Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Greetings from Auckland


Big. Sprawling. Culturally diverse. Warmer than Wellington. Rolling waves of suburbia. Surrounded by teal water and walkable-in-your-bare-feet beaches. Home of the Sky Tower and the All Blacks. Also goes by the friendly monicker of "The City of Sails." Population: 1,158,891. Number of cars: roughly 660,000. And now officially the home of Peter and Roni.

Fact: Aucklanders spend, on average, more money on transportation than food. That'll give you an idea of the car culture around here. Yes, it's as bad as Kiwis say, but I don't think it's any worse than driving during rush hour in any major US city. Needless to say, things are spread out enough that we bought a car on our first full day here. She's small and a bit older, but she's in good shape.

Our furniture and other belongings arrived in good condition a few days after we got to town, and we are now officially mostly unpacked. We still need a few pieces of furniture to really get the place up and running (bookcases and such) but we really like the new place. Let's take a little tour, shall we? A big welcome from Peter...

As you can see from the pictures it's nice and sunny, with good Rata wood floors and plenty of trees and flowers to lend shade. I'll get more pictures of the wonderful flowers hanging out around back. It has a shaded yard for barbecuing and friendly neighbours all around of the human, cat, dog and unidentified caged bird varieties. We even have a lemon tree in the back yard. We're told that it will produce lemons if we water it enough, so we're on the ball with that already. I can't wait to be able to say, "Hon, we're out of lemonade. Would you mind popping out to the tree for me?" I doubt it will produce that much, but still, a lemon tree!

We're also about a 15 minute walk from one particularly nice swimming beach. That will definitely come in handy once the weather gets even warmer.

Well great, you might say, Auckland seems pretty nice. You have an apartment you like, you have a month off before you have to go to work, you have swell neighbours. Are there any down sides? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the city lay out is generally sprawling and there is a huge number of cars on the road. Traffic is truly horrendous. The roads here seem to be full to overflowing with single occupant vehicles. And though there are marked bike lanes in a lot of areas, the condition of the roads and paths is such that, as Peter found out today, you can easily take a nasty fall if you don't go pretty darn slow. There are obstacles everywhere, gaping holes in the pavement, rain gutters that run parallel to the roadway and are just big enough to suck your front tire 3 inches down into a sewer drain. In order to get a really good hike or bike ride you basically have to drive someplace. This is far from bad, considering that most of the places we can go to are within a 30-45 min drive, but somehow that seems inconvenient after living in a place like Missoula. To all of you Missoulians (well, Montanans) out there, consider yourselves lucky that nature is literally right at your back door.

Speaking of thing outside back doors, we have something outside ours that we're fairly certain no Montanan has. We have a feral hedgehog. And not the small pet store variety, I'm talking BIG hedgehog. We put some particularly stinky trash out on the back stoop our third night here and later we heard the signature rustling of a garbage snatcher. Having grown up in an area where racoons regularly scatter the contents of a garbage can around an area the size of a baseball diamond within 5 minutes, I ran to the back door with broom in hand. When I opened the door a rather large and un-perturbed looking hedgehog was munching away on our refuse. It kept its nose down and gave me a sidelong glance, as though to get a good, long look at that annoying thing making all the noise. We poked it gently with the broom handle to get it out of our trash, and eventually it waddled away. We almost had the camera out to document the new neighbour but we were too late. Supposedly hedgehogs like to eat dairy products and fruit, so we're going to bait it in order to get a picture of him. Dumpster diver or no, he is a cute little bugger.

Peter thinks we should name him Sonic. I vote for The Hauraki Homebreaker, after the name of the gulf that separates North Shore City from central Auckland. What do you think, gentle reader? The floor is now officially open for all suggestions original and plagiarized. After all, what is a mascot (a status I think he deserves) without a name? A lousy one, that what.

It's evening here and we're closing up for the night. Bugs are much bigger and thicker here, so it's time to close up and snuggle under a comfy quilt with a book (thanks again, Mom, it looks and feels oh so wonderful!). We'll leave you with a picture of the Harbour Bridge and the Sky Tower as seen from the end of our street at dusk. Both are Auckland icons. The trees covered with red blossoms are Pohutukawa trees, commonly called New Zealand Christmas Trees because they bloom in December. They smell wonderful and have red, whisker like petals tipped in yellow pollen. The city is now bathed in pinkish flakes of a New Zealand Christmas.