Sailing into the City of Sails

Auckland, New Zealand

“The local time is 8:28 a.m.,” the flight attendant announced over the loud speaker. To be honest, I’d not have known otherwise.

My journey to New Zealand started Thursday morning. Tar Heel Taxi was 30 minutes late causing me to nearly miss my 7:15 a.m. flight to Dallas. Thunderstorms there delayed my connection to Los Angeles, where wheels eventually came down around 3 p.m. EST. After dinner with my brother at the Philippe Starck designed Katsuya, it was back to LAX for my 13 hour Qantas flight to Auckland, which departed a little before midnight. Crossing the international date line, and losing 17 hours in the process, essentially caused October 2 to vanish.

And it left my scratching my head, attempting to figure out what day and time it was here when we landed this morning.

A half hour taxi ride brought me into the center of Auckland, which subtly reminded me of cities that I’ve visited in the Pacific Northwest, like Seattle and Vancouver. We’re staying at the Hotel DeBrett, a small boutique hotel that has recently opened on fashionable High Street. The public spaces inside, like the atrium, bar and drawing room, are all hip yet inviting. Just my style.

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Perhaps sensing our exhaustion, the friendly woman working the front desk upgraded us to a spacious duplex room. It was colorful and comfortable, with sunlight streaming through the double-story window. The black and white subway tile bathroom was dizzying.

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After showering, we walked around the quiet streets of downtown and found a small cafe serving frothy and delicious cups of freshly brewed coffee.

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A couple of cups later, we made our way to the Auckland Art Gallery, which was having a special exhibition on Rita Angus, said to be one of this country’s most famous painters. Her vibrant and disciplined landscape water colors offered an introduction to what we’ll be seeing and experiencing firsthand over the next two weeks.

Perhaps Auckland’s most recognizable building is the Sky Tower, which at 1,076 feet, is the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Although the skies looked overcast, we made our way to the top in the hope that it would provide us with an panorama of the surrounding area. We were not disappointed.

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Walking around the perimeter, it was hard not to feel a bit of trepidation staring at the ground through the glass floor.

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It would be hard to visit this city without heading out onto the water. Sail NZ offers an opportunity to do so aboard a retired America’s Cup yacht. This was not a leisurely trip out on the harbor; we were asked to help rig the sails and steer the vessel as it aggressively tacked into the wind. Coincidentally, a group of MAC students from Kenan-Flagler on a GIE were also on the boat — what a small world.

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For dinner, we made a reservation at the French Café, consistently named the best restaurant in Auckland. We started with two fresh local oysters, sitting on a bed of sea salt, and topped with a cucumber granita, ginger dressing and caviar. They may very well have been the best I’ve ever tasted.

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My entree was equally tasty — a sweet spiced roast duck with stir-fried Asian greens, mandarin puree, kumara mash and orange jus. Mom ordered the fish special, a light and flaky white fish served with fresh asparagus and micro-greens.

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If today was indicative of what’s in store for the remainder of this trip, New Zealand is going to knock it out of the park.

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