Thursday, February 28, 2019

Pining for the kauri on a Red Boat cruise

With thanks to The Red Boats
It's a bit embarrassing, to recommend to friends, who live for most of the year on the other side of the world, an outing here that you've just enjoyed, only to have them tell you that they've been there, done that already - twice. It's not an unusual scenario, though, for tourists to have done a better job of exploring your taken-for-granted backyard, so I'm shrugging it off, and just being pleased that I've done it myself at last.
What it was, is a cruise up into the upper harbour here in Auckland, and along the Rangitopuni Creek to the little town of Riverhead, for lunch at the historic tavern there, and then a gentle chug back again to the city's marina. All very gentle and undemanding physically (apart from the 52 steps up to the pub from the jetty) and so, unsurprisingly, the passengers were mostly grey-headed, and some of them quite tottery. Up on the open top deck, though, where you needed to climb a steep ladder to get there, were the ladies' day out groups, and younger tourist couples, all of them seemingly as keen to sun themselves as to admire the scenery.
And what lovely scenery! There was the marina first, with a mind-bogglingly large assembly of boats, some of them huge luxury jobs, all white and sleek with names like Promise and Dream, and others, even bigger, with unfeasibly tall masts. Owha the resident leopard seal was absent today from her usual pontoon - she's been a regular for about three years now - but the scow Ted Ashby was sailing picturesquely underneath the Harbour Bridge, so that was good compensation. 
Captain Ben gave us lots of interesting information en route, including about the kauri forest that used to cover the north shore - oh, so that's why it's called Kauri Point... - and the ferreting around for gum that happened once the timber was gone. A sugar bag of gum was worth a week's wages back then. The Chelsea Sugar refinery, in all its pink glory, is all that's left of a surprisingly busy industrial history along the water, which included flour, tobacco and paper bags. There were also shipwrecks and a crashed wartime plane, but there's nothing much left of any of all that now: just appealing little sandy bays beneath cliffs topped with (now) pine groves, farmland, a golf course, a Hare Krishna temple, and a remarkable number of very attractive, and big, homes with lawns sloping down to the water and sometimes private jetties. 
Our route was surprisingly circuitous, the MV Hogwash occasionally heading straight for a cliff before doing a right-angled turn - but that was because, despite having a draught of just 4 feet, she had to follow the winding channel in the silt-clogged creek that in places turned the blue water yellow. She's a very cute little vessel, built in 1949 and on only her second engine after seventy years of solid work, and chugged along steadily at 10 knots, so it took an hour and a half to cover the 18km to Riverhead.
The tavern is proud of holding the country's second-longest liquor licence (after Waiuku's Kentish Hotel, where I went last year) - but, really, should be prouder of being NZ's oldest wooden building, which is a much bigger achievement (and especially pertinent given our current recurrent wildfires in Nelson). It's quiet, laid-back and comfortable, with tables inside and out, and the food is excellent. Super-tender beef cheek, since you ask - though that was put into the shade by the fabulous beer-battered chips with truffle dip, which were crunchy perfection. (No photo - they got eaten too fast.)
There was plenty of time to relax at the hotel, and then the trip back was notable for being simultaneously livelier and more somnolent, depending on the age of the passenger and how much they had had to eat/drink at the Riverside. I took particular satisfaction of getting, for the first time ever, the sea-view of the suburb where I lived for 23 years.
It was a really lovely day out, especially on a warm sunny day, and - who know? - I might even do it a second time myself.

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