Friday, November 21, 2014

New Zealand trip diary - day 4

It seems we’re both moving past the phase of being awake for prolonged periods during the night, if only because of stepping up the wine consumption. Either way, we had breakfast at the hotel again this morning, and this time we even ordered eggs. I even had a sausage on the side. I think we’ve eaten more meat this week than we have for a long time, albeit just in a light kind of way – a pie filling here, a pizza topping there. No doubt we could find vegetarian restaurants if we were looking for them, but the average establishment doesn’t seem to offer much choice in that vein. It’s also becoming more evident to us how the city loves its booze – the streets seemed quiet on Tuesday, but I think they’ve grown steadily more raucous every night since then. And I’m writing this paragraph before Friday night hits.

We returned to the ferry terminal, dominated by a cruise ship, just as it was the other day (today was the something Princess, and the other day it was the something else Princess). We’ve never set foot on a cruise ship, and probably aren’t likely to, but they’re interesting in an abstract kind of way, like Las Vegas (we’ve never been there either; aren’t likely to). We caught another ferry at 10 am, this time to Waiheke island, around 35 minutes away. This is a much more popular destination than Ranjitoto was the other day, hence requiring a much bigger boat; on arrival, the hubbub was more typical of an airport than a wharf. Naturally, most of the crowd dispersed into taxis, buses and so on, leaving just a handful of people to start walking (I know our disregard for people who never walk anywhere is probably a bit tedious; maybe we’ll be forced to change our views one day, but our current thought is that if gets to the point that we can only go on vacation by sitting on a bus or an ocean liner, then we’ll spend the rest of our lives at home). We embarked on one of the loveliest walks I can remember, following the western coast of the island, around a point called Church Bay. It’s a beautiful route, not very steep for most of the way; every step at first was like a study in exaggerated greens and blues (the temperature was again about nineteen degrees, as it has been every day of our trip so far, but we’ve learned you can burn up pretty effectively in that), suddenly opening out onto the bay, a landscape you might choose as the last thing you ever see, then descending into woodland on the other side. The countryside was so immaculately varied and graceful from the start that it almost seemed artificial; eventually it largely was artificial, as the trail started to wind past a succession of mega-properties, some of them apparently working vineyards, others presumably holiday homes. At one point we saw a sign advertising patches of undeveloped land for sale at prices of $3 million for 10 acres or something like that – if we correctly grasped a conversation we overheard later, this may be a one-time only fundraising move by the island government, motivated by recent over-spending (the play last night took some caustic shots at how all the construction activity now is for the benefit of foreign millionaires).

That section of the walk took over two hours, coming out on a road where we briefly got lost, just like the group in front of us. Once oriented, we walked to Oneroa, a little town with a beach community kind of vibe, our journey periodically decorated by roadside collections of old furniture and other oversized garbage (later, perusing the island’s “Waiheke Weekender” paper, we learned that it’s the annual occasion when such junk gets picked up – however, most residents seem to have disregarded the instruction to assemble the items neatly). The entrance to Oneroa is through a park called “Alison Park,” which frankly isn’t much to write home about. We had lunch and did some minor browsing, then returned to the ferry terminal along another woodland trail, taking a brief walk along a beach in the other direction before catching the 4 pm boat back. This only covered a tiny percentage of what the island has to offer, and you could certainly spend an entire vacation there, taking a different breathtaking walk every day. However, it seems from observing the return journey (and here I refer back to my earlier remarks) that many visitors may instead spend the time overindulging in the many wine tasting opportunities.

I think I might refine my earlier remarks about it seeming less diverse here than at home – as time goes on, we’re becoming more aware of the Maori culture and presence, indicated in ways both large (monuments, place names) and small (a few words on menus or elsewhere); something over 10% of Auckland’s population is Maori. Anyway, the vacation magic has entirely worked its familiar spell – we feel like we’ve known the place for years, and we’ve achieved our favourite thing, of drawing a pretty good mental map of the heart of yet another notable world city (although Ally’s mental map is always far better than mine). So we can happily move on now to somewhere else.
We ate in yet another restaurant within steps of the hotel, a very nice but sadly all-but-deserted place called Touquet, where I had duck and Ally, bowing to the inevitable, had lamb. The owner gave us some free limoncello, which went a long way to knocking us out for the night. We managed to stay awake for a final drink at the hotel bar. Unlike previous nights, this and other places had a bouncer at the door, and police were circling both in cars and on foot, apparently confirming our expectations about Fridays in New Zealand; the streets were clearly busier and more booze-sodden. By the time we wound down though, the action had mostly moved on elsewhere.

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