I was up early on Wednesday morning to drive to the airport, where I boarded a flight to Auckland. At about the same time my brother, who had flown to Auckland the night before, was leaving the house where he was staying to drive to Auckland airport. And twenty minutes or so later, my other brother and sister were leaving Wellington airport to fly to Auckland, where we all met up at 9 a.m. Yes, you can fly from Christchurch to Auckland in the same time as it takes to drive across Auckland city.
Technically, of course, Auckland is not one city but three. Manukau city is in the south, and it is where the airport is situated. Auckland city is in the middle, between the Manukau harbour and the Waitemata harbour. And North Shore city is, well, on the North Shore. Which is where we were headed.
I once heard a US city - I think it was Philadelphia - described as having "Our Lady of Perpetual Construction" for its patron saint. Auckland is rather like that. Roadworks and new motorways everywhere, but still they can't keep up with the traffic. I thought we would be able to drive right through from the airport to the North Shore on the motorway, but there is quite a large section from the airport to just south of the central city that has no motorway yet, so we sat in rather slow traffic for quite some distance (not that we sped up all that much when we got on the motorway either). It occurred to me that the "rush hour" is misnamed, as it is the hour when no-one can rush anywhere. And in Auckland, the rush hour seems to be spreading out to take over most of the day. Cars everywhere. Huge suburbs of nothing but houses - no cafes, supermarkets, post offices, corner shops or other facilities - which of course means more cars. And almost everywhere you go, you can see the Sky Tower. The symbol of the Auckland landscape, what uniquely identifies Auckland, used to be the harbour bridge - now it is the casino.
To be fair to Auckland, there are some older suburbs that are wonderful and gracious and close to amenities. (But only the rich can afford to live there). The situation between two harbours means that there are many beautiful spots - plenty of green reserves with birdsong and glimpses of water.
I spent a year living in Auckland over thirty years ago, when we could live cheaply in a rundown suburb close to the City Centre (now gentrified). Before the traffic became almost impossibly congested. I don't think I want to go back.
The reason we were there was to attend my uncle's funeral. The cemetery at least, is in a lovely spot by an inlet in the upper reaches of the Waitemata harbour. He was a navigator in Lancaster bombers in World War 11. As we stood by the graveside, the air filled with the sound of cicadas, and wading birds wandering over the far end of the lawn, an Air Force Orion on a training exercise flew circles overhead. A fitting tribute.
I had a four hour wait at the airport on my return as we all had different flight times. The interflora shop was filled with red roses, and heartshaped chocolates - three small chocolates in a bag for $6. The cafe was selling pink iced heart shaped biscuits. It was Valentine's Day. By the time I reached home, it was past bedtime. It's a good thing that Valentine's Day is not a big thing over here for most people. It has really only arrived in the last few years, pushed by retailers. Not too many people of my generation bother with it.