Usually on a holiday, one of the main attractions for me is the shopping. Even if it is the usual department store stuff I can get back home, I still do it. When it comes to the actual tourist attractions, likes views and such, I am the type to just take a picture with/of it and be on my way. But lately, I've been feeling a need for change of scenery, probably because I've been living in the concrete jungle,where whenever I step foot out the door there is shopping- and they're not even on sale yet!- for too long.

My trip to Auckland, New Zealand was just the retreat I needed! It was all so incredibly peaceful and tranquil being there. So refreshing to not be accosted by shop after shop of merchandise tempting me. In fact, the experience was completely different from my usual vacations. Instead of finding the prospect of being outdoors very scary and frankly rather boring, for once I actually stopped and appreciated it all- and it was nice.
Our first stop on my arrival was a drive up Mount Eden, which is an inactive volcano in the middle of Auckland. Now you can only see the the crater of it covered in grass, with cows grazing in the center of it (left). Tourists are not allowed down into the area, because it is really quite steep (not to mention tourists would errode the grass). Mount Eden also happens to be the highest point in Auckland, and as you can see (right), affords us a very nice 360 view of the city.
The next morning, we went for the America's Cup Yacht Sailing experience as part time members of the crew, helping roll the sails up/down and taking a turn at the wheel- its hard work! And even though the weather had been summer-like all week, out on sea, it was surprisingly cold. Not at all what I'd imagined sailing weather to be- good thing I brought a sweater!
Despite the unexpected weather, it was a wonderful 2 hours. The weather was perfect and the view was absolutely breathtaking. Shown here is the view of Auckland downtown and the view of the Rangitoto Island- which my friend tells me looks like this from all around. How cool! I especially love how the white clouds/ blue sky compliments the scenery (I have a thing for blue skies and white clouds).
Seeing as how I was in the land of the sheep, I thought it was only appropriate that I went to see a proper sheep show (even though one can see sheep/cows practically anywhere over there). It was surprisingly interesting. Basically they put on a show very much like the one in Babe (the movie), except using dogs instead of pigs of course (left). It was impressive how well the dog is trained, it was like a robot! Then we were shown how a sheep is sheared (right). It was really quite cool! And afterwards we even got to feed the lambs and they were just darling!
That night, we then went to Parnell for dinner. Its an adorable old quaint street full of cafes etc. Unfortunately by the time we finished dinner, it was already pass 10pm and the Chocolate Boutique Cafe was closed. It is the most darling-est place ever, luckily I got to go back later for a cup of hot cocoa, which was divine.

Then we headed to our next stop (yes it was a LOONG day)- the Minus 5 Bar.
Basically it was a small room made of ice, decorated with ice sculptures that is very very cold. Even the cups they served drinks in were made of ice! It was VERY cool. I absolutely loved it. Way better than the little "ice room" we have here at Balalaika in HK. Unfortunately even with borrowed uggs (they have hygiene socks- thank god!), gloves and coat, it was still very cold, so we didn't stay for too long. Kind of reminded me of my days waiting for the bus to come during the Chicago winters. Haha.
The next morning (Sunday), we woke up at 7.30am and participated in the Round the Bays charity walk/run! This is definitely not something I'd usually do in my home town. Definitely unique. I heard that so many people on the streets at once is not a common Kiwi sight. Luckily the weather was really good, cool and cloudy- perfect for a walk. We completed the 8.4km walk in 1 hour and 33 minutes!
After THAT we recovered with a 3 hour nap and a few further hours of laziness at the Piha beach, munching on pizza, reading and waiting for/watching the sunset. Its a truly beautiful beach a hour away from the city. The sand is supposedly volcanic dust or something, so its darker than usual. Not a swimming beach though, cause the waves are too strong. But its fun to walk along the shores. It was soo nice, I actually wanted to stay there forever- and I'm not even a beach person! I do believe I am now a newly converted beach at sunset/out of direct sunlight person!
And on my last day in Auckland, I jumped out of a plane. It seemed the thing to do in Kiwi land. Once I got there of course I started freaking out. The idea of defying years of well trained instincts and jumping out of a plane seemed like an insane idea. What if the parachute doesn't open? What if I die? But then I figured that I've come half way across the world for this and its now or never. If I do it when I get older, I have a higher chance of dying from a heart attack! So I paid and before I knew it, I was strapped and was on an one-way plane that will take me up to the height of 12,000 km. One way because it wasn't designed for landing with passengers (no seatbelts!). 20 minutes later I was up there. And then, before I knew it, the door was opened and I was pushed out into the sky. After the initial shock/scare though, I realized that I was falling down in the sky and the feeling was INCREDIBLE. I'd imagined it to be like one of those things in the theme park where they drop you down from a height x 100, but no, this was nothing like that. Your heart stays inside your body and there's just this RUSH coursing through you as you fall. And too soon, the parachute was opened and I was floating comfortably down to land. It was AWESOME. I am so glad I did it. The experience was totally worth all the nerves and scare going up!

Sigh I wish I was back there! Now I think I know what "retreat" means and why people want to go to the middle of nowhere and just relax and enjoy the scenery and be away from the hustle bustle and the claustrophobic atmosphere of the city from time to time.

Ps. Click on the images for a better look!

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