Monday, December 22, 2008

Aotearoa New Zealand

After a very fun, food-filled week in Melbourne at a sociology conference, I was off (very early in the morning) to Auckland for an anthropology conference. The time difference plus some plane delays meant I didn’t get into Auckland until late in the afternoon, but thanks to daylight savings time (which QLD doesn’t have) it doesn’t get dark until almost 9 pm.

I was sharing a three-bedroom apartment with my supervisor and another PhD student. Since I was the first to fly in, I got to the room first. I was surprised to find a sticky floor, dirty dishes, no sheets or towels or toilet paper, and a stink of stale cigarettes. When I asked, I was told the cleaners just hadn’t gotten to it yet. So, I went for a wander down Queen Street to see what the city was like. For the most part, I think Auckland is a city with a nice feel to it. Big buildings and lots of people, but diverse food and shop offerings and a generally friendly population. (And the room, though always dingy, was eventually cleaned.)

While not as overtly vegan-friendly as Melbourne, Auckland was certainly easier to navigate than Townsville. Falafels, cheeseless pizza, pasta arrabiata, kumara chips, avocado and tomato sandwiches, and Indian food were all easy meals to grab out. Plus, the little kitchenette meant we had an easy source of breakfast (peanut butter toast) and some place to make noodles with tofu for dinner one night.

I had high hopes for the conference food—on the first day there was a tray of mini-bagels with avocado and tomato, or with jam, and in the welcome session the organisers said those with ‘special dietary requests’ should ask the servers who would keep the vegan stuff in the kitchen for us. Lunch wasn’t provided, to keep costs down. At afternoon tea I asked and was given veggie sandwiches on gluten-free bread. The next few days, I asked and was told there was nothing. I got fruit a few times when it was put out for everyone, but I mostly tried to keep my stomach full of tea instead of food. Luckily there were cafes for lunch close to the conference space.

Although the conference program was pretty full-on—400 papers and 450 delegates from a surprising number of countries—the organisers planned an afternoon off on Wednesday. They offered three choices of organised tours, or of course you could go off on your own. I chose the tour to the “Wild West Coast”. I picked up my bag lunch (yummy salad, fruit and juice) and hopped on the bus along with 30 or so other anthropologists from around the world, and we were off.

We headed up to the Waitakere Ranges, from which you can see all around Auckland.

We marvelled at all the tree ferns that make up the forests of the North Island.

And we poked around in the little visitor’s centre which is marked by a giant Maori carving.

I couldn’t resist posing, with my friend Chris, in the picture frame—a tacky tourist move that was quickly followed by many in our group.

We drove through the mountains, stopping only once for a brief walk to a big kauri tree. The photos don’t do this tree justice—it probably would have taken about 8 adults with arms outstretched to fully circle the trunk.

When we came down out of the mountains, the next item on our agenda was to visit a winery. There, we had bottles and bottles of free wine for tasting, along with fruit, crackers, and some non-vegan snacks.

Then it was just a bit further on to the west coast proper—Muriwai Beach, to be specific.

In addition to black sand, waves, and a generally dramatic coastline, Muriwai is home to a huge colony of gannets. Each white speck on those rocks is a bird—most were sitting on nests full of baby gannets.

We watched the birds for a bit, but then it was time to head back to Auckland. After all, the conference was only half over. I presented my paper the following day, and then we all ate too much at the conference dinner. Despite the lack of vegan morning and afternoon tea, the conference dinner was well-catered. Our friendly server, Campbell, fixed me up with an entrée of grilled eggplant, roasted capsicum and artichoke hearts. Then, when the rest of the table had to wait in line for their gross food, I was served a plate piled high with gorgeous, pink, beetroot risotto topped with grilled asparagus. The free wine led to much dancing and merry-making late into the night.

Now, I will leave it there for this post, and pick up in my next post with my last two days in Aotearoa New Zealand (which will have more photos!).


VeggieGirl said...

Gorgeous scenery!!

Anna said...

Muriwai! It's great to see it again. My grandmother lived in the Waitakere area while she was alive, so this is familiar territory. Great photos, Theresa, and I'm glad you got to visit Auckland. (Even if it was a bit cold.)

ŀĀŘ¡ŝ∫Á said...

so lovely! Its amazing the giant maori carving!

Jackie said...

Thanks for the great photos.

Living on another continent I always feel that Aussie and NZ are just over the bay from each other LOL thanks for the reminder that they are not.

Zucchini Breath said...

Oh, how fun! and what beautiful photos! Thanks for that

Vegan_Noodle said...

Very dramatic scenery. I need to visit New Zealand someday!!

What a bummer about the lack of food during the conference.

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