I had to speak to two people in Auckland. Venkat Raman is the top honcho of Indian NewsLink, a well-received digital and print newspaper, which had published a story that had also touched upon my travels Down Under. We had promised to meet up when I would be in the city. The next was a Facebook friend, Roy Vellara, who works for Archibald and Shorter in Auckland and stays in Taupo. Venkat initially gave me time at 10 am and then gradually postponed it to noon and later a half hour after due to certain commitments. I exchanged greetings with Roy, reconfirmed the date of my visit to Taupo and agreed to meet up with him there. He was a weekend visitor to his home.
Monte Cecilia Park is just 100 meters from the back door gate of Kapil’s house. He suggested a leisurely walk in the grounds to appreciate how a former active volcano has been ‘landscaped’ and developed into a beautiful park. He also suggested a cup of coffee in the Café, which he said is, arguably, the best in New Zealand. We drove up to the 30 acre Park which housed the erstwhile Pah Homestead, which was once described as “the finest house in Auckland Province”. The land had been settled upon by the Maoris for over 400 years till it was bought by William Hart, a land agent and hotelier, who developed the enviable landmark in over 200 acres. The homestead is now a museum and café with a large number of artworks around it, mostly sculptures. The beautifully landscaped park has benches placed in various locations from where one can sit for hours and admire the sights of the waterbodies, city and the Park itself. The atmosphere is so serene, which brings about a certain calmness of mind. Walking through the Park helps to fill your lungs with some of the cleanest air on the Planet. On the grounds of the Park are huge Montero Bay Fig Trees that must have been around much earlier than the homestead that dates back to 1848. In the first half of the 20th century the homestead served as an orphanage and boarding school under a Catholic Order of nuns. The property remained with the Church till the end of the century and in the early part of the current century the Council of Auckland purchased the property and converted it into a public park. The Café is unfortunately closed on Mondays and we had to leave, sadly, without tasting “the best coffee in New Zealand”.
While waiting for the time with Venkat we explored a Countdown store in the vicinity of the proposed meeting venue. While doing the rounds of the large store I met Flory, who turned out to be from Chennai. She was so happy to meet someone on who she could use her native language that she launched a volley of sentences in Tamil. I politely told her that, while I was based in Chennai for work. I hail from the neighboring state of Kerala. She told me that she has a house in Kottivakkam, which is not very far from my workplace in Chennai. Later, Mrs Shukla and Hetal met her and had a long chat with Flory. She became quite emotional when we took leave of her.
Venkat had arranged our meeting in a cafeteria, where we reached without much ado. Over a cup of coffee we talked about our careers, expeditions and future plans. The newspaper has a physical circulation of 15,000 and its digital version is quite popular. Venkat had promised to get me a copy of the paper that had carried the story about my travel. He apologized profusely as all the copies had been distributed and none was available readily in his office. He said he would get a copy from the office archive, which I could collect the next day. Once the interview was done – he took down points in a notebook with a fountain pen and his handwriting was neater than print – he tried to get me appointments with a couple of important people in the city, including the PM. As his messages were not readily reciprocated he said he would revert once he heard from them.
The Viaduct Harbor on the Auckland waterfront, which was once a commercial harbor, was the next on the list. It is now a superb development of upscale apartments, offices, restaurants and cafes. I parked in a slot which was paid parking. I expected that we would do the rounds of the waterfront and Sky Tower in a couple of hours and charged the parking meter for that many hours. We walked along the Basin that had many moored yachts, including the Ranui which served as the Regal Yacht in her prime. There were many interesting sculptures too, many owls signifying different things such as the X ray Owl and the Beach T’Owl. I stood and gazed in wonder at the moving sculpture of the Nautilus.
The walk and the late hour had made us hungry. That is when my eyes fell on a Chinese restaurant, where we gravitated to. They served us a dish of stir fried vegetables and tofu cooked in soy sauce, avoiding oyster sauce in deference to the three vegetarians. The portions were huge and we took our time over it with rice and hot Chinese tea. The restaurant was taking its last order for lunch as it was almost a half hour past three. Many tanks displayed live lobsters, oysters and fish for order.
Once lunch was done it was a short, but steep, walk to the Sky Tower, which is an observation and telecommunications tower. It is 23rd in the list of tallest building of the world. The Shuklas got a concession on the entrance fee after producing government issued documents. The first lift took us to Deck 51 and we had to take another to Deck 60. The visits to both the Decks was one of the most memorable features of my expedition. The 360 degree views of the city and its landmarks from that height - Deck 60 was at over 200 meters – are panoramic and mesmerizing. With good weather and light I was able to capture the ‘spirit of the city’ on my mobile phone camera. The glass bottom in some of the sections of the decks help to appreciate what goes on below from that height and I almost froze on the glass panel! The Sky Tower also offers adventure seekers the opportunity to sky jump from one of the decks. I watched, with growing interest, a lady getting prepped and completing her jump. A bungee jump is on my wish list for the current tour; possibly to be done in Wellington.
When we were thoroughly absorbed in the sights that kept us going round and round the decks Shukla, fortunately, remembered that our time at the parking meter was about lapse. I made a dash for the parking lot leaving the others to walk down. I was happy to reach the parking lot just after the time was up. The penalty was avoided. From there we drove to Mission Bay, which Kapil had highly recommended. We motored as slowly as the traffic would permit us along the Tamaki Drive. When the views became irresistible we found the Tamaki Yacht Club parking lot and moved in without even bothering to check if that was permitted. We were willing to face anything to be part of that lovely setting. The rocky ‘steps’ to the waterfront in the background of bluish-grey mountains, yachts and a setting sun was a magical experience. Tearing ourselves away from the Club premises we drove on to Mission Bay beach. New Zealand seemed every bit God’s Own Country, much more suited to this place than the one it is used for, Kerala. The centerpiece of the beach is the Trevor Moss Davis Memorial Fountain, gifted to the beach by his father after his son suddenly died in 1945.
Dinner with the Kauls was another elevating experience. Besides ‘releasing the Krakken’ it was a table full of gourmand’s goodies. There as special yellow Dal – also used as soup – delightful Dum Aloo, pasty Okra and a delectable kheema. Wow, what a feast. I overate for the second day in succession. Portions and more portions of rice filled my plate with the side dishes. Eventually, I stopped when my jaws started to ache. The food was amazing, to say the least. At the table Archana told us about the foul weather that was heading our way from the South Island. Anyway, that could be tackled later. Immediate was the plan to get the car replaced because Kapil and I felt that the car has less juice than what was required for what lay ahead. We also made plans for the next day and went to sleep with them.