Volcanoes, yachts, NZ bush and black sand beaches
21.03.2013 - 27.03.2013 22 °C
Auckland is built on a narrow istmus where you can walk from the east to west coast in about 4 hours. It is also pitted with about 50 volcanic cones and craters and half the city seems to spend their free time jogging up and down them trying to keep fit. The most famous of these are Mount Eden (Auckland's highest volcanic cone) and One Tree Hill of U2 Joshua Tree fame and whose tree was chopped down by a maori activist in 2000.
In my opinion however the cone with the best view of Auckland is Mount Victoria on the North Shore of the harbour above the naval base at Devonport. On top of it is Fort Victoria and its disappearing gun built in 1899 in response to the threat of Russian expansionism in the Pacific. Offshore and dominating the view out to sea is Rangitoto, the largest and youngest of Auckland's volcanoes which last erupted about 600 years ago.
Just like Freemantle when Australia won the America's Cup in 1984, Auckland's harbour side attracted a lot of investment and got a major revamp after New Zealand won the Cup in 1995 and 2000. Several multi-millionaires have their luxury yachts in the Viaduct Harbour (one 5 star hotel even offers them berths!) and the New Zealand and Italian America's Cup Teams are still based here.
Thousands of yachts are moored in the Marina and demand for berths is so high that one company even offers multi-storey berths promising to have a customer's boat in the water within an hour of receiving a phone call. Across the mouth of the Viaduct Basin is the $3.7 million Wynyard Footbridge which opens to let boats through and is popular with tourists and cyclists.
Also by the Viaduct Harbour is New Zealand's Maritime Museum which in addition to galleries on the arrival of the Polynesians, early pioneers, immigrants and the America's Cup also has twice daily sailings around the harbour in the Ted Ashby, a modern reconstruction of ketch-rigged deck scow typical of those used to transport cargo around New Zealand's coasts 1870-1920.
While sailing on the Ted Ashby we sailed under the Auckland Harbour Bridge completed in 1959. Originally it only had 4 lanes which was very quickly found to be inadequate and by 1969 a Japanese construction company had been engaged to add a further 4 lanes which ever since have been affectionately known as the Nippon Clip-ons. It is also possible to do a bungy jump from a bungy pod close to the southern pier of the bridge; we narrowly missed catching someone jumping as we passed underneath!
Not far to the west of Auckland is the 70 square miles of the Waitakere Regional Park with its visitor centre at Arakati with views of Manukau Harbour, Auckland's second harbour facing west connected to the Tasman Sea.
The Park was formed in 1940 to protect the remaining local NZ bush and allow what had already been lost to regenerate. This includes the Kauri Tree (which can live for 2000+ years), Rata Tree (which start as vines growing up other trees) and New Zealand's national emblem the Silver Fern. At Karekare there is a waterfall in a glade that was used for scenes in the Oscar winning film "The Piano".
Our final stop was Piha, famous for its iconic vista over the beach and Lion Rock. Beaches on New Zealand's west coast facing the Tasman Sea have iron rich black sand originating from volcanic dust while those on the east coast facing the Pacific are a more usual sand colour.