Art in the Antipodes: Auckland Art Gallery

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.

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.

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.”


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.



“Penguin Professor” Must Read on Penguin Awareness Day


When I was in Auckland in November, my friend Barbara and I dashed down to High Street to the incomparable Unity bookstore. I really didn’t have room in my luggage for more books–but when has that stopped me from browsing? I purchased a couple of books including a pocket-sized one called F*ck*ing Apostrophes for a friend. Then Barbara spied the Penguin Professor and knowing my interest pointed it out. Without even reading a paragraph to see if it was dull as toast or not, I purchased it and hauled it home.

I am thrilled to say it is a wonderful book. I learned new things about penguins and Antarctica. Each chapter begins with a brief Adelie penguin snapshot–from a penguins point of view. Then one of Lloyd Spencer Davis’ stories about his accidental penguin research career and then a profile of a colleague or mentor who deserves to share the title of “Penguin Professor.” Most of his adventures are set in Antarctica, so if that locale fascinates, you will find this book hugely satisfying even if you are not crazy for penguins.


Wait! This post is to celebrate Penguin Awareness Day. Let me share some of the gems from his book. His early research in 1977 and early 80s helped to dispel the idea–at least within the science community–that penguins mate for life. They do not. Although he gives a good explanation of how this misinformation took hold in the popular imagination. Furthermore, the male Adelie penguins are not the initiators in the game of love: “Ultimately it is the females, however,that decide whom to mate with and whether a male can mount them. The fights observed within Adelie penguin colonies at that time of year had traditionally been seen-in the blokey way of science up to the 1960s and the women’s liberation movement–as males fighting with each other for access to females, as if the females were somehow the spoils of war. Our observations showed, to the contrary, that the fights were often female against female.” (p 116)

Spencer Davis is a good raconteur and the chapters fly by. He pays tribute to Bernard Stonehouse as his role model in popularizing science. Storytelling is a skill that seems to come naturally but actually takes practice and Spencer Davis has practiced. He also  introduced me to the Antarctic “classic” The Worst Journey in the World.

I highly recommend Professor Penguin. He has also authored an award-winning children’s book to raise awareness about penguins: The Plight of the Penguin.

Lloyd Spencer Davis: Professor Penguin (Random House New Zealand, 2014. 185 pages paperback, $__NZ) ISBN: 978-1-77553-725-0. This delightful book chronicles Professor Lloyd Spencer Davis’ adventures studying Adelie penguins in Antarctica. His storytelling abilities shine through combined memoir, light scientific information, and tribute to his penguin-expert colleagues. Available in USA as Kindle only for $16.99.

He has also authored a children’s book to raise awareness about climate change and how it is impacting penguins: The Plight of the Penguin.

Reading on the Go

Kafka’s statement, “A good book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us,” is actually something I read in David Whyte’s book The Heart Aroused whilst traveling.

gratuitous photo of grandson reading! 

Many people travel to break open the confines of their perspective and cages of habit that can inhibit creativity. When people ask me to name times of my life when I felt most truly alive, I invariably think of times when I am abroad. So combine reading and travel and you have something powerful indeed.

First, there is reading to prepare for a trip. Before I went to Venice, Italy this year I read John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels. If I had not read this book I might not have prioritized Peggy Guggenheim’s exquisite museum. It also helped me gauge my expectations and I found myself liking Venice more for seeing it less romantically.

Second, there is reading while you are on the trip to better understand the people and culture. I am not talking about guidebooks, although they can be helpful. If you are in New Zealand, than any book by Barry Crump (whose short story inspired the wonderful movie The Hunt for the Wilderpeople) will help you understand any number of bastards* you will meet. To find those books you only need pop into an independent bookstore in the country you are visiting. My favorite in Auckland is the incomparable Unity bookstore. Or if you are going to a predominantly non-English speaking country, check out Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust To Go and take a few books with you.

Then there is reading to imagine that you are traveling when, in fact, you are not or cannot. This is the most important reading of all. In one of my favorite movies about CS Lewis, Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins as Lewis tells a young student that we read so that know we are not alone. Yes, and we read so we don’t feel stuck. I am not brave enough to travel to the Middle East to visit the Christian holy sites, so I am reading James Martin, SJ’s Jesus, a Pilgrimage.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, we read to laugh. We laugh at cultural misunderstandings, travel mishaps, and more. The master of the travel book that will make you laugh is Bill Bryson. I laughed through The Road to Little Dribbling as I have through his other books.(The movie of A Walk in the Woods was wry and a good excuse to watch Robert Redford. Imagine being an author and having Robert Redford play you in a movie!)

What will you be reading in 2017?

*you will find “bastard” is not a shocking swear word in New Zealand, only mildly so.

3 New Zealand Cathedrals

Largest expanse of stain glass in Southern Hemisphere is in Auckland’s cathedral; designed by Nigel Brown

No one associates cathedrals with the new world. If you go to Europe you reserve time to see Notre Dame in Paris or St Paul’s in London. I am one of those odd people who checks out a cathedral while in New Zealand.

New Zealand has been inhabited by people for the shortest time of anywhere in the world. And for much of that time the Maori built fort like structures, but no cathedrals. Not until Europeans arrived with their ideas of suitable places to worship, and then every New Zealand city worth its salt needed a cathedral (or two as often the Roman Catholics followed suit).

Holy Trinity’s newest chapel

On this trip I have seen three Anglican cathedrals so far: Holy Trinity in Auckland, the temporary cathedral in Christchurch, and St John’s Cathedral in Napier. The history of New Zealand and the Anglican church are intertwined in the life of Bishop Selwyn. His portrait is generally found in each cathedral–unless they’ve been destroyed by earthquake.

The cathedral in Christchurch was recently felled by the February 2011 earthquake, but the Napier cathedral was also destroyed by an earthquake and fire in 1931. Unfortunately the quake struck while holy communion was in progress. As it states in the display at the back of the cathedral, “One parishioner, Edith Barry, (Mrs. T. Barry) was pinned beneath the falling beams and when she could not be extricated and fire began to rage through the stricken city she had to be given a merciful injection of morphine by Dr. G.E. Waterworth.” (Who said visiting churches is dull?)

St John’s Cathedral in Napier was rebuilt in the 1970s. It is very conducive to worship and has some lovely stain glass. It is not as grand as the cathedral in Christchurch was before it was damaged in 2010 and destroyed in 2011.  Sunday services are held at 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. I attended the later service and can vouch for the very talented choir.


We arrived in Christchurch just in time to attend the evensong service at the transitional cathedral, or Cardboard Cathedral at 4:30 p.m. The boys’ choir sang beautifully and the service was a blessed reminder that while the earth may heave, there is still some continuity and community that remains. The cathedral is constructed out of specially treated cardboard–hence the nickname “cardboard cathedral”. It was only meant to last five years and it has already been four. It will need to last much longer it seems as no one can resolve a way forward with some wanting to rebuild the former cathedral and others wanting to start afresh. Might I suggest a compromise? Consider the Coventry Cathedral where they incorporated some of the old cathedral that remained after the Blitz into the new modern design to beautiful effect.


Perfect Days

View of Auckland from the ferry to Devonport

What does the perfect day look like to you? Of course it depends on where you are. In New York City it might start with coffee and a bagel, include a visit to the zoo in Central Park and end with a Broadway play and a nightcap. I remember one day in Belfast it included taking the bus into the central business district and fossicking around the shops, enjoying a coffee, then listening to Brian Keenan read from his latest novel at the literary festival.

Today is a perfect day at home. I am free of engagements and I can do what I like. I’ve walked to the bakery and farmers’ market. Then I went through my stack of travel magazines. I am watching Poldark (season 1) and Netflix. It is a pretty day and mild weather for July. It is a good day for a bike ride or a hike. My perfect today is full of rest instead and may include a nap.  Once the kids, my brother and I were in Dublin and our perfect day included a long afternoon of drinking coffee and enjoying our own company. Then we found the perfect stew for dinner.

Auckland is someplace I have spent many of perfect day. It often includes a visit to the Auckland Museum. I just received the Spring newsletter (remember, seasons are opposite the Northern hemisphere) and there is an interesting new exhibit opening in October called “Sound.” It spotlights the history of pop music in New Zealand. I will check it out when I visit in November. Days in Auckland also include shopping in Trelise Cooper and Unity Books or taking the ferry and mooching around Devonport.

Northlands A New Zealand Must See

Hundertwasser Public Toilets in Wakawaka

People are often pressed to decide where they will concentrate their few days in New Zealand. If you only have a week, then many people barely touch down in Auckland and then proceed to the South Island to see the many national parks or for the adrenaline adventures. If you have two weeks you might add Auckland or Wellington. It seems only when people have 3 weeks or more that people make it to the Northland (the long peninsula of land North of Auckland).

I have visited New Zealand over a half dozen times and lived in St Heliers for 5 months and yet I never made it north of Matakana. I was going to borrow a car and go for a few days on my own, and then my friend UK Sarah asked if she could come along. And bonus! she did all the driving. This allowed me to really enjoy the landscape as we drove along.

Detail of the women’s sign for the public loo at Wakawaka

The Northland region is subtropical and as you drive north on Highway 1 you can feel a shift in vibe. There is a strong Maori influence and definitely more relaxed.

Fun railroad for families in Wakawaka
Classic colonial architecture at Lupton Lodge

There are a number of places to stay along the way. We stayed over three nights along the way–one night each in Omapere, Pahia and Whangarei. The last place we stayed was a low key but exquisitely restored Lupton Lodge. We reserved a table for dinner and selected our entrees ahead by email. Everything was delicious. I relaxed and Sarah took advantage of the pool to go for a swim.

Main bedroom in our 2 room suite at Lupton Lodge

The whole experience was too brief! I was texting back and forth with my son and I realized that I would really like to spend 2-4 weeks every winter in New Zealand. I can imagine staying in Kerikeri or some other bach in the Northlands.