The D&O Diary continued its South Pacific sojourn over the weekend with a short stop in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, for meetings and for a brief look around. Auckland is located on New Zealand’s North Island, about a three-hour plane flight from Sydney. Because Auckland is located just inside the International Date Line, every morning, the kiwis get first crack at the day.
I visited Auckland once before, 29 years ago. The transformation that has come over the city in the interim is remarkable. The city’s population, now over 1.3 million, has nearly doubled. And the city has gone upmarket. Queen Street, at the center of the city’s central business district, is now lined with new glass and steel office buildings. Viaduct Harbor (pictured below), the area where I stayed, is a new development of low rise office buildings and swish nightspots built on former docklands. Thanks to changes in the country’s immigration laws, the face (or perhaps the faces) of the city has changed as well – Auckland has to be one of the most diverse cities on the planet. It has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world and a huge Asian and southeast Asian population as well.
On the evening of my arrival, I stepped right into an example of the city’s diverse ethnicity. A stroll through the city center took me to Albert Park, where, it turned out, the city’s annual Lantern Festival was taking place. The park was decorated with illuminated displays, and there were musical performances and food carts. The lanterns glowed as the evening gathered and crowds strolled through.
On Friday morning, before my first meeting, I went out to One Tree Hill, a prominent, nearly 600-ft volcanic cone located about a 15-minute cab ride from the city center. The hill’s name in Maori is Maungakiekie. Before European settlement, the hill had served as the location of a Maori pa (or fortification), and the remnants of many of the entrenchments can still be seen on the hillside. Unfortunately, there no longer is a tree on One Tree Hill. The original tree was cut down by a European settler in 1852, and Maori protestors cut down the replacement tree in 2000. The hilltop does afford absolutely fabulous views of Auckland and its surroundings, including Auckland’s two harbors — Waitemata Harbour to the north, which opens east to the Hauraki Gulf (as depicted in the first picture below), and Manukau Harbour to the south, which opens west to the Tasman Sea (second picture below). The views are great, but I have to admit that my primary interest in visiting the hilltop was because of the song, “One Tree Hill,” on U2’s 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. (“A sun so bright it leaves no shadows/ Only scars carved into stone on the face of earth.”) It was cool.
On Friday afternoon, I took a ferry across Waitemata Harbor to Devonport, a pleasant seaside suburb with small shops, cafes and restaurants on the harbor’s north side, to meet some friends for drinks. I arrived early so I took advantage of the opportunity to hike to the top of Mt. Victoria, a nearly 300 ft. volcanic outcropping that affords great views back toward the city center (as reflected in the picture at the top of the post) as well as out beyond the harbor to Hauraki Gulf (see the picture below). At the crest of the hill, there is a retractable gun emplacement. A placard explains that the guns were installed in the 1890s out of concerns over Russian expansion into the South Pacific. Which just shows you how quickly things can change. A pedestrian walkway, the Prince Edward Parade, winds along the harborside back into the town, as shown in the second and third picture below.
When I had mentioned to folks back in Sydney that I was going to be stopping in Auckland before heading home, the uniform response was that I had to be sure to visit Waiheke Island. So Saturday morning, I took a 45-minute ferry ride to the island, located out in the Hauraki Gulf. In the ferry dock’s parking lot, I rented a bike. I thought I would be able to cover most of the nearly 12-mile long island. I soon realized that this was a hopeless plan. The island’s rugged terrain quickly wore me out. I also quickly figured out that just about every turning and side road led down to beautiful, shell-covered beaches. The beaches further away from the ferry landing were generally deserted, and each one seemingly more attractive than the one before. In this way, I was drawn further and further along the island’s coastline, only realizing as the afternoon progressed and as the fatigue from pumping up and down the island’s hilly roadways began to accumulate that I was going to have to beat it back to the ferry landing if I wanted to get back to the city before dark. I will say this, the people who told me that I had to visit Waiheke were right.
As it turns out, my visit to Australia and New Zealand this past week coincided with the early part of the World Cricket Cup, which is being played in locations around the two countries through March. On Saturday evening, after I had returned to Auckland from Waiheke Island, I wandered into a bar near my hotel and found that the New Zealand-Australia group stage qualifying match, which had begun earlier in the afternoon at the Eden Park pitch in Auckland, was still underway. Australia had scored only 151 runs, and so New Zealand needed just 152 runs to win, a target that seemed easily within reach, particularly at the point in the proceedings at which I arrived. New Zealand’s run total was quickly mounting and the Black Caps seemed to have the match well in hand. And then the wheels came off. Australian Mitchell Starc, who bowled superbly, claimed a number of quick wickets, and suddenly, with only one wicket remaining but with the Kiwis still six runs short, the contest seemed poised for a dramatic showdown. But New Zealand’s Kane Williamson hit a six to seal victory for New Zealand in a wonderfully tense climax – to put it in terms that Americans would understand, Williamson hit a walk-off home run. I was surrounded by excited, shouting fans, and I participated in the celebration as if I had as much of a right to the celebration as everyone else. The celebratory mood carried out into the warm summer evening, and the crowds strolling along the city’s busy streets as night time gathered had something of a festive air.
On Sunday, it was time to return to the States, back to home and to work. However, while I was in the South Pacific, I spent a considerable amount of time contemplating the concept of summer in February. I have decided that the idea has merit and warrants further study.