AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND — It finally happened: Our first rain day. We had planned to take the ferry to Rangitoto Island for hiking, but that plan was off. Time for Plan B.

We caught up with some work and then, around 1pm, we decided to go to the Auckland War Memorial Museum across town. Parking in Auckland is, as the British would say, quite an experience, and we were not amused: Max parking time of 2 hours, coupled with museum admission of $55 per person (free for Auckland residents) meant no museum for us, and no Maori cultural performance.

With the skies now clearing, we decided to walk to the ferry terminal downtown and stop by the Auckland Art Gallery along the way. I didn’t know that Auckland is built on a dormant volcano field (with over 50 cones scattered around the city), and thus did not know how hilly our hike would be.

Our starting point, the city museum, is located in a park on a volcano. University and Albert Park and the art gallery: volcano. Our neighborhood on Ponsonby Road: volcano.

A walking path in The Domain, a park east of downtown Auckland.

Our route from the museum to the waterfront was a constant up and down, and we were reminded several times of San Francisco. We ended up walking down Queen Street toward the waterfront with the very striking Ferry Building.

Queen Street is a bustling shopping street, and really not that different from other major streets in cities around the world, with the exception that even the people on the sidewalk were walking left, just like that cars.

The traffic lights here are also different than we were used to, because pedestrians are treated like regular traffic. When pedestrians get a green,

  1. No cars are crossing in either direction, so people can walk diagonally across a street; and
  2. The lights emit a star-wars like sound effect, apparently to jolt people into action.

We walked around the piers, picked up a DOC brochure with a hiking map of Rangitoto and noticed a few nice-looking restaurants, including a gelato place. Once we backtracked to the art gallery, we were very happy that, until mid-February, admission was free ($12 per person otherwise). Now THAT’S a price we can get behind.

Our walking route from the museum to the ferry building.

The museum is known for their Maori portraits: The Czech painter Gottfried Lindauer emigrated to New Zealand in 1874 and wound up painting many portraits of Maori chiefs and kings, commissioned by an Englishman (Walter Buller) and later some Maori themselves.

What struck us about the portraits was how uropeanized the paintings were. Many were painted from photographs, which were shown next to the painting, and many faces and the hair looked more European than Maori.

The most interesting paintings were scenes from everyday life, as they offered a glimpse into Maori culture.

For dinner, we went to the Parnell neighborhood , where we found Parnell Road, the main thoroughfare, to be lined with interesting restaurants. We eventually settled on Di Mare, where we had scallops with rice and rack of lamb with mashed potatoes.

Back at our Airbnb, we felt the need to work off some of our dinner, and we walked through the neighborhood and along Ponsonby Road. Turns out that this side of town is full of a varied selection of restaurants and bars with food from all over the world as well. We didn’t know that Auckland was this much of a foodie town!

We eventually broke down and got some gelato and a chocolate sea salt cookie in the Ponsonby Centre, a cozy food court/market that was packed with people. So much for working off our dinner.

At the end of the road, we found a supermarket and picked some quick things for a quick breakfast the next day, so we could catch the first ferry to Rangitoto Island.