How sweet — it’s as though they were expecting us.
As we worked our way expertly through the roundabouts into Auckland, the streets were lined with welcoming rainbow flags. How did they know we were on our way? Do they read this blog? Do they follow us on Instagram??
I’d like to say that my adept travel preparations conveniently had us finish our New Zealand road trip with four days smack-dab in the midst of Auckland Pride, but that was sheer coincidence.
Excited as we were to see how Auckland turns it out for pride, we were disappointed to learn that our return flight to Bangkok would have us leaving a few hours before the pride parade – the culmination of more than three weeks’ worth of pride activities.
Frank scored us a great AirBnB in the Ponsonby district. Narrow streets of single family homes that branch off Ponsonby Road, which is lined with restaurants, bars and services, a short five-minute walk from where we were staying.
In addition to having a great location, we lucked out with the weather. The forecast for our time in Auckland was for sun and no rain — a forecast that we’re happy they finally got right.
Auckland is far from flat, as was our experience everywhere on the North Island. Walking from place to place involved climbing steep streets. Great views of the city at every turn. Sore shins from the steep declines. Being the rugged guys that we are, we toughed it out (and whimpered quietly to ourselves).
One afternoon, we made our way to the pier for lunch and we were surprised at how few people, even from the surrounding office towers, were out enjoying the lunch-hour sunshine. Perhaps it’s just that we come from a climate where summers are far too short and enjoying the sun, outdoors, is a priority.
Our walking tour jaunt around downtown led us to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. The building itself is an architectural stunner. It masterfully dovetails a building from the late 1800s with a new, modern addition of glass, local timber and stone. The addition incorporates Maori cultural motifs and is sensitively placed on the land so as not to disturb a stream that flows through and beyond the building.
The gallery houses works by local and international artists. Our admission ticket also allowed us to tag along on a 60-minute tour.
Our volunteer guide provided her detailed insights on the architectural merits and awards of the gallery. Even more impressive was her keen knowledge of key pieces in the collection – in particular the painted Maori portraits by New Zealand’s 19th century artist Gottfried Lindauer.
Our guide was a stylish woman who appeared to be in her late 60s. She spoke with ease and with a vast appreciation of the entire collection. She engaged members of the tour by asking why an artist would have chosen to add certain elements in a piece and what we saw or interpreted in a painting or sculpture.
It was only after the tour that we noticed her name at the top of the benefactor’s recognition wall. It’s no wonder she knew so much. We’re lucky to have had her share her passion and appreciation for the collection with us.
As we continued to roam around the city, we certainly had the sense that Auckland has a big-city feel, but we never felt that it was teeming with tourists like we experienced in Sydney. Several times we turned to each other and said, “where is everyone?” and specifically, “where the gays at?”
We were on a quest to find our tribe.
Had it not been for the rainbow flags along Ponsonby Road, we wouldn’t have had a clue that it was pride week. We searched for activities and events with an LGBTQ-bent. It was hard slogging. It seemed the bulk of the activities happened earlier in the month. Perhaps the gays and our allies were recovering — building their stamina for the parade.
The only thing we could find was a show called “Live Drag: an opera in the making.”
At first blush, you might think that drag and opera are worlds apart — we were of the same mind. So, we were more than a little curious how such a cultural and artistic mash-up might turn out.
Brilliantly, that’s how!
My limited exposure to opera is attending some of the classics, where the story and how it’s told isn’t conveyed in a manner that recognizes I crave stories with a modern flare that I can relate to.
Live Drag; an opera in the making tells the story of a drag queen reluctant to admit to herself and her two drag sisters that she is losing her sight which would mark the end of her career. Seriously, who can’t relate to that. Okay, maybe not, but they had me at ‘drag.’
On stage were three men from the NZ Opera dressed in black with their faces painted-up in full drag. Behind them, three women from the same company.
Each of the three women was paired with one of the men in drag for the entire performance. The women sang and the men lip-synched live to their female counterpart. BAM! Lip-synching to a singer standing behind them?? Shut the front door!!
What made it all the more incredible, we learned in the post-show Q&A, was that the men had never performed drag before. Okay!?! Wow! AND, it took the six performers only four-days to learn the songs and staging. What the what?!?
That’s not your mom and dad’s opera. Nor is it a run-of-the-mill drag show. That’s creative! That’s engaging! Opera companies that want to diversify their subscriber base might want to take notice.
As our days in New Zealand dwindled, we took some time to reflect on the comparisons between New Zealanders and Canadians that I mentioned in my Wellington post.
By and large, I’d say that most Canadians see ourselves as perpetually apologetic, quieter versions of our North American neighbours to the south. By contrast, we found New Zealanders an even more reserved bunch than we might see in ourselves.
Interestingly, when we mentioned that to the Kiwis we met, most were quick to apologize for our perception of their reservedness (apologizing to us for how we view them – how Canadian of them). We were equally as quick to point out (and apologize) that being reserved isn’t a criticism, it’s just an observation and one that we may have made too hastily on a very short trip to a handful of locations.
But better reserved than being all up in our faces, is all I can say. Can I get an Amen?
We very much enjoyed New Zealand — the people we met and the diverse geography. The hardest thing about the trip were the first few minutes in the car. After that, it was a very easy country to visit and explore. Thank you (and I’m sorry).
After a few weeks back in Bangkok, we’ll be off to Hong Kong.