After a 12+ hour-flight (my movie selections were Inception and Atomic Blonde, if you were curious), we landed in Auckland around 8am. I thought I would crash immediately into the hotel bed, if I didn't literally crash on the way to the hotel since I was driving on the left-hand side of the road for the first time. I gripped the steering wheel and eased the car around the roads as an octogenarian would in order to ensure safe passage. We arrived unscathed.
By noon, it was 74 degrees outside, the city was abuzz, and I needed to stretch my legs and get oriented via a good walk. I visited a nearby urban park, an experience punctuated by seeing a monarch flutter by (assuming they were introduced here and didn't venture across the Pacific from Mexico) and several first sightings of birds. I say "sightings" yet what lured me was the euphonic invitation created by various trills, whistles, and burbles. The air was thick with sound. Birds with orange and yellow beaks seemed to be everywhere, their bright colors proof of tropical aspirations, like tourists in Hawaiian shirts. Among others, I met a sacred kingfisher, a silvereye, and a group of myna birds. It's a weird thing to look at a bird and think, "What the heck is that?"—a reminder of the astounding variations and forms that life can wing its way into.
I skirted the outskirts of the University of Auckland's campus, pausing for a few moments on a bench to absorb the vegetation. Trees (banyan?), with roots like mountain aretes and trunks that seemed to plea for climbing, dotted the open space. So did many people. It's summer here, after all, and sun calls to skin. Aucklanders seem to know the value of lounging.
At Queens Wharf, I saw the harbor and sniffed the southern ocean for the first time. Fisherman on the end of the pier stared into green depths, still as statutes, and a pied shag (real name, not my invention or an Austin Powers character) swam close by to take my measure. I walked back to the hotel through a bustling shopping district, roving up and down through this many-layered city. "Boxing Day" sales were in full swing.
Auckland has a super international vibe with a great deal of south and east Asian influence. Despite a lack of sleep, I am invigorated. Jet lag, schmet lag. Right now, I'm juiced up on the energy of being in a new place, seeing the familiar in the strange and the strange in the familiar. I'm sure I'll hit a wall soon. Hopefully I won't be driving on the right-hand side of the road when it happens.