The nikau grove

Monday 18 October 2021 – Auckland Domain.

Having finally restarted work on the novel I’ve been meaning to write for at least the past two years I managed to distract myself again with an idea for a short story. I’ve not achieved much with the novel though I at least have the broad concept. I’d completed enough research to finish a historical timeline that gives context and background to the plot, and then stupidly left the notebook I wrote it in back in London. I’ve now redone that work and typed it into a spreadsheet so at least I can’t leave it somewhere again, though typing takes away some of the pleasure and spontaneity of hand writing notes. I have a new notebook, which sadly still remains unsullied by ink or pencil lead. I hope to change that situation soon.

The short story I have embarked upon is partly set in Auckland Domain so it was fortuitous timing to get a call from mum asking if I would like to meet her there for coffee. I immediately said yes, packed the camera in a bag and power-walked my way up to the domain, surprisingly the walk took less than 30 minutes. Auckland is smaller than it appears from car windows.

We picked up coffee and a wee treat each from a café and had a pleasant half an hour chatting by the duck ponds. There were very few people about. After going our separate ways I wandered around taking some photos to use as visual prompts for the short story, though I have chosen to not upload them. This statue from 1955 does not appear to have an official name, though it seems to to be known as ‘The Three Muses’.

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Naturally all the other photos were of trees, there are some magnificent trees in the domain and I have a tree obsession at the moment. My next planned photowalk should have no trees at all, maybe.

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Eleanor and I have walked though the domain a couple of times recently though stuck to the roads on both occasions, as I was walking down the grass bank taking photos of the big open trees I discovered some bush tracks I didn’t know existed. There seem to be three of four interlinked trails here and I chose to walk down the Nikau Grove, and wow, that was a great choice! The nikau is New Zealand’s only native palm they can grow quite tall and have an old-style house-brush shape when allowed to grow free. I really like them for their usually quite reliable geometry, though in a dense grove of both mature and immature trees they are a chaotic mess of crisscrossed lines, bright reflection and deep shadow, and great to look at and photograph.

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It was absolutely my sort of place to take photos and I’m definitely coming back here once I get my hands on the tripod legs that are stored at mum’s house, I shipped the head over from London and have been waiting to reunite the two pieces. It was just a little too dim for hand-held photos and there was just a little bit too much glare off the shiny reflective fronds in those rare places where the midday sun penetrated the cover.

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It had rained heavily overnight and the small stream that runs through the trees had overflowed and was utilising the well worn path as the water made its way down hill. I managed to avoid getting wet feet by hopping from one side to the other. It almost felt like a jungle adventure, and with a bit of imagination it was a much needed, though very tame, thrill.

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All in all it was a very enjoyable and unexpected day out.

Now Phil, less procrastinating and get back to story writing!

P.S. I now have the tripod legs.

Exhibition Drive

Friday 15 October 2021 – Auckland.

Wednesday 13.

Another week or so has passed and in the main I haven’t done anything that I feel like writing about. However, I feel like writing something and with story writing inspiration at an all time low I’m writing this; as they say it is better to write something than nothing.

Auckland is in lockdown level 3.1, the not as strict sequel to lockdown level 3.0. We can meet people outside, though only one household at a time. There are 55 new cases as I write this (on the day I posted this it has leapt up to 94 (sad face) ) and given the New Zealand government’s desire to keep infections low until vaccinations are much higher, I’m not expecting any respite soon. Conversations have started (mainly in my head) about when we just decide to give up and go back to London. Even the thousands of cases a day, the petrol crisis, the energy crisis, the reduction of food on shelves and more Tory governance seems better than not being able to do anything. I was expecting to be on my way back from a quick visit to Australia as it was my granddaughter’s 5th birthday on Saturday, but sadly, due to Covid-19 I’ve not been able to go. To cap it all off one of my favourite bands played a gig in St Leonards on Saturday night and it made me a little sad to not have been there.

At least under lockdown level 3.1 – the not as strict sequel we can see people, so we caught the bus out to Henderson on Sunday afternoon and had a lovely catch-up with my mum, the first time we have seen her in over seven weeks. So much for coming to Auckland to spend time with family! I also caught up with a friend for a coffee yesterday and am planning (weather depending) on meeting another for a beer in a park tomorrow. Seeing people brings some relief from the feeling of being away from it all.

Friday 15.

Well the good news is I got to have beer (4 cans) in a park with my mate Jeff, and it was very enjoyable. It was the first drink I’ve had with a friend other than my bestie, Eleanor, since we arrived in Auckland 76 days ago, and the first drink I’ve had outside where we are living. I am looking forward to more.

After a failed attempt on Wednesday morning to get to Titirangi and walk Exhibition Drive to take yet more photos of trees I was successful this morning. Admittedly I failed on Wednesday by choice as the rain, while brief, was horizontal. Today was warm and sunny, the complete opposite. Too nice in fact.

It is a two stage journey from the city to Titirangi village with direct buses no longer running outside of rush hour. The train to the nice old Glen Eden station was mostly empty. One advantage of lockdown is pubic transport is almost a joy.

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Titirangi Village has changed since I was last there a couple of years ago, this building didn’t exist then, there was a small and smelly public toilet on this spot. I don’t particularly like it, the new building I mean, public toilets are handy; even smelly ones.

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I still like the old Lopdell House Gallery and the new extension tacked on the side. I was on the board of directors for a small community gallery that had a floor in Lopdell House for a year or so before I went travelling.  I wonder if it’s still there and if it will reopen once ‘normal’ life resumes.

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I bought a coffee and slice and walked the kilometre to the start of Exhibition Drive, eating and drinking my purchases on the way. Exhibition Drive is 3km long and is pretty much dead-flat, it runs along the side of a ridge out towards the Waitakere dams near Laingholm. The road was built to support a pipeline that takes water from the dams to a partially pump-house at the start of the path. I wonder what they’re doing with the building as it was complete when I last walked here.

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There are a few small gated tunnels along the way, and a couple of bits of pipe related machinery too. I have crawled through a couple of these tunnels in the past, before ‘political correctness went mad’ and things were secured. This is a terribly blurry photo, but the best of a bad bunch of blurry tunnel photos!

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I’ve run this path dozens of times over the years when I was less of a slug than I am now. As a closed road it’s a nice place to run and there were a few runners, walkers and cyclists out today. It’s tree lined with some great views to the south and west over the Waitakere Ranges and the Manukau Harbour.

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I took the big camera as the main purpose of this trip was to take photos, though it was a bit too bright for photography and I took less than I hoped and a few of those weren’t that great so won’t see the light of day. I nipped off the path into the bush a couple of times though there aren’t many places where you can as the road was carved out of the hillside. I’m glad I did as this is one of my favourite images from the day.

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At some stage after I left for the UK in December 2011 the Beveridge Track was opened, linking the far end of Exhibition Drive with the Arataki Visitors Centre on top of the ridge on Scenic Drive. I walked most of the way up to Arataki, only turning back when the path levelled out at the top of the climb and the number of other walkers starting getting high enough for me to be uncomfortable taking photos. I like to take photos with no-one around, plus a lot of people were not wearing masks and with a narrow path enclosed by trees this was almost like being inside. I will admit to not wearing mine when there was no-one else around, I’m sick of them.

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When I turned round for the walk back to Titirangi I swapped the wide angle 16-23mm lens for the 70-200mm to get a different perspective. It is my favourite lens, but heavy and not that great up close, so not ideal for use in the bush. In the right hands it does allow for a good photo to be taken though.

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I arrived back in Titirangi 2 ½ hours after leaving, a little tired from the walk, but happy for being in the bush again, even if it was just the fringe. It was nice to be among the trees, especially lots of New Zealand natives, and it is always so much more peaceful walking without cars constantly whizzing past. 

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P.S. I had some writing inspiration and have started a new short story AND completed some research into the novel, this time typing it onto the computer rather than writing into a notebook I seem to have left in London.

Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter

Wednesday 06 October 2021 – Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland.

Wynyard Quarter and the Silo Park are light years away from how I remember them from before I left Auckland. I used to run these streets and the greasy, occasionally smelly harbour side when I was working nearby before the company I worked for moved south to Manukau. This area was all rusty tugs and fishing boats, vast oil and chemical tanks and these weird silos that no-one knew the contents of, other than those in the know. I believe that bulk fuel and chemicals had not been stored here for quite some time, but the land was toxic and it always had that air of desertion that you feel in unloved and unwanted working sections of towns. The fact they have gone and the harbour side has opened up to residences and small parks and loads of cafes, bars and restaurants almost feels miraculous as there had been wrangling on removing the tanks and cleaning the site for years, and as is often the case in Auckland, nothing ever happens at pace.

Though I can still picture in my mind the old barbered wire topped walls and the memory of the feel and smell of an fish and oil infused wind whipping though the mostly empty wide streets as I walk, this renovated small corner of Auckland City now feels and looks really good. It’s a shame about the obscene number of car parks that litter the area, an opportunity for a car free space was well and truly lost.

Being a little disappointed with yesterday’s photos (I had yet to re-evaluate them and change my mind) I decided I would take the camera out to the Silo Park today and have another go at some photography. I had some ideas in mind and decided to use the plastic fantastic 50mm lens rather than 16-35 zoom I took yesterday as that one would not have as worked as well. This is the third plastic fantastic I’ve owned, the last was on the camera I broke back in August 2019. I recently picked up a second-hand one and sadly it’s nowhere near as crisp as the one I’d had from new and I always find myself mildly disappointed with the results. I will replace it with a new one when I’m earning again. 50mm is my favourite focal length, and it encourages the use of your legs as a zoom.

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Today was the first day of a slight relaxation in Covid-19 level 3 rules and people can now spend some outdoor time with another household group. It’s school holidays and was sunny and warm and there were more people out walking than I’ve seen for ages. Nice. While I like solitude, especially when taking pictures, it was pleasurable seeing people enjoying this space. It’s a space for people to be in (not cars).

I started my walk over the road from the flat, in Victoria Park. Crossing over the park near the end furthest from the flat is a flyover that leads to and from the harbour bridge, a pretty decent covered walkway across the park. With traffic volumes low due to the lockdown we can barely hear it from the flat’s balcony.

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The first developments of the Wynyard Quarter were either started or finished, I am not sure which, in 2011, though I don’t recall going there before I left Auckland at the end of that year. There has been continuous development over the intervening years, and I am sure there is more to be done. As I said before, apart from the number of car parks I think this area has been done really well, I particularly like the improved access to the harbour edge.

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Eleanor and I have walked here a few times in the last couple of weeks and I’ve been eyeing up the remaining silos as potential photo opportunities. It looks like they will remain as features in the area which I very much hope is the case as they retain some of the old character, without the smell, and will be there as a reminder of what this area used to be like.  

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There is a viewing platform, though I am not 100% sure of its purpose as it is in a weird position, but it is photogenic, and I was the only person up there until I pressed the shutter.

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I like the contrast of this lunching workman and the monochromatic silos he was eating in.

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Leaving the silos and Wynyard I walked back home via some of the side streets between the flat and the city, taking a couple of photos on the way. There is a part demolished building at the end of Federal St, that’s been like this since before I left the country. I would love to get in and take some photos. 

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I am learning to love the city, though given my negative feelings I think that will take a significant amount of time. Walking most days means I am taking more time to properly see things which allows me to better appreciate what is good amongst all the bad.

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I wasn’t out for long, but it was fun. I enjoyed taking some photos and am mostly pleased with the results, so yay for me.

The pohutakawas of Emily Place Reserve

Tuesday 05 October 2021 – Emily Place Reserve.

I have had a pretty lacklustre few days, there was a bit of rain which didn’t inspire me to venture out and the anticipated loosing of lockdown restrictions and a move to level two of lockdown didn’t happen due to the rise in numbers and the spread of Covid-19 cases to areas outside Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. As you will all know by now the Covid-19 case numbers are still extremely low by international standards, but still too much for Aotearoa New Zealand to support. Correspondingly my support for lockdown is slowly eroding as I see my increasingly expensive holiday disappearing into the distance.

There was a slight relaxing of the rules which means I will be able to see mum again for the first time in seven or so weeks, albeit outside only, so we are hoping for a fine weekend so we can get together. We came back to New Zealand so I could spend time with family and it has been extremely frustrating that I cannot yet do this small thing, even though we have been here for over two months. We spent a lot of money just to be in a small number of rooms together, something we could easily do in the UK, with better telly. Thankfully Eleanor and I still get on.

I had been hoping for another cloudy, maybe even a mildly drizzly day, I wanted to go to Emily Place Reserve to take some photos of it’s amazing and lovely mess of pohutakawa trees. I had walked past it a few days ago on a random roaming-the-city-centre walk but didn’t have the camera on me at the time. I was hoping against bright sunlight as I knew these trees would cast deep shadows and the contrast would be difficult for any camera to properly capture. I was bored and had no other photo mission planned so went out on this sunny morning with the faint hope it would fully cloud over. It didn’t.

When I got home and uploaded the photos to my laptop I was a bit disappointed by my efforts, though not super surprised by that as the light was very contrasty. However, looking again today, a couple of days later, I revised that opinion, spent some time in Lightroom trying to balance the shade and light tones and below are my favourites.

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I don’t know much about Emily Place Reserve, other than what you see is what you get. It is just off the city centre, down from the much larger and better known Albert Park. It is tiny and sort of triangular, it cannot be more than 50 meters on any side. It has a flatish section at the top and then drops down via some steps quite steeply. The main reason I was there the tangled mess of huge and ancient pohutakawa trees that absolutely dominate the top of the park. These trees are so big and sprawling and low that you can no longer walk along the path that was, at one stage, under them. I love how there are steel struts under the branches holding them off the footpath.

Getting in nice and close it’s hard to believe that this is a tiny park in the heart of a city.

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In the midst of the trees are a couple of benches, which were thankfully unoccupied, and a monument with two dedications;  firstly to the memory of John Frederick Churton, who I have never heard of and will have forgotten tomorrow. He was the chaplain of the colonial garrison based nearby when he died in 1853. Secondly it commemorates the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of St Pauls Church which was also built nearby in 1841. The church and the garrison were long gone when the memorial was erected in 1941. It seems the wanton destruction and replacement of buildings in Auckland has been going on for a long time.

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Anyway, the trees are what I was there for and they did not disappoint, they are fabulous and I am glad they have been left and no-one decided that another block of poorly built flats would be perfect for that small, triangular piece of city-centre hillside real estate.

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This final photo was taken outside Pt Erin Swimming Pool on a walk with Eleanor on Sunday.

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The inner-city pad

Wednesday 29 September 2021 – Auckland City.

We have just completed the first week in our new flat, and the good news is I am still happy. This is particularly good news as we are here until the end of February and I don’t want to be sad for five months.

The flat is located on the fringe of Auckland city centre, opposite a park, a ten minute walk to the harbour side, five to the supermarket and less than 15 to Eleanor’s office; assuming she will one day be able to go to work there. Yes we are still in lockdown, though down to level 3 for the last week, which for us is basically the same as level 4 but with takeaway coffee and food. Though, we have had one takeaway coffee and one take out lunch, so far. If things go well there will only be one more week of level 3, before dropping to 2 and a lot more freedom to do things; like visit Mum for instance, and have a pint in a bar.

The flat is very comfortable, fully furnished, modern, and expensive. We didn’t have to buy anything, such as bedding and towels to move in, so I think things will balance out in the end. All property is expensive in Auckland. The thing I am liking the most is that given we are quite central and near some fairly busy roads it is pretty quiet and we don’t hear much of the neighbours; which is a blessing after the Air B n B.

I took a few bad photos of the place; and now realise there is an art to taking good real estate photos.

The building is eight storeys tall and two flats wide on our side, meaning we only have one neighbour, as well as one above and one below. The flat straddles two streets, the entrance on the quieter Dock St, though our flat is on the opposite side.  I love the pipe work.

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We are on the 4th floor and have a view of Victoria Park and up to Ponsonby from the deck and the city north from the bedrooms.

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There was a stunning sunset on Monday night, though the sun itself is blocked by the big tree directly opposite. We have had two early evening glasses of wine on the deck; there is traffic noise, but it wasn’t too intrusive. There is a BBQ on the deck and I am looking forward to testing that out when the weather permits.

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There is a car park with a locker and bike storage in the basement, though we do not own a car and it appears that not many of our neighbours do either as I have only ever seen one car parked in any of those nine spaces.

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The living area is comfortable and larger than I expected it to be, we don’t feel cramped, even with us both ‘working’ in the same space.

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There are two bedrooms, one of which is off the living area and separated by a glass sliding door. This was quite common with the flats we were looking at, and now we are here I can see the point, it really does open the living space out and brings more light in via the bedroom window. We bought a cheap desk and office chair and Eleanor has her workspace in the doorway to the bedroom and this works well. I am perched on the dining table.

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The master bedroom has an ensuite and walk-in wardrobe, neither of which I have had in a flat before. There is a TV and though I am not a big TV watcher this could be useful if I am want to watch TV while Eleanor is working or on conference calls and I need to leave the living area. I can be disruptive at times, particularly when bored. Eleanor does have a bit to put with some days.

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I like the kitchen area, over the week we have got used to how it works, and how we can work in the area together; like making lunch and breakfast. The main issue with the kitchen is those lovely shiny surfaces are now covered in fingerprints. I will not be looking for something that shiny in my next house as I don’t want to spend my time wiping more surfaces than I need to.

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In summary, the flat is great (the neighbours are quiet so far) and I am as happy as I can be given we are living in fairly restricted times.

The other good news over the last week is that the three boxes of clothes we shipped over from the UK were finally delivered on Saturday, about six weeks after they were due. We now have a good collection of big jerseys, heavy coats, scarves and beanies, just in time for summer.

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It was good to get the first week out of the way; we have fully unpacked, settled in and have good routines for living. All we need now is to be able to go out and do things.

Symonds Street Cemetery

Tuesday 21 September 2021 – Auckland.

Warning; this post contains rare positivity.

It is (hopefully) our last full day at the ‘modern loft style apartment’, all being well we should be moving into our new flat tomorrow. I cannot wait to leave these neighbours behind. [Edit – We have moved.] I took the opportunity of our (hopefully) last day here to walk through the nearby Symonds Street Cemetery and take some photos. It was supposed to be overcast and showery but naturally the sun was shining most of the time I was out, unusually that actually worked for me. Here is the positive bit; I was really pleased with my photos, I liked just about all of them and was surprised at how good that made me feel when I started the edit process. A rare treat. Yay for me!

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Symonds Street was the first European cemetery in Auckland, opening in 1842. It was only open for burials for 44 short years, closing in 1886 when the larger Waikumete Cemetery opened out west. As you can see from this image, there was not a lot to Auckland in 1842.

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It is now run by the council and is a grade 1 listed site, though the council have invested very little into the place and it is largely run down. Other than what you see walking along the main roads, it’s in a sad state of repair. The sad state of repair is in its way quite beautiful and possibly deliberate. Most of the cemetery is buried (excuse the pun) down the side of a steep gully in regenerating bush and the graves are overgrown by trees and weeds; fallen down, pushed down, broken down and collapsed. An apt warning for the rest of city centre, maybe. And like the city centre itself the cemetery is dominated by the sound and fumes of cars and trucks, a motorway cuts the cemetery off from the Catholic church.

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It is a hangout for drunks and druggies, for illicit sex, a home for the homeless and a place for the local goths and occultists to congregate at night. It is a scruffy edgeland in the centre of a city. I liked it.

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The cemetery was divided along sectarian lines with Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Wesleyan and Jewish sections. The Catholic, Jewish and Presbyterian sections are on the well managed, tidy open side, bordered by Symonds St, K’ Rd and the motorway. I started my walk here. The photographically interesting Wesleyan and Anglican section is on the other side of Symonds Street and drops down, quite steeply in parts, into the bush clad Grafton Gully.

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When the motorway was constructed in the 1960s, the cemetery was cut off from the Catholic church, with more than 4100, mostly Catholic bodies needing to be re-interred. Old photos of the church show a steeple, which no longer exists and I wonder what happened to it.

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I popped out of the cemetery on to the bike/pedestrian path that runs alongside the motorway and used that to cross under a lockdown quiet Symonds St. I expected there to be a way back in from the bike path but there was nothing there, I walked down as far as Grafton Bridge, then back up again and jumped the fence at a point where I could see the muddy stone path through the trees.

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The first thing I saw were these two helmets, one still attached to the locking mechanism of the scooter, but not the rest of the scooter. On the assumption I wasn’t going to come across any illicit or aggressive meetings (I didn’t, but I was conscious that there are people living here). I knew I was going to enjoy taking photos.

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There are a few official trails in here, they don’t go down as far as the small, almost dry stream at the bottom of the gully, though there are numerous bike and shoe made trails down there. I know this used to be an unofficial urban mountain bike spot a few years ago and wonder if it still is. There would be some interesting riding here, the gully is quite steep on this side, and you can see where gravestones have slipped. I was wondering if any bones would be sticking out of the soil; I would be a bit freaked out if I came across a hand grasping for the air. I didn’t look hard.

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The path took me back underneath Grafton Bridge.

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The bridge was built between 1908 and 1910 to replace an old suspended cable pedestrian bridge that was closed when it was discovered it was dangerously unsafe. On completion the new bridge was the largest bridge of its type anywhere in the world. It remains, in my view, one of Auckland’s best bridges.

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As well as looking down and into the scrub for interesting looking grave stones I also kept my eye on what was going on above, hunting for images of the foliage and the light filtering through the leaves and boughs. The trees did not disappoint. There are some lovely Californian black oak trees scattered throughout the cemetery and I had a few attempts at getting a strong image, though none really made the cut. The further down into the gully and the protection of the trees the more the birdsong stood out over the roar of the traffic, even the limited number of vehicles out in lockdown were enough to create a constant rumble. Focusing on the birds and the trees I could almost, but not quite, wish away the sounds of the city.

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I meandered around under the tree line for a few more minutes, stopping to take photos here and there. Rounding a corner I almost walked into a youngish man sitting on a rock looking at his phone, we both got a fright. It felt like he was just there escaping for quiet from the nearby student accommodation, though he could have been there for a more nefarious reason. It is that sort of place. I was taking this photo a couple of minutes later when he sauntered past me, still looking at his phone.

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There are a few headstones that have been well looked after, repaired or replaced, cleaned and de-mossed over the years, some more recently than others, most are in a poor state though. I like the mix, and I liked knowing that someone at some point cared enough to pay money or attention to a departed ancestor.

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The path eventually took me from out of the trees, back under a slightly overcast sky, and a lower ISO setting. I wandered around the open, top section of the cemetery, taking a few final pictures. While I this part of the cemetery was interesting I enjoyed being in the messy bush area much more. This was the only adorned head stone I came across all morning, which surprised me somewhat, the plastic flowers faded by the sun. I really like this picture.

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I finished my walk at the grave of William Hobson, the first Governor General of New Zealand and one of the British signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi.

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As I said at the start of this post, it was a good day, I really enjoyed the cemetery, being under the trees in a small section of scrubby bush and taking photos, there are not many day time things I like to do more.

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The abandoned St James Church, Mt Eden

Monday 20 September 2021 – Mt Eden.

Yay, some good news today. After 34 days Auckland will drop from Covid lockdown level 4 to level 3 at midnight tomorrow. The only change for us is we can get takeaway food and coffee, which has some appeal, but is not quite where we want to be. i.e. being able to see friends and family. There is still Covid in the community, so we will continue to be cautious, but I am looking forward to buying a flat white on one of my walks; even though we have a perfectly good coffee machine in the Air B n B.

I have been for a two hour walk every day in the past week while Eleanor works, and often for a further hour with Eleanor once her day is done. I rarely take the camera these days as I have walked the neighbourhood enough and have almost run out of things to take photos of, though I am getting fitter and the days of aching limbs and joints are long gone. Who would have thought that exercise was good?

I have been waiting for a cloudy day to take photos of the derelict, for sale, St James Church which is not far from us in Mt Eden. Though the (worst predictions ever) forecast keeps predicting rain each day, all we seem to get is sunshine. It was exactly this today (predicted showers in the morning, then rain in the afternoon, yet sunny all day), but I took the camera to the church as this is one of our final days before we move to the new flat in a different part of the city.

St James Presbyterian Church was built in 1900 and was active as a church until 2012 when he building was deemed as structurally unsafe. A developer bought the church, a hall and the land in 2014 with the understanding they could bulldoze the buildings, though as the building was protected this was challenged by the council and the council won.

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In a situation remarkably similar to that of the St James Theatre mentioned in my last rant post, there was a mysterious fire in the hall, causing that building to be demolished. The land and remaining church building were on-sold to a further developer, and who knows what will happen next. Look out for a 34 story block of ugliness coming soon I suspect.

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I looked for sneaky ways to get inside, but it was quite well boarded up, and while I would have been happy to enter if there was a way, I wasn’t going to force my way in.

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I like the building and it is a shame it has been left to rot. We should be preserving our history where we can, and it’s not as if the church didn’t have a few spare dollars tucked down the back of the sofa to make repairs and keep the building viable. Not everything has to boarded up and turned into a dumping ground.

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Another lockdown day (warning: contains whinging)

Tuesday 14 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

The weather forecast for today, and for the next three days is pretty dismal, rain intermingled with showers and high wind. It wasn’t raining when I got up so I chose to get out early and hopefully miss the worst of the weather coming later. It is now 6pm and it still hasn’t rained, I got hot and sweaty power walking in a coat for nothing, slightly better than getting soaked I guess.

I try to find myself a walking mission to do each day, one that gets me at least two hours out of the flat exercising, so far so good, and I am losing some excess flab which is a bonus. Yesterday I walked to Vermont St in Ponsonby to look at a house that is available for short term rent. It is more than we would like to pay, but it is available and we (I) have finally accepted the reality of property being ludicrously expensive, especially if we want to live somewhere nice and close to the city. I liked the look of it and I had a good walk as well as picking up groceries on the way back. I didn’t take a camera so there are no pictures from that outing, but it was a good one.

Over lunch Eleanor and I got in touch with the real estate agent who had the Ponsonby property about a second listing she had. This new one is a newish two bedroom apartment just outside the city centre and most important it’s available for a short-term let. After a couple of chats with the agent it was sounding positive so my mission today was to do a walk-by and see if I like the location and the look of the building. In lockdown level 4 we cannot view the inside, which has added to the hassle of finding somewhere to live. I just assume all city apartments are going to be noisy, and rule most out just by their location when they could be amazing.

Eleanor had a video meeting at 10:30 so I was out the door before it kicked off, wrapped as previously mentioned for the pending heavy rain and wind. I took the big camera as I wanted to take a few photos in downtown Auckland while there were so few people about. With heavy rain due and with the city in lockdown it should be almost deserted, just how I like it.

If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know my views on the centre of Auckland City and that I pretty much hate the place, which I find quite depressing as I love the broader city; especially the parks, hills and beaches and even some of the suburbs. I have long thought the centre to be insipid, uninspiring, suffering from a lack of vision and leadership, poor planning and a vast amount of developer greed. My view has not changed after today’s walk. It is verging on criminal what has happened to this city over the past 40 years. Sitting on the edge of a lovely harbour, with a long main street that rises up a valley with a park on either side it should be the crown jewels of New Zealand urban landscape and design. It is just a mess, hideous and soul-less. Yes, I know it is lockdown and the centre is devoid of life but it looks and feels just as shit when it is full (mainly of cars and trucks) every other time I have visited.

The Skyworld Entertainment Centre was opened in 2000, just 21 years ago, as THE centre for entertainment in Auckland, with its giant Imax screen and futuristic layout and lighting and the much loved rocket lift it was modern and innovative and looked amazing. I think it is closed now, leaking and falling apart, too expensive to run. An apt symbol of the decay and thoughtlessness let run riot in the city centre. Mismatched and poorly designed buildings, made on the cheap and barely meeting the extremely low building standards of the time, yet construction continues at pace and the skyline is littered with cranes.

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I walk past the back of the derelict St James Theatre, between it and the library. The library forecourt is a small homeless village, though I am assuming (hoping) the library is still functioning. As I was taking this photo a guy out walking stopped and we talked about the state of development across Auckland, he was as unhappy as I was. I went to the cinema at the St James in the 70s, it was the fancy theatre in a block of three, the other two are long gone now, one just a hole in the ground. At some stage in the last 20 years the St James became a music venue, holding 2000-3000 people at a guess. I went to some fantastic gigs there and it was the best mid-size venue in Auckland. The land was sold for flats, there was a mysterious fire sometime over 10 years ago and the place is being left to rot while developers and authorities argue its future. Auckland really doesn’t need another 34 story residential building over a revitalised cultural centre. Auckland needs more housing absolutely, but this is not the solution. And yes I am bitter about what has happened over 40 years to what was my home town.

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There are few people on the street, and about half seem to be homeless or street drinkers, some unenthusiastically attempting to beg from the very few pedestrians taking exercise or escaping their tiny box-like studio apartment. I didn’t feel unsafe in the slightest, but it was grim and there was an air of unhappiness and resignation. Walking down Queen St was not pleasant, there are a number of deserted shops in the mid section of the street; these do not look like Covid closed places, these look like the premises of someone who has given up and moved their business to someone newer and less dispirited. Queen St should be Auckland’s premier street, this is where we invite tourists into the country, cruise liners dock not far from where the street used to end by the harbour. It used to the place to go when I was young, but no more.

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The bottom end of Queen St is much more upmarket, perhaps this is as far as the cruise liner day trippers want to walk; as far up the street as the Dior and other fancy overseas shops go. Perish the thought that overseas tourists are shown anything from New Zealand, other than some plastic tat, tea-towels and placemats in an overprices souvenir shop. I guess they ‘Buy New Zealand’ on one of the other, less urban day stops.

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I cross over to what used to be lower Queen St, and past the being redeveloped Britomart train station. Across the square is the Downtown Mall, perhaps it has another name now? This is also being redeveloped, and the posh foreign shops are moving here. There is a sign on the hoardings round the building site for Commercial Bay – ‘Auckland’s most exciting fashion, hospitality and business precinct…’

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This completely sums up why Auckland City Centre is in such a terrible state. Rather than fix the problems we have; fix the issues with rent that means businesses cannot afford to be on Queen St; fix the issue that means so many are homeless, begging, sniffing glue and drinking in the city centre and encourage the arts and culture back, we just give greedy developers permissions to build a new centre, slightly away from the last. In 20 years this will happen again and this new ‘precinct’ will be as run down and rubbish as the one it is trying to replace.

I move on to walk past this apartment we are interested, ironically less than a kilometre from here, a place I so obviously dislike. The apartment is on the fringe of the centre, opposite Victoria Park; walking distance to cafes and restaurants, but with none in the immediate vicinity (I think) that will create a lot of night time noise. It is less than a 15 minute walk to Eleanor’s office as well, one of the reasons we chose it. I liked it, being near and having a view of a park will be nicer than having a view into someone else’s living space.

I meandered my way back up town, avoiding getting any further depressed by Queen St. I liked this piece of street art hidden away by the side of a bike-path off Upper Queen St.  One thing that has improved since I have been away has been the increase in safe cycling in the city centre. More needs to be done to remove cars, but cycling looks to be much safe than when I used to occasionally cycle to work.

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The path lead me to a side entrance of Symonds St Cemetery, which has long been a late night goth hangout. I took a couple of pictures as I pass, though the need for a loo stop was building and the public toilets all seem to be closed in lockdown so I was forced to carry on home. I will come back and take some photos here another day.

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Once back at the Air BnB I rang the agent to advise that we liked the look of the flat and was given a number to call for the previous tenant who lived there for a few months while working in Auckland. He advised the flat was pretty quiet with the door to the deck closed and that it did look as nice as the photos suggested, just what I wanted to hear. The flat comes fully furnished and even includes bedding, towels and everything we would need to move in and start living normally. This will save us some hassle and a lot of money.

The upshot of all this is, we now have somewhere to live to the end of Feb, and we move next Saturday, the 25 Sep. There is a clause in the contract that allows us 48 hours from when Auckland goes to Level 3 to view that flat and withdraw at no cost if for whatever reason we don’t like it. I will post some photos once we have settled in.

10 more sleeps here, if I can stand it that long. I dislike the neighbours here so much it almost hurts.

YAY !!

A two hour walk to the supermarket

Thursday 09 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

If you read the previous post then you will know how I was feeling this morning when I wrote it, not overly positive. However, the weather is reasonable; there is some sun forecast, so I chose to beat some of the blues and get out for a decent walk and pick up some bits to cook for dinner. Walking was a good idea and I felt much lighter by the time I returned. I had a route in mind that passed the only known piece of brutalist architecture in Auckland, the University of Auckland Medical School, so I packed the big camera just in case.

We are currently looking for somewhere to live for a few months after we leave the ‘modern loft style apartment’ in a couple of weeks. I find looking for accommodation stressful enough as it is, but it is a lot harder in lockdown as we cannot go and see anything.

We found a flat we both liked, which is not a simple thing, and registered with the rental agency. It is in a new build block in Grafton, far enough from the city to be away from the noise, yet close enough to be able to walk to work. It has two bedrooms and we would both have a space we could occupy during the day where I wouldn’t get in the way of Eleanor working, assuming work from home continues to be a thing.

I took a walk by the building again this morning and still liked the look of it. Which turned out to be a bad idea as we were advised late Friday that we didn’t get it as someone was willing to rent it for a year; something we are going to be up against a lot I suspect. Oh well, back to the drawing board at the weekend.

The flat was on the way to the Med School building, the first destination for today, and it turned out to be a major disappointment. It was definitely brutalist, or had been before some sort of modernisation took place. The external fabric of the old part of the building is that classic brutalist concrete, though it doesn’t have many of the harsh angles and features you see on London’s Southbank or Barbican, or maybe they are now covered by the new cladding and extensions? There was some great pipe work though. Along with loads of pre-cast concrete, having some of the usual interior bits as part of the exterior is a classic component of brutalist architecture.

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It was still nice being able to walk around and not have loads of people getting in the way of photos; one of the only benefits of lockdown I guess. It is a shame the building has been extended and re-clad in places, hiding some of its true and brutal nature. I knew I was going to be disappointed by the architecture of Auckland city, and so far I have not been disappointed in my disappointment. To be fair we didn’t return to Auckland for its buildings though.

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It was really nice to find some silver birches at the back of the building, they are lovely trees, though they are considered weeds by many in the UK as they grow so prolifically. Hopefully they will remain scarce and environmentally controlled in New Zealand.

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My onward trip to the supermarket took me through Auckland Domain and past Auckland Museum. The domain is a large park with small formal gardens and the lovely glass winter gardens; reminiscent of the Victorian buildings in London’s Kew Gardens. Alongside the formality of ‘proper’ gardens there are rugby and football fields, which double as summer cricket pitches. It is Auckland’s oldest park and a wonderful inner city green space.

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One of the choices we need to make is where to live, and one of the key components of that decision making is green space and places to walk. Auckland is blessed with lots of green space in and close to the city centre, as well as a harbour within an easy walk from downtown. This makes choosing to live near the city a lot more logical, and also means we can get away without needing a car for a longer period. All we need to do is find the somewhere that will have us on a short term, and one we can afford.

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The supermarket in Newmarket is inside a shopping mall, and it was a strange experience walking though a mall when all the shops, apart from the supermarkets, are closed and there are so few people around. A part of me wishes going to the supermarket was always this pleasant.

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The streets were very quiet as well, also very much to my liking.

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The walk perked me up a bit, a good two hours of strolling and taking photos was good for my soul and I am pleased that I did it today, and pretty much every other day too.

Maungawhau Mt Eden

Monday 06 September 2021 – Mt Eden, Auckland.

It’s Thursday, and three days later, as I write this and I’m bored (“I’m the chairman of the bored”, as Iggy once sung). I’m bored and frustrated and sick of lockdown and sick of being in a small flat with occasionally noisy neighbours. I feel like I cannot do anything or go anywhere; though obviously I can walk, but I am a bit bored with that too. Eleanor is working from home and I imagine she is getting bored with me moping around the place while she is trying to focus on work. I don’t envy her putting up with me. The heavy rain and wind yesterday did little to help my trapped feeling, though I did get out for a decent and spirit cleansing walk to the Domain and down into Newmarket this morning. I will write about that in the next couple of days, editing photos and writing these posts gives me something to do.

Back to Monday…

We moved from my sisters to an Air B n B we arranged back in April in Mt Eden on Saturday, so there are new streets to roam. We roamed a little at the weekend, though mainly to buy food and supplies for the flat. We are here for three weeks and I have concerns on the length of time we have left. I/we liked the flat, though it is not great as a work from home base, and the neighbours can be noisy. I am not a fan of noisy. 

As Eleanor settled into her working day I got out of her way and went for a longer roam taking in the cone of Maungawhau / Mt Eden and the posh supermarket on Dominion Road. It was a nice walk and I am really glad I took some water with me (I often forget) as it got quite warm during the two hours I was out.

Since I left New Zealand 10 years ago the use of the Maori word for things, particularly places, has proliferated, with signs all over Auckland in both te reo Maori (te reo = the language) and English. This is a good thing and I will try to use both the Maori and English names where I can. 

At 196 metres Maungawhau is the tallest of the 14 volcanic cones in Tamaki Makarau / Auckland, there are two cones on the hill and it is thought they last erupted around 28,000 years ago. The mountain was heavily used by Maori pre-colonisation and you can clearly see some of the defensive terracing and food storage pits, similar to those found at the Iron Age Loughton Camp in Epping Forest near where we lived in London.

A lot of the mountain was damaged during quarrying and the construction of a reservoir as well as the roads built to service those and take visitors to the top. There is a great 360 degree view of Auckland from the peak.

Maungawhau is a ten minute walk from the flat and I took the big camera with me for the walk. As well as being useful for taking photos, having a few extra kilos in a pack on a walk contributes a little to losing a few extra kilos of body. Something I need to do.

I took a few photos…

The central part of Auckland city, you can just see the building that houses the flat we are in, it is about a centimetre to the left of the base of the yellow crane at the bottom left of the photo.

We have taken a few walks around the area and have decided that we quite like the city fringe and are looking here for somewhere to live more long term. It would allow Eleanor to walk to work, and offers a range of walks as well as loads of cafes and restaurants; assuming they re-open. It is a bit more interesting than a purely residential area, and will be much less manic than the centre.

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The view over the west, where I used to live in Green Bay and over to my beloved Waitakere ranges, along with a vary tasty looking localised shower!

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I took a few photos of trees, as you would expect.

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I walked up to the trig on the peak, there were a few people on the top, most were masked up, which was good to see. The crater is about 50 metres deep and people are not allowed to enter it as it a site sacred to Maori.

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There is now a boardwalk around the crater and I walked round to the far side which has the view towards the city centre. I passed a couple of the ancient Maori food pits on the way. Like the ones at Loughton Camp, these do not look much, just grassed over holes in the ground, but they are an important connection to the history and heritage of Aotearoa / New Zealand.

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Auckland City.

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I took a small side path to a lower area of the hill, which was flat and I am guessing is a roof over the reservoir. There were these entrance hatches into the ground, something that always fascinates me. I am wondering if there is some sort of (not so) secret bunker under here and the authorities just tell everyone it is full of our drinking water so we keep away. I would love to look under one of those hatches, apparently they are monitored. Keeping the secrets.

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I love how this pohutakawa tree is growing sideways, I am guessing it was blown down in a storm and has just carried on the fight for survival.

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I found another side path to wander down that took me to Mt Eden village. I liked the handmade nature of the sign where the path ended and the road began, a change from all the plastic signs stuck all over the place.

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I walked for another hour, a loop down to Dominion Rd where I grabbed a few things for dinner before walking back home. I was a bit frustrated at the supermarket, with its large car park full of cars, yet there was nowhere for a person on foot to sit and rest, even the curbs were too low for comfortable sitting. It is just not good enough for a huge profitable corporate to not provide any facilities for pedestrians, just loads of space for bloody cars. No wonder so few people walk in this city.