And we’re out...
It had all started so well.
After our reunion with Phil's family, we settled down in Sarah's spare room and unpacked a few essentials. We'd shipped three tea chests of warm clothes from London in May as we knew we'd be arriving to an Auckland late winter that is traditionally cold, windy and wet. The shipment was supposed to take 6 to 12 weeks, which meant our boxes should have arrived at Sarah's bungalow (or 'unit, as it's known over here) by the time we left MIQ. We knew there had been delays at Auckland's port due to the pandemic but had read that they had cleared up, so we were hoping our coats, boots and books would arrive soon.
Sarah lives in Onehunga with her very cute dog Millie. It's a residential area with roads and roads of 20th century wooden villas and the beautiful Cornwall Park in the middle of it. Sarah's place is a 15-minute walk away from shops and a train station, which takes you into Britomart terminal.
Caption: Millie the Maltese
Britomart is Auckland's major travel hub and sits near the waterfront, at the end of Queen Street. It is the city's main shopping road and has definitely seen better days. The part of Queen Street nearest the ferry terminal is home to designer stores aimed at tourists disembarking from visiting cruise ships. With New Zealand's borders having been closed for over a year due to the pandemic, it all looks very faded. This is where Scandinavian retailer COS has opened one of its two Auckland stores. This makes me very happy.
To get an idea of the middle of Queen Street, think Oxford Circus – national chains, Starbucks and the odd faded department store, cut in two by traffic, where cars passing through are prioritised over the people shopping. Tottenham could appoint and sack three managers while you wait for the pedestrian crossings to change to green.
The far end as you walk away from the Harauki Gulf, on which Auckland sits, is more like Dalston Lane, with small shops and fast food takeaways with lots of young people hanging around in groups minding their own business. This means that other people are invisible to them, even when having to walk into oncoming traffic to get round them.
All along Queen Street are flat canopies, hanging just above head height, advertising the businesses below. This makes the street feel claustrophobic and a bit cheap. It's weeks later before I bother to look up and see there are some beautiful buildings up there.
But back to our first full day out of MIQ. Luckily, the weather isn't too bad, so Sarah drives us and Millie to Mission Bay for a breezy and bracing walk along the shore.
Mission Bay is a proper beach, with fine sand and lots of cafes and bars, although these are separated from the walkways by a very busy main road. Pretty much everywhere I've been in Auckland is separated by a main road. As the weeks progress and I get to visit places I've either passed through fleetingly on previous trips or read about before we came, I will discover that even if a place has 'village' in its title (Mount Eden Village, Ponsonby Village, Parnell Village), there is a bloody great highway running straight through the middle of it. Despite many people in the UK thinking New Zealand has great green credentials, the car is very definitely king, in Auckland, at least.
No wonder it's one of the few OECD countries in the world where emissions have been going up rather than down since the climate crisis was recognised. (The farting cows are the other reason. The car may be king but dairy rules the roost. And yes, I'm well aware I'm getting my metaphors mixed up again.)
From Mission Bay you get a great view of Rangitoto Island. At a mere 600 years old, it's the youngest of 50 dormant volcanoes dotted around New Zealand's biggest city. The day is clear and it looks magnificent as we stroll along with a gaggle of Aucklanders wrapped up against the sea breezes. It's freezing but we have ice cream from a cafe off the seafront that Sarah recommends, just because we can. Like all shops and hospitality venues, you are instructed to scan a QR code before entering. I haven't yet downloaded the COVID tracing app so can't do it, and they're fine with that. There hasn't been a COVID case in the community in Auckland for months and people have been getting sloppy using it.
Tomorrow I'm going shopping with Sarah and we'll be getting on a bus. It will be the first time I enter a shop without a mask for around 18 months and I'm not sure how I feel about it. We're also going to walk past my new office, where I start work in just over two weeks' time.
When we get home, I write a list of what I need. I left pretty much all my make-up and toiletries at home to save space in my suitcase and only brought enough underwear for a week, so will take the opportunity to stock up on a few essentials.
I then download the COVID app. The pandemic seems a long way away from Auckland right now, but better safe than sorry.