We are disembarking the ship today in Auckland, the country’s largest city with a population of a half million. Housing is scarce in this growing city with an unemployment rate of 0%. We are fortunate to have a direct flight back to Houston this evening, so we are taking a ship’s excursion before going to the airport.
Auckland is the size (land wise) of Los Angeles or London. The largest money earner for the city is tourism. 1 in 5 members of the population is Asian, many of whom are Chinese students. Auckland is a “supercity” which means it as some autonomy. It operates as a “state” rather than a city.
The massive growth has created some problems with infrastructure. One in three residents has a car. The ratio of boats to people is 1 to 5. Immigration is strictly regulated. Success depends on the type of work you do. Those that fit the needs are let in. Napier even guarantees a job and housing for certain tradesmen.
We are to meet at the pier with our luggage at 8:30 am. So after showers and an early breakfast we went down at 8:10 to leave the ship. Unfortuantely, they hadn’t yet cleared the ship and we were told an announcement would be made when they were ready. Later an announcement was made that there was a delay getting luggage off the ship but nothing was said about disembarking. The announcement wasn’t made in the lounge we were in, but we could hear it from a distance. We went ahead and gave it a shot and were able to leave the ship.
We went through passport control and customs and retrieved our luggage. We were pretty close to the departure time for our excursion. About half the people for the excursion were on the bus. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. There was a steady stream to get on the bus for a while and then we appeared to be waiting for 6 people and the Land Discoveries representative said they were trying to find them.
Two passengers got on the bus shortly after that. When numbers 3 &4 arrived they were very rude to the other guests who had now been waiting over a hour for the tour to begin. I understand that they were frustrated, but if almost everyone else made it off the ship, they could have too. If things are running that late you would think you would have asked someone. Finally the last couple was found; they were very apologetic. Like us they were told that there would be an announcement, which there never was.
Our tour left a hour and 20 minutes late. Our drive through the city was maybe 5 minutes. We went straight to the Maritime Musuem where we should have had over an hour; we had 15 minutes. I really wished we would have had the time to visit it fully. As we walked along the pier, we saw one of the replica Maori craft being readied for sail. We next went inside the far end of the museum and saw its wonderful displays regarding the European immigration into New Zealand. This was followed by a spectacular room with boats from the last 100 years with full sails out. Included was an America’s cup winner. Racing speed boats lined the exterior corridor.
In the front exhibition halls were traditional vessels like the ones used by the Polynesian settlers who came to New Zealand 700-800 years ago from various islands in the South Pacific. I could have spent several hours in the museum although it actually wasn’t a stop on the tour that I had been very excited about when I read our tour description. The Maritime Museum is definitely worth dropping in on if your are in the city.
We were hustled across to the marina where a racing boat was waiting to take us out to the bay for a sail. The passengers from the other bus (which left closer to the scheduled time) were getting off the sailboats. They will get the full museum tour. They split our bus group into two boats. The ride out was interesting. Before passing under the marina gate, we passed the one remaining house of an America’s Cup crew which is being renovated to another purpose. Our crew seemed disappointed that they would no longer we housed in the same area.
We enjoyed a lovely sail out in the harbor. The day was very hot, but it was a comfortable ride in the cool breeze on the bay. There was a wonderful view of the city during our sail. Eventually we saw the same Maori craft we saw being readied out at sail in the bay. Everyone had been so frustrated by the wait and rush through the museum, that the timing of the sail was perfect. This was the point where people started to relax and enjoy themselves. It was over too soon.
Next we were back on the buses to go around the bay to Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium. Opened in 1985 as Kelly Tarlton’s Undersea World, this marine park is housed in old sewage storage tanks along the Auckland waterfront. The original concept, by diver and marine archeologist Kelly Tarlton, was to give children the opportunity to see marine life the way a diver would see it. (Natasha, as a scuba diver, loves this concept.)
Tarlton pioneered the curved acrylic sheets of the aquarium that allow visitors to pass under the fish tanks; you might look up to see a shark or a stingray above you. The concept has been adapted by many aquariums around the world.
With it being a holiday weekend, this attraction was packed. Sea Life offers various exhibits; the park has been renovated and expanded over the years. You walk first through an exhibition showing the living conditions of expeditions to Antarctica before arriving at the Penguin Exhibit where I could have stayed all day. There were two spieces on display, the Gentoo and the King penguins. 8 of the King penguins were sitting on eggs.
The Stingray Bay exhibit is an open-topped tank and you pass lots of interactive exhibits for children before coming to the original acrylic tank. This is followed by several smaller aquariums and sea horse world before you reach the gift shop and the exit. The park was rebranded Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium after being purchased in 2012 by Merlin Entertainments who utilizes the SEA LIFE Centres branding. The park is very family friendly; I enjoyed my visit.
Next we drove through Parnell on our way to the Winter Gardens, our last stop before the airport. Parnell is Auckland’s oldest suburb and went through a revitalization in the 1970s with the introduction of sidewalk cafe and boutique shopping.
The Winter Garden is in the Auckland Domain, a wonderful park with expansive grassy areas. Lots of locals were picnicking on this holiday weekend. We also saw a game of soccer being played where all the participants were inside bubble balls. The Auckland Domain is the city’s oldest park and it actually located in the suburb of Grafton. The high point is the War Memorial Museum and the park’s dock pond is the site of the city’s first piped water supply (1866). The “park has been developed around the cone of an extinct volcano.”
Our stop in the park was at the brick step entrance to the Winter Garden. You could go across the road for tea, but I decided to wait on the airport for food and used our short time there to take photographs. Up the stairs you come to a covered brick loggia; going through, you find yourself in the courtyard with a sunken pool with fountains.
The Winter Garden was opened in 1913 and features two barrel-vaulted Victorian style glass houses with rotating exhibits. The statuary was added in the 1920s and 30s. I had a wonderful time taking pictures both in and outside the houses. If we had had more time, it would have been a wonderful place to just sit and relax.
Next we were back on the bus for our trip to the airport. It was hands on once were got there with most of the check-in counters being self-service. Since we had several hours to kill and we hadn’t eaten in about 8 hours, we grabbed some fast food and filled out our departure forms before clearing security which again is self-service if you are a citizen of the several countries which are associated with their electronic visa program. You are photographed going through so they can confirm your identity.
Once we cleared security we did some shopping to use up our New Zealand dollars and then headed to the very nice lounge where all the drinks were free and you could eat a full meal. They offer free wifi and all types of seating, including long lounges that could serve as a bed. Some of our fellow excursion participants took advantage of the showers before their long plane ride home.
I downloaded pictures and checked emails in the lounge before departure. When Boris found some more local currency among his things, I kindly volunteered to spend it on the way to our gate. Our flight back is direct and just over 13 hours. Awesome really, when you consider how far away we are from our home in Houston, Texas. Plus, we get a day back; we’ll cross the date line and actually “get home before we leave”.
I enjoyed my day in Auckland, although rushed and starting with a frustrating delay. There are actually luggage storage facilities within an easy walking distance to the disembarkation terminal. If I had to do it again, I would probably have stored the bags and done the hop on/hop off bus around town, had lunch in the marina, and enjoyed the wonderful duty free shopping mall downtown before going to the airport.
The ship excursion did make it easy since our luggage traveled with us. Given that it was a holiday in town, the excursion also eliminated any concern about grabbing a taxi downtown and making it to the airport on time. We also by-passed the lines at the places we visited.
Loved our trip. We probably saw a lot more of New Zealand than Australia. If Australia was about the animals, then New Zealand was about the scenery, at least the way we saw the two countries. I think I’ll be back.–Natasha