We had stocked our bags with trail mix and fruit before boarding our 12-hour bus ride from Wellington to Auckland, but we soon learned our provisions had to be consumed in utter secrecy. John, our bleary-eyed, semi-retired bus driver, does not like food on his bus. And, as he warned us before each pit stop, he will in no way tolerate anything from the Golden Arches brought onboard.


Bus Driver John’s favorite restaurant.

“If you bring any McDoanld’s on the bus, that will be the end of your ride,” he said, his reflection in the rearview mirror addressing each passenger in turn, daring us to board with even the smallest french fried morsel in our greasy hands. “Let’s have a pleasant, odor-free journey, OK?”

About midnight, when the first pitstop was coming to an end, we watched as John navigated down the dark aisle, presumably counting heads.

“Everyone here?” he said, passing our row. Then quiet.

“Is that McDonald’s?!”

“It’s just a salad,” sputtered a young Maori man.

“I said, ‘No McDonald’s!'” John said, snatching the tell-tale red and yellow container from the passenger’s hand and retreating to the front of the bus.

We shivered in our seats, envisioning John’s boot expelling the passenger and his dinner from the bus as it bumped along at 50 mph.

Luckily, the passenger received a reprieve, and we continued on our way. The fate of his salad, however, remains a mystery to this day.

Our fast food fare-free bus pulled into the SKYCITY parking lot at about 6 a.m. We took a cab to our hotel, Verandahs Backpacker Lodge in the Ponsonby neighborhood, and deposited our bags in order to explore the waterfront, leafy Albert Park and the stately (free) Auckland Museum.


Him learns of his niece’s impending birth

For anyone interested in learning about the history of the Maori culture and its relationship to other Polynesian populations, the Auckland Museum is a good place to start. An entire gallery hosts artifacts from islands such as Tonga, Samoa, Java and Fiji (excited to see those cannibal forks again!) We walked through a beautiful wood wharenui, a Maori meeting house, and performers treated us to a traditional Maori dance — the kind that incorporates a lot of bug eyes, belly slapping and menacing, lizard-like tongue action.(Stay tuned for a first-person account of Maori song and dance from Him, newest “chief” of the Tamaki tribe of Rotorua.)

Pooped, we opted for a nap at Verandahs, waking in the early afternoon to learn Matt’s brother, Mike, and his wife, Jennie, had just delivered their second child, Jessica Charlotte, in Washington, D.C. What a wonderful way to conclude the year!

Jessica is our first niece and the first granddaughter of the family. She joins her adorable older brother, Andy, 2, who we miss very much.