Communion Of Dreams

Scenes from a trip: Aotearoa.
November 11, 2011, 3:58 pm
Filed under: N. Am. Welsh Choir, New Zealand, Travel

Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, is usually translated as “the land of the long white cloud”. How this fits in with the history/discovery/creation myth depends on who you ask.

What didn’t depend on who you ask was the beauty of the place. Well, OK, I’m sure that there are some people who would claim that it isn’t beautiful, but none of us on the tour were of that opinion.

* * * * * * *

The good news was that we were staying at the Pullman Auckland, a 5-star hotel right downtown, adjacent to Albert Park and the University of Auckland campus. This put us just up the (*very*) steep hill from the port area.

The bad news was that the hotel didn’t have hot water.

Oh, it wasn’t their fault – most of the Auckland area was suffering from a pipeline break which supplies New Zealand with natural gas from a large production facility offshore. There was plenty of electricity – half of the country is powered by hydro-electric, most of the rest using coal and renewable power generation – but the most common way for large hotels and most businesses (as well as a lot of private residences) to make hot water is using natural gas. Pretty much every hotel in the northern half of the country was without hot water.

So, cold water clean-up after flying for 13 hours. Joy.

* * * * * * *

I asked at the desk where the closest ATM was. The clerk looked at me like I was an idiot. “Anywhere downtown. They’re everywhere.”

Martha and I decided to take a stroll that way. We needed to get cash, and stretching our legs a bit after so much sitting was a good idea.

Where “downtown” was wasn’t a question. You could see it easily from the hill where the hotel was. Tall office buildings, the Sky Tower – all obvious.

Cross the street at the corner, punching the button for the signal. All pretty normal, a slight tonal variation on the audio cues that I was used to, but not much different than anything you’d find at such signals around the world. Oncoming pedestrian traffic tended to walk to the left, in keeping with driving habits. Students, mostly, looking like students anywhere.

But just a few paces into the park you knew you were no longer in Kansas. Or Missouri.

It was the trees.

* * * * * * *

We didn’t have a lot of time – there was a ‘welcome lunch’ scheduled for our group in the hotel restaurant. But given that there were ATMs ‘everywhere’ we thought a quick excursion into the city center would be OK.

And there were ATMs everywhere. Seriously, just one block in from the park, and you could see about a dozen of the things up and down the streets. All kinds of different flavors and colors – just pick one, and we’d be set.

Except we weren’t. The first machine wouldn’t recognize either of our debit cards (my wife and I maintain separate checking accounts, but both at the same bank). Nor would the second and all subsequent machines. Hmm.

Martha headed back to the hotel – it was more important that she be there for the luncheon, since she was part of the choir. I decided to try more flavors of machines, even popped into a bank branch to ask whether where was some trick to using the machines or a special kind of debit card I needed to have. Nothing worked, and I got the same kind of look the hotel desk clerk had given me.

Ah, well, I’m used to feeling like an idiot when traveling. Even at other times.

I gave up, went back to the hotel.

* * * * * * *

It was a good lunch. Substantial and quite tasty, though the chef apologized to our group for some limitations imposed by the hot-water issue.

We did the usual “introductions all around” thing. Then our guide (Helen) reminded us of our bus-tour of the city that afternoon.

I told Martha of my failure with the ATMs. Chatted with a friend on the tour who was willing to loan us some NZ$ until we could resolve things, as well as grant us use of her laptop so we could send a secure email to our local bank to see what the problem was. Thanks, ML – as always, you’re a lifesaver.

* * * * * * *

Auckland is NZ’s largest city, by far. Over 30% of the country’s population lives there and in the surrounding area. It’s on a volcanic field, has a large port, is beautiful almost wherever you look, and there’s a whole lot more you can find out about it on Wikipedia.

Our tour took us to most of the highlights. We walked through the harbor, spent time in the Auckland Domain (the large public park), saw where this and that landmark was, and generally got a sense of the layout of the city and possible sites to explore further on our own.

Helen was informative, active, and considerate – all traits which made her an exceptional guide for our entire time in New Zealand.

* * * * * * *

Dinner that evening was somewhat less elegant than lunch had been. Martha, ML, and I wandered back into the nearby city center, which caters largely to the student population. We found a grungy takeaway food court downstairs from street level – mostly of this, that, or the other variety fast food. But all of it local, even though more than a little greasy-spoon. I had some curry & rice, Martha stuck with ice cream (New Zealand has a very significant dairy industry, and produces a lot of high-quality ice-cream) and ML had some Dim Sum, as I recall.

It was tasty, simple food. And I didn’t even have to be thankful my hepatitis vaccine was still good.

Jim Downey


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