That’s right…this is NOT about the Rugby World Cup although it’s probably best time to write about Auckland. It’s about how to do the grand tour of this city in five hours. It’s about spending time with a cousin I barely know but who makes me feel like family because she reads Georgette Heyer too. And most of all it’s about figuring out why in the City of Sails, the first thing you see in the airport arrivals lounge is a plane hanging from the ceiling.
The Great Auckland Tour begins with my cousin Nithila and her family driving me from the airport at Manukau to a lookout point in the Waitekere Hills to the west of the city. We’re the only visitors to the spot, which is guarded by a giant frame and a Maori style totem pole featuring large, scary, and…um…rather virile wooden men. Of course, I took photographs!
As we drive back, my new-found cousins give me a condensed lesson on Auckland culture. This is very easy to follow. First, you will never ever under any circumstance cut down a pohutukawa tree, but you can go round a giant pohutukawa flower inside the city.
Second, there are no bicycle paths. So, if you’re a cyclist in Auckland you must be a) crazy and b) on the way to becoming an endangered species. Third, there is no shortage of Indian food in Auckland…or Indians…or Indians in turbans…or Indians running little grocery shops. Just to make sure that there really is a bit of India in Auckland, we stop for brunch at an Indian restaurant. There are idlis and dosas on the menu – things I haven’t seen since leaving Mumbai. The food is good, and the company better.
The last leg of our tour takes us along Tamaki Drive to the Savage Memorial at Bastion Point, via Mission Bay. There is no shortage of bays in Auckland, and no shortage of boats either to fill these up. It’s a beautiful day and finally, I discover the sails in the city. Bastion Point stands on Maori lands and is surrounded by windswept green lawns. A tall pillar commemorates a former prime minister. I spot my first real Maori lodge stands the distance. I’m also looking at the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
The grand tour ends at the airport and goodbyes are said. There isn’t enough time to browse in the shops so I scoot through immigration only to find that the flight is delayed. I also discover, to my disappointment, that I don’t have a visa stamp saying “Auckland” because NZ immigration uses an electronic system. And then I remember – I never did find out about the plane hanging from the ceiling.