Auckland (Sandringham), NZ

Week 2

Halloween is relatively-uncelebrated here. The grocery stores have a tiny cardboard kiosk with a few bits of “Halloween” candy, and maybe a decoration or two available near the checkout, but clearly nothing like the aisle full of candy in the US or the elaborate yard displays. It sounds like there are occasional city blocks that have imported a trick-or-treating culture, and some parks and churches advertised daytime events for kids, but there were only three or four Halloween-themed evening events around town (improv comedy, theater, or biggest of all, ‘Hocus Pocus’ screened with a live orchestra). A newspaper article I found highlighted one of trick-or-treating areas, and the attitude from the commenters was similar to what I’ve seen in relation to tipping; “keep that stupid American shit out of our country!!!” (tipping in NZ isn’t a thing at all (except to the extent that the payment terminal software has recently given it a way to nose in the same as everywhere else), and it’s awesome, so we’re much more in agreement with the Kiwis on tipping vs. Halloween).

Despite this nearly-invisible Halloween, and despite the fact that it’s springtime and not pumpkin-harvesting season here in the Southern Hemisphere, it is Pumpkin Spice Latte season at Starbucks! So it seems that if a corporation wants to force some American culture in, they can succeed! So when Rett put together her zero-cost but very cute “costume”, I loved that she was proud to wear it out to the mall to get her PSL on the 31st, even if no one else would be dressed up. We did see a woman fully-outfitted as a witch, but that was the only hint of Halloween in the whole mall (I spied a girl with black lipstick behind the counter at a fashion store, but I think that was just her thing 365 days a year!)

Rett’s got lil’ ghosties flying around her head!

Thanksgiving, as you’d expect, is also not a thing here (which extends to an absence of turkey products of any sort in the grocery stores). Though curiously, that hasn’t prevented us from seeing a bunch of ads for “Black Friday” sales! Do Kiwis wonder why this random Friday in late November is called “Black Friday”? Who knows! The corporations have made it a thing regardless! The week we arrived we experienced the reverse, New Zealand’s “Labour Day” holiday on October 28th, a date unfamiliar to us though at least we understand the concept.

But one holiday that’s a recent import to both the US and NZ is…Diwali! And at least here in Auckland, it’s celebrated more intensely than anywhere I’ve heard of in the US (ok, Swati & Dennis’s annual party comes pretty close!) A two day festival is held in Aotea Square, in the heart of Auckland, with closed streets and huge crowds. We went on Sunday, partly hoping to get some good Indian street food, but the street in front of the block-long line of stalls was so crowded we could barely move through it. So we spent most of the time in front of the big stage along with thousands of other people, watching an endless sequence of dance troupes come and do 3-to-7 minute performances. It was pretty awesome!

Many of the guys outshone the girls, which is not really a thing in the culture Neil and Rett come from!
But, the girls were almost universally awesome too.
By far the most-popular act was the Auckland Police Department! Skills-wise they were easily the worst, but effort counts for a whole lot. It’s hard to imagine a police department in the center of an American city being cheered on as much as this crew was.
Nary a phone left in a pocket when the Auckland Police Department does Bollywood dancing!
Auckland Police Department giving it 100%.
For this group, most of the hands in the air don’t have phones in them; they’re simply having a great time dancing themselves.
Near crowd-surfing happening for a playback dance routine.
The night ended with a fireworks display, one of our big reasons for attending.

The festival was actually held a week before the official date of Diwali, so I’m not sure if it was intention or coincidence that made it line up with Guy Fawkes Night, another unfamiliar-to-us holiday celebrated in New Zealand. Though it sounds like it might be a bit like Black Friday, in that most Kiwis don’t really understand the origin either, and just see it as a time to shoot off fireworks. The unusual restriction on fireworks here is that they’re only sold for four days around Guy Fawkes Night, but boy howdy they must have sold a lot! On our long night walk back from downtown, we could see and hear them exploding in neighborhoods all around us, and then could see them especially well from our 2nd floor bedroom. We’d seen signs indicating that access to the volcanoes we’d climbed would be closed for these four days, because fireworks had started fires on their slopes in recent years.

Speaking of volcanic slopes and explosions, our big outdoor activity of the week was a trip to Rangitoto, the area’s youngest volcano, which appeared a mere 600 years ago in the Hauraki Gulf. It’s a dark low-sloped obvious volcano visible from many places in Auckland. We took the light rail back down to the waterfront and then a 50-minute ferry ride. They have a system to clean your shoes before you board, because the island has been cleared of pests and they want to keep it that way. But then why did they allow a huge crowd of schoolkids on the ferry? I kid, I kid! They weren’t that bad. But when we arrived and another boat came from somewhere else and dropped off a similarly-sized load of schoolkids, that definitely sealed our decision to head out on a waterfront trail rather than going straight to the top with the masses.

Bottom to top: black volcanic rock, seagulls and their white, the blue Hauraki Gulf, Auckland.
We’ve definitely never hiked through an environment like this!
There were two sections where the high tide had flooded across the trail; once we got through them, we knew we definitely didn’t need to worry about any crowds out here!
This thing looks like it could be growing underwater, but it’s not!

We were having a great time, marveling at the strange new environment we were in, jungle plants growing vigorously into dense forest on seemingly-inhospitible rocks. But then suddenly, and for no obvious reason, something on the rough trail made Rett lose her balance, and she tumbled down to her hands and knees. What might have been nothing more than a quick moment of embarrassment on a normal trail was much worse on this field of incredibly abrasive lava rocks. Thankfully we had remembered to bring our first-aid kit in our packs so we were able to do some semblance of bandaging. Unfortunately the fall happened at about the worst possible place, at the far end of our planned loop, at least 4 miles from the boat dock. Even though it seemed crazy, sticking to our plan of climbing to the top of the volcano was actually the better option than returning the way we came, because the route to the top was along old roads rather than the rough trail.

Red flowers against the smashed volcanic rock, which is everywhere!
A narrow channel separates Motutapu Island from Rangitoto, and in fact they’re even connected by a causeway that you can walk across. It’s hard to believe that Motutapu is millions of years old (and obviously has been deforested and farmed), meaning that it’s still likely confused and kind of pissed about this “new” island wrecking its view and budging right up against it.

While she wasn’t exactly feeling good by the time we reached the top, at least we had it all to ourselves, since there was only an hour before the last ferry of the day departed. That still gave us time to take an offshoot partway down the slope to the lava tubes, and we’re sure glad we did. For me it was my chance to finally live a Zork text-adventure computer game, and for Rett it was one of her movies or books.

Roots growing through the linear tunnel of a lava tube.
Midway between the two sections of lava tube; we brought our headlamps for this!
In the middle of this cave-walk, there is a hole in the “ceiling”, and a tree grows up to the sunlight.
The view back to Auckland from Rangitoto.
Our ferry coming to fetch us. We’re still in cell-phone range, so if you miss the last ferry you can call and they’ll send a water taxi to get you, but it will cost you!


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