The second day of my New Zealand adventure began with a brief stop at a telecommunications kiosk at the airport. Free wi-fi is becoming ubiquitous in North America – you see it in cafes, restaurants, malls, and even grocery stores. Through advance scouting, I knew that virtually every hotel I would visit in NZ wanted $15 or more per day for internet connectivity. I swapped out my phone’s SIM card for a local card and picked up a reasonably priced voice, text, and data plan to stay connected while travelling. Ten minutes later, I was on my way with a pay-as-you-go service that cost less than my plan back home. Buying a factory-unlocked iPhone finally paid off.
I jumped on the shuttle to downtown, where I hoped to spend a couple of days acclimatizing to the new surroundings and shake off some of the jet lag. Experienced travellers recommend that you spend time outside during daylight hours after changing time zones. It was only 7:00 am when I made it to the CBD, but my hotel was nice enough to hold my bags while I spent the day exploring.
First on the itinerary was a trip to the waterfront, where I learned about Auckland’s rich yachting heritage. This prairie boy is fascinated by port cities – whether in Savannah or New York or Vancouver, I always take the time to watch the gargantuan container ships and cruise liners sail by. A number of ferry operators are based near the downtown piers, so I also gathered some ideas for an excursion the following day.
After being confined to an economy plane seat for far too long, I was eager to go for a walk to stretch my legs. Auckland is bisected by the Coast to Coast Walkway, a series of sidewalks and trails that traverse the isthmus from the Pacific harbour in the north to the Abel Tasman harbour in the south. I set off from Pier 3 at Waitemata harbour around 9:00 am, criss-crossing sleepy city streets en route to Albert Park. From there, the trail slips across the University of Auckland grounds and enters the verdant Auckland Domain. I passed a variety of sports fields, ponds and gardens including the beautiful glass Wintergarden. At the War Memorial Museum, they were busy setting up for an 11:00 am Armistice Day ceremony at the cenotaph where, unbeknownst to me, Prince Charles would be making an appearance. I think I speak for a lot of Canadians my age when I say that His Royal Highness is probably a harmless enough fellow, but if they ever put his picture on our money there will be a revolt.
International incident thankfully averted, I made my way uphill in the direction of Mount Eden. Auckland is built on a series of volcanos, of which Mount Eden is one of the most prominent. It’s possible to drive to the summit crater, but it’s far more interesting to walk the well-marked switchback path to the top. Once atop Mount Eden, you are treated to 360-degree panoramic views of the sprawling metropolis. To the south lies Manukau Harbour and the instantly recognizable dome of One Tree Hill. To the north, the volcano’s caldera is framed by the Auckland city skyline.
After loitering for awhile at the summit, I retraced my steps to downtown and enjoyed a nice lunch. I checked into my hotel, did a tour of the Maritime Museum, and got some souvenir shopping done for my friends back home. My first dinner in NZ was takeaway Thai green curry (which was okay) and a six-pack of Speights three-star lager (which was substantially better than okay). Despite trying to stay up late to get accustomed to the four-hour time change, your correspondent fell asleep on the sofa around 8:30 pm while the TV aired netball games and re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond. It wasn’t the last time that I would observe how Kiwi popular culture is often a smorgasbord of vignettes borrowed from around the world.
Song of the Day: “One Tree Hill” by U2