a few days in Auckland, NZ
12.01.2011 - 14.01.2011 26 °C
These signs are everywhere, posted in the windows of restaurants, bakeries, and an electrical hardware store. Even in the height of the busy summer season, merchants and restauranteurs still take time out to enjoy the holidays with their families and do a bit of traveling.
So, we took off too.
Arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on Wednesday night, I was greeted by the ATM with a wonderful surprise: the receipt had provided the exchange rate between the NZ$ and the AU$ (which at this point was dead even with the US$), and for my NZ$100 withdrawl, my Aussie bank account had only gone down AU$84. Excellent.
Since it was past midnight, we hopped into a shuttle and rode into the city with a few other passengers to the Auckland City Hotel, a charming place located a five-minute walk from the CBD (and thanks to the exchange rate, costing us much less than you'd expect.) Before getting out at our stop, I asked the shuttle driver, an Auckland resident since 1974, where he recommended we grab coffee in the morning - a crucial question, of course. His response? "Oh, I usually just swing by McCafe [the cafe version of McDonald's]. Their coffee isn't too bad." Oh my. We were going to have to do some exploring.
On Thursday, we grabbed coffee and breakfast at a corner cafe called Ronnie's (on Albert Street, haha), where dining options included meat pies, bacon-and-egg croissants, sandwiches, various other egg dishes, and a Down Under specialty: spaghetti on toast. Paddy couldn't believe I'd never seen that before.
With no real plans for the day, we set off to wander around the CBD: shopping on Queen Street (think Union Square-type shopping, but with more Billabong and Rip Curl surf shops), cruising through Albert Park, checking out the University of Auckland (which is gorgeous), and walking along the harbour before stopping for drinks at Mac's Brewbar, where we made a fabulous discovery: New Zealand-brewed beer. Upon learning we were out-of-towners, the bartender walked us through each beer on tap, giving us tastes of any we were curious about. We finally settled on schooners of our two favorites: Sassy Red (an amber ale that, in a blind tasting, may be mistaken for Anchor Steam) and Isaac's Apple Cider (something I'm not usually a fan of, but it was delicious.) Settling into leather couches in the library-themed bar, we relaxed and discussed what we wanted to do in the week ahead. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped for a late lunch at a hidden Korean restaurant called Red Pepper, where we doodled on the wall-length chalkboard alongside French and German messages.
We had planned to go out that night, but within five minutes of leaving the hotel, we were caught in a raging downpour, forcing us to spend the next hour in the Sky City casino (which boasts the tallet sky tower in the southern hemisphere) and blow four bucks on the slot machines. Oh well.
On Friday, we woke up early to pack our backpacks with water and snacks and catch the 7:30 a.m. ferry to Rangitoto Island, the largest of 50 volcanic islands off the coast of Auckland. The early ferry was much cheaper than the 9:15 a.m. one, so we figured that meant we could each enjoy an extra Sassy Red later. However, upon reaching the ticket desk at the dock, we were informed that the 7:30 ferry only runs on weekends. Crap. We shared a laugh at a group of backpackers who arrived just after us to receive the same response, then walked back to the hotel to chill out until the next ferry.
I wish I could say the island was worth all the trouble, but neither Paddy nor I were all that impressed with it. We decided early on to separate from the tourist groups and take the opposite path around the island, walked for 2.5 hours past endless piles of volcanic rock to MacKenzie Beach, where we took naps on the sand and splashed around in the warm Tasman Sea. Another 40-minute hike brought us to the summit of the island, and although the views were lovely, we realized we could have seen the same thing from the top of the Sky Tower - for about the same price. We rewarded ourselves for the long day of hiking with Starbucks frappucchinos.
For dinner, we took a bus to Ponsonby Street: a bustling line of bars, cafes and casual restaurants that had been highly recommended by Lonely Planet (then again, they had also upsold Rangitoto.) Ponsonby was a wonderful find, and we enjoyed our last night in the city at an ourdoor table at The Crib over wine and pizza.
[To see my Auckland photo album, click here]