So our new year didn’t exactly start off on a high note, but we spent the next two days — before taking the ferry to Waiheke for the wedding — making up for it by cramming in a colorful garden and exploring a few volcanoes.

In the Domain near the Auckland Museum is the splendid (and free) Wintergarden split into two glass houses connected by a formal courtyard. The Cool House (built in 1921) contains displays of annuals and perennials including sunflowers, roses, dahlias and even black petunias. Across the courtyard’s pond to the west is the Tropical House (built in 1929) and its collection of orchids, pitcher plants and giant lily pads.


A cricket field fills the spot where a volcano’s crater once was.

OK. Enough about plants. How about those volcanoes? Although you probably wouldn’t guess so by looking at it, the city of Auckland is home to numerous dormant volcanoes. Expecting the steep, ominous “Mount Doom” variety, I was a little disappointed when a local named Rex (or possibly Riggs or Ricks — his accent was strong) informed us that the enormous shallow impression before us was the ferocious lava-spewing volcano we had been seeking throughout the length of the Domain. The fact that this so-called crater currently contains a cricket field should give you an idea of how impressive (or yawn inducing) it actually is.

Considerably more interesting was chatting with Rex about his metal detecting hobby. By combing the Domain with his metal machine, he has managed to uncover more than $600 in misplaced coins, including two gold sovereigns from the 1860’s. Just that day he unearthed $20 in coins and pocketed a piece of gold jewelry found wedged in the CBD sidewalk.

“I guess that’s the problem,” Him said as we left the Domain. “I’m walking around like this [eyes gazing skyward], and he’s walking around like this [eyes gazing at the ground].”

We had caught Rex’s treasure fever and would adopt a conscious downward gaze from then on — or at least throughout the following day.

Him and I were hiking down from the 60-meter deep crater of Rangitoto, a much more Mount Doom-worthy specimen reachable from Auckland by ferry, when he suddenly crouched to the ground.

“Do you see that?!”

“What?” I asked, dropping beside him.

“Something sparkled.”  He brushed the dirt and leaves back and forth, searching.

“Yeah, right,” I said, convinced he was joking.

“Well, when I find this gemstone, I guess you won’t be interested in sharing the profits.”

I began sifting the dirt beside him. A flick of the wrist revealed a flash of red. I gasped. And then I nearly shoved Him into the dirt. We were gazing at a bright, shiny sequin.

My own turn at imagined fortune arrived a few hundred meters later when I spotted a shiny white bone resting among the rocky lava path.

“It’s an important, historical artifact: An ancient toe bone!” I declared, holding it aloft with two sticks (I wasn’t going to actually touch it. I wasn’t crazy.)

Him thought I was crazy.

“Drop that!” he said, flashing his “disgusted” face. “It’s a chicken bone!”


The ancient toe bone linking homo sapiens to fowl.

But I couldn’t be dissuaded. We had walked through so many museums in the past month and nearly every one contained a history-changing fossil, mineral or bone fragment. Now it was my turn! I’d somehow smuggle this momentous artifact, this missing link between homo sapien and fowl, into the U.S., present it to the Smithsonian and then capitalize on my new celebrity by writing a New York Times bestselling, tell-all memoir. Did Oprah’s Book Club survive her talk show? If so, the book would certainly be O-approved.

Much to Him’s dismay, I carried the bone, wrapped in a plastic bag, in the outside pocket of my satchel for five days. On the fifth day, when we vacated our cabin in Waiheke to start the Rotorua leg of our New Zealand trip, I quietly deposited it in the waste paper basket.