Monday, January 31, 2011

Auckland, Day Two


Our itinerary told us that today we were “at leisure in Auckland,” so we followed that directive. The highlight of the day was meeting with EAP’s former student Claire, now a midwife in private practice in Auckland. She picked us up at the hotel mid-morning and whisked us off to One Tree Hill. Like many hills in Auckland, this was a long-dead volcanic cone that pokes up dramatically from the landscape. From time immemorial, it was topped with one lone tree and had significance to the Maori community. Sadly, the tree was toppled by vandals several years ago, but the monolith atop the hill remains.

Cornwall Park surrounds the hill, and on this Sunday afternoon the park was filled with people picnicking among the enormous trees and pastures filled with sheep or cattle. I was strongly reminded of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, another volcanic cone in a big city. The views from the top show Auckland set among two harbours, ringed by other volcanic cones and surrounded on all sides by water. The City of Sails, indeed.

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Claire took us to the birthing center where she works, and there was much talk between the two midwives about birthing practices in the two countries, how they are credentialed and what they do about breech babies and other challenges. (“I know that that is, ” I said brightly when asked, “the baby is upside down and you don’t want that to happen. ” They agreed.)

We wound through town past Mission Bay and had lunch in a beach-front coffee
shop/restaurant that served free-range eggs and prawn salad. Our view was of the
sailboats on the bay, with a peninsula (or island?) behind it. People were out strolling, having picnics, walking dogs, and having brunch, a very leisurely and civilized way to live. Claire told us that people in Auckland do tend to go outside and do things on the
weekends, and with country and weather like this, I can see why.

Claire dropped us off at the place I was obsessed with visiting. Kelly Tarleton was a noted NZ explorer who had a vision 25 years ago of re- creating his explorations for the world to see. His Antarctic World, shark tank and penguin environment make up the World, a popular destination for families. A bit hokey, yes, but I loved the penguins.

The shark tank, designed in a column that bridged the walkway below, included sand tiger sharks but lots of other fish and rays as well. A highlight was watching as a scuba diver fed the fish, resulting in what else but a feeding frenzy. Of course, a fish’s expression never changes, but they certainly darted towards his outstretched hands with vigor.

Here, a shark and a beautiful crab.

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The best part was boarding a little red Arctic Cat that traversed the penguin environment.
Two kinds of penguins are kept here in highly planned environments that include various kinds of weather, diverse kinds of food, and unexpected playthings (soccer balls) to keep the penguins interested.

The trip through the penguin environment partakes of the car wash. Your Arctic Cat
glides or jerks along the way your car does in the brushless wash, complete with the
rubber strips that cover your windshield. But when your car breaks through them, you
see not the nozzles of the car wash but the snow, ice and frigid water the penguins live in. So yes, it was hokey, but I loved it.
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