Posts Tagged ‘Auckland’

Visiting Auckland – May 2013

August 11, 2013

I think I must be a sad disappointment to Ann and Colin.

Ann likes to begin the day briskly: “Well! What’s the plan?”  I so wish I could do that too, and be a person who could answer her properly – but I rarely have a plan, especially first thing in the morning.  My suggestions seemed to strike Ann as rather feeble and inadequate – she likes to do three or four different things in a day, and ideally have a fifth idea up her sleeve.

Ann is a powerhouse of energy.

Ann is a powerhouse of energy.

Even so, we did some lovely, if unlikely, things in 2013.

Last time in Auckland, we had visited the Arataki Centre centre hastily and at the end of a long day, so one of my goals was to go back and see it in more detail.


It was a chancy, wet-and-dry day, but we had a walk – Ann looked doubtfully at my sandals (they are strong sandals) and wouldn’t let me go on the longer walk over muddy terrain.

They came from a sale in Chateauroux, years ago.  Then, they were stylish. Now, just practical and comfy

They came from a sale in Chateauroux, years ago. Then, they were stylish. Now, just practical and comfy

She was probably right.  Our walk led downhill through the dense forest, past ferns and under tall trees – stunning New  Zealand native bushland.

it was a bit like this

it was a bit like this

We stayed dry-shod, and at the bottom of the hill we met some people in a car who were lost and looking for the Arataki centre.  We gave them careful directions, but never saw them again.  I said it was a complicated city.

That weekend, my wonderful English daughter emailed and told me that she would be having a baby in November – so Ann and I dashed out to buy knitting wool and needles, driving (as usual) miles and miles through Auckland.  (It’s a very drive-around sort of city – partly I suppose to do with its layout around two harbours and various mountains.)


Rome has seven hills – Auckland has more!)

Ann is a knitter too, and we went to a staggering kind of warehouse for craft, wool and everything, called Spotlight.  The name suggests stage ambitions; amateur dance competitions; pancake makeup; bring on the clowns – all that.

There are amazing and unimaginable crafts out there, especially in New Zealand and Australia.  (Turns out that Spotlight is also well known in Australia).  I felt as if I had discovered a pirate hoard of joyous colour and vulgar bizarrerie all mingled together – and wanted everything of course.  That’s what pirate hoards do – they bring out the greed in us.


But I managed to remember the size and fullness of my suitcase and only bought twice as much wool as I actually needed.  (What to buy?  What to leave?  – It has features in common with those ‘packing dreams’ – in which the house is burning and you have to grab only what you can carry.)


On a day of heavy downpours I walked up the hill to the slightly hippy, slightly gentrified suburb of Titirangi – a place of coffee shops and alternative small ads where I feel right at home.  There I found a second hand bookshop doing what bookshops do these days: closing down and moving online.  Sadly.

All Books Half Price

(crossed out) followed by

Make me an Offer

followed by

Closed for Lunch.

I came back after lunch, of course.  There ought to be a word for that intense greed that one feels in bookshops – again, I wanted everything, whether I really wanted it or not.  Nothing would fit in the suitcase, but maybe I could stash some around my laptop, in the carry-on bag?  And they wouldn’t be for me exactly – after all, I have been downsizing and throwing out sack upon sack of books – I could give some (lovely presents!) to family in Australia.  I came out with an early edition of The Saint (for my brother); a nice little compact copy of The 39 Steps (valuable once – ‘it’ll only go on the bonfire’ claimed the seller, a witty, somewhat post-prandial man of about my own age, attractive if you are into domineering intellectual booksellers); and The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley.

Smiley is a favourite author, and this novel turned out to be clever, informative and funny – a real keeper, even though it was one of those oddly huge, heavy paperbacks that mimic hardback format.  And something else that I’ve now forgotten – more than enough to lug up onto the plane.  Then a peculiarly Antipodean event happened: I paid for the books, and realised that I had no way of getting them home dry.  The bookshop could provide an ecologically sound paper bag.  My borrowed raincoat was already soaked and tight-fitting, and the rain was getting even heavier (hard to believe).  So I left the books with him, to collect tomorrow.  Halfway home I realised that I had given away quite a lot of money (‘make me an offer’ turned out to be an exaggeration) and had neither books nor receipt to show for it.  Oh well – this was New Zealand, and it was all completely OK.  Next morning (he’s not at his best in the mornings) I dropped by and all was well – not exactly a pirate hoard, more of a dragon’s golden lair, but ’twas an honest dragon.

On Sunday kind and perceptive Ann had realised that I’d rather spend a long time in one place than a whole lot of short times in differeent place.  She kindly left me to wander around a fine old house-turned-Art Gallery, Pah Homestead, while she rushed off about her grandmotherly duties.  And came back in time for excellent coffee on the terrace.

Pah Homestead

Pah Homestead

All I had done was browse the house, while she had quartered Auckland by car, zipping to and fro through the weekend traffic. So much more to say about Pah and about the Auckland Art Gallery – I will leave them till a later post.

Next time I go to New Zealand I will have some plans prepared in advance.  So I’ve made a list of things I will take with me.

  1. enough money and time to go for a road trip down the west coast of the South Island and see the fiords;
  2. proper walking shoes so that I can cover distance and interesting ground – even though they are heavy, bulky things to carry;
    good walking shoes

    good walking shoes – don’t talk to me about style!

    These walking shoes are being modelled in Scotland – I wish I had had them with me in New Zealand.

    I said: 'Don't talk to me about style!'

    I said: ‘Don’t talk to me about style!’

    And a good pair of shoes will take you a long way –

    a long way - - -

    a long way – – –


  3. a  map of Auckland; (and a bus map)

    The map I take will be more detailed than this.  But you can see how complicated it is.

    The map I take will be more detailed than this. But you can see how complicated it is.

  4. some more ideas of places to go for day trips in and around Auckland;
  5. a raincoat; (for more about my raincoats, see my post “Kindness in Adelaide“)


Auckland to Wellington: a long day out

April 16, 2011

I am falling further and further behind with this blog, so I will omit the fun of our Saturday in Auckland – the boogie boards at Muriwai, the family socialising, the Visitor Centre.  It was great.  This journey took place on the 20th February, and initially I was going to talk us through all the way to Nelson – but I seem to have run away with details and distractions. 

A hot night with little sleep, and the alarm set for 5.30am.  Colin – slightly alarmingly – is up and dressed for running at six, and he drives us to the station en route to his run at Massey.  Britomart again.  It’s in a beautiful old building – one of those dignified pale grey Victorian structures – modernised with automatic doors and escalators down to the tracks. 

The Overlander: a unique journey.  That’s what the railway brochure says.  Also:  ‘a journey to remember’ – and they were right in many ways,  some of them unintended.  It looks like a wonderful way to travel from Auckland to Wellington – a long day through spectacular scenery on a wonderful train.

 Our train looks thrilling: a serious big beast of an old-fashioned huge diesel loco in grubby shades of ochre and tan.  The carriages are pale blue and there’s actually a baggage waggon.  We are really lucky as our seats turn out to be in the rear carriage: the one with the observation area.  A woman and three small children have established themselves back there on the banquettes – there is a strong smell of takeaway, which feels a little odd so early in the morning.  We trundle out through the light-industrial suburbs of south Auckland – static on an early Sunday morning.   It will get better.  Then the smallest children are bedded down for sleep.  It would be churlish to want to sit there.  The kiosk is selling excellent coffees and massive sandwiches – a lovely late second breakfast.  Soon there comes an announcement: the kiosk will be closing in half an hour as there is a malfunction in the electrical system.  Fine – it won’t last long, and anyway we have our coffees already.  Next we hear that the kiosk lady – an efficient-sounding woman – is working on restoring power to the kiosk. It turns out that no electrics in the kiosk means that there is no refrigeration, and thus no possibility of selling us food.  It doesn’t seem so serious.  By the time we reach Hamilton, the cheerful, if slightly hassled, train crew struggle to get power back.  After a bit they tell us that we have to change to a coach to take us onwards.  A new train will come up to meet us later, and we will go on in style.  This is disappointing , but we are all stoical and understanding, adopting the New Zealand mode of coping.    

This whole section may just work better as a kind of photo-journal.

phoning for the coaches at Hamilton

   Our luggage is off-loaded while we wait for the coaches.

waiting by the train at Hamilton - thats the baggage car, I think

 We change to a ‘coach’ that has seen better days.

the coach at last

But the driver is cheerful as she clashes and jerks through the clapped-out synchromesh, and grinds round sharp corners on the (no doubt) scenic road to National Park.  It’s a raw kind of ride – a bit primitive and close to the road, as busses tend to be, and it takes quite a while.  Distances are not short in New Zealand, though it looks small on the map.  The sun glares in, and we are all quietly glad to reach the destination and get back to the replacement train.

the second National park in the world - no wonder they called the town by the same name

Apparently the first National Park was the Yellowstone, in the US.  It was quite a powerful movement – part of that new-found sense of egalitarianism that swept through the world in the late ninetennth century.  We had already seen an early National Park up on Mt Tamborine, at Witches’ Falls, (see )  and I am reminded of Pearson Park in Hull.  This last one isn’t a National Park, but a recreational space donated to the ordinary people of Hull, so that the dwellers in tenements and tiny urban cottages could have access to fresh air and to nature. (see )

At National Park we de-coach and find our new train.  We leap on board while those of a nervous disposition anxiously monitor their luggage.  Because it has come from the other direction, the carriages are in reverse sequence.  Thus, the observation car is at the front, and looks directly at the rear of the loco, while the open deck area will be pulled facing forwards, rather than back.   Now the loco is diesel-electric, but it too has problems.  We are not encouraged when we overhear our efficient staff member say on the phone ‘Well, ask him what he did last time it did this.’  Luckily, there is a charming coffee shop at National Park, not to mention some great views.

fabulous Mt Ruapehu in the distance

 Ruapehu – massive and authoritative – is immediately familiar from the primary school textbooks we used in Australia all those years ago. 

Mt Tongariro

  Tongariro’s perfect shape is like a child’s drawing of a volcano.  There are a lot of actors in New Zealand, and, blow me down,Tongariro is one of them.  It played the role of Mt Fuji in the film The Last Samurai.  So if , like me, you thought that movie looked a little unreal, it was.  And it wasn’t the fault of the CGI – or not entirely. 
We stand around on the platform until the cafe starts to close, and hear some interesting political details about  the funding of the rail network, and the ways in which privatisation has led to asset stripping and a lack of maintenance.  Interestingly, the Overlander website now tells us that this much-needed maintenance is being undertaken this year.  We are called to get on and it seems like a departure, but the electrics fail again.  “Our loco is packing a sad,” we are told.  A what?  “Packing a sad,” she repeats – must be a New Zealand expression.  I still look baffled, so she explains: ” a sad – a hissy fit”.  Ah.  Now I get it.

packing a sad

   By now, the whole thing is starting to feel very long-drawn out, stressful and surreal. And we’re still a long way from Wellington.

a unique journey on the Overlander

   Crumpled travellers resort to cigarettes as the day advances.  At one level, it seems almost reasonable: travel shouldn’t be easy or uneventful.  At another level, we’ve paid quite a lot of money for a particular experience which doesn’t seem to be happening.  There is talk of bringing up coaches again – they will take two hours to get to us.  Just as I am buying another coffee, the cry goes up: “We’ve got electricity, quick quick, everybody on board.”  And off we zip, blasting away through countryside, lickety-split, as the driver tries to make up time.  We are over three hours behind schedule.

view from the outdoor observation deck

There’s a very brisk wind, and crowds of people well over the advertised limit of six at a time, especially when the viaducts are coming up.

And thus in the end we really do have the exciting train ride.

another viaduct

I no longer know where we were when they decided to change locos.  Somewhere along the track, anyway. It was a fascinating manoeuvre – so careful and skilled.  I have every respect for the personnel of this railway – perhaps rather less for their grasping managers.

our loco

Bringing up the second loco.

The drivers confer.  The old loco will go forward and away, then the new one will go forward and reverse in.

here comes our new loco

this guy is crucial to the process

He is in touch with the driver via the walkie talkie you can see in his hand.  That triangular piece on the ground will be used to make the coupling.

thats the observation car window

He’s talking teh driver into position.

closing up

This person got in the way a bit.  Behind her is the rear of the loco, moving gradually backwards.

the finishing touches

From this point the train went like the wind into Wellington, trying to make up for lost time.  We arrived around ten thirty, only three hours late.  It had been something of a bonding experience – but even so we were relieved to find that the ‘Downtown Backpackers’ is just across the road from the station.  Although it looks like a dosshouse on the outside, it is actually efficient and clean.  We were so glad to discover the dark, studenty bar and then our comfortable bed.

Travellers’ Tales – Surprises in Auckland

March 26, 2011

(First weekend in Auckland)

Ann and Colin kept us busy, all right. We walked up the defunct volcano that is Mt Eden – wondering why the name. Did it look like the Garden of Eden to someone? Perhaps someone had thought that New Zealand looked like a world before the Fall?  Alas – it was named after George Eden, Lord Auckland: an even more complete cultural appropriation. At the top we found busloads of tourists, mostly Japanese, taking photos of one another. Our hosts were amazed at the crowds and at the size of the coaches that were trying to turn in a very tight parking area. Some local folk were disobeying the sign that forbids access to the crater – perhaps New Zealanders are like the French in their creative attitude to rules.

needless to say, I found this photo on the internet

In the evenings we roared with laughter at reruns of a truly riveting TV show – ‘Wonder Dogs’. Why this has never been networked in Australia or the UK entirely defeats me: it is a hoot.
The promo video shows them all succeeding, and loses much of the naturalness. It’s much more fun on the actual programme, which shows just how difficult it is for the dog-plus-human teams. There’s a downside, though, as unfortunately the re-runs are in random order, so one doesn’t get to follow any one competition through the various stages to its finals. Apparently the format (the idea, not the shows) has been bought by Canada and Fiji – but for me the whole New Zealandness of the thing is a major part of its attraction. (A 2006 news item tells me that TVNZ has licensed ‘Wonder Dogs’ to the Discovery UK network – I think they are missing the point – it should screen alongside ‘Flight of the Conchords’.)
Also on TV was a wonderful doco about James Cook – we caught episodes two and three – and we were soon sold on finding out much more about this extraordinary and talented man. A reading project for the future, but for now we had enough superficial knowledge to sustain some conversation.
By Saturday we were ready to stroll through the city centre past ann’s favourite chinese chippy
(I think she mostly likes it for its name)
to take the ferry across Waitemata Harbour to Devonport, and another tall hill. The transport centre is called ‘Britomart’ but there is no sign of an armoured female knight, nor of Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Here she is -

– the warrior knight of heroic myth and legend, reduced to modernity and functionalism.  I can’t help thinking of Marvin the Robot from The Hithchikers’ Guide: ‘brain the size of a planet’ but reduced to parking cars until the end of the world.  In this way we subsume the richness of the past, of heroism and complexity, into our triviality.
It turns out that like so many slightly odd-sounding Australian and New Zealand place names, the connection is via a ship of that name. Of course, nineteenth century ships still very commonly had names from mythology and literature, so these concepts in turn stand a chance of being carried forward through time, via the places named for them because they had visited, or where they were shipwrecked.
Here is a small part of the information that Auckland Transport Centre kindly tell us on their website. HMS Britomart was a brig-sloop, one of 101 vessels of the Cherokee class, built at Portsmouth in 1820. The ship was 237 tons, armed with ten guns, and was sold in Singapore in 1843.
(You may need to scroll to the end to see the picture of  a brig-sloop.) 
[I love the next sentence.] In command of HMS Britomart in 1840 was Commander Owen Stanley, the eldest son of the Bishop of Norwich. [Surely he must be the bloke after whom they named the Owen Stanley Ranges.] HMS Britomart gave her name to an area of Auckland where fighting between Europeans and Maori took place, and thence to a street, and finally to a transport hub. So it goes.
By the ferry wharf there towered two enormous white cruise liners, huge and daunting as the castles that Spenser’s knights  occupied: suddenly the busloads of tourists at Mt Eden were explained.
Moored at Devonport, by a wharf full of earnest fishermen and their little sons, was a beautifully restored tug, the William Crush Daldy. We goggled at it, as this was the very ship named after Andrew’s Great Great (and possibly Great) Uncle, who had been an early settler in New Zealand. We had known that the tug once existed, but hardly expected to find it in pristine running order, lovingly cared for by a dedicated historical society.

Daldy with Daldy

(Andrew’s mother was a Daldy)
Furthermore, when a chap working on it saw us, he gave us an impromptu guided tour of the whole vessel – engine rooms, coal bunkers and all.

beautifully polished brasswork - is this a binnacle?

essential information

apologies to the mystery figure on the left - I just can't edit you out today

We heard about her coal consumption, her speed, her history – all from someone who was clearly very proud of the tug’s achievements. (She had won a tug race against much more modern ships not long before). It was altogether a great privilege and a big surprise.

you might have to enlarge this a bit to see what it says

Up on North Head, kite-flying was the order of the day, while scores of sailing boats flew across the water on the seaward side of the headland.

on top of the world with a two-handed kite

New Zealand’s daylight saving time puts it three hours ahead of Queensland, so we were inclined to sleep in shamefully: Sunday started late.  

This is HMS Pelorus - a brig-sloop very similar to HMS Britomart. There is a Pelorus River in Victoria (Australia) (where you can find advertising for the Perilous River Riding Stables) and a Pelorus Sound in NZ.

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