The city of sails.
Where: Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
What: Life in New Zealand’s busiest city
When: April 2017
After about 30 hours travelling I landed in Auckland. It was 3am, pitch black, and raining. So obviously, upon spotting a sign directing a 20-minute walk to the Ibis Airport hotel where I was staying, I decided to walk rather than get a taxi. Glad to be stretching my legs at long last I headed through the huge airport car park following the direction of the signs, excited to get to my room and feel like I was really beginning my adventure.
This excitement soon dwindled – I quickly went from energised to exhausted, and there were suddenly no more signs directing me to my accommodation (this would happen frequently in New Zealand, as it turned out). Then the rain really began to pour down. Hardly able to see through the rain on my glasses and with no phone signal (oh how I was counting on Google maps…), I made my way through rental car lots, squeezing between fences and across a very busy road to finally reach my hotel. I had never been so thankful to see a shower or a bed in my life. Lesson learned: pay for a taxi.
The next morning, having successfully (in a taxi) made it to Auckland city centre, I was checked in to my new hotel (another Ibis Budget) and ready to explore. Dazed by jet lag I didn’t have a plan other than to find somewhere to eat and to find my feet. If there’s one thing a New Zealander is pretty keen to let you know, it’s the size of their population: just 4.5 million, 3 million living on the North Island and 1.5 million of these in Auckland (it’s something I was often told and re-told). And whilst it seems that most Kiwi’s think Auckland is overcrowded, I found plenty of space to scope out the city, even with horrendous jet lag.
Both the hustle and bustle and length and breadth of the city are something almost unique in NZ. Consequently Auckland seems to have a pretty bad rep amongst the Kiwi’s (New Zealanders, not the bird…), but if your accustomed to the flow of a busy city, Auckland seems relaxed (seriously, try London or Manchester at 5pm on a weekday evening before Christmas if you want to experience ‘busy’) and it doesn’t take too long to get served, cross a road or buy a drink. Best of all, for the jet-lagged, it isn’t somewhere you feel rushed.
Most importantly there’s plenty to do, great places to eat and some good places to stay. Whilst Auckland wasn’t the highlight of my trip, it was certainly a good place to start. Sights included the Auckland Art Gallery, which is home to several exhibitions – from mind-boggling modern art to incredible sketches dating 200 years – Maori art and classical colonial pieces. There’s a shop too, which sold lots of cool pieces and best of all entry is free (except to certain exhibitions – which I didn’t pay to enter…).
Auckland’s skyline pinnacle is the Sky Tower. Commercial to its core, and standing at 328 metres it’s unlike any other NZ tourist attraction. For $29 I bought the Sky Tower admission pass with access to the Sky Lounge Café, Main Observatory and the Sky Deck. The views over the city and beyond are incredible – on a bright clear day you can see beyond the harbour, over the bridge and to the islands off the Auckland coastline.
My next stop was Mt Eden, or Maungawhau meaning ‘Mountain of the Whau tree’ in Maori. A short way out of the city centre, this is best reached by car or bus. In a previous life Mount Eden was an active volcano; today a huge crater spanning 50m is the tell tale sign. Unlike many other NZ mountains, this one isn’t very high and is easily reached by a short walk up a path. But despite this Mt Eden offers impressive views across over Auckland, and if you’re handy with a camera it’s a great spot to capture New Zealand’s greenery with a side of cityscape.
Overall Auckland isn’t the most exciting place NZ has to offer but it’s a great place to begin or end a New Zealand adventure. Stay here whilst you become accustomed to the time difference (11 hours for me), pick up any bits you accidentally left out of your backpack, take a boat trip around the busiest harbour in the world (I think that’s what I was told anyway…) and introduce yourself to New Zealand’s interesting history and heritage.