Someone at some point decided that Auckland was the ‘City of Sails’ — a moniker that reflects a fairly privileged view of the city. We don’t all have the means to go messing about in boats, and the boats plebs like me do get to go on tend to be of the noisy seagoing lounge type. But even those are ok if you can get up on the roof. Clearly Gummer or Ford or someone involved with the Auckland War Memorial Museum was of a nautical bent, because the museum never makes more sense than when it is viewed from the harbour.
According to Richard Toy’s vision of Auckland as a water-city (currently undergoing a revival of interest), the crucial space of the city is the water’s edge. One of the most interesting things about this is that with your feet in the water, the dominance of visual perception is weakened, giving way to a more haptic mode.
On Rangitoto Island, the youngest of Auckland’s fifty-whatever volcanoes, the water’s edge is a fascinating place: mangroves grow on lava, and alpine lichens are found at sea level (I like reading information signs). Fresh water runs off the island so precipitously that it forms a lens of less salinated water visible from the air. The little necklace of baches strung along the shoreline seem precarious. In some places the lava still appears viscous, as if it barely stopped flowing.
In this context, close to the wharf where the aforesaid seagoing lounge moors, is a small salt-water pool, built by convict labour between 1926 and 1933, along with a hall at Islington Bay and the coastal road (I can think of worse places to do your PD). The slightly cambered walls of the pool are made from the island’s black scoria. The angles of the pool in plan are particularly nice, I think. It isn’t deep, and usually when I go, the tide isn’t high enough to fill the pool, so it’s just a concrete and scoria hollow.
From in the pool, the view of the volcanic cone above you is lost, as is any view of the city across the water. Your horizon is limited, closed in. But you hear the birds in the overhanging trees, and the wash of the waves just outside. And you feel the coastal flux: the slight sediment in the water against your skin, the temperature of the sun, the water trickling in and out, something eating, someone on the gravel.