Roughing it in New Zealand

1 Sep

Diary of my adventures in the land of rugby (9 August – 1 November 2011)

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Auckland is Getting Ready for Rugby!
9-17 August 2011

Auckland

Kia Ora! A city welcomes you… but don’t mind the finishing touches. Fresh paint here, new cobblestones there, banners and posters everywhere. The city is in a buzz. Even my hostel was smelling (bad) of fresh paint and a guy was going around the floors speckling.  So much to do so little time.

Auckland will host the very first game of the Rugby World Cup on September 9, as well as all the finals at the end of October. As the banners say, the World Is Here to Play! Not everybody is excited about the games, but tourism will be good!

Everyone will tell you that Auckland is not the most exciting city in New Zealand. I can see why. On my first evening there, hunting for food along the cold main street, I was shaking my head: Burger King, MacDonald, Wendy’s, another Burger King, several Subways, and Starbucks. Is that the heart of Auckland?!

Plenty of shops, food bars (one or two tables on the sidewalk) from around the world, a cinema with American blockbusters, but no character. Its
name is Queen Street. I am telling you so you can avoid it and find the real Auckland.

Walk along the water, admire the boats, eat at a restaurant with a splendid view of a rusting old boat and redefine charm.  For example, a brand new children’s playground next to the industrial harbour may be charming to the Kiwis, and I, the ignorant Swiss, can’t see it.

Explore Victoria Park and Albert Park. I would actually recommend you avoid the former and learn more about the latter: it was a volcano and is now a charming green space with amazing Bunyan trees. Let the trunks and roots hypnotize you. Look at the fountain. Observe the students from the nearby university. Relax. Forget that Victoria was the real queen and Albert just the husband, but her park is full of mud and the brand  new playground (told you Aucklanders are revamping the town, rugby fans’ children are not forgotten) facing… old decrepit buildings and parking lot. A giant toad says hello. I am too harsh; I heard that behind the façade is a nice market. Next time.

The real heart of Auckland is easy to find, you just have to make a little effort to deserve it. Hop on the green bus for NZ$ 1.80 and enjoy the loop around the city. The inner suburbs are lively and bustling with smiling people, especially the ones coming out of Chocolate Boutique Café. Enjoy a decadent brunch and burn the calories exploring the Auckland museum (or stop by its wonderful toilets). Pay your respects at the War Memorial or play with the water feature with excited children, and enjoy the rolling hills of the Domain.

Pay NZ$4.50 for the blue bus to take you to the outer suburbs. Okay fine, that adventure was a disaster but I discovered the real Auckland in its suburb Onehunga, with its main stre- (yep, that short), welcoming cafes and just regular people minding their own business. Just try to avoid being caught in the rain storm on a cold day. Sigh

Want more? Take the ferry and explore Devonport. It won’t take long but it is worth it. Yes, they have their own chocolate maker and that was my main reason to visit, but the best part of it wasn’t the chocolate treats (NZ chocolate has been disappointing) or the bagel with salmon. No, it was Steve!

He was my guide and since no else showed up I had an exclusive tour… and since no one showed up at the next hour, I had a two-hour tour! He is also a sailor. The community in Devonport is very tight and children are sent to sailing clubs when they start school; growing up on boats. No wonder that Devonport is New Zealand’s sailing capital and you will find its offspring on many world renowned crews. His daughter was mimicking his gestures on the boat when she was barely able to walk, and nowadays she travels the world with her husband to deliver new yachts.

I met his youngest son who was sanding their boat before repainting it. Steve had all kinds of stories and he would point at people and say who they were and what they were doing (these ladies were at their yoga class). He showed me the house he almost bought as a newlywed and the crumbling shack he almost bought a week earlier. He gave me his number and said he would take me sailing next time I was in Auckland!

We walked around the two hills overseeing the town (volcanoes of course). We saw a short documentary on the discovery (first the Maori and later on Europeans) and development of New Zealand until today. Fascinating really, because it’s truly a new country! I am so used to
visiting places with history going back thousands and thousands of years. The volcanoes are certainly that old but no one was around. Hard to imagine two huge islands, uninhabited. Nowadays there are 4.3 million people living here.
Plenty of space!

People often compare New Zealand to Switzerland, and I am here to check. One thing they certainly have in common is that the bustling stops early: shops start closing at 6pm. I’ll have to explore a bit more, but I did not think their handmade chocolates were all that. They may need a Swiss expert to guide them…

Anyway, it was a fantastic week and the best moments were with humans of course. Steve the sailor/guide who showed me Auckland’s heart, Fabio my hostel mate who made evenings fun, and Olivier my former colleague who took me out on my last night in Auckland and his last night in NZ before flying back to Port Vila. He spent 10 days in snowy South Island.

No TV, half decent chocolate. Roughing it in New Zealand…

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2 Responses to “Roughing it in New Zealand”

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  1. Home « Traveling Tastebuds - 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011

    […] New Zealand was an experiment. I had never backpacked anywhere. Yes, I had stayed in hostels for a night here and there in transit, but crisscrossing a country for three months was new. I was a bit worried about how my homebody self would handle it, but the adventurous side of me made sure that I would take breaks. I treated myself to a bed-and-breakfast three times, and stayed ten days in Te Anau’s YHA to recover from a persistent cold. I was actually sad to leave in November but happy that I had gotten a new contract in Vanuatu. […]

  2. Winning IvyPrez Idol Can Get you Far « Travelling Tastebuds - 15 J0000003Australia/Sydney 2011

    […] my way to the Pacific in 2011 for the next Rugby Cup World. Well I did: I spent three months in New Zealand cheering the Irish, and then the All […]

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