New horizons, New Zealand: Zouk & adventures in Auckland

It was one of those long nights. But one I had been waiting for a while: my flight from Santiago to Auckland. I had come to the end of my four months in Latin America.

Four months... it had passed so fast. As I packed my bags once again I was feeling quite happy since I had grown a bit tired of the cold, damp & dirty gringo trail through Bolivia, Peru and Chile. In any case it was a big milestone for me, leaving South America in one piece after all the adventures that I braved all by myself. I had so many fond memories and made so many fantastic friends, and I knew that I'd be coming back for sure... But now, it was time to move on!

My flight would be leaving around midnight so I had plenty of time to get all my things together – and to get thoroughly bored. I had come up with lots of things to do to kill time but having already spent an  hour or two at the airport and then finding out that our flight was 1h 40min delayed didn't make me particularly happy! Thankfully had some movies on my notebook for just these kinds of occasions :)

The 13-hour ride over the Pacific was quite uneventful: I watched some movies and tv-shows, had dinner and breakfast and in between tried to get some sleep. I have to say that after the very comfortable sleeper buses all over South America I was struggling in the tiny plane seats to find any kind of position that would put me to sleep. But the hours flew by and the service was good - and suddenly it was already time to land. I lost one day in the process though: that’s the bad part about traveling across the globe westwards. Though those are the hours that I am gaining throughout the trip, crossing all the time zones – I just have to give them away all at once.

So jumping from Chile to New Zealand (and straight from Wednesday to Friday) I arrived to Auckland before 6am. I’d booked a hostel for the night before so I could crash straight to bed once I got there. I was feeling very disoriented – getting some sleep was about all I could think about doing. I got up at around noon to go look for some breakfast. It was Good Friday so almost everything was closed but luckily there were a couple nice cafés close to my place on Parnell Street. I was so happy to finally have some “normal” food!! I had trouble deciding what to eat, everything sounded delicious.
 

Zouking up Auckland & Jambalaya festival

My weekend in Auckland was packed with dancing. Even though it was Easter and the city itself was practically deserted I had managed to come at a perfect time: there was a dance festival in town! The Jambalaya festival was not exactly just a dance festival but they offered a whole range of open level dance classes and there was a great couple from Belo Horizonte, Rodgrido Delano & Adriana Coutinho, teaching zouk. And there were zouk parties on three nights! 

I'd been in touch with some of the local dancers on Facebook and right on the first day I had planned to go to the first zouk party at the festival. One helpful girl, Dunya, had even offered me a ride so all I had to do was to get myself out of bed and dressed! Despite all my efforts I was pretty tired that night. Well, it was my first night on this side of the world, and after crossing 9 time zones I was "a little bit" off. I didn't dance too much, just a couple songs here or there but it was nice to be out and see people. We left the party fairly early - after all there were workshop we planned to attend the next morning!

On Saturday I joined the festival for the entire day, there were all kinds of dance workshops (tango, belly dancing, salsa, samba, swing dancing, reggaeton and zouk for example). All workshops were open level so they were mainly teaching beginner level stuff. On the Rodrigo & Adriana's zouk workshop I had the chance to take part as a leader for the first time - that was surprisingly fun! And I got some good feedback on my leading so maybe I'll dare to try it again some time :) I enjoyed being on classes and dancing even though it was all very basic but it never hurts to go over some fundamentals every now and then.

Salsa class by Jamie Jesus

Salsa class by Jamie Jesus

Roda at the end of the zouk immersion workshop by Rodrigo (centre) and Adriana)

Roda at the end of the zouk immersion workshop by Rodrigo (centre) and Adriana)

One thing that really stood out at the festival was the catering: there were great food stands with all kinds of international foods - wood oven pizza, Argentinian choripan, vegetarian food, all kinds of Asian cuisines, a couple cafés... and all rather cheap! It was nice to spend the day there. During the evenings there were a couple bars and shows from 6.30-9pm on the main stage. On Friday there were amateur dance competition acts and on Saturday the professional dance shows, including hiphop, capoiera, tango etc and I was happy to see that Adriana and Rodrigo's zouk and samba de gafieira shows got the audience going!

Untraditional "traditional Pacific dance styles" and lots more in the showcases

Untraditional "traditional Pacific dance styles" and lots more in the showcases

On Saturday's zouk party I immediately felt I was back to normal and hardly got a chance to leave the floor as there seemed to be a lot of guys who wanted to dance with me. No complaints there! Another highlight of the evening was when at the bar I was thought to be a Brazilian girl – and about 20 years old! Just a little off... :D Made my night though :)

The zouk party lasted from 9-11pm and then the music was switched to salsa. I had a couple salsas and bachatas, and after a really good day I happily headed back to the hostel for some sleep.

 

The empty Auckland

After two nights dancing I decided that the next day I wouldn't do anything - I was still pretty jet lagged and all I could think about was eating and sleeping. I slept 11 hours that night and when I finally got up I went to have a little walk in the sunny city. I wandered in the harbour and into the city centre. Most places were closed and the streets were dead-quiet since it was Easter Sunday but I managed to find some grocery stores that were open; also the Sky Tower! I love checking out places from hilltops and tall buildings so figured this was the best thing to do there. BTW - since you're in NZ you can obviously jump down from the Tower, and if that's not enough there also a reverse bungee on the bottom of the building (across the street).

Great 360-degree views from the Sky Tower...

Great 360-degree views from the Sky Tower...

...and the occasional jumper

...and the occasional jumper

In addition to shiny tall buildings there's some nice parks in Auckland 

In addition to shiny tall buildings there's some nice parks in Auckland 

But I couldn't stay away from dancing too long, I also went out to check the party (namely the salsa & zouk social) at Viva Latino dance studio that Sunday. There were lots of dancers, well over 50 I'd say – perhaps even a 100 during the course of the night. That week they had mainly salsa (the Brazilian room was closed as most zoukers were still at the Jambalaya festival) but Sai the DJ played also zouk in addition to the salsa, bachata, merengue and cha cha.

I was lucky to be dancing with heaps of good leaders and was "forced" to dance around ten salsas too - some of them went fairly good! I’m still not keen on taking salsa classes but I feel like I’m doing slow progress with the salsas I dance in the parties; I always try to memorize the new figures I come across. But the zouks and the bachatas are the ones I can shine in and had some fantastic dances that night. I didn’t have to look for dance partners too much, I even had some comments like “I saw you dancing a moment ago and I had to come and ask you to dance” – that always makes me happy, especially when I’m outside my usual domain. Safe to say I stayed until the very last song.

The next day I was mainly packing and relaxing; it was the last day I'd spend in Auckland before heading south - I'd be back later though. I heard the museum was nice and it was closeby to my hostel in Parnell so I went for a visit (only NZ$ 10 'donation' for entry). There were number of good collections on the islands' Maori history and culture, about the Pacific nature and the wars. A good place to kill a couple of hours and learn something about these interesting islands!

The museum

The museum

I quite liked Auckland. It was really refreshing to be back in a clean & safe environment after the South American months - even though I didn't think it would be that different (a city here or a city there...) I have to say it was. It's all the small things that make the difference. And I enjoy being able to speak the language 100%, not just "kind of" and knowing exactly what the food would taste like, being able to drink the water from the tap and to throw the toilet paper in the toilet :D Yes, it's all the small things.

Auckland itself is quite spread out but the downtown is totally manageable by foot and the link-buses work for a getting around to most places. Central Auckland is pretty easy to get by on foot and the circle line buses (1,80 NZ$) will get you anywhere you need. Cheap & great accommodation, just like cheap & tasty food, is not as easy to come by - and free wifi/internet even harder (Lantana Lodge where I stayed had that and it was the sole reason I picked the place): that's one thing the Kiwis are definitely lagging behind the rest of the civilization. But they do make up with all the other cool stuff.

 

Zouk in Auckland - summary

There’s a couple groups in Facebook that you can ask to join if you are heading that way:
Zoukeiro and Zoukeira NZ
Zouk Aotearoa

There you'll find information on current parties, classes and possible events. There's been zouk in Auckland for a around 3 years and there are a couple hundred dancers altogether (you won't see that many in one night) – not the biggest of scenes but they have lots of active people in the group and I had the chance to dance with a lot of good leaders. Definitely worth to check out the parties when in town!
 

Regular parties

  • Thursdays @ Flo Bar & Café (4 Osborne St, Newmarket) at 8-11:30pm. I didn’t have a chance to check out this party but I hear they offer a free half hour intro lesson from 8:15pm and social dancing from 9:00pm till 11:30pm; and it’s free entry! They’re playing zouk, salsa, bachata, merengue, cha, forro and samba.
  • Sundays @ the Brazilian Room at the Viva Latino studios (10 Newton Road, CBD) at 8-11pm. At most weeks they have parties in two rooms: zouk, forro and samba in the Brazilian room and salsa, bachata, merengue and cha at the salsa room. It’s NZ$ 5 for the night with access to both salsa and Brazilian room.
     

Zouk classes in Auckland

  • On Mondays with Shannon & Trajano at Candi Soo Studios: St Patricks Square. Three levels of classes at 7.30-10.30pm, 8 week courses and open to casuals.
  • Also on Mondays with Dharsh at Viva Latino.
     

Dance events in Auckland

Jambalaya Festival on 6-8 Apr 2012 (look up the website for info on future event times) - a rhythm and dance event. They have lots of open level dance courses from latin and oriental dances; tango, hiphop, swing, capoeira... a real mix of things but a fun event with good food and shows & parties in the evenings.

Prices: Friday Night NZ$ 30 for the shows and a Zouk party and Saturday all day NZ$ 75 for salsa, samba, reggaeton and zouk workshops plus all the evening program - cheaper when you get tickets in advance, also tickets for the Sunday and the whole weekend (~NZ$ 150) available as well as camping (NZ$ 30). There were also lots of whole weekend (10-15 hours) whole weekend immersion courses for various dance styles, including a zouk immersion by Adriana & Rodrigo (NZ$ 275 - price includes all workshops and parties + the immersion course of about 12 hours).

There’s many other congresses and special events & workshops arranged around the year all over New Zealand, including weekend zouk workshops by Kadu & Larissa as well as by teachers from around the world. Keep an eye at the Facebook groups (listed above) for up-to-date info!

 

How to get around in NZ?

The bus & road network is not as comprehensive as you’d think since the mountain ranges cut them in the centre of the island, but along the coasts it's easy to travel. There are a couple companies you can use, the biggest of them is probably Intercity - you can get tickets from several travel sites online or in any city's I-site (tourism office). You can also buy a Flexipass for a certain amount of hours: 10 hours was 79 NZ$ and 60 hours is 449 NZ$. Most budget travelers (especially you’ll find lots of young German people) will buy a van and tour around with that, and sell it at the end of the trip. How economic option that is I can’t frankly say – popular: yes. You’ll have no trouble finding a van, you see ads for them everywhere.

If you prefer to fly you can find pretty inexpensive tickets with Jetstar, they offer connections to several cities in the country and are often the same price as (or cheaper than) taking the bus. Hostels or backpackers as they call them are plenty but not really cheap (though you will find yourself spending even more $$ in Australia) and it’s definitely a challenge to try to find one with free wifi. In high season you will need to book ahead.

New Zealand is pretty remote to us Europeans and it's (positively) surprising to visit a country that far away, with its Maori history, with the European standard of living. Lots of people stay longer (and I found it pretty amusing that most Kiwis find it very surprising if you’re not staying several months). If you’re under 30 years old you can apply for a “working holiday visa" to stay for a year. It’s quite popular for young people to go do wwoofing - volunteer farm work. But you’ll find older travelers in NZ as well! I hope I get to return there one day again.