Apart from mysteriously losing all the photos I took during our two weeks visiting Auckland, we enjoyed a terrific time in the small city that beats with a multicultural heart. Our initial business in Auckland took us to Parnell, and so we stayed based there for most of our visit — taking buses into the city to explore the sights and venturing into the suburbs when we felt like we needed a change.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral sits at the top of Parnell, and we discovered a 25-metre stretch of road that was free of parking restrictions. All other sections of road were monitored by parking inspectors — with time restrictions or payment required — but somehow, a short stretch on one side of a bus stop had eluded the city officials. So we left the truck parked there without a whim!

Being outside the huge cathedral complex, we took the opportunity to explore its grounds and buildings. On their church sign, a large message proclaimed “You are welcome,” and we certainly felt free to park out the front and visit the facilities. We received tours of the beautiful buildings, listened to several musicians practising on the huge pipe organs and spoke with the Dean. All the church staff were very welcoming to us — the organist specifically offered us the use of the toilets and taps, saying “I know what it’s like to be on the road.” This took a while for me to get used to. Because we were back in the city, I expected that people would be hostile and unwelcoming, however we only experienced kindness.

Waiting for the bus at Parnell, July 2011
On wet days, we dressed for the weather and caught the bus into the city from our spot outside the Parnell cathedral.

The girls loved catching buses into Auckland’s downtown area. We visited the top of the Sky Tower, giving the girls a bird’s-eye-perspective of the city. They were later able to translate their memories into understanding of different city elements (where the buses parked when they weren’t in use, our proximity to the water, the green spaces we later explored and the scale of perspective that comes from distance). We easily spent several hours wandering around the two levels that were open to us at the top of the needle-point tower. The bungee jumpers that leapt off the top kept us amused, and we saw a team of tourists circumnavigating the catwalk outside the tower, held on by ropes and trying to quell their fear of heights. (It’s lovely to vicariously enjoy experiences that would otherwise be too fearful to endure with pleasure.)

Although we only had a little bit of shopping to do, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of secondhand shops in Auckland’s downtown area. Many were clothes shops where each item was specifically chosen as a “retro” piece of clothing. I didn’t find much to add to my wardrobe, but David has dressed himself and the girls in a fantastic winter wardrobe that suits his hip, urban vibe.

While we’ve been travelling around the country, we’ve managed to carry Delaney around very well with just the sling. However, in the city, a pram is much easier. We were richly blessed when a stranger gave David a pram while he rested in a parents’ room in a shopping complex. This was Delaney’s first time in a pram, and she loved the experience. While other toddlers clamour to get out of their push-chairs, Dell couldn’t wait to sit in it and refused to share it with her sisters! We used it the rest of the time we were navigating the city.

Auckland impressed us as a truly multicultural city. This was very evident in the variety of cuisine available to us. We had little trouble in finding vegetarian options at restaurants and cafés. Our favourite places to eat are the Hare Krishna restaurant on K’ Road and Pan Asia in Parnell. Even in the suburbs, little food courts offered a variety of nationalities’ cuisines — with not a fast-food-chain among them! In Manukau City, I found a Vietnamese chef who handmade vegetarian spring rolls just like the ones I grew up eating in West Africa and that I had last enjoyed in Hong Kong with Renée. If we stay here much longer, I’m sure I’d get very fat from all the good eating we’re doing!

When looking for alternative places to visit, we sometimes look at the street directory and aim for a green space, hopefully one with toilet and playground symbols. It was nice for David to return to Hamlins Hill — a large green space in the middle of industrial Auckland. He had last visited this park two years ago when he visited New Zealand without us all. We spent another night next to the playground at a Pakuranga park. In the morning, David discovered a pool and leisure complex where we could swim all day for free (in heated pools) while entry to the spa and sauna was only $5. Surely making winter swimming so accessible to the local population is a great way to teach a nation how to be water-safe!

We spent a full day at the zoo, where we stumbled across an animal-handler feeding the elephant outside its enclosure. The girls got to approach the elephant and even touch it while it fed on its huge pile of tree branches. The girls also liked seeing the big cats although we were disappointed the tigers weren’t on display. David and I yawned our way past the Australian birds, kangaroos and wallabies, but the girls were fascinated by seeing them again.

On another day, we parked our truck at the look-out near Auckland’s international airport and watched the planes coming in to land. The girls saw a variety of aircraft — propeller- and jet-powered — and loved to speculate about where each plane originated. Observing the number of planes arriving at the airport gave the girls a wider perspective on the number of people who travel internationally each day. Although in some respects, our girls are the centre of the universe, part of their necessary education lies in teaching them that they’re part of a larger body of beings.

We used our time in Auckland to regroup as a family and learn how to live and play together without emotional input from others. We met up with a friend we made upon our entry to the country in February, but apart from that encounter, we kept to ourselves. In cafés and restaurants, people were friendly to us and our girls, but after spending so long living openly in front of others, it was novel to keep to ourselves for a period of time.