We landed at the Auckland airport, picked up our rental car and made our way out of town as fast as we could. Having just gotten off a 12-hour flight, navigating to a new place, and driving on the left, I don’t remember much of the trip. My first real view of the city was also a shock. A few days after we arrived, we stopped at the Arataki Visitors Center in the center of the park that lies between us and Auckland. Terraces around the center provide spectacular views over the forest, a large reservoir, and in the distance, downtown Auckland! It was strange to be surrounded by dense forest and see skyscrapers of the central business district through my binoculars. It’s barely ten miles away.
We drove into the center of the city for a walk along the seafront and a visit to Victoria Park Market (much described by guidebooks), as well as stopping in to a clinic in our ongoing quest to get Jonathan’s visa to Australia (more on that another time). The waterfront is lined with boats of all kinds, sailboats from small to ocean-going, traditional to Americas Cup sleek, and motor craft from cigarette boats to trawlers. There are ferries across the bay and tour boats that circle the area for sightseers. Boating is popular for many reasons including the long coastline, huge bays, and the distance of the islands from anywhere else.
Downtown Auckland is growing fast, with construction cranes all across the skyline. New apartments are being built along the waterfront, as is a huge Hyatt hotel.
Away from the waterfront, Queen’s Street was the busiest area for shopping. We admired New Zealand jade, Maori wood carving, merino wool sweaters and every imaginable item painted with kiwi birds or sheep. We’ve been in New Zealand barely a week and we’re holding off making purchases other than postcards. In addition to the usual range of tourists, I did see some very fashionably dressed women. One wore an unusually cut jacket, the other a boldly patterned skirt, and both had interesting very-high-heeled shoes. Perhaps they were influenced by the windows at Chanel.
Since we arrived, the multicultural face of New Zealand has made itself clear. We were asked whether we were about to board a cruise ship, and met a couple from Minnesota who were about to do so. In the forest park, we chatted with a pair of young people from New Zealand and Australia who had Indian ancestors. They warned us about the strength of the sun and the need to stay hydrated. On the same trail, we met two young women from Auckland of European ancestry who had never been to the park before, despite it’s being within an hour of the city. The Thai restaurant where we ate lunch was staffed with Thai-New Zealanders. At a copy center, we chatted with a young New Zealander of Indian ancestry whose brothers and cousins live in Ohio and California. Even the grocery store showed multiculturalism, though it turns out that New Zealand Breakfast tea is earl gray with a different label.
Our only strike-out of the day was the Victoria Park Market. A series of restored structures on the edge of the park is intended to be a boutique covered market and restaurant zone, and perhaps it was, a few years ago. It is mentioned in guidebooks, but there is almost nothing there. For some reason, this development appears to be a flop.
The market was just a blip on our day. Auckland was bustling and colorful, with great people-watching on every block. It’s easy to think about living here, so close to the surf and the forest, yet in a lively city.