Monday, 12/20- 21:57- Rydges Hotel, Auckland
Today we took a long walk. 16K (about 10 mi) from the Pacific ocean starting at Viaduct Harbour, all the way to the Tasman Sea. Angela's been geeked about this city hike for weeks. I just like exploring by foot rather than by bus and it feels healthy to walk all day.
We set off at about 9:30, finding the start/end marker rather easily. This was nice. The route was marked clearly (for the most part) with yellow arrows pointing us in the correct direction. Only once or twice did we worry we had missed an arrow or did we get stuck at an arrowless corner and resort to checking the map. Good on ya, NZ people who planned the coast to coast walk!
From the harbour we walked through town and up a steep hill, through a mini-park with an overhanging tunnel of trees. Lots of parks on this hike, lots of monuments. Looking at the guide book there were also lots of historic buildings but we didn't really notice those. Not much for architecture.
Our yellow pointers pointed us next through the University of Auckland. A very pretty campus which we didn't get to see much of, just enough to know it looked very nice. More on NZ education in a bit.
Something the both of us noticed and remarked upon was that we don't have any idea which way to look when crossing the street. Cars are coming from the wrong side, we naturally look the wrong way first. Oy! So we just look both ways now, like we tell the kids.
Our path took us directly through a gorgeous, well-maintained park which was marked and set up for some sport or another, but not an American one. Luckily for me, there was an old man eating lunch on the nearby bleachers so I asked him. He said it was set up for cricket, explaining why it was called a “bowling green”. (Pitching in cricket is called bowling...I think. I still don't get this game at all.)
Next came what is probably my favorite part of the walk because I'm a huge dork and also because I can't believe how lucky we got. We passed the Auckland Grammar School and I wanted to check it out. They, like us are on Christmas holiday (and, unlike us, on their summer holiday...weird!), but there were no gates closing it off so we went in to wander through the portables on the outskirts hoping to catch a teacher to talk to. We did better. An older man, but not too old, middle-aged, was on his way out and stopped to ask if we needed help. We explained that we were teachers from America curious about his school. He lit up. Told us he is a deputy headmaster for AGS, which is a state-sponsored all-boys school for ages 15-19. There are about 2.5 thousand students at the school and, “feel free to look around,” it's a very nice school. We shook hands and went our separate ways, us into the campus and him to his school supplied housing right next to the school (!). I think he was keeping an eye on us because we were on our way out and he called us over to his gate asking if we'd looked around much. We told him only some and he immediately offered to give us a tour. Uh, hell yeah please.
He introduced himself as John and started answering all of our questions (“football” not “soccer” and anywhere from 10-35 students per class). After that he basically led us on a private tour of the campus. He could not have been prouder of his institution. Of its history or its academic and athletic standards and achievements. All over the walls were plaques commemorating student and alumni (“old boys”) accomplishments. A few times I felt the Ignorant American. “We have had 50 students go on to be All Blacks, and even All Blacks captians. Most recently _____ _____, who I'm sure you've heard of.”
...No, sorry. Wish I did though.
Many times John emphasized “this is an academic institution first.” The place backed up his claim with classrooms for every subject (Japanese, marketing, all arts, computers, etc) everywhere and all well stocked.
Talk about an all access tour! He let us in to their newest gym, then the one he used when he went to school there, then the one that used to be a gym when the school opened over 100 years ago but is now used as a study hall.
Then he took us in to the main hall, three levels where the entire school assembles each and every morning first thing and the headmaster leads them in the morning prayer, does announcements, and hands out awards and acknowledgements. According to deputy headmaster John the boys talk quietly until the bell rings at quarter past nine, then are silent. “Silent?” I asked. “Silent.” I am duly awed.
THEN, as if this weren't enough, we got to see the teacher's lounge and a classroom. (ed. note: I realize at this point, 5,000 words into a description of the school, it may occur to you that I'm playing some Andy Kaufman-esque joke on my readers by going into such extraordinary detail...but I'm not. I really dug this and needed to write a blow-by-blow account. I'm a nerd.) So cool. On every wall of the Main Hall (of everywhere really) there were pictures and plaques. Sports teams (each student plays at least one sport), academic leaders, old boys, headmasters, senior teachers. Evident and overwhelming school pride.
I think we got so lucky because we looked and sounded interested, are educators ourselves, and also because we gave him a chance to show off. It was practically a prepared tour, he almost never stopped talking except to let us ask a question. Pride. “How many of your students go on to university?” I asked. “99%. We are an academic institution,” came the immediate, straight-faced response. No bragging, stating a fact.
I must admit, some things I missed because I was looking around, listening to his accent, and trying to fit his terms with my American version of them. Kind of embarrassed to say that my knowledge of this type of school comes mainly out of reading Harry Potter novels. That's how I knew what forms are and why being a head-boy and a prefect is a valuable and sought-after position. Nerd.
Very, very cool. Can't explain what a treat it was.
We walked on through a few more parks, making the long climb to the top of Mt. Eden. Would have been an astounding view but it was really overcast so not so much. It was nice to know, as an LA-area child, that the overcast was actual clouds and not Los Angeles's very special man-made mist.
Trekked down, through a neighborhood, and back up to what might have been Angela's favorite part. But before we get there, I saw at least three trampolines in yards, including deputy headmaster John's, during our walk. This seems like a whole lot considering the sample size. Is Auckland the trampoline capitol of the world? Dear Google...
Anyway, we were both getting hungry by now. We hadn't eaten all day, planning on grabbing a bagel at a cafe as we passed. Not so much. But the map says there's a restaurant at the top of this next park. Yay! ...Booo. We are not spending NZ$60 on lunch. Keep going.
Which is when we met our first New Zealand sheep, freshly shorn and grazing all over the side of the mountain. Angela got a kick out of meeting the producers of her favorite material.
Down and out and we are nearing the end of our hike. We stopped at the Frolic Cafe for a good, healthy lunch and maybe 45 minutes later we reached our goal, a small lagoon beach next to the Tasman Sean. Hooray!
Hop on the right bus and back we go. I got to look stupid on the bus, handing the driver my fiver while he stares at me. Uh, what? “Where are you going so I know what to charge?” Ohhhh, I'm an idiot.
Oh! I forgot! I have super park jealous. We passed a child-sized zipline and some fancy tire (tyre) swing and a swing built for wheelchairs. In the states? All kinds of lawsuits waiting to happen. Here? Happy, healthy, and safe children using them all. And not dying.
We were back at the hotel at 17:54, making it a long day out. But great. Showers, a little relaxing, then back out for an astounding dinner at the O'Connell Street Bistro. NZ$150 and worth every penny. I had duck, she had lamb, and it was amazing. She had a 2008 Pinot Noir Churton from Malborough which the waitress recommended to compliment the lamb (her first NZ wine). NZ$16 a glass, and the waitress, a friendly Canadian on a work visa, switched wine glasses to the proper one (?) before she poured. Apparently it was very good. Thus endeth the local wine report.
To close today's extra-long entry I give you two observations:
No fatties. Where are the huge fat people? We've seen healthy, slightly heavy, I-used-to-be-fit-but-now-I'm-in-my-40s-and-50s-and-can't-keep-it-all-off people, but none of America's blobs. We really are a fat ass country.
No urban assault vehicles. Everyone everyone EVERYONE we saw owns a reasonably-sized car or a van. There were no obscene, eye-sore, gas hog, road monsters. And we spent many hours walking and traveling along, near, or on roads today. I saw one Hummer, and it looked like it was being used for mobile advertising.
So, no obese people, no obese autos. Makes me want to go knock on John's door. “Can we have a job?” (They have openings, and pay is crap here too. Can't be worse than HI though.)
The wife fell asleep at some point while I was scribbling this. We are both foot sore today, though I held up quite nicely in my VFF TrekSports. Her foot is slightly swollen and sore. Had her ice, hope pain is gone in the am.