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Tamaki Makaurau

Auckland, New Zealand
Sunday, August 11, 2013

We have only been in Auckland for 4 days and let's just say it has shot into our most favourite cities list. We tried to explain how beautiful the city is but we can't compete with Lonely Planet's description, so bowing down to their superior travel writing skills, it's best if we let the professionals sum it up in style:

Paris may be the city of love, but Auckland is the city of many lovers, according to its Maori name, Tamaki Makaurau. Those lovers so desired this place that they fought over it for centuries.

It's hard to imagine a more geographically blessed city. Its two harbours frame a narrow isthmus punctuated by volcanic cones and surrounded by fertile farmland. From any of its numerous vantage points you'll be astounded by how close the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean come to kissing and forming a new island.

As a result, water's never far away - whether it's the ruggedly beautiful west-coast surf beaches or the glistening Hauraki Gulf with its myriad islands. And within an hour's drive from the high-rise heart of the city there are dense tracts of rainforest, thermal springs, wineries and wildlife reserves. No wonder Auckland's rated as offering the third best quality of life of any major city.

We've both dreamt about visiting New Zealand for such a long time so when we finally touched down in Auckland, it was a big moment for us. It was like one of those surreal moments when you feel like asking someone to pinch your arm, however Ross thought it best not to mention this to Sonya because she would have obliged!

Day 1 - Auckland Museum

We woke up feeling well and truly exhausted.... as we spent the whole night rolling into one another, courtesy of a small but rather annoying crater in the middle of the mattress! Every time we fell asleep, we woke shortly afterwards hot and bothered and after managing to untangle ourselves we would roll onto our own sides of the mattress, only to end up back in the exact same position just half an hour later! It was so frustrating and by the time the alarm went off we were absolutely shattered and didn't want to move an inch, but then we remembered we were in Auckland and we thought pfft who needs sleep anyway?

We walked out of the hostel to bright blue skies and with a new city to explore, we soon forgot about our lack of sleep. It wasn't long before we realised we had landed in the city of hills but to be totally honest we've been really naughty recently because we haven't done any exercise at all so it felt quite good to feel the burning in our legs as we walked up the steep, steep hills. After exploring the local area we made our way over to the Auckland Museum, passing through the grounds of Auckland's University before strolling through the well-kept grounds of the Auckland Domain. As we walked up the winding path that led to the Auckland Museum we noticed the long line of excited children being led into the museum by their teacher. It seems we have the annoying ability to choose places to visit on days when they will be filled with screaming children!

Auckland Museum is housed in a huge building that stands proudly on the top of a hill and is surrounded by Auckland's Domain which is one of many great parklands. We didn't really know what to expect from this museum but as we made our way through the many rooms we were impressed by the hard work that had gone into making this space both entertaining and educational. We walked through the ground floor and spent some time appreciating the Maori artefacts that ranged from hand-made tools to a huge 25m man made war canoe. We also went inside an intricately carved Maori meeting house that showcases the true craftsmanship of the Maori people

We were reminded of the South Australia Museum we visited way back in Adelaide, especially when we came across the section on stuffed birds that featured a mock-up of a Moa bird that was native to New Zealand before it became extinct. It's safe to say we wouldn't have wanted to bump into one of these birds when they did roam the land as they were scarily big

After this we made our way to a section that was solely devoted to educating people about the truly fascinating world of volcanos. This is a subject that really intrigues us and we were eager to understand what makes a volcano tick. Volcanos generally get bad press but without going into too much detail it is interesting how good volcanos are for good old planet earth. A few examples include:

Returning rocks from the seabed to the surface of the earth so the carbon dioxide they contain can be released back into the atmosphere to continue the photosynthesis cycle. If this process stops eventually life as we know it would slowly die.

Ash caused by volcanic activity is incredibly fertile and remains so for many years. Most of Auckland's rich fertilised soil came from eruptions that happened twenty to thirty thousand years ago.

Another great thing about areas that are prone to volcanic activity is hot springs which contain natural minerals formed over thousands of years. During our time in New Zealand we will be visiting a few hot springs and as we sit back and relax in the toasty water we will try and remember what made them possible!

We really enjoyed the Auckland museum and would recommend it to others as it gives such a broad perspective on both the Maori and modern day New Zealander's ways of life.

Day 2 - Coast to Coast Walkway

Against all the warnings of bad weather which was supposed to blow in overnight we awoke to bright blue skies! :-) With both of us in dire need of some exercise we decided to embark on the coast to coast walk, a 16km hike across Auckland city from the Waitemata coast to the Manukau coast.

We had planned to take a train to the Manukau coast and then walk back to the CBD area but unfortunately we missed the train by a few minutes, and as it was just after the morning peak the service had dropped to just one an hour. So not to waste any time we decided to reverse our plans and walk from the Manukau coast to the Waitemata coast, and then catch a train from Onehunga which is only a short distance from the end of the walk back to the CBD area.

The walkway is well sign posted, with blue signs in the northbound direction and orange signs in the southbound direction. However some of the older signs are small and difficult to spot so it is easy to wander off track without knowing it. Luckily we picked up a free 'Explore Central Auckland' leaflet which includes a great map of Auckland with the whole of the walkway clearly marked on it. It was the perfect accompaniment to the signs and helped us not to go astray in a few places along the way.

We decided to take the walk as the route takes in some of Auckland's must see sights including Auckland Domain passing very close to the Auckland Museum we visited yesterday, Mt Eden (Maungawhau), Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie).

Mt Eden

Mt Eden is the tallest volcano in Auckland standing at 196 metres and it's incredibly deep and steep sided cone was just amazing to see. Combined with the panoramic views of the city and on such a beautiful day it was just fantastic.

Cornwall Park

Donated to the people of Auckland by Sir John Logan Campbell, one of New Zealand's first European settlers the park is self-sufficient in part due to it being a working farm. He donated the land during a Royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in 1901, hence the park was named Cornwall Park. Within the park is One Tree Hill, the largest and most complex volcanic cone in the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately the name is a bit misleading as the tree that once stood tall and proud has long gone and has now been replaced by a memorial for Sir John Logan Campbell.

The views from the top of One Tree Hill weren't quite as impressive as those from Mt Eden mainly due to its location being slightly further away from the CBD and Mt Eden having such a distinctive cone but, looking down on the farm land below and hearing lambs bleating away and joyfully playing in the sun with the backdrop of a vibrant city was something that words can't quite explain. It quite literally took our breath away and it was such a contrast to see a landscape similar to that in the rugged Yorkshire Dales, in the middle of a city teaming with livestock was a sight to see.

Just before leaving Cornwall Park the walk passed right next to the Stardome Observatory. After the park the walkway pretty much followed the road to the Manukau coast. To be honest there wasn't much to see after the park and this is the one area of the route that wasn't particularly well sign posted, well in the southbound direction anyway! We ended up looking for the blue signs going the other way to guide us. As there is not much to see after Cornwall Park if we did the walk again on leaving the park we would probably miss out the last few k's and either catch a bus back to the CBD or walk to Ellerslie train station.

We didn't rush the walk and it took us around 5 hours with a break for lunch. We had a great time, which was helped by the weather and we would definitely recommend the walk as it takes in a lot of Auckland's must see sights in a single day.

Day 3 - MOTAT

Having read about the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) it sounded right up our street so was firmly on our to-do list whilst in Auckland. After having amazing weather yesterday for the coast to coast walk we awoke to rain, so decided that today was the day to visit MOTAT. The museum is spread over 19 hectares on two sites. MOTAT 1, the main part of the museum had a wide range of transport related exhibits from the bygone years through to a mock-up of the future electric trains which will soon be running in Auckland. Although most of the exhibits were interesting, it has to be said that some of them were dam right strange and there appeared to be little or no connection to some of the exhibits altogether. As we walked from one hall to the next we had a laugh at how completely different the stuff was, although most of it was vaguely linked by the technology theme. After spending a good 4 hours wandering around MOTAT 1 we decided to head over to MOTAT 2, an aircraft graveyard, featuring both military and commercial planes. A fascinating place but it was a shame you could only view the planes from a distance and we weren't allowed inside to explore. The two sites are some distance apart but were linked by a vintage tram which is included in the admission price. As the tram meandered along it was just as good as the main exhibitions. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at MOTAT and by using one of the many discount vouchers available for reduced entry made it a very cheap day out. However we don't recommend you buy anything from the café as two tea's cost more than an adult entry ticket, plain crazy!

Student bar!

Having stayed clear of watering holes in Australia due to the obscene price of a decent pint we decided to check out what Auckland had to offer. Having walked past a cosy bar a few times on the way to other places we thought it would be a good place to sample some local ales, and it was but at just under $20 for a pint and a schooner it wasn't much cheaper than Australia. Both a little disheartened we drank up and left to find somewhere else at which point we remembered the Globe Bar, a backpacker come student bar in the basement of our hostel. To be honest neither of us had really wanted to venture into the basement before the need to find a cheap beer but we are glad we did as it was a mere $3 for a beer or spirits! Hey we might have been getting on for twice the average age but we still had a great night :-)

Day 4 - Devonport & Sky Tower

On our last day in Auckland we decided to get out of the city and visit Devonport. Although Devonport is only a short ferry ride from the CBD, it is much further by road and really does feel cut off from the city. The moment we walked off the ferry you could feel the village like atmosphere and with the quaint village like houses it was hard to believe we had only crossed the Waitemata Harbour with downtown Auckland just over the waters. Our first stop was Mt Victoria (Takarunga) the tallest volcano on Devonport. The views from the top looking back over the harbour, the harbour bridge and the CBD were fantastic. It was just a shame the winds were so relentless making it difficult to just stand up.

Sonya hasn't fallen over for a few weeks so we suppose she was due for a topple. On the way back down Ross decided to take the more direct route following the well beaten track straight down the side of the volcano. Sonya lost her footing and like an elephant on roller skates ended up quite firmly on her backside. The camera took a nice bash and now brandishes a nice dent and yet again Sonya picked up a minor injury and is now nursing another sore wrist!

Next we headed over to North Head (Maungauika) a volcano on the edge of the island. Both volcanoes have been used by the military to defend Auckland but North Head is particularly scarred by its past. Riddled with tunnels, dug at the end of the 19th century in response to the Russian threat, and then extended during WWI and WWII the majority of the tunnels are open to the public to freely wander. Although they aren't lit so it's best to take a torch if you want to explore them all. The disappearing gun was particularly interesting, a gun that was designed to automatically 'disappear' underground after being fired by the power of its own recoil. North Head had 4 in total but only one remains. Again the views from North Head of Auckland, Devonport and Cheltenham beach were impressive. If only the weather was a bit warmer we would have taken a stroll down the beach and maybe even of had a dip.

Sky Tower

The Sky Tower is undoubtedly Auckland's most recognisable building and standing at 328 meters tall is also the tallest man made structure in New Zealand. For those wanting a thrill the tower offers dare devils the opportunity to walk around the perimeter of the outside of the building on a 1.2m wide ledge. If that's not enough you can also base jump off the building and free fall to the ground just being restrained by a wire to prevent you crashing into the pavement below. Unsurprisingly we did neither of these and took the lift to the viewing deck for a much less adrenalin fuelled visit, although the glass floors were still bad enough! Having had some amazing views of the city from the top of Mt Eden, it was hard for the views to compare especially as those from Mt Eden had the Sky Tower itself in them. With this in mind we headed up just before sunset to get the best views of the city by day and night. Unfortunately the weather was against us and cloud cover did not give the best views, however it was nice to see the sun go down and the city below light up. As the Sky Tower is one of Auckland's must see sights we had to take a trip to the top but if we had to choose between the tower or Mt Eden for the best view the volcano would win.

Volcanos Galore

Auckland's built on 50 volcanoes and they are not all extinct, with the last one erupting only 600 years ago. Auckland is an active hot spot and one day the hot stuff down below will bubble to the surface again, unfortunately nobody can predict when. We just hope that when it does it is not too devastating to those that live here. Take care Auckland! We have already said before in our blog there are a few places that one day we might return but this time we really hope to come back one day, and we don't mean for a few hours when we change planes in a months' time!

Ta Ta for now

Team Chip

Hostel Review

We stayed at Base Hostel in a double private with shared bathroom. Although Base promotes itself as a party hostel, as our room was on the 10th floor and the activities happen either on the 3rd floor or in the basement we were not disturbed but the festivities. The best thing about the hostel was its location right on Queen's Street, just 2 blocks away from the Sky Tower and under 10 minutes to the harbour. Although our room was very basic it did have a fridge but unfortunately was badly let down by its bed and is in a competition with Beijing for the most uncomfortable bed of the whole journey. The best thing about the hostel was its location and the great cheap bar in the basement that had drinks for just $3 until 11pm.


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