City of Two Harbours
Day 177 The City
There is a bus we can catch into the city and the stop is just 50m up the road. As we queue, we debate the system for paying, every city we have visited had had a different one. The driver informs us that we can pay by cash on the bus so we are off. The route takes us across the harbour bridge with great views of the Auckland skyline, dominated by the Sky Tower and right into the city centre.
We leave the bus at the final stop which is opposite Auckland Art Gallery and we amble along the streets not quite sure where we are or where we are going. ‘Look, there’s a STA travel shop on that corner’ announces Mark. He knows I’ve been panicking over the next stage of this trip due to the Corona virus outbreak and thinks they might be able to put our minds at rest.
The young lad we speak to is really helpful. We cannot cancel our flights as there is no restrictions on travel, but he advises us to avoid Cambodia and Laos because of the poorer medical facilities in these countries. He gives us information on different locations in Malaysia and Thailand and advise on where to avoid. We come out feeling a little more at ease and have finally decided on an itinerary for the next seven weeks.
We sit outside a café called scarecrow opposite Albert Park to peruse the Auckland entries in our travel book, working out where we are and what to do next. There is a city centre ramble which begins quite close to where we are. We have already seen the civic centre with its wonderful survivor from cinema’s Golden Age, the Civic Theatre so we start at Khartoum Place.
I am delighted to see the emancipation of women in New Zealand (1893) celebrated with tiled walls of women in Victorian clothing on bikes. The faces are photographs of some of the more prominent women of the movement.
The Art Gallery, a mixture of modern glass and wood and French-chateau style is situated within Albert Park. The steps around are occupied by tourists and office workers making the most of the good weather. Walking up these steps we enter the park which hugs the hill (it seems the whole of Auckland is built on hills). This Victorian formal garden which feels very English is overrun by young people, probably from the nearby university.
We turn left into Princess street to see the Victorian merchant’s houses which are very grand. Unfortunately, there is a lot of restoration work being carried out so some of the buildings are hidden by scaffolding, however this is not the case with the imposing white Art Nouveau University Clock Tower. Further along the road is the large building which was once the city’s main synagogue which is no longer in use and cannot therefore be visited.
We make our way through the city centre heading for the harbour passing along quirky Vulcan Lane, lined with historic pubs. The last few blocks to Waitemata Harbour are on reclaimed land, hard to believe we are stood on what was once the waterfront. What a pity the street between Marsden Wharf and Princes Wharf is being upgraded and there are barriers and road works everywhere.
We eventually make our way onto Princess Wharf and have lunch is a restaurant overlooking the water. The number of ferries arriving and departing is huge – the water appears to be the major highway for Aucklanders. Workmen finishing early on Friday are returning home on the ferry weighed down with the tools of their trade.
Pressing on we reach Victoria Harbour and the lovely yachts including the Americas Cup entry in the marina. Plaques around the harbour tell of the history and the changes in its use over the past 200 years and we see evidence of this in the old rail tracks.
The bars and restaurants are heaving with Friday afternoon workers getting the weekend off to a start. A large number of people are running about in t-shirts in groups. Mark asks what they are doing and the explanation is a works team building exercise – it must be a large company. Moving onto Victoria Park we see more of these teams building bicycles!
Once back in the city centre, we have a drink and watch the city pass by, before making our way back to Britomart train station. The bus stop home is in the same place as we disembarked this morning so we have quite a trek.
Day 178 Takapuna Beach
We drive to Takapuna on the North shore for a day at the beach. This is a bit of palaver as we have to turn left out of the drive which means quite a detour to head north. Once we reach Takapuna, we manage to drive right through without seeing a signpost for the beach and end up at Milford, a relaxed beachside resort bordered by the river and Lake Pupuke.
Parking up we make our way down to the beach which is dotted with sun worshippers and water lovers. We walk along the white-sand beach and rocky outcrops from the northern end of Milford Beach to the Southern end of Takapuna Beach. Some of this trail crosses private property and walkers are requested to respect the privacy of the residents. The houses that line this stretch of shore have fabulous views and easy access to the water, what a beautiful place to live.
The pathway is not constructed properly in some places and is quite dangerous as we clamber over black, volcanic rocks. People have set up for the day on small beaches and by rock pools whilst others are paddle boarding, swimming and fishing. The sea here is beautifully clear and inviting.
On reaching Takapuna we are surprised by how crowded it is. The 1km stretch of sand is well utilised with swimmers, sun bathers and people messing about on the water. We make our way to the main street and have lunch at a small café before setting off on the return journey to Milford.
We walk on the road to Lake Pupuke, a large volcanic crater used for rowing, sailing and canoeing. Homes surround the lake but there are access points for users of the lake. By the edge of the water the weeds are thick and would put anyone off swimming here.
Leaving the lake behind we return to the beach and slowly make our way back to the car.
Day 179 Davenport
The drive to Davenport is bumper to bumper with traffic with our satnav sending us up and down back roads to avoid it. On arriving we park by the waterfront and wander around the lovely old town with views of Auckland city centre across the harbour. The ferries from the city are arriving every few minutes (this is the quickest way to travel from the city centre to the northern beaches).
Davenport beach is only a small bay and the water looks quite cold and uninviting, nevertheless hardy New Zealanders are swimming. The wharf is being utilised by a large number of fishermen so Mark wants to have a look around. Not many seem to have caught anything yet, it must be too early.
Walking along Queens Parade we can see the docks in the distance and we watch a massive tanker leave with hundreds of containers stacked on deck. Auckland is certainly a busy industrial port. On the way back towards the town centre we see the group who dug with slotted spoons and pans on Hot Water Beach. It’s funny how you see the same people again and again when travelling. Probably because tourists tend to visit the same places.
Victoria Road is a lovely well-preserved street with a range of Victorian and Edwardian buildings. As we reach the top, we see the entrance to the trail up Mt Victoria Reserve. Walking up this volcanic cone we have fabulous views of Auckland and the islands out in the harbour.
At the top of the mount there are old navy battlements with a large gun which was for use during WWII. There is also a large map of the peninsula and we are able to pin point where we are stood in relation to Auckland and its two large harbours; Waitemata and Manukau. We are also able to see Mt Eden across the harbour where we intend to visit next.
The journey back to Harbour bridge is less congested than earlier and we make good time out to Kingsland and Mount Eden. Unfortunately (this seems to be a pattern in New Zealand and Auckland in particular) the pathways to the summit are closed for repairs and we have to walk up the road. Also, once at the top we are prevented from walking around the rim by fencing.
This is Auckland’s highest volcanic cone and the entire isthmus and both harbours are visible from here. The crater is symmetrical and 50m deep, not as large as the crater in Death Valley but still impressive. The views are fantastic and far reaching and show the geology of the area. Auckland is built on extinct volcanoes and these cones are evident all round us. The compass shows we are over 18000 km from London, the other side of the world.
We drive back through Ponsonby, a lovely trendy suburb of Auckland with bars and restaurants among the Victorian villas and wooden houses. Auckland spreads out and outside of the quite ugly inner city is a place of lovely suburbs.
We decide to have a meal out in Takapuna as this is our last night in Auckland. There is a plethora of bars and restaurants lining the streets of this little suburb. It is hard to decide on a choice of food but eventually we go for Mediterranean. Mark and Marcus have a mezze sharing plate and I have steak and chips. I’m afraid I cannot resist pudding and have a chocolate mousse and popcorn confection. Rather too much but fab and Mark shares.
We make our way back to the house and decide that Auckland has been a great city of contrasts; modern, Victorian, crowded, isolated, hills and coast.
Day 180 Flying
What should we do between leaving our accommodation and arriving at the airport? We don’t fly until 3.30pm but we have to leave at 10am. We decide to make our way to the airport which is situated on Manukau Harbour and see what we can find there.
The drive doesn’t take too long and as we near the airport we see a signpost for the Villa Maria vineyard and cellar. Mark has wanted to visit this particular vineyard all through our travels in New Zealand and not managed it (their headquarters are based at Hawkes Bay) so we make the detour now.
The drive to the cellar, shop and restaurant is long, through beautifully landscaped lawns and rows of vines. The building itself is large and modern. Hidden behind this is the industrial processing part which we manage to come across as we bypass the car park somehow. Although it is too early for tasting we can still have a look around and have coffee on the terrace. The place is as impressive inside as out and Mark spies the wine our friend Andrea used to drink.
As time is now getting on, we make our way to the airport to return our car. At rental returns we discover that our car rental business has its depot off site and we have to drive 6km to the office. It’s a good job we have left plenty of time.
On returning the car there is a problem over the damage caused in the car park at Mt. Cook. They are demanding $2500 despite informing us there would be no problem when we sent details of the damage. We do have our own insurance but we argue that the damage is minimal, eventually they agree on $1500 but this takes up an inordinate amount of time and I am totally stressed (flying is traumatic enough). We then have to wait for a transit bus to international departures.
Check in is easy with the help of staff and once bags are left at bag drop it’s through passport control. As usual I beep and have to be frisked, Mark and Marcus don’t need to be. However, we are soon sitting in departures eating sandwiches, drinking coffee and waiting to board the plane.
Boarding is quick and efficient and we are soon in our seats waiting for take-off. The flight is not too bad at all, I could get used to travelling Singapore airlines. The seats are comfortable with adjustable headrest, the leg room not bad and the service brilliant. We are served two tasty meals, drinks – hot, cold or alcoholic throughout, and snacks all with a smile. The 10 hours seems to fly by with the aid of the entertainment, lots to choose from.
There is a bit of a nasty incident just in front of us which is quite upsetting. The man sat in front of Mark is travelling with his brother and friends and obviously has learning difficulties. The lady in front of him accuses him of touching her feet (impossible to see how, as she has an empty seat next to her and has had her feet up all flight). Later she shouts at him for putting his table up and throws water all over him. Another passenger complains to cabin crew about her behaviour as the man is visibly upset and wet. What a carry on, she could have just moved to the empty seat!
On arrival at Changi airport we fill in our immigration cards and pass through receiving stamps in our passports. The walk to collect our baggage is long, about 15 minutes and the airport is really very quiet. Customs in no problem and we catch a taxi directly outside the airport to our hotel. The city is all lit up as it is 9.30pm and what we can see of it looks great.