Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Zealand & Australia 1: Auckland

We arrived in Auckland on New Year's Eve, 2010 around 2:30 in the afternoon, after being en-route nearly 24 hours.  Our travel agent had tried to sell us an shuttle ride from the airport to our hotel for $140.  They also offered another $70 shuttle arrangement from our hotel to the cruise wharf three days later when we were to board the cruise ship.

We declined both because the price seemed way too steep.  Sure enough, after a little investigation before we left, we caught the "Air Bus" at the airport which took us to with in a block of our hotel near the waterfront at a cost of only $16 each.  Our hotel was only three blocks from the cruise ship dock.  So when the time came, we enjoyed the walk.

Most of the shops were closed for the holiday, but we had no trouble finding a bite to eat after checking in.  And, even though the idea of celebrating New Year's Eve in a foreign country seemed like a good idea, we were exhausted.  Eight-thirty that evening found us both down, out cold, for the count.

I remember waking with a start from a sound sleep to loud sounds that sounded like artillery fire.  I opened my eyes, saw orange lights flashing around the room an wondered if we were under siege.  It turns out that folks in New Zealand and Australia set off fireworks at midnight on New Year's Eve. 

The fire works were coming from the top of Auckland's tower, their version of Seattle's Space Needle.  Our little 8 story hotel had only 4 or so rooms that had a direct view of the tower, and ours was one of them.  The fire works went on for some time, allowing me to dig out my camera and get a couple of usable shots. 

The show ended with a huge bang with all sorts of rockets going off at once, as you can see above.  The exposures for the two fireworks shots were identical.

Auckland is a charming port city with nice shops, a central core that invites walking, and a clean, accessible waterfront.  We learned that Auckland was literally born from fire.  Several extinct volcanoes are scattered around what one might call the city's center.  The next morning, refreshed in spite of a minor but entertaining interruption of our sleep, we hiked to the top of one of those volcanoes, the highest, and most prominent. 

We lucked into perfect weather and well groomed trails.  It took less than a half an hour to reach the crater, which lies just over the ridge of this hill.  The crater is considered sacred by the native folks.  Descending into it is not allowed. 

However, walking around the crater's rim offered fabulous views of the city.  One can see Auckland's tower in the upper right.  Our hotel was not far from the tower to the left.

After hiking back down from the volcano, we took a bus over to the tower and enjoyed a grand lunch in an upscale restaurant in the base complex of shops.  For a $100 a person can bungee jump from the towers top, ending up on a platform just behind where this picture was taken.  The two white lines coming down from the top are used for that purpose.  I considered coming down in that way, but decided, after not very much thought, that they were asking too much for not enough thrill.

The tower's top offered a panoramic view of Auckland and its harbor.  Auckland sits at the tip of what the New Zealanders call the north island.  The cruise ship dock can be seen in the upper left.  It's the pier with the two white buildings side by side. The cruise ships dock on the right side. The left side is lined with restaurants, one of which had a tasty fish and chip dinner for only  $14.   It was so good we went back the next morning for breakfast.

This three story Santa, which graced the front of a book store on Queen street, was also visible from the tower.  Our hotel is three or four blocks to the left down the same street.   We both wondered where they store the Santa between Christmas seasons.

The elevator's floor had a Plexiglas plate in it, which allowed one to see what was below us as we descended.  The view reminded me of some of the science fiction movies, where the heroes descended down into the center of the earth.

After the tower, we wondered toward the waterfront and found this ad for a nearby coffee shop.  We tried their coffee, but I ended up looking like the first guy instead of George Clooney.  They said it was luck of the draw.

We stayed at a small, three star hotel called the Mercure Windsor on Queen street near the wharf. 

The rooms were clean and nice and very affordable.  The visible Queen street window here is where we were able to see all the fireworks shot off from the tower.  Our philosophy on hotels is that we don't need luxury.  We don't need luxury because we aren't there to spend much time in our hotel room.

For us, a hotel room is just a place to sleep when we can't stand up any more from being outside exploring the city.  This nice little room suited our needs perfectly.

Here is a view out the Queen street window shown in the first room photo.  The book store with the Santa on the front is straight down the left side of the street.  If you look carefully, you can see part of the red Santa as a red blob, to the right of a black fire escape.  A piece of Auckland's tower can also be seen if the far upper right.  

The next day, we went on a rain forest and beach tour.

Continue on to Post 2: Auckland Tour by clicking here


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