First week in Auckland: Willy Wonka, black swans, and many sketches

Somehow we have been here a week already, which means in another week we’ll be moving south. I don’t yet feel acquainted with Auckland, even though we’ve gone into it several times already and it’s not that big (though it’s the biggest urban center in the country). New Zealand is so known for its natural features that many people say visitors needn’t bother with the cities. But I like cities, and we’re finding Auckland perfectly interesting.

Silo Park Friday Night Market & waterfront

On our second day here, while searching for info about the local farmers’ markets, I found a website with event listings for all over the city. There was a night food/craft market that very evening in a park on the waterfront, half an hour away by bus. It seemed like a good chance to learn the bus system, get a feel for Auckland’s market scene, and explore the city. So we went.

{click on images to enlarge, mouse over for notes}

Auckland Skytower

Street art: Are you the tyrant or the slave?

I had thought the market would just be a small affair in a little park, but it was a lively event overlapping with other gatherings and the generally festive scene on the waterfront.

Silo Park

Reflecting pool

People strolling the wharf at dusk

There was a raised walkway that made a great vantage point for observing the evening’s activities, and the surrounding area.

super-cool elevated walkway next to the park

Colorful quotations painted onto the side of cylindrical tanks

A lively basketball game with lights and even a DJ

Lit-up rail tracks

Although the place was quite busy, it was well-run and everything was very orderly.

I was amused at the selection of portable loos. Yes, the “prestige” ones were better!

Two brands of porta-potties: Affordable Loos and Prestige Loos.

Child and adults playing big wooden Connect Four game

Heavenly Pies

They were showing movies that night too, projected onto one of the big silos. We enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the old one, with Gene Wilder), but didn’t stay for The Goonies. Before we left we walked along the waterfront.



Someone was releasing sky lanterns over the city and the sight of them reminded me of one of our last nights in Edinburgh, when we and Aga and her partner Scott went out to The Meadows with two lanterns.




Meola Reef Reserve & nearby

The next day we stayed around our own neighborhood, but our little wander turned into a long (8.5k) loop. It was a bit too sunny for such an excursion but we had fun seeing everything. I never feel quite at home anywhere until I’ve “mapped” the neighborhood, so this helped with that.

Enormous coral-colored hibiscus

Off-leash dog park at Meola Reef Reserve

Waterfront, green grass, big sky

Small latte-colored moth on the ground

Golden grass (drying out maybe)

Boggy ground with houses in the distance

Bog and sky

After we left the reef reserve, we took an inland trail that proved hillier and woodier.

Pale orange mushrooms


Convergence of three wooden walkways

Little brown moth with clear areas on its wings

The trail took us out into a residential neighborhood, where we were greeted by a kid coasting by on his scooter, and a couple with two cats (the lady had one of the cats on a leash!). When we found a café we went in and had a cold drink.

Bright golden flowers


At the very end of the street, past more homes and shops, we found another outlook on the water. As I sketched, a couple of men walked toward us on the sand (dirt?) carrying a big bucket between them. “I think they’ve caught their dinner,” Erik said.



We stopped at the bakery and bought a cream donut and a custard slice (both quite yummy) before heading home.


Western Springs lake, Grey Lynn Farmers’ Market, and the Great Gladstone Gala 

Since we hadn’t gone to a farmers’ market on Saturday, we set out for one on Sunday, but missed our bus. Being crazy, we decided to walk instead. It was a 3.8k walk and since we got lost it became even longer. But we found Western Springs park: home to the Auckland Zoo, a stadium, a museum — and a lake with SO MANY BIRDS.

Geese on the lawn


Black swans and cygnets!

Black swan chasing away a gull


Goose with injured (?) wing

Spotted duck of some sort

Australasian coot.

Sketch of the lake and trees with some waterfowl

Fluffed-up pigeon



Sign explaining the lake is called "the waters of the eel" (Te Wai Orea) in Maori.

It was after the lake that we got lost, trying to find the farmers’ market. I’d written down directions but somehow they didn’t work. And since we are social doofuses it took us a long long time to get desperate enough to ask people for help. On the plus side, we found a convenience store (they call them dairies here) that could sell us a transit card. And we found this cat.

Cat on someone's lawn


Finally we found the market — just before closing! I sampled nearly everything, bought a fresh-squeezed apple/pineapple/mint juice and a tiramisù, and stocked up on veggies, fruit, and cheese for the week.



We could have gone home, but I’d seen on that same event-listing website that there was a fair at a primary school near our place. So we went. I like going to these kinds of things, even when I have no affiliation with the school. I get a sense of the community, and I guess I also can pretend I’m part of it — something I miss after being on the road for so long. I heroically resisted buying a cake at the bake sale, even though they were 50% off. (Okay, it wasn’t so heroic. By the time we got there, none of the cakes were what I wanted.)

Look, kids having a ball! (Sorry.)

Kids in big plastic balls on the surface of a swimming pool


Bandstand and crowd

Sausage with ketchup and mustard, on white bread

Ham baguette

Smash booth to throw a ball at old plates

Cars and slides

Please dot not touch are caterpillars.

There was also a book sale, a mother (I assume) selling Eritrean coffee, and a dunk tank where a young male teacher was good-naturedly getting soaked. As we crossed the street to our bus stop, we noticed several cranky families leaving at the same time (kids whining to parents, parents sniping at each other). Only natural!

Auckland Museum & Khyber Pass Road

Yesterday we returned to the city to visit the Auckland Museum. We didn’t mind the 45-minute bus ride, as it took us through some parts of town we hadn’t yet seen (I made notes).

We found the museum friendly and appealing, but scattered, and quite overwhelming. Ultimately Erik explored the exhibits while I mostly stayed put and sketched.

Stained-glass ceiling

Entrance area

Maori exhibits on the first floor

Maori house


Little girl sketching


Sketch held up to the subject


The natural-history parts of the museum were mostly full of dead and stuffed creatures, but there were some live ones as well. I found out it’s really hard to draw anemones, but the geckos reminded me of our friends in Waimea.

Sketches of sea stars, anemones, fish

Gecko sketches

Basalt chimes
Giant moa

Mimicking a penguin sculpture

Female figure from a culture in what's now Peru, pre-Incas. And me.

The museum was in a park, so we walked around it before leaving the area. There were people playing Frisbee (very badly, but I guess that’s why they’re practicing) and some greenhouses that were closed for the night. And more birds.


On the bus out we passed Khyber Pass Road and it was so full of Asian restaurants it felt like Singapore: Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, and many Chinese. We ended up in one with Shanghainese food; the xiao long bao were shockingly good.


And that’s pretty much been our whole week. There was a storm earlier this week so we stayed in and made plans for the rest of our stay. And I lost a day in sadness when we heard the news from Boston. It was like an echo; I remembered being in Boston in December, feeling exactly the same way as I tried to process the news from Sandy Hook. In our travels it has become more obvious to me than ever that humans are capable of great kindness and connection… but some people don’t know it and they try to make the rest of us forget. Don’t forget.