Na-Pier One.

Alas, the photographer was too tipsy to do his job last night, so you’ll have to take my words for it.

We walked into the Waterfront Lodge & Backpackers after ten pm. a few nights ago, and were ecstatic to find they had one room left. It’s the Queen’s Birthday holiday here, for all of you non-commonwealth folks, which mostly equates to a long weekend. I’m sure there are celebrations of royalty somewhere, but mostly I’ve just seen packed vacation spots and stores advertising “ROYAL SAVINGS!!!!” Asked a few kiwis which Queen’s birthday they are actually celebrating, since apparently they honor Queen Victoria’s birthday around this time in Canada – the answer so far has been “Ummmm,” and “You know… the Queen? [changes subject]” I don’t think they know. Of course, I don’t exactly know what Labor Day is about either, and I could wiki Presidents’ Day to find out which presidents it’s about (Lincoln and Washington maybe?) and look smart, but that takes effort. So I suppose that is a worldwide phenomenon.

The guy behind the counter, Manny (short for Emanuel, he advised) is a trip. If he had an animal spirit guide, it would be a rabbit on speed, or that squirrel from Hoodwinked. It does take him a while to get wound up though – in the mornings he is bleary-eyed and sloooooow to react to anything. Once he’s had a few pots of coffee (again, not an exaggeration, he might as well install an IV drip), though, watch out. He calls everyone “Spanky,” but is very polite about it. When he needed Rhys to come up to the counter to discuss the weekly rate, he walked into the Kitchen (the “Lair”) and said, in a quiet voice, “Excuse me, Spanky? Spanky number 347?” I advised Rhys that was him, and they got it sussed out. We don’t actually have static numbers. We’re all just Spanky, plus a random number if he’s feeling particularly ornery. Manny is a lot of fun.

Waterfront is a very nice place, so we’re ecstatic to be paying about $25 USD per night for a week. There’s free tea, coffee, Sky TV (digital cable), and wi-fi internet. Plus, we’ve met Troy (a Canadian that looks and talks exactly like one of the Kids in the Hall), his girlfriend Johanna (Oregonian), and their friend Amy (also Oregonian). Troy and Jo teach English in South Korea – they do it for a year, then take six months off to travel. They’ve completed that cycle three times now, which means they have been either travelling or ex-patriates for four and a half years. That is hardcore – and also awesome.

Last night saw the introduction of cheap New Zealand wine (Montana Rose wasn’t bad, and Amy had a gorgeous chardonnay) and my new favorite alcoholic drink – Scrumpy. It’s 8% alcohol but tastes like carbonated apple juice. IT IS AMAZING. And it’s about six US bucks for a liter. Watch out! We partake liberally at the backpacker, originally intending to go check out a CD-Release party for HiKoiKoi (another reggae band, they’re crawling out of the walls here) – however, it ended up having a cover charge (boo!), so we pub-crawled instead. We started at the Brazen Head (great vibe, danced drunkenly with the equally drunken locals and Amy), moved on to some oontz-uh-ooontz-uh rave place that wouldn’t let the boys wear their hats in (boo!), and then finished up at a little truly local club with karaoke. I sung Magic Man by Heart (very well), and some uber-fast chipmunk-version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene (very poorly). Then I rocked some Edge of 17 by Stevie Nicks outside with the bouncers and some locals. I kept having people come up to me and touch my arms or throw an arm around me. Several told me to do something with my voice, don’t let it go to waste, go on Idol (American or NZ), etc. It was good times. And I didn’t even have to compete with Roy for attention, haha!

I haven’t quit smoking, although it’s off and on. However, they are not cheap here, so I have started rolling my own. Much cheaper, and kind of neat, actually. Tastes better too. Less crap. Yes, I know I need to quit. No lectures, readers!

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