Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An Auckland Day Trip

Well everybody, I have finished all the physics that the University of Auckland wanted me to finish (two exams and two lab orals within four days), so now all I have to think about is my history exam on Saturday. As I have an A average in history right now because my papers are marked down from A-plusses due to lack of British spelling (I kid you not, this happened), I figured I earned a day off so long as I remembered to write "decolonising" and "civilisation" and shout "jolly good!" and "bugger!" on occasion. Then I realized that I had yet to pay a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum in that "you don't do tourist stuff when you're living somewhere" sort of way, so I decided to remedy this problem before I got home and had to admit to it.
The Museum is in the middle of the Auckland Domain (read: Park), so my first stop along the way was at the Auckland Winter Gardens and Fernery. It basically consists of a few indoor greenhouses to house a small collection of plants, and wonderfully enough most of the plants are potted which allows them to keep the ones in bloom on display.
A ginormous fern at the Fernery (in case you can't get the scale, I am shorter than the fern!). I confess I also posted this picture here just because I think "fernery" has to be one of the nicest words in the English language- it sounds like you're assembling a nice little daycare for the ferns to play in or some such. As New Zealand has some of the most impressive ferns in the world, ferneries are suprisingly common.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum- the Museum in the back is named after the War Memorial in the front. It's quite a lovely view into the harbor from here too... these kids in the picture, by the way, are playing a popular Kiwi kids game whereby you hit a tennis ball back and forth with your hands. I know it sounds like tennis except they forgot rackets, but I'm pretty sure that the game originally derives from cricket.
A stuffed replica of a moa, the world's biggest birds which were hunted to extinction by the Maori when they arrived. The largest of the species grew up to 3.6 meters tall, and they had no wings whatsoever... truly, they must've been a cool sight to see!

The Museum is divided up into several parts by the way: one first story deals with Maori and culture in New Zealand and room for travelling exhibits (they have an Egypt one now), and the second floor is devoted to natural history. My favorite part of all this was the part focusing on volcanoes- Auckland is definetely on the short list for the "stupidest place to build a city in the world" award because it is in the middle of the Auckland Volcanic Field, meaning that the entire place is essentially guaranteed to be destroyed someday by a new volcano rearing its head in the greater metropolitan area. Even the perky information board had the forboding title of "not if, but when" explaining the situation: assuming the volcanoes are exploding at regular intervals one sort of hopes it seems unlikely that anything will happen within our lifetimes, though they readily admit that they could be completely wrong. To make matters more interesting, according to the information board, there is a much larger chance that the city will instead be buried in ash from a local eruption on North Island, as depending on who you listen to there is a 15-60% chance of that happening in the next 50 years.

Someday, I am half-convinced, I will unsuspectingly turn on the television only to stare and gawk as the newscasters announce that the city I lived in for four months is either destroyed, uninhabitable, or in some combination of those two. It really seems an odd thing to think about as I look out the window onto the buildings and harbor beyond.

But anyway, the rest of the volcano area is very well done: you can sit in a replica house and experience what it would be like to live through an eruption in the harbor (basically, you really don't want to), and they had lots of eyewitness accounts and remarks from various volcanic phenomena. I had a tie for my favorite quotation: the first from vulcanologist Maurice Krafft, who remarked "I've seen so many erupt in the past 20 years that I don't care if I die tomorrow," the day before he died, and the second from a British Airways pilot over the PA system as they encountered volcanic ash:

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress."

Perhaps that's why I missed the "A+" on the history paper: if I were suddenly on a plane with no engines working, "distress" is not exactly the word I would choose to describe my feelings. Those silly British! (To the pilot's credit though, he landed the plane safely and everyone survived.)

Anyway, fascinating as it was to contemplate death by fire, it seemed prudent to move on before this became much of an obsession.
This is a view of Parnell, the trendy shopping street just past the museum. Quite a lovely street and reminds me a little of New England, somehow. There's also a really, really good chocolate store, which always helps!
Woohoo, time for a sundog! I saw this just as I was walking homeward strikingly next to Sky Tower. For those who don't know how these form, this picture might help explain things better-
As you can see, a sundog is an atmospheric phenomenon that comes about when ice crystals in cirrus clouds refract the sunlight to form a rainbow (the sun here is being blocked by that pole on the right). This is a pretty good one, as you can see the sideways rainbow suprisingly well with red starting on the sun side of things, and the chance alignment with Sky Tower was just lovely!

So that was my day. Jolly good!