New Zealand: Auckland

30 03 2009

While New Zealand is not the most foreign country we have ever visited, we certainly consider it to be one of the most adventurous vacations we have taken.  Not only did we see vast mountain ranges, hike rugged coastlines, and kayak on braided rivers, among other things, but New Zealand is also one of the most remote countries we have ever traveled to in terms of distance.  When you fly to the islands of New Zealand, there isn’t much else out there besides Australia, Antarctica, and the Pacific Ocean.  This was our first time in this part of the world and in fact the entire Southern Hemisphere, and it was fascinating to see a different perspective of the world, both geographically and in other ways.  


View of Auckland from the ferry to Waiheke Island.

From our arrival in Auckland to our last port of call in Queenstown, my mind constantly analyzed every scrap of data thrown to my senses in order to attempt to comprehend what made New Zealand unique.  My thoughts were often at odds with each other because so many things were familiar but also completely different.  A strong British influence was indisputable, especially in certain cities, in the accent, and in the driving on the wrong side of the road, but there was also a surprisingly solid Asian presence in certain places, in addition to the enduring Maori imprint. Perhaps not surprisingly, a British colonial spirit in the most positive sense was obvious. The kiwis we met all seemed to have the same friendly, can-do, ready for anything, DIY attitude, which was wonderfully refreshing coming from the US.


A hilly Auckland Street.

My first impression of Auckland was that it was very similar to San Francisco because of its hilly streets and large Asian population.  This was surprising to me because I didn’t think of Auckland as a very ethnically Asian city outside of the Maori population, but there were Asian grocery stores, restaurants, and even karaoke (and of course Asian people) everywhere!  At the same time, Auckland was very unlike San Francisco because its buildings on the whole were more modern, its flora and fauna more exotic, and its streets much cleaner and more inviting.  I of course realize that Auckland doesn’t fit the molds of the cities in my mind because it has its own identity.  However, comparing it with other places I’ve seen is one of the most fun parts of traveling.

We had a full day and a half to explore Auckland, and had a great time just walking around downtown, aka the central business district (CBD).  Since our hotel was near the Auckland domain, we mostly just kept to K street, Queen Street and the surrounding area, and the ferry dock on our walks. 


A neat set of buildings on an Auckland street.

First, we explored the alternative K street (Karangahape Street).  This is a good place to look for stores in which ordinary people shop, like a supermarket, bakery, dollar store, and a Vodaphone shop.  This was labeled alternative by our concierge.  We were confused at first because alternative usually has a different meaning in cities but we figured out that he just meant different from Queen street. 


A supermarket on K Street.


I loved the covered sidewalks on K Street, which reminded me of some Asian cities.


We found karaoke!

After we bought our SIM card at the local Vodaphone shop, we headed down grand Queen Street, the main shopping and business street in Auckland.  This street is similar to Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  First we passed by Myers Park, then Town Hall at the Edge.

 
Myer’s Park in Auckland


Auckland’s Town Hall on Queen Street

 
We saw a neat record store on Queen Street.

Tall modern buildings lined the sides of the very busy Queen Street.

 

The British influence is evident in the arcade style shopping complexes prevalent along Queen St.  This one in particular (below) has a basement that features an Asian food court.  It looked pretty authentic from what I could tell!

 
A British style shopping arcade in Auckland.

There was almost a European feel to the inviting streets and sidewalk cafes. Perhaps some of this could be attributed to the smaller scale of things in Europe versus the mega skyscrapers of big cities in the US.

This avenue off of Queen Street is one of the areas that reminded me a lot of San Francisco.

At some point while in Auckland you may notice a giant space needle.  This is the famous Auckland Sky Tower, the highest structure in the Southern Hemisphere and part of the SkyCity casino complex.  There is a really yummy cafe on the ground floor of the casino building.  Do not confuse the SkyCity Casinos on Federal Street with the SkyCity Cinemas, which are on Queen Street.  The Sky Tower is on the corner of  Federal and Victoria St.


Auckland’s Sky Tower

We went to the Sky Tower’s observation deck, which is well worth the views.  The only thing is that the glass is tinted blue, so all my photos came out with a bluish tinge.  Below you can see all the buildings we just walked past.  In the top right corner is the angular Auckland town hall.  Queen Street is easily distinguished by the large Coca Cola sign and the tall building with golden windows.

 

On the day we were in Auckland, the Queen Mary 2 was docked at the harbor.

Behold, the skyscrapers of Auckland’s Central Business District!  If you look at this photo closely, you will notice someone hanging a few feet below us in the air.

That’s right, as a visitor, you have the option of experiencing the Sky Tower via an outdoor drop from the top to the street level, connected only by a rope.  This is how we KNEW we were in New Zealand!  Those crazy kiwis and their adventure sports!  

 

Your goal is to hit the bulls eye on the street.

Alternatively, you can elect to take a walk along the narrow walkway surrounding the top of the Sky Tower as these brave souls have below.  We did neither, since we are wimps.  

Following our visit to the Sky Tower, we walked down to the ferry (more in a later post) and then headed over to Albert Park, the home of the University of Auckland.  Albert Park has some wonderful trees and gardens.

There we spotted some exquisite architecture, including the famous clock tower.

The palm trees here just makes this cottage look so colonial.

From the university, we meandered our way back to our hotel, passing dormitories, libraries, and other collegiate bildings.  Students walked past us chatting about classes, exchanging notes and numbers, and wearing their ever present bookbags and messenger bags.  What a wonderful way to end our walking tour of central Auckland.

After a quick rest in our hotel room, we decided to head to Parnell for dinner.  We had read about Parnell in our guidebook, which described it as a trendy and posh neighborhood in Auckland known for its high end boutiques and gourmet restaurants.  Parnell reminded us a lot of Lincoln Park, our old neighborhood in Chicago, but a little fancier.  


Victorian signage adversiting cafes and boutiques line the sidewalks in Parnell. 



Parnell’s iconic telephone booth is situated next to a chocolate boutique cafe.



Although everything in NZ is well maintained, Parnell’s quaint, well manicured shops take it to the next level.

We walked from one end of Parnell Road to the other before deciding on Iguacu as our restaurant of choice for dinner. This restaurant received excellent reviews online so we were excited to try it. We were not disappointed – every course we had was fantastic, especially the appetizer.  We were lucky to have such a strong dollar!


Our large and delicious appetizer, the tasting platter, was worth every penny.



Iguacu’s signature pork belly main dish.



Oven roasted lamb rump



  Chocolate tower filled with mixed berry mousse

Although we didn’t come to New Zealand for the cities per se, we had a perfect “city” day in Auckland.  We were impressed with Auckland and found it to be both aesthetically pleasing and pleasant to explore.  Its interesting mix of buildings and cultures, numerous green areas and parks, walkable scale, and world class dining, all added up to a truly cosmopolitan city.  

As city dwellers ourselves it is always interesting to see and experience cities in other countries.  For every new city I visit, I not only gather another data point for my internal analysis of foreign cities, but I also absorb an experience – that atmosphere that just cannot be quantified.  The ultimate compliment I can give to Auckland is that I can see myself living there.

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Quick Update

26 03 2009

Whew! The last couple of weeks have been simply crazy for me. After returning from New Zealand two weeks ago, I had to turn right around and head to Taiwan to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I am finally back in Chicago. As I slowly get over a particularly bad bout of jet lag, I will finally begin posting about my travels over the last month or so. Thank you for being patient and sorry for the delay!





Postcard from Middle Earth

7 03 2009

Charles and I are still in New Zealand, but I thought I would send a postcard to give you a taste of what is to come. Despite some uncooperative weather, New Zealand has been amazing so far. The scenery is even more dramatic and unspoiled than we expected, and the people have been among the friendliest and warmest we have met.

From New Zealand

A view from Edoras, Capital of Rohan (Mt. Sunday, Erehwon).

Click on the link above for a few more teaser shots. Unfortunately, our internet access is not fast enough for me to upload more photographs. But don’t worry, I will get them up eventually!  I will also take this moment to introduce my new camera, the Canon Rebel Xsi (450D).  This is my first SLR camera, and I am loving it so far!








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