After the sunshine of Sydney, we arrived to the rain of Auckland and we got our first view of New Zealand. Auckland airport is some way from the city and has rather limited transport options. One of the most popular shuttles is the Skybus which we boarded and made our way into the city.
Making our way to the Mount Eden area, we had the first view of the volcanic cones that are dotted around the city. It is easy to mistake them for natural hills, but the shape is rather unusual and quite steep. Auckland is built on a volcanic field that has been active for over 90,000 years, surface features include cones, lakes, lagoons and islands. Rangitoto Island, in Waitematā was formed within the last 1000 years is one of Auckland’s most iconic natural features.
The first impression of Auckland is rather underwhelming, in some ways resembling some of the smaller British cities. However, although it does not have many major attractions, we looked forward to exploring the city at a leisurely place. When we were planning our trip, we had considered Auckland to be an ideal place to relax before we arrived in the United States.
Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and many visitors to New Zealand pass through its airport. If the city often looks quite British, this is become generations of British people have made their home in here. However in the last 30 years, the city has become a more diverse and multicultural city, Auckland is now home to the largest Polynesian population in the world and a large Asian community.
Auckland is often known as the ‘City of Sails’ and a walk down the waterfront provides evidence why, with long stretches of marinas with a large number of vessels from Super yachts to heritage vessels. The waterfront also allows you a view of Auckland Harbour Bridge in the distance, the bridge which opened in 1959 is always considered unfavourably with Sydney but provides an important link between the Auckland city and the North Shore.
One of Auckland’s major tourist attractions is the Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium which is located some way from the city centre but on a bright clear morning we decided it would be a good walk. Once past the city centre, you have a long walk past the port area before the scene changes with nice views across the harbour and small beaches on the way down to Tamaki Drive. The Aquarium was developed by New Zealand marine archaeologist and diver Kelly Tarlton and built in disused sewage storage tanks, one of its great innovations when it opened in 1985 was the curved tunnels that visitors walk down.
When you arrive at the Aquarium, there is very little to see above ground, but you quickly descend into the attraction. The first section is the Antarctic area which includes a replica of the hut used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his tragic expedition to Antarctica and a colony of Antarctic penguins.
Signs asked visitors ‘ Not to tease the Penguins’, we had visions of school parties dangling fish in front of the glass. In the main part of the aquarium, we jostled with school parties to view the sharks, stingrays and other marine life. Not feeling inclined to walk back, we used the free Shark bus shuttle back to the city centre.
The University of Auckland is the largest university in New Zealand and students are catered for in a number of cafes, bars and small restaurants. A walk around the campus is interesting with a number of old government buildings used by the University. The campus is also close to the interesting Auckland Art Gallery, the very attractive Albert Park and the Auckland Domain.
The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park, and one of the largest in the city. It is built on the crater of the Pukekawa volcano. Walking past the tennis centre and bowling greens, you make your way through the park till you arrive at the Domain Wintergardens, with two glass houses full of exotic plants.
The park is home to one of Auckland’s main tourist attractions, the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which sits on a ridge with extensive views of the surrounding area.
We had limited time in Auckland and were undecided whether to visit one of the Islands in the Hauraki Gulf or to take the short ferry ride across to Devonport on the North Shore. The weather forecast was variable, so we went to Devonport.
Devonport is very attractive small town with plenty of antiques, gift and book shops with a number of cafes and restaurants. It has a strong naval history and hosts a naval base and the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum. Towering over the town is Mount Victoria is the highest volcano on Auckland’s North Shore, a steep walk up its slopes are rewarded with stunning views of Waitematā Harbour, Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland skyline. For some reason there are number of toadstools on the peak and artillery emplacements with a disappearing gun.
Like Sydney, Auckland has a strong bar and café culture which takes a pride in craft beer and quality coffee. Most of the shopping is centred on Queen Street and the Town Hall and Aotea Square are popular meeting places.
Auckland is a very unusual place which manages to be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Its location gives it the feeling of being on the edge of natural wilderness which we equated with Norway in some ways. The volcanic aspects of the city add to the sense that it not quite like many other cities. However, for British people especially, the city may seem very familiar and quite old fashioned. It is this paradox and the interesting mix of people that make Auckland well worth a visit for a few days and counters the view that it is the uninteresting gateway to the rest of New Zealand.