22nd Jun 2012
Auckland - Kia Ora New Zealand
Thanks to Quantas we had a fantastic flight over to Auckland from Singapore, with a short stop in Sydney. Free drinks, loads of films, a bit of turbulence and very comfy seats – perfect! And on arrival in Auckland, we even got a free boot clean! Bonus! Mainly due to the fact that we had used our walking boots in foreign countries like Indonesia and Singapore before landing in NZ, and to protect their environment they had to give our boots a good clean to make sure we weren’t carrying any nasties with us. But the customs officers were very friendly and did a pretty good job.
From here, we jumped on the cheap shuttle bus into the city which dropped us right outside our hostel. And the ticket man and bus driver were equally friendly and very helpful – something we were beginning to like about NZ. On top of this, it was great to be back in a country that felt more like home – a comfortable temperature of 15 degrees, although a little chilly at first, English signs and shops, cars that looked like they were road-worthy and very green rolling hills. Lovely.
Unfortunately our hostel wasn’t lovely at all and it was our first experience of a dorm room and bunk beds. After the private double rooms and ensuites of Asia, this was going to be hard to get used to. But we were lucky and shared a 4 bed dorm with a couple of girls over the next few days who were friendly and quiet.
So having settled in, we ventured out into Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. But that was quite hard to believe as the streets felt empty, the roads were traffic-free and we walked around most main streets in about an hour. Kiwis would definitely get a shock if they came to London! Although, it was nice to be in a relatively quiet town and we took advantage of the city life by checking out the supermarket – how rock and roll are we! In an effort to save money we had already decided to cook for ourselves throughout NZ with the staple diet now consisting of rice, pasta, soup and bread!
With our exciting trip round the New World supermarket done, we wandered around the streets again and made our way down to the harbour and the seafront. It was a lovely bright day but quite cold, similar to a British day in spring but this was perfect for us and was a nice change from the heat of Asia – finally, I am not sweating everywhere I go!
The harbour was gorgeous with great views back to the high rises of the city, and the boats moored there were stunning – no wonder this place is known as the City of Sails. There were hundreds of boats, ships and ribs dotted around the harbour. And the landscape here is perfect for sailing with gorgeous open waters that stretch out to various islands, blue sea and stunning vistas.
We walked around, admiring and drooling over the big yachts and came across the Expo Centre – a new modern building on the seafront. And it was currently acting as the HQ for the World Rally Championships with displays of classic and new rally cars. Some of you may know of my dad’s fame in the rally field back home and his escapades in Mini’s so it is something I have always been interested in, and Chris too so we had a look around and to our surprise were told that the final stage of the rally was taking place in a couple of days in the centre of Auckland! Fantastic! We were definitely going to be checking that one out.
So after enjoying a quick drink in a bar on the harbour front where beer was now £5 not the £1 we gad got used to in Asia, we headed back to our hostel to cook our feast – pasta with chicken soup! Delicious but I couldn’t help feeling that I had reverted back to the eating habits of a student. Unfortunately the facilities at hostels are pretty basic so I am not sure roast dinners will be on the cards over the next 5 weeks!
Day 2 and we headed back into the city walking towards the huge Sky Tower for some views of Auckland. Luckily we had picked a good day for it and the views were breath-taking. You could see down to the harbour with hundreds of boats, and being a Saturday there were hundreds of people out cruising filling up the waters with their sails. We looked out to the grand looking Auckland Museum which we would be visiting later, set in the expansive Auckland Domain park where the rally would be on Sunday. And even further out, you could see the beautiful mound of Mt Eden and One Tree Hill, a reminder that the city is built on over 50 volcanoes – a bit of a scary thought but it certainly makes the landscape interesting, dramatic and very hilly. It was stunning and a great way to understand the geography of the area, and look out to the dozens of islands in the bay – beautiful, so we stayed for a cup of tea to enjoy the views a little longer. So British!
So from here, we walked across the city to Auckland Domain – 80 hectares of green parkland including the city museum, garden and all that remains of Pukekaroa, one of Auckland’s many volcanoes. It was a peaceful place full of people getting out and active but we were here to visit the museum which we had heard very good things about. The building was magnificent and the exhibitions were fantastic. Knowing not very much about New Zealand’s history, it was interesting to learn about the Maori culture and how we pretty much tried to ruin it. But what an interesting, magical and proud culture it is – the arts, lifestyles, dances and way of life are so inspiring and unique. And it’s amazing that after so many hundreds of years and with the development of NZ as a Western country, this culture is still living on and has such prevalence today. From the names of towns, trees, volcanoes, rivers and people, the Maori way is still so important and adds a touch of charm to the country in the stories and legends that encapsulate the land.
The museum also gave quite an eye-opening insight into the science of New Zealand, mainly the volcanoes that have made it and the natural forces that are still shaping it. The volcanic eruption simulator was probably the least enjoyable experience – a virtual look at what would happen in Auckland if one of the country’s largest volcanoes was to erupt again, especially as it lies only a few miles from the city centre!
So with our brains feeling full after a few hours in the museum, we headed back to the city and had another wander round before our usual cooking adventure in the small and quite dirty communal kitchen!
Day 3, our last day in Auckland, and the day of the rally so we got up early and headed back to the Domain to get the best spot on the course. We had wrapped up warm and luckily had brought the raincoats because it did start drizzling but that made it a little more exciting as the cars battled against the winding steep roads and the rain. It was fantastic and the drivers put on quite a show with one guy losing control at the final corner before taking out the time check equipment and a pick-up truck at the finish line. Thankfully no one was hurt but the rally did have to be stopped while the track was cleared and new time equipment was found!
We spotted our British hopeful Louise Cook – doing it for the girls! But were disappointed that Alistair McCrae didn’t run. And we checked out the crazy but very talented American Ken Block who does some ridiculous stunts – just find him on You Tube for a taster! He may be an excellent driver but he sucks at rally’s coming 11th overall but he certainly impressed the crowd with his handling of the corners. We also watched out for the winner and champion Sebastian Loeb in his Citroën – an amazing driver! And to top it all off, there were a couple of very silly looking Suzuki Ignis’ which spun around the track looking like they could topple over and even the classic cars had a go which was impressive.
All in all it was a great day and completely free! Plus we managed to sneak into the prize giving ceremony at the end which was filmed by Sky, so watched as the drivers sped up a ramp to collect their awards. Amazing! And to finish our wicked day, we headed to an Irish bar for some much needed beer, wine and a wicked live singer.
So Auckland was a fantastic start to New Zealand, and we are very excited to continue our journey south. Having weighed up our options of self-drive vs. an open bus tour we had decided to book on the Kiwi Experience – a hop-on-hop-off bus which will take us through the north and south islands over the next 5 weeks, dropping us off at the main tourist places and giving us the option to see some more remote parts of the country too.
So it’s on the bus in the morning to start our adventure in NZ…