Wednesday, July 14, 2010

IRA World Congress Auckland, NZ

New Zealand, where the air is clear and the pies are steamy, the people are friendly and the internet is expensive, sparse and achingly slow. Michael and I came downunder for the IRA World Congress, a multi-national literacy conference that convenes every other year. We had a few days to take in some sights and sites, but not nearly enough time to explore.

The center of Auckland is this Sky Tower, which the guidebook describes as looking like a "hypodermic needle giving a fix to the sky." Don't know about that, but people sure seem to get off on jumping off the thing (strings attached) and harnessing up to crabcrawl around the little ledge at the top. NZ is the bungee capital of the world. Who knew? Michael is still bugging me about not taking advantage of the two for one winter special for a death defying leap from this thing. He called that a bargain. I called it insanity. One of the teachers I met at the conference who was leading a group of Virginia grad students reminded them that while the health insurance would not cover injuries from bungee jumping, it would pay to have their remains repatriated to the U.S.

One of the first things you notice walking down the street is that Auckland truly is an international city. In fact, the area around out hotel was predominately populated by Korean nationals. One of Korea's biggest exports seems to be its people. There are little convenient stores around, each with a different ethnic band -- middle eastern, chinese, korean. The country itself has three languages, English, Maori, and signing.

We took in the Auckland Museum to get some history and background on the indigenous Maori people and customs. The Maori are credited with being premier navigators, traveling as far as South America in what look to be pretty primitive craft. Most notable is their Haka dance of strength and intimidation. But their carvings and art are stunning and unique.

In our ongoing quest to visit every aquarium around the globe, we visited Auckland's designed by visionary resident wacko Kelly Tarton out of what used to be a sewage disposal facility. Here you climb into a little disney-like ride to get up close and personal with the penguins and other exciting creatures.

In the closest we got to trekking, we took a ferry out to Rangitoto Island, which arrived via volcano overnight a few hundred years ago. The beaches and all surrounds are black volcanic rock with tea trees growing all over. A tractor pulled up part way up and then we followed this path into the sky (see those distant little blue patches?) to reach the breathtaking summit. The road were built by convicts in the 20s and 30s who unfortunately didn't have the foresight to also lay fiberoptic cable.

The conference itself was terrific and we felt welcomed learning and sharing our learning. A great introduction to NZ. Hardly enough to last a lifetime. Hopefully we can come back for more out of the city exploration.