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One of the ironies that you notice when moving to New Zealand from Britain is that here you get a holiday for the Queen’s Birthday. You do not get a day off for that in the UK, that place where the Queen actually lives. Further to that, the Queen is not even that popular here, but we’d never say no to a day off so a-relaxing we shall go. For our wee family this meant…
Having a special breakfast in the lounge in our jim jams
Going for coffee and scootering on the waterfront
Breezing through the “Best of Britain” show in The Cloud (Neither my son or my British husband were the slightest bit interested)
Taking our son to see a few semi-famous mice on ice
And generally running amok downtown and in Britomart Station
What did you do this weekend?
We can just amble along down here in our little bubble for ages before suddenly being reminded how some of the branches we sit on belong to trees planted in other countries. Big bookshops are popular places. The automatic doors continually suck up power as they are kept from resting. The cafes located inside, while their employees grumble when they have to put away abandoned magazines and books, turn a huge profit all based on people trying to escape main street stress for an hour or so with a sub-standard coffee and a headline that promises 5 Ways to Change the Look of Your Kitchen (Oh,we love our D.I.Y.* in N.Z, eh?). English language students meet to look at Vogue and speak Korean. Or back in the main shop, anti-social, ruffle headed teenagers sit on the floor in front of the manga while amateur cooks secrectly scribble recipes down out of cookery books. Kids hug the Gruffalo toy as they listen to someone else’s Mum read a story while sitting on too tiny a chair for an adult. And poseurs pretend to be reading poetry while scanning the area for goth girls who are also looking for supposed poetry-reading cool boys. Neither of them will actually make a move and talk to the other one before they need to get home for tea.
All of this exists on a tenuous branch. This is not evident at all, until the branch is suddenly floating in the air, no longer attached to a trunk. Apparently the trunk is in Australia. The news came out a couple of weeks ago that Borders and our own Whitcoulls, which turns out to be in the same group, are in trouble. Apparently Australians, like Americans and the British, buy most of their books online now and ‘real life’ bookshops can not keep up with how cheap everything has become. That is certainly not the case here in New Zealand.
New Zealanders, as any traveller to these islands will tell you, pay a ridiculous amount for the printed word. We’ve always been unhappy about this, but what can we do? We like books and we don’t have Amazon, so we just carry on. Books are still special and people still go to libraries in droves. It’s probably what some people in other nations would call a bit “backward”. That’s OK.
The only problem (apart from us having been ripped off for so many years with overpriced books) is that now the bubble has burst, the branches are shaking, and the big hangouts for students and pseudo-intellectuals will soon disappear. Is there a silver lining, I wonder?
So, the masses will not have their usual place to hang out. We do have some of the best cafes in the Southern Hemisphere and people will soon disperse to relevant and suitable java-huts. But I don’t believe for a second that real booklovers, or even temples for booklovers will disappear. True, branches can’t just hover in the air without a trunk to hold them up. But there are seedlings under this falling tree. I think it’s time for all those little independent bookshops we have, and there are some fantastic ones, to shine. They are full of knowledgeable, book-loving people who want to help you, occasional uncomfortable chairs from second-hand shops, and cats. They’ve been fighting the good fight for decades against big business. I hope that this is their time. Perhaps they will even have to put in automatic doors. God, I hope not. Imagine the number of cat tails that would get caught.
The Women’s Bookshop Ponsonby
Cook the Books Ponsonby
The Booklover Grey Lynn, Takapuna
*D.I.Y. means “Do it yourself” and is the NZ/Oz/UK phrase for home improvement that you do, well…by yourself, without hiring someone else to do it.
It is Auckland Day. Each city in New Zealand has its own day and nobody has to go to work. I love that. I’ve been so busy with work (Hooray for work!) and having parents-in-law to visit from England that I haven’t had time to write on my blogs or read other people’s. Rest assured I’ll be back!
tea on the waterfront with my husband.
Finally, finally it is spring here in Auckland. Windows have been flung open, jandals have been dusted off, ice is being frozen into small squares in the freezer for my green tea. As I type there is even a haka going on somewhere outside that is being carried on the breeze into my office window. I wonder what is going on? After what has felt like a long, slow winter, this past week has flown by. It was Labour Day weekend and my husband took an extra day off so we’ve been hanging out and doing some small bits of tramping here and there and generally enjoying the sunshine and the trees for four days. So, with only Wednesday- Friday to achieve anything I’m chasing my tail like a confused puppy trying to make some leeway on a couple of projects.
One fun thing that has happened, however, is that Liz from A Girl in Asia has interviewed me on her lovely blog. I was honoured to be asked and, although it’s a bit scary to talk about myself, I really enjoyed the experience. Liz has been living in Cambodia and Vietnam for a few years now and has just had her second baby in South East Asia. She lives in Saigon where my husband and I used to live so I love seeing the changes in that quickly growing city from her photos and reviews.
After a friend persuaded me to join in on the Nanowrimo fun I, in turn, have cajoled Mary-Anne at A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai to join as well as my own mother. Apart from my mother, I don’t believe any of us has written fiction before so this will be interesting. My goal is just to see how far I can get and not to let it interfere with my work. My hope is that I can do a few pages each morning before work and it will get the writing juices flowing. Anyone else care to join? If you do, please look for me under the name “Marie in NZ”.
I’ve also been back in the nightmare that is HTMhelL while trying to make and load a new banner for my food blog. You can see the link badge, which is a mini version I’ve put over here somewhere>>>>>>>>>>
I think it’s going to look great if I ever figure it out. If anyone knows how to adjust the size on a “custom” header, I’m all ears. I can’t find the dimensions in the coding anywhere, grrrrrr.
Other than that I’ve been getting into power walking to burn off those winter stores, continuing to write at Nileguide and Pocketcultures, reflecting on time in Thailand and Japan and thinking (as per usual) about chocolate. What’s everyone else up to?
Lots of people think of Auckland as just the place you have to go through to get to the “real” New Zealand, but you’d be missing out if you passed through without taking a good look around. It’s a great place to learn about the culture of New Zealand, have a bit of a relax on the waterfront with a coffee or glass of NZ pinot, or shop for high quality souvenirs. Here are some of my picks.
1. The Auckland Maritime Museum
I have to admit that it took me a while before I discovered this museum. I thought boats, meh, I could take ‘em or leave ‘em. But when my boat-mad in-laws came for a visit I finally discovered that it’s more about the history of our maritime country than just a couple of ol’ boats. There’s a fair bit of information on how the first people, the Maori, came to New Zealand. For first time visitors to New Zealand, gaining an understanding of this cultural history can really give you a sense of what New Zealand is all about.
When you buy your entry ticket you have the option of going out on a harbour cruise in a little boat, which I’d highly recommend. This is great for families and gives you a perspective of Auckland that you wouldn’t get on the land. It is a harbour city after all! Plus, if you’re lucky, when you go under the Harbour Bridge you might just catch sight of a bungy jumper overhead.
2. Benediction Café
Benediction café is a wee bit out of the way which is probably why it is so popular with locals. It’s just over the motorway bridge when walking from Karangahape Road away from the city centre on St. Benedicts Street in Newton. You can spot the street by the old Catholic church by the same name on the corner. Two-thirds of the way down the road you’ll start smelling some amazing coffee which will alert you to your arrival. I’d highly recommend you head in for breakfast or brunch at this friendly place. You order and pay first, New Zealand style, and then choose whether you’d like to sit indoors or out. Bring your book or borrow one of the magazines or newspapers provided while you wait for the perfect brew.
All cities that host tourists have their fair share of cheesy souvenirs and Auckland is no different. But, if you are interested in taking home something a bit more representative of what Kiwis have in their own homes, try a lovely shop on High Street called Pauanesia. Using a play on words, Pauanesia (paua is the Maori word for the coveted shellfish abalone and ‘nesia’ reminds us of our position as a Polynesian nation) is a tiny shop packed full of New Zealand made, New Zealand themed jewellery, and soft home furnishings. This is where I go when I want to send a present overseas with love from New Zealand.
Come to think of it, there are lots of places in Auckland that are off the radar to visitors. Now, do I give away all our secrets?
This post was in response to being tagged by Liz at A Girl in Asia for Tripbase project about destination secrets. The only problem was that it was just as my blog went offline for the big revamp. Even though I missed it, I still wanted to contribute because I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on Auckland’s secrets. Thanks Liz and good luck with the baby!