Many conversations I have had with people over the past few months hint at the fact that in NZ the lights only go on after 1 Feb and that the de facto Xmas holidays end then. Schools start in Feb, sales end in Feb (if at all) and there is a gentle holiday feeling across the city until now.
The reason is that the anniversary of Auckland falls on 31 January. It is a weekend full of festivities and splendour and it also marks the official end of the holidays. Thank goodness the city was not established around 5 January!
So the way Aucklanders celebrate their city’s birthday is to make a fuss about the things familiar to them: the sea and everything about it. The waterfront (which stretches from the Ferry wharf to the end of the harbour) becomes the centre of attention over the weekend and thousands throng the wharf.
There are three days of festivities with buskers and street artists on every corner (a la south bank of the Thames) there is a massive Seafood Festival, a fireworks display and it all culminates on Monday with a regatta from the harbour, under the bridge and back again.
Delia (and the other D’s but not Dean – he is in India) took us along on their day trip to the fun. We took the ferry from Half Moon Bay early this morning and on landing headed straight to the Maritime Museum for an interesting overview of ancient and modern craft. With so much placid water around it is clear why yachting is such a big part of Kiwis’ lives. There is a particularly good exhibition about the life and achievements of Sir Peter Blake – a world famous yachtsman who won several trophies for his country only to be killed by pirates off South America ten years ago.
But this was just the preamble to the main event of the day – the seafood festival. One of the piers is cordoned off and dedicated solely to food vendors – each selling a different type of seafood.
Massive pans of orange paella, prawns on skewers, fried just-about-anything, oysters, live mussels and clams, and many more delicacies – all of which was entirely wasted on Jules who took one look at the raw material and then spent the rest of the morning staring resolutely at the pavement. She once looked up and a soon-to-be-sacrificed crayfish winked at her and that was the end of all her tolerance. We found a solitary stall that sold beef hamburgers and she wolfed one down. We ate too much, but with such a variety it was difficult not to. Some of the top restaurants were showing off their signature dishes, so I had seared Jon Dory with prawns on a lemon risotto from a place called “SAILS” and it was absolutely memorable.
I also had a very greasy and tasteless mussel fritter which ended up in the dustbin, and a lovely pear cider which ended very quickly in my stomach.
It was wonderful strolling along the quay listening to various buskers including this brilliant flautist playing native American flutes and pipes (think The Mission).
We bought ice creams and just wandered about, taking in the sights and sounds and the glorious day (after a mini cyclone yesterday). By the time we left on the ferry for the home journey we were all viewed out, saturated with food and drink. We also had just a starter portion of understanding the kiwi obsession with sailing. You have heard that there are more sheep in NZ than people, but I swear there are more yachts than cars. EVERYONE knows how to sail and most people own a boat of some description – even a little dinghy. And they use them. When we get home at the end of the day and drive along the water’s edge at Bucklands Beach there are dozens of cars with boat trailers launching their cargo into the shallow and placid water. It is very safe and lots of fun. The papers abound with adverts for sailing courses (especially for “beginner adults” like me).
So I guess we’ll have to put skydiving aside for now – the real big challenge is steering a water vessel in such a way as not to kill myself or anyone else and to land again in the same country where I left from within no more than two hours and without the need to summon any rescue vehicles.
So maybe tomorrow we will go to the bridge and watch the regatta for more inspiration…