Monday: I made it in time for the walking tour from the hostel, but the guy who leads the tour was sick and as the girl in the travel shop said "the weather is rubbish" so they cancelled it. It turns out that I had basically already covered their walking tour with my big loop yesterday, anyway. I do still want to pop by the fish market, even though I'm allergic, just to see it. I thought about making today the zoo day but the zookeeper talks today don't cover the NZ birds and reptiles, so I'll wait for tomorrow.
I hopped on a city link bus to Karangahape Road (a/k/a K'Road), which has vintage and second-hand shops, cafes, tattoo parlors, and sort of a general counterculture element. Apparently Ponsonby Road is the more upscale hipster hangout and K'Road is slightly "shabbier." When I got off the bus I went into The Paper Bag Princess and found a pair of second-hand jeans for NZ$9 and a cute short-sleeved top for NZ$4. I only have one pair of long pants on the trip since I thought I'd spend 99% of my time in a bikini. The farther south I head from Auckland the colder it will get, so the jeans will come in handy and I won't cry if they get roughed up climbing or caving, but I would cry if I wrecked my fav yoga pants. I should get a long-sleeved t or a sweater, but I wasn't completely in love with any I tried on, so I'll keep looking.
I turned down Queen Street for a couple blocks and saw a noodle shop packed with Asians. All the other spots I passed were empty, so I headed back to try ShaolinKungFu Noodle. I should have trusted my gut that the meat would not be up my alley, but I got a huge lamb noodle bowl. The broth and noodles were great, but the lamb was gray, flavorless, and mostly gristle. I wish I'd gone with either lamb and fennel potstickers or a tofu and veggie noodle bowl, but c'est la vie. I feel like as much broth splashed on my fav t-shirt as made it down my throat, so now I'm worried the top will be stained. Eating huge flat noodles and broth with chopsticks isn't exactly easy or neat, at least for me! I felt like all the Asians were staring and laughing at this white girl fumbling with her chopsticks and noodles, and wanted to scream "You had your whole life to master chopsticks, give me a break!" But I'm sure none of them even noticed me as the cacophony of all the different conversations bounced off the walls.
I stopped into a tattoo studio (www.otautahitattoo.com) that is by far the fanciest I've ever seen, so I tend to think it's outside my budget. Since a cafe culture is big in Auckland I figured my trip to these neighborhoods would be a good time to stop for coffees along the way to rest, write, and people watch. Coffee seems pricey to me here, but I think I've at least figured out that what I am looking for is a "long black" with some hot water added. I settled into a comfy couch for a long black at Alleluya Cafe and enjoyed a bit of free wifi.
K'Road was full of cute, eclectic shops reminiscent of Portland. I wandered up a narrow stairwell to Dreamhands Tattoo (www.www.facebook.com/dreamhandsnz) just to browse around. They told me to make myself comfortable, sit down and browse the books for ideas, and brought me a cup of green tea. One of the artists, Liam, was sitting at a table sketching and gave me some great tips for travel. He turned me onto Naked Bus, which is a cheap bus line for me to hop around the country, but doesn't involve any nudity. He's from the south island and got online to show me a beautiful national park at the north end of south island near his home town. Everyone makes it sound imperative to see Queenstown, but it's a long haul to get all the way down there and the budget is just too tight. But it would be cool to take the bus down north island and hop the ferry across to be able to see a bit of the south island. I wanted to see portfolios of the work from folks at Dreamhands so I begged off getting anything right then and headed to Ponsonby Road.
The same things at a second-hand store (called an "op shop" here) might cost NZ$20 on K'Road, but NZ$100 on Ponsonby. It's just obviously posher and while the shops were cute, they were too pricey to even be worth much window-shopping. It was a dreary rainy day so although the very large park on Ponsonby, possibly the oldest in the city, was tempting, I figured I should find a nicer day for walking through it. I popped into a pub for a beer and was shocked to find bar stools at the bar. It really makes a bar so much more welcoming.
Friday: When I got back to the hostel on Monday evening and mentioned I might go back to K'Road the next day to see about a tattoo, one of the girls in my room asked to come along. On Tuesday we went back to Otautati since I was feeling I should do some traditional moko Maori ink, though I was very tempted to see what lotus flower work Liam at Dreamhands might be able to do for me. I had to make an appointment, and make a NZ$50 deposit, to come back on Wednesday to see the artist at Otautati. The traditional Maori patterns are generally hand-drawn right onto you, ensuring that each one is unique and that it flows with the shape of your body. I explained what I was looking to do and why it was meaningful to me. He drew on a piece but it was a very big solid-looking piece and definitely not what I had in mind.
I really like the idea of a piece on my upper neck along the hair line, but the very old butterfly simply had to be covered as part of that. I came back again on Thursday to see what the artist had come up with, but again it just wasn't capturing what I was after or covering the butterfly. It's a pretty design, but not what I was after.
I decided there just wasn't a good fit and I'd pass. Luckily my friend Elsa who came along for these various appointments decided she definitely wanted a turtle, so they just applied my deposit toward her tattoo and I got my cash back. I went back to Dreamhands hoping to chat with Liam about a small cover for the butterfly, but he wasn't there at the moment. Another artist there said he could definitely do a lotus and use a leaf to cover the butterfly, but they were talking about NZ$300, which seems really expensive for what I envision as a small neck tattoo. Anyway, the large cover I need to do should match with it, so it would be best to have the same artist do all that work in the same style. It would have been nice to get a Maori fish hook (matau) with fern spirals (koru), as those designs have a lot of meaning for me, (safety over water and rebirth), but I think it just wasn't meant to be on this trip. Perhaps when I get back to the Cooks I'll go back to Polynesian Tattoo in Rarotonga, where I felt the artist would work well with me and was much less pricey than in Auckland.
I sat with Elsa for almost two hours while her turtle tattoo was drawn on but she felt bad having me spend my last day in Auckland sitting there with her. I felt bad to leave her without someone to distract her during the painful bit, but I headed out. I grabbed a quick lunch of beef curry over rice for NZ$4 at a cafe on K'Road that serves two choices every day for lunch at that price and all the money goes to help fight homelessness. Elsa and I grabbed lunch there yesterday, too, and it was good, a nice portion, and the price was right! Then I walked through beautiful, lush Western Park and mugged for selfies in front of the trees.
Off to the zoo! I had to get online to figure out a bus to get to the zoo, and the stops and routes are not very clear. But I finally found the bus I needed. A whopping NZ$4 one-way to get there, plus the zoo will be NZ$28, and just three+ hours to see the zoo, but better than just wasting my last day in town. I generally dislike the idea of animals in cages and that aspect of what zoos are about, but more and more zoos play an important role in wildlife and habitat conservation, through both education and breeding programs. Auckland Zoo appears to be very involved in promoting conservation and was also the most "open" zoo I recall visiting. There are a lot of areas (not the lions and tigers, duh) where animals are free to walk around though people are directed to stay on the path. So wallabys and lots of birds could hop, stroll, or fly on over to investigate the goofy humans.
I didn't get to see any kiwis, which was disappointing, but they are just too shy and noctural. The very cool blue penguins were hiding under an overturned row boat to stay out of the rain, but the seals were playing and goofing off tirelessly. The zoo has virtually no feeling of traditional cages or wire, with lots of natural materials and beautiful Maori design elements incorporated throughout. It was heartbreaking to see signs that said along the side "gone forever" and on the front listing the all-too-numerous native New Zealand species that are now forever gone.