Our Last Day in Amazing Auckland

Have you ever experienced an inspiring teacher? Been completely enthralled by a lecture? That is what our entire third day was like, being with the amazing Dr. John Walsby. He is truly a Walking Wikipedia — botany, geology, history, architecture, zoology, marine biology–you name it, he can speak at length about it. Although his extensive knowledge was impressive, what was most memorable was his delivery. He talks with his entire body. For example, he didn’t just say “boom” when describing a volcanic eruption — instead, his whole body exploded–with arms and legs flying in all directions. Dr. Walsby is a writer, an artist, a marine biologist, the author of 5 books, weekly contributor to Nature Watch, a newspaper column, and one of the most entertaining and memorable speakers I’ve ever encountered. So, what did we learn?

Although we tend to lump Australia and New Zealand together, that island just to the west of New Zealand is about 1,200 miles away.

New Zealand’s weather is influenced by its location midway between the equator and Antarctica. It gets warm air from Australia and cold air from Antarctica, which makes for plenty of rainfall. The North Island gets many brief showers, averaging about 4 feet per year. The joke is that Auckland gets all four seasons, frequently within the same day. Despite cloudy skies in many of the photos, the weather has been quite lovely!

Some of his more memorable analogies:
The earth is like an egg cooked in a microwave: a solid core surrounded by an ocean of magma with a cracked crust.
Volcanic activity is like tea being brewed on the top of Mount Everest or a bottle of champagne being uncorked, with the crust on top being the cork. Important fact–volcanoes don’t erupt in the same place twice. Once it goes dormant, it is done.
The formation of New Zealand was compared to a scab that formed on your knee (the knee being Australia) that gets “flicked off”.

Our first stop, Lake Pupuke, was created from a volcanic eruption. A mile across and a half a mile deep, it supplies fresh water for the nearby town of Devonport.

Here is Dr. Walsby, demonstrating what happens when a pukeko gets frightened. The pukeko flushes a white tail to warn his compatriots of impending danger. Had I been faster with my camera, I would have caught him flashing the white handkerchief tucked into the back of his pants.

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And here is a REAL pukeko.

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This beautiful flower is fertilized by birds, rather than insects. It’s “lady parts” are on the outside, rather than the inside of the flower to make it easier for the birds to do their important work. Can you see the long appendage?

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Our next stop is Takapuna beach to see the fossilized trees. When the lava flowed from the volcano, the trees were snapped at the base, with a portion of the trunk remaining. It became encased in hot lava. The flows are clearly visible around what was once a tree trunk.

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Dr. Walsby in action.

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Our final stop was at North Head, a great spot for our group photo.

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I’m not pressing my luck–I’m going for the upload! Thank you Queensland Airport!

Amazing Auckland, Day Two

One of the many reasons we thoroughly enjoy Road Scholar trips is their high quality lecturers. Wednesday morning, New Zealand journalist and author, Gordon McLaughlin, gave us a brief overview of this very young nation. Some interesting facts and figures:

New Zealand is the last land mass to be inhabited, settled by the Maori about 800 years ago. DNA analysis has proven that the Maori migrated from Taiwan, providing a perfect example of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. The long ocean voyage was an endurance test that only the strongest, biggest and fittest could pass.

In the 1840’s, the Maori were joined by settlers from the United Kingdom, with the those of European descent now making up the majority of the population. About 3.5 million live on the North Island, mainly in Auckland, with about 1 million inhabiting the South Island.

New Zealand was the first country to allow women to vote, in 1893; at one time the top three government positions were held by women.

In 1898, New Zealanders instituted an old age pension, with free health care since 1938. Seems Kiwi are not horrified by the thought of “socialized medicine”. And it doesn’t seem to have impacted their quality of care because their life expectancy exceeds that of US males by 3 years, and a year and a half for females.

Both countries have similar percentages of those over 65, and under 15. Education is free, including some university and trade schools. Pensioners also enjoy a variety of freebies, such as train and boat transportation, admission to museums, etc. So how do they pay for all of the free services?

The top tax rate is 35%, with a 15% GST (goods and services tax) built into their prices. So, when dining out, a menu item priced at $25 means that you actually PAY $25. Tax has been included and the wait staff has been paid a reasonable wage, so tipping is only for extraordinary service, and even then is about half of what is customary in the USA. I guess if you are not bristling with weaponry and fighting senseless wars, you have money for such things.

New Zealand is geologically young –a mere 12 million years old. If you have ever walked along the Trail of Time in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, you may recall that equates to only 12 of the trail’s 2,000 footsteps. If you haven’t been there, each footstep represents a million years. Samples of rocks from that particular era exhibited along the trail–starting 2 billion years ago, which is the age of the oldest rocks in the canyon.

Years ago, there were no mammals on New Zealand, so the birds had no predators, which resulted in flightless birds, like the Kiwi.

Sitting atop two tectonic plates, New Zealand has an abundance of hot springs, geysers, and mud pools, all of which we will see when we visit Rotorua. But for our second day in Auckland, we are scheduled to sail in Waitemata Harbor.

View of Auckland from the water.

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It looks like it is going to be a tight squeeze under the bridge. That’s our North island site coordinator, Albert.

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Not to worry, there is an experienced skipper at the wheel.

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Is that a concerned look on that passenger’s face?

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This lovely young woman is a marine biologist.

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Amazing Auckland, Road Scholar Day One

The Road Scholar portion of our journey began on Tuesday, October 29, with a walking tour of downtown Auckland. This city has lots of interesting architecture, much of it newly constructed, so that it is earthquake-proof.

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The sky tower is visible from just about everywhere in Auckland, but during our stroll we managed to catch someone jumping from the tower.  See that little black speck in the lower right hand corner?  That’s him, and yes, it IS an approved activity.  The Kiwi are very big on bungee jumping.   And no, I had absolutely no desire to “give it a go”, as they say down here.

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We ended our walk at the Art Museum, which has a wonderful gallery of Maori portraits.  We weren’t allowed to take photos there, but this postcard gives you an idea of what a tattooed face looks like.

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As one might expect, the facial swelling from face carving is fairly severe.  the guide showed us a large funnel, which functioned as a feeding tube while the facial wounds healed.

I as quite captivated by the flower sculpture hanging from the ceiling in the entryway.  The petals move!

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Auckland has a number of incredibly beautiful parks.  The museum is next to one–Albert Park has this interesting entryway, and we did a quick walk by after our excellent lunch at the museum cafe.

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Our hotel has two things going for it: a great location near the harbor, and a spectacular view from the restaurant on the 13th floor.

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I told told you you could see the sky tower from everywhere!

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We had just enough time for a brief walk around the waterfront before joining our group for dinner.  This picture is for our former host, Norman, to show him that we actually DID see some tall ships!

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New Zealand is an amazing country with many things the USA could learn from, but their wifi isn’t one of them. It is very limited, and blogging is a challenge. So, uploads are being done on the fly, and proof reading is a luxury to be reserved for better connections and more time. Typos will become a regular feature!