Sunday, February 5th, 2023

Distance travelled 5.6 kilometres

When we woke up, the end of our motorcycle trip was in sight. All that really remained for the last day was to return our beloved Softail before flying back up to Auckland. It was sunny and, from the yard of the lodge, we could see the mountaintop with the cable car which we had been denied the chance to visit by the fog a few days previously. Our consideration was brief – and it got the thumbs down. We decided to walk down to the Botanic Gardens instead. We packed up, left our things at the Lodge reception and set off on foot.

On the day before a National Holiday, the “tourism” thing was in full swing. The short tram line circuit was thronged with a succession of vintage trams making their way around. We love trams and photographed the best ones.

Continuing on our way, we somehow managed to pass the Arts Centre. After a bit of searching (it is a former university and a bit of a labyrinth) I managed to find the second “Stay” statue that had previously eluded me. Standing in a cloister, Antony Gormley’s second piece is, indeed, identical to the first, but you can stand right next to it – so I did.

It is impressive, up close, but whether I would pay $NZ 500,000 (about GBP 250,000) to own it is another matter. Close by, in the same cloister, a young Japanese girl was playing a tune on a piano placed there for just such a purpose. She had some talent and the overall effect was slightly ethereal and most pleasing.

The entrance to the Botanical Garden was right across the road. In Kiwi style, it is more like a park with a lot of very interesting flora and accessible to everyone – around the clock.

It is nicely signposted with moderne sculptures to indicate, from afar, what you would find if you walked over…….

The gardens have some interesting and sometimes strange exhibits. One that amused me was a simple garden lawn, laid out in the early days of colonialism, to remind the settlers of the lawns they had left behind and which did not, at that time exist in New Zealand.

We first had a light breakfast in the nice garden café and then continued our tour. There were some ancient trees of quite staggering girth,

a rock garden (we love those), a jungle house (with some nice Bromeliads – another favourite), themed sculptures

and a quite dazzling display of dahlias.

Signs proclaimed how careful the gardens are, when introducing “alien” species, to try and prevent “invasive” further colonisation. In many places we had ridden through, all over both islands, there were often schemes in place to eradicate those species that had made the “jump” in less cautious times. That included traps for rats and weasels that prey on things like the defenceless Kiwi.

On one tree we found what looked like a very nasty insects and which we could not identify. A passing lady who had examined them with us, met us again later and told us that she had found out (from someone else) that they were the discarded shells of cicada nymphs.

Just so that you know. A cicada larva burrows down and spends 3 to 4 years underground slowly growing and changing its shell several times. One night, it finally emerges, climbs onto a tree or some solid support, frees itself from the last shell (the ones we had seen), straightens out its crumpled wings by morning and flies away. It then spends three to four weeks of adult life mating and reproducing, then it dies. Nature is quite fascinating.

On our travels, we had passed through areas where the chirping of cicadas was deafening. As loud a plane or a Harley revving up. Some species chirp at 120 decibels (for some years, 96 decibels was the noise limit in many UK music clubs). At times I could hear it while we were on the move ! The whole thing is, of course, done by the males to entice the females to mate.

We went back to the Country Glen and, for the last time, we packed all the things onto the Softail, Then, after filling the tank, we rode to the Bulrangi Motorcycles site which was close to the city centre, but on the other side and about five kilometres away. In the end, as we rounded the last corner, we could already see Baz from afar. He was washing several other, recently returned, Harleys. He greeted us warmly (I was, after all, on his PERSONAL bike) and did not seem at all surprised at how terribly dirty we had made it.

He called us an Uber and, as we waited, he gave me a beer (no more driving that day for me) and we swapped stories of our rides. As we talked, Baz sprayed the Softail with some sort of wonder liquid that instantly returned it part-way to its former glory. He promised me he would hand detail all the chrome later. I KNEW he would. It started to rain and Baz quickly moved all the bikes into the garage. There were, I think, fourteen in all, an impressive array of Milwaukee Iron. Then our Uber arrived and we had to leave. We waved goodbye to Baz – and also our faithful Softail.

We had checked in for our flights to Europe the night before, thinking that we would not actually have to go through the check-in process. However, those Kiwis wanted to see our “real” documents, so we would be compelled to do the “old fashioned” thing at the airport. The weather in Auckland was still fairly horrible and although our hotel had been unaffected by the recent floods, nearby more low-lying areas had not been so lucky. So we elected not to go out again once we got to our hotel and decided to arrange an early(ish) tax back to the airport the following day.

Once again fortune smiled on us, or at least grinned a bit. We arrived at Christchurch airport and, as we were scanning the departures board to see where to check in, the flight we were taking suddenly switched to CANCELLED. Oh dear !! We made our way to the JetStar check-in desk where there were already about ten people standing. They were all just as shocked as we were because the cancellation information had suddenly popped up just as they were going to check in their luggage.

After a few rather tense minutes, when I had already begun to consider renting a car and driving to Auckland, we reached the front of the queue. Here we were informed that we had been rescheduled for JetStar’s final flight of the day. This meant an extra two hours of sitting around Christchurch airport, but at least we got on a flight ! We found out from another one of the “lucky” ones that only the first forty people from the first flight had been able to be rebooked. What happened to the rest, I have no idea. It would have been a bit traumatic for us if we had not been lucky as it would have made the next day very tight indeed !

Of course, Lucie also had to change the instructions for the booked taxi and we also realized that our delayed arrival (on a Sunday night !) would mean it would be hard to get an evening meal. Luckily, our hotel was the Auckland Rose Park Hotel (102 Gladstone Road, Parnell, Auckland), which was where we had stayed on our first two nights in New Zealand. This had an adequate restaurant and we just managed to slip in before it closed. I had my last piece of New Zealand lamb (at least for a while …) and Lucie had chicken confit. We finished our meal and our holiday dining, with the Panacotta.

Despite the rain, it was surprisingly mild and we subconsciously avoided even mentioning that we were not only about to return to normal life, but, according to the Prague news, plunge straight into Winter !

We went to bed knowing that, when we woke up, we would start our journey home !