This weekend I finally settled down enough to take some time to explore my surroundings (my new flat's the building on the right of the photo above). In the first weekend, I was recovering from my flight, watching TV to get a sense of the culture and accent here, running around town viewing flats and doing research on a variety of things such as bank accounts and phone cards. I did, however, find time to grab some yum cha (the term they use for dim sum here) with some workmates and have some long talks on the phone with my parents and friends. Last weekend I was busy moving into the new flat and unpacking. (The building with the green in the photo below is the other flat I was considering - on the 14th floor with a great view of he city and the harbour, but a smaller and more expensive room)
This weekend, I finally had some time to explore. I took it easy on Saturday and took a walk to Dove-Myer Robinson Park which is about a ten minute walk from my new flat. It is a beautiful and sparsely-used park by the water on a hill. I had a great view of Mount Victoria in North Shore City across the harbour as well as Rangitoto, an imposingly shaped and sized island created by a volcanic eruption 600 years ago, and the shadow of either Mototapu Island or Waiheke Island in the distance.
From there, I went on to visit the rose garden, took a walk up a hill to an old wooden church surrounded by an old graveyard with headstones recording the passing of prominent members of Auckland society in the 1800s. I noticed that many paths are paved with crushed seashells instead of the gravel that one sees often in North America. Beside the rose garden is a charming tropical garden filled with fern trees and other tropical looking plants. There are a few narrow winding paths through this dense grove, which immediately transports you to an exotic forest with no trace of the surrounding civilization or time period. There were many interesting trees and birds around, including a fiercely fighting pair who nearly collided with my head from flying around so violently.
My favourite discovery there, however, was by the water down a series of steep paths. Surrounded by trees and ferns on three sides, and a shallow lagoon whose floor is white from eroded seashells on the other, there is a tongue of soft, green grass speckled with small flowers. This is the perfect hidden refuge I had been in search of for practising kung-fu without being spotted too often. To be fair, however, it was kind of a rainy day, so I hope that it stays as private it seemed during days of good weather. I helped with an afternoon shopping trip later in the day, as someone I was planning on meeting up with cancelled at the last minute. Apparently his family had just shown up suddenly. I had been interested in seeing him again after meeting him in Florence two years ago on my long two-and-a-half month post-graduation backpacking trip. We haven't been in contact since.
Sunday, I woke up to a cloudless sky - the first day I didn't wake up to showers since I arrived three weeks ago. After joining some co-workers for yum cha, I wandered to a Diwali festival being held at the Viaduct just a few minutes from the restaurant. There were many Indian food stalls selling well-priced and delicious looking food items, but I had already been stuffed from brunch. While I was there, I enjoyed the Indian music and shows being put on the stage. I was also impressed at the size of the masts of the giant private sailing yachts moored along the dock.
After the festival, I walked along the water, and asking for directions a few times, made my way to the Auckland Fish Market. The Auckland Fish Market, situated in a rather industrial area filled with fishing and boating shops, is the centre of the fish trade in Auckland, offering daily auctions and deliveries early in the morning. They also have a retail section with stores and restaurants selling the daily catch. They even offer seafood lessons once in a while, which sound like quite a bit of fun, but are quite expensive.
When I arrived, the buildings immediately reminded me of Sydney's fish market. I was, however, very disappointed at the size of the market. There was really only a few small restaurants and two stores selling fresh fish to the public. Although it was small, the selection was reasonable and there seemed to be a few very good deals, such as a whole barracuda for only $10. I was also very happy to see that they had skate, which is one of my favourite fish that was strangely absent from the San Francisco Bay Area. However, this was the first time I had seen whole skate, and it's odd shape mesmerised me. I also saw good amounts of fresh mussels, squid, other strange fish as well as local crayfish, which unlike the tiny crayfish of North America, are effectively lobsters without claws.
After the fish market, I wandered back towards my new flat. I ended up going through the Diwali celebrations again, where I picked up a pistachio kulfi. It turns out that was the fastest route back, across a mobile pedestrian bridge linking the western pier with the eastern pier. I had to wait at this bridge for a while as it was a long floating dock connected at one end and fitted with an outboard motor at the other, which allowed the bridge to swing open to let boats through.
Later in the day, I took a walk to Auckland Domain, a large park filled with different gardens, pitches (their term for sporting fields), and museums. I enjoyed a walk through the east side of the domain which was densely forested and contained a large variety of ferns and very interesting trees. Some of the favourite fauna I encountered there include the various ferns, including tree ferns, various rātā trees, which are straight and majestic, a variety of fig that produces abundant but hard fig fruit, the twisty pōhutukawa tree, which has beautiful flowers in the summer, the nikau tree, which is a curiously shaped palm, and the cabbage tree, which resembles those generic potted tropical plants with the long slender leaves, except these are much taller than you are. I also encountered a variety of bird species, including one species whose members all seem to be noisily digging through the dirt and dried leaves on the forest floor.
Emerging out of the bush near the museum, I enjoyed a beautiful view of Mount Victoria and Rangitoto along with the Auckland CBD. However, this didn't lend itself to being photographed well, as to get the entire view, one had to walk around a bit as there were many trees around to block the view. Mount Eden, another volcanic cone with a well defined crater, looked tantalizingly close, but I decided I'll save Mount Eden for another day as I still had all of Auckland Domain to explore.
There were a lot of beautiful things to see in the domain such as the greenhouses, the pond, and paths flanked by exotic trees. I really liked the many-branched trees there. These trees were different than the trees I am used to in that they branch very close to the bottom of the trunk, forming a spectacular explosion of thick branches travelling in all directions. Often the twists and turns of these branches would result in horizontal segments, forming benches both on the ground and in mid-air which seems quite accessible if you climb along one of these branches. One of the specimens near the duck pond was particularly impressive and large. Surrounded by grazing ducks and geese, this tree had young couples as well as small children occupying its various limbs. On the way out of the domain, I stopped in at the cherry grove, but unfortunately it appears that I had just missed the blossoms.
Coming back home, my flatmate, who cooks quite well, had roasted a large aged leg of lamb in the oven along with potatoes and kumaras, a thin-skinned and knobby variety of sweet potato used extensively in New Zealand. Served with peas and green beans, it was a good hearty meal at the end of a day of walking and exploring.