Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Auckland - City of Sails

Girls in the Courthouse fountain

The Sky Tower

Dragon boats in the Viaduct Basin

Whenever we visit a new city we try to get our bearings early on. This is New Zealand’s largest city with 1.3 million people. The good news is that the downtown is very walkable and of a manageable size. It is a beautiful city with water all around. They tout having more boats per capita than any place in the world, and I believe it by seeing all the marinas. In order to learn about the things we need to visit, we usually find the city tour bus. For Auckland that means the Explorer Bus, and we spent our first full morning checking things out.

The bus is a hop-on, hope off variety so we took advantage of a few of the stops. It takes a large circle tour of the city starting with an overlook of Mission Bay, south of the downtown and viewing from Bastion Point. Next it goes by the City Rose Gardens and by Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral. Then up to the Auckland Museum, which we plan to visit later this week, and on to the Parnell Village neighborhood. This is a historic Victorian district with a lot of shops, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. We of course hopped off to check out the shopping opportunities and to have the ritual mid-morning Starbucks coffee mocha.

Back on the bus we headed for the University of Auckland, the Civic Theatre, Victoria Street and up to the Sky Tower. This is the visible land mark of the City, like the Space Needle is for Seattle (discounting Mount Rainier). However, in the adventurous spirit of the New Zealanders they permit Bungy jumping from the top and skywalking on the outside of the roof. I don’t think that is in the cards for the Warren’s, but we will go up for the view. Next we were on the bus to the Victoria Park Market, which has quirky shops and second hand sales.

We ended the circle and the bus at the America’s Cup Viaduct Harbor. This area, right down on the wharf area of downtown, was reclaimed and built of New Zealand’s defense of the America’s Cup Yacht sailing races. It is now a marina surrounded by very nice restaurants and bars. In order to keep the adventure nuts happy, on Saturday they were having dragon boat races. About 20-25 people get together for three months of practicing rowing, drinking beer, and wearing gaudy team t-shirts. Three boats race at a time and there are heat races all day. A great time is obviously had by all. Many of the rowers are shaped like they had a lot more beer than practice, both men and women.

During the afternoon we walked Queen Street which is the main upscale downtown shopping street, located just one block over from our apartment. We checked out the street fair in the park next to City Hall and crossed the downtown by returning on Albert Street, the street on which our apartment is located. For the evening we returned to the Viaduct Basin for dinner at Danny Doolan’s Irish Pub. Whether it was the dragon races or just Saturday night a loud and liquid night was being had by all.

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