Tag Archives: New Zealand

The Great Auckland Drive

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.

When there's no parking to be had...

 I flew into Auckland from Hamilton on a Beechcraft. I’ve never been on a plane so narrow that everyone gets a window seat. The co-pilot doubles as a sort of flight attendant, and the door is really a staircase – or is it the other way round? I survived – yes, this is important to note.

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!

The view from the hills

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.

Pohutukawa

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 Savage Memorial at Bastion Point

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.  

And there it was...the city of masts

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.

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Walking the Waikato

Today I’m a bit of a lone ranger. I’ve decided to walk the banks of the Waikato, which I’m told is the longest river here. It’s spanned by a number of bridges, but my goal for the morning is to reach the (unsurprisingly named) Victoria Bridge. I meet exactly five persons on the way and thrice as many ducks. This is very educational – I learn three things today. Ducks hate me photographing them (sigh). Kiwis (the human kind) don’t mind my asking them to photograph me (thank you). Bridges are good shelters from rain, but there isn’t much you can photograph while sitting under Victoria Bridge. However, I do spot my first oak tree. It’s beautiful.

Bridge Over Untroubled Water: The Victoria Bridge across Waikato River

Across the river, I find Memorial Park lies empty except for its monuments to war heroes. The park boasts a Spitfire replica, an anti-aircraft gun, and a large anchor. The pillar commemorating those fallen in war is remarkably like the one in Perth’s King’s Park – a little smaller perhaps. Lesson learned – dustbins can be very good camera stands.

Remembering Heroes: Memorial Park in Hamilton

My last stop is St. Peter’s Anglican Church, back on the other side of the river. It was built by the army in 1915, which is perhaps why it reminds me strongly of the Afghan Church in Mumbai. Even the wooden rafters look like the same Burmese teak, although I suspect this is local timber. An elderly parishioner invites me to the Maori service that’s just beginning in the side-chapel. When I decline, she hugs me and wishes me well. I write “Mumbai, India” in the visitors’ book and feel a bit guilty about this. Is this really where I’m from? Should I be writing “Perth” instead? Mumbai just sounds so much more exotic right now…and very far away.

Shell Life: St. Peter's Anglican Church in Hamilton combines Western and Maori themes

Several hours and shopping bags later, I’m sitting by a window at the Traffic restaurant, when I notice a large sari emporium across the road. There are several Indian flags draped in the display window. Suddenly, a Sardarji comes out of the building. Perhaps Mumbai isn’t quite so far away after all.

A Little Bit of India: The sari emporium in Hamilton

Kia Ora…

Or welcome from the bottom of the world. Ok, Hamilton, New Zealand may not quite be the end of the world. Technically, it’s not even the bottom of the country, as it’s on the North Island. Still it feels like I’ve plonked myself in a place that’s at the edge of everywhere – and a fraying edge it is too. I’m staying in the city centre – marked on the map as the CBD (Central Business District), although from what I can see, business isn’t quite booming. The weekdays look more like Perth after 6pm. Still, judging from the rows of cars parked along the streets, there must be people somewhere.

The Riff Raff Statue: Just one of the characters on Hamilton's Victoria Street

Nevertheless, I’m determined that there must be Something to See and Do in the city. So I set off down Victoria Street for the Waikato Museum – as every good tourist should. I think museum exhibits say a lot about what a country wants to say (or not) about its culture. The museum is part art gallery, which is a bit wasted on me, as it’s mostly modern art. One exhibit asks visitors to write messages on green post-it notes and paste them on the leafless tree painted on a wall. Ok, so some exhibits might have interested me.

The Maori exhibit is worth the visit though. The centrepiece of this gallery is a large carved canoe that is a bit like a Kerala snake boat. I would love to have a photograph but cameras are not allowed in here. There are also woven grass bags and mats on display, as well as a number of green stone (jade?) artifacts. Although the typical souvenir is usually made of paua shell, I’m now determined to find something in green stone to take back home. It just seems more authentic to me. How many paua shells were in the museum anyway? Huh! However, the grass mats are a no-no. I’ve got a horrible tickle in my nose – I would make a very poor Maori.

A Good Place to Start: The museum in Hamilton

 

Right beside the museum is Art Post, an art gallery and shop. The gallery wing fails to impress me, possibly because the exhibits are mainly wire sculptures, the largest of which is an uncomfortably realistic Australian spider. I’m suddenly reminded of

No Mail Here: The Arts Post gallery on Victoria Street

my German flatmate’s book of dangerous Australian creepy crawlies. The shop itself has pottery, ornaments, and a host of other things that would burn holes in to my pocket and melt all my plastic. Very wisely, I Walk Away.

 

Next I head over to the Browsers Bookshop – as my mother will tell you I’m a bit of bookshop magnet. Here I find author’s I never thought I’d see on a shelf again (Anne Digby) and possibly an early hardcover edition of National Velvet. I’m not buying, but I feel very good. It’s nearly 5pm,

Defining KGB: Proof that Kiwi English is not the same as Russian

which seems to be closing time for most places in this town. So I decide to head back up Victoria Street to my hotel. My first sightseeing trip has cost me a couple of hours of my time and has been completely free. Not a bad start.