NEW ZEALAND 01 - Auckland Wharf & Queen Street

March 04, 2017  •  2 Comments

February 2017

New Zealand  #01 – Auckland


Getting to New Zealand


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From North America, New Zealand is a long way.  In fact, the thought of an airplane flight that long had for a long time kept New Zealand near the bottom of our list of destinations to visit.  But then I started doing some math.  We are on the West Coast, near San Francisco and have regularly traveled to Europe.  For example, Ireland (5,000 miles), Iceland (4266 mi), Munich Germany (5794 mi).  So, just for laughs I took a look at the distance to New Zealand.  Well, I was quite surprised to find that it was only 6573 miles.  Only 700 or so miles farther than Munich so at 600 miles per hour, just a bit over an additional hour.  Well, that’s not all that much.  I guess all the bad press for the travel time was from folks on the east coast. 

But, what about time zones and jet lag?  Well let’s see here, since New Zealand is on the opposite side of the world and after 13 hours in the air the time zone change must be significant.  But, as it turn out it’s trivial.  Going North/South doesn’t change time zones, only going East/West does.  The time of day in New Zealand is only 3 hours different than California.  That’s like going from Chicago to Seattle.  Of course it’s a different day when you arrive since you cross the International Date Line, but from a bio-clock perspective it’s just a 3 hour change of the wrist watch.  So what were we worried about?  Well, a 13 hour flight is not trivial but no where near the 20 hours we had worried about – which is what it took me to get to and from Bangkok on another trip – but that trip included a layover in Tokyo). 

The other nice thing about flying from San Francisco to New Zealand is that there are no intermediate places along the way where they can stop so getting a direct flight is almost a done deal.  One less chance for luggage to go astray. 

So, off we went at the end of January to arrive at the beginning of February.  We left the US around 8:00 pm and landed in Auckland a bit before 6:00 am  ---- 2 days later.  The flight went fine.  But as it was an overnight flight you go to the next day when go past midnight, and then you lose another day when you cross the date line.  So, we left on Jan 31 and arrived, 13 hours later on February 2nd.  After we arrived it took us almost a week to come to grips with what day of the week it was. 

Intro to New Zealand

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New Zealand consists of two large islands/.  After years of study and debate by the most talented and creative minds of the times these two islands were cleverly named North Island and South Island.  Makes it easy for tourists to remember than some obscure Polynesian names but come on couldn’t they have been a little more creative?  Combined the islands are a bit bigger than Oregon and a bit smaller than Colorado.  In terms of population, New Zealand has about the same number of people as Kentucky.  I turns out that the populations of New Zealand and Ireland have pretty much stayed the same over the past half century or more.  The NZ population is also about 60% that of the San Francisco Bay area and interestingly enough, the latitude of New Zealand is pretty close to that of California, albeit in the other hemisphere.  Because of this much of the landscapes look remarkably similar to those in California and both areas share many crops.

NZ was one of the last land masses to be settled by human beings.  People have only been present there for less than 800 years.  This was after the Magna Carta was signed in merry old England, and around the time that Marco Polo sailed to China, the Scotts rebelled against England and the Chinese developed cannon.  It was also approximately 84,000 years after humans arrived in southern Europe or 12,200 years after humans arrived in North America.  Talk about the new kids on the block.  What happened is the Polynesians from the islands off of SE Asia, gradually migrated south and east as the population of each set of islands warranted.  This took them from the Philippians’ and New Guinea to the Solomon’s, Caledonia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Etc.  Eventually they headed southwest instead of southeast and found New Zealand. 

From a Geologic perspective, New Zealand broke off from Gondwanaland pretty early in the scheme of things (80 million years ago), before mammals really came on the scene. Gondwanaland was the last super continent which broke apart to form the continents we have today.  This early separation resulted in bio-isolation where many NZ plants and animals are found nowhere else.  But here’s what’s quite interesting.  Flying critters like birds and one or two species of bats have been able to fly to and from NZ from Australia and other land masses.  So, many of the bird species are also found throughout the southern pacific.  However, land animals, like mammals, have not been able to swim there.  So, until the Europeans came along in the 1840’s there were no large carnivorous fauna in NZ.  Because there were no wolves, coyotes, lions, possums, weasels, and the like to eat bird eggs, two things happened.  First many birds lost the ability to fly as flying is mainly a defense mechanism from ground attack, and second the bird population exploded.  But, all that changed when those pesky European explorers showed up in boats filled with rats, cats, dogs, stoats, weasels and other critters who love to eat bird eggs.  These critters thrived and spread like wildfire as they themselves had no predators to keep their populations in check  In short order the bird population was decimated and many species driven to, or near, extinction.  We may talk more about that later.

Auckland Background

Auckland has a population of 1.5 million which is similar to Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Antonio and accounts for 32 percent of the population of the entire country.  It is the largest city in New Zealand but is no longer the capital.  In 1865 the capital was moved from Auckland, which is about 2/3rd’s of the way up the North Island) to the much smaller town of Wellington which is at the south tip of the North Island.  There is some confusion about why it was moved.  Some say that the folks in the South part of the South Island felt disconnected due to how far away the capital was.  Others say that the South part of the South Island was too far from the Capital for the government to keep tabs on it.  Either way, they decided to move it to a more central location.

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Auckland sits on the south side of a large harbor whose not too large inlet is protected by several good sized islands and farther east by a large peninsula.  So, as harbors go it is one of the better ones making it a prime shipping port and also keeping Auckland the most populous area of the country.  The city itself is on an isthmus that runs east/west.  The main harbor, on the north side of the downtown area opens to the Hauraki Gulf and the South Pacific Ocean.  But there is also a harbor bordering the south side of the main city.  This is the Manukau Harbor which opens out to the Tasman Sea and southern Australia.

There are many interesting facts about Auckland.  It is home to the largest Polynesian population in the world, it is surrounded by dozens of (hopefully) extinct volcanoes and it is one of the few cities in the world to have harbors on two separate major bodies of water, it is classified as a Beta World City (whatever that is).

What is now Auckland was settled by the Maori indigenous people around 1350 and including the many villages in what is now Auckland grew to a population of around 20,000 by the time the Europeans arrived in 1840 and set up a colony.  Ok, perspective time.  1840 was just 21 years prior to start of the Civil War in the US.  I guess being in an obscure corner of the world has its advantages.

Auckland Skyline 

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Our time in Auckland

The main part of our time in New Zealand was on a formal tour through Road Scholar but, as we usually do, we booked our flight to arrive a few days prior to the start day of the formal tour.  After doing some web searching for a hotel (not many options in the affordable range) we decided it was best to pay more than we like but book into the same hotel where our tour has us booked for their days in Auckland.  As it turns out this was right where the two major downtown streets meet and just a block from the harbor.  It really was a great location.

When we arrived around 6:00 am it was cool and overcast with a light mist falling.  Apparently this was the tail end of a rainy several week in Auckland.  I later talked to a friend who had been there the week before us and she said it rained almost every day.  But, our driver said that it was clearing and the next couple of days should be rain free.  As we knew we’d be arriving in the early morning, we booked a room for the day before our arrival so we could check in when we arrived rather than waiting till the normal mid afternoon check in time.  So, after checking in we took a nap after which we decided to find some lunch and explore the area a bit.  So off we went down to the docks.

Although we explored various areas of Auckland on our own, once the formal tour started they took us to some of the same areas.  So, rather than repeating, what follows is a combination of what we did on our own as well as on the formal tour.

Auckland Wharf Area

Prior to the late 1990’s the docks area was heavy industry with working commercial piers.  However, in the late 1990’s there was a major push for tourism and much of the area was converted from warehouses and shipping to tourist use.  They totally rebuilt much of the area with dozens and dozens of new restaurants hotels, shops, event halls, pleasure boat marina and cruise ship docks, Etc..  In the process they widened the sidewalks and in some cases made streets pedestrian only.  It’s quite a happening place. 

Our hotel was only 1 block from the ferry dock which forms one end of this new tourist zone.  Along that block we passed the old train station that is in the process of being revamped and then came to the Ferry Terminals.  Ferry travel is a much used service in the Auckland harbor to move people to and from the many islands nearby as well as the suburbs on the other (northern) side of the bay.  They tend to run around every 30 minutes during day time and make it quite easy to get to towns and islands in the Auckland area. 

Old Ferry Building with ferries coming and going

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Event Center on Queen Street Peir

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Pleasure boat Marina (on our tour we went on a bay cruise on these two yachts)

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Event Center from the harbor side

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Sunset from end of Queen Street Pier

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Auckland Skyline with “worm” event center in foreground

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Queen Street Corridor

The main commercial street in Auckland is Queen Street and our hotel was right next to it.  The main shopping part of Queen Street runs from the ferry and cruise ship docks up to Aotea Square which is by city hall, the main library, and concert/performance hall.  As you walk through this Queen St. Corridor as I call it, you pass all the normal high end shops that pollute most major cities world wide.  Shops like, Chanel, Gucci and Armani are all there to cater to the cruise ships that show up pretty much everyday during the tourist season.

Even though these hip and trendy shops usually occupy the first floor or two of buildings and the insides of the adhere to “corporate standards” for each company, the fronts of these buildings are from the 1920’s through 1940’s that have been retained.   Some of these old buildings are really grand such as the Civic Movie Theatre (built in 1929) and are wonders to behold.  However, many of these buildings are just the old building façade.

Like many popular cities, Auckland saw a building boom of high rise offices and hotels replacing the venerable older low rise shops and apartment buildings that gave Auckland much of its charm.  This alarmed the preservationists and the government agreed that something must be done to preserve the past.  What they did was pass ordinances requiring new buildings to retain and preserve the façade of the older building – which was usually in the 3 to 5 story range.  Even though this was a costly endeavour for the folks building the new structure it has succeeded in maintaining some of the old charm of the city.  It is now not uncommon to see a building from the 1930’s or 1940’s with a skyscraper growing out of its top.  Most of these façade’s include a sort of “roof” over the entire sidewalk so unless you really look, you don’t really see the new, modern, high rise part of the structure.

At the foot of Queen Street, one of the first buildings to be completely saved and restored was the old Edwardian Baroque ferry building (1912) with its traditional clock tower on top.  This building was considered the transport hub and front door to the city.  It served the commuters and cross bay transport needs till it hit hard times in 1959 when a bridge opened to the north shore.  In 1985 a developer struck a deal with the city that he would completely restore the old crumbling building back to it’s original state while bringing it up to modern building codes, but only if he were allowed to add a 5th floor to the 4 story building.  The city agreed.  The city assumed that the new floor would be in the same architectural style as the rest of the building.  However, the letter of the agreement only said that the original building would be restored to it’s former appearance and said nothing about the style of the new floor.  And indeed, the new owner slapped a hideous modern, totally out of character, glass and steel structure onto the roof completely ruining a marvelous historic building.  So, once again, the devil is in the details.  However if you ignore the 5th floor this is really a grand old building and is the jewel of the waterfront.

Restored ferry building with hideous new 5th floor stuck on top

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Elevator call button panel in one of the old buildings along Queen Street

former Milne and Choyce Department Store.  131 Queen Street, Aucklandformer Milne and Choyce Department Store. 131 Queen Street, Auckland


Old  Florsheim Building, Queen Street

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Old Queen Street building converted to Shopping Mall

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Lobby of old Civic Movie Theater on Queen Street

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At the Queen Street entrance to Aotea square  is an arch called 'Waharoa' (Gateway in Māori), formed in wood and copper by Selwyn Muru, a Māori sculptor. This is an expressionist version of a traditional Māori entry gate. It features symbols like birds, fish and the crescent moon and stars but also elements like the nuclear disarmament symbol, reflecting the modern influences on New Zealand art

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Auckland City Hall

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Auckland city Hall

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New Highrise growing out of the Façade of an older building

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The Northern Roller Mills building façade preserved when the high rise seen surrounding it was built

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I hope you enjoyed reading this episode of our New Zealand trip.  The next installment will be more Auckland.

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Thanks for reading – Comments Appreciated -- Dan


Betty Gray(non-registered)
Fantastic, Dan. How did I miss the horrible 5th floor of the Ferry Building when I was there?
Charles Townsley(non-registered)
Good writing........
Great Photos..................
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