Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Zealand trip diary - day 3

We were both awake again for a while during the night before going back to sleep; possibly not an ideal pattern, but it isn’t adversely affecting anything. We set out at 9 and embarked on a defined “coast to coast” walk. Per the official website, this “is a 16km hike across Auckland from one coast to the other, from the Waitemata to the Manukau. It takes you through landscapes shaped by 600 years of Māori occupation, and through some of our finest natural and built heritage areas offering panoramic views along the way. The walkway is part of Te Araroa - The Long Pathway, a continuous 3000km walking track from Cape Reinga to Bluff.”
It took us about five hours, including some steep climbing and descending, and only a brief stop for lunch. The route is marked by orange arrows, but it has to be said that these are inconsistently placed at best, disappearing (as far as we could tell) for long periods – if we’d been relying solely on these we would have been hopelessly lost (fortunately, Ally had downloaded a map of the route). Also, the “coast to coast” label isn’t actually accurate, in that the walk ends in the neighborhood of Onehunga, separated from the coast by a big ugly highway. It may be true, as the website says, that “Onehunga has the distinction of electing the first woman Mayor in the British Empire, Mrs Elizabeth Yates, in 1893,” but that hardly matters now, given the down-at-heel, seedy feel of the place (the slogan on the sign is “something old, something new,” but I think the latter part is more an aspiration than a promise). Also, the write-up tells you that there are plenty of refreshment options along the route, but we didn’t encounter anything at all for the first three hours (and even then, it took a small detour). This didn’t matter so much to me, because I’d already eaten something, but Ally, being decent and trusting, walked 10km or so on an empty stomach..

With those complaints out of the way, it was a fine, often very scenic walk. The first part took us through territory we’d already largely covered, to the “Auckland domain”, a huge green space including the city’s museum, placed on an imposing hill (seeing it from the Sky Tower the other day, we’d assumed it was a government building or other site of power). From there we walked to Mount Eden, the tallest ex-volcano in the city, capped by a monument and what I think is some kind of historic surveying device. Then we went to One Tree Hill, a few metres shorter than Mount Eden, but feeling grander and more imposing, surrounded by huge grounds on which we saw our first sheep of the trip (probably not the last – there are some 50 million more). In better days, One Tree Hill did indeed have a single tree at its peak, but it was cut down about a decade ago. Much of the walk comes with explanations of its significance to Maori history and culture or to that of New Zealand generally, and of course provides many wonderful views, or put another way, opportunities at which to look back at the tiny downtown high-rises and to congratulate ourselves for what we’d achieved. In between all of this we took in many residential streets, often very grand ones, and more sporting fields and facilities than we’ve ever seen anywhere: if what we saw today was representative, then New Zealanders ought to be the fittest people on the planet (it’s not clear that they actually are). It also seemed today that the University of Auckland, with its six campuses, must constitute half the city (subsequent research indicates it has some 25,000 students, less than half the size of the University of Toronto, but for today at least it seemed like the most alluringly imposing institution in the world).

We took a bus back from Onehunga (the buses are frequent, but apparently all run hopelessly late, so that if you think you’re catching the 14.43, it’s probably the 14.28), and we arrived back in Britomart. Ah, Britomart! Early on in the trip we saw signs for this, and I assumed it must be the trashiest establishment in town, a dive getting by on cut-price underwear deals and suchlike. But it turns out that Britomart is actually a high-end neighbourhood, where (contrary to my remarks yesterday) you can glide from one gleaming designer store to another. I can (just about) see how the “Brit-“ piece could connote classiness, but the “-omart” bit confounds me. Actually, it seems the name has some kind of historical derivation having nothing to do with any of this, but who cares about that? Anyway, from there we went back to the hotel, stopping for gelato on the way.

Auckland doesn’t seem (this week at least) to have much of a downtown arts scene – the theatres are mostly sitting empty, perhaps advertising a one-week touring show next March or something like that. The Rolling Stones are performing here next Saturday; the Foo Fighters in February, and Drake too. The only current production we could identify was a play called Pure and Deep, written by Toa Fraser, and we went to see that tonight (we’d overlooked at least one other current option though, a production called Famous Flora, set in a brothel and staged from 6.30 to 8 pm in a venue then taken over by a “troupe of exotic dancers” – the director was sitting behind us and describing it to someone else). Pure and Deep is a modest piece to the extent that it only has two actors (each playing multiple parts) and no set or props other than two chairs, but this is often when theatre is most captivating, evoking complexity and meaning just through the force of writing and performance. It’s very specifically a play about New Zealand, reflecting on the country’s loss of identity in the face of social media, bad culture, bad food and so on, but then of course these are universal issues too, so I don’t think we missed too much. It was a wonderful experience, and we stayed up late afterwards in the bar under the hotel, drinking our wine, eating pizza and chicken sliders, and discussing the whole thing. And the waiter didn’t even charge us for the chicken sliders.

No comments:

Post a Comment