After a quick three hour flight, we arrived in Auckland, where we met Grace at the airport. We had been looking forward to catching up with Grace, our good friend, and were excited to travel with her too. She had arrived from London a few hours before us, and she was exhausted. We got the airport bus to the centre of the city where our hostel was. The weather was cloudy, windy, but not too cold, and it felt very much like home. The residential area around Auckland was akin to a British seaside town, and as we got closer to the city, it didn’t get any less British. We arrived and settled in to the Attic Backpackers hostel, had some dinner and chatted with some fellow travellers before heading to bed.
We stayed in Auckland for about two weeks in total, broken up in the middle by a trip to the Bay of Islands, three hours north of Auckland. We didn’t intend on staying quite so long, but we had to apply for IRD tax numbers, get New Zealand bank accounts and hopefully find a car. The centre of Auckland is fairly small, but there is plenty to do. It wasn’t one of our favourite places we’ve been, but I could think of worse places to spend a few weeks. By the time we left we were itching to explore more of New Zealand and get out of the city, but before I get to that, here’s a run down of what we got up to.
Self-guided walking tour
The first full day we decided we should get our bearings and walk around the city. The Lonely Planet guide has a suggested walking tour around the city centre, which we did on our first morning. Much like walking tours we had done throughout South America, it proved a good way to learn our way around, and figure out where all the sights were (except I was a less professional guide who was easily distracted). Our favourite spot to walk, which we returned to several times, was along the harbour. The sun came out, and we spent time sitting eating lunch and admiring the fancy yachts. You can wander around the city centre of Auckland in about thirty minutes, so we got to grips with where everything was pretty quickly.
Being culture vultures
One of my favourite things about visiting a big city is that it probably has a pretty good art gallery. I’d heard the Auckland art gallery was pretty good, and it was free so the others didn’t mind giving it a go either. It was a good mix of indigenous Maori inspired pieces, contemporary installations and a cool temporary exhibition about the story of Rama and Sita. We spent a good few hours in there, and it’s situated in pretty Albert Park, so afterwards we went for a stroll in the sun (and wind, there’s always lots of wind).
On our walking tour the day before we also stumbled across a temporary exhibition space in a silo by the harbour. We wandered in and found an exhibition called ‘These stories began before we arrived’, which was about the migration of people from Taiwan to New Zealand, and how people felt when they reached the shores for the first time. It was an interesting and educating display showing the interesting mix between immigrant and New Zealand cultures, how different histories merge together to form a new future for the country.
Shop ’til you Drop (or get blown away)
My birthday was approaching, so Toby and Grace took advantage of being in a big, busy shopping area to do some secret birthday shopping. I was banished to a nearby coffee shop, which was fine by me, where I met a really nice Chilean guy who was telling me all about his travels around the world. Toby hates shopping, so it was all over fairly quickly, but that is one of the good things about Auckland when you’ve been on the road for 5 months, it does have good shops to replace some of your travel-worn gear.
We also wandered around the shops in Ponsonby, the highly recommended, trendy suburb, full of fancy shops and cafes. So many people had described Ponsonby as their favourite place to visit in the city, but we were all very disappointed. We expected a pretty, quaint shopping area, with nice buildings and places to sit outside. We were instead greeted by low rise concrete buildings on one main high street. Inside these uninspiring buildings were quite posh shops, but we weren’t really going there to actually buy things, more to visit somewhere nice, so all in all Ponsonby was a little disappointing.
Our favourite days were when we weren’t in the centre of the city. Auckland is surrounded by dormant volcanoes, which means there are some great hills to climb on the outskirts of the city. Mount Eden was a 40 minute walk from our hostel, so early one afternoon we set off, had our lunch at the foot of the mount and climbed up to the top, for an excellent view of the business district. The middle of the volcano, which is all grassy, is considered a sacred site for the Maoris, so you can’t walk into it, but you can walk around the rim for 360 degree views of the city and the surrounding coasts. One Tree Hill (which has a lot more than one tree, and loads of sheep) is a little further out of town, but was our favourite day out. We took a local train a couple of stops away and walked a short walk to the large park with the hill in it. The walk up to the hill felt really rural and it didn’t feel like Auckland at all. Maybe that’s why we liked it so much.
Grown up stuff
We have working visas for New Zealand, so while we were in Auckland we had to sort out getting tax numbers and bank accounts. We got held up in the city for longer then we intended having to sort these out, filling in forms and getting all the right documents together. The public transport system here also leaves a lot to be desired so we decided to spend some time trying to find a car. We now have a silver ‘station wagon’, or an estate, to us Brits, called John (as in Long John Silver) who gets us around from place to place.
We met some great people in Auckland who we hope to meet up with again, and that was probably our favourite thing about the city. We went out with friends from our hostel for Halloween, and sat out in the evenings drinking beer and playing cards with them. But we’d had enough of the big city and it was time to say goodbye. It was time for us to explore the New Zealand we had seen on TV and on postcards. We had John and we were ready to go!