So, you know what I was saying before about how kind Ted and Barbara (T&B) had been in putting us up and feeding us? Well, I didn't mention the car ...
We arrived in Auckland not having arranged any transport yet, be that a country-wide bus pass or rental car/camper van. But today we were zipping around the town in a little Japanese car that T&B were happy for us to use. After driving a clunky old VW Kombi with crunchy gears around for the last few months, this little automatic car was like a dream come true. Power steering! Wow, I'd almost forgotten what it was like to live in the industrialised world, heh!
Given our freedom of movement, we avoided buses and ferries and drove across from Bucklands Beach straight past the city centre and beyond to the north shore, then back down towards a place called Devonport.
Devonport was one of the earliest European settlements in NZ and still has a Victorian look and feel to it. Around the centre, the gardens are immaculately kept and the views back on to the city skyline are second to none. If we thought the view from sea-level (at Devonport Wharf) was good, it was nothing compared to the views from nearby Mt Victoria and North Head.
Both Mt Victoria and North Head are hills (or mounts ... I'm not sure when a hill becomes a mount, and a mount becomes a mountain) that are covered with grass but underneath they are actually dormant volcanos. In fact, much of Auckland is like this - there are some 40 or so of these pimples across Auckland, and we could see many of these from the top of Victoria and North Head.
On the top of North Head there are a couple of circular concreted holes, which I'm led to believe used to house guns. Devonport has a long naval connection and North Head used to play a role in Auckland's defence, and there are also supposed to be tunnels underneath the surface, but I was not able to verify this for myself. Now, though, it's just a big green hill overlooking the bay for tourists to drive up.
Yet Another Aquarium
You'd think that seeing one aquarium a year - or even every few years - would be enough, wouldn't you? This afternoon we visited our third in just under 4 months of traveling, a place called Kelly Tarlton's. The aquarium is named after its founder, a New Zealander who was a renowned diver and conservationist. Tarlton came up with the idea of using some old stormwater holding tanks to create an aquarium that you can walk through and underneath. Actually, you needn't walk, as the tunnels have moving footpaths. If this all sounds familiar, that's because it's now the model for most of the big aquariums around the world, but this was the first. The irony of it - or rather the sad part of the story - is that Kelly Tarlton died just one week before his dream aquarium opened to the public.
However, we didn't really go there for the fish or sharks, we were there for the penguins! There is an antarctic feature there that includes a recreation of Scott's base (we walked straight through, past the hordes of schoolchildren who were on some kind of fact-finding assignment) and a ride in a snowcat through the freezing penguin enclosure. We went through the penguin part twice, watching them waddle around and swimming in groups, occasionally launching themselves out of the water just for fun.
We were quite lucky with the aquarium part too, as we were there at the right hour for the shark feeding (which only happens twice a week). A diver made sure that the sharks didn't resort to instinctive hunting behaviour by offering easy food - headless herrings - to the sharks, eagle rays and any other fish that wanted a feed. The funniest thing was watching the eagle rays trying to swallow the fish. The diver would place the fish in front of the ray, underneath their 'nose' (if that's what they have) and the ray would then try to catch the fish. This is easier said than done, though when you have eyes on the top of your body and a mouth underneath your body, and you can't see what you are eating at all. Sometimes these rays struggled, and manouevring the fish into the mouth was not easy without a pair of hands. Essentially, once it was in the immediate area of the mouth, the rays looked like they simply hoovered it down!
Our day was not quite done yet. Before heading back to base, we stopped at a place called Mt Eden. Much like those we'd seen this morning, Mt Eden offers great views of the city, but is much higher and in the centre is a very obvious crater that points to an eruption many many years ago. We were in no immediate danger here! It was a peculiar sight, to be staring into a grassy volcano crater and there, just a couple of miles away, in clear view over the volcano's caldera, was the city centre. This is New Zealand for you, folks!