Auckland New ZealandAuckland is the largest city in New Zealand with the most temperate climate. Although it was founded about 170 years ago, it's a very modern city and sits on many extinct volcanos and fault zones. The prices are reasonable and the people are extremely relaxed. Auckland is the financial and drinking hub of the country, and competes with Wellington for the cultural top spot.
It's also where my good friend Stewart lives, and the reason of my trip around the world in 2012.
The ArrivalIt's a 3 1/2 hour flight from Sydney to Auckland, which went fairly quickly with meal service and drinks. I landed around 11pm, and then through customs, where, unlike London, they do not have much of a sense of humor.
I went to the luggage carousel and waited for a long time, then bags stopped coming. Mine was not there... so then I went to the line for the baggage office, and waited a lot more time for my turn. Seems British Airways didn't turn over my bags to Qantas in time for the flight, so while I made it to New Zealand, my luggage was still in Sydney.
Well... Nothing to be done there then. I finally get outside and my friend is in the arrivals waiting area. He had been waiting for 45 minutes, and I felt bad about that. Stewart doesn't drive, so we hopped on the bus and off we went to his flat in the city proper.
By the time we arrived, it was 2am or later, and I was just done. So I crashed.
The CityAuckland is built on the steep hills that surround all sides of the harbor. All the bars are located on the flatter lands closer to the harbor, I assume because it's easier to walk down to them. Stewart had to work the next day before he could take holiday, so I wandered into town. Imagine my delight to find real arcades like the US used to have in the 80's and 90's. Far be it for me to pass up an opportunity to relive my childhood.
I wasted much time in there, then went to the quays to find a grocery store. I picked up some food, as Stewart only cooks beer.
The shopping is actually pretty decent, but remember almost everything is imported. The only items that seemed to be bargains were NZ Uggs and anything promoting the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team. Meat pies are the national food, and they have a multitude of styles. I found them a little too doughy - think of a small undercooked pot pie crust, with sheep or cow or goat or vegetables minced up inside (hence mince meat, kind of like hamburger but more parts are included). I opted for seafood, which is abundant and of excellent quality.
Later, we went to the Sky Tower (that name is used a lot in Asia and Oceania), which is the "fancy" spot. The 60 level tower is a combination casino, tourist spot, and bar complex. There are three restaurants, a bunch of bars, a movie theater, and the "Sky Jump" - a 630 foot guide-cable controlled jump from the observation deck. I mean, it's not a bad spot at all, but given the calm Auckland environment seems a little out of place.
Motat MuseumThe Motat Museum is a really cool history, transportation and technology museum that stretches over two sites. The first site in Western Springs was the freshwater pump site for Auckland for almost 100 years. It contains a lot of the historical buildings, the street cars, and a lot of the more modern technology included in their collection, like telephones and computers.
The second site is a ways away, very ingeniously connected via the last old streetcar line running to the first site. It contains running trains, including steam engines, a train yard, a large airplane hangar with many WWII aircraft and some vintage automobiles.
Because it was such a remote part of the British empire, the New Zealanders, or Kiwis, had to make a lot of their own items, and this museum's collection reflects the ingenuity of its people.
The War MuseumA large part of Auckland's cultural identity is its contribution to the war effort for the larger empire. There are a lot of military and memorial areas in the museum on the top level, documenting and dedicated to the sacrifices of New Zealanders.
In WW1, Auckland lost such a large percentage of its male population at Galipolli that it has yet to recover to a fairly equal percentage in gender. The names of every life lost in the war is etched into the wall around the central altar.
The lower levels are focused on history and the cultural ancestry of the Maori, New Zealand's native people. There are displays of lots of interesting stone age artifacts and traditional items of the original inhabitants of the island. Culturally speaking, New Zealand is among the most egalitarian societies around. The Maori and Pakeha (European New Zealanders) integrate cultural and artistic themes from each other to make a distinctive combined identity unique to the area. Honestly. The racism you see elsewhere in the world is really low here.
The BarsWhile Kiwis are very laid back, they are very serious when it comes to drinking. So many bars, the night light is very active, but as with the rest of the country, very casual. No need to dress up at all. People are friendly. There are pubs and bars and nightclubs and well, lots of places to get so drunk you cannot walk back up the hill.
It's a good time, and really not that expensive either.
Auckland DayAt the end of January is Auckland Day, the day to celebrate the area's provincial anniversary. Stewart and I went to the beach, as is the custom. We took the bus to Mission Bay Beach, and forgot beers, sunscreen and chairs. It was a sober, sunburned, sandy experience. My suggestion - bring all three with you. It was quite nice though, and being that far south, the temps were an awesome high 70's. The views are amazing, and it was the first time I saw paddleboarding, years before it was the thing here.
SummaryAuckland is great. Awesome people, prices are not bad once you are there, just pricey to get to. I did not get out much to the countryside. The next time I go, it is high on my list to see the Volcano park, the mountains, the wilderness that still exists in massive amounts.
The city is clean, safe, full of drink and food, and has many things to occupy your time, including many harbor and other cruises that I did not take advantage of. I recommend getting your local cash at ATMs. I got robbed (figuratively speaking) doing it at the bank before this trip.
Barbequing on the beach is highly regulated but there are places around the city that have set BBQs you can use. If you want to do that, be prepared for the the prices at the groceries. Local produce and meat are quite reasonable, anything imported is crazy, like $5 USD for a lemon from the States. Shop wisely.
Wines from Australia and New Zealand are reasonable, and they are good for the most part. If you want to drink local, New Zealand is best known for their Sauvignon Blanc and, to a lesser degree, Pinot Noir. Australian vineyards are most famous for Shiraz, but produce a range of varietals. Imported, as with food, will be nuts, so expect higher prices for spirits and beers.
My advice though, go here.