15 October 2019
Mrs P’s flamingo pink mobile rings at 7:30am. She’s bought a new SIM for this trip and only one person has her number: the local agent for New Zealand in Depth, the specialist travel company that’s arranged our road trip.
Nobody rings this early with good news, so we brace ourselves. And yes, you’ve guessed it, today’s keenly anticipated boat trip to Rangitoto Island to get up close and personal with a volcano has been cancelled, thanks to the horrendous rainfall that’s plagued us ever since we landed in Auckland yesterday morning.
Bloody typical, we’ve been looking forward to this, Mrs P in particular as she has a thing about volcanoes in much the same way as I have a thing about chocolate cake, and now it’s all gone belly-up. We are, as they say round our way, totally buggered. Don’t you just love it when the gods rain on your parade?
Time for Plan B. If your travel plans in a big city fall apart the answer is – always – to buy yourself some time by getting the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. At least it will keep you dry while we come up with something more exciting.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s official name does it no favours. As well as covering New Zealand’s role in twentieth century wars, it boasts extensive collections covering the culture of the Maori people, and the country’s natural history.
We’re determined to leave New Zealand a lot more knowledgeable about Maori culture and history than when we arrived, and the Museum turns out to be a good place to start. There are some fascinating artefacts here, including a marae (meeting house) and a storehouse. Woodcarving is an important element of Maori material culture, and there are some good examples here.
As for the natural history collection, we have mixed feelings. Mrs P and I both prefer our wildlife to be alive rather than stuffed. However, it’s well done and instructional. For example, we learn that the relationship between the size of a kiwi and the size of its egg is eye-watering. If we’re ever lucky enough to see one in the wild and it’s wearing a very pained expression, we’ll assume it’s a female who’s just laid her egg. Ouch!
Auckland is dominated by the sea. Its harbours are major players in New Zealand’s trading relationship with the rest of the world, and in their spare time many of the locals enjoy nothing more than messing around in boats. Our ticket for the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus includes a free ferry ride across the harbour to the suburb of Devonport, so we get the chance to see Auckland from a totally different perspective.
Devonport dates from the late 19th century, although many of its buildings appear to be in the art deco style of the early 20th century. The suburb retains more of its period charm, and is less crowded, than the other parts of Auckland we’ve visited. It’s a pleasure to spend an hour strolling up and down its main street, before diving into The Patriot bar for a meal.
The food at The Patriot is good, but not so the company. There are three old guys seated close to us – all Kiwis, by the sound of their accents – debating the Queen’s speech and Brexit. Why, in heaven’s name, would any sane Kiwi talk about Brexit? For god sake, I flew halfway round the world to getaway from rubbish like that.
But you have to take the rough with the smooth, don’t you? On the way back to the ferry we enjoy a couple more of Devonport’s highlights; an ancient Moreton Bay fig tree (known fondly to the locals as Arthur) and a magnificent new library.
How come here in New Zealand they can build brand new, brilliant libraries, while all we can do in the UK is trash a once great library service?