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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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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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.

The Modern Loft Style Apartment

Monday 06 September – Mt Eden, Auckland.

It’s 6:35 and Eleanor has gone for a pre-work stroll, but I’m still in bed. I might have dozed off for a few minutes after she left as I’m drifting between dream and lucid thought as the building starts to wake. At first I’m not sure if the noises are real or just the dying elements of an already forgotten dream. Daylight is filtered into the room through and around heavy red drapes that are two storys high. Shapes and sounds are fuzzy and not yet familiar; it is our second morning in this space.

From silence I hear the rush of water, I immediately think it is raining out and hope Eleanor has a coat, on closer listen and I realise the sound is coming from somewhere on the inside of the building. It is not any of our neighbours showers, it seems to come from deeper in the fabric, past our front door; seemingly coming from above and below simultaneously.

There is a loud metallic thud from somewhere in the walls, immediately followed by another, I listen intently but there are no further repeats, only that sound of rushing water. A loud ting follows a few minutes later, like an old water-filled radiator heating up, ting, ting, ting. There are no radiators, or anything else in the ‘loft style apartment’ ™ that could make that noise. I wonder where it is coming from. Every sound seems to echo more than is natural, this building is all square edges and concrete, sound is not absorbed; maybe it travels with the water through the pipes, only to appear for ears that are awake to hear it. There is a creak, gentle yet grinding, humming away in the background, competing with the water for my attention. I can only focus on one at a time, allowing the other to fade until the focus swaps.

Just before Eleanor returns 40 minutes after departing, the building is fully awake, and I start to hear the noises of people moving about; doors banging and footsteps of neighbours on the sheet iron stairs; identifiable and placeable sounds. The underground noises of the building stretching into its day fade away. I lie here for five more minutes and wonder if this 1930s warehouse now converted into ‘loft style apartments’ ™ wakes itself from memory, shaking and stretching a long lost limb before realising its glory days are gone and rolling back over to sleep some more. Much as I want to do.

We moved into the ‘loft style apartment’ ™ in Mt Eden on Saturday and are here for three weeks. Before moving in we contemplated extending the stay, and while the apartment is nice enough there is only one space (due to it being a ‘loft style apartment’ ™), which is impractical for both of us, especially with Eleanor working from home during the day.

The place was advertised as a ‘loft style apartment’ which we find rather amusing as it is on the ground floor, and the floor is probably just below street level. I guess they want some of that edgy New York feel, most of the flats in the building seem to have been advertised for sale using similar wording. I tried to find some information on the history of the building, but there is very little. It appears to have been built in the 1930s and was converted into flats in the 90s. I found reference to it once being a warehouse for the Farmers Trading Co. which would be ironic as we may move to a flat in the old Farmers department store building when we leave here.

The building doesn’t excite from the outside, and the common areas are a bit dark and bleak, verging on the shabby.

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The interior is OK; all white paint, concrete and light wood. it has been decorated in a slightly edgy New York style loft theme as well. I love the acoustic guitar, de rigueur in all the best rentals in 2021. It will remain unplayed during our stay, though I should not be speaking for Eleanor here so perhaps it will have its strings caressed. 

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The view out those huge windows is of a construction site, which may be in keeping with the broader theme, though I suspect that is purely coincidental.

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With just one open-plan space, other than the modern and dark bathroom, it would be perfect for one person. Sadly, however, we are two persons so we will move on.

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Pah Homestead and some big trees

Thursday 02 September – Auckland.

Flippen ‘eck, how can it be September already? Last time I looked it was only August!

For a year that has really dragged, the last 12 months have disappeared way too fast. Perhaps it is due to the exceedingly rapid approach of my 59th birthday, which, by my reckoning, is only one year short of 60 and then I will be proper old. If we are back in Blighty by then I will be eligible for free public transport in London, a sure sign of old age. Though knowing those bastard Tories they will change the rules just before its my turn and make it 61, then 62 etc. Maybe not having a free bus pass will keep me young?

Eleanor and I have been in Auckland for a month and two days, with only three of those days not spent in either managed isolation or New Zealand’s quite strict level 4 lockdown. We are expecting to be in some form of lockdown until October. Our timing wasn’t the best; maybe instead I should blame Covid and say it’s timing wasn’t the best?

Eleanor started her New Zealand contract on Monday, a job she managed to arrange from England (well done Lovely, x). I’ve been looking for work, though the lockdown has made that more complex. With Eleanor working and things being so expensive, me taking on a contract makes sense, it’s not as if we can bugger off on an extended road trip. Though I’ve been off work for just over a month and I feel partly rested, I haven’t had anything that remotely resembles what I would call a holiday. Some may say lounging around in a hotel room getting room service and reading books sounds like a holiday, but anyone who has read this blog for the last few years would know I like to do stuff on holiday, lots of stuff. Too much stuff usually.

I’ve been out walking for a couple of hours every day since my negative Covid test, even if one of those days was just to the supermarket (the long way) to get provisions. Spring officially started yesterday, though we didn’t experience an Auckland winter. It never got properly cold, though it hammered with rain on Monday night and there was some severe flooding in parts of Auckland, but not where we are thankfully. Unusual floods, another thing we seemed to have brought from London with us.

On Monday I took the camera for a walk down through Onehunga. I have started a series of photos of the old wooden churches and halls that dot the cities and countryside.

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Across the Manukau Harbour via this walk/cycle way that has been tacked on under the motorway bridge, to Mangere Bridge.

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There was nothing interesting on the far side (the grass was the same green), so I took a photo under the bridge and walked back. I had visions of walking to the stone fields, but they were further away than I thought, and I am lazy and was dressed in too many layers and needed a pee and all the toilets are closed due Covid. It was a listless walk, a walk for the sake of walking is not one of my favourite things. At least when we move to level three lockdown I can hunt for a coffee.

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On Wednesday I walked back to the harbour at Onehunga, and to a new walkway that has been built around the shoreline towards Waikowhai. I read somewhere ages ago that there was a plan to make a walkway right round this part of the coast and after spotting this on a previous walk I thought I would go and check it out when I next had the chance. I have lots of chance right now. I took a few photos, most of which were rubbish. The walkway is great!

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I passed this (I think) school building from 1920. It says ‘19 BOYS 20’ over the door it. Next door is the complimentary GIRLS building. They have been converted into houses and I think they are lovely. I took this on my phone.

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I also passed this very sad mini buried in a hedge on a quiet residential street and I wonder how long its been there? Decades possibly. I had a quite laugh to myself that someone had dumped a shopping trolley there as well.

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Today (Thursday) was glorious. Sunny and warm and the perfect day to go back to Monte Cecilia Park and take some photos of the Morton Bay Fig trees, then home via the supermarket to get more pinot; both noir and gris. Nice pinots are so cheap here compared to the UK and it is all I have been drinking since we arrived (he says while drinking a can of APA), though we are now on restricted Thursday-Saturday drinking to try and reduce any further belly expansion.

On Monday the legendary reggae/dub producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry died in Jamaica at the ripe old age of 85. After years of just dabbling with listening to dub I have been listening to and enjoying a lot of it over the past 18 months. His music was the perfect accompaniment to a walk under new spring sun. R.I.P The Upsetter.

Pah homestead was built by James Williamson (not the Stooges guitarist) in 1879 as a ‘gentleman’s residence’. It was the largest house in Auckland when it was completed. Monte Cecilia Park surrounds the building and is all that remains of the large original grounds, there are a large number of trees from the original grounds, including the oldest Morton Bay Figs in Auckland. It is a great residential park and it was nice to see there were a lot of people walking; both their dogs and their kids. Park walking in New Zealand means saying hello/good morning/gidday to lots of people which is fabulous and made more difficult with masks, and in my case headphones on.

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After a year of renovation the house was opened to the public as an arts centre and cafe in 2010, and is run by the council who took over the property in 2002. Prior to the council owning it the building had been used as a homeless shelter, migrant housing and nunnery since 1913 when the Sisters of Mercy (not the band) bought the house from the bank. It is closed at the moment.

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I spent an hour or so wandering the park taking photos of the Morton Bay Figs, they are just so magnificent and I have not really done their size and complexity and wonderful, amazing root systems the justice they deserve. Trees can be difficult to take photos of, especially when the sun is bright and the shadows deep.

I love how those huge roots look like the back of a massive great eel or some mythological worm rising and descending back into the earth.

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On Saturday we move out of my sisters’ place and into an Air BnB at the Eden Terrace end of Mt Eden for at least three weeks. It has been great staying here after coming out of MIQ, especially with Covid restrictions meaning we cannot see other people.  It gave us the chance to settle into Auckland, get some basic things organised and for Eleanor to start working from home, without having to worry about too much. Thanks sister of mine xx

I will miss our day time friend, and I think she will miss us next week when my sister is at work and their is no-one to provide daytime tummy rubs.

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Lockdown life

Friday 27 August 2021 – Auckland.

We have been out of managed isolation for 13 days, three of which we had the freedom to do what we wanted. However, the last ten have been in a Covid-19 enforced lockdown, and due to the continuing growth in infections, particularly here in Auckland, we have at least two more weeks of lockdown to look forward to. I suspect we won’t see a full relaxation of rules (i.e. I can go to a gig and drink beer) until October at the earliest.

The level 4 lockdown in NZ is as strict as the first lockdown we had in London, far stricter than the last two or three (I have lost count) we were subjected to in the UK before we left. In this lockdown we are allowed out of the house to exercise, to shop for food or medicine, to go for a Covid test or vaccination or to work if you are an essential worker. You cannot go out at all if you are showing symptoms or are a contact of anyone unfortunate enough to get infected. Exercise can only be done within 5km of home and the only shops open are chemists, supermarkets and dairies; what most of the world calls a convenience store. You can buy beer and wine in a supermarket, but not spirits. I want a brandy as my spirits, in both senses of the word, are low. I have no brandy, so a bath with book, brandy and music is out. There is no point in having a bath without brandy.

The last week has not been one of the best, I had a head cold; the first since I don’t know when. Cold symptoms are similar to the Delta variant of Covid so I went for a Covid test on day two of not feeling well, which was Tuesday. Though I was very confident that I didn’t have Covid, between having a test and getting a negative result you are not allowed to leave the house. I didn’t get the result until Thursday evening which was earlier than expected and of course nor having Covid was a great relief. The sister of mine that Eleanor and I are staying with works in the hospital and has been going into work, partly for her sanity and partly to give us some space, if I had Covid then she would be grounded along with us. No fun for anyone.

I have done well with the various lockdowns, albeit the last few weeks in the UK were at such a low level that being called a lockdown was pretty embarrassing for proper lockdowns. However this time I am struggling and have been up and down all week. Even though we kinda knew this was coming it came as a bit of a surprise. We both thought we would be settled somewhere before the inevitable arrival of Delta and could huddle down together as we are so used to doing. Having the first head cold in months didn’t help, especially with the initial uncertainty that I could have had Covid and all that that entails.

I am not enjoying being restricted in what I/we can do. I was looking forward to getting out to the bush and the west coast beaches; Piha and Karekare and up to Muriwai, where dad’s ashes were scattered 14 years ago. There is plenty of time to visit those places, but they are where I am happy and not knowing when I can walk on the sand or in the trees or see my mum and son and grandson again nor meet up with friends for the first time in a couple of years is somewhat depressing. I am not even thinking about the record shopping or gigs that are not happening.

I am a good reader, I am well into my eighth book since we arrived, I love books and am content lying around with music on and a book in my hand; but not all day every day. I want to do things, and I can’t. Admittedly if I was able to do things I might choose to sit around reading a book and not do anything at all, at least then it would be my choice.

I am not blaming the government (unusually) or anyone for this predicament we find ourselves in, it is what it is. I am just bored, getting fat (I know I can easily help that) and am worrying a little about money as New Zealand is SO expensive. Eleanor starts a contract on Monday which will help, but crikey we are burning through cash and that is just (mostly) buying food basics in the supermarket, fresh vegetables are not cheap. I never worry about money, so this is unusual. I guess it is all about not being in control at the moment. 

Moan over and I feel much better; thanks for listening, it was good to get it off my chest.

Last Saturday Eleanor and I walked down to the old two-lane bridge across the Manukau Harbour between Onehunga and Mangere. When I started work at Auckland Airport 40 years ago this was the way we went to work until the current motorway bridge was opened after years of delay in 1983. I was hoping to be able to walk to the middle of the old bridge, or all the way across to Mangere Bridge Township to take some photos, however the old bridge is now being broken up and a new pedestrian/cycling crossing is to be built. This was somewhat disappointing. Oh well, change is good and at least we got a decent walk in.

I know we went to the bridge on Saturday due to the time stamp on the photo, I would not have had a clue what day it was otherwise. The days are now blurring together somewhat. It is like being in managed isolation again but without three meals a day delivered to the door, though with longer walks. Being sick I didn’t do much else during the week other than read, cook and eat.

I was feeling a lot perkier on Friday and having been found Covid free the night before Eleanor and I went back up to Maungakeikei One tree Hill/Cornwall Park for another walk, and this time we went to the top. I puffed and huffed a bit on the way up, taking a photo is a welcome excuse to stop.

As you would expect the view from the top was pretty spectacular, though I didn’t really capture it that well. The cheap second hand 50ml lens is not very sharp so I may have to replace it with another one when money comes rolling back in again.

The money for the obelisk was bequeathed by Sir John Logan Campbell to honour the Maori people of the area, though it was built in 1940, 28 years after his death.

New Zealand is dominated by green, most New Zealand native trees are evergreen but there is a surprising variety of colour and shade across the various species. Viewed from above and mixed with a few European imports the patches of trees are beautiful.

Back in Cornwall Park I introduced Eleanor to the Morton Bay Fig tree which she says is now her favourite non-English tree, they are massive and magnificent and there will be more photos of them here soon, the ones I took today did not do them justice. These are not Morton Bay Figs, and I don’t know what they are, yet. My tree education is going to start now.

It was very enjoyable being out and getting to stretch the legs and I plan on doing a lot more of it over the coming week.