On Saturday, we reached the halfway mark of our New Zealand journey, and landed just shortly after lunch for our final leg in the City of Auckland. Having heard so many good things about the city from some of the people we had met during the first half of our trip, along with fellow Vancouverites that once called Auckland home, we were eager with anticipation to explore. Thankfully, our host Darren was happy to oblige, and took us an afternoon road trip throughout the city and beyond, showing us what exactly makes this part of the country so special.
Apparently Darren has become quite seasoned with this sightseeing tour, and was readily able to answer many questions we had about Auckland and New Zealand at large, including my random questions about the unique flora here, or specifically the Norfolk Pine, which, at its apex, resembles a star and ranks as high as the Araucana (or Monkay Tail Tree) on my list of really cool trees. But I digress. Our tour included stops along the water along Tamaki Drive with fantastic views of the city centre, some lovely city beaches and of course Rangitoto, the dormant volcano off the eastern coast of Auckland. I am absolutely fascinated with mountains and volcanos, and have been treated to both during our stay in New Zealand, at least the visual beauty of them, so shortly after, when we drove to the top of Mount Eden, I was in geology nerd heaven when I walked the full perimeter of the scoria cone. From there, Darren took us west to the Waitakere Ranges, a 16,000 hectare area of rain forest and coastal mountains stretching west to the coast of the Tasman Sea. Time and again I have been amazed on this trip how much New Zealand resembles my home in BC, and the lush green forest landscape was a taste of it, which I was starting to miss. But the best was yet to come. Our final stop took us to Piha Beach, and as soon as we took the first turn towards this beautiful coastal beach, I knew I had found my piece of paradise. The combination of waves, the massive Lion Rock, and the soft, black sand was exactly where I needed to be after such a hectic start, and it is a place I will hold dear in my memories of our trip to New Zealand.
But this trip isn't about lush landscapes and glorious beaches. We have been invited here to so what we do best, and that's showing off the beauty of two-wheeled travel. However, one cannot talk about all that is fantastic about cycling without experiencing first hand what is happening in cities around the world. Thankfully, our new friends at TransportBlog and Generation Zero were eager to show us what has been developing in Auckland and organized a fabulous group ride through the city, making full use of their new separated infrastructure on Beach Road and the Grafton Gully. Considering I had been hearing such despair when it came to cycling in Auckland, I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. These two new cycle tracks provided a great connection to the Quay Street shared pathway along the water. Although not perfect in their execution, with some crossing being less than clear which direction to head next, and the lights at these crossing being ridiculously short, riding these paths made me feel hopeful for the future state of cycling in Auckland if they keep this momentum.
It wasn't the infrastructure, though, that had me feeling most optimistic, but rather the people. Hundreds of people turned up to ride along with us throughout the city, and Chris and I each had the opportunity to talk with many of them about what cycling in Auckland was like for them, and what we felt they could learn from us. Their enthusiasm was contagious, even if they noticed the same shortcomings we had about their existing infrastructure, and there appears to be an excitement bubbling under the surface of the cycling culture in the city. Here we were expecting lots of road and mountain bikes, but instead the number of upright bicycles we saw on the ride rivalled many of Vancouver's group rides. The people riding them were dressed just as we would have hoped - as if they we doing nothing more than walking with wheels. Our hosts from Generation Zero, Niko and Emma, looked so happy over the entire journey, with Emma snapping pictures in her brightly coloured outfit at numerous points along the way, and I couldn't help but feel confident that their enthusiasm, hard work and optimism are really paying off.
In the end, the approximately eight kilometre journey took us to this amazing new bike cafe named Blend, who also generously donated me a TokyoBike Bisou to ride, allowing me the comfort of my very own city bike. The cafe is located at the back of The Shelter clothing shop just off Ponsonby Road, a hip, quirky neighbourhood not unlike Main Street in Vancouver. The shop itself not only serves delicious coffee - try the "Flat White" - but also sells an array of funky bike accessories and, or course, TokyoBikes. With delicious coffee in hand, Chris and I quickly fell into discussion with so many new faces, discussing what Vancouver has been doing for the last six years, our own lifestyle, and what Auckland can learn from what we and people like us are doing in Vancouver. There were the serous discussions about what good cycling infrastructure looks like, more lighthearted ones about how important promoting normalized cycling is for a city's bike culture, and just an overall welcoming sense from everyone we met who were very excited to attend our Auckland Conversation in just two days time. Be sure to check out our photos from the event here.
Chris and I both love travelling and experiencing new cities, and getting to do that on two wheels is just icing on the cake. Socializing while en route, and making personal connections with the people and the city are part of what make each trip we take so special. Taking those trips with those who live in the city means we get to see places we may not otherwise visit as regular tourists, and I remain grateful to everyone who came out on Sunday for sharing their city with us. No, Auckland, your cycle ways are not perfect, and you are in need of a more complete network of paths and cycle tracks. However there is a beauty in the culture you have built in spite of this shortcoming, and I can only imagine how amazing it will be to ride in the city of Auckland once that happens.