Thursday, October 7, 2010

Auckland, New Zealand City of Sails

Most of the places I have visited in the last few years have been weekend getaways. This time it took me a weekend to arrive at my destination…Auckland, New Zealand.
Two plane trips and an 11 hour time difference found me at the customs counter of Auckland airport. I was sensible enough to wait for the customs official to stamp my passport before apologising about the fact that New Zealand had failed to make the finals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup!
Unlike most tourists who come for a short visit, I was part of the South African production of “We Will Rock You” that would be in Auckland for nine weeks. This would allow me to almost become a resident!
I had been told to expect inclement weather, but clear blue skies greeted my arrival.
However when trying to describe the weather to family back in SA I would say that “The sun is (short pause)…raining”. I have never experienced such quick weather changes!
Most supermarkets are open from 7.30 till midnight. The local supermarket, which was only a few blocks from my apartment, was open from 7.30- midnight Monday – Sunday! It was great to be able to shop after the show and not have to rush. I even found a South African working as one of the cashiers.
Sky Tower is a must. The elevators have a partial glass floor so you can look down the shaft while you travel to and from the observation deck…not for the faint hearted. There are also glass bricks set into the floor of the observation deck. And although a sign states that at 38cm the bricks are as thick as the adjoining concrete floor, I, like many others, was very reticent to stand on them and look down 300+m.
Auckland has two art galleries, the original gallery that has been upgraded and renovated and the new and more modern gallery. The former offers free admission to the main gallery and the latter has free admission on a Tuesday.The local and international artists on display make both galleys well worth a visit.
Aside from a vast array of interesting displays, Auckland museum offers a cultural experience of traditional Maori dances and songs. There is more to the culture than just the Haka before a rugby game. I found the Maori culture to be very spiritual and was moved enough to have a tattoo done while I was there.
There are several parks in downtown Auckland.All are immaculately maintained and are used by all. There is a diverse range of sculptures in almost every park, which makes exploring these parks, an adventure.
The public transport system works really well, however, I found that by walking around Auckland you get to discover a lot of what is not on the tourist maps. One such gem was a small street that has converted workers cottages circa 1900.Most of them are made of wood and have been lovingly restored.
Even though there is a free bus service on offer, current on going renovations and congested down town traffic makes walking a better option. The traffic in Auckland makes the Ben Schoeman look almost tame by comparison
By using the Circle bus you can ride around the city for less than R6.00.I used public transport often as a cheap and reliable way to see the outlying suburbs of Auckland.
For the rest, I spend 4-5 hours everyday, walking the streets of Auckland.This is a great way to get to know a city without getting stuck into doing just the tourist sights.
Every Friday and Saturday there is a market in the Square next to the Civic Theatre in Queen Street.
If you enjoy gift shopping then a visit to this Market is a must. But do shop around as prices, and quality can vary.
Most of the tourist shops  in Queen Street, which is the main street in central Auckland, are geared towards the tourist trade and the prices reflect this.
New Zealand seems to be a coffee society, with coffee shops of every description on every block. Even the shopping trolleys (called trundlers in New Zealand) have cup holders
They are also big on fast foods. Everything from hot roast meals, which were delicious, to probably the best burgers I have ever had.
Because of the large Asian population, there are sushi bars and Thai restaurants all over the city.
The buildings are very interesting as most of them date back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.Unlike most big cities, Auckland takes pride in their heritage and a lot of these buildings have been beautifully restored.
Being a coastal city, a lot of attention has been paid to the waterfront and it seems as if a lot of the office workers spend their lunch hour sitting at the waterfront.
Auckland also boasts the biggest and best fish market in the Southern Hemisphere.The marketing manager, Mario, has many South African friends, and as a result he made me a whole smoked snoek (referred to as barracuda in NZ) which was the best I had ever had.
There are several tourist destinations that are just a ferry ride from Auckland Harbour, and all are well worth a visit.
Devenport, which is a 15-minute ferry ride from Auckland Harbour, is a little like Muizenburg used to be…back in the day. Coffee shops and restaurants and a small but pleasant beach are well worth a visit. It can be also be reached by bus by way of the Auckland Bridge.While it is not as spectacular as the Sidney Harbour bridge, it is well worth a look. You can climb the bridge, but I enjoy terra firma, and the firma it is the less the terra!
A visit to Rangitoto Island is a must. This  volcanic island is situated in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland. Separated from the mainland this iconic landmark with it’s distinctive symmetrical 260 metre cone is visible from much of the city. It is the youngest of the approximately 48 volcanoes that form the Auckland Volcanic Field. For visitors that walk to the summit, the view is breathtaking. The less adventurous can spend time in the lava caves or in the forest with a wide variety of ferns and the iconic pōhutukawa trees
Aside from having some of the most expensive homes in NZ, Waiheki Island serves the best fish and chips I had during my time in NZ. You can hire a scooter to take you round the island, but the walk to town from the ferry harbour only takes about 20 minutes and you can spend time on the beach. If you are keen on riding around, make sure that you have a drivers licence with you. (Our SA license is valid in NZ) Much of the eastern half of the island is privately owned farmland and vineyards. In the summer the island plays host to a Wine Festival and a Jazz Festival.Both these events bring in tourists from all around the world.
If it can be climbed, jumped over, jumped off, or if it is designed just to be extreme, then someone in New Zealand has invented it. Remember that NZ is the home of bungy jumping…The latest craze seems to be ZORB.You get placed inside an oversized Pilates exercise ball and rolled down a hill! Why, no one could tell me, but I was told it was a lot of fun! Also on offer are kitesurfing, paragliding, skydiving, hang gliding, surfing, windsurfing, snowboarding, rock climbing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, scuba diving & snow kiting.
One of the favourite extreme tourist attractions is jumping off Sky Tower, which at 328m dominates the Auckland skyline. The 192m SkyJump, is a combination of bungy and base jump during which a jumper can reach up to 85 km/h.
 This controlled ‘free fall’ takes only 11 seconds, but judging by the look on the faces of the participants as they landed, was the longest 11 seconds of their lives. Suffice to say that I watched their adventure from the safety of the observation deck at the top of the tower!

Auckland is also known as the City of Sails and it has the largest percentage of yacht owners in the world. Sailing is so popular that it is taught as a subject at certain schools. For those who are interested in ships and sailing, the Maritime Museum at the waterfront is a must.
Auckland is home to what is possibly the only comedy club in New Zealand.It took me eight weeks to get a chance to perform there, but it was a lot of fun. Aside from some of the show crew, who came to offer support, there were a few South African in the audience.
Aside from hearing Afrikaans spoken on the streets, I found a sausage shop that sold boerewors rolls…there are also several butchers that can supply biltong and dried wors.
New Zealand, although seen as a “nanny state” by some, it is a moral society. The police have a zero tolerance policy towards even the pettiest of crimes, like jaywalking. As a result pedestrians and drivers alike seem to obey the rules of the road.
Even though New Zealand is half a world away it is well worth an extended visit.

No comments: