If only — impressions of Auckland:
A city that captivates the traveller on a dreary day must be worth visiting.
Moist cabbage trees wave within the garden as I meander towards the aroma of Robert Harris coffee and blueberry muffins, to be presented with Isobel’s plan for a day’s whistle stop tour of Auckland — the city of sails and home to over 1 million of New Zealand’s 3 million human inhabitants.
“The English always take anoraks and umbrellas. You don’t need them. It’s mild here even when it’s damp,” Isobel chortles. I cling to my anorak but feel compelled to abandon my umbrella. It is pointless explaining that I am Welsh, not English, as the only character from Wales she seems to be familiar with is Hannibal Lecter. I do not want to give my fellow Welshmen a bad name.
A heat wave prevails in the UK yet here I am, shivering and gormless from jetlag on a dismal winter’s morning facing rush hour traffic. Where are the 60 million sheep? My spirits lift as the Mitsubishi weaves perilously through the traffic clogged streets, as no tour guide has ever equalled Isobel’s engaging description of monuments, churches or beauty spots. The official story goes that Auckland is built on 37 extinct volcanoes, 2 of the most famous being Mount Eden and One Tree Hill, but I read in a glossy book on New Zealand that some of these volcanoes are dormant. It would not be tactful to bring this up. Mount Eden affords breathtaking views over the city, Hauraki Gulf and the harbour littered with islands stretching into the distance.
There is so much to squeeze into one day and it is a relief when we stop at bustling Queen Street, the main shopping thoroughfare where, to the surprising strains of a didgeridoo we ingest a pot of Robert Harris coffee — nectar for the jet-lagged brain. Then we are off and away to Waitemata Harbour, where the historic brown and cream ferry building is dwarfed by high rise blocks, then Quay Street on the Waterfront, Mission Bay, and Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World where we stroll along a moving belt under the ocean sharks, stingrays and brightly coloured fish swim over our heads – behind glass of course! Penguins run about their business as we drive past in a makeshift ice vehicle. It is moving to see a replica of Captain Scott’s hut — he called at South Island before his tragic journey to the South Pole. No time to reflect however. Isobel moves me on.
Parnell Village, a renovated suburb with up-market shops and restaurants, the ‘hip’ place to be seen, is next on the agenda. In the afternoon an ornamental gateway welcomes us to Auckland Domain, where we drive through gardens draped over the city’s hilly heartland to a grand building atop the central hill, Auckland War Museum. Staggering up the steps and gasping for some Robert Harris, I keep my craving to myself as I do not want to appear uncultured, but my eyes scan the signs hoping to spot the word ‘Café’. In a long hall which houses Maori artifacts, the most splendid being an 80-foot canoe, my heart lurches as a piercing shriek proclaims the commencement of the Maoris’ performance of the Haka. Pioneer Street, which encapsulates the life of the early settlers, seems serene by comparison, though equally intriguing.
Then I see him. Well, he may be a girl for all I know. He stands proudly on his thin legs — five foot long – I’m not exaggerating. A tiny dirty brown head, hardly any beak, eyes like dots, a long scrawny neck and a bulky feathered abdomen. “Poor creature,” I gasp. “Is it a kiwi?”
I had never disgraced myself as much. I immediately become flushed although, I was shivering a moment earlier. Isobel explains benevolently that we are inspecting a moa, a flightless bird, related to the kiwi but now extinct. Whereupon she moves to another glass cabinet and indicates a little brown fellow the size of a chicken with a very long beak. Yes, I know. I know what a kiwi looks like when I see one. Why had I said what I had said? The humiliation is exacerbated by the presence of a Kiwi, of the human variety, definitely female, looking at me in sympathy whilst trying to repress hysterical laughter.
“It’s the jet lag talking,” I want to say, but the words adhere to my parched throat walls. If only I had consumed another Robert Harris coffee before the museum tour. Isobel has the message I have been waiting for, at last. Very soon Robert Harris meets my lips!