Edit Blog Post
Published: March 2nd 2010
Exploring caves on Rangitoto Island
There is a cemetery right next to our apartment in Auckland. It's one of the oldest cemeteries in the country and is the final resting place for a number of historical figures that parade through Kiwi children's textbooks. We often see people wandering around the cemetery. It seems like a peaceful enough place, with the minor exception of the huge freeway that runs through it at the bottom of the hill.
But this isn't the only reason that we've come to think of Auckland as the City of the Dead during our 10 days here. It is mainly because the city is deserted right now. The double whammy of Christmas holidays and gorgeous summer weather draws Aucklanders out of the city and to the beaches in droves. And not just for the week bracketed by Christmas and New Years. No. Kiwis take their summer vacation very seriously. They take off about half of December and most of January.
This means that most shops are also closed, with signs reading "Closed until 11 January" or "Will reopen 2 February" or, our favorite, a simple "Gone fishing".
We'd like to follow the Aucklanders to the beach. Really, we would. However,
Volcanic rock on Rangitoto Island
we seem to have entered yet another dimension of the Twilight Zone. In this one, packages from the U.S. Postal Service arrive a full week earlier than packages sent via Fedex. We hadn't thought we were setting up a controlled experiment but it seems that we have. Our USPS box (containing clothes and our New Zealand driving atlas and guidebooks from home) sailed through customs and was resting from its long trip on the floor of our apartment on December 30th. But it took many hours of frustrating phone calls with the most useless (and one particularly bitter) Fedex employees to figure out how to get our second box (too big for the USPS to take) through customs. So after phone calls, emails, 15+ pages of forms and a last-minute and surprising $25 "customs charge", our poor little box finally arrived on January 6th.
A final note on Auckland and then we'll leave it - both in this blog and in our trip. Compared to other cities that we've visited on this trip (and previous trips) it is a bit disappointing. The City has tremendous potential - a fanastic waterfront, good weather and proximity to beaches and vineyards. However,
A pohutukawa tree which is commonly referred to as the "New Zealand Christmas Tree"
the downtown area is dull and depressed (every other storefront is either a mini-mart , an Asian fast-food restaurant or an internet cafe advertising "gaming") and while there are several good restaurants, there is a serious lack of the great cafes/restaurants, good coffee and charming squares/parks.
Auckland's beautiful waterfront should be a central gathering place, filled with shops and restaurants - a focal point like Sydney's harbor. Instead, it is filled with a big ugly port and some expensive condos on one end, a few restaurants on one wharf in the middle, and another ugly fenced-in area that runs for blocks along Quay Street, the eastern side of the harbor.
Most guidebooks encourage tourists to leave Auckland immediately upon arriving by booking a connecting flight to somewhere prettier and more fun - like Queenstown. And most tourists take this advice. After 10 days of walking around Auckland's downtown and surrounding neighborhoods we wish we could have left right away. However, if you do find yourself with a day or more in Auckland, here are a few places to check out:
1. Devonport. This is a very cute little suburb a quick 15 minute ferry ride away from
Exploring the beaches on Waiheke Island
the Auckland harbor. It has lovely cafes, a nice hill to climb with a rewarding view of the Auckland region, and a gourmet chocolate shop.
2. Waiheke Island. Also reached by ferry. It has upscale accomodations, some nice restaurants, a few noteworthy beaches and - perhaps the biggest attraction - a handful of wineries making mostly Bordeaux style wines. We spent a few hours here with our friends Michelle and Reef who were in town for a few days. We had a nice time and a bit of adventure: we were offered a ride (which we accepted) along one lonely stretch of road by a man that we'll just call "Nearly Naked Ned".
3. Rangitoto Island, the largest and youngest of Auckland's ~50 volcanoes. Also accessed by ferry from Auckland's harbor, the island is protected by the DOC (Department of Conservation) and has fantastic hiking trails including an excellent hike to the top of the crater (where the volcano's cone used to be before it blew its top). The views are lovely and there are some cool caves to check out on the way down.
4. The Ponsonby neighborhood in Auckland. A short bus ride or longish
One of the wineries we visited on Waiheke Island. Wine was so-so but the views were amazing.
walk from downtown, Ponsonby has several very good cafes and our favorite restaurant in town, DIDA. DIDA is a wine bar which serves delicious tapas - all at great prices; next door is a fabulously gourmet deli crammed full of delicious breads, cheeses and salamis. We spent New Year's Eve at the DIDA wine bar, toasting in 2010. Ponsonby is also packed with boutique clothing stores but we felt that they were a bit over-priced.
5. The Auckland Domain. This is a huge park near Auckland University and contains one of Auckland's ~50 extinct volcanoes. It's a great place for a walk (or a run - which we did several mornings while waiting for Fedex to call us back).
Next on our agenda: Exploring the Far North.
Tot: 2.424s; Tpl: 0.056s; cc: 10; qc: 52; dbt: 0.0606s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 4;
; mem: 1.4mb