Monday, August 07, 2006

Bonus Day

I woke up this morning bright and early ready to check out of the hotel and scramble around town to see the couple of things still on my to-see list. When I made my way down to check out, the lady at the front desk said, "Oh! We have you here until the 8th!" That's right. It helps to read the itinerary when you travel. It's a good thing she checked, or it would have been one long, lonely day at the airport!

Super excited that I didn't have to rush around, I went and had a proper breakfast back on Vulcan Lane (site of the Occidental from yesterday) at Cafe Melba. I let the waiter choose for me and I had some most excellent eggs benedict. Really good. I could get spoiled eating this well.

Full up on breakfast and tea, I made my way down to Prince's Pier. This has been built up with some high end restaurants and a hilton. Here's the view towards the city and again towards the ocean. Not too bad a view. I explored a bit more of the waterfront, but it was all full of these huge industrial ships. Go figure. Active docks.

Next, on to the bus station. I made friends with a very helpful bus driver and headed to Mt. Eden, a volcanic cone, complete with crater, in the middle of town. From the top, you can see all of Auckland. When I got there though, it was in a really big cloud. The driver instructed me to kill time visiting Mt. Eden Village, and since he was so nice about it, I did. The village is really just a couple of blocks of shops, mostly things like cafes and kitsch. It was cute though, and I can see how you'd get lots of tourists to lure if the sun ever came out! That bit in the back all covered by a cloud is a volcano. Hpmph.

Resigned to my cloudy fate, I made my way to the Auckland Museum. (Thomas the bartender berated me last night about skipping it, so I figured I should probably go.) It turned out to be a great museum. A whole floor devoted to Polynesian cultures and the Maori, the native New Zealanders. I got about half way through my first floor and... fire alarm. Me and about 400 kids on field trips traipsed outside and waited for the fire trucks. Tourists took photos. Even me.

The Maori carvings you see above are part of an aboveground shelter belonging to someone of very high rank. The higher up you got, the more elaborate the carving. This was just about one meter of a facade that measured probably 6 meters square. Big important fella.

The highlight of the museum was their exhibit on volcanoes. New Zealand is riddled with them since the continent is trapped between two plates, each subducting at a different end. Think a geological yin-yang. Anyway, they had a little room made up like a living room where you could sit and watch a pretend version of what would happen if a volcano decided to go off in the bay (and you just happened to own one of the posh apartments with a view). OutSTANDING.

Feeling the aftermath of a volcano and a bit like I needed to be outside RIGHT NOW, I decided to make my way back to the hotel the long way. I walked down Parnell Street, another of the trendy cafe/fashion/art districts that edge the city.

I made it back to the hotel in the afternoon and after another brief unbelieving look at my itinerary, I settled in and considered taking a nap. This is vacation, after all! Not gonna happen though, because just then (seriously, I just finished the long blink!) the hotel had a fire alarm. Feeling very capable of finding the quickest route out of any burning building, I made my way outside and saw... blue. As fast as I could, I hopped on a bus and made my way downtown to the Sky Tower.

The Tower is part of the Sky City complex that houses the casino, and the tower is the tallest in the southern hemisphere, at a whopping 328 meters. (I guess there is a different ranking for towers and buildings?) Anyway, I got up to the top in a mere 40 second elevator ride to find a 360 degree view with... glass floors. OK, not all of it had glass floors, but it took me a while to get brave enough to walk across them!

That's not even the scary bit. People jump from this crazy thing. Voluntarily. Pay money, even. I chatted with one of the girls who works here and gets to jump on the slow days in order to get people interested in making the jump themselves. Crazy. She said that they made her jump as part of her job interview. Can you believe that? The jump is tethered, but the target looks really really tiny from this height, don't you think?

Soon the clouds rolled back in and since it was getting dark, I decided to make my way home again and have dinner at the restaurant at the hotel. Wow. Don't order a burger in New Zealand. I'll be feeling that for a while, and not in a good way.

Since I have a whopping 6 minutes left on my internet time, I will leave you with this fact to ponder:
The population of NZ is 3.95 million people, 39.2 million sheep. And I haven't even seen one yet. (Sheep, that is.)

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