Thoughts on Auckland

I can’t remember why we decided to stay in Auckland for 5 nights. It certainly is a huge change from the wide open spaces of the South island. There are over a million people who live in Auckland and at certain times of the day, all of them are running down the street in a hurry to get somewhere. Adam put it nicely when he said, “There’s nothing that I dislike about Auckland, it’s just that there’s nothing that I like about it.”

My thoughts exactly. Auckland is one of those big cities that is just like every other big city that has lost its identity, or perhaps never had one.

Maybe my feelings would be slightly different if the weather was better. Auckland has basically the same weather as London – that maddening propensity to be bright and sunny one second and pouring down rain and windy the next. It does not allow one to plan outings with any confidence.

The other thing that may have influenced us was the hostel that we stayed in. It was called “The Fat Camel” which should maybe have given us a clue. The location was inauspicious. We were right next door to “Lipstickx Massage Parlour” which was “now featuring new beautiful girls.” The facilities themselves weren’t so bad, but the room was a disaster. It was about ten by ten feet and had no windows. It felt more like a jail cell than the actual jail cell that we stayed in when we were in Christchurch (the former jail that was converted into a hostel, you remember). Beyond that, the elevator that went up and down at all hours made a horrible screeching sound somewhat like a cross between a Wookiee and a dying giraffe. The bedcoverings, well, it’s best that we don’t go into that. Suffice it to say, they were what my old roommate Anna would have called “nasters.”

There have been two places of note. We went to the Auckland museum the other day. It has a little bit of everything: ancient artifacts, decorative arts, natural history, etc. It was definitely worth seeing, if not a little puzzling. First, the museum was billed as being free, but a $5 per adult donation is suggested. I think that the key word is “suggested.” There are people posted at every entrance waiting to extract money from you for a “ticket” and trained to look at you like you are an asshole of magnificent proportions if you do not choose to “donate.” The reason that we did not choose to “donate” is that we are on a BUDGET and were looking for free things to do.

Side note: A hundred dollars a day sounds like a lot. But when you factor in your accommodation and food, there really isn’t a lot left over. What is really depressing as we scour the streets looking for cheap happy hour deals and fast food, is that either of us in one night could easily run up a bar tab that far exceeds our budget for the entire day. I can’t believe how much money I spend when I know that I have more coming.

So at the museum we began with the exhibit of historical artifacts from various Pacific Islands cultures. Several rooms showed off jewelry, clothing, weapons, transportation, artful carvings, and ceremonial items. Then came the puzzling part. With no warning, the hallway was plastered with all manner of items fusing the tribal cultures with Christianity: a Maori-looking figure as Jesus on the cross, a picture of a Victorian missionary in a severe black dress and a satisfied look with a bunch of Maori dressed like “proper” Victorians with blank stares on their faces, and all kinds of smiling “modern” faces. The display cheerfully explained that basically, Christianity had come and it was an important part of Maori life for some and that everything seemed to be A-OK. I stared at the display incredulously. Had we missed something? Was there a display back there that showed how Christianity had become such a big player? The process? The consequences? Nope. I was reminded of the Snow White ride at Disneyland. You’re riding along and the penultimate scene is one where the dwarfs are perched perilously on a cliff while the evil stepmother disguised as a witch is trying to knock them over the edge with a boulder. Then, I kid you not, the next scene is a picture of Snow White and the Prince kissing with a caption that says, “And they lived happily ever after.” WTF? What happened to the dwarfs for God’s sake?

I was hoping the the reason for the omission in the museum was perhaps lack of space and poor planning as in the Snow White ride. However, after that, the museum devoted a copious amount of space to colonial schooling of children and their artifacts. Hmmm. We decided to move upstairs to the natural history which turned out to be fairly interesting.

The second thing worth mentioning is the zoo. I was expecting to see a lot of wild kiwis in New Zealand since the identity of the country is inextricably tied to the bird. When my uncle was in the Merchant Marines when I was young, he would send postcards and all kinds of items which inevitably had kiwis on them. I was expecting the place to be crawling with them. Well, kiwis are endangered. And nocturnal. The odds were against us seeing one. So we had to go to the zoo because dammit, I’m was not going to leave New Zealand without seeing a kiwi, wild or not. We were almost disappointed. The first exhibit was the kiwis and since they are nocturnal, the exhibit is dark and bathed with a red glow. At first the exhibit was completely still. No kiwis in sight. The sign posted said that the kiwis were probably in their burrows and a camera positioned near one of the burrows showed a fuzzy, grainy image of what appeared to be a kiwi. Finally, one of them got up and started poking around for food. It was difficult to see, but it was definitely a kiwi. Now I felt I could leave the country.

However, on our last day in Auckland our opinion was altered. I met Lisa four years ago when I was traveling on my own in Iceland. She and I were staying in the same room at the hostel in Reykjavik, and we kept each other company in a city that had been all but deserted that particular week by its residents. Lisa happens to live in Auckland, so she and Darrell (forgive the spelling if it’s incorrect) very generously took us on a tour of pretty much the entire city and we got to see all of the things that were lovely about the city. We went to some of the beaches, the harbour, several of the neighborhoods, lookout points, and One Tree Hill which is not only the best lookout point that we got to see, but also has an interesting story (Wikipedia has the dirt – look it up). Because of this excursion, we revised our opinion of Auckland and concluded that in order to make a fair judgement not clouded by the weather or our lodgings, we would have to come back some time in the future, perhaps in the spring, and stay somewhere a bit nicer. Perhaps a place where we have our own bathroom. Hey – it’s tough – but we gotta do what we gotta do.

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