10.01.2012 - 15.01.2012
Imagine the word "Auckland" - what do you think of?
Sunny days? America's Cup yacht racing? Great social scene with waterfront bars perhaps? Well... it is a city of surprises.
New Zealand's population is around 4.3 million and just over a quarter live in Auckland and the city is apparently increasing by around 700 per week - so now you have a picture of crowds, dirty streets, road congestion and endless high-rise buildings. Not a chance of it! The pavements are washed down every night by an army of machines, the traffic flows in steady fashion, the streets are busy but not packed and the overwhelming majority of people live in two story houses.
But now it all seems rather boring?! Add into the mix the fact that Auckland is build on 48 volcanoes (yes, you did read that right - 48 volcanoes!) some of which are still classified as active - OK so they haven't erupted in 600 years and are not likely to any day soon! Do you think this worries the residents.... hell no! This is one big party town, from Wednesday to Sunday people roam the streets looking for a good time, hollering and whooping as they walk from one bar to another.
I sit in Starbucks to shelter from a rain shower and I look around. There are four white faces and the rest are Asian. The four whites are a group of Swedish (? - certainly Scandinavian) all looking beautiful, blonde and tanned. The rest mostly look Japanese but I really don't know as I can't distinguish between the languages being spoken - I think the majority are tourists. I have spoken with around 15 people who live in New Zealand since arriving a week ago including 3 from the UK, 2 Irish, 3 Filipinos, 1 Polynesian, 2 Canadians and a South African!! Are there any Kiwis here??! According to government statistics (gotta love government stats!) 37% of the country's population were 'born oversees'. This gives Auckland a multi-cultural and dynamic feeling.
I jumped on a bus and headed toward Mount Eden, one of the 48 volcanoes the city sits on, to the museum. The city stats are wonderfully weird: 50 islands, 48 volcanoes, 2 harbours, 50 vineyards and the highest structure in the Southern hemisphere - the 1,000 foot Sky Tower which people throw themselves off on a half-hourly basis... attached to a bungee of course! My apartment overlooks the tower and it took me a while to work out where the screams I kept hearing were coming from!!
The bus takes you through the suburbs of Parnell which is one of the oldest areas in the city. Pretty wooden houses and small boutique shops line the streets along with pavement cafes and there is a genteel calm about the place.
The museum is filled with thousands of Maori artifacts including beautiful rare carvings, recreated buildings, spears and a wonderful 25 metre long war canoe carved from a giant Totara tree which held 100 warriors and was built in 1836. There is a floor devoted to natural history and an exhibition celebrating the national sport - rugby (New Zealand won the 2011 Rugby World Cup of course!). There was a Maori cultural show in which they showed traditional dance, explained their dress, translated words and at the end, performed the Haka which is the ancestral war dance (anyone who has seen the All Black Rugby team in action will need no explanation for this!) (I'm going to try to upload a little video I took - check back later). I spent several hours there but could have stayed for days.
I took the bus back to the city centre and had a rather nice supper of New Zealand lamb and local beer on the wharf while watching the dinghy racing in the harbour... delightful!
Today I am going to take a ferry across to Rangitoto which is an island formed just 600 years ago when it erupted from the sea. Apparently there is a walk up to the crater rim which sounds fun.
Tomorrow I move across the city to a B&B near the BMW shop and start preparing the bike for a road adventure.... now that's REALLY exciting!