Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Auckland, or The City of Sails
Auckland, known as the City of Sails because there are more sailboats per capita here than anywhere else in the world, is a different New Zealand.
It is the largest city in the country, the largest Pacifica city in the world, and is clearly a place on the go, the commercial engine of New Zealand.
It's got a whole separate vibe, the bustle of a metropolis. And, with 1.4 million people - almost a third of New Zealand's population - that's precisely what it is.
I'm not saying Wellington is staid. Far from it, it's a wonderful place. It just feels a lot more established. Auckland, too, has its share of lovely old Victorian buildings, but they are interspersed with modern high rises. It is vibrant and growing and very multi-cultural. When they say it is the world's largest Pacifica city, they mean that almost 200,000 people of Pacific Island descent live here. More than 135,000 Maori live here as well. The Asian population has increased dramatically due to immigration liberalization and now stands at almost a quarter of a million.
Auckland's location, lying between the Hauraki Gulf of the Pacific Ocean and Manukau Harbor and couched by the Hunua Ranges and Waitakere Ranges, is simply spectacular. The main city lies on an isthmus and is one of a few cities to have harbors on two separate bodies of water. Its climate is considerably warmer than much of the rest of New Zealand. So you get the whole sailing thing. In fact, one in three Aucklanders are said to own a boat of some description. It's a sweet spot.
The Viaduct area around the harbor is full of modern restaurants and flashy drinking spots and is gearing up, like the rest of New Zealand, for the arrival of the Rugby World Cup in September. At the heart of those plans is The Cloud. It will be the city's party headquarters. It's still under construction. And let me tell you, on a day like today, you can see where it get's its name. It was almost impossible, for a hack such as myself, to get a shot that suitably distinguished this, how shall we say ... rather unusual structure from the cumulonimbus very much in evidence.
Having witnessed the Wellington 7s tournament, I can only imagine that The Cloud's waterfront location is going to be an invitation for drunken Rugby fans to hurl themselves into the water. I'm not quite sure how they'll get themselves back out.
They could be swimming to Oz, for all I know. No matter, with Auckland playing host to some of the biggest games in the cup, including the final, there will be plenty more to join them.
About 20,000 Maori made their home on the isthmus, then called Tāmaki Makaurau, before the European settlers bought up large swaths of the land, beginning in 1832. The place was renamed after George Eden, Earl of Auckland. It became the capital of New Zealand in 1841, taking the honor from Russell until itself being stripped of the mantle by Wellington, which was much more centrally located, in 1865.
Sky Tower, seen at top, is the most visible landmark in Auckland, standing at 1,076 feet. And yes, this being New Zealand, you can jump off it. With ropes attached, of course.
Auckland, fittingly, hosted the America's Cup in 2000 and 2003. They retained the cup in 2000 and then, rather infamously, lost it to Switzerland, that renowned sea-faring nation, as Billy Connolly put it. To add insult to injurty landlocked Switzerland then had to host the cup in Valencia.
And now for something only tangetially related. It is delightful when good things happen while you're traveling. Sadly, that's a rare occurence any more. This morning at the airport I was asked, almost apologetically, if I would mind getting on an earlier flight. (Oh, OK, but only because you asked nicely.) Then I went to my hotel to see if I could leave my bag at the reception. It was not yet 11 a.m. Do you want to go ahead and check in? I was asked. Long gone are the days when that's normal. So there I was, early and in a good mood and ready to do some work.
Perhaps this is why I am so favorably disposed to Auckland this time. The last time I was here was after being evacuated from Christchurch following the Feb. 22 earthquake. Didn't like it too much then.