Auckland’s a very cool city.
Cosmopolitan. Great Museums. World Class Restaurants. Top Notch Entertainment Venues. Plenty of outdoor adventure activities. Mostly agreeable weather year-round. Good beaches close to the city. Beautiful setting.
Yet, still, I found it really hard to warm to Auckland, and to no fault of it’s own, it’s just it pails in comparison to the rest of the country.
I’d arrived the previous evening after making the long drive from Ahipara and stopping off in Devonport, the suburb directly across the bay to the north of the downtown area. On my way up to Northland, I’d passed through Auckland. It was the Queen’s Birthday, and holiday traffic (except for One Tree Hill and the surrounding parklands) was pretty light. I hadn’t seen any traffic on the rest of the trip, but I certainly saw some as I entered Auckland around rush hour. It was a bit jarring to be back in a city after so much time in the wide-open spaces and small towns of the rest of the country. Even Wellington, the country’s second biggest city, maintains the feel of a medium sized town.
Auckland has a big city feel, and it should. It holds 1.4 of the New Zealand’s 4.4 million residents. It is, by far, the most ethnically diverse city in New Zealand. It has a large Asian population, and I was surprised at how many signs I saw in Chinese- I’d had no idea there was such a large population of Asians in Auckland.
I had only one full day to explore Auckland, and I was very tired from having been on the go for twenty-seven days. For only the second time on the trip, I slept in past 8. I hadn’t made an exhaustive list of things to do, but first on the list was a trip to the top of Auckland’s most recognizable and tallest building, The Sky Tower.
Finished in 1997, The Sky Tower is park of Sky City, and entertainment complex. It stands over 1,000 feet tall and it the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
The view from the top provides sweeping views of the city and the surrounding area. It provides an excellent viewpoint for observing the many volcanic cones that pop up around the city. The day of my visit, it was mostly sunny east of the city, while a storm rolled in from the west.
The Sky Tower has three observation levels, one of them being a restaurant which cashes in on the amazing views. There are also some video presentations, informational boards about The Sky Tower and the Auckland area. One of the features I found cool (and a little frightening) were the sections of reinforced glass in the floor so visitors could look down on the street and building below. They had even put a sign up next to these ‘windows’ that attempted to reassure people they were safe so they would stand on them. Even with the signs, I found it hard to do.
If even standing on the glass was hard for me, there was no way I would even consider the tower’s other signature activity, The Sky Jump. It is exactly what it sounds like- the jumper is strapped in to a specially designed suit and harness, then able to jump off the edge of a platform, and cables attached to the harness guide the jumper to a bulls-eye platform on the street below.
I loved the views from the top, but had to get lunch and do some souvenir shopping. I had paid a little extra to be able to visit more than once on the same day, so I planned on returning to the Sky Tower in the evening and take some more pictures, this time of the city at night.
For lunch I stopped and had a meat pie, one of New Zealand’s few signature dishes, from a local Auckland institution known as Pie Mania. It was really good with minced meat and melted cheese inside a flaky, buttery crust.
After dropping my souvenirs off at the hostel, I drove out to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Adventure and Sea Life Aquarium, located a few miles east of the city along the waterfront.
The first part of the facility was dedicated to Antarctic exploration. There were recreations of the early rooms used by the early explorers of the seventh continent. There were also displays of drawings and notes made by those first rugged men, which included Earnest Shackleton and Roald Amundsen.
The Antarctic exhibition is really well-done, but the highlight of the visit to Kelly Tarlton’s was the Sea Life Aquarium. There were walkways where visitors are able to walk underneath the many fish, sharks and other sea creatures.
The second part of the Aquarium included a large number of penguins from Antarctica living in a specially designed area with large observation windows that was supposed to simulate Antarctic temperatures.
The most interesting part of the aquarium to me was the sting ray tank. I just happened to be there during one of the demonstrations where a naturalist in a wet suit got into the tank of rays and fed them from a bucket. Part of the point of the short lectures and feeding was to show us that even though a majority of people are afraid of rays, they are generally gentle creatures that are quire smart. Even though I could see this, I still made me shutter when the large rays seemed to be ‘hugging’ the naturalist giving the talk while they were begging for food.
Upon emerging from the aquarium, I took a short walk down the waterfront to take some pictures of the Auckland Skyline as a bank of picturesque clouds headed toward downtown from the west. To the east, a brilliant rainbow (the last of the twenty-seven I saw there) had emerged.
Since there was about an hour of daylight left, I took a slight detour on my way back to the hostel and drove up Mount Eden, another of Auckland’s volcanic cones. I didn’t linger, just long enough to take pictures of the skyline from the top of the crater, and to read the story of the Maori pa that one sat on Mount Eden, before darkness and rain (and the need to pack for the journey home) sent me back to my hostel.
After spending a couple hours packing, I was ready for bed. It took quite an effort to force myself to walk back to the Sky Tower for the evening photos I wanted, and I was glad I did. Auckland sure was beautiful a little up and viewed from above. I knew I hadn’t even scratched the surface of New Zealand’s largest city, but I was happy with the things I had chosen to do.