The sun streamed in through the window, it was another hot day in Auckland. I flopped down onto the sofa and propped my feet up on the coffee table, flicking on the telly. The news was mentioning something about a child being born in one of the hospitals, bringing the population of Auckland City up to one million five hundred thousand. I let my eyes close as I listened, they’d been on about this since this morning, it must be a slow news day. I opened my eyes again suddenly, as the room trembled to the latest of a series of minor earthquakes that had rocked the city in recent days. Nothing to worry about, I thought, chuckling as the woman reading the news caught the shock seconds later. At least you can tell it was live, that way. I hauled myself to the kitchen and retrieved a chilled beer from the fridge, then slumped back into my previous position. Something was different. It took me a second to work it out, out the window, there was a low cloud over Waitemata Harbour that hadn’t been there seconds earlier. The ground shook again, a little more violently this time. I got up and stared out of the window at the harbour, noticing the boats were moving quicker than their usual sedate pace, the harbour police will have words to say when those sailors dock. The cloud was growing over the water, that was odd, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. In the distance; across the bay, a tendril of smoke curled out of the top of Rangitoto, the dormant volcano that made up the island that side of the bay before the sea. The change in tone of the news readers voice brought my attention back to the television, there was breaking news. Someone was streaming live footage of the harbour, of the sea boiling in the bay. I turned back to the window; more smoke – black this time – was billowing out of the top of Rangitoto. The news people had noticed too, a camera had zoomed in to watch the peak, filming a small number of sparks seen shooting out the top. Another violent tremor knocked the power out, shutting off the telly and the light of the tropical fish tank. I saw it happen a fraction of a second before I felt it, even at this distance. The whole of the top of the volcano exploded, and I was knocked to the ground as the shock wave hit…
The last time I was in Auckland I paid scant attention to the things around me. My pressing concern was selling my van, then organising money and transport to continue my travels. I had heard from other people I had met that they had tried to spend as little time in Auckland as possible. Even the driver of the Kiwi Experience Bus, the very first thing she mentioned to us when she had navigated onto the motorway leaving the city, was that this was the best thing about it. The road leaving the city was the best thing in the city? Surely not? We weren’t in Bradford after all. Since this was the last stop for me on the Kiwi bus, I having completed my tour with them, I was determined to give Auckland a second chance. I would be looking at the city as a typical tourist would, relaxed and having all the time in the world to take in the surroundings. With my camera charged, sunglasses on and hat on head, I stepped off the train into the main station terminal, the Brittomart. So far, nothing to be disappointed about. The shining metal domes in the ceiling and coloured lighting behind more chromed wall panels reminded me of a picture I had once seen of a vision of the future. It was a nineteen fifties vision of the future, but I still liked it. Out onto the street, I found myself amongst the throngs of people going about their day to day activities. This place instantly felt like a busy metropolitan city with street cafes, tall gleaming buildings with the names of banks on them and street buskers here and there. I began to just wander, have a look around. With the commercial harbour (this part occupied with the business of cargo and haulage) directly behind you and the Sky Tower almost always visible above the surrounding buildings, (at 1076ft, or 328m high it was hard to miss) you could keep your bearings easily enough. I soon found myself on Queen Street, what I had been told was one of the main roads going through the city. It was certainly this road that all of the hostels had advertised themselves as either on or nearby, and I soon saw the familiar red cross logo of Base hostels. Even though the sun was shining in the busy road, I had to remove my sun glasses because of the shadow caused by the store canopies. After some time passing the usual fast food places, department stores, small newspaper stands etc, I came to a pedestrian crossing over the road. We all stood staring at the signal opposite, waiting for the little green man to tell us when to cross. When he did, everyone set off at the same pace and I realised to my horror that I had stopped walking and had begun trudging. Must do something different, I thought quickly. I had noticed as I had my eyes on the ground as I trudged up the hill that I had walked over some square plaques set into the pavement. The next one I saw, I stopped and read it. It described the building I was standing next to, something called the Vulcan Building. Today it was just another department store, one of thousands around the globe, but the building it was in… I looked up, only to have my view cut off by the overhanging canopy. I crossed the road and looked back. At last, I could see the reason for the plaque, it was an old building that spoke of industry and a bygone age. All the way down the street between the high rise buildings could be seen structures that were built before Auckland was even a hundred years old. I even found one buildings plaque which said that it was rumoured to be a secret military base for conducting operations during the Second World War.
I had been told that the War Memorial Museum was worth a visit, so I headed there. When I found the place (impressive since there are no signposts saying which way it is until you are actually on top of it) I spent a good twenty minutes walking around the outside of it before I even went in. Okay, so it wasn’t open when I got there, but even the outside of the building was enough to keep me occupied until the doors opened. It was huge, built of white stone with vast columns reminding me of the US Congress building and Roman / Greek amphitheatres (and Sheffield City Hall…). At the front was the Cenotaph, flanked by two field guns from the war and over the windows of the main building were the names of the battles and places that New Zealand forces played a role in. The area the museum stood on had been a large campground used to house US troops during WWII. Since I wasn’t a resident of Auckland, I had to pay to get in, thankfully not much otherwise I’d have been forced to miss out on the feast for the mind inside. There was the entire history of New Zealand. Everything from Natural history displaying examples of birds and fish past and present, Maori history, Local history (who came over on what boat, many pictures of Auckland before the modern high rise buildings went up, etc) and vast rooms displaying weapons and artefacts from both world wars (one display of an airship commander was particularly interesting…). The were even full size examples of a Spitfire, a Japanese Zero warplane and a German V1 flying bomb.
I’d spent hours on my feet and was about to leave when I noticed something in the Natural history section I’d missed the first time around. It was a replica of the outside of a modern house, by the door a sign advised that what was about to be displayed may upset those of a sensitive nature. I couldn’t miss that, could I? When I went in there was a sitting room with two sofas in front of a television, and a window showing a stunning view of Waitemata Harbour, Auckland’s seafront. In the distance you could just see Rangitoto, the dormant volcano in the middle of the bay. I collapsed into the sofa, thankful to take the weight off my feet and propping them up on the coffee table. I was just in time, the news was just coming on. I sat back and enjoyed the simulation of what would happen when – not if – the volcano erupted. After being thrown around by real earthquakes this simulation, with motors used to move the building to replicate the shock waves, was very impressive.
I left the museum and walked all the way back through the park, passing large trees with thick twisting roots. Along the way back to Queen Street I found a small brick structure that I had originally taken for an air vent of some kind. The small plaque told me it was a replica of part of a furnace that workmen had recently unearthed whilst constructing nearby buildings. This area was once covered in industry, now long since demolished. Back on Queen Street I had a glance at the newspapers, the population of the city was now 1.5million with the birth of a baby boy. In a country where the population is only four million, that meant over a third of the people lived in one city. When you live in one place, especially a big city, you tend to stop looking around you and concentrate on your own goals. It’s easy to forget that there’s history and heritage all around, you’ve just got to look. Yes yes, in Britain we have buildings that are older than New Zealand itself, and so these on Queen Street may not impress British or European tourists as such, but it annoys me when Kiwis say they have hardly any heritage of their own. It’s all around, if they took away the canopies in front of the shops, or replaced them with something transparent, then you’d be better able to see the buildings thousands of people pass each day without noticing.
I made my way back toward the railway station. In the harbour in the distance sat the cone of Rangitoto, and I remembered the buildings destroyed by the earthquakes in Christchurch. Auckland may not be as picturesque as Christchurch once was, but it does have a history that is ignored by many. With a volcano set to burst in the future and maybe destroy everything, perhaps it’d be a good idea to go out and enjoy the city. Whilst there is still a city…
Mini Count :- 37.