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A Taste of Auckland

(Reprint from News: December 20, 2001)

December 17, 2001


I've spent the past few days at the Amberley B&B in the Auckland suburb of Devonport getting ready for my road trip around New Zealand trip, and the proprietors, Mary and Michael Burnett, have done their best to assimilate into the Kiwi culture.  Listening to them talk, I'm even getting used to the Kiwi accent, which is pleasant but hard to describe -- it's like an English accent but "Yes" is pronounced "Yiss" and "check" is pronounced "cheek."


Devonport is a beautiful historic town on the north side of the bay with a passenger ferry linking it to Auckland.  After spending a few days in Devonport, I hopped on the ferry, crossed the bay, and 20 minutes later was walking around downtown Auckland.  I stopped by my company's Auckland office around noon and gave them a PowerPoint slide show on the Portland office and some scenic places in America.  The 20-or-so folks in the office were very kind, some giving me their phone numbers and telling me to call if I got into any trouble while in New Zealand.


After the slide show, I spent a couple of hours walking around downtown Auckland, a city of about a million and half people and the largest city in New Zealand.  I've visited most major cities in the U.S. and of those cities, Auckland reminds me the most of Seattle (other than the balmy climate, palm trees, and tattooed Maories, of course).  It's a little smaller than Seattle, but it's hilly, is on the waterfront, and is vibrant with an ethnically-diverse population and a cosmopolitan feel.  



Above left:  After a few days in Devonport, I hopped on the ferry to Auckland and spent a day checking it out.

Above center:  I stopped at the Parsons Brinckerhoff office in Auckland for an hour to give a slide show. 

Above right:  The old and the new in downtown Auckland.


While Seattle has the Space Needle, Auckland has the Sky Tower, which was built as a tourist attraction a few years ago and is currently the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere.  For $8, you can ride the elevators to the top and get a spectacular 360-degree view of the city sprawling beneath.  Some of the floor panels on the viewing deck are clear plastic, which made me a bit queasy to walk on since I could see 600 feet straight down to the sidewalk.  Several little kids were vigorously jumping up and down on the clear floor panels, but I'm not sure what they were trying to accomplish!


Not surprisingly, they play a lot of New Zealand music on the radio stations here.  Here's the Kiwi group, Crowded House, singing Don't Dream, It's Over.  New Zealanders were surprised when I told them that it had been a big hit in the U.S.

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As I prepared for my two-month drive around New Zealand, I made a list of all the things I'd need, such as a cooler, folding chair, small folding table, and campstove fuel (called "shellite" over here).  With my typical-American attitude, I figured that I'd just drop by the nearest "Target"-like store to pick up everything I needed. 


After talking about this with my hosts Mary and Michael, however, I learned that New Zealand doesn't have many large discount stores like that.  Instead, as they told me, small, specialized shops are much more common here.   Finally, they suggested that I try a store called The Warehouse, located several miles away.  Come to think of it, I'd been hearing radio ads for The Warehouse during my past few days in Auckland (with their irritating jingle: "The Warehouse, The Warehouse, Where everyone gets a bargain"), but I wasn't really sure exactly what it was.


I drove down to The Warehouse that morning and got most of what I needed, but as I've been cruising around the Auckland area these past few days, I realized that Mary and Michael were right.  The shopping situation in New Zealand is similar to what is was in America, say, 40 years ago, before the giant discount stores started taking over.  O.K., being a foreigner and not knowing my way around Auckland, I admit that the Warehouse came in handy for me this time, but these types of big-box stores do come at a price.  I hope things in New Zealand stay the way it is now, with lots of small, friendly Mom-and-Pop type stores.  So Wal-Mart, please keep out.



Above left:  The Sky Tower dominates the Auckland skyline.  It was completed a few years ago and is the highest structure in the southern hemisphere.  

Above center:  For about $8, you can ride to the top and get a magnificent view.

Above right:  The Auckland harbor from the Sky Tower.



Above left:  There's only one freeway in Auckland ("The Motorway").  Maybe that's a good thing.

Above center:  Auckland is called "The City of Sails."  Here's the Auckland marina.  As every Kiwi will proudly tell you, Auckland is currently the home of the America's Cup.

Above right:  They give walking tours of the Harbor Bridge, and I hope to do it when I get back here next month.



Above left:  Looking straight down.

Above center:  And, on the sidewalk, looking straight up.

Above right:  Street scene in Auckland.



Above left:  Gee, how do Kiwis really feel about Aussies? 

Above center:  On the ferry boat back to Devonport.  That's Mt. Victoria, one of many dormant volcanoes in the Auckland area, in the background.  Portland is the only city in the U.S. that has a volcano within its city limits... and it has only one.  Auckland has over a dozen.

Above right:  Devonport is a picturesque historic suburb and, like many small towns in New Zealand, it's vibrant with lots of little shops right next to each other on long blocks.  As I'm discovering, this is the typical pattern in small New Zealand towns, unlike the average American small town with a decaying downtown and a Wal-Mart on the outskirts.


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