After dinner last night we went for a walk around Tauranga, and saw a group of people clustered around a television screen; when we got back to the motel we found out it was likely due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. New Zealand had been issued a marine warning, but we (the country) were very fortunate as nothing significant came of it. I had a moment of horror when I went to contact one of my friends who is currently living in Japan, but she is thankfully okay, aside from being terrified by the experience. I can't say that I blame her; I know exactly what it's like to live through an earthquake.
This morning we drove from Tauranga to Auckland without stopping; it took us about two and a half hours, and then another half hour to get from Customs St in downtown Auckland up to the hotel in Parnell! Ah, city driving, I definitely do not miss thee. To be fair, however, a lot of the delay was due to construction work, not heavy weekend traffic.
Once checked into the Kingsgate Hotel, and finished snacking on our lunch of cheese, crackers, fruit, and leftovers from last night's dinner, I phoned Michael from Mainline Steam and confirmed that yes, indeed, we had made it to Auckland and would be walking over to the depot in a few minutes. He asked if I remembered how to get there, and I said, "Oh, yes, and anyway, I'll just follow my nose!" to which he responded (quite brilliantly, as he knows about my cold) "Well, your nose is running, so you'll be here quickly!" Bada-bing.
As it turned out, Michael was all by himself at the depot waiting for us to arrive; I felt badly, as I had assumed more volunteers would be around, but it turns out they all went home just after lunch. Nevertheless, Michael was very gracious, welcoming my parents and I, and gave us a little tour around the depot, showing us the different locies. Ja 1240 has come a long way since I took photos of her back in October! It's thrilling to see such care and attention being paid to the engines. I know my dad was impressed with the scale of the operation, and particularly with the huge engines from South Africa (the "giant beasties" as I refer to them); I think the firebox on one of them could have easily fit my Honda Civic inside. It's so large that there is a direct feed from the coal box into the firebox; one wouldn't be able to keep up with it stoking by hand.
It was good to spend time with Michael at the depot; Mainline Steam was how I started my time in New Zealand, and it was nice to have it as an ending as well. Incidentally, interest in the Mainline Steam Tour 2011 has already been registered, and there are some repeat guests from last year's trip! Sigh, I wish I could go again... but I'm afraid that (aside from the small problem of not being in the country) I broke the bank the first time around and it has never recovered.
After leaving the depot we walked back up (and then down... and then up again... the streets here are very hilly!) to Parnell and found a post box so my mum could mail a postcard, and then back to the hotel, where my parents went across the street to explore the rose gardens and I stayed in the room, nursing my cold to get up enough energy to go out again for dinner. We ended up walking back to Parnell Street in search of a good restaurant, and settled on Nori, a Japanese one on the corner of Parnell and Garfield Streets. I had a wonderful meal; my first good sushi in months! I think even my mom, who doesn't like sushi, enjoyed her dinner: she had salmon teriyaki, and the two of us both had crème brûlée for dessert (yes, I know, such a traditional Japanese dessert. Oh, well).
Leaving the restaurant, we started walking up the street to wander around before heading back to the hotel. I must say, although I'm not a fan of Auckland, I like the funky vibe of Parnell; it's definitely a major improvement to the impersonal, big-buisness feel of downtown Queens Street. As it happened, we found ourselves smack in the middle of White Night, a celebration of "great art, great culture and great fun in a great city". Part of the Auckland Arts Festival 2011, "over 50 public and private art galleries, museums and cultural centres across Auckland [threw] open their doors to let the light out and the public in". The first activity we came across was a colouring one, aimed mostly at kids: we were invited to draw a picture on paper using pastels in exchange for a cupcake or lolly, and then the drawings were taken and posted in a local art gallery for the evening. I'm not much of an artist, so I simply drew a bunch of coloured ribbons weaving and intersecting one another; I suppose in a way it can be seen as representative of my life, and how I have woven and intersected with so many others over these past few months.
Our next stop was across the street; we found ourselves in a greenstone carving store, where my mom ended up buying a beautiful wooden bowl carved with a traditional Maori motif. Then we went next door to a contemporary art gallery, and I was dazzled by several paintings where the artist demonstrated a remarkable ability to blend colour and create the illusion of light. If I had $12 000 burning a hole in my pocket, I may very well have walked out of there with one of her paintings!
As we were walking back down the street toward the hotel we got sucked into visiting Elephant House by a rep woman standing on the street... it's one of the classier souveinr shops, focusing on crafts and gifts rather than cheap crap mass-produced in China. My mom got a shirt, my dad a hat, and I got some yarn to knit into something (with my current skill-set, likely a scarf), and a possum fur wrap. I am not a pro-fur individual, but considering the possums here are an invasive introduced species, and knowing the havoc they have wreaked on the native birdlife, I feel fine supporting their eradiation.
Back at the hotel at last, my mum and I then spent over an hour trying to pack our bags; thankfully, I've gotten pretty good at it after over five months on the road, but it's still a pain to try to squish everything in neatly. I've really been quite good about limiting the things that I buy over here, but somehow I've managed to amass half a dozen books or so (who's surprised? Likely no one), so I'm not so much concerned about running out of space as being over weight.
Tomorrow promises to be an eventful day; my mum wants to go visit an aquarium, and then we're heading out to Piha Beach for the afternoon, provided by dad and I can figure out how to navigate there(!). Goodnight!