Good old Auckland. We're getting there. We're not there yet. We're still stuck out here on Covid Island, our borders patrolled by armed guards with alsatians straining at the leash – it's like the Cold War, and we're East Germany. Auckland has always been a separate territory to the rest of New Zealand but these days it's like we're annexed. Wellington regards us with pity, even the one-horse towns gone mad on P send their get-well-soon condolences. Their citizens can go about as they please. They can leave their homes. But we're getting there, slowly.
Poor old Auckland. It's a city of two harbours lapping the shores of Devil's Island. We're the sick man of New Zealand, burning in the ashes of level 3 while the rest of the country fiddles in level 2. At least we can eat what everyone else can eat since the chimes of midnight rang on Tuesday, releasing us from the solitary confinements of level 4, and allowing for barrels of salt and fat to roll down the motorways to the shining palaces of KFC, McDonalds, and all the other franchises of food capitalism, their doors once more open for business. Not entirely open. You can't sit inside a restaurant. You can't do a lot of things. But we're getting there, slowly.
Beautiful old Auckland. Okay so we're Leper Island and a plague is on all our houses but no other city in New Zealand shines so strongly in the sunlight, and looks so ravishing from so many angles. I love these lines from C.K. Stead's memoir of his Auckland childhood, South-West of Eden, when he writes of leaving New Zealand in 1956 with his wife Kay: "We sailed slowly, grandly, down the harbour, past the white museum on the hill with its portentous Doric columns, around Mt Victoria and North Head, and down the gulf past, on one side, Rangitoto with its pepperpot lighthouse, on the other the pale orange-yellow stretch of Takapuna Beach, backed by its white weatherboard houses and red iron roofs." The only way to exit Auckland and see the world back then was by ship; getting there, slowly.
Same old Auckland. We've always been hated by the rest of New Zealand. We have too much fun, too much money. But these days it's a dump and the streets are deserted. No one's trying to get in; the straining alsatians are there to keep us from getting out. The very last thing the rest of New Zealand wants to see right now is an Aucklander. We've gone from Jafas to Jafcas. Yeah, the C word. But most of us are law-abiding folks who have no intention of slipping over the borders. We're residents of Rat Island, and we're staying put. We're hanging in. We're waiting for the all-clear sirens; we're getting there, slowly.
Crazy old Auckland. These past six weeks have done our heads in. We go on our daily trot, walking in circles, wearing masks tied beneath our chins until someone comes by, and we look longingly at distant horizons. A friend in the South Island emails, "Guess where I am right now!" I can't guess. She replies, "Stewart Island! I'm staying at the pub, lol." It all sounds so far away, so exotic, so unlikely – a pub, open for business! I've never been to Stewart Island. But right now I'm stuck on Karen Island. It is what it is, such is life under the long black cloud of Variant B.1.617.2, also known as Delta; there's no getting away from it.
Good old Auckland. "Approximately 25 million years ago," writes E.J. Searle in his great book City of Volcanoes (1964), "Auckland lay beneath the sea …The gentle waves of the Gulf work today where formerly ocean breakers roared. Feebly they pick at and wear away the soft young Waitematā rocks." We're an Atlantis, risen up, smelling of seasalt and seaweed. What an awesome city. I went for a level 4 walk last week and found a new track that led into a mangrovial wonderland. Someone had put a chair on the edge of the water. I sat in it for a while in the sunlight. "The tide," as poet Allen Curnow wrote, "crawls up the creek." Treasure Island, population 1,630,092; we'll get there in the end.