A Soft Landing in Auckland

After the years of dreaming, months of planning, and weeks of preparation, our trip began on Christmas Day in Chicago. The winter storms, bomb cyclones, atmospheric rivers, and various other plagues that had disrupted travel across North America meant our planned Air Canada flights — strategically booked far in advance to make use of award miles — were canceled. But Venu’s preternatural search skills and some quick action got us onto American Airlines flights that were surprisingly affordable.

We had smooth flights and some good sleep, so when arriving in Auckland on the morning of December 27, we were surprisingly functional. While I’d felt we’d made draconian choices while packing, once we were carrying our luggage, it seemed like we had too much.

Our Uber driver, Rashid, somehow fit four hiking backpacks, four carry-on suitcases, and four daypacks — not to mention the four of us — into his Toyota Prius. He got us quickly and smoothly from the airport to the heart of the Central Business District of Auckland, while being engaging and helpful along the way. Besides getting us to our lodgings, he helped us get oriented, told us about Papatoetoe, the main “Little India” of the Auckland area, with a large Punjabi population, a lot of temples, and (in his opinion) the best Punjabi food.

Both Auckland and our lodgings were the softest of soft landings for this ambitious trip — the very walkable downtown of a large, cosmopolitan, English-speaking, highly developed city, in the midst of a balmy summer. From the basics of eating and sleeping to getting adjusted and oriented and engaging in activities, we had a great and easy time. We starting enjoyed several of the parks of Central Auckland.

Amid the parks, we had a nice, if brief visit to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Some culinary highlights included the Auckland branch of the international south Indian restaurant chain Saravanaa Bhavan, Lord of the Fries, and Giapo for some outstanding gluten-free gelato.

The apex was probably the special dinner we had for Venu’s birthday at Culprit (about which you can read more in Meera’s post).

The kids loved our quick visit to a “sensory maze” and its associated arcade.

We didn’t make it to the Sky Tower — at 328 meters (1076 feet), the second-tallest freestanding structure in the southern hemisphere — or the walk around the exterior or the 630-foot bungie “SkyJump” — but we may stop there, and at the All Blacks Experience, on our way out of Auckland.

We did make it to the Auckland Museum, arriving just in time to see the second Maori cultural performance of the day, which was lighthearted, energetic, well-explained, and short. The kids learned about dances, traditional weapons and training tools, and some other aspects of culture. Venu and the kids had a broader experience of the museum, while I focused on the contemporary “Stories of Auckland” exhibit and the Maori Court, including the in-depth timeline, documentation, and videos around the Treaty of Waitangi.

Despite being in the center of the largest city in the country, we also had a couple great nature experiences — about which more in my next post!

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