The best way to acclimatise yourself to the city is to take on the Coast to Coast Walkway, between Waitemata and Manukau harbours. It’s not a short walk, taking around four hours to complete but you will be rewarded by seeing nearly all the sights central Auckland has to offer, including the picturesque university campus, the Domain, Mount Eden and One Tree Hill.
The latter is the site of the largest Maori pa in the area and where a sacred totara tree stood until 1876. It was replaced by a pine tree which several protesters attacked at different times with sharp implements, and no number of steel cables could save it from finally having to be cut down a few years ago. “None Tree Hill” anyone?
Mount Eden is the tallest point of the walk and is a great place to get a sweeping view of the city. The highest volcanic cone in the area, pesky students once set fire to rubber tyres in the crater and Aucklanders awoke the next day to the dormant volcano spilling acrid smoke over the city. Pretty cool joke, eh?
There are a couple of places you can’t miss if you want to exercise the old grey matter. The Auckland War Memorial Museum sits imposingly at the top of the Domain and houses some impressive Maori and Pacific Island artifacts. Highlights include the 25-metre long war canoe Te Toki a Tapiri and a daily Maori music and dance show. The Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, on the corner of Wellesley and Kitchener Streets, is also worth a look, if only for those “My God, a 12-year-old could’ve painted that” moments. The original building is free to enter and has a great collection of NZ art, with The New Gallery across the street specialising in a range of contemporary art and exhibitions.
And if you’ve always wanted to explore the Antarctic but couldn’t afford all the layers of clothes, you can head to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World, at 23 Tamaki Drive. You can take a stroll through a replica of Scott’s 1911 Antarctic hut and ride on a Snow Cat through a sub-zero environment where a colony of king penguins call home. If all this gives you the chills, check out the aquarium, where you walk through an underwater tunnel as sharks, fish and all types of marine life swim overhead. Entry is $26.
We are sailing
Finally it’s worth a squizz at the National Maritime Museum, situated right next door to the America’s Cup Village. Some might say the New Zealand national pastime involves midnight liaisons with sheep, but we have it on good authority: it’s sailing. Off the back of the Kiwis winning the America’s Cup in 1995 – and retaining it in 1999 – the area around the wharf is teeming with big boats, modern restaurants, bars and shops selling all sorts of stuff saying that New Zealanders are the best at sailing.
As you’d imagine, there are plenty of companies who run sailing adventures, where you can take to the Hauraki Gulf and learn to sail like the pros. Ask at your hostel for more info.
If you want to venture further than the CBD, the suburbs are where the city gets funkier than your grandma’s drawers. Karangahape Road – or the “K Road” – is where it’s happening for bohemian chilling, cheap clothing, drinking and nightlife. Bars and clubs run all night and there’s music to suit every taste – from hardcore trance to heavy hip-hop. Head to the east for the cafes and eateries or west for the strip joints which give the K Road its slightly seedy reputation.
Nearby Parnell is also heavy on the cappuccino set, and is good for a late breakfast/early lunch in one of the trendy cafes. For a good walk with a bit of window-shopping thrown in for good measure, you can’t beat Ponsonby. Bookstores, bric-a-brac shops and ethnic restaurants abound, and if you head far enough up Ponsonby Rise, take time to check out the big church, which was literally picked up and moved across the road after the ground started to subside. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, eh?
A bit further afield, take a ferry over to the picturesque suburb of Devonport, on the North Shore peninsula. Walk the streets lined with Victorian-style houses and head up to the twin volcanic cones of Mount Victoria and North Head for some fantastic views back into the city. As well as being Maori pa, North Head is full of tunnels built in the 19th century when people feared a Russian invasion, and were fortified even more during the World Wars. You can still see some of the old gun emplacements, and run around Famous Five-style solving mysteries and the like.
Getting around NZ
Once you arrive in New Zealand with a bag full of enthusiasm and dirty Y-fronts, the next big question is “How do I get to the city?” Well, you’ll be pleased to know the airport is only 21 kilometres from the city and shuttle buses run every 20 minutes and every 30 minutes after 6pm, with the first bus departing at 5.50am and the last at 10.00pm. The trip takes around one hour. Prices start from $15 for a one-way trip and $22 for a return.
Tickets are available from the driver – as reservations are not required – and you can catch the shuttle outside Door 10. Ph: 0508 AIRBUS (0800 247 287)*, or visit www.airbus.co.nz/.
New Zealand has several coach companies which will whizz you around the North and South Islands at your leisure, but the biggest operators are InterCity Coachlines. They offer a range of flexible travel passes at affordable prices, and they have made the commitment to make all of its operations carbon neutral by 2010. Ph: (09) 623 1503.
Kiwi Experience is an alternative network developed by travellers, for travellers, offering flexibility and savings wherever possible. Tickets are valid for up to 12 months – with unlimited stops and regular departures. Auckland, Ph: (09) 366 9830, Wellington, Ph: (04) 384 2211.
With a 24-hour seat guarantee and a variety of 12-month passes, travelling with Magic Travellers Network allows you more flexibility to plan your itinerary around NZ. The hop on-hop off bus network offers daily departures all year round and discounts for YHA and other selected cardholders. Ph: (09) 358 5600.
Car and campervan rentals
Spaceships has vehicles which are a cross between an awesome car to drive with the useful features of a campervan, such as a large double bed, cooker, chiller, DVD player and DVDs, iPod connector and support and guidance to get the most out of your NZ adventure. Freephone: 0800 spaceships.
Ezy Car Rentals has a large range of rental cars and campervans in both the North and South Island (including Auckland Airport). There’s also a wide range of discount offers and free passes to a whole host of NZ experiences when you rent a vehicle. Freephone: 0800 399 736.
*All phone numbers call within New Zealand.
Photos: Tourism New Zealand