highway signs anyhow, so I gave it up and went on dead reckoning.
It turned out that to cross to the other side of the bay that forms Auckland harbour, there really are few options due to the harbour almost cutting through the island. The airport is on a point jutting into the south side of the harbour, so it was necessary to get around he bay.
After navigating a series of streets I found the motorway I originally drove north on, took that south across the bridge, then picked a random exit in the hope it would lead me to the airport. When I was about to give up on the maze of streets I was driving through, I spotted a sign showing a plane, then another and another. I had crossed Auckland going to the airport in just over 30 minutes, instead of the hour it took when leaving the airport. It is obviously a great shortcut, but I could never find it again!
There were no problems at the airport - the car return, check in, security and immigration procedures were all quick and painless. At security the airport authorities weigh carry on luggage even after it is approved by the airline, and will send it back if it is over the airport designated weight for carry on, but I had no problem. The plane was an hour late, but then we were on our way.
After a good meal, a few beer and a nap we arrived at Niue, where a surprising number of passengers disembarked. I walked down to the tarmac, but it was pouring rain and nothing but the lights of the small terminal were visible, so I retreated back to my seat. The crew were saying that the island is slowly recovering from the 300-km/hr cyclone that devastated the island in January this year. Likely a lot of the people arriving were to help get the infrastructure going again. New Zealand is paying for a new hospital, as the previous one was totally destroyed.
The declining population of Niue is now 1,500, and Niue's high commissioner to New Zealand was quoted in today's paper as saying that if the population drops much more it will be necessary to consider partial integration with New Zealand. There are currently four times as many Niueans in New Zealand as in Niue. After the cyclone this year 48 more citizens left for New Zealand on permanent visas, and 875 on visas for a stay of less than 12 months.
The short hop to Samoa, where we landed about midnight, was smooth. The entry formalities were quick and easy and I exited the airport into a clear, moonlit night. I'd forgotten how far it was to Apia from the airport, but a taxi got me there in about 45 minutes and then charged me 3 times the going fare. I was too tired to argue, so paid him, but I lodged a complaint with the tourist people the next day. They seemed quite concerned about it. Everything was ready for me at the Aggie Grey Hotel and I soon collapsed into bed.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
(October 30, 2004 for the second time)
Today I gain back the day I lost crossing the date line going the other way. The time in Samoa and Niue is the same as in Auckland, but one day earlier. The headline in the Apia newspaper this morning is that Miss Niue, an assistant crown counsel, was chosen the new Miss South Pacific. That should give the tiny island nation a shot in the arm! It's obviously a big deal here as the whole front page was dedicated to the story.
After breakfast I arranged transportation to the airport through the hotel, and then walked the streets of the city for a few hours. The weather was clear, sunny and very, very hot. Even a few cold beer on the shaded balcony of a second story pub didn't help a lot. While wandering around I came across the Polynesian Airlines office, so went in to reconfirm my flight and was informed it would be leaving 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled time.
Once back at the hotel another $20 bought me the room until my airport departure at 4:30 PM. It was a good opportunity to catch up on some writing, as it is too hot to do anything else! It was also necessary to shower and change. After walking around every bit of clothing I was wearing was soaking in sweat.
The first European to see Samoa was a Dutchman in 1721, but there is evidence that the islands have been settled for over 3,000 years. Samoa was a German possession from 1899 to 1914 when New Zealand took over the administration of the islands. They were the first Pacific Island country to become independent in 1962. There are 8 islands in the Independent State of Samoa and 5 in American Samoa. The Samoans are friendly, hospitable people who do not seem much concerned with the world beyond their islands.
Most of the 170,000 Samoans live on the island of Upolu, with 35,000 in the main city of Apia. The biggest island, Savai'i, has a population of 45,000. A prime minister heads an elected parliamentary government. There is also a king, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafile II, who at 91 years old still travels. He was in the seat ahead of me in the plane to Samoa from New Zealand, and I was surrounded by his entourage. According to the tourist bureau manager when he dies the position will no longer be filled. It was a position for life, filled by the head of one of the four royal families in Samoa.
There is a secondary level of government that follows the traditional Polynesian system. Each extended family in a village is represented by a "matai", or chief, who sits on the village council. There are currently 18,000 matais in 362 villages, and they can be either male or female. Some positions are inherited, some elected. The village council, which is headed by the highest chief, settles disputes on village owned land and other local problems within the village. Representatives of the villages meet regularly with elected government officials to consult of various matters. There is a special room in the parliament buildings for these meetings.
Bank accounts in Samoa can only be in Samoan dollars, called Tala, even though US dollars are accepted everywhere. Tipping is not customary. The missionaries did a real job of it in Samoa - there are churches everywhere, many huge, representing all Christian religions. As a result of the strong religious influence little is open on Sunday and dress is very conservative. There is no nude bathing, and a woman wearing shorts or even pants is frowned upon.
At the appointed hour my ride showed up and slowly drove me to the airport, taking the better part of an hour to do it. As we crawled along the coast the driver had the radio turned up to listen to the final rugby game in a competition with American Samoa for a $3,000 purse. While the play-by-play commentary was in Samoan it was easy to tell it was an exciting game, and the driver enthusiastically translated the high points for me. By the time we arrived at the airport Samoa had won 20-10, so everyone was jumping up and down, shaking each other's hands in congratulations.
I arrived an hour and a quarter before my flight instead of two hours, determined not to be the only one in the airport again, but I was. A security guy showed up after 15 minutes and talked for a while, and then the Polynesian Airlines agents arrived 30 minutes before the flight. A group of people who I assumed were on the flight had arrived a few minutes before.
After checking in it was necessary to sit in the hot, humid waiting area while someone from immigration was phoned to come in. One employee arrived ten minutes before the departure time, but we could still not proceed, as there was no one to run the machines at security. Departure time came and went, which didn't seem to worry anyone, and eventually a couple of employees arrived for the security check and we made it to the gate. It turned out there were only 3 passengers on the 19-seat plane - the throng at the airport were there saying goodbye.
It was necessary to go through immigration and customs in American Samoa as there was no transit lounge. The airport waiting area was open air, stifling hot and humid. There was a departure lounge with ceiling fans, but we couldn't get to it as once again no one had arrived from customs, immigration or security. After a wait of over an hour an employee tipped me off to a well-concealed cafe where the air was cool, the beer cold and the comfort level much improved.
The TV was pouring forth continual speeches supporting one candidate or another in the coming US election. The people of American Samoa have US passports, elect a congressman and are able to vote for president. As there are no electoral college votes for Samoa, their votes don't count in choosing the president, it only makes their feelings known.
Finally some employees arrived and we went through the first "Fortress USA" type security check since Australia. Not satisfied with the metal detectors indicating all clear, there was a body patting, wand waving and a thorough probe of most passengers. The security area was in an enclosed, air-conditioned glass room and had more employees than the entire rest of the airport combined. The last to arrive was the immigration lady who had to go around the departure lounge collecting everyone's passports to do the exit stamps, as her station had been bypassed when she didn't show up on time.
The 9-hour flight was good - my seat had lots of legroom, and there was no one in the two seats beside me or in front of me. We arrived in Honolulu half an hour early and had to sit on the plane for half an hour waiting for the bus to drive us miles to customs.
While I had anticipated the standard siege mentality at customs and immigration, they outdid themselves. I was sent to a short, fat woman wanted to know every country I had been to and why, and then questioned me on half the other stamps in my passport. My suitcase was empties and the contents laid out on a long counter where each item was thoroughly studied - she even read the labels on every pill, medicine tube or bottle. I answered her endless questions with one word where possible. If I had started talking I'm not sure I could have stopped myself from expressing my uncensored feelings! At that point I was in no mood for an overstuffed, self-impressed, petty bureaucrat making herself feel important at my expense.
Once extricated from that horrible woman I called the Pacific Marina Inn from their courtesy phone and they responded quickly with a ride to the hotel where everything was ready for me. I slept until early afternoon.
The hotel shuttle got me back to the airport in lots of time for my flight to Houston where I connected with the Costa Rica flight after a couple of hours. Although it arrived half an hour late I was still delighted to be arriving home that close to the scheduled time after all the connections that could have gone wrong. Costa Rican customs and immigration were, as always, friendly and quick. Marilynn picked me up at the airport, and thus ended another trip.
The next adventure will be a fairly thorough exploration of Chile in February 2005.