Monday, 5 March 2007

Auckland 26/1-27/1

I left the Soren Larsen with mixed feelings on Friday morning. It had been more of a "working holiday" than expected, but the experience wouldn't have been as memorable without the teamwork required to sail the ship. Another key factor was the phenomenal permanent crew - they really made the trip with their enthusiasm and infinite patience with us landlubbers.

The night sail definitely gave me a taste of what life onboard would be like during the Soren's ocean voyages, when she sails 24/7 for days at a time across the Pacific. You would have to be a terrific team player, happy to forego some creature comforts and be able to cope with the lack of privacy on board. I think that I would struggle with the final two requirements. I was definitely looking forward to getting back to things like gloriously hot showers which could be more than 1-2 mins long because of no limitations on water supply. And there was nowhere that you could go to have a totally private chat - everywhere on deck is either above someone's cabin or near an open hatchway. I guess if people ever get desperate there's always the rigging or the end of the bowsprit until the next tropical island destination...

After arranging to meet Jon and Christine for dinner, I did a little souvenir shopping and then took a public bus out to Mount Eden, a dormant volcano and the highest viewpoint in Auckland. I had passed Mount Eden in the airport bus on my first day, and was confident that I would be able to jump off the bus quite close to its base and somehow find my way up to the summit. However, my trip nearly ended before it began when the grumpy bus driver (the first grumpy person I had come across in NZ) refused to take my NZ$20 note, saying that she had insufficient change because everyone was giving her high denomination notes that day. I rushed into the nearest shop, and the sympathetic cashier said that he could only open the till if there was a sale. Unfortunately it was a clothes shop, and I couldn't see anything that I remotely wanted to buy. As I turned to leave, the cashier suddenly called out: "How much is the bus fare?" and when I told him that I didn't know, he handed me NZ$2 from his own pocket. He brushed aside my offers to repay him once I'd broken into my note and I left the shop overcome with gratitude. This kind of thing would *never* happen back at home!

My luck seemed to hold out. I pinged the bell as the bus neared the base of Mount Eden, and then after a few false starts (first ending up in a playground and then a dead end car park), I found a path that seemed to head up towards the summit. It was very humid and combined with the steepness of the path and my chronic lack of fitness, I was soon out of breath. This side of the volcano seemed to be primarily for road vehicles, as there were no marked footpaths, but eventually I found my way to the top and was rewarded with a fantastic cityscape that my camera was ill-equipped to handle. That evening, I had a goodbye dinner with Jon and Christine who were heading south through NZ for a further 5 weeks the next day whilst I was heading back to the UK. Needless to say I was wildly jealous, but was partly cheered up by the bottle of sav blanc that had survived its week in the hotel luggage room.

The next morning I checked out early and took a 15min ferry ride to Devonport, an island commuter suburb. It was so early that hardly any of the shops were open, but fortified by a breakfast of blueberry hotcakes at a local cafe, I summoned up the energy to go up yet another dormant volcano - Mount Victoria. The friendly lady at the tourist information office told me to walk to the far end of the high street, and then start climbing. The cityscape from the summit was even better than from Mount Eden, with multi-coloured rooftops below and a constant parade of boats in front of the CBD. Sadly I could only enjoy it for about 10 mins before making a rapid descent in order to catch the ferry back to Auckland.

And that's all folks! As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 weeks on the North Island, and am already planning to go back. Watch this space...