New Zealand: 3. Auckland

Auckland, our first city stop in New Zealand. It’s a fantastic, fun place. The largest city of NZ, with one third of the country’s 4.5 million population living in and around the city. But that means it’s still small. And it is so beautifully situated: on a narrow neck of land near the top end of North Island, with harbours on two sides. And the airport is small and beautiful too. What’s not to love about an airport where you sit in the gate lounge and look out one way over the runway, the harbour and the distant mountains, while on the other side there’s a field full of bales of hay?

Auckland is called the City of Sails, because of the number of yachts and marinas around it. There are 8 boats for every New Zealander. Or is that sheep? Yes, it must be sheep. But I think what Denis told us was that 1 in 8 New Zealanders owns a boat, which they mostly use for about 8 days a year. Something like that… after a while the statistics kind of wash over you without leaving a trace. Let’s just say, there are a lot of boats, and most of them spend most of their time in the marina or in multi-storey boat parks. (No, really.) We saw a few of the very big, very expensive millionaires’ boats heading out for the weekend, on the Saturday morning we were there.

The day before that, we had landed after a disagreeable overnight flight from Singapore (10 hours in the plane, a 5 hours time difference). It was late morning, our eyes felt like they were propped open with matchsticks, and our hotel rooms weren’t going to be ready till mid-afternoon. Jet lag for me took the form of a dodgy tummy so that I didn’t want to stray too far from the loo. Instead we had an extra bit of coach tour, across the astonishing Harbour Bridge to the bayside village of Devonport with its Victorian and Edwardian buildings and many cafés. We managed an ice cream and a stroll in the sun, still feeling pretty amazed that it was summer at all and we were walking around in tee-shirts and sun hats.

It was a relief to get back to the hotel, check in, and the rest of the day was ‘our own’. After several days (it seemed) of eating Asian food, we were glad to find a friendly little pizzeria, where the waiters were authentically German and Russian.

And then on the Saturday, a full day of looking around Auckland. The coach tour took in the waterfront (photos of men fishing), the Michael Savage Memorial, with its fine views back over the city (photos of tourists standing in front of the view), and Mission Bay, the site of the first Anglican mission established by George Augustus Selwyn. Then back into the city for a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I hadn’t expected to be quite as interested in the Maori history and culture, but both were fascinating. I hadn’t really known, for example, that the Maoris themselves were such recent arrivals in New Zealand. They first discovered the islands and settled them only around 800 years ago, before which there seem to have been no human inhabitants. Just giant flightless birds (now extinct), and a few smaller species like the famous kiwi that surprisingly gives its name to the present human inhabitants. (A bit like calling us Brits ‘chickens’; though come to think of ‘turkeys’ might be more appropriate these days.) So many possible pictures: here’s one of a traditional Maori meeting house which give just a taste of the decorations in carving, painting and weaving.

We also visited Auckland’s modern Cathedral. A bright, attractive place, once we had walked all around it and finally found a door that was unlocked. We weren’t the only visitors trying to get in, convinced it must be open because we could see people inside, but unable to find an entrance. At least British cathedrals are usually signposted so that visitors can find the way in.

One more great thing about Auckland: the city centre favours pedestrians. The traffic lights stop vehicles frequently, allowing lots of time for people to cross the roads. And at intersections the traffic is stopped in all directions so it’s possible for footgoers to cross diagonally. This would be a great idea for British cities to adopt.

Diagonal crossing at intersections

Lots more, still unprocessed and unannotated, photos of our holiday are here in this Google Photos album. If you want to explore them.

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