One of the few genuinely eccentric things I found in Auckland, 'The White Lady' burger van
has been parked here for 68 years. The burgers are absolutely delicious - although the van is typically difficult to find!
Well, up here in north-east England we have our very own Auckland, of course. Except that it’s not so much a ‘place’, more of a vast mediaeval estate with a mysterious name and places ending in ‘Auckland’ planted on it here and there. West Auckland, St Helens Auckland, St Andrew Auckland (more usually called South Church) and - wait for it - Bishop Auckland.
I’ve never really known why Bishop Auckland sets my teeth on edge quite as much as it does. I lived and worked in that area of County Durham for a few years and have nothing but unqualified praise and admiration for, for example, the beautiful ancient churches of St Helen and St Andrew, the ruins of the Roman fort of Vinovia (with a hypocaust and a stretch of Roman road still intact), the neglected national gem at Escomb…
Unalloyed encomiums (encomia?) like that always have a downside, though. And, in this case, the downside is Bishop Auckland. It stands as the main town on the ancient Auckland estate, it contains Auckland Palace - the sumptuous and rather too worldly residence of the Bishops of Durham - and yet...and yet…
I think that, lying at the base of my dislike is a simple feeling of disappointment. Bishop Auckland ought to be a lot more than it actually is - a dull, pedestrian, ‘narrow-minded‘ little town with nothing to offer a visitor but po-faced people who resemble the pitbull terriers they all own - in looks and temperament.
Bishop Auckland commits the unforgivable sin of being boring. Not exactly ugly, like Middlesbrough or Plymouth (God forbid) - just plain boring. Plain and boring.
Over the centuries, this didn’t stop its ruling family - the Edens - from becoming immensely rich by exploiting the area’s coal deposits; a charmless characteristic they shared with all of County Durham’s coal-owners. That’s why the splendid coaching inn at Rushyford is called The Eden Arms.
Sir Anthony Eden - a scion of the same family (isn’t ‘scion‘ a lovely word?) became Prime Minister in the 1950s and managed to make a complete pig’s breakfast of the Suez Crisis.
And one of his pre-Victorian ancestors was honoured in a much more grandiose way than merely having a roadside pub named after him. When George, the first Earl of Auckland (no less), was viceroy of India in the 1840s, the new Governor of New Zealand (a man called William Hobson) decided to name that country’s new capital city after him for reasons best known to himself.
The Treaty of Waitangi had just been signed; this was the agreement that was supposed to settle the differences between European settlers in New Zealand and the native Maoris. It didn’t - and modern kiwis are still suffering its consequences.
Governor Hobson wanted to celebrate this pyrrhic victory by building a new city. And the result was Auckland.
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Whatever else he was, Governor Hobson was no fool. Auckland sits on a wide isthmus that links both ends of North Island and therefore faces seaward in two directions. Its climate is balmy and welcoming (except in summer, when it’s steamy, and in winter, when it rains stair-rods). Its bays are dotted with gorgeous, beach-girt islets full of yachts and second homes, it’s prosperous and wealthy. And yet….and yet…
It has something in common with the place from which it ultimately derives its name.
Auckland is dull.
This lad was arrested, handcuffed and marched away right in front of me. I keep wondering what his crime was and what happened to him.
Although it's no longer a capital city, it’s New Zealand’s largest city by far - almost a third of the country’s entire population lives here. It has an extraordinarily rich ethnic mix, too; ‘pukeha’, the descendants of European settlers, mingle happily with Maoris and with the biggest Polynesian population on Earth (including Polynesia).
The National Theatre in Auckland
It has fine parks, bustling and prosperous shopping streets, high-rise office blocks, a terrific Art Gallery and Museum, two busy work-and-leisure seafronts, a big university - and three (count them) active volcanoes, one of which is called Mount Eden.
All of which should make Auckland a thriving city of excitement, innovation and adventure.
How the sum of all these parts contrives to be a city quite so dull is anyone’s guess.
It’s a ‘scrappy’ sort of city - the Lonely Planet guide’s words, not mine. You can walk and walk along street after street and nothing in particular catches your eye. Featureless roads rise and fall and cross in straight lines. The main harbour area is windily fronted by ghastly 1950s offices.
I had to compose this harbour-front photo carefully in order to avoid including the dreary architecture to left and right.
Anything of any interest - the Art Gallery, the Sky Tower - either entails a long, dreary walk along streets of faceless, cheapjack shops or is hidden away somewhere. I discovered the best Swiss ice-cream parlour outside Switzerland squeezed in between two tatty souvenir shops; and one of my more enjoyable experiences in Auckland - the Saturday morning food market - was initially marred because I couldn’t actually find it.
The Saturday morning food market.
The buildings you can see give an idea of what the city looks like.
I was only in Auckland for one day and perhaps I took my anti-Auckland prejudices with me from County Durham. Perhaps I was simply expecting too much.
Or perhaps I was just feeling so sorry for myself that nowhere in the world could have alleviated my melancholy. I’d just abandoned my campervan to its fate - it had been my wonderful, fancy-free home for two weeks - and was spending my final few hours in this astonishing country.
Slurping Swiss ice-cream in Ordinary Auckland, I still understood why so many, many people have fallen in love with New Zealand. I looked out over the harbour and felt something akin, I think, to grief that I would probably never be going back.
I hoped I had done New Zealand justice and had made the most of my time there.
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That the Earth turns on its axis - and thus presents a slightly different face to the Sun at any given time - is not of itself a Bad Thing. It gets tricky, though, when you take into consideration that this happens every 24 hours - that is, once a day.
I’m well-used to the mere facts of time-differences. As I write, it’s 1900 in England. In Auckland, it’s already 0800 tomorrow morning. In San Francisco, on the other hand, it’s just coming up to lunchtime earlier today.
As long as this is so, it follows that someone must have decided where on Earth today ends and tomorrow starts. And they have. It’s called the International Date Line and it’s been running plumb down the centre of the Pacific Ocean since 1884. To its right is yesterday, to its left, tomorrow.
(There are various, hopelessly confusing anomalies. The Polynesian island groups known as Kiribati and French Polynesia are within a few hundred miles of each other; at their closest, they are as far apart as Edinburgh and London. When Kiribati gained independence, it asked to be moved to the other side of the International Date Line. Thus, even though the sun rises at exactly the same moment on both island groups, in Kiribati it’s, say, Friday morning whilst in French Polynesia, it’s Thursday morning.
I couldn’t live like that.)
I was about to fall victim to this clumsy arrangement. The next stage of my journey involved a flight from Auckland to Vancouver - across the Date Line. I would therefore be travelling - Doctor Who style - backwards in time; from today to yesterday.
My flight from New Zealand to Canada lasted 14 hours. It left Auckland at 2000 on Sunday evening. It arrived in Vancouver at 1400 the same day; that is, it landed 6 hours before it took off.
This splendid airport sculpture of a Lord of the Rings dwarf was just about the last thing I saw of Auckland and New Zealand.
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