The Beginning of the End

Wednesday, October 08, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Days 35 & 36:  Auckland
Though Auckland offers all the cultural, dining and shopping amenities one would expect from New Zealand's largest city, it manages to retain a friendly and relaxed, small-town atmosphere.  Before diving into the city proper, we decided on Tuesday to explore its surroundings.  We set out on the scenic drive through the Waitakere Ranges, a chain of hills along the coast northwest of Auckland.  Formed by ancient volcanic activity, the ranges are covered in lush native forests and crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of walking trails.

Like many locals, we stopped in the seaside town of Piha, a favorite beach destination for Aucklanders, where even the neighborhood dogs are friendly.  While walking on the beach, Ken was approached by a canine beach bum, who pulled a stick out of the sand and tried to persuade Ken to toss it for him.  Long, tall waves offered up by the Tasman Sea invited surf school participants to try out their new skills.  We stretched our imaginations to comprehend how Lion Rock (pictured above) at the shore got its name.

At a scenic overlook, where we paused for lunch, we chatted with six young twenty-somethings on vacation from China.  When we expressed an interest in visiting their country, they were quick to warn us about China's severe problems with pollution, though one patriotic young man asserted that air quality there was improving.

After checking out some of the other beach towns, we returned to Auckland in late afternoon, stopping at Point Erin Park at the southern end of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.  We still had not planted a letterbox in New Zealand, and Auckland was our last opportunity.  From the park, we took advantage of the pedestrian lane and crossed the bridge over the SH-1 freeway to Westhaven Marina, searching for possible letterbox locations along the way.  Finding nothing but a great view of the city, we returned to our apartment, hoping for better luck on the following day.

By Wednesday morning, we had dreamed up the perfect spot for our letterbox, on a path near the SH-1 overpass, just across the street from Point Erin Park.  Like Victoria Park across the street from our apartment, Point Erin was active with numerous groups engaged in various forms of exercise, from yoga to rugby and cricket, basketball, skating and even juggling.  Aucklanders clearly like to stay fit.

Auckland Art Gallery
Our boxing business behind us, we set off for the stunning Auckland Art Gallery, home of New Zealand's largest art collection with more than 15,000 works ranging from classical to contemporary.  The gallery reopened in 2011, after a comprehensive renovation of the original 1887 structure and construction of a modern addition which blends smartly with the old. Graced with a lofty ceiling inlaid with native kauri timber, the extension provides a grand entranceway to the country's oldest art museum.

Tiny patrons of the arts at AAG
With both exhibits and activities designed to appeal to all types of people, the gallery was teeming with patrons on this Wednesday morning.  We were quite amused by a group of adorable preschoolers craning their necks to examine works in the Mackelvie Gallery.  On the museum's entrance floor, a 40-ft table held an interactive exhibit composed of three tons of white Lego bricks, which visitors were invited to use in creating their vision of a future city.
Creative AAG signage
Throughout the museum, signage, brochures, notecards and posters in the giftshop, and most every other written communication emphasized that this was a place for ART. Creators of these notices were quite clever in their choice of wording to allow incorporating the not so subliminal ART message. Even the menu at the Gallery Cafe, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of charred broccolini with smashed avocado in a beautiful setting, was ARTful.

Adjacent to the gallery is Albert Park, occupying an area which once housed Albert Barracks, an early European military fortification.  Converted to a park in the 1880s, the space is home to some enormous specimen trees, including several Moreton Bay figs and an ombu tree.

Some of Albert Park's stately Moreton Bay fig trees
From the gallery, we headed southeast to Auckland Domain, the city's oldest public park and home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, an imposing neo-classical landmark overlooking the park.  So much more than a repository for military artifacts, the museum boasts a wide-ranging collection of works featuring Maori culture, human history, and natural science.  Military exhibits commemorate New Zealand's involvement in two world wars and other more recent conflicts.  

Auckland War Memorial Museum
Unlike the Auckland Art Gallery, admission to the museum was not free.  After paying $9.00 to park, we paid the foreigner admission fee of $25 each.  (New Zealanders are admitted at no charge.)  Orientation from the helpful ticket agent informed us that military exhibits were on the upper floor, natural history (where you'll find hundreds of kids, she advised) was on the middle floor, and an extensive collection of artifacts from Maori and other Polynesian cultures was on the ground floor.  We spent a couple of hours checking out the fascinating exhibits.

Leaving the museum in late afternoon, we got a taste of Auckland's rush hour traffic, as we drove five miles out Broadway, through a very busy retail and commercial district, to the aiport.  We were checking in at an airport hotel in preparation for our early flight to Honolulu tomorrow morning, planning to return our rental car this evening and find transportation back to the hotel and catch the shuttle to the airport.  

Little did we know until we arrived that the hotel was literally across the street from the terminal.  Hertz was a hundred yards away, so we were able to accomplish all our goals, ready for a smooth exit in the morning.  After dinner at the hotel restaurant, we packed and weighed our bags, ready to catch our Air New Zealand flight to Hawaii tomorrow on our way home.

Daily Stats:
  • Started & ended in Auckland
  • Mileage -  111   (Trip to date: 15,832)
  • Weather - 41° to 56°, sunny to overcast
Exquisite kauri timber ceiling at Auckland Art Gallery
Massive windows blur the line from interior to exterior at Auckland Art Gallery.
Maori pataka (storehouse) at AWMM
View from our hotel room
A Kiwi postie (mail carrier).  Most ride bicycles, rather than motorbikes as in Australia.