The easy-going hustle and bustle of Auckland has a lot in common with Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Stay with us, we’re going somewhere here. Like the District (and its workers), Auckland spreads itself far and wide and when visitors arrive in both, they tend to get stuck in one place, neglecting to explore the beauty and culture of the surrounding areas.
However, Auckland’s beauty, unlike the ‘beauty’ of the District’s, is not skin deep. (For the sake of my love life, I’d like to categorically state that I don’t believe the majority of Auckland’s female workers are ladies of the night – nor are you likely to leave the city with a debilitating sexual disease.) The point is that it’s well worth exploring the surrounding areas of New Zealand’s main metropolis. Despite the seemingly obvious pitfalls of building a city within a bosom of volcanoes (surely Dante’s Peak should be on their curriculum?), Auckland is snuggled cosily within a radius of about 50 volcanic vents.
Isle like it
However, what Auckland’s town planners lacked in common sense, the city makes up for in great scenery. Several of these mountainous uprisings are worth visiting. One Tree Hill and Mount Eden are two nearby mounds, both offering great views only a few minutes from the city. For a cheap way to see the natural beauty of Auckland’s sprawling suburbs,head up there before dusk and watch the sun set into the water’s edge. It’s stunning. To truly appreciate Auckland though, you have to head off the mainland and onto its islands. Rangitoto is Auckland’s most recent volcano, barely 600 years young, and its size, symmetry and dominance over the entrance to the harbour make it one of Auckland’s most iconic landmarks. A short ferry ride over and you’refaced with a land that time forgot. Upon further inspection though, the looming green mountain behind is ominously reminiscent of Lost. The strangest, yet most appealing thing,is the complete and utter lack of noise. Due to the acidity of the soil, very few birds inhabit the island.
The next closest inhabitable Island is Waiheke. Locals talk about how much the place has changed in the last 15 years, with tales of a bourgeois elite battling hippies and backpackers to stake their claim on a treasured piece of land. Yet it’s barely touched and wonderfully reminiscent of a Mediterranean getaway.
Once you’ve got your fill of scenery, however, and are feeling suitably relaxed, there’s only one thing you can do – embrace your suicidal tendencies and take on one, or a few,of the many crazy, adrenalin-pumping activities that Auckland so thrives on. After all, you’ll never appreciate a view more than those few seconds before plunging towards the ground.
A 1.2m wide metal grate is the only thing separating my body from the pavement below. Far, far down, cars glitter like coins at the bottom of a water fountain. They move slowly along the long white veins of winding roadways linking together Auckland’s towering skyscrapers. I can barely make out the shape of people standing at the trafficlights, but I doubt they can see me. This is the Auckland Sky Tower, and at 328 metres high, it is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Today, I just so happen to be standing only a couple of metres from the top. Luckily, I won’t be doing any jumping this time, just nipping out fora quick stroll along the clouds, courtesy of the Sky Walk (skywalk.co.nz, from $125). But I can’t help thinking that a greenie, if launched from this peak position, would catapult to the ground at the destructive rate of 150km/hr. It would split through concrete like a stream of urine in fresh snow. Or so I imagine, anyway. The wind is puffing harder than a fat man on a stair master, but a harness tethering me to the side of the building provides some comfort. I will not fall. Repeat. I will not fall. Today, I can see as far north as the Leigh Peninsula, east towards Hauraki Gulf, west to Manukau Heads and south to the Bombay Hills. But the most impressive sight, if you ask me, is of the sail boats dashing over the water. It’s my second day in Auckland and I’m already feeling quite at home. It may not have the je-ne-sais-quoi of architecturally stupendous places like Paris or Prague, but its laid back atmosphere cannot be beat. Friendly people,good bars and delish’ food make this place tops.
It just so happens to be one of the most miserable days of the year – raining, cold and extremely windy. Nevertheless, there are three of us up at 10am braving the elements. Walking along the purpose-built structure under Auckland’sharbour bridge, I think I must be insane. I’m about to do abungy jump (bungy.co.nz, jumps from $150). If we had notbeen harnessed to the railing, I’m sure at least one of us would have been blown off into the water below. I selflessly let the two Irish guys jump before me. One of them said he wanted to get soaked in the harbour, but as he jumped, only his head got dunked in. Now, when I get nervous, I usually talk it up like I’m not scared at all, so I turned to the bungy instructor and said: “You only got his head wet! Come on, that’s nothing.” The guy just looked at me and grinned. Ididn’t like the look of his expression at all. It was the kind of face the tough guy gives in a movie before he kicks some ass. Sure enough, I got a proper dunk – almost totally under water, literally up to my shoes. I came out of it utterlysoaked, but grinning like a gold medal champion.
With nipples harder than a Chuck Norris/Mr T fight-off and gale force winds whipping round my face, I began to realise quite how high up 192m really is. I’m back up Auckland’s Sky Tower, which also happens to be home to New Zealand’s highest jump, a base jump by wire which offers a more gentle introduction to extreme sports. It’s known as the Sky Jump (skywalk.co.nz, jumps are $290 when combined with the Sky Walk). While you still get that “I probably should have worn huggies” feeling as you peer over the edge and the exhilarating adrenalin rush as you fall, the fact that the wire is attached to your back instead of your feet means the descent is far less jolting, but just as enjoyable.
Now then,where are those Huggies?
Terror town treats
Jet boating in Viaduct Harbour, in the heart of down town Auckland, is an adventure combining high speed thrills with jet boat manoeuvres. These include180 and 270° spins with sweeping turns, as you travelup to an exhilarating 85km per hour. If you’re quick on the eye, you’ll get amazing views of the Auckland city skyline. Tours from $85. aucklandjetboattours.co.nz
It’s like an outdoor playground. Imagine sliding,jumping, abseiling and falling into rock pools in someof the most magnificent rainforests. Choose from Blue Canyon, which has 18 waterfalls, ranging in height from 2-25m. Here the water has carved perfect poolsinto the dark volcanic rock. You spend the day sliding down natural hydro slides, abseiling down mystical waterfalls and getting some airtime with the awesome jumps into deep crystal-clear pools. Or Sleeping God Canyon for the really adventurous, where you get a vertical descent of over 300m down a steep set of waterfalls. Tours cost $360. canyonz.co.nz
We reckon Goat Island is the best place to go diving when you’re staying in Auckland. Off the east coastin this massive outdoor aquarium you can snorkel or dive straight from the beach to see snapper, parore, sea urchins, crayfish and stingrays, and if you’re lucky, an orca or two. It’s an hour from the city, trips cost from $99. goatislanddive.co.nz
Using just some light nylon and string, paragliding is as close as you’ll get to flying like a bird, soaring up to 5 or 10,000 feet above the earth. Sky Wings willtake you paragliding any day of the week (weather permitting) and will pick you up from the city centre. Experiences from $110. nzparagliding.com