Thursday, March 16, 2006

Day 2 - Auckland

After a bit of an "up and down" jet-lag fueled, hot and muggy night we had our first delightful taste of an NZ brekkie cooked by our host, Shirley at the Bydand B&B. Fresh herbs, fresh eggs, fresh OJ soaked home mixed musli, everything was fresh! My eggs benedict-inspired dish was certainly a great way to kick the "lag" into touch.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived in Devonport was how much the place sounded like a jungle. God it was loud, it was one of the things that had kept us awake a little bit over the night and once again whilst sat at breakfast the true inner-ear decibel imposing level of the crickets, the birds and the general Dr. Dolittle appreciating nature of the place hit home. How could somewhere so close to a major city sound so much like it was in the middle of nowhere?

We hit the road after breakfast, by foot this time though and headed down through "the village" to the passenger ferry to Auckland. A short 15 minutes later and we were on the other side of the pond.

Auckland is an odd city. It's got one main st which slices through the centre of it (Queen St), and it's split up into around 5 different suburbs, all of which are within walking distance of one another. We pretty much walked our way around most of it within the one day.

Our first stop-off was at what is probably Aucklands most famous landmark, the Sky Tower.

Standing at 328m tall the Sky Tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and like just about everything else in NZ you can chuck yourself off the top of it via a controlled free-fall style system.

The observation deck offers great viewing for this and even has a countdown to the next jumper so you can position yourself in front of the window for the perfect shot of your loved one as they hurtle past. Actually this isn't quite true, to give the jumper more of an adrenaline rush you hurtle down 30ft and then grind to a halt right in front of the observation deck where they spin you round like a pinata just long enough for everyone to get a photo...

...and then they let you freefall again all the way to the bottom.

It seems if the Kiwi's build it, the rest of the world want to jump off it.

Other more sensible things to do at the top of the tower include having a bite to eat in the cafe, having a full on lunch/dinner in the revolving restaurant, or you can go up another level via a lift and look down on the jumpers as they get strapped in.
Actually it was in this second lift that we encountered for the first time a favoured and well used word within the Kiwi vocabulary - "Awesome!". The Zealanders love this word and use it whenever and wherever they can, and seldom in the right context. In this instance somebody showed their liftpass ticket to the guide in the lift who responded with "Awesome!" I'm sure the ticket wasn't that awesome, in fact I can almost say he sees on average 200 tickets an hour during peak season but it just seemed to be his way of saying "Yep, you've paid the fee so you can ride the lift no problem".

Of course the view from the top was indeed awesome.

Yet the thing that struck us most wasn't the glorious 360 degree views. No, the thing that struck us most was that when you looked down and saw the streets of this mini-metropolis they were almost completely devoid of cars. This was at 11am on a Saturday morning, unbelievable! Where the heck was all the traffic? Not a sight you'd see from the London Eye, or indeed from the Empire State Building. It seemed that here people just don't drive into the city, or maybe it's just that there aren't that many cars. Either way it was pretty weird but also nice.

The view from the bottom wasn't bad either as right across the street was a branch of American family favourite diner Denny's.

Sadly we talked ourselves out of going there for a coffee as you can't go to NZ and go to an American least not on your first full day there.

After exploring the centre a little more we headed out on foot to the suburb of Parnell. Walking around Auckland really was a pleasure and our journey to Parnell was no exception. Roads are quiet, parks are quiet and there is something different to look at every few hundred yards.

Achitecture is diverse also with building styles ranging from 19th century England to Colonial Southern American. A stroll around Auckland can feel kind of like a stroll around a Disney park, and I mean that in a nice way.

Whilst on our walk to Parnell we also had our first taste of Maori culture when we came across a traditional Maori college complete with a training area and meeting house. It interesting to see such an ancient tradition mixed with a modern society campus.

Like Auckland itself Parnell sits atop a hill. It's best described as a small, late 19th century American mid-west town complete with wooden buildings and picture postcard quaintness. It's pretty. It's also a nice place to stop for lunch, so we did.

There isn't a lot to see here, but if you come to Auckland you really can't miss it out. There is certainly quite a few places to eat, drink and sit out in the sun and it feels like you really just want to stop and enjoy it for a while.

If you head on further down the road like us you'll eventually come across Newmarket. This seems to be where most of Auckland's modern shopping is, complete with boutique malls and outlets. Again there is not a lot to do here apart from shopping but it is nice to actually see where the locals go to do their regular retail therapy.

We realised by the time we had walked around Newmarket that we were pretty tired, in fact we hadn't realised how far we had walked that day but now the centre of Auckland seemed a very long way away. As luck would have it Auckland has a circular bus route which travels around the city both clockwise and anticlockwise. It is $2.50 a ride and that can take you just about anywhere.

We rode the bus all the way back to the other side of the city to a place called Victorian Market, which funnily enough does indeed house a market. It's an old brickyard type place with stalls set within the old factory courtyard and it's pretty touristy but it has to be done.

It was only a short stop here before we hit the shoe leather again and headed for the quayside where we had planned to eat that night.

The quay in Auckland serves two purposes, part of it is industrial and part of it is refurbished with restaurants dotted around the edge. It's a nice welcoming area, particularly after a long day wandering around the city.

Tonights feast was found within a Brazilian themed churrascaria style restaurant called Wildfire.

Here the idea is to eat meat and lots of it. When you arrive the rules are explained to you; Sit at your table and the waiters will regularly bring meat on skewers and carve it off onto your plate, if you want more leave the double ended cylinder on your table with the green side up, if you want them to stop turn it over so that the red side is up. Simple. What followed is what i can only describe as an amazing onslaught of meat, all kinds of meat too it just kept coming relentlessly.

I think I made a mistake here though. Kate suggested that when our plates are full we should turn the cylinder to red and only turn it back to green when we wanted more, I was worried though that by doing this the waiters would ignore us and never come back! Big mistake, the meat just kept on coming until before long it was all over and the cylinder had to hit red, there was no other option.

Packed full of meat now we left the restaurant and waddled back to the ferryport.

Now it just happened to be Devonports annual Food and Wine festival this particular weekend. Here you pay your $20 entrance fee, get a wine glass to hang around your neck and then wander around the stalls filling up your glass for free whenever you get the urge. Now we missed out on this but we did see some of the after effects of the event as people piled off the ferry from Devonport that we wanted to board for our return journey. It wasn't a pretty sight, the water was a little choppy and this mixed with unlimited glasses of wine wasn't a good combo for many and we couldn't help but smile as people staggered off the boat a little green around the gills and a lot worse for wear.

Thanks goodness we didn't feel the same way on the crossing back.

We did get a nice sunset though, which pretty much summed up a great start to the holiday.


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