The City of the North

So relieved were we to land a housesit just north of Auckland that we decided to forsake our luxurious campervan and McDonald’s parking lot for a few days of exploration in the city. We snagged a cheap(ish) hostel a short walk from the harborside and settled in to see what Auckland had to offer.

First of all, the city is huge! The metropolitan area holds 1 million people, a quarter of New Zealand’s population. Someone told us that it’s something like the fourth largest city in the world by area, and it certainly seems sprawling. Especially so, as it’s spread out across a peninsula, filling all the nooks between inlets and bays. As we were driving through, I remarked that it’s a pain when your city takes up the entire width of your country, as it makes it impossible to have a highway bypass.

After walking around for a few hours, we decided that Auckland is kinda neat, but the unfortunate thing is that since it’s so spread out, you can really only see any one small part. So we were stuck around the harbor and central business area. I think with a car you could get around and see some of the cooler things, like beaches and volcanic cones, or quirkier neighborhoods.

Auckland’s skyline is dominated by the Sky Tower, which we got constant views of as we wandered through the city. There’s a restaurant on top, and apparently you can do some sort of sky walk where you’re harnessed to the ring that surrounds it. Seemed touristy and silly to me though.

In the Domain (Aussie/Kiwi name for a big park), there was this nice greenhouse that held a succulent garden, as well as lots of walking paths through the woods and duck ponds. In fact, Auckland has quite a few green areas, dotted all around. On the way there we passed by these weird sculptures and a Maori longhouse that was tucked away behind some modern walls just off a busy street. Not sure what the deal was there…

We’d heard that there were free tours at the art gallery so we headed over there, only to discover that the schedule we had wasn’t accurate. Ah well. We decided to just explore the place on our own, and got a really interesting mix of all kinds of New Zealand art, from old portraits and landscapes to strange modern pieces and performance based works.

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There was a giant arrangement of flowers hanging from the atrium ceiling that swelled and then contracted over time

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and a fascinating painting depicting the original Maori coming to New Zealand. The caption told how it was done in the typical European thought of the time, with terrified natives on a rickety boat, being delivered by providence. Conversely, Maori stories tell that the explorers were great navigators, with well-stocked, massive traveling boats holding many people, and that the exploration of the Pacific islands was a deliberate and skilled endeavor. Of course, no one knows how they actually accomplished any of this, as ship-building and navigation skills are thought to have been primitive at the time of polynesian expansion. And of course, the legends give precious few practical details.

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We later headed down to the harbor, checking out the sailboats and massive racing yachts moored on the docks and out in the bay. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big race boat before, and they were impressive. Really tall masts! I’d love to see one of them in action, with the crew scurrying all about.

We also discovered what we dubbed the Auckland Opera House, though it’s probably actually a refitted warehouse. But the parallel between Sydney and here of weird, white dockside building next to harbor bridge was too much to resist.

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There was plenty of interesting street art, once again. Seems a trend of the last few cities we’ve been in.

This place caught my eye; who advertises Tepid Baths? I thought about checking it out, but the prices would probably be crazy expensive, just like everything else in Auckland.

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While were were in an Icebreaker store, we chatted with one of the employees, a Canadian on working travel, and he was saying it costs $80 just to go out to dinner at a mediocre place! As much as I love New Zealand, I think it might just be for visiting. I don’t know if I could deal with all the downsides of living on an island on the bottom of the world.

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