Winter sunshine in Auckland is rather like a pleasant English late summer. After a final Dharma study session at the Auckland Buddhist Centre, I had a coffee on my own up the road in the suburb of Grey Lynn, and I took some time to write about what I’ve learned from this trip. Coffee has been but a small part of it, really, though my brother was right, and the cafés and the coffee have been great. My next blog post will probably be back on philosophy and Buddhism, and written on British ground, perhaps under a more familiar night sky. And I’m looking forward to that.
It is not clear if my brother’s gift extends to hot chocolate purchases, but I took a chance. Sujiva, Megan and I took the ferry across Auckland harbour (the north one) to Rangitoto island. This landmass was formed only 600 years ago during a volcanic eruption. Much of the surface consists of loose scoria, which is a kind of light loose rock that falls out of the sky. We walked through a lava tunnel – a tunnel in the rock made by still-flowing lava. But life has moved in. The island is quickly turning into forest. Once the pohutakawa trees get their roots in the scoria, little protected ecosystems spring up beneath their leaves – ferns and shrubs then other trees. At the summit, little silvereyes, small birds, ate lunch out of our hands. After the ferry-ride home, Sujiva insisted on hot chocolate at The Chocolate Boutique in the suburb of Parnell. It is extremely dark, thick and sweet. Like certain kinds of love.
A good thing about Five Rhythms dancing is that it happens all over the world. Ratnavyuha and I went dancing on a rainy Sunday morning in Auckland, and afterwards went to Kokako café in the suburb of Grey Lynn. My brother is right: New Zealand café culture is so vibrant. And the pancakes were excellent too. Today we popped into a café in Titirangi, en route to the Waitakere ranges for a hike, and the place was buzzing with local people, enjoying café life. And good coffee. Walking in New Zealand bush – sub-tropical rain forest – was such a treat. It is so not like Cambridgeshire. But then again, you only get bluebell woods in Britain.
Midway through our road trip through the North Island, we had lunch at the Fine Fettle Café in Taupo. See that organic wholefood goodness. We had driven down from Tongariro National Park – Mount Doom and all that – where it had been snowing and we’d not been able to see a thing. But the area around Taupo is full of thermal springs, and we warmed up in a natural hot tub. Lake Taupo is grand, and the town of Taupo is at its north end. It is the childhood home of a well-known Buddhist blogger. A childhood friend from my home village in England died near here recently. The tangled unfolding of conditions. We scooted on to more thermal springs. A steaming lake, skimmed by hundreds of swallows and fantails. Boiling mud, flopping and splattering. We ended up in another hot pool in Rotorua. The coffee in Taupo was great.
The Café Astoria is on Lambton Quay in the business district. It is like a run-down French place, with wooden tables and chairs, and a chatty buzz. The coffee was good and strong and that passionfruit and white chocolate brioche certainly hit the spot. Ratnavyuha and I had admired some contemporary NZ art in Te Papa museum gallery, and I was about to visit the NZ parliament building and the old Cathedral – made entirely of wood – the kind of church that hobbits might go to. We had spent the weekend leading a retreat. And later today I gave a talk at the Wellington Buddhist Centre. I explained the Buddha’s teaching of conditionality by means of the example of myself, having been asked to write a book on this topic, on condition of which I find myself invited to New Zealand, somewhere I never imagined I would visit. The unfolding of conditions can be unexpected and mysterious, and yet part of the natural order.
Ratnavyuha and I went to Olive café on Cuba Street, Wellington. Posh. Antiques. High ceilings. Classy. Ratnavyuha got into conversation with a lady, who, it turns out, knows the people at Wellington Buddhist Centre, including Suryagita, who teaches singing, and who I know from her days in Brighton, singing. The peach tart was fantastic, and the coffee very classy. Outside, the rain came and went. Midwinter rain in a rainy place. We had been to Te Papa (‘Our Place’) museum, and I’d learned about the changes wrought to New Zealand’s ecology by both Maori and European settlers. A European blackbird is sitting outside the window where I write. But there are tuis singing sometimes too. Now off to lead a retreat – on how everything arises on conditions.
My brother has given me £150 to spend on coffee while I am in New Zealand. So after I arrived yesterday, Ratnavyuha and I went to One-2-One Café in Ponsonby, Auckland, and drank coffee and ate cake. The cafe reminded me of the Boston Tea Party in Bristol, with its garden seating. But it’s winter here in NZ, and slightly too cool to sit outside. It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon. In the park where we had been walking there were many Pakeka – the Maori name for what in Europe we call the Purple Gallinule – garish great rails, with red beaks, purple bibs and silly big feet. And in the lake were slithering eels in meshed tangles. Like the feel of my thoughts at certain moments, like on solitary retreats, and after a very long flight.