Auckland was the last stop on our New Zealand adventure. After traversing both the North Island and the South Island in just thirteen days, we were exhausted mentally and physically. We were in dire need of a break and a mellow end to our Middle-Earth experience.
The city of Auckland is huge, cosmopolitan, and extremely hilly. We were regretting leaving Wellington after seeing the sheer slopes of the hills within the city centre. Auckland was also the place in which I was to adventure alone. The main purpose of our trip had arrived: the Australian Linux Conference, which my boyfriend was slated to attend. Although I was a little sad that he wouldn’t be able to experience the sights of Auckland alongside me, I was determined to have a productive week and see all I could in the short six days I had.
My first stop Monday morning was the Auckland Zoo. After a quick breakfast of coffee and granola, I hopped aboard the bus and headed out to the zoo. From the kindly bus driver, I learned that Auckland’s zoo opened in 1922 and houses over 800 animals from land, sea, and air. He also told me not to miss the night exhibit as it was the most popular and featured the native kiwi! I was very excited at the prospect of seeing a live kiwi, even if it wouldn’t be in the wild.
I had a great experience at Auckland Zoo. I spent the greater part of the morning and early afternoon there, exploring its 17 hectares and various exhibits and happily reveling in the sights and sounds of the gardens’ inhabitants.
I was able to see a live kiwi in the night exhibit; unfortunately, the area was so dark that no amount of photo editing could produce a clear photo to post. Instead, here is a link to the small, flightless bird’s Wikipedia page.
If you do get to the zoo on your own Auckland voyage, be sure to check out the night exhibit. Animal lovers like myself will fall over backwards to see this rare species. It’s worth the short bus ride.
The second day of my self-guided Auckland tour led me to the National Art Gallery where I saw a wide variety of paintings and sculptures by New Zealand artists and artists from all over the globe. My favourite sections were the Victorian Art exhibit and Sculpture Terrace.
I was also lucky enough to be in Auckland when the gallery featured the London Light Show. This show is unreal and definitely worth a visit if your city or one near you hosts it. The international artists work with different types of light, mechanics, technology, smoke, and water to bring you their magnificent pieces. I’m not a massive contemporary art fan, but I did enjoy quite a bit of this show, especially the pieces by Leo Villareal, Olafur Eliasson, and Ann Veronica Janssens. Villareal’s piece found me sitting on the floor watching it move for about fifteen minutes – his work with LED lighting and technology is stunning and utterly captivating.
Sadly, I was unable to take photos of the artwork. You’ll just have to visit the gallery for yourself! It’s a spectacular place, and it’s great to be able to view art from all walks of life, but particularly from native New Zealanders and learn their unbelievable stories.
After my Light Show experience, I had a bite to eat down on Queen Street and then headed back to the hotel for a brief nap, which lasted three hours. Whoops.
By the middle of the week I was itching for a leisurely day, so I took a long bus ride out to the quaint suburb of Parnell. At the centre of the area lies a cute shopping centre that boasts cafés, shops, and beauty parlours housed within a late nineteenth century building. Summer flowers and foliage burst at every window and terrace. It was a beautiful, sleepy little space – perfect for my mood that day. I spent a couple of hours there, walking among the labyrinth of shops and cafés; I had a nice slice of chocolate mud cake and coffee at Parnell’s famous chocolatier and I made a new friend!
Around mid-day, I set out for more mental stimulation at the War Memorial Museum. Although I didn’t see any of the exhibits inside the museum (I had run out of cash and the nearest ATM was quite a long way back), I did get some great photos of their memorial and the museum.
On Thursday, I was ready for another animal encounter, which meant a trip to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium. I learned a lot about sea creatures from Mr Tarlton’s sanctuary. Maybe I just hadn’t paid much attention during elementary school trips to the aquarium, but I definitely went away with new information regarding tiger sharks’ lifespans, the feeding habits of manta rays, and the reproduction processes of emperor penguins.
However, I think my favourite sneaky thing at the aquarium was the little fish tank they had set up to mimic Finding Nemo:
Of course, only a die-hard Disney/Pixar fanatic such as myself would discover this, but I thought it was adorable.
Our final day in New Zealand was fully packed. My boyfriend had his wrap-up at the Linux conference, and I had a booked ticket aboard a ferry that would take me to one of the northern island’s greatest vantage points: Rangitoto Volcano.
Seeing a volcano had been on my wish list of things to do since we had begun planning our trip. I was very excited to get the chance to climb to the top of Rangitoto and bask in the spectacular views. The ferry journey was unbelievably windy. If you book this tour, make sure you remove any articles of clothing that have the tendency to fly away in high winds (ie. hats). More than one person lost their hat and sunnies that day.
When we arrived, we were escorted to a tractor-train that would take us around the island and to the base of the volcano. Another tip? Try to get a seat near the back of this train. I made the mistake of sitting right up front – theoretically so I could get the best photographs – and got blasted continuously with dust and dirt from the back of the tractor. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure I swallowed most of the island, and I needed an exceptionally long shower by the time the tour concluded.
The tour around the island is incredible. You’re rewarded with magnificient views of Auckland harbour, the natural plant life making its way through the hardened lava, and grotto after grotto of blackened lava crops.
While the ascent to the tip of the volcano was a horrific bit of a work out, the reward is more than just. The views climbing and at the top of the mountain are incredible and cannot be described in words. You feel a sense of majesty at such a high elevation – it’s a view only birds and few others are allowed to witness. The trek was long and hard, but it was worth the effort.
After my tour of Rangitoto, I met my boyfriend back at the hotel where we prepared for our last evening out in Auckland. We intended to visit Auckland’s SkyCity, home to their 328 metre high Sky Tower and 360° revolving restaurant. Again, I was given the privilege of a bird’s-eye-view of the city of Auckland. She is spectacular. I highly recommend visiting the Sky Tower at dusk as you get to see far and away, but you also witness the city in all its lit glory.
The restaurant itself was amazing. Excellent food, wonderful service, and unparalleled views. Although it’s quite expensive, I do recommend doing this at least once in your life time. There are dozens of cities that offer similar 360° dining experiences, such as Seattle, Toronto, and Sydney. Even if you’ve lived in one of these places all your life, you get a completely different view and experience of the city from this height.
And so our Middle-Earth adventure came to an end. Although we were disappointed to be leaving such a remarkable place, we were quite happy to return home. It had been a long, sometimes stressful, yet wonderful journey.
As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m so blessed to have been able to visit New Zealand. This country is definitely one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring places I’ve ever been. I know that each footstep I took and every sight that took my breath away will remain within my memory forever. Thank you for reading these past few posts and allowing me to share my travels with you. I hope you enjoyed the ride!
“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Mary Ritter Beard
The Amora, Auckland: 3/5