Monthly Archives: March 2016

3 Days in Auckland (part 4)

5 Hours in Paradise

When I booked my weekend in Auckland, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would make the trip. It was all a bit of a whim, anchored around a 50th. And since I was using Airpoints there was nothing to lose.

But once I got here on Friday, I was in love with my one-time home. It was as comfortable and stimulating as an old lover. The familiar was exciting, the changes intriguing. I didn’t quite know what would happen, and I loved it.

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I woke at 7:30 am on Saturday, a sleep-in for me. Before I pulled out the ear-plugs needed to dull the noise of the city and lodge I rushed to open the blinds. The Sky Tower stood amongst cloudless blue.

 

Okay. Okay. That was a surprise. Grey clouds had been forecast. A cool Easterly. That, plus reports of an awful outbreak of sea lice on the beaches of Waiheke, had made me think twice about zipping across the Gulf to my former island home. But clear skies were enough for me.

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The CBD was Saturday morning-quiet as I headed down the hill, making the trek I had done countless times after spending the night in a cheap hotel after a late finish at work (or a night in town).

Showered and packed for the day-trip (water, journal, camera, towel, tablet, portable power supplies) I found myself rushing, anticipating the phases of the lights, knowing which crossing I had to make to avoid being trapped at an intersection for several precious minutes. Although I was in no real rush (the ferries go every half hour in the weekend), the need to make a 12 minute walk in 8 minutes flat (to avoid being stranded) remained. The phases of the lights, and my memories of them, had not changed.

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The queue for the 9am ferry was Saturday-large. Day-trippers and wedding parties. I got my $36 ticket (not a bad price to visit paradise), and was on board with 10 mins to spare.

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While the day-trippers crowded the open upper deck I headed inside to grab a table out of the sun (and wind to come). With a coffee and a Gulf News (yay, the good old ‘70s-feel local rag is still going!), I pulled out the tablet and started tapping out my post about Friday night.

Maybe I should have been gazing out at the Hauraki Gulf and the islands whizzing past. Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe, Rakino, Bean Rock. The line of terns diving at bait balls of fish. The pods of dolphins or orcas that sometimes slow the commute. But I was back in the forever of the past, where the journey was precious time to read or write, have a beer with friends as the city disappears on the ride home.

I got on the Onetangi bus. I could have gone straight to Palm Beach on the Rocky Bay bus, but I fancied breakfast at the Ostend Market, a regular Saturday ritual when I lived on the Rock.

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The bus was packed. Locals and first-timers. I grinned like a loon as we wobbled and wound our way up the lumpy, bumpy road from Matiatia to Oneroa, ecstatic for no good reason. Behind me an elderly couple narrated every thought and sight. That’s a nice village. Lovely. Oh. A market. Look, a 4 Square. This is a lovely drive through the bush. Very nice. It’s a real holiday place, this. A real holiday place. Yes, I agree, they must have a hospital here. They must.

At first I took them for a rural couple up from the South Island. But when the woman stopped filling in her husband’s words I pegged the slow, slow, drawl of an Aussie bloke. I resisted the urge to turn and correct their assumptions. There is no hospital. You are either ferried or choppered off, depending on urgency.

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I wanted to take in the experience, not play tour guide. But I enjoyed their commentary. Noted it down in my journal. As we approached Ostend they wondered about the vineyards on the slopes of Te Whau. I turned. They’re grapes. It’s a vineyard. Waiheke is world-famous for wine. You should try some.

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The market was wonderful. Full of the familiar. Touches of the new. It was 10am. The sun was hot. I realised I didn’t have a hat.

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It’s very much a local market. Unlike others (in Auckland or Wellington), it’s uneconomic for outsiders to ferry over and set up. Which means you get old 2nd-hand books, bits and pieces, local produce and crafts. Kids sitting on blankets selling off old toys. I wandered it all before deciding what to eat. First up, pizza man. Still here after I first scoffed his crisp, thin bases 10 years ago.

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Then a new one. North African rolls and empanadas (apparently). I had lamb with the works. Wow.

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2nd-hand books were set up in banana boxes. I don’t need any more books. But always explore. I found a Horrible Histories Annual for $5. My daughter will love it. The man asked if it was for me. Called me a good dad.

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After buying a very large jar of Jenny’s Kitchen Tamarind Chutney (best in the world, a constant gift I always passed on to those who didn’t live on the Rock) I decided to look for a hat. The market hats were either too small, or too hippy/old man for me. I wandered along to the Surf shop and found a cap with a large brim. Very street.IMG_0582

After necking a macchiato from a funky van (skulls and antlers, worn out poster decoupage) I decided to head off to Palm Beach. It wasn’t a big walk. 25 minutes of up and down across the back of the island (that maybe looks like a long, thin dog lying west to east). But my bag was now heavy. Loaded with too much chutney, the book, sun screen, market snacks, Waihekean t-shirt bought with the cap. All the rest.

I needed to load up on fluids. Chose a smoothie from Revolution Juices by the war memorial.

 

You must be a visitor with that big bag, the woman making my ‘Pink Love’ berry smoothie said. Yip, just over for the afternoon. You should stay the night. There’s a great band playing. Radio Rebelde. Kind of Latin, ska. My friend is the DJ. She’s good.

I smiled. Wished I was staying.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 3)

Into the Night

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I’ve always felt comfortable in Auckland at night. I’m not sure why. Christchurch always seemed to have an ugly underbelly waiting to slip a knife. Wellington conceals a solid seam of nasty, ready to swing a punch from behind.

Such impressions, valid or not, are hard to shake.

I headed out at 9:30pm having spent more time than I had intended bashing out the last post. Uploading the photos was the worst bit as the Wi-Fi went to shit as the travellers hoovered up the bandwidth with Netflix, or whatever.

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As I walked along the neon darkness of K’ Rd I realised something that made me quite uncomfortable. I was wearing shorts. At night. In town. My bare legs exposed to the pre-loaded revellers piling out of taxis to line up for bars and clubs. It’s not something I had ever done except on random occasions going out for beers after a long day at work in the sun on a big job like golf or cricket or the Aussie V8s. But then I looked at all the women with their bare legs and short skirts and thought, if they can be comfortable being so exposed, why can’t I? Of course, that argument wouldn’t hold sway with any of the bouncers guarding the bars.

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I headed down Queen St looking for something to eat. A Korean place near the top called Nanas looked the best bet. It was the busiest and the menu looked great. But I would be the only person sitting alone. Not a problem. But I wanted to keep walking, consuming the sights and the night.

I wandered along Lorne St to Vulcan Lane, wondering if I would find somewhere funky and appealing. Half of it was roped-off with a long table of revellers listening to a New Orleans-style street brass band playing ‘Happy’.

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I half-considered a pub feed at my old stand-by, the Occidental. It’s a Belgian Bar with nice beer, pomme frittes and buckets of mussels. I would meet 1st dates there back when I was internet dating. It’s where I met the mother of my daughter on Waitangi Day 2007. That was the last time I spent our National Day in Auckland.

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But I didn’t want to sit in a pub of the past. I had a belly full of honey bourbon I needed to soak up/walk off. It’s too easy to drink more than you intend when writing and wrestling with Wi-Fi.

As I turned into Fort Street I was overtaken by the waft of weed. Four Canadians walking behind me copped it, too. That’s pot. No it’s not. Yes it is. Him, in that phone box. Go and ask him.

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Fort Street, like K’ Rd is one of the old sex districts. It has been made over, but the colour and sin remains. I love it. It was so good to see the White Lady parked up. Flipping burgers since 1943. But no, not for me. Not tonight.

Disappointed rugby fans were filling the downtown area, spilling off the trains from Eden Park. The Hurricanes had pipped the Blues in a thriller. I’m not a huge ruggers fan, but I’ve worked on the games for years. I was happy to be a Wellingtonian at that moment.

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By now it was 11pm. I couldn’t face the Viaduct in shorts (more on the Viaduct later). So I headed back up Queen Street past the gaggles of people swarming the gelato shops (they didn’t exist in my day), up to Aotea Square where I spotted a Carls’ Jr. They don’t have those in Welli. I went in, and had a Memphis burger.

It was perfectly fine.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 2)

K’ Road in a Daze. Laxing in Aotea Square

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The afternoon passed by in a pleasantly reassuring haze. I felt like a kid in a candy shop of the familiar and the new. A traveller to the past where everything is just where you left it, but the odd object has been twisted by 23 degrees, or been replaced by something shiny and new.

The most welcoming sight when I got off the plane was a man I had only seen on the telly, a celebrity of sorts, with a notoriety of the highest order.

Standing by himself in a blue suit was one of the most powerful politicians in New Zealand, Steven ‘Dildo’ Joyce, who had warranted the full singing-dancing John Oliver HBO treatment with his resigned ‘oh’ as a pink dildo bounced off his face on our national day. That such an important person could be so unattended by minders or minions surprised me. But this in NZ. We stand on few graces and airs. Maybe they now keep their distance to avoid catching a ricochet.

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Once on the SkyBus into town I logged onto the free Wi-Fi. Yay! Yes, I should have been taking in the sights but I have driven that road countless times, and I wanted to grab images from Google and post the first part of this blog.

The only time I looked up from the screen was on Dominion Road when I spotted this wonderful sculpture.

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Part 1 posted, I got off the bus half way down Queen Street, outside the Classic Comedy bar, and headed off to my lodge. It was humid and hot. Fat drops of rain big enough to hide a goldfish but far enough apart to park a tour bus, splatted around me on the pavement. Classic Auckland weather.

I walked past the Pop-Up Globe, avoiding all the emanating Shakespeare, past the flash hotel I once attended a lunch with Clinton and Putin (and all the rest), past a plethora of nooks and crannies where I had been dragged off by someone or other to do this, or that, or the other, up the wide, wide footpaths under the tunnelling canopy of cicada-filled trees to the City Lodge I had booked on Wotif.

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The City Lodge is an Eco-lodge. Parking is $15 (free if it’s a hybrid!). It’s cheap but nice. Full of foreign travellers and helpful tips. The potted history of NZ by the lift seems quite fair without gushing or glossing over. What sticks out to me is the total lack of any mention of sport, something that many NZers feel defines their national identity. I think that’s why so many want a sporting symbol on our national flag. We’re having a referendum on the flag at the moment. I cast my vote at the airport just after I saw Steven Joyce.

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After unpacking my wee bag into my Spartan room I headed out into Auckland, choosing to head uphill to Karangahape Road as opposed down into the CBD. It’s a walk I have made many times. It’s the way I walked to and from TVNZ when I lived on Symonds Street or in Eden Terrace.

Wow. Just wow. I was suddenly in a time machine. In my 20s and 30s once more. But the street art was better. I was more relaxed. But hungry. Very hungry. I decided to walk both sides of K’ Rd until some place dragged me in. Wow. Just wow. Should I go to Verona, that eternal haunt I so loved? Or St. Kevin’s Arcade, with a view of Myer’s Park? But wait, Flying In, the vinyl shop called with vinyl copies of obscure tapes I had bought in the ‘80s. And Vixen, a retro clothes shop. So much cool to desire. I checked out every menu, and shop, that caught my eye. But I could not stop. What would I miss out on if I sated my hunger too early?

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I was over-stimulated and spoilt for choice.

Outside the redoubtable Verona a TV presenter (and restaurateur) who once told me he had smoked pot every day since 1973 looked up in almost recognition but I kept walking, past the familiar Asian food hall and hipster cafes, past the intriguing new places that were calling me in, noted the pub lunch and a pint with the Jordan Luck Band, stared at the poster for James Reyne and Australian Crawl playing tomorrow night, walked across the overbridge where I was one pursued by a man in a wheelchair selling LSD, stuck my head in the pub where I went with my parents to see Uncle Robert host Karaoke during one of the America’s Cups, gazed down at the giant empty pink cycleway, so hungry, so wow…just wow. I wasn’t in Porirua any more.

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At 3pm, realising I simply couldn’t see it all, I halted my odyssey at Krung Thep for some Thai street food. Great music, cool design, with a glaring view across to Mt. Eden. Not having eaten since 8am I made a safe choice of Pad Thai, but as I sat down and looked up at the Wi-Fi password, I had immediate order-regret wishing I had chosen the featured ‘Choo-Choo Blast Fried Egg’. Great name. Never mind. The kai was great.IMG_0469

Next, coffee. I chose Revel, further back towards Queen Street. The entranceway was blocked by crustys and hipsters chatting in the sun at tables on the footpath. In the narrow dark insides I was the only person, apart from a lone waif plugged into her music, writing in a journal. With my macchiato and peanut butter slice came some middle-aged travellers and a pair of matched WASPish ‘trendies’. Short back and sides, him and her. ‘50s geek glasses. Mirrors of each other they pulled out their Macs and went online. Multiple programs flicked up but they both settled into the silence of Facebook.

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Ready for a lie-down, but not, I headed home via Aotea Square. On the way I watched a Shakespearean death through the open doors of the Globe. Romeo and Juliet, as it would have it. Turns out there’s an Arts’ Festival in Auckland. Who knew? I’ve been enjoying the one in Wellington but never imagined they would be on at the same time.

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Aotea Square is full of tents, bars, deck chairs and bean bags. I sat and looked at the programmes, drooling over shows like Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid (a burlesque retelling of Anderson), and the James Plays (3 x 15th century Scottish history plays in full armour). Or Don ‘Dominion Rd’ McGlashan & Shayne Carter in the Spiegeltent, and The Offensive Nipple Show at the Silo.

But going to theatre by yourself isn’t really a goer. Sad and weird as eating/drinking by yourself. I am here to write and think. Remember and observe.

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So I picked up a bottle of sweet honey bourbon, purchased some Wi-Fi at the desk, and headed to my room to write.

Now, time to post this and head out into the night.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 1)

In the air

I first visited Auckland nearly 30 years ago. It was a different city, I was a different person. A fresh-faced 20-year old on the road (in a plane) with the band I had played bass with since I was 16. I wasn’t a great bass player, we weren’t a great band, but we had something; energy, attitude, good tunes and a freshly-pressed EP to promote and sell.

Like a lot of people who had grown up in Christchurch, I was pretty dubious about Auckland, the brash, domineering big brother in the national media and consciousness. The largest city in the North Island, it was a natural rival for the biggest city in the South Island.

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But that wasn’t on my mind so much when I flew in with my four bandmates, it was the gigs and interviews we had lined-up. The boxes of records we hoped to sell, and the crucial uncertainty of whether or not Radio With Pictures would play our video before we left town.

30 years in a long time in the life of any city. It’s the life of a human generation (although desperate marketeers and journalists have been shortening that natural span in the last few decades). Pressed-vinyl EPs are no longer the best way to get music to punters and music videos are available at the swipe of a device (as opposed to being confined to a single showing in a dedicated TV show once or twice a week. Miss the show or fail to programme your VCR correctly and you would have to imagine it from the descriptions of your friends).

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Our first gig was a daytime performance on a stage set up in the grassy quad at Auckland University. We banged and strummed away. The students ate their lunch. Maybe we drank beer. Afterwards we did an interview on BFM, the student radio station, promoting the EP and the pub gigs we were doing with The Letter 5 (was it? was it?! Or the Battling Strings?)

Then it was off to walk into the record shops dotted along Queen Street, trying to sell our wares at $6.99, sale or return. I think we got rid of a pitiful 1 or 2 in a couple of shops.

Queen Street was long, wide and steep to me. Chch is a flat city. I headed off up to explore the famous/infamous K’ Road at the top of Queen Street by myself, fuelled by one or two beers (and the Valium one of the singers had scored from a friendly doctor to calm our nerves).

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Why am I reminiscing about my first visit to Auckland? Because I am flying there now. At the moment we are passing over Kapiti Island, having taken off from Wellington into 120km winds. The take-off was as bumpy as it was sitting on the tarmac, buffeted and battered , waiting to taxi. But I’m a pretty solid traveller, I never feel queasy. Plus I was distracted by being allowed to write this while we were taking off…a first for me as I have been used to the ‘switch off all electronic devices’ rule that has only just been relaxed.

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It’s 3 years since I was last in Auckland. That time I spent little time in the city, heading straight to the ferry and 2 nights on Waiheke, my island home in the Hauraki Gulf I left 8 years ago. I spent that visit swimming at Palm Beach, my favourite bit of paradise. I had hoped to squeak in a visit this time, but I am only in Auckland for a little over 48 hours so it looks a bit tight. Plus I have been alerted by a friend to the fact that Waiheke is experiencing an outbreak of sea lice due to the exceptional, record-breaking summer. I ache to re-visit paradise and swim in the eternity of summers past. But sea lice?! Hmm.

The volcanic rump of Mt. Ruapehu has disappeared from my window and the plane has started to descend. I’m being offered sweets (hooray for the traditions of Air New Zealand which also gave me a snack and a drink without asking for payment).

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What will these (nearly) 3 days in Auckland hold? Memories and observations by the bucket load, I imagine. I lived there for 13 years. Flew into the watery isthmus countless times. As I am travelling alone my only plan is to write and reflect. Walk the old paths. Seek the old favourite eats. I may try and meet friends, I may not. I would be nice but time is short. We are all older with commitments of time and responsibility of all sorts.

The excuse for this trip (taken on a whim and Airpoints) is an old TV colleague’s 50th. I’ve never been to a 50th. It makes me feel old. A bit excited. Curious. Nervous. I hope I don’t bottle out. I’m terrible for that sort of thing.

There will be people there from all those years I worked in telly, including a few who I trained with at the NZ Broadcasting School in Chch 22 years ago. A small reunion of sorts. How did we get this old? What is everyone doing now? Why did we create a dormant group on Facebook?

Questions never end. Nor should they.

How have 30 years passed since I first flew into Auckland?

We are landing. Auckland is here.

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