Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Auckland - New Year's Eve

[Kyle]We started New Year’s Eve with a visit to the Maritime Museum. New Zealand has more boats per capita than any country in the world and their museum pretty much reflects that. After two hours, we had seen most of the first floor. An announcement came saying there would be a tour starting soon, which we were not about to miss. When someone asked the guide how long the tour would be, he responded by saying, “It can take an hour and a half. With me, it will probably be three.”

New Zealand has a lot to be proud of regarding its sailing culture from the traditional polynesian to the ultra modern America's Cup

He didn’t make it. It was three and a half. There’s a lot of stuff in that museum. When he was done, we had just enough time to rush back to a couple of the sections he had glossed over for a more detailed examination before they closed on us. That’s okay, I was pretty much done with all of the standing and walking.

We headed back to the boat for a quick dinner and to ready Begonia for sailing the following morning. We had a fantasy that we would be able to sneak in a nap afterwards to help us stay awake until midnight. That was foiled when we heard Polynesian drumming coming from the barge. I LOVE Polynesian drumming! I couldn’t sleep feeling like I was missing out!

So off we went towards the sound of the drums. We got there just in time to see the last dance of the Cook Island group. It was like a mini Heiva. It was wonderful. We were immediately back in the tropics under swaying palm trees…

Despite having a prime viewing location from the boat we took a walk about to soak in the party atmosphere around the harbour and on Federal Street

We left the barge and wandered through the various street parties that had been set up. On Federal St, they had music going and a few fan dancers posing for pictures with the crowd. They seemed to be on loan from some of the local, ahem, clubs. I was happy to keep walking, but Maryanne, the free spirit, shoved me in for a pic. I endured it bravely.

Like most cruisers, we sleep when it’s dark and get up when it gets light out. Staying up until midnight would have been a challenge, but Maryanne solved that by booking us front row seats at a play. Yay, her!

We saw City of 100 Lovers, which is the best play I’ve seen in New Zealand. That is only because it is the only play I’ve seen in New Zealand. I generally like live theater, but why do I keep falling for being told at the last minute that I’m actually going to be going to a musical?

Groan... I think I know what the concept was that they were going for. They wanted to showcase the lovable quirkiness of New Zealand’s culture to a mostly tourist crowd. Well, they had really nice sets. The rest was hokey, stereotypical and self indulgent, which was a shame, because it was clear the cast had worked really hard. {Maryanne: I LOVED it, I thought it was fun and interesting... Kyle has never been a fan of Musicals sigh}

The show bombed. The audience slightly outnumbered the cast, but when the rest of the crew were counted, we were in the minority. I have to say, it was embarrassing to be there sitting in the front row. The jokes were stupid and offensive and the singing was over the top, but every time the stage lights pointed even slightly our way, I felt bad for not applauding. Those poor people were working so hard. The house was empty and it was all the fault of the jackass who came up with the concept. The simultaneously saddest and funniest moment came in one of the early dances when they made the worn out joke about New Zealand being mostly sheep. We got to see ballet dancers who had trained their whole lives in their beautiful and difficult art doing it dressed up as fat sheep. Sad. Also, a little bit funny, but mostly sad.

When that train wreck finally came to a merciful end, we had just enough time to walk back to Begonia for the big event. We set ourselves up on the trampoline with a box of wine and watched the laser projection count down to midnight. At one minute to go, cheering could be heard as everyone stopped whatever else they were doing. Then it was a countdown from ten and Sky Tower erupted in fireworks as Earth’s first time zone welcomed the New Year. The saucer-shaped decks on the tower looked like a 1950s alien ship repelling an attack. Pretty cool, and we were right there to see it. The harbour bridge was also putting on a laser/led light show in sync with the tower display - and we had prime viewing for that also.

The Sky Tower show

Monday, December 31, 2018

Auckland - first couple of days

[Kyle]After almost two days of recouperation for my back at Motuihe, we (Maryanne) finally pulled up anchor and we headed off to a berth at Viaduct Harbour marina in the Auckland city center. Slap bang in the middle of the waterfront restaurant area.

Our berth comes with virtually zero of the extras that you usually expect at normal marinas, like showers and laundry, but still costs a small fortune. It seems like the kind of place that was meant to be far too nice for the likes of us (like Monaco) and we are dwarfed by our highly polished neighbors. I guess what we’re paying for is the convenience and the view. We loved it!

We are right in the middle of downtown and would be in the shadow of Sky Tower if the Summer sun passed to the south, like in the northern hemisphere (Sky Tower is the southern hemisphere’s tallest free standing structure. It looks like a 1/2 scale model of Toronto’s CN Tower, but it is still pretty tall at 328 meters. They are very proud of it).

To get into the Marina, we had to have the busy footbridge opened

A pretty waterfront, with fishmarket, paddling pools, and all you might expect!

[Maryanne]We arrived just before noon and I set off to do the obligatory chores (including several loads of laundry!) leaving Kyle to catch up with more sedate things. Once that was all done, we took a stroll around the harbour front and marvelled at the very well provisioned area. Paddling pools, great views, playgrounds, and cozy seats with a view. There were 10's of restaurants all doing a great trade, and lots of buckets of champagne in clear view.. Fancy!

[Kyle]With only three calendar days to explore, we did our best to see as much as we could of this beautiful city.

We started with a trip to see the Wintergardens, a large botanic garden showcasing much of New Zealand’s exceptionally attractive flora. Particularly nice was their enormous fernery, which was a misty oasis with a prehistoric feel.

Wintergardens - we strolled around and had a lunch here

We then walked through the park to the War Memorial Museum. The museum does have large sections dedicated to various wars, but mostly is called that because it resides in the War Memorial building. They also have large and interesting exhibits on Natural History (including the giant Moa bird), Geology (with a huge volcano exhibit) and the like, all done really well. Their section on Maori history and the maori culture show was particularly illuminating. Our ticket price include a guided tour of the museum highlights and a maori cultural show, but we spent plenty of time wandering around!

I had no previous appreciation for the depth and sophistication of their culture. Their art and music are both amazing. We were particularly impressed with several full-sized artifacts that had to be brought in through walls that had been specially removed for the purpose.

So much to see in the museum - from Moas to Spitfires..
here is just a sampling

Kyle gets in touch with the Maori culture.

One was a big house that was given as a wedding gift, Each support post was intricately carved with incredible detail and each panel between had been painstakingly woven with detailed pictures. The whole interior was intended to tell a long story. It was a pretty amazing thing to behold. It must have taken dozens of people months to make such a thing. Also impressive was a war canoe that was 33m (110’) long and could transport over a hundred warriors. Each seat had a different picture carved into it so there would be no confusion about who would sit where.

We left the museum when they booted us out and then walked home via various parks and the University. We then went through several different neighborhoods before making it back to the boat.

We walked most of the way home - but Kyle picked a 'Lime' ride to save his back

I really like Auckland. It reminds me of part New York City, because it’s so vibrant, part San Francisco, because it’s hilly and green, and part Toronto, because it’s filled with friendly, helpful people. Maryanne said she also noticed a little Edinburgh, because of its walkable scale and its abundance of great public spaces. I can see that.

Toward the end, I was suffering a little as my back was not back up to 100% yet. We were walking by a Lime scooter and Maryanne decided to sign me up to get me home. What a great concept! You see one, open the app and scan the scooter to see if it’s available. If it is, you claim it for yourself and off you go! I zipped the rest of the way home on electric power at 15kph (9mph). When I was done, I left it at the marina gate and ended my ride with the app so someone else could have it. It was a bit more expensive than Uber, but hardly less convenient.

For Day Two, we started with lunch at the rotating restaurant in Sky Tower, which we justified on the basis that it was practically New Year’s and we only live once {Maryanne: And we had a little Christmas gift money to treat ourselves with}.

From the Sky tower observation decks we could (just) make out Begonia down in the marina

It was fabulous. The food really was amazing. The views were incredible on a bright, sunny day and, even though they were fully booked (we got lucky getting in), they put NO pressure on us to leave. They do one sitting for lunch, one for tea and maybe one or two for dinner. We had plenty of time to go around twice without feeling like they needed the table. {Maryanne: And as the restaurant rotates, you sometimes are aligned just right to have one of the jumpers pass by your window!}

Lunch and an ever changing view from the revolving restaurant

Afterward, as if we hadn’t spent enough, Maryanne even persuaded me to pop into the casino. They have all of the usual stuff there. My favorite was the trash can that lit up and cheered every time you crumpled up a $20 bill and threw it in. Get it over with, I say. The staff there was very nice, though, and somehow we managed to leave with two loyalty club cards in our pockets. Maryanne!!

After lunch, we headed out to Mt. Eden, which is mercifully free. Mt Eden is the highest point in Auckland and has some pretty amazing views. It’s not much of a mountain, but is instead the rim of one of the 53 volcanoes in the area. In had first become aware of it in a blizzard in Chicago. I was at work and the rest of my flights for the day had been cancelled. The company sent us to a hotel for the night. Since the snow was too deep to go outside, I did my daily run on a fancy treadmill in the Fitness Center. That treadmill had a screen where you could select from various trail scenes to “run” through. I did a long one, so I actually went through the whole New Zealand North and South Island set. One of them was a run to the top of Mt Eden. That was a long time ago when New Zealand was only a distant dream. Now that we were here, I really, really wanted to close the circle by standing at the top on my own two feet.

Mount Eden Views

Again, we walked home (We took an Uber there). We passed through a different set of parks and neighborhoods than the day before and even managed a rest stop at a local microbrewery when we noticed we were getting a little tired from the long day. It’s nice that they put them there so you don’t have to walk the whole way at once.

On the walk home we found a zip-line and a pub
It is hard NOT to have fun in Auckland

As we were making our way home via the city’s many cycling paths, we got to one long section between lanes on the elevated motorway. On one end, we found several Lime scooters parked. Four minutes and $0.71 later, we dropped them off at the other side, shaving fifteen minutes off of our walk. That is THE way to get around!

We had a quick dinner aboard and then went out for a nighttime stroll along the vibrant waterfront. Last minute preparations were being made for The Big Night the next evening and there was lots to see. Restaurants were full. All of the bars had music booming within. Lovers walked hand in hand and kids played in the parks. The barge where the live bands would play was being set up and the bridge and Sky Tower were testing their laser displays. The air was abuzz with excitement and Begonia had the perfect spot right in the middle of it.