Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday: Last Day in Auckland

I slept almost enough last night, we the occasional beeping from a smoke or carbon monoxide detector in the hallway not quite enough to keep me awake. Had breakfast downstairs, spent some time online, trying to get credit for my Air New Zealand flights that have not yet shown up in my Aeroplan account, and did a bit of work (making arrangements for our annual Reel Rock Film Tour at the gym for late November). Hopped on a bus down Queen St and stopped in at Mr Barber, a barber training school that offers free haircuts - by their barbers in training. I got Liam, a nice young guy who is 8 weeks into his 12 week course. He did a fine job trimming my wild beard and sideburns, and lopping off the Homer Simpson hairs on the top of my head. I gave him a good tip, and then grabbed another bus down to the harbour. Picked up the ticket for the tour I had booked online yesterday, grabbed lunch nearby, and then got on the 12:15 ferry to Rangitoto. It was a half-hour ride to what is the largest and youngest of the 55 volcanoes that Auckland is built on. Just off the wharf  we met up with John, our driver and guide. He sat up front in a big tractor and the 7 of us on the tour sat on benches in a trailer behind.

Rangitoto's current terrain is the result of its most recent eruption, only 500 years ago. Much of the roughly circular island (about 2km in diameter) is covered in vegetation, but large swaths are just bare, broken lava, where there is not enough water underneath to support plant life. We made our way along a bumpy 1-lane track partway up the cone, to a boardwalk with stairs that led the rest of the way to the crater rim. It was about a 15-minute walk up to the top, where there were amazing views in all directions.

Rangitoto's next-door neighbour: Motutapu

Auckland downtown in the distance, behind Devonport

Auckland downtown in the distance, behind Devonport

Rainbow, seen on the ferry ride back to Auckland

Spent a little while at the top, then walked back down, and the tour continued around the island, bringing us back the wharf in time for the last ferry of the day back to Auckland. I was glad I had taken the driving tour, as we covered a lot more ground than would have been possible on foot, and learned a lot about the island, and the handful of cottages (the Kiwis call them "baches", as they were originally cabins for the bachelors working on the island). And I still got to do a short hike to the summit, without stressing my knees too much.

Back in Auckland, I went for a walk west along the harbour, into the Wynward district, a recently-gentrified neighborhood a lot like Toronto's Distillery District. I found a bar on the water where I could sit, enjoy the view and a beer and read a bit. I explored the neighborhood a bit, and chose a restaurant for dinner: a "free house" with good local beer. I got their sampler of four beers to go with a huge mess of ribs.

After dinner, I walked a block to the CityLink bus, which took me back to my hotel's neighbourhood. Stopped in a few convenience stores looking for a muffin for early breakfast tomorrow, finally grabbing some Indian pastries. Got my stuff just about ready for the morning, read a bit and then got to bed, hoping for a decent night's sleep, but expecting to wake up way too early again, in anticipation of tomorrow's flight to New Caledonia.

And as I look back on a little over two weeks in New Zealand, I'm wondering why so many hotels have shower heads at armpit height, why so many showers have such an unforgiving balance point between way too hot and very cold, and why so few rooms are properly heated. On the whole I've stayed in decent places, and a few really wonderful ones, but those common issues have come up often. My Auckland hotel adds a unique quirk: it has two windows from the bedroom into the very small bathroom (about 3' x 9', including the shower). One window is up at ceiling height, with clear glass, and the other is at eye level, with frosted glass, and it swings open to provide a lovely view of the toilet. I think they are there to allow light into the main room, since it lacks the exterior window that the bathroom has. But it's still pretty weird.

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