Auckland - The City of Sails
01.04.2008 - 01.06.2008
After enjoying eight straight weeks in Australia, the last of which was dampened by the daily dousing of a stubborn cyclone, we were ready to move on to our next country, New Zealand. We knew that the weather pattern would be different, that the Kiwi’s accents would be a tad flatter, and that the US dollar would be worth more here. After exchanging some dollars at the Brisbane Airport, we found out that two out of three ain’t bad.
Arriving in New Zealand seemed so easy compared to every other place we’ve landed. The kids have traversed the immigration-baggage claim-customs gauntlet enough to know what their roles are and how to proceed through the next station. Not all countries are the same, but similar enough to feel like we have “little helpers” instead of “little boat anchors” with us. This will only get better.
The short drive to Auckland by cab conjured up memories of Seattle and Vancouver, but not Australia. As we were shuttled toward the city, we navigated through streets and neighborhoods that had a haze of green on the brick facades telling us that rain isn’t a stranger in these parts. It’s a a funny thing about Auckland, but it didn’t feel like it had it’s “own” personality until you were down at the harbor, where it became immediately apparent why the place is called the city of sails. There were Americas cup sailing vessels parked in front of trendy restaurants that were bustling with Friday’s after-work business. We chose a nice “family casual” restaurant at the harbor side and had a good meal where you could cook your own meats at the table. Griffin was the only one to choose this option. He loved it all, but refused to eat the lamb. They’re too cute to eat. After walking back to our city center hotel, which was a Best Western and ironically the worst western hotel that we had stayed in, we read a bit, watched the asian news channel and talked about what we might do the next day. We actually had been to most of the places that were shown on the news that evening. The kids had an “aha” moment. They actually understood quite well what was going on with Taiwan, and commented on the clipped and near perfect diction of each asian reporter.
The kids wanted to visit the SkyTower that was literally just up the street. It seems that no postcard of Auckland is ever without the Sky Tower looming over the city. Standing over 1,000 feet, it dominates the skyline. We weren’t sure what the visit would entail, but we found out about our options that morning. We could eat in the restaurant at the top, climb the spire, take a daredevil walk around the outer ring of the observation deck, or jump off the observation deck attached to a cable. We opted to jump off. No, I’m not kidding. We all jumped off of the sky tower. After all, New Zealand is the adventure sports capital of the world, right?
The first stage of jumping off the top was going to the basement. What’s the old saying about only appreciating the top when you’ve hit rock bottom? We were suited up in our “flight” suits, weighed, harnessed, advised of our rights and responsibilities, and required to sign the inevitable waiver of liability. While we were going through all of this, videos streamed of folks merrily jumping off and gliding their way down to the “target”. We took some elevators to the observation deck and walked into a glass waiting area where we could watch the person before us leap to his umm… merry. Of course Dad got to go first. I walked into the staging area where I was asked to provide my weight to two different jump masters, and they both thoroughly checked me out and hooked me to a harness that would allow me to safely walk the gang plank to my inevitable plunge into the abyss. One of the jump dudes walked out with me and I was asked to look over the edge down to the target area which was about 650 feet below us. I looked over the edge with the grace and confidence of a pampered house cat that was about to be dropped into a backyard pool. A little less clingy perhaps, but not much. Looking over the edge was probably the freakiest part of the whole deal. They hooked me up to the cable that is supposed to suspend me in the air, unhooked me from the gang plank cable, and then sort of tugged on the cable and pulled me upward so I was just standing on my toes, balancing on the ledge of gang plank. Then one of the jump masters called, “On three, ok?” “One, Two, Three, Jump”. And so I made my move. I wouldn’t call it a jump really; more of a lean, or a teeter, and then the cable just dropped me about 30 feet, so I could dangle at table level for the folks in the restaurant below us, and so one of the jump masters could snap a photo of the oh-so serene look on my face. After the initial fear of standing on the ledge, it was surprisingly peaceful. Seriously. The choice was over, and now it was all about gravity. In any event it was out of my control, and it wasn’t a big deal. After the snap shot, I was dropped at about 80km per hour and in a matter of seconds I landed on the ground, pretty softly considering that just moments earlier, I was going 80kph. The kids followed me and Carol brought up the rear, making sure the kids got off the gang plank safely. They all had the same reaction I had. It was deathly frightening right before they jumped, but quite cool and even peaceful as they glided toward the ground. Unfortunately I won’t have any pictures of the jump until we’re in Christchurch about a month from now, but I promise to have those up, so you can see us dangle above the city.
That evening we celebrated our jump by going to the “Lord Nelson” restaurant directly next to our hotel, the Best Western New President Hotel. The food was fantastic, the Muscles were gigantic, and the Filet Mignon was the best I’ve had outside of Daniels Broiler in Seattle. If you’re in Auckland – you should check it out. It is a kitschy little place that’s 30 years old, but feels like 70, and has only a haggard front door marking the entrance of its cozy little brick and leather clad interior. You wouldn’t notice it at all, unless a local told you to check it out. It is awesome. Even the service was great, which is a rarity for both Australia and New Zealand as far as restaurants go.
The rest of our short time in Auckland was spent roaming around the city, going to the movies, taking a few busses around town and getting our bags ready for a month of motor home travel – which will be the next blog entry as we head toward the north end of the north of the island.