A weekend in Auckland

Show weekend in Christchurch so, as has become traditional, lytteltonwitch and I set off on a bookcrossing expedition. We were going a bit further afield than usual this time, though, because lytteltonwitch had managed to “Grab a Seat” some cheap tickets to Auckland. So on Thursday night after grabbing a quick dinner of fish and chips it was off to the airport.

The airport was in total chaos, because they’re doing building work in the check-in lounge to accommodate AirNZ’s new self-checkin system. That meant they only had a couple of desks open, and there was a huge crowd of people checking in for another Auckland flight that transfers to international, so they were all loaded down with multiple bags. The few signs there were, were confusing, and nobody seemed to know which queue they should be in. Add to that the fact that a large proportion of the crowd didn’t speak much English, and its no wonder the check-in staff were looking stressed.

Eventually we managed to get checked in and on the plane. Surprisingly, they actually fed us – just cheese and crackers, but better than the last few domestic flights I’ve been on. It was a bit of a slow flight, and bumpy over Cook Strait (surprise, suprise!), but we made it to Auckland, where all my googling earlier in the week paid off, because we easily found the right bus to get into the city.

The bus dropped us on Queen Street, and then it was just a short walk up Victoria Street to alkaline-kiwi‘s place. “Short”, of course, is a relative term, especially when you’re walking up a very steep hill carrying a heavy bag of books! But we made it to her place, though that last flight of stairs up to their apartment was a bit of an effort.

While lytteltonwitch and I collapsed with reviving cold drinks, alkaline-kiwi pounced on the books we’d brought, and claimed a few: A Matter of Life and Sex by Oscar Moore, At Your Convenience, and Confessions of a Jewish Wagnerite by Lawrence D Mass. She showed us a few of her recent acquisitions, and lytteltonwitch was a bit concerned that while I kept getting handed books about cats, she somehow ended up with all the erotica.

It was a very late night chatting and catching up with all the news, but we were still awake early the next morning raring to get out and explore the city. Alkaline-kiwi and earok had to go to work and school, so lytteltonwitch and I packed up a few books and set out in search of adventure (and breakfast).

The glint of sunlight on water drew us down the hill to the Viaduct, which we spent the morning exploring. The weather was typically Auckland changeable at first, but soon cleared up to a glorious day, much too hot for us poor Mainlanders.

First releases of the day were Mr Standfast by John Buchan on a war memorial at the entrance to the Viaduct, and No Safe Place by Mary-Rose MacColl outside one of the many cafes.

We soon discovered that the Viaduct isn’t really a morning place. It’s covered with bars and cafes, but they concentrate on the evening trade, not breakfast. But the many sights to be seen successfully distracted us from our hunger for a while.

A shrink-wrapped boat?

A few streets back from the waterfront we found a cafe that was not only open, but serving breakfast. As it was called Liquid, and the waiter offered us wine with our breakfast, Water into Wine by Stephen Verney seemed like the perfect release.

After breakfast we went in search of a geocache. While lytteltonwitch searched, I released The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D Randle in a garden where a moa and kiwi were lurking.

I’d arranged to meet KiwiKimi for lunch, so we headed in the direction of Ponsonby, stopping off to explore Victoria Park and the market beside it on the way, and release a few more books: East of the Misty Mountains by Alice Poynor in the playground, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë beside the towering chimney of the old waste destructor building.

We spotted this old building (it used to be a kindergarten, apparently) nestling between the park and the motorway, and took a photo for Wombles.

Again the short distance on the map was deceptive, as the street from Victoria Park to Ponsonby turned out to go straight up a very steep hill. Living in flat Christchurch tends to make you forget that maps are only a two-dimensional representation of a very three-dimensional reality! But eventually we struggled to the top, and along Ponsonby Road to the cafe. On the way we passed a bar called The Chapel, which seemed like the perfect place to leave The Sinner’s Congregation by Guy Bellamy.

At the cafe, Kimi was waiting for us, as was the promised bookshelf (which I had to contribute to, of course: Falling Toward England by Clive James and Hard Times by Charles Dickens) and cafe cats. We were also joined by one of lytteltonwitch’s new relatives (having limited time in Auckland, we were trying to kill a few birds with one stone by combining visits). Great to see Kimi again, and between her writing interests, and lytteltonwitch and Sarah’s family history, we had a fascinating discussion about adoption through the ages.

Sarah offered to show us a bit more of Auckland, and after lunch drove us up to One Tree Hill (or should that be One Stump Hill now?). Amazing views across Auckland, and a great place to release a book: Fighting Back by Catherine MacPhail. By the time we left the reserve it was time for Sarah to pick up her kids from school, so she dropped us off at the railway station, where we could catch a train back into the city. Well, that was the theory, anyway… for some reason the train we were waiting for didn’t turn up, so it was a very hot and tiring half an hour standing on the shadeless (and noisy – it was right next to the motorway) platform in the sun waiting for the next one. I left North of Nowhere by Barbara Sleigh on the platform while we were waiting.

Finally the train arrived, and the welcome relief of an air-conditioned carriage. At Britomart, we released Sphinx by Robin Cook, then (after a quick stop for water and icecreams), headed back to alkaline-kiwi’s to rest for a bit before the evening’s meetup. We borrowed earok’s computer for a while to check our emails and make a few release notes, and I discovered that I’d already had a catch from one of the books I’d released that morning, Wuthering Heights.

We’d arranged to meet the Auckland bookcrossers in a bar on the Viaduct. The only trouble was, we’d got a bit confused about the n
ame of the bar – was it Lemon or Lenin? We found one called Limon, but there was no sign of the bookcrossers. We wandered around looking confused for a while until I finally realised that a sign I’d been looking at for ages read “Lenin” in Cyrillic characters (it did have it in English underneath, but in such small writing none of us had seen it) – looks like those Russian lessons all those years ago paid off after all! ruby11, LilB, and libbybook were waiting for us there, and we had a few drinks until the noise got too much, and we moved off to another place for dinner, and then later, yet another place for dessert (where I released Abarat by Clive Barker)

It was a great evening, with lots of laughs, and I think the Aucklanders were impressed by our presentation about the convention.

I’m really glad we got to meet them, as I had heard from other sources that a certain person had been attempting to sabotage the convention by spreading nastiness about us. I can’t believe anyone would be that petty, but at least we were able to repair the damage easily enough – once they’d met us they quickly realised we weren’t the awful people she may have made us out to be.

[Edited 18/11/08 to make it clear that this nastiness was not discussed in any way at the meetup. The Auckland bookcrossers are a great group who wouldn’t stoop to pettiness and gossip, and I apologise that my previous wording inadvertently made it seem that they did.]

And of course we shared a few books: Vinegar Hill by A Manette Ansay, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, Spies by Michael Frayn, and Writing Home by Alan Bennett.

Another late night, but we were up early on Saturday morning, and lytteltonwitch and I headed back to Victoria Markets to release a few more books, encouraged by my catch of the day before. I released The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, The Tesseract by Alex Garland, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, and Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer, and lytteltonwitch had one last go at finding a geocache.

We went back to to alkaline-kiwi’s and picked up her and earok, then headed into town to meet mecka-antics for breakfast. Another great meetup, but the service in the cafe was a bit odd. They did apologise, and explain that the cafe had just come under new management, so most of the staff were new. It was almost lunchtime before our breakfasts appeared, and my order of pancakes turned out to be something a lot closer to an omelette, but we were enjoying the sunshine and conversation, so it didn’t really matter.

When he left, mecka-antics took a few of my remaining books to release on the way home: Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo, The Horizontal Instrument by Christopher Wilkins, The Manipulators by Jeffrey Robinson, Titan by James McVean, Remind Me Who I Am, Again by Linda Grant, The Gazebo by Emily Grayson, and The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge.

The next plan for the day was to go out to Sylvia Park to meet PixieKitten, who’d emailed me to say she had some books I might like. So we headed for the station to catch a train (I really wish Christchurch had trains – they’re so much better than buses!). On the way we discovered a little square with an amazing fountain – it was just a simple waterfall, but the bottom was tiled with carved glass that caught the light in a fantastic way. I released Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets translated by Willis Barnstone there, and there’s a photo in the release notes.

Then we had another quick stop to fulfil a mission that was the real reason I was in Auckland: to release Soap Opera by Eileen Fulton on Shortland Street 🙂 (Ok, maybe it wasn’t the *main* reason for visiting Auckland, but as soon as I found the book, and knew I was going to Auckland soon, I knew exactly where I wanted to release it).

Near Britomart, we saw a guy in a mask handing out leaflets. I didn’t click what it was until we spotted some more masked people further down the street. “They’re Anonymous!” I told lytteltonwitch and alkaline-kiwi. They gave me a funny look, obviously thinking “of course they’re anonymous, they’re wearing masks” until I explained about the “Anonymous” campaign against Scientology. I’ve met a few of its members online, so it was cool to see their work in real life.

When we got to Sylvia Park we wandered around the shops for a while, but malls are the same wherever you go, so it was pretty much the same shops as in Christchurch. So we released a few books (Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy and Unnatural Justice by Quintin Jardine) and found the cafe where we were meeting PixieKitten. After coffee and chatting for a while, we went out to her car to check out the books. The few books I’d expected turned out to be 6 boxes full, so PK gave us a lift back into town with them. Then we three bookcrossers fell on the boxes with cries of delight. Lytteltonwitch and I filled our bags, and there were still several boxes full left for alkaline-kiwi to share among the Auckland bookcrossers. Thanks PK!

For dinner, we’d planned on going to a sausage restaurant one of the other Auckland BCers had recommended, but it turned out it wasn’t open at weekends, so we decided to go to the Mexican Cafe we’d spotted just down the road instead. We were lucky to get a table actually, because it was crowded with partying people, including a group at the next table wearing silly hats (lytteltonwitch asked them what it was about as we were leaving, and it turned out they were going to support a friend in a beauty contest). I tried to release a book (The Changing Room by Margaret Bard), but one of the waiters spotted it and cleared it away. Still, there’s always the chance one of the staff will catch it.

Lytteltonwitch and I still had a few books left to release, so we left earok to go home on his own, and we went to check out a strange structure we’d seen on the hill at the end of the road. It turned out to be the entrance to Albert Park. A pity we hadn’t found it earlier, because there were some great release locations. There were some fabulous old gnarly trees, too:

I left What Katy Did by Susan M Coolidge on another tree, and The
Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
on a statue of Queen Victoria (we were most amused later when we looked back, and saw a group of tourists all taking photos of the book!)

There were some great old buildings around the area, too. Lots of lovely old colonial stuff, and an ornate clock tower that turned out to be part of Auckland University.

We released our last few books (After the Fair by Jo Riddett and A Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach), and went back to alkaline-kiwi’s to try and get an early night before our 4 am start in the morning.

We didn’t have to check in until 6, but by the time we allowed for carrying our bags down to the bus stop, the long bus ride out to the airport, we had to be out of the apartment before 5. This didn’t seem like such a fun idea when our alarms went off at 4, but we made it to the airport, and figured out the new check-in system (somehow my bag was 2 kg heavier going home than it was on the way – that’s got to be the first time I’ve managed that on a bookcrossing expedition!), and then I slept pretty much the whole way home.

MrPloppy was just getting up when lytteltonwitch dropped me off, and I felt like I’d had a whole day already. I had intended to spend the day catching up on the rest of my release notes, and then registering a new batch to take up to Wellington next weekend. But I thought I’d sit down and read a book for a few minutes first… and woke up 5 hours later. I was obviously more tired than I thought.

Still, a fun weekend, and well worth it.

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