After two days and nights at sea I was pretty excited to see this perfect first sight of land. Rangitoto, at the entrance to Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor is an infant of an island pushed up from the ocean floor only six hundred years ago. This is one of more than fifty cones that make up a volcanic field under the city of Auckland. The cones are cleverly disguised as parks, lookouts, sports fields and residential neighborhoods but make no mistake – New Zealand is one of the most seismically active regions on the planet and these cones have a habit of erupting and venting at regular intervals, geographically speaking – every few hundred, or few thousand years. Give or take. It’s not an exact science.
It was a lot of fun to watch the action on the bridge from this excellent viewing window, as the Voyager made port in New Zealand for the first time. Harbor pilots or maritime pilots have a specialized knowledge of a particular harbor and in all ports, including Sydney we were guided in and out of the harbor by these very well paid professionals. A harbor pilot typically makes in the $400k range annually and with good reason. Once on the bridge the pilot takes charge of the vessel and has full accountability for this $650M ship. This one came on board with an armful of marine charts which I thought was a good sign.
These channel markers map out our route into the shallow bay. It was no small feat to maneuver more than a thousand feet of ship around this tight starboard turn between the red and green cones. Everyone on the bridge was absolutely focused at this point and we were moving at a crawl.
Auckland is a lovely city of 1.5 million. The Maori name for Auckland roughly translates to ‘the maiden with a hundred lovers’ and the city on New Zealand’s North Island certainly does have it’s suitors. Folks are happily laying out between $3M and $15M to own a home on one of the many magnificent bays and penninsulas.
The skyline is punctuated by the Sky Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in New Zealand. You can walk outside around the widest ring of the tower, appropriately roped onto a guide wire or for a bigger rush you can leap from it with the dubious security of an elastic cord around your waist. New Zealand is not only home to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to scale Mount Everest but it is where the bungee jump was invented. No lie.
Our parking spot alongside the undulating cruise ship terminal. We have come quite a way south between Sydney and Auckland and the New Zealand weather is definitely cooler. It had been warm enough to suntan on the pool deck for the last two days but on this cool, cloudy morning in Auckland the jackets and sweaters came out. The ornate, gold Victorian building at the harbor’s edge is the Ferry Building.
This became a recurring sight everywhere that we put in. I half expected to see scores of dead fish floating up with the mud but I’m quite sure any living thing would already have been scared away by the Voyagers big Azipod propellers. These revolutionary props can rotate in a horizontal plane to provide a much greater level of maneuverability than traditional models. With this innovative propulsion system you can now parallel park a ship this big on a dime. I’d like to have this feature on my car.
Hanging over my balcony I was thrilled to come this close to an America’s Cup racing yacht. Emirates Team New Zealand will compete in the 34th America’s Cup Challenge out of San Francisco in 2013. Auckland teams won this challenge in 1995 and again in 2000 when they hosted the regatta.
A quaint first impression of a really lovely city. The pedestrian walkway that skirts the harbor and the Ferry Building.
At every port there were legions of cheerful Kiwi’s in colorful vests or jackets waiting at the terminal with directions, advice and tour vouchers. There was no shortage of options for our shore day here but I had heard that Auckland has a particularly good museum, especially for someone interested in WWII memorabilia. So I was off to see it.
I was very happy to arrive at the Auckland War Memorial Museum minutes before the last Maori cultural show of the day. The singing was stirring and I loved watching the twirling poi balls and seeing the haka or war chant. New Zealand’s acclaimed rugby team, the ‘All Blacks’ begin every game with the haka. It not only seems to be very effective at frightening their opposition into submission – since 1903 they’ve won an astounding 75% of their matches – but in my opinion it’s the most entertaining part of the game, with all due respect to New Zealand’s national sport.
The museum dedicates a significant amount of floor space to a very good exhibit of the Maori culture unique to New Zealand. The intricately carved wharenui or ‘big house’ is the heart of the Maori community with carvings that mimic the tattoos and facial antics used by warriors to intimidate their enemies.
Massive waka taua or war canoe, decorated at bow and stern with fearsome entities carved from stone. The Maori were some of the most accomplished sailors in Polynesia, traveling very long distances in these watercraft that could be up to forty feet long or more than thirteen meters.
As popular as tattooing has become in recent years, very few Kiwi are prepared to commit a good chunk of their face in the name of art or tradition but I think this guy looks pretty fierce nonetheless.
The museum did indeed house a very good collection of memorabilia from several wars, including what seemed like miles of names carved into marble in this beautiful hall of remembrance dedicated to lives lost. For a tiny country like New Zealand, whose total population at the start of WWII was less than a million the sheer number of names seemed staggering. I counted 13 Thompson’s, 15 Johnson’s, 11 McDonald’s and 41 Smith’s. It’s a sobering place where I lingered quite a long time just reading names and reflecting on what I’d read of the ANZAC contribution to the Second World War. It was hard not to think of Gallipoli – or what became known as ‘Churchill’s Folly’ – a disastrous experiment to break through to Constantinople (now Istanbul) that resulted in abominable casualties. This infamous failure marked the first major battle for Australians and New Zealanders in WWII and they paid a disproportionately heavy price. It’s still talked about here in hushed and sober tones.
There’s an extensive display of war medals here where I recognized some of the medals earned by my grandfather and that I’ve inherited for safekeeping. I get them out every year around Remembrance Day to polish them and talk with my grandkids about what they mean. There’s also a very good database available to anyone to search out the military records for those who served.
This message board helps survivors or relatives of those lost to Prisoner of War Camps to connect.
I was impressed to learn of the number of places in the world where Kiwi’s are engaged in peace keeping activities, particularly as it’s a common belief that our own Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson ‘invented’ peacekeeping, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. It’s a controversial claim but I’m going to go with it anyway.
This amazing Moreton Bay Fig dominates the grounds outside the museum. There’s also a large, manicured sports field adjacent to the museum that has been built in the crater of a volcanic cone. Dormant…which is not the same as extinct.
It’s summer time in New Zealand and in spite of the cool weather the roses are in bloom everywhere.
A quest to find ‘All Blacks’ shirts for my two grandsons took me on a pleasant stroll through downtown Auckland and along Queen Street with it’s reminder that Christmas is coming.
Later in the afternoon I went in search of a good spot for my four o’clock pot and landed on the America’s Cup Viaduct Harbor with a great view of the Kiwi legend, Steinlager 2 also known as ‘Big Red’. This yacht still holds the record for the Whitbread/Volvo Round the World Race.
Yes, by all rights this should have been a Steinlager. But I’m an ale girl.
Auckland is also known as The City of Sails, with the highest rate of boat ownership in the world. I believe we had to time the Voyager’s departure for the completion of this sailing regatta – or vice versa.
We hove away from Auckland at sunset. It’s a gorgeous skyline and worth noting that the casino at the base of the SkyTower pays an annual licensing fee to the city of Auckland that allows them to turn on their lights a half hour before anyone else. Strange but true.
Auckland feels to me like a completely livable city, if you can afford it. I’m starting to feel that cities with around a million of population are both big enough, and small enough to make for a very pleasant lifestyle. It has lots to do and is easy to get around in. But we’re off now.
We will continue south overnight, down the east coast of New Zealand to Tauranga. Stay tuned!