Wednesday, November 19, 2014

New Zealand trip diary - day 2

We both spent a few hours awake during the night, but then slept again, waking up permanently around 7.30 am. If we’re lucky, that’s all it’ll take to adjust to the new time zone (currently eighteen hours different, including local daylight savings time). Via the Urban Dog webcam I was able to see Ozu for the first time in some forty-four hours – he was sticking with the big dogs (often/usually he gets dominated and has to be relocated with the little dogs) and looking good. And of course by now I have a big backlog of website reading, although it hardly matters as much when we're on a trip (I wish I could more easily convince myself it doesn’t matter at home either – I’d save so much time, and be at least a little happier, if I never clicked on another story about US politics). The hotel wi-fi is pretty good, although it delivers a high percentage of failed “This page cannot be displayed” first serves; it's usually all fine on the second serve.

We had breakfast in the hotel and at 10.30 caught a ferry to Rangitoto island, about twenty minutes away. The island, per the literature, “erupted from the sea in a series of dramatic explosions around 600 years ago.” The crater's covered now in dense vegetation, but other parts of the island still have a desolate, barely-cooled look to them. We walked up to the summit, which took about an hour, and then took a trail to explore some lava caves (according to a woman we met around there, we missed the most impressive of the lava caves, but having overlooked the advice on the pamphlet to “take a torch!” we probably couldn’t have enjoyed it anyway). We then walked to the western end of the island, where there’s a little beach and a view of a lighthouse; we sat there and had lunch, and then walked back along the coast to the starting point. This took about four hours, all under a gorgeous blue sky; it was a high of nineteen I think (but often with a pleasant breeze). The last ferry leaves at 3.30 pm; I’m not sure what happens if you miss it (starting on December 26th, for one month only, there’s another ferry that leaves at 5 pm, so I guess that’s the peak period). Near the wharf you find a few tiny houses; apparently there was a small community living there in the early 20th century. I’m not sure if they’re ever occupied now, although they look like they might sometimes be (the telltale clue of a TV antenna on one of them for instance). The guardians of the island seem very concerned about keeping “pests” at bay, and at one point in the walk we encountered a little black spaniel wearing a “conservation dog” vest. As we were leaving we saw there were actually three conservation dogs, but from the little we observed them they seemed more interested in getting petted than in rigorous conservation work.

Between the island and the ferry journey we got many fine views of Auckland’s winding coastline today. In some cities, you feel the downtown core exerting a magnetic pull on everything else, but Auckland feels like the opposite, as if it would be easy to settle into your own little patch of beauty and then not worry about the collective shape of it all (this is just my fanciful impression of course – in fact it has the same escalating congestion problems as everywhere else; they're discussing building an underwater tunnel to replace or supplement the main commuter bridge). This was pretty much the emblematic vacation day for us – find some quiet corner of the world that we’d never have thought about unless we were here, and then walk ourselves into the ground (one could also go most of the way up the volcano on a tractor-pulled “road-train,” but it was heartening to see that of the several dozen people on the island today, only about six chose that lazy option). When we walked back to the hotel from the ferry terminal, we felt as settled in as if we’d been here for days. It doesn’t take long to start establishing little routines – for example, we stopped at the same snack bar twice today. But then, as we already noted, settling into New Zealand isn’t much of a challenge, if you’re from Canada. Just based on the look of the streets, the  population isn't as diverse as we have at home, although having said that, almost everyone we’ve transacted with so far – the various people in the hotel, the restaurant last night, in that snack bar, the cab driver from the airport, the ticket sellers in the ferry terminal – seems to be an immigrant of one kind or another.

In many or most cities, of course, you have your glamorous high-end stores on certain streets and malls, and your local no-name stores on others, but from what we’ve seen so far, in Auckland they most often all seem to be mixed together, so Prada might rub shoulders with some old timers getting by on selling pencils (I just made that up – it’s not an actual example), giving it an "all in this together" kind of feeling. Based on initial impressions, it’s a bit more expensive here, but part of that’s probably inevitable given the smaller population and the relative isolation. The wine at least doesn't seem to cost any more – I guess they have a lot of that. I think this is the first hotel room we’ve been in for a long while that didn’t have either CNN or BBC World on the menu, so maybe they don’t expect guests to care about world news. As noted earlier, I think there'd be some merit to that.
Anyway, Ally slept for a while when we got back, but I never did, and this is actually a breakthrough given my recent addiction to having a daytime nap. We wandered round a bit afterwards but ended up eating within a block of the hotel again, in a place called The Wine Chambers – Ally had risotto and I had more asparagus than I’ve ever seen on one plate, along with some other things. We shut that place down actually, but compared to last night, it seemed there was plenty of action going on elsewhere, none of it destined for us.

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