Guy Fawkes Fudge

The Government has fudged their ‘get tough on fireworks’ stance with a ‘neither one thing nor the other’ .  Environment Minister David Benson-Pope has said that fireworks will only be sold for three days next year, only to those over 18 and that sparklers will only be sold as part of larger fireworks packs. 

“What do you mean you ‘can only get sparklers’!”

The Government maintains that (i) those selling fireworks will break the law if they sell fireworks to people under 18 and (ii) those buying them will have to present identification in the same way as purchasing tobacco or alcohol.  These same measures haven’t prevented underage drinking and smoking so quite how they will prevent vandalism, arson, injuries and lifelong scarring I’m not sure.

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The Police Force formerly known as…

The inhabitants of the police station at the bottom of our road changed their name this afternoon.  No longer will they be officers of North Shore/Waitakere/Rodney and Auckland Metro Road Policing.  Top cop Viv Rickard announced that they’ve shed the quadruple-barreled moniker with officers now comprising part of the slimmer, sleeker Waitemata Police District.

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Knights departing Auckland?

The Knights, the beleaguered Auckland-based soccer team are all over the press this week – for the wrong reasons.  The Knights, languishing at the bottom of the Hyundai A-League with just two wins in 17 matches, learned last week that Football Federation Australia have revoked the franchise’s license. 

Half-time in last night’s match against The Victory, the team of fellow Oceania Metrobloggers Melbourne, couldn’t come quick enough as The Victory compounded the pain with four goals in ten minutes.

The scramble is on to find new investors to prevent the franchise heading back over the Tasman.  NZ Soccer have stepped in to help keep the club in New Zealand and have not ruled out the possibility of the club moving to Christchurch or Wellington, cities with more soccer-friendly reputations, if the cash is found.  Though the team have until January 31st to secure the franchise, the Australian cities of Cairns,
Wollongong and Canberra are all keen to snap up the league slot if it becomes available.

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Sign felled?

As I mentioned two days ago, the city council are keen to ban billboards and the billboard companies are not best pleased.  Now the Sign and Display Association are joining those on the ‘shell-shocked’ side of the debate, having learned that the ban could well apply to the enourmous free-standing and roof line signs so beloved of the fast food chains.  I have to say that, from an aesthetics point of view, I agree; the character of streets the world over has been lost or devalued by the gaudy clutter of plastic and vinyl.  Just today, I heard a scientist on the radio stating that a large percentage of three year olds who were unable to offer their family’s surname could, however, recognise and associate McDonald’s golden arches logo with food.

Chief among the SDA’s concerns are increased business costs and the always-popular looming job losses (though wouldn’t all the changes in signage increase business and jobs?).  If the bylaws goes ahead unaltered, all signs above verandas will be prohibited, size and style of signage will be restricted, signs will have to comply with the new bylaw within 18 months of it coming into force and dispensations will last no longer than five years.

The council will be seeking comment from businesses and public between January 15 and March 2.

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Auckland’s 7th gift to the world: Four seasons in one day

To borrow a lyric from the Crowded House hit “Four Seasons In One Day” (written by New Zealander Neil Finn – see gift #4), Auckland is more than capable of offering up weather befitting of each of the seasons in a given 24 hour period.


Winter


Spring


Summer


Autumn

Torrential tropical downpours, scorching white hot sunshine,
near-hurricane winds, thick grey mists – there are days when you’d
swear you’d expereinced them all.  As the old saying goes; if you don’t
like the weather round here, grab a beer or get a coffee – by the time
you’re finished, it’ll have changed.

All photos: Flickr + tagged ‘auckland’ & the relevant season

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Spaghetti junction – 33 years in the making

The last elements of Auckland’s central motorway junction, known by all and sundry as spaghetti junction, will open this week.  This will mean that traffic wishing to move from one of the city’s motorways to another will no longer have to use local city roads to do so. With around 200,000 vehicles a day moving through the junction, this is a big deal, not just for drivers but those who live, walk and cycle on the streets of Auckland previously used to connect the motorways.

Not to be outdone, the capital will open its own controversial inner city bypass just after Christmas, to speed traffic from the airport to north of Wellington without clogging the streets of the CBD.  A good number of folks, including my friend and blogger Taniwha, photographed the Te Aro area before the bulldozers and concrete moved in.


photo: Taniwha

Call me naive but I am amazed that in this day and age, when the peak oil argument is highlighted by what Al Gore calls An Inconvenient Truth,
a socially progressive nation like NZ is still trying to road build it’s
way out of congestion and overcrowded streets while allowing popular
elements of its fragile rail infrastructure, like the Overlander, to wither on the vine for want of promotion and investment.

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Removing Dan Carter’s underwear

Yesterday, Auckland City Council took the first step towards banning advertising billboards in the city centre.

Apparently, the thinking behind this move is that the ban, if ratified next May, will help make Auckland an “international city”, though quite how isn’t clear.  Adverts such as the one featuring All Black Dan Carter in his underwear are popular talking points in the streets and around watercoolers for obvious reasons.  However, those promoting the ban claim that folks would prefer the opportunity to appreciate naked buildings and the urban landscape than a near-naked Mr Carter.  Let’s be honest, architects and city planners, your neat cornice work and fancy window details just don’t have the same eye-candy appeal as a 200ft rugby player or supermodel in the skinny.

The proposed bylaw would see billboards disappear from Hobson St across to Anzac Ave, Britomart, Karangahape Rd and the Viaduct Harbour.  It would also mean the removal of billboards from around retail areas like Newmarket, Ponsonby, Parnell, Otahuhu and around the Valley Rd shops in Dominion Rd.

I can see both sides but I’m still not sure about the move making Auckland an international city.  Having lived, worked and visited a good many cities around the globe, I have found funny, inventive billboards a common sight – and not one that necessarily detracts from the landscape.  On the contrary, I doubt Piccadilly Circus or Times Square would have the same tourist pull without the billboards and neon lights.

As the advertisers would say, watch this space.

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Auckland’s 6th gift to the world: The Waitakeres

Quite simply, how many cities have a prehistoric rainforest as a next door neighbour?

The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is a stunning wilderness area just 30 minutes from downtown Auckland.  You’ll see flora here that has hardly changed in 30 million years and, if you are lucky, rare fauna like threatened species like the Hochstetter frog, New Zealand dotterel, Long Tailed bat.  As for activities, you’re spoilt for choice: surfing, walking, environmental education, not to mention the Waitakere Tramline and the Rainforest Express.

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Why are Kiwi motorists so threatened by bikes?


flickr photo: psd

Today, the Herald ran a story regarding the upcoming installation of cycle lanes on a busy road that runs past my office.   Good news but the detail of the piece serves to highlight a less palatable fact: kiwis are not that cycle friendly and are no more keen to relinquish road space than their UK or US cousins.  Consider these points, if you will:

  1. Residents are concerned about losing on-street parking.  As the local community board chairwoman pointed out, most homes in the area (and indeed NZ) have enough off-street parking for two cars.
  2. Residents are complaining that they have to cross a very busy road to parking on the other side – and say that it is dangerous for cyclists too.   More dangerous than being hit by a car door and spilled into oncoming traffic?
  3. Opposition to the planned loss of 174 parking spaces saw this reduced to 113, with a 1.4m cycle lane running outside them, to placate the residents.  This concession was at the expense of the flush median strip (prevalent in NZ), the removal of which has led to more road traffic accidents elsewhere. So, the argument goes, bike lanes cause accidents. QED.

All this tends to point towards an unpleasant, shortsighted NIMBY attitude among car-loving Aucklanders but things are little better in the suburbs.  One of the local papers ran another piece this week on a woman who is an experienced cyclist and who had been in a driver-at-fault accident.  After emergency care and hospitalisation, she is now recovering but, when interviewed by the paper, she pointed an ironic fact of life for cyclists in New Zealand, which I have tried to capture in my own words. 

The average Kiwi loves and embraces almost any sporting endeavour and will support New Zealand athletes to the ends of the earth.  It is strange and sad then to think that those who cheered Sarah Ulmer to her Olympic Gold Medal victory most probably include the antagonistic, abusive and aggressive who drive cyclists, literally and metaphorically, from the roads every day.

Those looking for further supporting evidence need look no further than the soon to be published Long Cloud Ride by the much acclaimed world cyclist Josie Dew.  In nine month’s cycling, she covered 10,000 kilometres across both islands of New Zealand. During this time, according to the pre-press and accounts elsewhere, Josie was spat at, shouted at, honked at and run off the road.

Come on, Kiwis, embrace the bike and hug a cyclist today.

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NZHerald spooked by Metroblog

Obviously spooked by the appearance of Metroblogging Auckland, the New Zealand Herald web site is undergoing a hasty revamp and will launch it’s fresh look on Monday. As well as stylistic changes for tried and tested content like breaking news, the site will be re-engineered for easier navigation, will feature more hi-res images and promises more in the way of multimedia content.

Elsewhere, the competition are using different techniques to grab and keep their market share.  The Otago Daily Times provides online content in a fairly traditional fashion but offers various paid subscription options on digital editions of its print version.  However, The Dominion Post, the second largest paper in the country and centred around the capital Wellington doesn’t offer online content.

I heard about all this from the always interesting Mediawatch with Colin Peacock & Cushla Managh on National Radio. Last Sunday’s programme (Windows Media) concerned the changing nature of news reporting and the balance that newspapers are now trying to strike between printed and online content.  Likewise, Radio New Zealand are, like broadcasters the world over, providing an increasing amount of broadcast and original content in podcast form.

Don’t hold your breath for the print edition of Metroblogging Auckland.  Instead, why not check out the other 50 cities in our network and extend your world view?

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Auckland’s 5th gift to the world: Tamaki Drive

Tamaki Drive is one of Auckland’s most distinctive features – a waterside drive that provide a place where locals and visitors alike can go to take in the sea air, relax and enjoy the view.

This 10 kilometre stretch of road follows the coastline from the ferry terminal at the foot of the business district out past Mechanic’s Bay, Takaparawha, Orakei, Mission Bay, Kohimarama and onto St Heliers.  Over the next few weeks, this snaking trip from bustling city centre to swanky suburbs will be made even more enjoyable by the deep red flowers of the pohutukawa, New Zealand’s ‘Christmas’ tree.

The seaward view is of Waitemata Harbour, its islands and the seemingly numberless boats and yachts lying at anchors or moored at crowded marinas.  Steep cliffs inland, the sites of Maori pa in days gone by, slide down to meet the road at Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers Bay, offering a perch for exclusive homes, well appointed public beaches and popular caf├ęs and restaurants catering for most tastes and budgets.

Depending on the season, the drive is peppered with all manner of diversions from stalls selling strawberries and seafood and triathletes competing in the bays to seafarers preparing their craft and tourists lining up to take in Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World.

Whether you’re cruising with your mates, rollerblading with your dog, training for the Auckland Marathon (which incorporates the drive in its route) or simply strolling with the family, Tamaki Drive is a perennial favourite.

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Auckland’s 4th gift to the world: Kiwi music

New Zealand produces some of the most distinctive music and, while the artists may hail from across the land, Auckland’s music scene is invariably the springboard that flips them into the international arena.

Fat Freddy’s Drop and Brooke Fraser (Wellington), Tim and Neil Finn (the Waikato), The Datsuns (Cambridge) and Bic Runga (Christchurch) represent some of the best talent currently touring the world and performing locally.  Together with some longer standing New Zealand greats like Shihad (touring NZ with The Datsuns this summer), Crowded House (with Neil Finn making up the 33% Kiwi content), the dub-reggae-funk outfit The Black SeedsBreaks Co-Op and power popsters Elemeno P, these acts are taking on the world.  Check them out at your local music store, iTunes NZ or Vodafone Music.

Away from the mainstream but equally Kiwi, Auckland also has a massive hip hop scene which draws heavily on the influence of the US East Coast and LA scenes and a growing bhangra audience in the local Indian population.  The cultural and artistic heritage of Auckland’s Pacific Island communities is celebrated and promoted in the thriving annual Pasifika Festival.

It is the unique mix of cultural backgrounds – the Pakeha, the Maori, the Pacific Islander, the Asian – that gives Kiwi music it’s distinctive edge and sound, setting it apart from any other.

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Auckland’s 3rd gift to the world: Number 8 Wire

Kiwis are rightly proud of their make-do ingenuity and flair for self-sufficiency. It is said that a Kiwi can mend or create anything so long as they can lay their hands on a bit of Number 8 wire.

No 8 wire is the wire that was primarily used for fencing wire on New Zealand’s farms, back blocks and homesteads. As one of the most widely available materials in farm stores, agricultural co-ops and old barns the country over, it has assumed the status of a symbol of the nation’s ingenuity.  These days, the term is referenced seemingly everywhere from art competitions to albatross-friendly fishing gear, speeches by ministers to post-modern ironic cartoons on the slacker nature of Aotearoa’s youth.

The human embodiment of this ingenuity, and philosophy if you will, is Burt Munro, the Southlander who took an Indian Scout motorcycle and, over 50 years, tinkered with it in his shed enough to reach 190.07 mph on Bonneville salt flats, the fastest ever officially recorded speed on an Indian motorcycle.  The barrels, flywheels, pistons, cams and followers and lubrication system of that motorcycle had been handcrafted by Munro, as were the hand-carved con-rods, made from a Caterpillar tractor axle. 

This remarkable man was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in ‘The World’s Fastest Indian‘, a movie that got a 5 minute standing ovation in the one-horse town cinema I saw it in and that will tell you more about New Zealand than a crate full of Rough Guides.


Snow Patrol to play Trust Stadium



In what will be their debut New Zealand gig, indie-darlings turned mainstream stadium-fillers Snow Patrol, surfing the success of their Eyes Open album down under, will play Auckland in February next year.  Tickets went on sale here in NZ earlier today and, given their rapid sell outs in Oz, I scooped a pair up before they disappeared.  The venue is the Trust Stadium, which is just a 15 minute drive from our house.  This will mean a quick drive to Lincoln Road to park up, and grab a bite to eat before a leisurely walk to the stadium.

Snow Patrol’s output to date is on my youngest teenager’s iPod as well as mine.  So, as it was she, the budding indie rock chick, who told me about the gig in time to hit TicketMaster, it only seems right that she gets the other ticket and goes to her first ever gig.  I can’t remember who I saw at my first gig but I can recall the anticipation, buzz and excitement that preceded going to a concert as a teenager.  I saw it all that (and a little disbelief) in her face when I called her over to look at the email confirmation on my iBook.  As a grumpy old man-in-waiting, I am shamelessly flattered that she’d even be seen at a gig with her Dad.  I suspect that the thought hasn’t crossed her mind yet and I’ll be having to promise that I won’t dance or sing along when the time arrives.

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Auckland’s 2nd gift to the world: Sky Tower

Auckland’s second gift to the world is the 328 metre Sky Tower, the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere. From the top on a clear day, visitors can see more than 80 kilometres in every direction.

skytoweratnight.jpg

However, if they don’t like it, they can literally take a running jump. If adventure is your thing, then the Sky Jump is for you. Attached to a harness and cable, you fall towards the street at 80kph for around 15 seconds and 192m before slowing up just before touching down on the pavement – like a more controlled, less bouncy bungee jump. When that’s all over, there are casinos, restaurants, bars and hotels to enjoy in the same complex.


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