If the getting there is just as important as the destination, Greg Bruce offers a sublime experience
In the beginning, you are birthed from the Britomart tunnel in a short and uneventful labour. Within moments, you are emerging into the dull sunshine of Auckland's light industrial port district, the monstrous Spark Arena on one side and the containers of Princes Wharf on the other. You go past a Mobil, some stupid warehouses, a terribly located carpark and a never-shifting pile of gravel. You pass a bridge and so on. There's some good graffiti, some bad graffiti, some disused infrastructure. For those opening seconds, it's among the least beautiful inner-city train journeys on Earth.
You might look at all this ugliness and think: "What a shame this soon-to-be-transcendent journey has been so sullied by this human folly." But no, you are wrong. As joy exists only in contrast to mundanity, beauty exists only in contrast to ugliness. This is the essence of our desire to travel. This is why your experience of Disneyland is only enhanced by the 12 hours you have spent in Economy Class while your screaming children did wees on your lap.
As you emerge from the old inner-city rail yards, the trees on your left begin to thicken and for the first time you see through them to the glint of the inner Hauraki Gulf beyond. Suddenly, you become aware of a growing spaciousness to your right and you turn, shocked and awed by the sudden appearance of the still waters of Judges Bay. Ahead of you are the Parnell Pools, the most romantic, nostalgic inner-city bathing complex in the world, and beyond that, the wonder of Ōrākei Basin. Still reeling, you turn back to your left and look across Tāmaki Drive, where the harbour now dominates the view. Emerging from across the water, you first see North Head and Mt Victoria and, finally - the main event - the bush-clad glory of Rangitoto.
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For the next two and a half minutes, give or take the occasional interruption of a mini golf course and marina, this will be the view to your left, an outlook for which, in the current property market, you might call a half-million-dollar premium a bargain. But now you should double it, because to your right is a view almost as good: more water, more beauty. You are on a strip of land not much wider than the rails on which you ride. You are poised inches above the water, hardly on land at all. No longer could this really be called a train journey at all. It is something much more fanciful, like a low-lying monorail or magical hovercraft. The single strip of rail beneath you stands in defiance of the historical shifting of the elements, poised to succumb to the rising tides of climate change. Something about the arrogance of it, the disdain for its probable looming end, is inspiring. "Sure," the train is saying to the sea, "one day you will take me, but that knowledge will not stop me from living."
The last 80 seconds are the most spectacular. Clear of all roads, cars and the built environment, the vista is pure water, extending to the bush-lined hills on either side, the views completely uninterrupted, except for a few bobbing boats. The bliss of it all. On a sunny day, you are thrust by this idyll back to childhood and teenagehood and even your recent adulthood, with all the joys and freedoms of summers past accessible in that view. You can live an entire life in that view, or you can just look at it and think "that's nice". Up to you really.
You have ridden the train for seven minutes, taken in millions of dollars worth of views, and it has cost you $2. This makes it, on a cost-to-pleasure ratio, the best value tourist attraction on Earth. Now you are free to spend your savings. You alight, the water just metres from your feet, outside Ōrākei Bay Village, a former gin distillery and now a pleasure palace: home to shops, hangout spots, high-end grocery and - in Ampersand and Copia - two of the city's best restaurants. At the village you can get coffee, brunch, lunch and dinner. You can drink some of the city's best craft alcohol and eat quality barbecue. You can pick up some produce and walk down to the waterfront at Okahu Bay, where you can sit and marvel at the glory of the views you earlier watched unfolding out your window, and you can congratulate yourself for being smart enough to live in this place.
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