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New Zealand: Auckland, Christchurch, Milford Sound, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Rotorua
Auckland, New Zealand: Culturally mixed
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The cosmopolitan city has energy unique to the personality of its people. A quick walk down Queen Street and youíll experience, first hand, the cultural mix of this city. European, Asian and Polynesian influences are reflected in its fashion and cuisine. Auckland, however, is more popularly known as the City of Sails.
We left Rotorua at 8 AM. It was a 240 kms drive and we estimated around 4 hours to cover the distance. You see, the New Zealand landscape doesnít allow you to speed even if the road gives you the permission. For sake of records, when speed limit signs are not there, 100 km/hr is the upper limit.
Highway 1 would be the fastest way to hit New Zealandís biggest city. However, wherever possible we took a more scenic route, essentially highway 1B. Just past noon we were at the doors of Skycity Grand Hotel Ė indeed one of the finest and the tallest in town. Our room was on the 16th floor overlooking the Westhaven Marina, the Harbour Bridge and the Skycity Tower. The first thing that attracted attention was a man falling down from the tower, right in front of our window. Well, nothing to worry. It was a jump from the tower. And you need to pay for the thrill of course.
First things first. Soon after we checked in, we had to return our car. The Hertz city centre was just 5 minutes away on the Victoria Street. After completing the paperwork (takes about 45 seconds), we were on our own. No more cars; but who needs in the city anyway. Auckland has a City Circuit bus thatís free for all. The bus loops around CBD area every 10 minutes. Like my usual practice, taking such rides gives you a little feel of the town coming in handy to plan for the days ahead. The bus passed through some Auckland landmarks including Britomart, Queen Street, University, AUT, Sky Tower (thatís where we hopped on) and finally back again on Queen Street (thatís where we got down).
Queen Street is probably the most happening road in town. Landmark buildings, well known business houses, fashion boutiques, shopping arcades, restaurants, bars, etc all add to the glory. Itís a long street terminating at the Hubson Wharf. We decided to walk all the way up to the Ferry Building and returned back to the hotel after ample of window shopping.
No trip to Auckland would be complete without a visit to Westhaven Marina and the Harbour Bridge just beyond. However, the only way to reach the location is hiring a cab. The walk from downtown would take at least 30 minutesÖ certainly not worth. $15 would do the trick instead. We took a cab and alighted at Sails restaurant (Aucklandís premium sea food joint) and began our walk exploring the marina. Hundreds and hundreds of yachts were neatly parked making for an excellent foreground to the Auckland Skyline behind. Some of the good yachts were on sale too. Anyway, we were not out shopping. We walked all the way up near the edge of the Harbour Bridge. Unlike in Sydney (the bridge would certainly remind you of the Sydney icon) you canít walk on the bridge. Back at the Sails restaurant, we called for a cab to bring us back to the hotel.
We next visited the observatory, situated 192 meters above ground. The entry to Skycity Tower is $25 per person. However, we saved that since we were issued complimentary passes whilst check-in. We spent an hour overlooking Auckland. Dinner that night was at Raviz, on the corner of Hobson Street. The restaurant serves excellent Indian cuisine.
There are many islands, near and far, from Auckland. A visit to one of these is certainly a good idea. The next morning we decided to explore Waiheke Island, just 35-minute cruise away. Fullers are Aucklandís popular ferry service provider. We got a day pass for $49 per person that included the to and fro ferry ticket, a 90-minute guided tour of the Waiheke Island and the opportunity to use the Islandís bus service for the day. Just the ferry ride would have cost $35. Many tourists prefer to hire a car on the Island and many prefer to hire bicycles Ė I believe that would be the best way to discover this little island Ė paradise - as my bus driver preferred to call it.
We boarded the 10AM Fullers ferry from pier 1 at the Princess Wharf. It was a jet powered catamaran with comfortable sitting arrangement and a little corner that served some snacks and beverages. Itís a good idea to hold a coffee and hop on to the catamaranís upper deck to check the fading Aucklandís skyline. Mind you, the wind could easily blow away the fragile!
In just about 35 minutes we were at the Matiatia Bay pier. The bus was waiting for us to show us around. Waiheke is a stunning island that boasts 92 square km of beautiful beaches, vineyards, olive groves, art galleries and laid back seaside villages. From ocean kayaking and mountain biking to bush walking and picnics on the beach, there are many ways to enjoy the islandís natural beauty. However, we were good in our bus. The driver did a great job with the tour. He gave us enough information and the opportunities to hop down to take pictures.
After about 45 minutes drive, we took a break at Palm Beach, overlooking the Mawhitipana Bay. Fries and ice-cream at Charley Farleys was a nice way to satisfy the hunger. By the way, if you have the time on the Island do visit Mudbrick Vineyard and RestaurantÖ I am told thatís one of the things to do out there in Waiheke. The bus tour continued around the island, providing us with views of its many bays. We alighted in the townís market place. After walking around and shopping for some curios, we took the islandís bus back to the pier to catch the 3PM ferry back to Auckland. Ferries run every hour by the hour.
At the ferry terminal is the Britomart Ė Aucklandís bus and train station. However, we took the City Link (green coloured bus) to reach Parnel Ė an up market suburb of Auckland. The neighbourhood is flush with art galleries, restaurants and boutique stores. We walked for a while in Parnel before taking another City Link bus back to Skycity. Every hop costs you $1.80 a head, unless of course you opt for a day pass that costs $15 a day. That didnít fit into our maths.
We reached hotel at 5PM. After a little rest we were ready to explore further. My goal was to catch the Auckland skyline by night. And to do that the best location would be from Devonport Ė an island only 12-minute ferry ride away. So, we were on the 7PM ferry to Devonport. After alighting at the pier, we walked around a bit before setting up my camera to catch the setting sun. Actually, a good idea was to walk up Mt. Victoria, a little hill in Devonport for a better view. I was a bit tired and avoided the walk. However, as the sun went down and the city lightís came up, I witnessed one of the finest city views.
After the clicks, we took the 8:30PM ferry back to Auckland. Dinner was at Raviz. It was early to bed thereafter. My flight home would leave early in the morning. The wakeup call was set at 4AM.
Auckland Image Gallery Photo viewer
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