Part Five: The City of Sails
The City of Auckland sits on the harbour with countless boats and yachts dotted around the opening of the big blue. During December the harbour is a stunning place to walk around and appreciate the variety and richness of the City’s Port. I imagine that on a warm February afternoon, with the blue marina and cloud white sails totting from side to side, you would be forgiven for thinking you had risen to sky heights, being in such a peaceful setting.
Our friend tell us that the viaduct and surrounding area had undergone an extensive remodel in timely fashion for the Rugby World Cup 2011. I can testify, it was worth the work. The viaduct is alive with apartments, for those who have the finance, and boats that make Auckland ‘The City of Sails’. Bars and coffee bars accompany ‘The Cloud’ building used for RWC 2011 celebrations.
Rugby is an very important export for the New Zealand. Firstly, they are extremely talented at the game and the All Blacks give everything they have to take the title. It is an impressive feat to produce so many world class players from a population estimated to be half that of Greater London, UK. In my opinion, the Kiwi’s are genius.
Our journey had to include a stop off at the now world famous Eden Park. We were a month or so late for the RWC there was still an air of triumph lingering. There was a knowledge that I had witnessed historic events taking place right here, although my window into this theatre was through 32inches of LCD. But now we stood meters from the scene of so many hopes and dreams. It was with battlecries and tears that men became giants through crunching scrums and horizontal leaps over try lines. Victors were crowned Champions and a nation rose, as one, to applaud the fearless All Blacks.
Away from the City on the west coast, Muriwai sits peacefully on the edge of the Tasman sea. A small community that has a mostly hidden bay and it was a must see for us. We spent only half an hour in Muriwai but we will not soon forget it. The place is so peaceful, so relaxing. It truly is a place to dream big dreams. Standing on the cliff overlooking the sea, it is in places like Muriwai where you recall the saying: –
“what would I attempt, if I knew that I could not fail”
Muriwai is a thin slice of of shore that seems as if the waves reach inland and recede again in rhythm with the breathing of God himself. For He surely does reside there and if you have visited Muriwai, you know this to be true. You can see the beauty and hear your own thoughts loud and clear. A place where you can wonder for a while.
A stoned path leads away from this haven towards a viewpoint. The lookout platform shows thousands of pure white gannets sitting in formation. The colony of gannets are spaced as though a gym class teacher has said “go sit at least a wing span apart from each other”. There were no gymnastic demonstrations though, just the occasional flight when waves lept further up the rocks than the class mates had rehearsed. It acts as a great reminder of order and cooperation. So many beings existing together in one space.
There are some fantastic beaches lining the coast in and around Auckland and you only have to go a couple hours north to see a very unique landscape. Mangawhai Heads was one of my favourites and is so picturesque, it would seem as though this photo was actually a painting. Carefully constructed over hours of gentle brushstrokes.
If ever there were a stunning setting to explore Kiwi sand, it has to be Piha Beach. With it’s very own protector stationed on the beach, Lion Rock stands proud, as if on the lookout for swimmers, surfers and other beach lovers. To ascend the heights of Lion Rock, and decend in one piece is somewhat of an achievement. Maybe even one of those stories that you save for the grandchildren… “back in the day, I climbed to the summit of Lion Rock” and young audience has a sharp intack of breath and look of awe across their faces.
Piha offers an honest version of a beach. I have been to similar landscapes in the U.K. and they are riddled with souvenir huts, tacky shops and collectibles available on all manner of topics, but in New Zealand, I did not find this the case, the beach is the main attraction. Not an amusement arcade or a whole block of cafes or sweet shops. Piha is no exception. There is a small place where you can grab a bite to eat but it’s inland, not on the beach front and that is OK, it’s the way it should be.
When the tide is out at Piha it opens a treasure chest of hidden gems, sights that make up memories of a lifetime. There are starfish that hug the pools of water that have been left ashore and the challenge of swimming through the tunnel out to sea and back round to the beach – not exactly recommended, but a great insight into life inside a cliff.
On the southerly most point of Piha, reachable on foot, there is a small inlet. The water was crystal, maybe even a faint blue amongst the foaming crashes of wave upon wave. It was here where I sat for a few minutes and watched over and over again as the tide crashed on the rocks and was dragged back beyond the inlet. It was too good to keep to myself, so I grabbed my mobile phone and brought to life the visual memories of those moments. Although, the sounds, smells and atmosphere, I keep to myself.
After having done only a little travelling I find that our hosts comments to be true, visiting countries is great but it is the people that you meet in these places that provide the real and lasting flavour of a nation. My wife and I found that it is possible to discover the greatest of people in the most unlikeliest of places. Swanson, in a quiet suburb of Auckland City is a green and pleasant land, not too dissimilar from parts of the Lake District in the U.K. It houses families surrounded by nature and the Kiwi way… the relaxed way. And Swanson was our home for little over a week and home it was. Our welcome was like we had been friends since birth, an open home, a table of the best home cooked food. Swanson families are a testament to the hospitality and goodwill that you would imagine New Zealand being made up of. It is people who really make a nation great, and when you consider this, the small slice of land off the coast of Australia – New Zealand is amongst the Champions of Nations.