2011 February 6 – Day 32 – Auckland, New Zealand (Day 1)

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand; although Wellington is the capital.  Known as the “City of Sails,” Auckland was the capital until 1865 when Wellington was chosen because of its more central geographic location.  There are more than 70,000 sailing craft and private powerboats in the greater Auckland region.  This works out to one boat for every four households!

Before the arrival of European explorers the indigenous Māori people and the fruit bat were the only mammals on the islands. The North Island is home to three-quarters of New Zealand’s population with over 3.5 million inhabitants.  North Island is much more rugged than South Island due to its volcanic past.  The Auckland area is built on a cluster of extinct volcanoes and the rich soil creates a very green fertile landscape.

We were in Auckland for two days before heading south along the eastern coast to Tauranga, Napier and Wellington, which is on the coast of the Cook Strait that separates North and South islands.  We  then continued southward on the eastern side of South Island and stopped at Christchurch (docked at Lyttelton), Dunedin (docked at Port Chalmers), and Oban on small Stewart Island off the southern tip of South Island.  Our first day of rest was slow cruising in Milford Sound on the west side of South Island as we sailed in Fjordland National Park.  Our 8 consecutive New Zealand ports-of-call were the most we have ever done on a cruise. The bus driver took us through some high-end residential areas of Auckland on our way to one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions, Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World. Personally, I would rather live in this one.  Having a fancy huge house has never appealed to me.  Even with a housekeeper I am much too lazy for that amount of upkeep and maintenance, not to mention the stuff that would collect in the unused space.

I looked Kelly Tarlton up online and learned this about the famous New Zealander:  “Kelly Tarlton was renowned for diving, marine archaeology, conservation and the building of Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium out of unused sewage tanks. He worked throughout his career to design the innovative marine Aquarium that is four times larger than any other in the world. At 47 years old (in 1985), and after working 18-hour days to realize his vision, he died only 7 weeks after the Aquarium’s opening.”

Before building the aquarium “Kelly formed a commercial diving company and spent considerable time exploring New Zealand’s most famous shipwrecks including sailing ship “Boyd” at Whangaroa Harbour and steamship “Tasmania” off Mahia Peninsula. This led Kelly to establish the Museum of Shipwrecks in the Bay of Islands in the 1970s.”

There is a life-size re-creation of Capatain Robert Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut that was built on the shores of McMurdo Sound.  New Zealand has had a close relationship with the Antarctic for over 100 years and the end of South Island is used by explorers and scientists as the access point to the southern continent.  NZ is 4,989 km (3,100 miles from Antarctica, whereas the southern tip of Chile is 5,727 km (3,559 miles) away. The best two things at the Antarctic Encounter are the 100′ long moving walkway under the harbour so you get a diver’s view of the sharks, fish and rays. And the penguin colony.  They are so funny to watch as they waddle around.

We were driven along the coast back into town to the Sky Tower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere at 1,072 feet.  From the top there is 360° panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.  On a really clear day it is possible to see the eastern edge of the Great Barrier Reef 60 miles away. The floor is glass.

For adrenaline junkies there are two options available at the SkyTower.  You can walk around the top rim 192 meters above the ground with no hand rails or guard rails.  Or, you can throw yourself off the tower and drop 192 meters at 85 mph on New Zealand’s highest and only base jump by wire.  While we were looking at the view a young lady dropped in front of us and suspended for a few seconds before plummeting to the ground.  Not for the faint of heart! 

When our tour was over we had lunch on the ship then walked a couple of miles to Albert Park.

The park has had several lives in the past: a fortification against Maori attack, a public garden in the mid-19th century, a public air-raid shelter during WWII and now it is a landscaped 15-acre public garden, home to Auckland University and the New Art Gallery. It was a very beautiful, restful place to spend some time.

The internet on the ship had been horrible the entire trip so I spent some time in the afternoon and evening at an internet cafe to get some of my photos uploaded for folks at home to see.

The night time city lights from the ship added a nice touch to the day.

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