Feb 5 – Amazing Auckland
We have contracted a guide through Tours by Locals [TBL after this] and met her at 9:00. Naturally, we were early, but she appeared promptly at 9 and we were off on our adventure. Louise Young, our guide, was raised on a farm outside of Auckland but eventually began to spend 6 months of every year in the city [such as it was when she was little] visiting her grandparents; her parents did not think it was appropriate for the eldest born to spend all of her time on the farm. Her grandfather was an early merchant and had the first automobile in their community; her grandmother started the public library in their district in addition to helping her husband. Louise herself had a retail clothing business at one point and several other jobs along the way to being licensed as a tour guide. As a result of her experiences, she has an intimate knowledge of the city and the people.
Perhaps the most important lesson we learned today – and we saw examples of this all day – is that New Zealanders consider themselves stewards of the land and their history. Auckland is an especially clean city, for example. The city is a mix of Victorian homes dating from the 19th Century to high-tech architecture, yet the old homes must have their exteriors maintained. They may be replaced by newer materials if necessary, but the look and style may not be altered even though the interiors may be gutted completely. It’s as if Auckand, and perhaps all of NZ, have become UNESCO Heritage Sites.
Another example is the inclusion of Maori names into what had once been a British colony. The Maori tribes may have arrived in NZ 700 – 900 years ago. The British came and changed all of the Maori place names to British ones, but that practice has been reversed and the old names have been brought back. The Maori and the British signed a pact which guarantees that the Maoris may continue with their culture while at the same time becoming part of the Establishment. Sacred Maori land may not be built on, for example, and the old names have been brought back. As a result of the integration of the 2 societies, there is an emphasis on the ecology and preservation.
Back to the day’s activities: We spent most of the day in or near the CBD, the Central Business District although we seemed to travel in all directions. We started by crossing the Harbor Bridge, a small version of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, on our way to Devonport which is an older community directly across the harbor from the ship. Devonport is filled with little shops and Victorian homes, but it also home to one of the many extinct volcanoes which have made Auckland what it is. From the top of Mt. Victoria [Takarunga in Maori], we had a magnificent, if windy, view of downtown Auckland and the skyline. We were able to see fortifications placed on the volcano during WWI including a “hidden” cannon which rose from hiding when needed. It fired one test round and was never used again.
Also visible from Mt. Victoria was Rangitoto Island, another extinct volcano. It was the most recent to erupt but that occurred more than 500 years ago. Needless to say, the locals are perfectly at home with all of their volcanoes. We stopped by a beach for tea on the way back from Devonport. Louise insisted we try “long white” coffee [which was suspiciously like a cappuccino without the foam] and hokey-pokey ice cream, reminiscent of butter brickle with chunks of brown sugar in it. She paid for the coffee and ice cream and then produced a tin of home-made bar cookies which were really quite good. [At the end of today’s tour, Louise gave D a copy of the recipe which he had the Front Office copy so he could share it with the other 2 couples.]
Like many others, Auckland is a city of neighborhoods and we drove in and through several today. We wound our way from Devonport to the Wynyard Quarter by re-crossing and then driving under the harbor bridge. From beneath, we could see where lanes had been added to expand this major artery from 4 to 8 lanes. While we were looking at the business end of the bridge, we saw a group of intrepid tourists walking on one of the catwalks preparing to climb the bridge. This is not a casual affair, but can be dangerous, so the climbers are given special suits and lots of instruction before they start out. HAL offers a trip in Sydney to climb the bridge there and charges $500 for the tour; individuals can do the climb without the ship for about half the price. The climb in Sydney takes several hours.
When we got to the Wynyard area, Louise drove through an industrial tank farm which will eventually be razed for more upscale development. Right next to the tanks was a small commercial fishing pier. Access to this pier requires the boats to activate a pedestrian drawbridge which carries people to and from some of the restaurants and bars in Wynyard. We were lucky enough to see the bridge in operation and it was fun to watch the walkers suddenly start to move faster. Once the bridge was re-opened to foot traffic, it looked like lemmings racing to get to the sea as everyone walked at double-time.
The neighborhoods may be listed out of sequence, but we visited K Road, Mission Bay, Parnell and the CBD which is where we spent the most time. Parnell was described by Louise as pricey, touristy and quaint, an up-and-coming area to buy a house. Mission Bay, our last stop for the day, was to the east of the CBD and featured a nice beach. Like the other beaches we saw today, the one in Mission Bay was busy but not crowded. The area includes lots of shops and eating venues but seemed to be geared mostly to locals, not tourists.
K Road – Karangahape Road – was once known as Auckland’s Red Light District. Now it is a mix of old and new housing, shopping and parks. The biggest of the parks is the Meyer Garden, named for an early Jewish resident who was successful in business and became philanthropic. The K Road area is also home to Auckland’s only orthodox Jewish synagogue.
Because we are trying to see synagogues around the world, Louise had called ahead to see if we could visit this one. She was told it was possible but not guaranteed; we would just have to show up and keep our fingers crossed so to speak. Louise also found that part of the synagogue complex was the Grey Street Deli, so we planned to eat lunch there. It was a noble gesture but an inadequate lunch. The deli served dairy products and, therefore, no meat in order to observe the Jewish dietary laws. That would not have been a problem except there was little left to choose from by the time we got there. We had eggplant stuffed with curried lentils and others had slices of frittata, but we could have done better.
K road -- old red light district, After lunch, we went into the synagogue office and waited until someone could escort us through the sanctuaries. In addition to 2 sanctuaries, there is also an orthodox school in the complex. The smaller of the 2 sanctuaries was used mostly by school and the larger one was used for regular services. Both had glass dividers to separate the men from the women. In the larger one, the gallery around the second floor had been incorporated into the school, a far cry from its original use as a way to keep the genders apart. The highlight of the tour was a series of bas relief panels showing scenes from the Holocaust and listing the concentration camps where relatives of the Auckland congregants had died. The panels were very powerful and reminded us of similar art work in the Jewish ghetto in Venice.
This synagogue is known simply as “the new synagogue.” The old one is now being used as administrative offices for the University of Auckland and, prior to that, had also housed a bank. As is the custom in Auckland, the exterior had been preserved and so had much of the interior. Obviously, nothing remained from its original function, but the ceilings and stained glass windows were still maintained.
The old synagogue was not far from the new one but was located in the CBD. We also visited Britomart, a redevelopment area near the ship which included the old Post Office building which has been preserved and is now the central train station. Britomat also includes upscale shopping and office space as well as art work – a series of 7 fountains meant to symbolize the 7 volcanoes which are so important to the locals. There is an additional fountain representing a geyser, but it was not working when we visited. The CBD also includes the Albert Park, one of many green spaces in this very livable, low-key city.
TOMORROW – Day 2 in Auckland
Feb 6 – Waitangi Day
Today was Waitangi Day throughout the area and maybe even the entire country. It celebrates the signing of the compact between the Maori and British mentioned yesterday. One of its main features, according to Louise, is the dialog it tries to promote by letting anyone say pretty much anything in a formal meeting. It is a chance for residents, regardless of their background, to vent to the government without fear of reprisals. That si the theory and many people take advantage of the opportunity. The downside is that there are over 100 national or ethnic groups in NZ and there is no way anyone can get them all to agree to the same thing.
Louise expected traffic to be bad this morning because of the holiday but downtown seemed deserted. We headed out of town, though, and headed west through light rain and strong winds. While we were driving down a 6 lane highway we suddenly discovered ourselves in the country side. Twenty minutes from the ship we saw sheep and cattle on farms next to the highway.
We drove to the Kumeu area which is home to several wineries and stopped at the Soljans Winery. It may have been 9:45 in the morning, but that did not stop some in the group from sampling the wines. M fell in love with a sparkling muscat, allegedly an award winner for the vintner, so we bought a bottle for Florida. Several others in the group bought other items from the gift shop area and one of the men was ecstatic when he discovered free wi-fi – that’s all he had been talking about for 2 days. Even Louise began to make comments about free wi-fi before the day was done.
We drove past more small wineries, livestock and market farms [what we would call “pick-your-own”] where we saw people filling baskets with strawberries. We were headed to Maori Bay [Maukatia] for a nature walk of sorts. The wind was fierce when we first stopped on the side off the road to look at our destination. Louise had parked on the shoulder of the road at the top of a sheer cliff. We could see across a cove to Takapu, a gannet nesting area, our ultimate goal. In the meantime, we had trouble standing and photography was a matter of luck, not skill, as we battled to stay upright. Finally we all piled back into the van and drove to the parking area.
The walk from the van was a mixture of ferocious wind and dead calm as the path moved in and out of cover. We were able to see the black sand beach below as well as the wind-whipped sea. We had spotted several wind-surfers when we pulled over, but decided they were crazy when we got closer to the raging Pacific. We were on the west side of the island and the prevailing winds come from the west. The scene was stark to say the least.
The final walk to the look-out point was more exposed than the trip up the hill. There were steps supported by wooden bracing cut into the hill, but MA decided to wait on a bench. The rest of us continued until we got to the observation deck and then spent more time than we needed to taking photos of the gannets and their chicks, the rough water and birds hovering in the wind. We reclaimed MA and got into the van and out of the wind.
Following a short ride during which we drove into and out of a golf course, we settled in at eh Sand Dunz Café for an early lunch. Once again, one couple did not eat anything but the tourist couples each split orders of mediocre fish-and-chips and Louise had a smoked fish pie. We found the fish to be too fishy and greasy but Louise had raved about it so we said nice things. We can get better at home. Once again, though, she surprised us with dessert, a chocolate bar cookie this time. She had not had time to copy the recipe but promised to email it to D for eventual distribution to the others.
On the return to Auckland, we stopped to sample honey at the restaurant Louise didn’t choose for lunch. We were really interested in Manuku honey made from the nectar of the manuku tree. The manuku honey is supposed to have medicinal properties depending on the percentage included in the honey. Once again, MA found something she liked even though it was not made from manuku honey and we enriched the economy a little more.
The rest of the day was spent looking at public parks. Cornwall Park is 175 acres of green space filled with sheep, cattle, flowers and families. It is a working farm in the city limits but serves equally as a park where Aucklanders come to play and relax. There are barbecues available all over the property and each day employees placed wood next to them for the picnickers to use. It is truly a people’s park and is used well but gently like so many areas here.
Where Cornwall Park is a private endeavor administered by a Trust, Auckland Down [Pukekawa] is the largest publicly-financed park in the city. One Tree Hill [Maunagaukiekie] is another dead volcano and offers nice views of the city. It was named One Tree Hill for obvious reasons – there was a single tree at the top. Alas, several years ago some maniac set it on fire and killed it and it has yet to be replaced.
Our last official tour stop was the top of Mt. Eden [Maunagawgaul], the highest natural point in Auckland. It offered unequalled panoramic views in all directions. Like One Tree Hill and Mt. Victoria, this is a dormant volcano and we could see the grass-covered sunken caldera. Mt. Eden [Maunagawhaul] – dead volcano, highest natural point in Auckland, panoramic views, grass-filled caldera.
And finally we were almost home. All we needed was quick stop at a grocery store so the other couples could by Coke products. Louise bought dessert for dinner guests, too.
Once “home,” we unpacked our things and went to Trivia. Some things never change.