So I’ve given up waiting for Lisa to post. Too many things going on, and soon (again) we’ll be in the Wilderness.

We arrived in Auckland nearly three weeks ago now. Auckland is much like Ann Arbor rolled into Seattle. It has AA’s youthful feel and café culture and Seattle’s crisp, wet weather (at least in spring). We took to it immediately.

It took us a couple days to settle in and find the best restaurants, the best ways around the city, the best shops and bars. Of the latter, we very early on discovered a nice Irish pub on Vulcan Street – the Kiwi equivalent of Pearl Street, for you Boulderites – where the bartender had an actual brogue and the crowd was just the right mix of docile and volatile, and we’d just taken our first sips of Speight’s – a fine New Zealand brew from the South Island – when the jukebox shattered our reverie in the cruelest way: by playing “Freebird.” Of our regular readers (ha!) only Jake Sherlock and Dustin Bleizeffer, probably, can understand the exquisite agony of that moment.

We’d gone halfway around the world to sit in the Buckhorn.

Fortunately, the next track was “Like a Rolling Stone,” at least partially rescuing the evening. And that’s for the best, because Auckland deserves better in this blog. It’s a great city. For one, I’ve never heard The White Stripes in a bank. I’ve never seen so many cafes crammed into one city block. I love how the traffic lights allow pedestrians to go diagonally. The whole town is young and hip, energetic and upbeat. They’re also very pale, they need to get some more sun. I worry for these Kiwis.

But our chief object in Auckland was not to admire its young people, adorable as they are. In fact we had very material needs. We needed a car. Specifically, a van. So on our second day we headed for the Backpackers’ Car Market, where hippies unload their crappy vehicles on each other, and after two days of negotiations and inspections came away with our prize: Melba.

Melba is a 1989 Mitsubishi Sportpac. She has almost 300,000 kilometers under her belt. She looks like a big, grey toaster with wheels (hence the name). She doesn’t have much on the hills but I got her up to 113 kph on the Auckland Motorway before she started to come apart. We love Melba, and fervently hope she holds out two more months before we unload her on some dumb hippie.

So we got our van, hooked up the iPod, cranked up the Dead and hit the road screaming. No – literally, screaming. Nobody told these people you’re supposed to drive on the right side of the road. Also someone screwed up and put the steering wheel on the wrong side of the van. Miraculously I didn’t hit anyone or thing, even though I kept mistaking the windshield wipers for the turn signal.

Once free of the city we had few problems. Apparently nobody lives in the countryside of New Zealand. Four million Kiwis and they’re all crammed into Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and a few other towns. Our first visit was to the Kauri forests on the west coast of the North Island, which took us about two hours to reach. We’ve been told it’s possible to cover the distance from Cape Reinga at the very north of the North to Wellington in under eight hours. Good news: less driving means more hiking, etc.

The Kauri trees once covered all of New Zealand but are now confined to a few copses here and there, and one large forest in the west, our destination. They are impressive. We saw a couple that were 2,000 years old, wide around as a redwood, with springs of gummy sap and broccoli-shaped crowns. On a four-hour hike into the heart of the forest we met only a handful of people.

From there we headed north to the Bay of Islands and the town of Paihia. To get around we hired passage on The Excitor, a superspeed boat that got up to 45 knots (whatever that means), but all I remember of the trip was the loss of sensation in my face from the cold. Not to complain: When we stopped, the views were stunning. It was a beautiful day, sunny and unseasonably warm (as we were repeatedly told). We had a few hours’ layover on tiny, green Urupukapuka Island, the top of which we summited for a complete command of Otahei Bay and the surrounding 50 miles. At the island’s resort – named for Zane Grey, writer of Riders of the Purple Sage, who once visited there – they served cold Speight’s, a just reward for our labors.

Not satisfied that we had fully tested poor Melba, we then drove some 350 km down to the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island’s eastern side. We had mostly gloomy weather but got in a good daylong hike at Cathedral Cove near Hot Water Beach, a place where, at low tide, you can dig your own hot tub in the sand and relax in the thermally heated water that seeps in.

Continuing our zig-zag pattern, we left Coromandel (too soon) to visit Raglan, a small surfing community on the western coast, where we stayed with Stu and Becks, a lovely English couple we’d met in Fiji. She’s a doctor and he’s a layabout. They’ve relocated to Raglan for six months while she works in the hospital there. After haranguing them for two days about their silly quirks of language (programme; colour; cosy; “zed”; connexion; draught; naming people Nigel or Neville), we took pity and left them to head for Rotorua, the adventure capital of New Zealand – and perhaps the world. Which is the reason for the Reader Poll that was mostly ignored by our imaginary readers: Rotorua is where they perfected bungy and concrete luge and all the crazy things that have caused apoplexy in our relatives at the prospect of us doing. But the Reader Poll did not garner much interest, so we’re not sure whether we have to honor (I mean, honour) it.

We’ll leave you now so you can regret not voting in it. I hope you’re happy.