I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Auckland, day 1

Damn timezones. I'm still not getting things right, and today managed to set my alarm for 0630 instead of 0830. Ah well. I did manage to fall asleep virtually the second my head hit the pillow, at least.

Saturday was my first full day in Auckland. At the airport I'd picked up 2 thick brochure/pamphlet/magazine things full of ads for stuff to do and see in the city and being near the harbour my first idea was to go get a boat. So I walked the 2 or so minutes down to the ferry terminal via the train station (not a lot going on in there) and had a mosey but held off buying a ticket because the weather was pretty grim. Instead I explored the area a bit more and ended up at the far end in an "i-Site" information office. I told the guy in there that I was confused, spoilt for choice by the massive array of ferry trips available, and he sorted me out with a couple of suggestions. I also asked him if the weather was going to get better and he said it wasn't until Sunday, so I grabbed a leaflet detailing walks in the city and buggered off.

That leaflet listed 3 walks each of which could be split into a series of smaller ones. The only walk going anywhere near where I was actually started at the harbour, and was the "Coast to Coast" 16km walk from here to, uh, the other coast. 16km seemed a bit long but I figured it might be worth a go and duly set off along the route.

Less than 500 yards later I gave up. Turns out that there's a free City Circuit bus which leaves the train station (sorry, the Britomart Transport Centre). Every 10 minutes or so this does a little tour of the inner city area, so I figured I'd get my bearings a bit, let it show me Auckland. We didn't set off immediately though, because there was a mad Japanese woman who had a map of Auckland with where she wanted to go marked on it, but couldn't seem to understand that the big thick red line showing the bus route, including the fact it didn't go where she wanted, was the bus route, which didn't go where she wanted. The driver tried for ages to help her understand, before getting out of his cab and standing on the street looking out for people who might be able to speak Japanese and help her.

No-one came along so we headed off, and the woman sat next to me. She asked if I spoke Japanese. Then she asked where we were on her map. I pointed out the stop to her. And the next one. She still didn't get it, and seemed terribly confused when we completed the circuit and I wanted to get off.

So with bearings now in place I first headed to the Sky Tower/SkyCity. This is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and has a bunch of stuff in it: casino, hotel, bars, revolving restaurant, etc. I saw none if it, instead just mooching around the lobby and a couple of bits on the first and second floors. Hmm, depending on what time it opens I might go and see if I can grab a quick observation before buggering off today actually.

From there I went for a walk around one of Auckland's parks, Albert Park. Not bad, and good views of the tower (actually, everywhere has good views of the tower, 'cos you can't miss it wherever you are) but the weather was really bastard changeable. It took about 5 minutes for the top of the tower to go from invisible and covered in cloud to backed by clear blue sky. Then it started to piss it down, about 2 minutes after I'd slapped on some sun cream. Pfft.

I thought about doing the coast to coast walk again, since it goes through Albert Park, but then came up with the better idea of going on a brewery tour. LIONZONE Originally I was going to go for the 1215 (IIRC) tour, but I was unlikely to make that so plumped for the 3pm tour instead. This gave me a load of time to stroll gently to, and explore, Auckland Domain. On the way there I had to cross Grafton Bridge, which as I am now well aware is shutting next weekend to let them make improvements to it. The reason I'm so aware is because not only are there signs all over the place, but the council was also employing people at both ends of the bridge to tell bridge users, hand out leaflets, and hold up big signs to wave at drivers.

The Domain is a pretty bloody big park, all in all. I wandered really slowly around it, taking shedloads of photos. Tacked around the edge of the open space near the entrance towards the duck ponds and restaurant. From there I headed to the museum which I thought about going in, but it looked bloody crowded if the car park and coach park was anything to go by. I can give or take museums anyway. I spent a lot of time in the Winter Gardens, especially the fernery, and then walked all the way around the museum, coming across some odd sculpture before a sharp descent. Down that bit, across the grass and up another hill, then down across the cricket pitch towards the pavilion, a right turn led me back to the entrance/exit.

Lots of time now having passed, I set off on the hunt for the brewery. Started off with a wrong turn but didn't waste too much time. The brewery was pretty easy to find, not least because it's fucking huge. The biggest problem was that the door was shut and had a sign on it saying the 3pm tour was fully booked already. Oh. There are no tours on Sunday either, so that's that. No brewery tour for me in Auckland.

Not to worry. It seemed to be in a pretty lively area and I'd spotted a pub on the way, so double backed and went past that to see what was going on. Turns out I was in the Newmarket area, full of shops and cinemas and a bowling alley and bars and a huge gym etc. Cool! I wandered about but didn't go in anywhere until getting back to the Cock & Bull, an English pub which won me over by (a) being English but 12,000 miles from England, and (b) having a "Cockney Burger" on the menu.

What a superb pub! So familiar it could have been a Fuller's place anywhere in London, it had a really decent array of beers and I gave the Dark Star a go -- which was bloody nice actually. So nice I had a second pint and ordered some food, a chicken lasagne. While waiting I figured I'd read the Weekend Herald that I'd bought (along with a Diet Coke) en route.

New Zealand news and politics is fantastic. As far as news is concerned, of sufficient importance to be on the front page was the story of Clint Brown, a TV presenter on a sports channel that got totally wankered, in a fight, beaten up after hassling a bloke's wife, and then a hangover so bad he can't remember a thing about it. Top quality news, I thought. Politics is even better though, the big news over here at the moment being something about the Prime Minister's husband being possibly gay, but also a member of a shady sect called the Exclusive Brethren. Private investigators are involved and it's all very clandestine. Good effort.

On the cover of the magazine was a Shortland Street actor. How stereotypical is that?

The letters page annoyed me. Some guy wrote in with something along the lines of
Am I the only person who finds it ironic that every time someone lambasts Islam for being a violent religion, thousands of Muslims across the world rise up and prove them right?
No response from the editor, but hopefully in the office their reaction was much like mine. No! Of course it's not only you, you fucking arrogant twat. You think you're the only person to come up with that? Really? You honestly think that you've come up with an enormously deep insight that you need to share with the rest of New Zealand because no-one else has the clarity of thought and big-picture vision to note that particular irony? Have a fucking word you fucking idiot. Jesus!

Ahem. Anyway. The chicken lasagne was alright but the beer was better. I needed to go to the loo and had a sudden attack of nerves about causing offence. See I didn't want to pack all my stuff up in my bag and take it with me, but nor did I want to ask someone to look over it in case they thought I was an arse for even suggesting that people steal unattended things in pubs over here. Then the perfect defence struck me: being an English pub, I could claim that I thought it was so English that my possessions and self were in constant danger, which is why I had to ask. But all this worrying took too long and in the end I just went for a piss leaving my stuff on the table.

Several signs in the pub said


and I'd been thinking, hmm, that sounds like a metal band line up. Took me an hour or so to realise it was actually a formula advertising some crazy ass karaoke night. Oh well.

The TV was showing rugby. The Rugby Channel, in fact. Everyone loves rugby here. There's a massive advertising hoarding going round 3 sides of a building near my hotel, all of which have a count down to the next rugby world cup in different measures. One is days, one is minutes, one is seconds. It's almost a year to go but they're all mad for it. There are 2 All Blacks stores on this block alone. Mental.

The last bit of noteworthy news from the paper was a snippet about Patrick Crowe. This man is the mastermind before the "Oprah Winfrey for President" campaign. Just one small problem: Oprah Winfrey doesn't want to run for president and has issued a cease and desist order to get him to fucking stop it. Nice one, PC.

That was the lot for the Cock and Bull. Wasn't sure what to do next but couldn't be bothered with the walk back to town -- before getting to the pub I'd been walking almost solidly from 0900 to 1330. So I headed to a "the Link" bus stop and hey presto, it was there immediately. NZD1.50 for any length trip up to the full circuit, this bus goes way further than the city circuit and I grabbed a seat at the front to see what else Auckland had to offer.

The Link goes along Karangahape Road, which is somehwere I'd wanted to look for/at because apparently Auckland's only dedicated metal bar is on it. I couldn't spot it, but the area did look cool, a bit seedy with a bit of a Camden Town feel about it. At the far end we stopped, not at a bus stop, but by a public loo so the driver could nip out for a piss, heh. Thankfully we didn't get hijacked.

Quite a cool bus this The Link. It announces each stop in advance even if no-one has rung the bell, not just the stop but why you might want to get off there. "Alight here for shops, some park, etc" type stuff. There's also a TV screen which alternated between adverts and a map of Auckland showing where the bus currently is. Neat.

Ponsonby was next, another area full of shops and bars. Next time I come to Auckland (assuming there is one) it seems I have quite a bit more exploration to do. As it is though I just treated it as a sightseeing tour and stayed on all the way back into the centre of town, got off and came back to the hotel.

In the evening I took a wander down to Viaduct Quay, a quayside (duh) area full of bars and restaurants. Started off in Hagan's, an Irish pub in which I had the worst pint of Guinness I've ever tasted. I know I'm a long way from Ireland, but fucking hell that pint was horrible. Dubai does it so much better. Couldn't face attempting an Old Speckled Hen in there so I went outside, phoned me old man, and went to a different bar, Imperial. Perfect timing, timezones for the win!, the Ryder Cup was on. And Europe were doing fucking awesome too. Bought a pint of Heineken and settled in front of a TV. The Heineken tasted distinctly of banana. Odd. It was served in one of the heaviest pint glasses I've ever had too. The Ryder Cup kept making me double take, as the partnership of "Clarke and Westwood" made me think of some Radio 1 golf tournament featuring Dave Clarke and Tim Westwood. Gnargh.

Money came out of my pocket as I attempted to navigate my way through the local currency and break with tradition: I intended to buy my next drink with coins. Foreign coins always confuse me but New Zealand coins are terrible, because the 20 cent piece comes in two different sizes. For fucks sake. In the USA I've always thought having dollars as paper was a load of shit but perhaps I need to reevaluate that position. Anyway, just as I'd figured it out they turned the TV over. No more Ryder Cup, no more patronage by me! I buggered off, couldn't be bothered with any other bars so went to the shop to get a diet coke. Ended up buying a diet coke with raspberry, something about which I was initially massively exuberant until I realised it might end up tasting horrible (it doesn't; it doesn't really taste of much, neither the raspberry or DC taste come through very strongly. Shame you can't get the cherry version down here). The best bit of buying it was the guy in the shop getting really confused by the 20c coins of two sizes I gave him. Hah! Take that, NZ currency. Sort it the fuck out, it confuses everyone!

Right. That's Saturday done. Time to go have breakfast, see if I can go up the Sky Tower, and then head to the airport.

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