New Zealand is the first country in the world to celebrate the New Year, and my family is preparing to as we speak. The potatoes are being peeled for the salad, the mushrooms are being chopped for the barbecue, and I should be helping instead of sitting quietly in a corner.
There’ll be fireworks later, and champagne, and karaoke by a crackling fire, and, because we’re English, we’ll be waving the Cross of Saint George and the Union Flag to the rousing music of Land of Hope and Glory and the 1812 Overture – not that we ever did this to celebrate the New Year in England, but being homesick makes you far more patriotic than actually being at home does.
Yes, New Year is always a treat, but, this year, the real treat for us came on the night before New Year’s Eve: we went on an evening cruise out into the Hauraki Gulf, and, let me tell you, if you’re travelling around New Zealand, this is something you should put on your itinerary. It was wonderful.
We set out from the Auckland Viaduct Harbour at 6.30pm, when it was still sunny and bustling with life. It was a balmy evening; a little chilly at the front of the boat, but putting a light jacket on took care of that. All around the Viaduct Harbour are posh restaurants and fashionable bars – most of them new, as the whole area was renovated for the 2011 Rugby World Cup – and it was nice watching the people sitting outside under the big umbrellas, catching the last of the sun’s rays.
As the boat made its way gently out of the harbour, we passed Silo Park and The Cloud, the former being an erstwhile industrial sector full of towering metal and concrete silos, the latter a long, white functions centre built as a temporary structure for the Rugby World Cup, but the decision was made to keep it standing for the time being. We passed luxury yachts and apartment buildings, skeletal cranes and shipping containers, and then we were treated to the vista of the Auckland skyline.
We also passed the Royal New Zealand Navy Devonport Dockyard and saw the green tops of many of Auckland’s volcanoes gleaming in the dying sunlight, but the best sight was of Rangitoto, Auckland’s beautiful island volcano, rising from the blue-grey water. I am used to seeing Rangitoto from afar, as a black silhouette, but now I saw that it was covered in forest and utterly lovely.
The cruise was great for getting a sense of Auckland’s intricate layout, and a sense of just how much goes on in the city. We even saw, quite far out, a tiny kayak with a couple of blokes fishing in it. Soon after that, the boat’s barbecue was fired up. This attracted a lot of seagulls – they were obviously used to evening cruises having barbecues! It reminded me a little of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, but they didn’t try to mob us.
Then the sun set. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy, so we didn’t get a spectacular show. We didn’t even notice the sun go, to be honest, as we having too much fun. With the loss of the light, though, the cruise just got better. We could see the odd few stars in the velvety black sky, but more beautiful were the city lights, thousands upon thousands of them twinkling in the darkness. I love looking out over a city at night, and doing so whilst cruising upon that city’s harbour is the ultimate way to do it!
Sometimes the boat sped up, which was fun, but most of the journey was peaceful, as the sea was so calm. Our journey was nearly at an end, but we had one more treat in store, and that was passing under the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which was all lit-up in a breathtaking fashion. The underside of the magnificent structure was filled with golden illumination – the perfect conclusion to our cruise. Oh, it was such a nice evening and the cruise was the perfect length. Seriously, make an Auckland Harbour cruise part of your New Zealand holiday.