Tuesday 18th May
On wednesday 12th may, thirteen months after arriving in australia and fifteen months after leaving home, I flew from Adelaide to Auckland via Melbourne, to embark on the next stage of my trip. My right ear is definitely a bit w***ed with respect to equalising ever since it squeaked and went weird as I jumped out of the plane at 14,000ft for my skydive. It hurts and feels blocked and takes a lot longer to equalise than the other one, I have to keep trying to force equalisation by pinching my nose and blowing, wiggling my jaw and massaging around my ear to alleviate the pain, I look like a weirdo, I suck entire packets of lollies and it's a bit annoying to have to do!
First impressions of auckland were... it's very hilly! I often forget how much more interesting a hilly city is than a flat one. In aucklands case this is because it is built on a field of 50 volcanoes, not all of which are extinct; the ridges of past lava flows form slopes of the streets and grassy green cones poke up here and there from amongst the concrete. Other things that struck me as I shuttled to the hostel from the airport on that first night were the Englishness of the rainy-wet tarmac and drippy green vegetation, the traffic (congested), the smell of the sea and salt in the air and the presence of people obviously of Maori descent around on the streets, mixed in with the whites (in comparison to australia where the indigenous people are so marginalised as to only ever appear to be on the fringes of society).
My first full day here was spent organising (bank account, mobile, tax number) then I finally got free to explore the city a bit. The CBD is really trafficky, the traffic lights seem to hold the cars and buses up a lot longer than is necessary, it takes forever to go a short distance down the main street on a bus, stop start, stop start.. perhaps I'm just impatient and need time to adapt to the chillaxed kiwi approach to life.
On Friday I took a bus to Auckland Domain, a massive park with great views back over the city and the unmistakeable needle-shape of the Sky Tower, to visit Auckland Musuem for an overview of the history and issues of the country and of the city. There were a lot of cool Pacific Island and Maori artefacts, awesome carvings [their carving is really amazing, nothing rivals the decoration and the expressions on the faces of the gods and figures portrayed, many of whom are depicted with their tongues poking out as an expression of defiance to the enemy tribes], a very cool section on volcanoes, reminder of the fact that New Zealand straddles the boundry of the Pacific and Indian/Australian plates, at the edge of the ring of fire and is very much at the mercy of plate tectonics.
Day three I woke and it was pissing it down with rain. It's sometimes easy to forget that the fact that parkland and vegetation here is so lush and green is because it rains.... a lot! I sheltered in the cinema on their free wifi and made plans to see a film, but when I emerged for coffee a couple hours later, it had cleared up. The weather here is a bit like England in that it can change a lot in one day, one minute sunny and warm and an hour later grey and raining. I always assumed that NZ was approximately the same latitude as the UK but it turns out that it is actually quite a bit closer to the equator. It does get cold and it does snow, but it's climate is considerably more pleasant than that of England, those 30degrees make quite a difference.
That afternoon, I took a trip up the Sky Tower, at 328m the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. By the time I got up to the 40th floor observation deck the clouds had cleared and I had perfect, sunny views over the city (although the windows were really dirty making photo-taking a bit s***). I love observation towers! It's such a good way to orientate yourself in a city, to translate the map in the lonely planet to actual hills and structures in the area.
I was well glad to have paid the extra $3 to get access to the next level up, the Sky Deck, a few floors higher, because they had actually cleaned the windows up there and I was able to get some decent photos. Auckland's location is really stunning; it is built on a narrow belt of land with the Tasman sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east, one of only a few locations in the world where you can see two seas at once. Scalloped edges of bays, beaches and rocky coastline with numerous marinas, including the largest in the southern hemisphere; Aucklanders are keen sailors, one in four owns a boat, hence "city of sails". Out to sea in the Hauraki gulf, volcanic cones dot the horizon, giving it an almost prehistoric atmosphere.
My first night in this hostel (Nomads Auckland jsyk), I awoke with my feet on fire from itchiness and have had a number more bites every night since. I did think "bedbugs" but dismissed this as bedbugs usually bite in a characteristic line-pattern, as they walk step-by-step along your skin, munching (my general red swellings have since manifested into these characteristic trails and clusters). I had checked the sheets and matress of my bed without spotting any so thought it must be mossies. But as a girl in my room pointed out, it's too cold for mossies. I tried swapping beds but still woke up itchy and this morning the girl in the bunk below me had fresh bites and found a dead bedbug in her bed!! I requested a room change straight away, washed all my dirty clothes and tumble-dried them on hot. The bites are the itchiest bites I have ever had, I am ON FIRE. I'm really hoping they haven't got into my big bag because if they have I will have to wash and tumble-dry everything I own, a logistical headache and at $4 a pop for the washer and the drier, not cheap. I'm so goddamned itchy :(
Sunday was bright and warm and breezy, perfect for the 12minute ferry-ride over to Devonport, north across the bay from the city of Auckland. Devonport was just lovely! It is a gorgeous area with regency-style buildings along the esplanade, those grassy green cones poking up from amongst the houses and lovely little cafes, boutiques and galleries. I wandered around the streets then strolled along the shore for an hour. It was peaceful and beautiful with all the sails in the harbour and views back across the water to the city, a very welcome break from the frenzy of the CBD. It is no wonder that property prices here are up in the millions. I'd pay millions to be able to live here.
On Monday I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do so signed up for a free City Orientation tour run by Stray, a backpacker tour bus company. I was so glad I did, it was fantastic and it really was totally free! We bussed first to the Michael Joseph Savage memorial and lookout point, for a picture-perfect view across the bay to Rangitoto Island, the area's newest volcano having last erupted just 600years ago. Later on we drove up Mount Eden, Auckland's tallest volcano and the most obvious of the grassy cones rising from the city. At the top is a Massive crater, a deep depression in the earth that was really very impressive; you can't go down into the crater as the local Maori owners hold it sacred and belive that those who enter it will be cursed. The cones used to be the site of Maori "Pa" or fortifications, with terracing and defenses at the top, looking out over the bays although most of these have now been abandoned or relocated for various reasons. The panoramic views from Mt. Eden were just breathtaking. I got that ache inside when you are looking at something so beautiful it almost hurts. I LOVE the scenery here and from what people have told me, Auckland is just the starting point, it gets so much better. I'm beginning to love this country already.
After lunch we visited the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which, despite being advertised as something very impressive in an obvious attempt to compete with its Sydney counterpart, does not even come close to the Aussie version. It's not as impressive, attractive, imposing or iconic. We got to do the "bridge climb" for free, which consisted of being attached for safety by a sort of lead to a thick wire rope and walking out over the water across a metal grilled walkway. I didn't expect to be scared but it was actually quite nerve-wracking to see the water so far below, had to take deep breaths and focus on the horizon. The next treat was to watch three brave souls plunging over the edge to do 40m bungy's. I was scared for them, my toes were tingling, one girl shreiked as she went over the edge, then came back up and had loved it so much she did another straight away, backwards this time! They offered us a go but I really think that pressure on my foot might not be the best thing for my (hopefully) healing bone.
Got back to the city at 3pm and headed out to skyCity for some free wifi, where I got told off by a Maori woman for stealing their power, apparently it's fine to use the wifi for free, but not to plug your laptop into one of their powerpoints; I say this is descrimination against those of use unfortunate enough to posess one hundred year old lappys with only 30minutes of battery time.
I'm leaving tomorrow (Wednesday) to get on the Kiwi bus for the first leg of my trip around NZ. I'll be taking six days to travel over the top and down the North Island, arriving in Wellington at the southernmost tip of the North Island, next Tuesday...