Art in the Antipodes: Auckland Art Gallery

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Mexicali Cindy and American Julie at Auckland Art Gallery

When in Auckland I love to mooch around the Central Business District (CBD). Some of my favorite shops are in Britomart and on High Street including Unity Books and Pauanesia. There are too many good restaurants to list them. So when I read about the Colin McCahon exhibit, described in Mindfood magazine as best New Zealand artist, I asked my friend Cindy if she wanted to check it out with me. Queen Street is always evolving, but a few mainstays of the CBD are the central library and the Auckland Art Gallery.

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Colin McCahon was a resident artist at the gallery starting in 1953.

The Gallery holds a permanent collection that celebrates western art and New Zealand’s art scene. This is the first time I didn’t spend time gazing at the Charles Goldie portraits of Maori elders. They also have guest shows, and because they are in the antipodes (other side of the world) they can take awhile to get there. Nevertheless, Cindy and I were delighted to take in “Guerrilla Girls: Reinventing the “F” Word – Feminism.” It sparked a great conversation about the challenges of being a business woman of our generation.

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Still frustratingly true.

When you enter the Gallery on the ground floor, you can quickly pay admission and proceed up to the next level to enjoy the beautiful kauri-lined gallery. I am always pleasantly surprised by the installations from the high ceiling. This visit was no different. I loved the intricate cardboard sculptures by Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, “Pillars: Project Another Country.”

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Auckland Art Gallery admission is free for Auckland residents, for international visitors the fee is $17 NZ for seniors and students, and $20 NZ for adults. They have a solid museum cafe and small bookshop. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Christmas Day.

 

Auckland’s Viaduct is More than Boats

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_274dWhen I lived in Auckland the city was rushing to finish the Viaduct redevelopment project in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. They did finish in time for rugby fans to enjoy the new restaurants and attractions. And on each subsequent visit to Auckland, I’ve been impressed with how the Viaduct continues to give a good return on investment.

There are places to live in and around the Viaduct, along with hotels. These will be highly desirable if you want to watch the America’s Cup race in March, 2021. One friend said that everything is already booked! You don’t need to stay in the Viaduct/Central Business District to enjoy the race in the harbor because there is great bus and train transportation throughout the city. Or you can stay across the bay and take the ferry in.

If you are stopping in Auckland as part of a cruise, you are in luck because the Viaduct is just steps away from your ship’s berth. You’ll find coffee shops, restaurants, and plenty of yachts to drool over. There is also a maritime museum and places to relax and read or people watch.

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How to Choose a Holiday of Happiness

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This view of Rangitoto from St. Heliers Bay is always happiness-inducing.

The travel writing world is continually creating lists of where you should travel next. Barcelona, Morocco, Cape Town, or Singapore? It is too hard to decide, so you decide to go to Hawaii, again. (Or in my case New Zealand.) Vacations days are few and travel can be expensive, so it can feel like a big risk to try something like a safari in Kenya.

My recent New Zealand vacation is the first overseas trip where I have listened to podcasts everyday along the way. (I figured out how to download them on the podcast app Breaker when I have wifi access.) And on the Hidden Brain podcast from NPR “You 2.0: Decide Already!” Daniel Gilbert Stumbling on Happiness Harvard Professor, I learned why we might hit repeat instead of trying something new.

Imagine a future event, such as where you will live in retirement. Many of my friends have made decisions recently about retirement living with either a decision to stay in their long time home or a decision to move. One couple chose a active senior community with a beautiful apartment and lots of community activities and space; another couple chose a smaller but still gracious water adjacent apartment walking distance to many of their favorite places; another couple chose to stay in their longtime home but hire repairmen instead of the usual DIY. Each seems very happy with their choice. In each case it seems that they selected something not so distant from what their lifestyle was already because they were already happy.

When we think of the future we tend to focus on a few key details; and only one or two of the many, many details that are part of the experience. So they might notice the square footage of the apartment but not how many other apartments are on the floor and the number of daily interactions that it implies, or the pet policies and how that might impact you. I was impressed that the apartments in Meadowbank allowed a 90 day-no risk trial period. The community-oriented lifestyle is not for everyone and if you don’t get on with your neighbors it’s better for everyone if you opt out, rather than remain unhappily. I recently met a very lovely, cheerful 96-year old who exercised the opt out clause because she was being bullied at the senior community she tried.

Fortunately travel isn’t as high stakes as retirement living. Nonetheless, it is a real drag if your limited vacation time and savings involves a dud tour with obnoxious people. All the research might have pointed to an enjoyable experience, but we don’t know who we will be when we experience that event; imagination rarely matches the experience; we underestimate how much we’ll change. This happened to me when I tried to recreate the first Tour de France experience I had on Thomson bike tours . My experience with the group I traveled with in the Alps was so much fun, and a two of the couples were going to go on the Tour d’Italia. Alas the chemistry wasn’t the same within the group and I ended up counting the days till I was traveling on my own again. I enjoyed Venice even more for being free from the oppressive group dynamic. Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 12.06.05 PM

Don’t rely on imagination; look for data. Gilbert recommends finding measures of the happiness of the people doing what you think you might like doing.  I have also found it really helps to know yourself and correctly apply the data to your situation. If you despise crowds then going to one of the “top 10 travel destinations” is probably not a good fit unless you can travel during off-season.

This Global Citizen ranking equated happiness with values I share: “What stands out about the happiest and most well-connected societies is their resilience and ability to deal with bad things,” said report co-editor John Helliwell, referencing New Zealand. “After the 2011 earthquake and now the terrorist attack in Christchurch, with high social capital, where people are connected, people rally and help each other and [after the earthquake] rebuild immediately.”

Gilbert also highly recommends using surrogation, that is relying on other people’s experience as a guide for your own. There are many platforms now that facilitate this: Yelp, Trip Advisor and others. Just remember even crowds can be biased; but you may share those biases. They are not perfect tools; however, GilbertTrip Advisor can round out your imagination and give your more detail to consider. Maybe the experience you were thinking of adding to your itinerary based on a friend at Book Club’s recommendation is panned on-line by someone who found it claustrophobic. And you get claustrophobia. 

Gilbert gave the example of choosing a movie–people prefer relying on the trailer over more detailed reviews by people who’ve seen it. We like to “trust our gut” because we live in the illusion of diversity (we are all so unique), when in reality, the reviews are a more reliable guide.

There is also a role in making a commitment to increasing our happiness. We think we’ll prefer keeping options open, but Gilbert’s research says committing to your choice will result in greater happiness. And we like a little mystery and surprise–not a a lot, just a little.

I choose New Zealand again and again. Similarly my adult children and I choose Monterey get aways every year, because I trust my own experience more than any travel writer’s opinion. I always have a wonderful experience when I go to New Zealand and I can create new adventures there so I still get some variety. I know that what makes me and my children happiest is beach access, trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Gianni’s pizza. We are perfectly right to book another condo in Pacific Grove or Monterey. To put a cherry on top, add some mystery–new restaurants, or new beaches–and the research says you will be even happier.

This is what the research says. What’s your experience?

 

 

 

The Nuggets are Zen

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Isn’t it weird how on a hike you can get a view of a place that looks like you used a drone, when it is just the way the trail goes…

I’d seen photos of The Nuggets on-line as I planned my visit to the Caitlins. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the region, but I knew that I wanted to walk out to this lighthouse and the rocks that go by the name of The Nuggets, or Nugget Point or Kaka Point.

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Feeling like I was at the “end of the world” my thoughts turned to the climate crisis, the whaling genocide of last century, and inspired a collage…

The parking lot at 11:00 a.m. contained a handful of cars. Along the trail I encountered only about two dozen other people in small groups over the 3 miles roundtrip. There were times along the walk that I felt a beautiful solitude. Noise also played tricksy as I was sheltered from the sound of wind and surf by the ridge, until I stepped out (almost to the lighthouse) and it returned with a roar.

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Product placement: The path to the lighthouse was very easy terrain and my Allbirds did the job!

I truly enjoyed the experience and could have stayed longer at points along the way. It would be a great picnic spot with some advance planning.

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Whoopsie National Geographic Traveler! This is not Cape Reina, it is Nugget Point. Only at the complete opposite end of the country. This is the second time I’ve caught America’s geographer out. The other time was with the parent magazine when they asked UC Davis to review an article on The Great Central Valley and their map showed Gilroy in the San Joaquin Valley.

 

Quintessential eNZed in the Caitlins

IMG_9769The Caitlins are not as frequently visited by foreign tourists as other parts of New Zealand. There are not many motels and restaurants are Mom & Pop places. This adds to the Caitlins’ charms. You can drive for miles through villages, farmland and wildlands, with occasional beach sitings, but nothing very commercial in sight. This is what people think of when they imagine New Zealand.

It is not hard to reach. If you fly to Auckland you can catch one of the frequent daily flights to Dunedin and within an hour you are in the heart of the Caitlins. This area is just off of Highway 1, the main route from Dunedin to Invercargill.

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After an excellent day of albatross and penguin, I stayed at a motel in Mosgiel, a suburb community closer to the Dunedin airport than downtown. This provided a full day of fun in the Caitlins. You could easily spend two days in the area if you like to hike or want to spend more time on one of the beaches.

My goal for the day was the lighthouse at the Nuggets. (wait for next post!) I toodled around following local signs and stopping to admire views along the way. It was a lovely, lovely day.

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Penguin Place At Last!

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I saw my first Yellow-eyed penguin from the hide at Bushy Point, but I was at least a hundred meters above the beach and even with binoculars it was hard to appreciate their unique size and markings. Several times I tried going on a Penguin Place tour and couldn’t fit it in with the Little Blue Penguin experience at the Royal Albatross Centre. I was determined to make it work this time!

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Two Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho recovering from injury at Penguin Place. Hoiho do not do well in captivity and these two males will be released when ready.

Located on a private sheep farm on the Dunedin peninsula, Penguin Place is dedicated to the conservation and welfare of Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho. Their efforts to restablish habitat and educate the public also benefits Little Blue penguins. I went in the winter months (April-September) so they only offer one tour a day at 3:45 p.m. In the summer months (October-March) there are 90 minute tours running from 10:15 a.m. to 6:16 p.m.

One advantage of going in the winter is the tour group is more likely to be small. There were just a half dozen of us as we bumped in the bus, through the sheep ranch, and toward the trails that lead to the network of hides.

We had plenty of time to ask our questions as we waited in the hide and looked out at the beach waiting for a Yellow-eyed penguin to return. A large sea lion was hanging out on the beach probably sending “stay away” vibes to penguins. We were not disappointed though. There were two Yellow-eyed penguins who stayed on land all day. One was just a few feet from the hide and another was some distance below the hide but away from the beach and visible to us. We also saw several single and pairs of Little Blue Penguins in their wooden hutches along the trail.

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Female hoiho stayed home to prepare her nest.

All of the money from the penguin tourism goes back into rehabilitating penguins in the hospital and conserving the breeding grounds. In spite of the extensive efforts by people and the NZ Department of Conservation, the numbers are shrinking. When I first took an interest in hoiho there were 400-600 breeding pairs on the NZ mainland, and now there are just 266 breeding pairs. There is also a sex imbalance with three males for every female. It is hard to state with certainty what is causing the decline but it is likely warming oceans and changing food supply. Participating in this guided tour is a small way to do your part for the species. And we need to all make changes to address the climate crisis.

In Awe of the Albatross

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This is my third visit to the Royal Albatross Centre and the first time I’ve been able to be a part of a tour as my focus has been on the Little Blue Penguins.

Before I visited the Royal Albatross Centre I thought of the Albatross as a super big gull. They are so much more AWE-some. They are super big with wings that fold twice. They spend most of the lives flying at sea. The young take a year to mature and when they are ready to attempt flight they just step off a cliff without any training or practice! These are just a few of the wonderful albatross facts I learned on the tour.

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Through the blind we could view three different birds almost ready to start their solitary lives at sea.

Our guide was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. She said that if we were lucky we would see an adult coming back to feed their chick.

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Against the backdrop of the ocean the gliding albatross looks like a boat in the water. The adult made several passes before dropping out of site and landing. It is hard to describe how thrilling it is to watch this bird soar.

The Centre does a marvelous job of educating people about the unique grandeur of the Royal Albatross. Both the Centre and the bird deserve the adjective “Royal.” They provide many different ways to communicate the size and majesty of this bird. You can see the folding 3 meter wing span in the skeleton, and the stuffed albatross are weighted to approximate an actual bird’s likely weight. One of my favorite fun facts is the full grown chick actually is too heavy to fly, so the parent begins to force them to walk to dinner to get them to lose some of the baby fat.

There are a variety of tours, with the most basic hour long tour at the top of an hour, starting for $52NZ per adult. It is a steep climb up to the glassed in viewing platform or hide. Along the way there are a variety of gulls nesting on the hillside and sheep mowing the grass. I did see people with some mobility challenges making the trek and taking their time. The visitor centre also has a gift shop and cafe. There is  ample parking but it is located at the very end of the peninsula, so allow 45 minutes to an hour to get there on the narrow, windy road with traffic stops for roadwork. It is worth the effort.