This post was updated on March 26th, 2017
After five years of planning, I have finally arrived in Auckland. It is in the morning of January 11, 2013. Two days ago I boarded a plane in Scandinavia, then flew via London Heathrow and Hong Kong to Auckland, New Zealand. When I boarded the plane back home it was winter, with temperatures below freezing…which is summer in New Zealand, with a temperature differential in the range of 40˚C. Well, for a bike ride you don’t want snow, that’s for sure.
Months earlier I had booked my journey and the flights–which seems even longer ago now that I have arrived. But will my plans work out? I don’t quite know yet.
I had booked a guided bike ride, which would start on Tuesday January 15, and would take me from Auckland on the North Island – or Te Ika-a-Māui as the Maori call it – all the way to Christchurch on the South Island, which is also known as Te Waipounamu.
Well, maybe I should not say that I booked it, but rather it kind of booked me? This because the original plan was to arrive by the End of November 2012. Everything was prepared for the 2012 trip (well OK, my suitcase was not packed, but at least my flights were booked) when I was informed that this particular tour had been cancelled. I had a choice of taking the non-confirmed tour in October the same year or go for the confirmed January 2013 tour. And after some talks I was fortunately able to transfer all my 2012 holidays to 2013. So now I would be going in January 2013.
Everybody who has gotten to know me over the past five years has told me that “of course I would have to go to New Zealand, after all the movies were shot there” – believe it or not, these movies (the Peter Jackson interpretation of Lord of the Rings as well as The Hobbit, books written by J.R.R. Tolkien, are among my favorite books) had nothing to do with planning this trip. A phone call changed that, a phone call in which I was told about a documentary of some cyclists who had visited New Zealand by bike, which left me with one thought: That’s where I always wanted to go – a very surprising thought if you have never even thought about visiting New Zealand before. But sometimes you have to surprise yourself. This phone call had kicked it all off. After it I started doing my research. I knew I wanted a bike ride, because that’s how I spend most of my holidays. And I wanted it to be a guided tour which would provide me with luggage transportation and a chance to take it easy if I didn’t feel up to not riding for whatever reason.
So I had spent some time online researching who could offer me the tour of my dreams.
No amount of preparation will ever be good enough it seems. Just about 12 days or so prior to the trip I got the last information from the company that would actually arrange the tour (which was a different one from the one I booked), which is when I read for the first time that I would need yellow sun glasses – which I did not own – and that, since I was bringing my own bike with me, I also needed spare tubes, spare spokes and a spare derailleur hanger. So some last minute shopping had to be done. Well at least I got the glasses. For the spokes I would have had to measure them prior to visiting the shop and for the derailleur hanger they would have wanted me to bring my whole bike to check which one I needed. Great, my bike had been packed since September 2012 and I was running out of time, so it had to do without.
But now I have arrived after two days spent on airplanes and in airports, too excited to be tired. One phone call later someone from the company I booked with – Natural High – picked me up at the airport and took me to their shop, where they assembled my bike for me. For a season I had cycled with a saddle that I just could not straighten out… Their mechanic, Andrew, figured within seconds that I had the seat post mounted in the wrong direction when I put the saddle on…It is never too late to learn new stuff. Thank you, Andrew. When all was done their Auckland facility manager, Logan, took me to the hotel, where I spend the first couple of days before meeting with my group on Monday evening.
After arriving at the hotel, jet-lag caught up with me and I ended up spending the next 18 hours in bed. That was not quite as I had planned it, but maybe it was for the better after all.
So it was Saturday January 12, 2013 when I finally started discovering Auckland. I still had some hope left to find my last spare parts, so my first walk was to a bike shop in Quay Street. They had the spokes, but I would have to come back a day later – yes for an European strange, they had their shop open on Sundays too – with my bike to see if they would have a derailleur for me as well.
After the visit to the bike shop I decided to walk through Auckland and to get the other things that I wanted on my way back to the hotel.
The first place to catch my eye was the ferry terminal, a building designed in the early 1900th by Alexander Wiseman after the Chief Engineer, William Henry Hamer (1869-1940) of the Auckland Harbor Board, filed a report stating that the current – 1904 – harbor facilities where completely inadequate for the future ferry traffic from Auckland to the nearby islands as well as around the world. No different than today, people complained that the building – which was meant to be placed at the end of Queen Street and to house ALL ferry companies – would block their view. So Alexander Wiseman designed a four-floor building with a tower at one end to become the first ever building in New Zealand that was entirely for lease.
The terminal was build in what is called the Imperial Baroque style, its base made of Coromandel granite, which was faced with Pyrmond – Sydney sandstone.
In the early 1980th a report stated that the building did not comply with the current seismic requirements or the fire codes, so a decision was made that the building had to be taken down. Well Aucklanders had become used to their ferry terminal; they would not lose their landmark that easily. Four proposals where received and the winning company got not only the leasing rights for the next 100 years, but also a bill over 8 million NZ dollars to pay for the redevelopment and restoration of the building.
I am glad they found a way to keep the Ferry Terminal. Not only is it a landmark in itself, but also a piece of history.
Wandering down Quay Street I saw another building to my right hand side, which I had read about before – The Sky Tower. With its height of 328m, it is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand, offering a view of up to 80km on a clear day. Of course I had to go up to see what I could see…
Unfortunately the view was not that great, but still from here I spotted the place I wanted to go to by bike on Sunday, Mt. Eden, as well as some other known landmarks of Auckland, such as One Tree Hill or Auckland Domain, which I would eventually visit on Monday.