Arriving at Auckland airport late morning, we immediately transferred into our waiting taxi to head to Takapuna on North Shore where we had arranged to stay so as to be close to the eldest. Our drive across Auckland revealed a city of little wooden houses nestling amongst volcanic upthrusts of earth until we bypassed the Central Business District where multi-storey buildings vied with the iconic Sky Tower to dominate the Haruki Gulf. The water itself was awash with marinas and sailing yachts giving credence to Auckland's reputation as the City of Sails.
We had time to kill before we could check into our hotel. So, leaving our bags in the lobby, we went to avail ourselves of coffee in a neighbouring bar. Tuning in to the Kiwi version of English required a little adjustment and sadly it was probably the worst coffee that we tasted all trip (we were later advised to stick to flat whites), but of greater surprise was the politically incorrect poster on the wall indicating a fancy dress event where "the tradies would get the ladies." Somebody had told us that travelling to New Zealand was like turning the clock back several decades but we had not expected to encounter such outmoded sexist attitude from a country that heralded in the vote for women as far back as 1890.
Our motel room although scrupulously clean was very simply furnished with decor and a desk and chairs that would not have looked out of place in an office; something that we would find repeated in many places. The bed was comfortable and so much so that we forgave the establishment the view of the dustbins from the bedroom window. Indeed superb mattresses and electric blankets seemed to be a feature of many of the places in which we stayed.
We forced ourselves to stay awake although the eldest did come straight from work to take us out for dinner. New Zealanders seem to eat significantly earlier than we generally do in the UK, going to bed and rising earlier too. Fortunately when you are still adjusting to the enormous time difference, that suited us well. Our first encounter with New Zealand food was a little surprising too when we discovered the British love affair with fish and chips holds fast at the Kiwi seaside too. There's none of our traditional cod and haddock though, and whilst the fish is beer battered it was, to us, the unfamiliar hoki or tarahiki.
That time difference played a part in waking us early the next morning and we were out with the morning commuters to walk to Milford and then back to Takapuna along the coastal walk with magnificent views across to Rangitoto a volcanic island that is now a nature reserve. Indeed lava flow intercepted the beach from time to time including petrified tree stumps from an ancient forest. The local birdlife was extremely friendly and curious and whilst some of the flora was familiar, other species were a complete novelty including the pohutukawa and rata trees some of which were beginning to flower.
We took a local bus (always a novelty) to Devonport where the Naval base is situated, with magnificent views of the city skyline and with its own elegant wharf and main street, before ascending Mount Victoria and North Head. Old charm elegance sandwiched between volcanoes. No litter, no grafitti and everyone friendly and talkative, oh and we also found some good coffee after all.
We were already certain that we were going to enjoy the rest of our trip.