Downtown Auckland is much like any big coastal city – diverse, busy and very young. One of the many attractions here is bungy jumping, which was invented in New Zealand. My Lovely Bride suggested that I might like to try it out while we were in town. I watched one brave soul leaping off the Sky Tower (633 feet up); you can barely make out the figure just about halfway down his fall. I could also barely make out the scream; the wind seemed to dampen his voice. I mentioned to MLB, “There ain’t No Stinkin’ Way!” (Or words to that effect.)
Our sightseeing around the big city was limited because of a passing weather front that brought heavy rain, starting (of course) as we walked from our hotel to the Auckland War Museum, about a 2 km hike mostly uphill. The good news was that My Lovely Bride had suggested bringing a hotel umbrella along; the bad news that it was a dark shade of pink. Not that I have any concerns about my masculinity, but really… I had to carry a PINK umbrella? I quickly passed it off to MLB before any photos were taken.
The museum was a treat. The ground floor hosted an extensive display of Maori culture, as well as a haka war dance and singing performance, and included a brief summary of Maori history. These Pacific Islanders had arrived from Hawai’i, probably in the early 14th Century, in seagoing canoes with outriggers. The voyage was about a 5,000 mile trip, not insignificant when you think that they didn’t have refrigeration, GPS or even water tanks aboard their vessels. They navigated by the stars and wave reflections from islands they passed, and on arriving off New Zealand, christened it The Land of the Long White Cloud. Europeans arrived here in the 19th Century, bringing with them all of the good and bad aspects of Western Civilization (pizza and television, for example).
The Maori have mixed better with Europeans (mostly English stock) than many indigenous cultures, probably because of their fierce demeanor, shown here by the Maori warrior’s traditional sticking out of his tongue to awe enemy warriors into surrender.The haka has become world famous since the New Zealand All Blacks, their premier rugby team, often perform the dance before international games.
The museum was originally built to memorialize the thousands of Aucklanders who served and died alongside their British and Australian comrades during World War I, particularly in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, when the Brits found that colonials made great cannon fodder. (The Aussies have a particularly long and bitter memory about that campaign.) But I digress… There were also some great exhibits relating New Zealand’s participation in World War II; there were many Kiwis flying Spitfires like this for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Battle of Britain, defending Mother England against the Nazi Blitz. There was also a V-2 rocket hanging from the overhead which our tour guide neglected to mention.
While looking for dinner, we passed this little storefront that appeared to have just a few lockers along the walls. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a Smart Locker, a laundry and dry cleaning “drop shop”, where you called in, got a locker assignment, dropped your dirties, and picked them up the next day all spiffed up, paid for with your cell phone. What a concept for city dwellers without cars!
Our time in Auckland up, we headed for the airport and prepared to board a flight to Christchurch on the South Island. We were somewhat appalled to find that while we and our bags were x-rayed, no one was asked to provide any identification during the entire process. You keyed in your flight reservation number at a kiosk, the computer spit out boarding passes and baggage tags, you gave your bags to a lady at a conveyor belt, and you passed through a “security” station to scan your bags, but at no point did anyone ask for, inspect or compare your ID against your ticket.
A short 90 minute flight later, we landed in Christchurch, got our rental car, and headed for a zoo. Well, it was actually an animal preserve that had real kiwis and other indigenous and recently introduced animals. Suzanne had learned from Sheree, our host in Auckland, that even she had never seen a real kiwi. They are nocturnal, and almost endangered, mostly due to predation from dogs and weasels (called stoats here) introduced after Europeans arrived. The kiwi house is kept totally dark, and flash photography is verboten, so I can only assert that yes, we did see 4 little kiwis walking around the protected enclosure where they live, digging up grubs and insects. Kiwis are unique in that their nostrils are located at the end of their beaks, rather than in the fleshy part.
Suzanne also got a chance to pet some sort of Chinese pigs… YUCK! These guys have faces only a mother pig could love. She was like a kid in a candy store, having more fun than you can imagine with all her new friends.
After our wildlife experience, we got on the road; we spent the night at The Oaks of Darfield, a very nice B&B run by a gent named Hamish. We had emailed ahead asking for a spot at dinner, which turned out to be one of the greatest decisions in our culinary history. The meal may have been the best of our lives; at the very least it was in the top 3. Suzanne had salmon with garlic and roasted fennel bulb puree, saffron and mixed herb and bean potato salad, and a lemon parsley sauce; I had rack of lamb with grilled medley of courgettes, portobello mushrooms and capsicum, broccoli puree, mint and pea pesto, and red wine jus. Doesn’t that plate look yummy?
Dessert was a brownie (really a huge piece of Death by Chocolate lava cake) with plum ice cream, one of the most amazing desserts we’ve ever had. Turns out that our host, Hamish, recently bought this B&B after being butler for ten years to the British High Commissioner (Ambassador) in Wellington, NZ. He is an amazingly talented and attentive host, and we would recommend anyone coming to the South Island plan on a visit to his B&B, The Oaks of Darfield. The next leg of our trip would take us through the mountains to the West Coast; stay tuned for more adventures!