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Getting Ready In Auckland

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 while the gracious proprietors, Mary and Michael Burnett, have been doing their best to assimilate me 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 with long vowels.  "Yes" is pronounced "Yiss," "West" is "Weast," and "check" is "cheek."

 

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

 

Afterwards I spent a couple 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.  Auckland is a bit smaller than Seattle, but it's hilly, is on a waterfront, and is vibrant with an ethnically-diverse population.  My family is from Seattle, with our roots there going back almost a hundred years, so in Auckland I felt right at home.

 

   

Above left:  The Auckland skyline, with the Sky Tower in the middle.

Above right:  My first stop in Auckland was at the Parsons Brinckerhoff office.  I worked for this same engineering company in their Portland office in the U.S.  I spent an hour here giving the staff a slide show about my travels, which they seemed to enjoy.

 

       

Above left:  A Mexican restaurant in New Zealand!  Who would've thought?

Above center:  The Auckland streets are busy, especially this time of year.

Above right:  Heading up to the Sky Tower, the tallest building in New Zealand.  Note the Christmas tree in the background.

 

And like Seattle, Auckland has an impressive spire that extends high into the sky.  Called the Sky Tower, it's something very much like Seattle's iconic Space Needle.  The Sky Tower was built as a tourist attraction a few years ago and is currently the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere, and for $8, you can ride an elevator 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 young boys were vigorously jumping up and down on some of the clear floor panels, but I'm not exactly 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 was a big hit in the U.S.

 
   

I had a great time seeing the Sky Tower and moseying around Auckland, then late in the afternoon I rode the ferry back to Devonport where, back at the Amberley, I continued preparing for my two-month trip around New Zealand.  I made a list of all the things I'd need for my trip, including 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.  Instead, as they told me, small, specialized shops are much more common here.  Since I wasn't familiar with Auckland and its plethora of small shops scattered about, they suggested 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 sure what it was.  With Mary's directions firmly in hand, I drove down to The Warehouse and got most of what I needed. 

 

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 it was in America 40 or 50 years ago, before the giant discount stores like Target and Walmart started taking over.  Being a foreigner and not knowing my way around Auckland, I admit that the Warehouse came in handy for me, 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 Walmart, 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:  Here's the view from the bottom.

Above right:  And a view from the top.  For about $8, you can ride to the top of the Sky Tower and get a magnificent view, including this one, of the only freeway in Auckland (known as "The Motorway").

 

   

Above left:  View from the inside.

Above right:  The Land of Aucks.  That's Devonport, where I've been staying, off in the distance and the conical Rangitoto Island arising behind it.

 

   

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

Above right:  You can take a walking tour of the Harbor Bridge.

 

   

Above left:  Looking straight down from the Sky Tower.

Above right:  And back down on the street.

 

       

Above left:  How do Kiwis really feel about Aussies?  Although the two countries have a bit of a rivalry, for the most part it's good-natured and based on respect.

Above center:  From the ferry boat back to Devonport.  That's Mt. Victoria, one of many dormant volcanoes in the Auckland area, in the background.  Portland, Oregon 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 that has a decaying downtown with a Walmart on the outskirts.

New Zealand's Geography and History in a Nutshell

I've been in New Zealand for almost a week now and when I haven't been getting ready for my trip, I've been studying up on this country and poring over maps and photos.  Therefore, I decided to wrap this page up with a brief lesson on New Zealand's geography and history.  I may not get all the nuances correct, being a foreigner, but here goes.

 

First, the geography.  New Zealand is about as large as my home state of Oregon and with about as many people, around four million.  The country consists of two major islands that are called, not surprisingly, the North Island and the South Island.  The North Island, which is conveniently located north of the South Island, has about twice as many people as the South Island.  It also has the largest city, Auckland, and the capital of New Zealand, Wellington.  The North Island is very volcanic, as opposed to the South Island, which has a lot of alpine scenery, farms, fields -- and sheep.  Lots of sheep. 

 

Except in the mountains, the New Zealand climate on both islands is fairly mild due to the oceans that surround it, with coastal high temperatures during the summertime (that's now) typically between 70 and 80 degrees.  I've worn shorts and t-shirts every day that I've been here so far  -- though I'm not trying to rub it in, for you folks who are living in the northern hemisphere and are suffering through blizzards and ice storms here in the middle of December.

 

Now, for the history.  The islands were settled by Maoris (pronounced "MOW-rees") who migrated here from the south Pacific, including the Cook Islands, where I had just come from.  I always figured the Maoris settled in New Zealand first and then moved east, out towards the islands of the south Pacific, but it was just the opposite.  The Maoris, in general, were (and are) a strong and independent people.

 

Above:  Captain James Cook, the first European to explore New Zealand.

The first European to discover New Zealand was the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, who named it in honor of the Zeeland province in his native Holland.  Tasman discovered New Zealand in the 1600s but Europeans didn't visit New Zealand again for another hundred years.  That's when Captain James Cook, who made three remarkable voyages to the Pacific between 1769 and 1779, explored the country and claimed New Zealand and Australia for England. 

 

I stumbled across Captain Cook's journals years ago when I was in college.  I spent many long evenings in the U.C. Irvine library reading about his discoveries and adventures in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere in the Pacific when I probably should've been studying for my midterms.  Cook grew up in a poor, working-class family but rose to a lofty rank in the British navy based on his merits rather than -- as had so many of his contemporaries in the British navy -- his family's wealth and connections.  He was a true self-made man.  Because of that, and because of his irrepressible sense of adventure and strong sense of propriety, I've always admired him. 

 

Cook traveled probably more than any other person in the world during the 1700s and he discovered more places in the Pacific Ocean than anyone else.  On one voyage, he traveled as far south as anyone ever had, before being turned back by ice.  On a subsequent voyage he traveled towards the North Pole before, again, being turned back by ice.  He even visited the Oregon coast once.  That was shortly before he was killed in 1779 in Hawaii, an island chain he had stumbled across several months earlier.  In fact, I had crossed paths with Captain Cook during my trip down the Oregon coast back in June at Cape Foulweather, which he named during his visit while navigating through some -- you guessed it -- foul weather (see News:  June 14, 2001).

 

British settlement of New Zealand began in the early 1800s, not by convicts as in Australia, but mostly by farmers and miners, hence New Zealand's more genteel culture.  Although there were some conflicts with the natives, in general Maoris were assimilated into the white society here much more smoothly than the aborigines were in Australia or the Indians were in the U.S.

 

The Maori culture is still very strong and evident in New Zealand, much more so than the Indian (i.e., native American) culture is in the U.S.  In fact, most placenames in New Zealand, especially on the North Island, seem to be Maori.  Most Maori placenames have three or four syllables, often alternating vowels with consonants.  The Maori placenames that I've seen on New Zealand maps really crack me up but, unlike English placenames, I can't remember them very well, probably because of the various combinations of puka's, rangi's, roa's, and papa's.  That includes Papakoura, Paparoa, and my favorite, PapaMurphy.  That's a pizza chain in the U.S., by the way, and a little culinary humor -- or "humour," as they say here in New Zealand.

Christmas?  What Christmas?

Above:  A sweaty Santa.  Merry Christmas!

I've been in balmy Auckland for several days now and one of the strangest things I have to remember in this tropical climate is that Christmas is coming up soon.  Because I've lived in the Midwest and Northwest for so many years, it doesn't seem like Christmas without snow, clouds, rain, and cold weather.  In fact, it feels like August now, so I don't think spending Christmas alone this year -- my first Christmas spent alone, by the way -- will be too difficult.

 

Today, December 20, marks the beginning of the summer school holiday season.  Summer vacation for kids here lasts only six weeks until the end of January, instead of three months as in the U.S.  Summer vacation here coincides, of course, with Christmas and New Year's, which makes this an especially hectic time of year, with lots of Kiwis taking off for a couple of weeks or more (as I've learned, Kiwis get quite a bit more vacation time than Americans).  Americans should try to imagine cramming in three months of summer vacation, Christmas and New Year's into only six weeks.  That's what it's like here now.

 

Summer vacation also coincides almost exactly with my planned visit to New Zealand.  Based on the massive throngs of people that I've seen out and about so far, I won't make that mistake again in the future.  The next time I come to New Zealand, it'll be either in November, February or March -- but definitely not in December.

 

To be honest, now that I've seen how crowded and hopping-mad the Auckland area is in December, I'm not really looking forward to traveling around New Zealand between Christmas and New Year's Day.  I'll see what the highway, campground, and lodging situation is like in other parts of the country after I leave here tomorrow, heading south.  I'm going to try to get down to the less-populated South Island as fast as I can, where I'm hoping things will be a little less crazy.  Then I'll drive back up here to the North Island in late January after things have (hopefully) settled down a bit.

 

   

Above left:  Back in Devonport after my visit to Auckland.  This is looking east from the volcano known as Mt. Victoria.

Above right:  I love this name.  It's my favorite restaurant in New Zealand, so far.  They have awesome fish and chips!

 

   

Above left:  The Devonport waterfront.

Above right:  So long, beautiful Auckland!

 


 

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