Without question , New Zealanders are the nicest people in the world but … their regulations can sometimes be maddening .Or perhaps it was just this one lady at the Air New Zealand counter. Some of our hand luggage was over the weight limit (7 kg. ) so we were made to redistribute it or put it into plastic bags which she gave us for the purpose. It seemed pointless since the total weight carried was the same .I just couldn’t understand what was gained by the exercise.
Something to be aware of : NZ is very strict about banning the entry of foreign foodstuffs , even stricter than the U.S . Regardless of what your friends tell you , don’t take any food with you , even if it is prepared or packaged . The penalties are severe and the hassle even worse. We didn’t have any problems on that score but plenty of others did .
Auckland ( pop. 1.4 million ) is New Zealand’s largest city and has almost 1/3rd its total population ( 4.5 million).Our hotel , the Merkur Windsor , was on Queen Street in the heart of the CBD . Queen Street , known as Auckland’s Golden Mile, is ideally situated, close to many of the city’s landmarks. At 5: 00 PM , when we emerged from the hotel , it was the evening rush hour and the sidewalks were crowded with officegoers on their way hame . We noticed that their dress was summery and casual, and they seemed in less of a hurry than their counterparts in N.Y.City. It was overcast but thankfully the rain held off as we strolled to Princes Wharf and admired the ornate architecture of the Ferry building and the Old Customs House. Catamarans to the neighboring islands were much in evidence and we decided to make a trip on one of them the next evening .
Unfortunately , the Food Court in the nearby shopping complex was closed and we wound up at a cafeteria style Thai joint on the street behind our hotel.Very good food but I found myself casting covetous eyes at the next table where a couple was feasting on off – the – menu items. This happens to me at Chinese restaurants too … Why can’t they translate everything into English ?
Next morning , we took a half day tour of the city and the coach driver, Peter ( call me Pete) proved to be one of the most singular individuals we were to met in NZ. A Yorkshireman from Leeds ,he did not initially seem very prepossessing with his bloodshot eyes, graying hair and cadaverous frame. However , he was a genuinely nice guy and had a terrific sense of humor which had us all in stitches.He quickly taught us two stock New Zealand phrases , ” No worries , mate !” and ” Kiora!” , an all-purpose Maori greeting that can mean Good day “,” See you ” or .” How are you ? ” . The coach took us past city landmarks such as the Sky Tower ( 1076 feet high), Auckland Town Hall and the Maritime Museum , past some of the city’s choice neighborhoods to Mt. Eden , one of 47 extinct volcanoes in the area. The highest point thereabouts , it offers dazzling 360 degree views. On one side is the Tasman Sea and on the other the Hauraki Gulf of the Pacific Ocean . We walked around the grassy crater looking at Auckland spread out beneath our feet, remarking on landmarks such as the Auckland Harbor Bridge , the Sky Tower , One Tree Hill , Eden Park Stadium ,Rangitoto Island , Savage Memorial Park and the Auckland War Memorial. It was a sunny day , ideal for sailing and the many boats with their multicolored sails made a pretty sight as they scudded across the water. No wonder , Auckland is known as the City of Sails .
From Mt. Eden the bus went to the Auckland Domain , a large shady park , notable for the Winter Gardens (c. 1913) which consist of two large glass houses in between which lies a large waterlily and lotus pool. They contain a profusion of flowers and vegetables ( mainly eggplants). I’ve never seen so many colors and shapes of eggplants . It was odd to see them interspersed with beautiful flowers but the overall effect was as pleasing as it was striking. Next to the glasshouses was a quarry which had been converted into a fernery with over a hundred types of ferns.
All along Pete had ben regaling us with his jokes and pithy observations . Nothing seemed to spoil his good humor. As we exited the Winter Gardens parking lot , we were brought up short by a woman driver who was going the wrong way in spite of a multitude of signs and clearly marked arrows . No problem or , as Pete would say , ” No worries , mate .” Pete waved her past and then observed , sotto voce , ” She must have got her licence in the bottom of a cereal box!”
Back in the CBD , we walked to the Atrium Food Court , which features mostly Asian ( Malaysian , Indian , Japanese , Chinese and Vietnamese)food stalls spread out over two levels . We had lamb curry and rotis at the Indian joint and it was very good, a generous portion with large chunks of tender lamb.Others of our party tried the Malaysian stall and said it was excellent.
That evening we took a ” cat “to Waiheke Island , 35 minutes away. From the water , we had a completely different perspective of Auckland as we passed stacks of shipping containers in the port area and made our way past Rangitoto . From the Waiheke Terminal , we walked to a nearby village where we descended to an unspoilt beach and walked the sands before making the return trip to Auckland .
After working hours , the CBD shuts down and there were not many dinner choices. We ate at a barbecue place which turned out to be Chinese ( not Korean ) as we’d first thought . Pretty good , but the sizzling steak was a mistake. Tired , we walked back to our hotel and to bed.
Next : Rotorua.