The Long Pathway – Part 6

Auckland or “Doppelganger Village”

Once we’d established a base of operations in perhaps one of Auckland’s seedier (and therefore cheaper) backpacker hostels, it was a relatively simple task to catch a bus back to Waiwera where we had left the trail. It was, however, considerably more difficult than it might have been owing to the fact that I was in the grips of a tremendous hangover, courtesy of the 6 or 7 pints of beer I’d consumed the previous night. I’d failed to heed the warning that over-indulgence in craft beer can lead to a spectacularly shitty morning-after and the prospect of a 1.5 hour bus ride followed by a day of physical labour filled me with a profound sense of dread. Luckily, I was forced to drink a large coffee, the result of which was a marked improvement in my fortitude.

Thus began the day in which we’d conquer the longest distance of any single march in the trip so far, owing largely to the fact that we were no longer burdened by our packs. Once again, we were blessed with blind luck in relation to the tide and our first hour saw us circling a rocky headland, eventually meeting with the mixture of roads and coastal paths that would lead us toward the city. At a point approaching the end of the day, we got our first glimpse of the Auckland skyline, that is to say the first we’d actually earned by walking the trail. With the Sky Tower acting as a focal point for our endeavour, we plodded through North Shore residential areas toward the downtown area where our trip would culminate.

What can I say about Auckland? For a start, it’s a geographically interesting city, built on an isthmus (what an ugly, ill-conceived word that is) dominated by volcanic terrain. Thus the city dominates a small, narrow stretch of the Northland Peninsula and is easily accessed on each side from two separate oceans. This fact has no doubt contributed to Auckland’s status as the largest city in New Zealand, although the west side does apparently suffer from difficult maritime navigation. Nevertheless, it’s a harbour city in character, and manages to incorporate the industrial aspects of a large trade hub into its image with a surprising level of seamlessness and uncommon grace. Visually, Auckland can be compared very closely to Sydney. The harbour has a little less aesthetic appeal, but there is a sense of vitality and life on the water and the foreshore that is rarely mimicked by its larger cousin. I read somewhere once that Auckland has more yachts per capita than any city on Earth, which gives some indication of how integral the harbour is to the lives of its residents. Aside from the utilitarian aspects of the harbour, its edges also form a cultural nexus where people can meet, play and socialise.

It’s fair to say that Auckland is a total anomaly in comparison to other New Zealand cities, being roughly 3.5 times more heavily populated than its nearest competitor, Wellington. As a result, it has something of a chequered reputation elsewhere in the country. It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose. Having spent the majority of my life in the urban centres of Australia, Auckland doesn’t seem like a very large city at all. Then again, I regard Sydney as a reprehensible hive of scum and villainy, so maybe the comparison is similar. All that being said, I became somewhat taken with Auckland and its own particular brand of charm. On the other hand, I also felt that I never quite penetrated to the heart of the cultural vibe of the city. It seems to me that the courtship with Auckland’s true character is a long, delicate process.

One thing I did experience was an absurdly dense accumulation of Doppelgangers. Some of these were simply replicas of my friends (an Indian version of Cesar Antonio, the world’s greatest bartender in Chile, and Grant Stewart, a rock climbing buddy) but the rest could have performed as celebrity stunt-doubles (Kiwi versions of Clint Eastwood, Ron Perlman, Karl Marx and also English Bill Gates).  I was just as perplexed by the consistency with which I’d see these Doppelgangers as I was with the city’s ability to sustain an inordinate amount of underground Asian food courts.

Anyway, I seem to have digressed into partially intelligible gibberish. Let’s get back to business, shall we, to the bones of the matter.

At last, our team swung around a green, curiously rounded volcanic hill to enter the suburb of Devonport. From here, we embarked on the ferry that would take us across the harbour to the city proper. There had been much discussion throughout the weeks as to whether I’d stay on and continue the walk myself or alternatively call it quits in Auckland. After weeks of deliberating, it seemed to make little sense to continue on alone. There is a pleasing synchronicity about ending our first leg in Auckland, which is after all where Adam and I will both need to fly in order to continue the Te Araroa in any capacity. As it stands, we’ll be able to pick up exactly where we left off with a minimum of fuss. It was always a “let’s see how far we get in the time we’ve got” kind of deal, and although we didn’t make it nearly as far as I’d imagined we would, we’re both extremely keen to continue the trail. When that takes place is anyone’s guess. All that is certain is that we’ve put 600kms behind us and there is a hell of a lot more to go.

The ferry ride seemed like a cool transition to mark the end of the trip. Even the weather conspired to give an air of finality to the day, finally inclement after weeks of unadulterated heat and sunshine. And just like that, it was all done. Vince disappeared to some farm up near Whangarei (which for all I know is some sort of Charlie Manson / Jim Jones style commune) and Adam boarded a plane bound for Hawaii and, later, Alaska. I remained in the city for another week or so (being lucky enough to provided accommodation by my two gracious hosts, Kelly and Melissa who we’d met in Paihia) before engaging in a brief assault on the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

So I guess that’s a wrap from this round of thru-hiking madness on the Te Araroa. I’ll include a few stats I cooked up from our time on the trail, but until next time, that’s all folks.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
February 2015

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?