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THE LATEST BLOG - posted 25 June 2017 in Tashy Travels



Today and tomorrow the blogs become a little more difficult because, whereas the other regions were visited as part of our journey around New Zealand, we spent many months in both the Auckland area and Northland, the subject of tomorrowís blog. I have decided, therefore, to limit these blogs to the material which my notes say I transferred to our website. The Auckland skyline is completely dominated by the SKY Tower. It is 328 metres tall and the highest man-made structure in New Zealand.

It dominates the Auckland landscape by day or by night. They say you can see for 80 kilometres in every direction, though not that far when your eyes are shut. But it is not only there as a viewing platform. In actual fact, as Auckland is located on a very narrow part of the north island, if you look east or west, you would only see water, or even see sea water. True, to the east, there are some islands and I will be telling you more about one of these very soon, partly because it became my home for, on and off, almost 2 years.

If you look to the north, though, you will see the Auckland Harbour Bridge, opened in 1959 as a 4-lane crossing. Until then, if you wanted to get across to the North Shore, you had to use a ferry. Someone, somewhere got their figures wrong because ten years later they had to add two lanes on either side making it now an eight lane bridge. In another interesting planning decision, there was no cycle or walkway access across the bridge. AJ Hackett, the originator of the bungy jump, noticed that the bridge was a tall structure over water and immediately set up a bungy jump from the bridge. They also operate a bridge climb which gives the wonderful views back into the city, once again, assuming you have your eyes open. The bridge has been unfavourably compared with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in Australia funnily enough, and is also known as the coat hangar, for obvious reasons, less obvious if you donít choose to hang your clothes over a large river.

But, let us return and ascend the tower. I once worked in London in a building known as Royex House. I worked on the 14th floor for about eight months and never used the lift. I have climbed our Monument twice, 62 metres, and again never used the lift that they donít even have. However, on our guided visit to SKY Tower, I had to use the lift. There is no other way. The lift is very quick and, to help those like me who donít like heights get used to them, they have very kindly put a glass floor in the lift. Thanks a lot. The things I did for this project. When the lift stops you get out on a circular walkway and my suggestion is you stay close to the inside. Should you so desire, and your psychiatrist isnít watching, you can then climb 44 metres up a steel ladder and have a stunning, so my guide said, 360į view over Auckland. I took her word for that, She seemed honest enough.

But some people tend to waste the incredible bravery they have shown by ascending this building in this fish-tank like lift, as they then choose to throw themselves off it doing, what is called, a SKY jump. Celebrities like Tom Cruise, who was a lot taller before he did it, Billy Connolly, who I could understand before he did it and Christina Aplegate, who was single and childless before she did it, had recently performed this feat. They jumped from the platform 192 metres above the ground and fall, at about 80 kph, landing safely, so they say, at the base 20 seconds later. It is not a bungy jump though. Jumpers wear a specially designed suit and harness that is connected to a cable and clipped to their back. They then fall like superman to the ground, making sure of course that they are still wearing their dark brown trousers.

By the way it takes 40 seconds to go up in the lift so, allowing for gravity, maybe the lift ride is faster than the jump descent. Another Ďby the wayí; the Sky Tower weighs 21 kilos, the same as about 6,000 elephants. In my personal view, I would prefer to jump off the same elephant 6,000 times rather than from the Tower. Anyway, and needless to say, my girlfriend tried it. She seemed to enjoy it, including the bit where they stop you on your descent and let you dangle outside the Orbit restaurant and Observation deck just below it, so that everyone can take your picture. I canít tell you how it feels but my girlfriend said it was really good, once I got her back and collected all the others bits.

That is not all you can do in the SKY tower. At the lowest level there is a casino, bars and even a club on some nights. And back at the top, where I had inadvertently found myself, there is the Orbit Restaurant. This is well named because, apart from plane travel, it is as close to going into orbit as I would wish to be, no ticket for me, Mr Branson, but it also revolves. Now, please donít ask me how, just accept it does. Every sixty minutes you make a complete revolution, at 190 metres above the ground. It is said that the staff there are the highest paid in New Zealand, but even that joke isnít correct as there is a cafť bar on the level above. There is much, though, to amuse you as you eat your food and take your mind off the view, and much to concern the waiters. The centre part of the restaurant, where the kitchens are, doesnít go round. So, when you start your meal, your waiter pops out of the kitchen and turns left to find you; then 20 minutes later he pops out and has to turn right. The clever ones amongst you will now have worked out if it revolves clockwise or anti-clockwise. Iím not telling you anyway because I have a digital watch. What is more, the very outside of the restaurant doesnít revolve either. The windows stay still. This means if you put your bag on the ledge beside the table, you wonít be seeing it again for sixty minutes. Seriously, the food was as delightful as the view but doesnít change quite so often. The menu was contemporary New Zealand so it included a pacific flavour. Personally, I kept leaning inwards to balance the tower, but I would recommend it for the food, the view, the chance to relax and for those who wish to conquer any fears they may have in pleasant surroundings with an ice cream dessert.

Talking of relaxation, I remember when we were in Auckland we were also invited to one of the most de luxe cinemas I have seen. I think, although my notes donít say this, that it was part of a massive cinema complex and was known as the Gold Class. You will see from the photo that you had ample room to watch and you could press a button on your seat and someone would come and bring you a drink or a snack. Iím not sure how well the idea was working though as, when we visited, which was during the day it is true, there was no one else in the cinema. I also donít remember what we watched.

Okay, I think we have spent long enough up the SKY tower, letís come back to earth and settle into central Auckland. I will be blunt and honest, only one of which the Queens ex-surveyor of pictures managed. I donít like Auckland. To be fair, I am not over-keen on many cities. Melbourne and Perth, I like very much; others donít do anything for me and Auckland came into this category. Furthermore, it had too many tall buildings, another of my dislikes. I can see why. There isnít much space and so, if you canít expand width-wise, you need to go upwards, something my own physique has notably failed to achieve. The actual terrain is fantastic. Queen Street, which runs down to the harbour is one of the steepest roads I have encountered, although steeper when going up. Most of roads rise and fall but it lacks something.

Twenty-five per cent of the whole population of New Zealand live in or around Auckland but on my first visit I could have been forgiven for extrapolating that to mean seventy-five per cent of New Zealanders are Asian. Please donít take this as a racist comment, just simply an observation. There is a large Asian community in Auckland. Many of them come as students; the student Ďtourismí market is a very lucrative one for New Zealand and its universities. Many of them come to study English at the numerous language schools in Auckland. I am sure that they like what they see and then families will come over and settle too.

You only have to walk along the streets to see a plethora of Asian shops and restaurants. As I am sure you know, originally New Zealand was inhabited by the Maori and then Europeans, mainly British, came and settled. Later, other people from the Pacific Islands came across, especially Samoans, Tongans and Fijians. It produces a diversity of cultures and lifestyles and they all have to get on together. Sometimes it can be quite difficult. Some people find it hard to adapt to a different way of life and sometimes similar groups will all live together and a whole area will become less New Zealand and more Asian.

Iím not sure I know the answer to this problem. As an Englishman, Iím afraid my countrymen, years ago, did quite a good job at destroying cultures. We werenít as bad as some and we didnít, in many cases, set out to kill the inhabitants, but we did take away their land, their lifestyle and their customs, often just by being there. I wouldnít want the new New Zealand to lose its culture, a combination of the indigenous Maori one and a European one. While I was in New Zealand, a politician made some comment that, as there were no true blood Maoris there was now no Maori culture. That was not only silly but also dangerous. Everyone who feels a part of them is Maori, is; everyone who follows some of their customs and traditions is also bringing that culture to life. To say there is no Maori culture shows a complete lack of understanding of peopleís feelings, beliefs and heritage. Fortunately Maori culture is not only strong, but also thriving and even if there is no full blood Maori any more there is a full bloodied Maori culture.

New Zealand also has a strong sporting culture. While we were in Auckland we got the chance to crew an Americaís Cup Yacht. The Americaís Cup, or as it now called the Louis Vuitton Cup, was first competed for in, I think, 1851 between yachts from England and America. America won it, took it home and there it stayed, despite many challenges from the UK, until 1984. By then other nations were competing too and in that year the trophy was won by Australia. They then staged the competition in Australian waters and funnily enough it was held off Fremantle, our other home. Unfortunately for Australia, America won it back and then in 1997 New Zealand won it, held it here in 2000 and won it again. Then in 2003 they lost it to the Swiss, not known as a great yachting nation. Letís just say a few of the crew were New Zealanders to avoid any unpleasantness.

Switzerland then spent a few years checking where they could hold it off their coast, discovered they hadnít got one, and so it was held off the coast of Spain (well it begins with an S doesnít it) in 2007. This was all written some time ago and, I will leave it as it was when I wrote it or else I will have to keep updating this section with a history of the America's Cup. Competing costs a vast amount of money, maybe as much as NZ$150,000 million. In fact there was no Australian challenge in 2007 for that very reason. Itís hard to say why the event is so popular. Sailing is not a great spectator sport although we were told that there were literally thousands of boats out on the water in 2003 when New Zealand challenged Switzerland in the final race

The question that could be asked is what do you do when youíve won the cup. If you are Australia, you put your boat in a museum and look at it. If you are New Zealand, you go and win it again and then some clever guys buy a couple of ex-Americaís Cup boats and everyone can have a go in one. The clever guys, Cam Malcolm and William Goodfellow, both came from the Bay of Islands and travelled down to Auckland, in a boat of course, to watch the first defence in 2000. The boat they sailed down in, they were going to use to take spectators out to watch the races.

While having their bottom scrapped, or something nautical, in a boatyard, they found out that one of the competitors had gone bankrupt and they made an offer for the boat. No, said the liquidators. After two months or so they said yes but Cam and William wanted the plans included in the deal. No, said the liquidators. Two months later they got the boat and plans and set up SailNZ, which now owns two ex-Cup boats, renamed NZL40 and NZL41 as well as a catamaran called ďThe EdgeĒ and Lion New Zealand. You can crew the latter, which belonged to the legendary and sadly now deceased Sir Peter Blake, while ďthe EdgeĒ is the fastest commercial sailing catamaran in New Zealand. Been on that too.

The two Americaís Cup yachts are not the actual New Zealand winning ones but very similar. As you can see from this photo they dress you up with this strange device around your neck. For motor racing fans this is a HANS equivalent (Helps Aid Non-Swimmers). Then they tell you some safety rules; donít stick your hand in the pulleys, donít stand in a coil of rope or you could go through the pulley and up the mast. They did say the view was good from there but not really worth the pain nor the fact that you would 8 metres long and as thin as a stick.

And then we motored out of the berth and into the main harbour. This was pleasant. Then they told us a little bit about how to sail one of these ships. They explained that there were four sets of handles on the deck, which operated winches, the handles were called grinders, and by turning these handles you could operate the sails. Then they told us to do it. Well I mean, here I was having a pleasant sail through Auckland harbour and I was expected to turn a handle to put the sails up. Anyway we decided to have a go, after all anyone can turn a little handle canít they? However they expect you to turn it fast and two people do it so if you donít turn as fast as the guy sharing with you, you perform a triple somersault and end up in the water (scoring 5.9 for technical merit itís true).

You have to turn it either backwards or forwards, depending on which way you want the rope to go. Apparently the boats have a crew of 16, four of whom are intelligent and the rest strong. This is obvious, as there are arrows on the grinders to show which is forwards and which is backwards. So, here we were standing face-to-face and hauling up this vast sail so that the others on the boat could have a pleasant trip. Incredibly, or at least I thought it was incredible, when they have the pretty red sail at the front as well as the big one at the back (note I have all the technical terms here), the sail area is greater than the wing area on a jumbo jet. This caused me two worries. Firstly why donít we fly and secondly why do jumbo jets fly. I suppose itís because our sails were sort of vertical and the jetís wings are sort of horizontal. By the way the pretty red one is called the jennaker or maybe gennaker but not spinnaker which we had just hauled in. See I can grind and listen. Some women would like that.

For those who feel intelligent and would like to be in an Americaís Cup race, you can have the job of skipper, navigator, tactician or helmsman. The crew will additionally include an observer from the race committee and maybe the owner or sponsor. The observer is presumably there to make sure you donít switch on the engine if your grinders donít know forwards from backwards, while the helmsman, he steers the thing, may be intelligent, but I think he probably has poor eyesight as they give him the choice of two very big steering wheels. We both had a go and the guy in charge tells you what to aim at on land and you do it. Pretty simple really except, unlike a car, you are constantly having to correct it as the waves first hit the bow (oops got a bit clever there), sorry I mean the front and then the stern or back-end.

Actually, and I didnít tell him this, itís a bit like rally driving, which I once did, on rough roads. However the correction technique on the boat is a lot smoother and slower. I thought if he saw me cross my arms and left foot brake, (where was the brake?), he might get frightened. By co-incidence we passed a boat which we were told was hired by the Mitsubishi rally team who were in NZ for the international rally held around Auckland that weekend. They knew when they were beaten and graciously waved at us as we roared past. Back to the driving bit and on the mast in front of the wheels there are several LED screens that show various readings. For us only the speed one was switched on and it was fascinating to see it change as the boat, almost imperceptibly, changed direction. By watching it, and positioning the boat, you could increase speed by almost a knot.

With a sailing ship you rely on the wind, really, and most of the time the boat is sailing at an angle as the wind pushes into the sails and forces the boat along. I think I heard that they can sail at 35į before things get nasty (it tips up) but I may not have heard that right. We spent quite a lot of time at 30į. They told us that in five years they had never lost anyone overboard; mislaid yes but not lost. Americaís Cup sailors are a bit like backpackers. Backpackers, without their backpacks, can always be seen leaning backwards, they are so used to compensating for the weight of the back pack; the sailors, compensating for the tilt of the boat, can always be found leaning against bars etc as they canít stand up straight without this.

One slightly amusing thing was sailing under the Harbour Bridge. Itís a long way up from the deck to the top of the mast but it didnít look to me as though we missed it by much. We sailed around for two hours and then had to return back. On the way we passed the new New Zealand boat, which will challenge in 2007 and, if they win, sorry when they win, the next series of races in 2010 will be back here in Auckland and I, for one, will try to be there if at all possible. I always thought sailing was a bit boring, I mean you are at the mercy of the wind all the time, but this taught me it was not. I was just thankful that we had done this now and not many years ago when there were no pulleys to help you tighten or slacken the ropes. Of course I am too intelligent to be a grinder and anyway, as I write this, I have this sharp pain in my left elbow which doesnít really want to straighten.

Seriously though it was tremendous fun and a great experience. I know that the pictures can only give you a little idea of what it was like so we suggest that if you ever get to Auckland, try it out. I think it is superb way to capitalize on the success New Zealand as a country has had and a great opportunity for everyone to find out how it feels. I know that if I get the chance to watch the races in 2007 in Valencia I will have a far greater understanding of what goes on. Of course in race conditions everything happens so much faster and a missed turn on a winch can lose seconds. So we would like to say thank you to everyone who let us have the chance and especially our crew; the skipper, helmsman and the non-intelligent ones who moved the sails about. What I couldnít understand, though, was that of the 30 or so people on the trip, only 10 of us seemed to want to join in. Weird. If you want to observe Auckland Harbour, buy a rubber ring and float off on it. NOTE:the boats used in the America's Cup now (2017) are different and actually skim along the water.

I wanted to tell you more about Auckland and penguins, Scottís hut, the K Road, but time, or more likely space, does not permit. And, because we ate out in Auckland so often, I am giving you a mouth-watering look at a selection of dishes. The first is a stone-grilled mixed seafood main course from Degree restaurant which is situated right next to the berth for the two Americaís Cup yachts. If you choose one of these stone-grilled dishes, your dinner comes to you on a slab of volcanic granite, from Adelaide by the way, which has been preheated to about 400C and proceeds to cook itself, the dinner not the rock, before your very eyes. The granite takes between 12 and 14 hours to reach that temperature and stays warm for about three hours. Obviously this discourages wiping your plate with your fingers after eating but my mother told me that was rude anyway and she should know. The last photo was the dessert from the same restaurant and was intended for 2 to 4 people. Letís get one thing straight; it was superb. Letís get another thing straight; I couldnít find anyone else.


Oh and this photo came after we went to the St Petersburg restaurant in Parnell. It offered genuine Russian and Uzbek cuisine. It was a fun evening and the owner dressed us in traditional costumes to have the meal. We started with a selection of entrťes, which included Marinovaniye Gribi, which is Marinated Mushrooms (and included a shot of Vodka, more, in every sense later), Bliniís, which are Russian pancakes, filled with beef in our case, and Belyashi, which were beef filled pasties. Then for the main course we had another selection, which included the most famous Uzbek dish of Palov and Lososy, a special from the chef of Salmon Fillet with home-made crispy potato pancakes and served with green onion and grilled carrot . The dessert, was a home-made Russian cake with berries, cream and filled with strawberry jam. The owner then insisted on joining us for one or two shots of vodka, although I think he operates some sort of binary system of counting because on my western scale it seemed to be more like seven or eight shots but who was counting, indeed, who could? I certainly appreciated my training on that yacht as I tacked, possibly slightly over 35į, back to our accommodation; on foot I hasten to add or, even occasionally, on feet.

And for those who wonder how this old guy manages to keep up this frantic lifestyle, I take my exercise seriously.

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