Thursday, December 22, 2011

Offshore Auckland Beats Jet Lag

Auckland, NZ, from the harbor.
Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, is beautifully situated on a large bay that's always full of boats and ships. If flying in from the states you will arrive there seriously jet-lagged. My recommendation: Head to the harbor and get on one.

Nothing will pick you up and put you back in the world better than massive doses of sun and fresh air plus a bit of exercise. Luck will determine the sun but if you sit outside on a ferry ride the clear, crisp air will act like a tonic.

Tip: If our entry to Auckland was any example, you're likely to get a little bit of everything. In 20 minutes it went from warm and sunny to cold and wet and back to sunny. Layer and bring a lightweight tote for stowage.

There are many tour options, among them:
Tiritiri Matangian, an island wildlife preserve a 75-minute ferry ride away.

Motuihe Island, an uninhabited island a 30-minute ferry ride away.

Rotoroa Island, a former alcohol and drug rehab center 75-minutes away.

The volcanic island of Rangitoto from Devonport.

Rangitoto Island, a 600-year-old volcano 25-minutes away where visitors walk to the top.

Waiheke Island, known for wine tours of Te Whau Vineyard.

Devonport Island, one of Auckland's oldest suburbs known for its beaches, Victorian architecture and shops, a short ride away.

Not up to hiking, knowing wildlife only emerges early morning, dusk and nighttime and afraid the wine tasting would put us back to sleep, we opted for Devonport. The lady at the Fullers tour office couldn't have been more accommodating.

Not a bad choice for a pair of bleary-eyed travelers preparing for a very early wake-up call, more flying and major activity the next day.

Auckland ferry terminal.
Auckland's harbor is beautiful, its ferry terminal is striking and the terrain is flat.

Warning: Levelers, once you leave the harbor area, Auckland gets very hilly.

On our way to Devonport.
The ferry ride perked us up, but the guide almost did us in. His response to our first question was that Americans asked too many questions and that if we didn't hush up we wouldn't hear what he was telling us about where we were. Not what wise guides say to anyone, much less a pair of travel writers!

The Esplanade Hotel is a focal point of downtown Devonport.

Harbor side park
Still, Devonport was a scenic introduction to New Zealand flora and history. Technically it's not an island, but with 90-plus percent of it coastline, island stays in local terminology.

Devonport nestles around three volcanic hills.

Devonport was settled around three small volcanic mountains, Takapuna, Takarunga and Takaroro. The Maoris arrived first, 1350 AD, followed by the British in the mid 1800s.  Maoris farmed sweet potatoes, the Brits farmed and built ships.

A pair of German tourists jump for the camera atop Mt. Victoria.

Its original name was Flagstaff because atop what was once Flagstaff Hill (Takarunga to the Maoris) is where the flag was raised to alert the Auckland harbormaster of incoming ships. Now the mountain is Mt. Victoria and the name is a tribute to Devon, England.

The tour guide will urge you to walk up to the top of a hill to see the World War I and II gun emplacement and to watch a film on the island's history. The views are stunning, but the film's no great shakes.

Steps up to the old gun emplacement.
Tip: It's 25 steps to a landing followed by 31 steps to the next landing and a short but steepish walk to the top.

Former home of poet A.R.D. Fairburn.

The 120-150-year-old houses, built by shipwrights, are fascinating but if your guide is like ours, he won't stop for photographs and the good ones are WAY up this hilly island. Once someone obtains one of these pricey homes, it stays in the family as long as there is one. Most residents are 3rd and 4th generation Devonporters.

Locals refer to this as the Harry Potter tree.
Once we shed out guide and walked around downtown a bit we could see why.  Not a bad place to live or to begin shedding jet lag.


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