Departures: New Zealand 2004: Auckland

Fri Dec 17 2004

[Photo: Old buildings, new b]
[Photo: Sema makama]

I rode the bus from Pahia to Auckland because you miss a lot when you fly. But the interesting sights were all within half an hour of Pahia. After that, it was farmland and towns. I wish I'd taken a more scenic route--or a quicker one. Later, I'd find out about outfits that sailed from Pahia to Auckland. So maybe I'll get this right someday.

You know when the bus approaches Auckland because there are suddenly sailboats everywhere. After I escaped from the bus and checked into the Auckland City Hotel, the first things I did were:

The museum had a sticks-and-shells navigation chart. Wow, so far, I'd only seen one of these, for the Marshall Islands. This chart--was for the Marshall Islands. "Showing swell patterns, it is used for memory and instruction." How would a diagram of swell patterns tell me how to find the Marshall Islands if I was somewhere out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Why was this chart for the Marshall Islands, anyhow? We were far from there. Why wasn't there a chart telling me how to get to New Guinea? Maybe I'd understand that.

I learned something about outrigger sailboats: you want the outrigger on the windward side. When you're tacking into the wind, there's no way to flop the outrigger over to the other side of your boat. So when tacking into the wind, you reverse direction so that your outrigger is still windward. (This is called shunting.) Thus, "fore" and "aft" on such a craft are fungible terms.

There was plenty of information about local yachters. Some snippets from my sketchy notes: David Lewis, first to circumnavigate in a multihull. Naomi James 1st woman solo around the world. Penny Whiting taught thousands to sail. Te Rapunga more known for owner George Dibbern's preference for sailing w/all-woman crew, than for the 1934 trans-Tasman race win. Since 1984, Kiwi sailors have won medals at every olympics. July 20, 1969 ("one small step" day) Chris Bouzaid wins the One Ton Cup in Helgoland; this inspires Kiwi sailors towards international competition.

Auckland had great internet cafes. They were cheap and fast. They had styrofoam bowls of ramen to bring back to your hotel room. Korean pop music is relatively easy on the ears. As I sat in one and caught up with the world, I realized my nose was dripping. I'd caught Neely's cold.

Sat Dec 18 2004

[Photo: Auckland]

The Auckland City Hotel restored my self-image as someone who stays in run-down business hotels. Its walls were scuffed. The stairs were faster than the elevator. Around the corner were a couple of clubs. One of them had a sign advertising "massage", but only in Japanese. Somehow, the lack of English made it seem even sketchier.

Kelly Tarlton's

[Photo: Penguins]

I walked out along the water to Kelly Tarlton's. It was a pretty walk, and the rain didn't start dumping until I was almost there.

I had kept hearing about Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Experience and Underwater World. It was an awesome aquarium/penguin habitat. Excellent, but small. I'd scheduled a day to see it, and I blew through in less than two hours.

There was a tram ride to take visitors through a penguin habitat. I didn't watch the penguins that much. Mostly I watched the people who were spraying fresh ice around--I'd never seen that before. Unfortunately, the tram ride was part of the Antarctic Experience. You couldn't just hang out with penguins. Instead, you uhm, went through a spinning tunnel, watched an animatronic orca come out of the water. Was this supposed to make me feel like I was in the Antarctic?

The Underwater World (i.e., aquarium) was more interesting. There was a transparent tunnel to walk through, with fish aplenty. There were smaller tanks with freshwater fish and critters. There were terraria with more critters.

Rain poured down as I exited. I walked a little, let the wind push me around. I got soaked. Was it smart to be out in the rain while I had a cold? I wised up and hid in a bus shelter. When a bus stopped, I got on. By the time the bus dropped me off downtown, the sun was out. I walked around a little, and was soon dry.

Tarlton's was scheduled to open up a new stingray exhibit a little while after I left New Zealand. It sounded like it was going to be pretty awesome. Would I ever get a chance to see it? How many years did it take me to get around to seeing the Monterey Bay Aquarium's jellyfish exhibit?

Parnell and Mount Eden

[Photo: Streets below Mt Eden]

Not sure what to do with the rest of my day, I visited the Parnell neighborhood, which got some mention in guidebooks. Here are my notes:

Parnell has a few old buildings and a few interesting buildings--but just a few, in one concentrated area. But the oh-so-yuppie shopping area goes on and on. I get a Chestnut Street vibe: lady, stop window shopping--you already have too much jewelry.

I had a bland lunch at Moto. As I ate, another rain squall burst. I nursed a ginger beer, reluctant to go out. Eventually the rain regressed into a drizzle, and I ventured forth.

I climbed up to the top of Mount Eden. This involved walking through a cow pasture. I'm not exactly sure why there were cows on a sacred site in the middle of a busy metropolis, but there were. Mount Eden is a volcano. I guess it's dormant. It didn't explode while I was there. Depending on which direction you approach Mount Eden from, you may or may not see the signs warning you that entering is tapu. When I looked in the crater, there was a family, the kids playing with rocks. Would it help the tapu to chase these people away, or was it too late? I didn't know. Then it started to rain again. I figured I'd let the rain chase those people away. It certainly chased me.

Soon I was downtown again, drying off in an internet cafe. I'd given up on this day. I went to a book store and picked up A Clash of Kings, a 700+ page novel. At a convenience store, I bought soup and orange juice. Soon I was back at the sketchy Auckland City Hotel, warm under the covers and listening to the thunder outside.

Sun Dec 19 2004

[Photo: Plenty of boats]
[Photo: Auckland Harbor seen]
[Photo: Luxury apartments en]

I spent the first part of the morning drinking orange juice and deciding not to go out into the rain. I spent the second part of the morning watching wave after wave of hail pour down. I watched the hail hitting a nearby roof, watched it float and clump. Then there was sunshine and I went for a walk around the marina.

There were luxury condos going up all over the place--another harbor going to hell. Eventually I found an area where there were some businesses that still catered to boaters. I bought a strap to keep my glasses attached to my face. I planned to go sailing that afternoon, but had forgotten my strap.

I went past a little light industrial area, glad to see some life in the neighborhood yet. Later on, a guide would announce that a lot of this business would go away. Probably more luxury condos coming in.

I made my way to Westhaven Marina, whence from I could see many many boats. That was a happy place to be.

On the way back from Westhaven Marina, I got hailed on a little. Fortunately, it didn't last.

[Photo: America's Cup Syndic]
[Photo: Carved figurehead]
[Photo: A few fancy sailboats]


[Photo: Aotea Square]
[Photo: K Road: a little bit]
[Photo: NZL40 deck]
[Photo: Sketch of a winch on]
[Photo: Two people face each]

It was not so easy to get on to a former America's Cup yacht. Sure, there are booths selling tickets on the marina, it's mentioned in tourist books all over the place. But if it's been storming and hailing all day, they tell you that if they sail at all, it won't be right away--call up in an hour to see what's up. I guess they don't want to subject us to heavy winds. These America's Cup yachts are put together for specific wind conditions--if it's too windy, they won't operate at top speed. More importantly, if a storm sweeps a load of tourists into the drink, that's bad for repeat business.

So I walked up to K. Road, where whores of ambiguous gender and junkies of dubious sanity welcomed me and shouted greetings to each other. They observed carefully when I entered a phone booth--I suppose that they often used this booth to contact their business associates. I called up the yachties and they said that the wind was calming down. If I came by the marina, I could go sailing.

So I sailed on an America's Cup yacht. It was different from my usual fare of SF bay sails. I learned the basics of working a grinder--a set of cranks for hauling lines. This yacht didn't have much enclosure--no below-decks area. There was pretty much just the deck. The sails were huge--people in the back of the boat had to stay out of the way of a line attached to the back of the boom. On a cruise-ish sail, we get lines into position, and then we attach them to cleats. On this racing yacht, sailors were constantly adjusting the lines, using them to keep the sails at best position to the wind. On this racing yacht, there were almost no cleats.

On the boats that I'm used to, just one or two people will haul on each line. Maybe you tug on a line. Or maybe you wrap the line on a winch and one person cranks the winch and maybe one person tails. On this racing yacht, we had grinders. These are cranks hooked up to a... a drive train, call it. And there were switches by which this drive train could engage with different winches. So to center the main, a skilled sailor would flip switches to disengage the drive train from whatever and engage it with the main sheet winch. Then several people would work the grinders, all cranking together on that drive train. Many hands made for light work--it wasn't easy working those cranks, but for just one wincher to move those sails around in such a hurry would have been nigh impossible.

I hung out next to Fujisawa-san. He was a bit non-plussed at the long lectures. Fujisawa-san spoke almost no English. Unfortunately, I didn't speak that much applicable Japanese. At the start of the ride, one of the sailors gave us a long safety lecture--don't stand on lines; don't put your fingers close to a winch; watch out when the boom comes across; people working the grinders have their elbows going. Fujisawa-san said quietly, "I do not understand." I said, "He said: 'Be safe'". Fujisawa-san said again, "I do not understand." I said: "Kii o tsukette." I felt a bit worried that Fujisawa-san was going to be out on the water with just this three-word summary of our safety briefing. I kept an eye on him; he did fine.

It was pretty windy out on the bay. We spilled a lot of wind from our sails. A sailor said, "We're going out here anyhow because we're crazy Kiwis." Maybe I should have looked at that damage waiver more closely.

America's Cup yachties leave their fingers on winches all the time, making sure that the line stays snug on the winch. This, of course, goes against all the safety advice that I, as a pissant amateur sailor, have learned. If I tried that, a loop of line would come off and rip off my finger. I guess they know why the safety rules are there and how far you can push them.

Restaurant Revue

On High Street, I got some juice and a plate of noodles at a vegetarian cafe. Maybe it was the best noodles I ever had. But maybe I was really hungry after working grinders for an hour.

Then on the way back to the hotel, I picked up a falafel and yet more juice from the Open Cafe. I didn't ask what they called the place when it was closed.

Mon Dec 20 2004

[Photo: Cargo cranes]
[Photo: Dock at Rangitoto is]
[Photo: Petrol tanks]
[Photo: Sugar boat loading up]
[Photo: Westhaven marina, as]
[Photo: Golden Bay Cement si]

I checked out, left the Lester backpack at the bus station, and went on a harbor cruise/tour.

What did I learn on this tour?

The island of Rangitoto is "100% bush-clad". It has no soil. Does that mean that things grow on the rocks? I don't know.

The New Zealand navy was fresh back from some Persian Gulf duties. I was glad they were back.

There were nine yachting harbors in Auckland harbor.

Auckland sprawls 120km from north to south.

With spaces for 2100 yachts/launches/etc., Westhaven Marina is the world's second largest yacht harbor.

The Golden Gate Yacht Club has a building in the America's Cup area of Auckland harbor. Thank you, Larry Ellison. The Swiss have a building there, too--they held the America's Cup, having bought a New Zealand team.


[Photo: Ponsonby: not wildly]
[Photo: Self-portrat with te]

A veggie burger at Burger Fuel on Ponsonby. Art at the Auckland New Gallery. A bus ride to the airport--which had a cabinet exhibiting some old telephones. A flight to Los Angeles. A flight to San Francisco. And then I was home, where there was good Mexican food.


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