Auckland Revisited

Familiarity – and a sense of dislocation

We flew to Auckland on Tuesday afternoon. We were only just in time for check-in, and by the time we reached security, the first boarding announcement was being made. We were seated together at the back of the plane.

This was an Airbus 320D. It seemed to us that the plane had been stretched, length ways, and the seating was very tight indeed. we are not big people! The safety video featured beautiful people and an amazingly athletic young man.

When we got to Auckland we picked up our rental car, a Hyundai Sonata, and drove to check in to our motel – one of many on Great South Road in Epsom, all of them busy. We were across the road from Dilworth School. The weather there was much like Wellington: a cold wind, flashes of sunshine, and showers of rain – probably more frequent than in Wellington. The school’s church featured an enormously steep roof, reminiscent of a 1960’s style of building.

Our motel was very small – there was a bedroom and bathroom, with a small table and two chairs but no easy chairs, and no sink or microwave. There was a small fridge, a hot water jug and toaster, and minimal crockery.

The bathroom, also tiny, held a shower over a nice bath, and a shelf and a duchess unit – surprisingly, there was room to put our sponge bags. There was no luggage rack, but there were removable hangers in the wardrobe, and good bedside lights, and bedside units with drawers. There was an overwhelming smell of disinfectant – to kill bed bugs, I wondered?

What it did have going for it was a comfortable bed, a heat pump, ample hot water, and a television set with all channels, including Soho. So, barring the smell, and the difficulty in washing mugs and glasses, we were warm and comfortable. Despite the heat pump, there was a lot of condensation each morning we were there. We were thankful for windows that opened, and sunshine most mornings. The traffic noise wasn’t at all bad. There was also a power converter – a boon for overseas travelers.

Auckland is so different from Wellington. It has places of great grace and beauty – St Matthew’s in the City, the Domain, the Art Gallery, the Museum, the Winter-garden, the Harbour Bridge, the Civic Theatre, and many attractive parks, hills and beaches; how then to explain the brash newness and ugliness and the “fly by night” feel of so many of its buildings? It seems to me that the Sky Tower demonstrates this quality of the city well – it’s grandiose but not quite tall enough for its large spire.

The first night I wanted to go to an Italian restaurant we had previously been to and enjoyed, but it was no longer to be found in Greenlane. Instead, we went to another one in Manakau Road. It looked dark and we wondered if it was open, but it was very busy. Nevertheless, we were welcomed in by a very nice Maori woman. We enjoyed the pesto bread and our meals there. It seemed to be run by Maori and Chinese. and, sadly, there was no Italian opera playing, so one could hear others’ conversations, even if one didn’t want to.

Later that evening, back at the motel we watched Chernobyl on Soho, and reread the section of the book Midnight in Chernobyl to compare notes. A dramatisation is always different from a book, but both were very well done. I thought again how nuclear was our own climate change crisis, when many of us were aware of the enormous dangers that nuclear energy posed, while some tried to spin it as a “clean” source of energy. It also seems to me that there are significant differences between creating nuclear weapons (as a one-off, albeit potentially very destructive), and using nuclear energy on a permanent basis as a source of power. Now that climate change threatens disruption to sites of nuclear power plants with flooding and sea-level rise, the danger seems even greater. The accident at Chernobyl reminds us of the unpredictable nature of the many risks involved, as well as the long-term nature of any nuclear contamination. It really messes up human beings as well as the environment for a very long time, way beyond our own and our descendants’ lifetimes.

The next day we visited our friends nearby. We had a nice morning-tea with them, and arranged to return that evening.

We had lunch at Hello Friends + Allies, a good choice. JD had a salad (an Asian Coleslaw) and I had dumplings. We had been there with our son 18 months earlier. While we were there, JD had a busy spell on his phone.

We spent the evening with our friends, and then met them again for morning tea the next day. We both had a good chance to talk to them, both together and separately. It was wonderful to “catch up” and see them again, more than once. With old friends, you just carry on from last time – our relationship is a kind of continuum. Long may it continue. There are many years of shared experiences – raising children, welcoming grandchildren, wonderful trips to Australia and abroad, and now, confronting different challenges – health, relationships, spirituality, and finding new ways of living.

That afternoon, we went to Takapuna. We discovered there was a new tunnel on the motorway on the way to the Harbour Bridge. We visited the BDO building – another monstrosity, in my view! But everyone was very helpful.

Afterwards I wanted to check out the shops – I had remembered the shops at Takapuna as being quite attractive, including a very nice bookshop. But either they had changed, or I was looking in the wrong place. There were lots of cafes and ethnic eateries, but few shops, and no clothing or craft shops. I did see a beautiful Wallace Cotton store, light, bright and sunny, next to a rather sad Paper Plus store, but I was not even tempted to buy anything. JD remarked later that probably most people bought stuff online nowadays.

I sat outside reading the Herald while waiting for JD, but it was quite cold and windy (after being sunny earlier on), so I had a kiddie-sized Movenpick cappuccino ice cream to enable me to sit down inside, while still attempting the Code Cracker.

We drove back to Epsom. In Auckland, sometimes the traffic moves quite fast, at other times it seems grid-locked, when you wouldn’t expect it to be – not peak hours, or school-closing hours.

That evening we went to another restaurant in the Greenlane area. We ordered two entrees and a bread platter – a wise choice. This restaurant didn’t look open, either! It was quite cold there, but interesting – they had a set of Arthur Mee’s Encyclopedia.

The next morning we decided there wasn’t really time to go into the city to the Art Gallery, but instead we got to the Airport really quickly – a surprise. Still, it’s good to have plenty of time and not be in a rush. We flew back on another Airbus 320, just as tight inside, but this time with a personal entertainment system. Sadly, you had to bring your own headphones to use it. Mine were backed away in my stowed luggage.

What a strange place Auckland is – a collection of cities, really. It was disconcerting to find so many of the places we remembered no longer there, in spite of recognition and familiarity with others. Among many visits to Auckland, I remembered in particular the time I walked from Auckland University to our house in Greenlane, and the night I spent there watching Princess Diana’s funeral on television. The traffic noise, and the occasion, made sleeping difficult. That afternoon the National Youth Choir had sung Britten’s War Requiem at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell. It seemed strangely appropriate.

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