A Devonport company offers an unusual way to see the highlights, writes Susan Edmunds.
I've never before been on a tour around any city in the world where random passing strangers have stopped to tell me off for my lack of fitness. Or suggest that I might like to walk if I want to lose weight. But there is something about a group of people touring the streets and mountains of Devonport on Segways - a kind of upright platform-scooter - that seems to compel people to comment.
Having grown up on the North Shore, a tour of Devonport is not something that I would generally consider. But travelling around on a Segway gave a different perspective on the familiar steep, windy streets. We were able to get into places you wouldn't see from a car, and with a top speed of about 18km/h we zipped around a lot faster than we would have been able to on foot.
We arrived at the Devonport wharf for Magic Broomstick's first tour of the day, at 9.30am. Pauline Baker, who has lived in the suburb for 25 years, runs three daily tours in her peak season. She is knowledgeable about the historic area - but it's obvious a big attraction of the tours is the novelty value of the form of transport.
For this tour, it was just three of us. None of us having ever set foot on a Segway before, we went out on to the wharf for our first taste. Pauline promises that anyone can learn to ride one in about 15 minutes. She will take children aged over 13, provided they have a parent's consent.
Balance has never been my strong point so I was tentative at first. Gyroscopes work to keep the Segway balanced, and you steer, and travel forwards and backwards, by leaning vaguely in the direction you want to go. When I relaxed into it, it became much more comfortable and within about 20 minutes I was fairly confidently navigating curbs and darting around in circles. We beetled up and down, going around cones and up and down a grass verge until Pauline was satisfied that we'd be able to get around without causing injury to ourselves or others.
Pauline directed us around her neighbourhood, pointing out interesting and historic buildings, points of interest like the spot where the first execution in New Zealand took place, and the military installations on Mt Victoria and North Head. She says tourists are gobsmacked by the view from the top of the mountains but, being Aucklanders, our group was more interested in trundling back and forth on our Segways.
Pauline says her late husband Mike came up with the idea while he was in Paris in 2007. Segways are used in a lot of cities overseas, as a good way for tourists to get around and take in the sights. His experience touring Paris convinced him that Devonport needed to offer something similar. He checked out the options and found the Segway was the only thing of its type that would get up Mt Victoria. He ordered six of them. Mike died almost two years ago, leaving the business in Pauline's hands. She has grown it steadily since.
The tour was worth doing, even for locals who thought they knew Devonport inside out. We got a new appreciation for the history of the area and a buzz out of flying around on our Segways. We'll be back: next time with teenagers in tow.
Magic Broomstick Segway Tours: Depart seven days a week from Devonport Wharf, ph 027 339 3155 to book. Cost for 15-minute training session and two-hour tour: $90, one-hour tour $70. Participants must be aged 13 and over.
While you're there: Take your camera and snap some proof of your Segway skills from the top of Mt Victoria or North Head. Afterwards, stroll through the Devonport shops, and stop for a pub lunch or a drink at The Patriot.