A hop on bus tour in Auckland

tag: new zealand, kiwi, auckland, nz

When I was a boy I have this image of New Zealand as a place where you find the greenest farms and the healthiest cows. I think I saw that in a popular TV ad back then. Peter Jackson‘s LOTR and his Hobbit series changed that mental image a few years ago. But this recent trip changed everything. Funny thing is that while the plane I was on was taxying on Auckland’s airport I saw these planes with LOTR characters painted all over its fuselage! So, I guess I am in middle earth.

It takes around 10 hours to reach Auckland from Singapore. The trip allows you to appreciate the vastness of Australia. For several hours all you see is depopulated land. It’s unbelievable — and we have experts telling us that this world couldn’t accommodate us all (but then again I think most of that is barren land). Think about this, New Zealand, which is about the same size as the UK and Japan, has a population of less than 5 million, while Singapore, a small island nation (you could fit two Singapore in the island of Romblon) has roughly the same population!

As usual, I tried to see as much of what’s left of the old city as I could. We tried the bus tour that goes around downtown Auckland. I would have preferred to walk but the rain, wind and the nipping coldness of the New Zealand winter impeded these itchy feet. The bus tour brought me to interesting places that are important to the history of the island country. It turns out to be a good ride after all.

The first stop was the Ferry Building, built a century ago in the Edwardian baroque style (like the building of St. Joseph’s Institution and Victoria Memorial Hall in Singapore). It is one of the most elaborately English designed building I’ve ever seen. Heading to the Bastion Point Lookout (a good spot to view the Hauraki Gulf) I noticed these narra looking trees lined up in the boulevard. I was later told that they are Pohutukawa trees, also known as the Kiwi Christmas tree. It has these spiny looking flowers that makes the trees look like Christmas trees.

The tour also passed by the Parnell suburb, the oldest in Auckland (established in 1841). They have these charming commercial stores housed in what appears to be really old small shops. I heard that Bill Clinton’s loves to shop around this area (for what? I don’t know). A historied church in the area, the Anglican church, was established in 1888 (it replaced the old St. Mary church, which was made of wood). Sir Edmund Hillary, the legendary New Zealander adventurer, famous for being the first man to reach the summit of Mt. Everest was interned in this church.

Unfortunately, the Rose garden of Parnell in winter doesn’t really have roses but just bushes and leaves at this time of the year. This tourist attraction is worth seeing when the flowers are in full bloom.

There was rain the whole time we were traveling around Auckland. I noticed that nobody minds it at all. Even children are walking around with their thick jackets and umbrellas. There was very little sun that would shine every now and then, but not enough to dry the wet grounds that we walked on.

From all indications Auckland has retained a substantial number of their picturesque heritage buildings. These old buildings compliments well the modern buildings and attraction (like the Auckland tower). Queen street is the main commercial point of Auckland. Around it are the Streets High and O’Connell where you could see heritage buildings reused for modern commercial use.

The iconic Civic Theater is a must see for heritage lovers. The building was featured in Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. The story is that experienced some trouble during its early years, low attendance and eventually going bankrupt. In the mid 1900’s there was a proposition to have it demolished which fortunately was not pursued. It was restored in the 90’s and is now one of the most beautiful building in town. It is the “most elaborate Atmospheric Theater in the world” and is a personal favorite among the old building I’ve seen in the city.

Heritage buildings around Auckland are mostly restored to fit modern use. It does not have the surface of old (like our unpainted churches made of adobe stones) but the overall visual aspect remains loyal to the era when they were built.

One has to wonder where this awareness to conserve heritage comes from — is it the prosperity that allows people to pursue the conservation of their heritage? or is this awareness, a result of how were taught about our history as a people, in our homes and in educational institutions? I envy such countries for we Filipinos have more to conserve but we elect not to — in the process, depriving the future generation of tangible memories of those great generations that went before us.

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