WE are entering week three of New Zealand’s stringent Covid-19 lockdown. My editor Chris, who is down south in Queenstown, helped me write a post about the first Friday night of the lockdown in that town, and then a week ago, another one about hiking trails there.
This post is about Auckland, which is where I’m holed up at the moment, in a harbourside suburb called Point Chevalier.
It’s also about exploring and discovering local places within five kilometres of Point Chevalier. Which is as far afield as I’m currently allowed to roam even for exercise, along with five million other New Zealanders.
Here’s the outer limit of my 5 km exercise bubble, more or less, wrapped around an even more local area that I’m going to talk about in this post.
Real estate speculation is the Aucklanders’ hobby. And so, just before the lockdown, I was in Auckland selling a house.
I’ve been a landlord for a while, but now I think the socialists have the right idea. I’ve got sick of endless maintenance, ripoffs by builders, tenant damage and people who cannot look after themselves. It’s better that the state take over the rental business. I’m going to write a book about that one day.
Actually, the travel industry is where I want to be. It’s what I truly want to do: not clean up after other people. I’ve already written twelve books on travel with my editor Chris, plus a blog. I like to get to know the locals and explore the culture on foot, not go on big guided tours or on cruise ships.
However you travel, it might all seem redundant right now that we can’t travel. But you can still explore your local surroundings, a world in miniature. And that’s what this post is about.
Meanwhile, I was trying to get rid of this house. On my first open home day. nobody at all came, even though there wasn’t a lockdown in force yet.
All my prospective buyers were in the supermarkets fighting over toilet paper instead, thanks to a really alarming front page in the local paper about how everything was shortly going to run out as the world fell apart.
I believe the rag got the word from on high not to run any more front pages like that. Something along the lines of how there used to be a law against spreading rumours and we could easily bring it back.
But that was the weekend normal ended, anyway.
So, I took the house off the market and filled it with tenants once more. Fortunately, people still needed a place to live. You do what you have to.
Now, like a lot of other countries, New Zealand had also started to run out alcohol-based hand sanitiser at that time. In fact, well before things got serious. It was worse here because of a recent, half-baked regulation which said that no more than thirty litres, the equivalent of a car’s fuel tank, could ever be produced at one time in case the alcohol caught on fire.
By a lucky oversight, whoever made the rule banning the mass-production of sanitiser lest it catch fire forgot to tell New Zealand’s hardware stores not to stock as much industrial alcohol as they liked.
I made my own sanitiser using industrial-type ethyl alcohol, known locally as methylated spirits or ‘meths’ and a gel. There’s lots of recipes on the Internet. The main thing is that it has to be really strong.
The 30-litre regulation was quickly repealed once the pandemic took hold. But it’s taking a long time to ramp New Zealand’s sanitiser industry up to the proportions needed. And in the meantime we’re relying on the homemade substitute made possible by the abundance of the hardware stores.
But it isn’t as nice-smelling as the proper stuff. Meths has a nasty smell (and taste, so I’m told) caused by chemicals that are supposed to discourage hard-core alcoholics from drinking it.
They also used to add methanol — whence the term ‘methylated’— to make it even more poisonous. That isn’t done any more in my country, though it’s still common elsewhere. I don’t think it would be wise to use the version that contains methanol on the skin all day long, as it can be absorbed.
To get around the bad smell of meths, a prepper I know set up a still to make her own alcohol. Distilling moonshine is 100% legal in New Zealand, apparently the only country where it is. Everywhere else, the penalties range from fines to flogging.
Raw liquor from the still is normally close to pure alcohol, and thus suitable for making sanitiser. In fact, during World War II, raw liquor from stills was used as rocket fuel. It needs watering down and a few other treatments and precautions before you can drink it, even as a spirit.
In some of our more frontier-like towns, such as the one my father inhabits, the shops sell essences of whiskey, brandy and rum to give home-distilled liquor more flavour. Chris asked the moonshine prepper if she was going to put any of the flavours into some of it and she said, my God, I’d never drink the stuff.
She’s also been making masks for a few weeks. Everybody thought she was silly, but she was ahead of the curve as it turns out.
All this improvisation does have the effect of making you wonder how much planning for a pandemic there ever actually was, in spite of ample warning from the scientists that it would happen one day.
Bit like the greenhouse effect, I suppose.
I got paranoid about shopping at supermarkets and discovered a food store called Supervalue, where they carried my food in a box to my car. I will go back there now and forget the supermarket. My friend gave me some gloves and big googles the day before full lockdown on March 25th, and I have been wearing them along with her home-made masks ever since.
Then I started eating too much, and realised if I did not get fit through a combination of weeding the garden, biking and walking I would end up looking like a fat cow.
As it became clear that movement was going to be restricted. I started thinking about local travel destinations. Where could I go to get out of the house?
Before the lockdown reached maximum strictness, I went on a ferry and climbed to the top of Rangitoto, a bush-clad volcanic island quite close to downtown Auckland, which has got a huge crater at the top and various crumbling wartime installations. I also travelled to some distant suburbs and got photos of sunrises and sunsets, after reading about how there were some extra-beautiful angles for the photographer.
I’ll write about those in my next post. In this one, I’ll touch base here on what was closer to hand, accessible under full lockdown.
I took out the old bike I’d bought once upon a time from KMart (like Wal-Mart) and used WD-40 to oil it up. The wheels and the handlebars still work and so do the brakes, luckily. But the seat does not sit still.
But where could you possibly go within five kilometres?
Well, actually, lots of places as it turned out. Microscopic examination of even my local suburb in Auckland turned up a lot of surprises.
What did I discover?
A waterfall on Oakley Creek, above the underground motorway.
Ducks feeding. Native trees being planted. And a park that was now part of a marine reserve, next to the great motorway junction.
The next group of photos was taken there, at the end of Alberta Street, Point Chevalier. There were marine birds rarely seen in the city, such as stilts and the Variable Oystercatcher, found only in New Zealand. This was probably because the area is now part of the Motu Manawa-Pollen Island Marine Reserve.
And another park, at a place called Western Springs where the city used to get its water, where the gulls and ducks had taken over the benches and the seats.
I did a coastal walk around the Meola Estuary, with its reef. The clouds point to Auckland’s sub-tropical character, quite different to that of Queenstown which often feels sub-Antarctic.
I saw swans that I’d never seen before near Garnet Road; and discovered a path that followed the estuary from Meola Rd to Lemington Rd.
And Point Chevalier Beach. Point Chevalier used to be a well known beach resort for Aucklanders, a sort of mini-Bondi, busy as anything. At least it was until we started taking our holidays and weekends further afield.
Heading into autumn downunder, we’ve been blessed with amazing weather so far. In the first week people did not distance outdoors and I chatted to many along the way. But by the third, social distancing was the norm. Still, it seems reasonable to give a cheery wave as you go past and smile with your eyes, at least.
There’s plenty now to rediscover. and as maybe other people will rediscover it as well.
I’ve been all round the world myself, and it’s great to get back to the places that are just about in my backyard. Once we’re allowed to go further afield again, I’ll be having a look at all the places that could be connected up to make a network for biking. I think that really really be a worthwhile project.
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