Auckland: City of Sails and Flamenco Lovers

23 Nov

Auckland and I didn’t get along well at first. A one hour delay, never adequately explained by Emirates, caused my Brisbane flight to arrive in peak hour afternoon traffic. The expected 25 minute taxi transfer (according to google) to the downtown serviced apartment ate up forty minutes and 92 of my pre-purchased 100 NZ dollars cash. Not impressed.

A three hour time difference meant I was soon looking for a snack before the flamenco show, my reason for coming to Auckland. Queen Street, two blocks away, seemed the obvious place to try to find vegetarian options amongst the fast food joints.

In the first city block I counted three beggars. My counting was interrupted by police sirens. A police van and two squad cars stopped to disgorge about ten police opposite the main ANZ bank branch with the seeming sole purpose of forcibly bundling an angry, uncooperative, young Maori woman into the paddy wagon and driving off. Her mates, three equally large, loud Maori women, were walking away at speed hurling abuse back at the police. OK, interesting.

Two blocks of hunting and gathering later I had to retrace my steps to a kebab shop for the first of two falafel kebabs I would eat in Auckland. More than I would normally consume in a year. New Zealand is even less vegetarian-friendly than Australia. Maybe because they have all that lamb to eat?

Munching my kebab at a grubby pavement table I had time to observe passers by, many of them Asian tourists and language students. Even accounting for that I struggled to find anyone smartly dressed and well groomed. And this was downtown. I know we’re pretty casual in Queensland but these people were downright dowdy. And where were all the good looking people? Were they at an out of town convention? Seriously there was not a looker amongst them.

Trudging past overflowing rubbish bins up Wellesley Street I turned the corner into Hobson’s Street. Something out of place caught my eye. Three Maseratis parked outside St Matthew’s Church. Yay, a wedding! Nothing brightens my day more than crashing a wedding.

A female minister was conducting the service for a Korean couple in front of a handful of people. As you can see by the photos they’re no spring chickens. I snapped away and wished them well. He smiled but she looked peeved. Good luck with that one mate!

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The show I’d come to New Zealand to see was ‘Puerto Flamenco’, the creative product of five wonderful artists based in Spain. Fresh from the Gypsy Festival in Noumea, the troupe were performing only these two shows in Auckland before returning to Spain. Of course it was no coincidence that a dancer I’ve long admired, La Chica, (Francesca Grima) and her cajon player husband Andrej Vujicic, were in the show. For two hours I lost myself in high quality flamenco puro courtesy of Francesca and Andrej and the heartbreaking voice of Inma ‘La Carbonera’, the guitar artistry of Mariano Campallo and the wicked soniquete of Abel Harana.

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A late night led to a late start next morning. Fed up with concrete and bitumen I headed for the water. Auckland’s waterfront is a treasure trove of boats, chandleries, cafes, bars and restaurants. I walked as far as I could, climbed a gantry then stopped dead in my tracks. I was looking at the Philippe Starck designed super yacht A.

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The only time I’d seen her before was in a boating magazine feature at Julie and David Howell’s home in Mallorca. We’d pored over the glossy pages muttering about how someone could conceive and build something as upside down crazy as A, and there she was! All 300 million US dollars worth of her floating in front of me and I could get almost close enough to touch her.

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It was soon clear why she was moored on the heritage wharf. A tradie was working on the exposed underside of the foredeck canopy. Later I learned her billionaire Russian owner had been deeply unhappy with the paint job after he bought her and had her totally repainted at the boat builder’s cost. New Zealand has a reputation for low cost, good quality boat work so here she was.

If you want to see inside A check this WSJ article from 2010.

Next door a team of workers were shrink wrapping an entire super yacht. Fascinating.

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Walking back I stopped to watch a pair of contemporary dancers rehearsing in the shade of a water tower and a group of what looked like synchronised swimmers practicing their moves on dry land.

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A pop up library in a container and a delicious tapas at Pescado rounded off my harbourside experience.

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Time to catch a ferry to Devonport to step back in time, all the way to the Victorian era. Twelve minutes across the harbour all is serene and beachy keen.

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The blurb on Devonport spruiked a twenty minute climb up Mount Victoria for the view. They’re having a lend, it’s barely a hill. Still, the wildflowers and trees in bloom were lovely and the 360 degree view is gorgeous on a sunny day. I stopped in at a free art exhibition in the oddly named Museum of the Vernacular on the way down then took tea at the wood oven bakery.

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Back to the apartment to get cleaned up then bus to the show with plenty of time for a tofu Thai curry and Singha beer beforehand. Life is beautiful!

Some might think it odd I’d want to see the same show twice. The trick is that it’s never the same show. Just as you can’t step in the same river twice, live flamenco is never the same, even with the same artists performing ostensibly the same music and moves. First night had been great but final night was electric. All the artists were in the zone and the audience were loudly appreciative.
(see the Flamenco page for my review.)

The cherry on top was celebratory drinks at a local hostelry with the cast afterwards. I had almost a year’s worth of catching up with Francesca and Andrej to cover. Theirs is the true artists’ existence, living from gig to gig, country to country, with their base a rented apartment and practice studio in Triana, Seville.

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Left to right: Author, Francesca, Ros and Inma
Once again I had my theory confirmed through observation. The most gifted artists are the most humble in person. I also met the delightful Rosalyn Reeve who’d convinced the Bruce Mason Theatre to book the show. Respect Ros!

Next day I was booked to fly out at 6:15pm. Plenty of time to play on the water. And what a toy I found. NZ Experience offers a two hour sail in an America’s Cup yacht. How could I pass that up?

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My boat was christened ‘Nippon’ when she was built in 1995 and carried the sail code Jpn41, meaning she was the 41st boat registered for the America’s Cup. At 24 metres long with a 35 metre mast she has a keel four metres deep and carries 20 tonnes below the waterline. In race mode she has a crew of 17.

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Our young, four man crew, three wisecracking Kiwis and an Englishman from Southampton, took us smoothly out of harbour and under the Auckland Bridge with mainsail and jib, passing only three metres below the iron struts, before we turned to head out toward the islands.

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Jessie delivering the safety speech.

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Everyone who wanted to had a chance to ‘grind the pedastals’, i.e. wind the windlasses in pairs to raise the the sails and also to helm. Grinding is tough work in race conditions. Grinders tend to be built like the proverbial brick you know what.

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Taking the wheel under sail was a surreal moment for me. With so much weight under the waterline she slices through the sea like a hot knife through butter. No shuddering or creaking like Provident, just the quiet swish of water racing by.

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Two hours passed so fast skipper Pedro kept us out an extra 15 minutes as we were having so much fun. The crew kept up the comedy, even resorting to pirate jokes. ‘What’s the first letter in the pirate alpabet? Did you answer ‘R’?(As in Aaaargh’). Well it’s not, it’s ‘C’ (‘Sea’) Get it?

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For Pedro’s penultimate trick, once the sails were down, he dropped a donut with the Twin Volvo engines on full chat. The rudder is so close to the centre of the boat the turning circle is tiny.

Once more the drawbridge was half raised allowing us to pass through. Pedro’s mooring manouvre was stellar, not a fender is sight!

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How I would LOVE to be able to reverse park like this!
The only thing left to do then was visit the Maritime Museum on the wharf to learn more about New Zealand’s America’s Cup challenge and the boats that made NZ the proud immigrant nation it is today.

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1995 America’s Cup winner Black Magic

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A tribute to New Zealand’s legendary Sir Peter Blake, whose intrepid life was cut short by modern pirates, got my salt water flowing, especially when I saw that his favourite poem is also a favourite of mine from my primary school days.

‘I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky’, by John Masefield

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Sir Peter Blake’s famously lucky red socks.

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Visitors are invited to share their migrant story.

I am in the sky now, flying home, but I have a cunning plan to steal some more of Stuart’s frequent flyer points to get us both back to Auckland to join the Saturday afternoon America’s Cup match race, a duel between two former Cup yachts. Don’t tell him, I want it to be a surprise!

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(Couldn’t resist one final shot of A.)

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