New Zealand: Entry 1

25 February 2003: Auckland, New Zealand

Subject: New Zealand

Well I have finally arrived in New Zealand - only two and a half months later than originally scheduled! I am going to have to get a move on if I'm going to get home before time and money run out, but it looks like there will be plenty to keep me occupied for the next few weeks in this part of the world.

It was good to enjoy a flight that was not in the middle of the night and crossing lots of time zones for a change. For some reason most of the pacific islands only have flights at three o'clock in the morning! I was on the one flight of the week from Rarotonga to Auckland that takes off during daylight and the captain was good enough to take us on a circuit of this island at 2000 feet. It's very picturesque and I regretted not having seem more of the interior, despite the humidity and mosquitoes.

First impressions of New Zealand - i.e. the inside of Auckland airport - were good. They have very strict (though apparently not entirely effective) regulations to keep out pests and diseases but the "enforcers" were friendly and reasonably efficient. Something I noticed straight away was a symptom of the recent privitisation frenzy here: everything that used to be a public body now has a "New Speak" privitised name. The people who do this really ought to read 1984 first. The first one was what used to be Customs Service, which is now called "Frontiers New Zealand". But this is nothing compared to what used to be the publicly-owned railway network. Prepare yourself for a ghastly pun. This is now called "TraiNZ".


I have arrived here in just in time for the finals of the Americas Cup (the big yachting race). Not surprisingly there was not much (i.e. no)coverage of this "Super-rich man's sport" in South America and I didn't know it was happening until I got to Rarotonga! But there is not much getting away from it here - even the airport information screens had been hacked about so that the score was displayed among all the flights. But it is not exactly a spectator sport. It is possible to take a boat trip to see the start but that's expensive. So if you see the highlights on the telly you know as much as me.

Auckland seems to be quite a pleasant place; it is quite like Vancouver in many ways, with some nice coastline nearby and a big harbour. The North American feel is in evidence in the city too with their style of road layout and, for example, writing "Way Give" in the road instead of "Give Way". But there are aspects that are like home too: they drive on the Left of course and the city is full of Stagecoach buses in the same livery as the British ones. Here is a view of the city centre from over the water in Devonport:

Today I went to the Maritime Museum, which has a nice collection of traditional boats from the polynesian islands and an annimated film about the first Maori settlers. Then there is the usual reconstruction of the interior of an 1850s immigrant ship and a 1950s one for comparison. (There is something similar in Liverpool's maritime museum; Auckland's version has a gentle rocking motion to induce authentic seasickness in all the visitors.) And moored outside are a few historic ships, including Rapaki, a huge steam-powered floating crane made redundant in the early 90s due to containerisation. It was made in Paisley in the 1920s, the crane mechanism itself by the same people who built the Forth Bridge - and it is about as rusty. Reminiscent of the Yavari in Lake Titicaca it had quite an eventful journey from Britain: despite not being what you would think of as an ocean-going vessel it came all the way via the Panama Canal under its own steam and nearly ran out of coal in the process! Also like the Yavari it had a dynamo made in the West Country; the Yavari's in Yeovil and Rapaki's in Bourton, near Gillingham in Dorset.

In a few days I will be heading South; the big tourist attractions in the North island are the geothermal things at Rotarua and the caves at Waitomo (I am finding these Maori names difficult: they all look the same! I think they have fewer consonants than we do). There are a couple of big volcanos too where there may be some good hiking. But I can't spend too long here if I want to get to the Southern Alps and the big mountains before the end of summer.

But first there is something I want to do near here: I want to visit the Rainbow Warrior memorial. (For the benefit of the very young or ignorant, the Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace boat that was bombed by French secret agents in 1985 while it was moored in Auckland harbour, killing one of the crew. I think it's a perfect example of how one nation's terrorists are another's heroes, and we could learn a lot from it.) Anyway I thought, for some reason, that the memorial was "just North of Auckland", but it turns out to be miles and miles away with no public transport, which seems odd for Greenpeace. (The boat itself was dumped on the seabed as an artificial reef and divers can visit it to see the fishes.) So I may be spending the next couple of days hitch-hiking there and back.

Well that's all for now. Do have a look at the underwater pictures I have just scanned in from the Cook Islands.