Friday, September 11, 2015

Auckland - City of Volcanoes (Days 2-3)

Actually, Auckland really means "City of many lovers" in Maori, but this better summed up our experience of this great city.

After our long flight, we arrived at the Auckland airport at around 7am, and took the Airport Bus into the city.  We took the short walk to our backpacker's hostel (Haka Lodge) to leave our bags, and went for a walk to look for Mt Eden, one of the now-dormant volcanoes in the area.

It was a perfect first taste of New Zealand.  The hills were a vibrant green, and the views of the city at the top were crystal clear.  The crater at the top was fascinating.  We walked along the entire rim.  Photos don't really do it justice, but here are some anyway:

I'm convinced that this particular shade of green is unique to New Zealand.  Nowhere have I ever seen anything quite this exact shade.  Something so simple - it's just grass, after all - gives a profound sense of being somewhere Else.

The next day, after some much needed rest to re-set our body clocks to the new time zone, we set out bright and early to walk down to the ferry docks and catch one of the three daily ferries to Rangitoto Island.  Rangitoto is Auckland's youngest volcano, dating back a mere 600 years.  We were reminded that this was a remote island with no facilities, and to make sure we had plenty of food and water (they even have a cafe aboard the very short ferry ride, for any last minute needs).

The island itself is a picture-perfect volcano, long, dark, and symetrically cone-shaped, rising up ominously out of the water.  When the ferry pulled up closer to this strange and deserted island of black lava shores, unfamiliar shrubs and trees, and drizzly mist, I couldn't help but feel as if I were somewhere completely unlike anywhere I had ever been.  As unoriginal as it may sound, my first thought was that I felt like I was being dropped off in the fictional world of Lord of the Rings.  The Otherness was all-consuming.

This was not any part of Earth that I knew.  When I'm in Ontario, I take the familiarity of the greenery for granted.  My ears are so attuned to the particular way the wind sounds through the trees; my eyes accustomed to the rocky shores.  Here, the land moved and breathed in ways completely unfamiliar to me.  I was enthralled.

Neither I nor J minded the intermittent drizzle and rain.  We forged ahead on the moderately challenging 1 hour hike up to the top of the volcano.

Any attempt to put the lived experience of that hike into words will necessarily fall short.  How do I highlight for you, dear reader, the strangeness of hiking on ground made entirely of lava rock?  How can I make you feel the exhaustion of constantly going uphill, while cold rain drizzles around you, but the prize of finally reaching that top ever driving you forward?  How to impart the sudden surprise of a green bird on your path, that disappears as quickly as it came?  Or the incredible feeling of gingerly walking through pitch-black lava caves using a dim flashlight?

Words and photographs attempt to capture some of this magic, and I share them here with the hopes of inspiring others to come to this, or any other foreign place.  I still don't know why I'm here, but were it not for words and photos like these from other people, I would not be here at all, so they must impart something, even if only a glimpse.

The crater at the top of Rangitoto is enormous, especially in comparison to Mt Eden's.  There was no way to fit it all into a photo.  It's kind of surreal, to be standing and looking down at a hole that once spewed out everything the island was made of.

We experienced other aspects of Auckland too - we walked around and found a fascinating old cemetery from the 1800's in the heart of the city, with bridges and roads just build in and around it.  Incredibly strange to see gravestones directly underneath a bridge that is a main road!  We walked through the University area, business district, and essentially Auckland's version of Toronto's "Village" area.  It was very interesting to see how multicultural Auckland is - you can get just about any kind of cultural food to eat.  It made us feel at home!  For dinner that night we ended up at The Food Truck Garage, a restaurant sort of hidden below street level that serves healthy takes on fast food.  My beef and beetroot hamburger with awesome sauce was quite delicious, and so was J's burrito bowl that included pulled pork, celeriac and pumpkin seed slaw, black bean dip, carrots, chipotle yogurt and tomatillo dressing.

After all that walking over the past two days (Auckland itself is not level in the slightest - every road is either going uphill or downhill), we took the bus back to our hostel (for only $1!), and were impressed by the electronic live map that showed you where you were, as well as multiple other high-tech and universally-accessible features that once again puts Toronto's public transportation system to shame (not that it needed yet another example of how everyone can do transit better than us!)

It's hard to do a city justice in just two days, but I feel as if I got a taste of some of the most intriguing parts.  A city of volcanoes necessarily has a character about it that no other city can quite match.  I don't think I'll easily forget this first taste of New Zealand, especially the feeling of that first approach of the ferry to the foreign landscape of Rangitoto.

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