On Nov 30, I flew to Auckland New Zealand with not much of a plan and only a place to stay. As the trip progressed my limited planning led me to adventures around the port town but kept New Zealand’s natural treasures barred by expensive travel arrangements and tours. Tours, renting a car, or buying a car are the way to see New Zealand with its very limited public transit. So, I made the best of my 4 days in Auckland on foot by visiting the oldest buildings, fantastic Japanese restaurants, walking the city park, and visiting the Auckland art galleries. I stayed at the Base Auckland Backpackers which I was grateful to have a place to stay do not recommend it.
My first night in Auckland was Friday night when I stumbled across a collection of food vendors in a parking lot. This was similar to what I found in Perth the week before. New Zealand has terrific mussels and oysters freshly sourced, prepared and sold at an affordable price. Friday food markets pop up in New Zealand and Australia during the fair weather months and are a great way to sample the foods from the people of both countries.
Auckland is a rainy city in the southerly December spring and I was reminded of Portland, Oregon with its low lying hills and vibrant Pacific Islander culture. I was in town for the Christmas Parade on the sunniest day of my stay: Dec 2, 2018. The parade was the largest representation of cultures coming alive as parade floats spreading confetti and throwing candy to the crowd. The event lasted 3 hours including set up with enthusiasts lining the streets eager for a good seat in the shade. That night I found an amazing Japanese restaurant called Tanuki’s cave. This was a yakitori grill in the basement of the sushi restaurant upstairs and the grilled fresh seafood put a nice ending to an already good day.
Ultimately, Auckland is a small city with a downtown that is easy to navigate on foot since the only other option is to rent a car. When my hostel was not an inspiring place to cook, Auckland’s restaurants were a good option. I found one of Auckland’s oldest hotel’s called the Occidental. They had good specials and happy hour at the Occidental along with reliable wifi. Truthfully, it was home base when venturing around this expensive rainy Auckland. My final noteworthy restaurant for review was Industry Zen for their fried lotus root, sushi, and appetizer sampler. This Japanese country style restaurant had friendly service, beautiful wood interior, and iconic tastes to remember.
My final day was a rainy Monday which meant the Auckland Gallery and surrounding galleries were open. The Auckland Gallery had golden wood poles and ceiling crafted by Maori carvers in the islander style. This was an addition connected to the Victorian building which was the precursor to the current structure and had a lovely coffee shop. In the main room was a rainbow and metallic blobs crafted from polyurethane foam, aluminum, and spray paint. The adjoining room had an installation that was interactive instructing visitors to build their dream house, small scale, from cardboard and craft materials. The room was filled with magical small buildings linked together with string and popsicle sticks built one on top of each other. I joined the gallery tour group and got the backstory on the various exhibits. I found the Maori portraits to be some of my favorite artwork on display. I also enjoyed the Auckland Gallery displaying the art of minority people and provided prestigious recognition for the artists who pushed the boundaries of thought and style. The final noteworthy exhibit was of the first photographs documenting the tourist traps and hidden gems of the New Zealand countryside.
Dec 3-Dec 7
Up to this point, Grace Noel Art’s Australian Tour had traveled thousands of miles: from the center of the United States to the Australian Red Center and from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, and two countries in the southern hemisphere. It was time for the tour finale in Melbourne, Australia for only a four day stay before departing to Denver, CO USA.
Arriving in the warm and sunny Melbourne with plentiful mass transit and fairless square shown through the rainy, slow days of Auckland. I was excited to see my friend Kathleen who I met while backpacking western Europe in 2007. We traveled for two weeks through Paris, Swiss Alps, and Spain, as a group with my friend Sophie Allen from Boulder High School. Kathleen grew up in Melbourne and knew the town well. My first stop was to visit the beach at St.Kilda, one of Melbourne’s artsy districts next to the beach divided by a bike path, skate park, and open fields. People were walking, running, cycling, climbing, skating, and relating all backdropped by the Melbourne skyline as it opened up to the bay. The waves at St Kilda weren't for surfing but there was an incredible dog, patrolling the beach for seagulls and keeping them honest to their intentions. This dog ran up and down and bounded into the water endlessly and he outlasted my attention span for chasing seagulls.
Downtown St Kilda is a bohemian mecca with every square meter covered in art, and buildings are tattooed with vibrant painted colors that into the sunset as I walked through town. I was charmed to no end with the St. Kilda Community Garden which grew from deep roots, aged and bearing fruit. Fresh seafood restaurants teased my tight dollars knowing it wouldn’t be as good back home. Melbourne’s hostel was a much better experience than the Backpacker of Auckland, NZ. Affordable, friendly, and central location next to the train station and fareless square. The next day I celebrated my last beach day at Edithvale Beach under brilliant Australian sunshine rays. Lunch was at a dim sum cafe where each dumpling was hand crafted daily!
Edithvale beach waterline was laced with oblong clear gel snail eggs, the strangest thing! Chilly ocean water pocketed with jelly fish made for quick dips to refresh from the heat. We were an hour by train east of the bay seeing only Melbourne’s tallest buildings in the bright midday light. After a few hours it was time to head back to prepare for dinner with my cousin Julia and her husband Arman. The last time we met was at a family reunion two years ago and only a few months after their wedding. A beautiful couple who smiled often, worked hard, and lived in a paradise, it was great to share a meal with Julia and Arman at an elegant Japanese restaurant in Melbourne Australia. We ordered the five course meal and argued over paying for the check. Arman drove back to the hostel in his new dodge challenger which cost far less in Australia than America. Car ownership works much different in Australia that its better to research it instead having me recollecting details that may not be relevant. The following day was devoted to the final showcase of RAW Australia Oasis, but would not be complete with an adventure to meet up with Kaltheen in another one of Melbourne’s art districts called the shops on Brunswick. We reunited after 11 years at Grace Cafe.
Since last traveling through Europe together and keeping in touch on Facebook, Kathleen had received her nursing degree and had traveled the world. She was graduating from medical school the following Tuesday with her medical degree to practice as a doctor for Doctors Without Boarders bridging her love for helping people while getting to travel. Kathleen helped me get to the Melbourne Pavilion and I was able to set up with plenty of time before the show. The RAW Melbourne showcase was the last event of the tour and my bag had grown lighter from patrons pouncing on the premier limited edition Chinese Zodiac artwork. I liked the crowds of artists setting up for each portion of a RAW showcase, drag queens, crystal beings, stitched together screen prints, and fluid poured paintings.
Before the showcase began but after the photo shoot, dinner was a rare find: an Australian taco stand! I was obviously missing Colorado’s tacos and tamales. My last night in Melbourne was festive and memorable as Melbourne was so warm and welcoming in reception of my art that I felt so honored. Julia and Arman made the event even more special, by taking time from their anniversary celebration to attend and witness my best stage performance of the tour! I knew I would eventually get it right, whew, stage fright is a real thing yo! Performance by Sly Skeeta along side the fashion show cat walk. The fashion show was so strong, bold, innovative, I definitely found my favorite designers of the tour at the RAW Melbourne showcase. Pink cotton with yellow and baby blue blotches and drag queens is what sticks out most in my memory. As the night wound down to just the artists and their teams, we traded artwork and social media accounts. I brought home some beautiful original work from the tour, thank you to all the artists I met along the way!
A late night trolly was on its last ride for the night and I didn’t have wifi so blessed be that I caught that ride and made it home alright. The neighborhood around the hostel stayed up later than any other part of my australian urban experience. Gratefully so, and why I say I love NYC, is dinner was available at midnight for the working artist. Artist schedules fall on weekends, late nights, and holidays. I went to bed with a belly full of sushi and ramen for a few hours of restless sleep in anticipation of a 24 hour journey home.
The next morning was the familiar meditate, relate on social media, eat, and hustle to the train and airport. Then Sky Bus to the United terminal, check in, security means take everything out and search with crying babies and overcrowded lines. once cleared by airport security, I walked through duty free shopping and Australia tees, to pick up snacks for the flight to Los Angeles.
I had my sights set on attending First Friday in Denver which was the same day factoring the time changes. That same night arriving home from Australia I first stopped by my Auntie Vi and Uncle Tom holiday party at downtown Denver’s Cactus Club. First Friday was a blast and everyone thought I was crazy and I slept for a few days after to recover.
Being in Denver is really a treasure. Reflecting and reading back on Grace Noel Art’s RAW Oasis Australian Tour was magical and unbelievable, totally never expected it. The life and team I have in Denver has helped me grow more than I thought I could and for that I am grateful for you and your glow to be reading this now.
So now let's go on a magical adventure through the rainbow. There’s ups and downs wherever you go, so remember balance is the arrow of focus flying fixed through the valleys and peaks we go. Magic and dazzle reflect as stars beneath our feet as transport dimensions of galaxies and stars of sunshine as beautiful as yours and mine. For the stars have always inspired me and they still do.
Gratitude & Acknowledgment
This is the beginning of Grace Noel Art’s Australian Art Tour with RAW Artists and the production was called Oasis: RAW Australia Oasis. The tour was made possible by so many patrons around the world and RAW Artists. Thank you to those who made Grace Noel Art’s Australian Tour unite the world through a magical rainbow journey or art. Production of this tour began in Jan 2018, when I was preparing for my first RAW Denver show. During that time, I was preparing for exhibition also at My Hair Trip Salon, Spectra Art Space, Englewood Library, and Denver Art Society. RAW shows are ticketed at $22 and the artist must sell 20 tickets to reserve a spot at RAW. Once the Artist sells enough tickets, they receive one free RAW showcase nationally or internationally. Thank you to those who purchased tickets and art for the Feb 2018 RAW Denver Show which led to a successful March booking dates in Australia. Thanks to Kristen Wehlow of RAW for helping me book show dates. April onward meant airplane tickets, logistics, and promotion until a launch date on Nov 10, 2018. This tour premiered the Chinese Zodiac Four Element Series (metal prints) while the originals premiered in Denver Nov 1, 2018 with RAW Denver.
Thank you to my family for the foundation your provide, so much is made possible because of you.