Islands, volcanoes and views...Auckland an unsung New Zealand destination
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – We hear a lot about bungee jumping and hot springs in Rotorua and those oh-so wonderful pinot noir wines from Otago and the sauvignon blancs from Marlborough.
But even a travel guy who should know better finds himself in this wonderful country and gets surprised at the sheer variety of the place. Auckland, for example, gets vastly overshadowed by the “usual” tourist spots in New Zealand, not to mention the attention that gets showered on cities such as Sydney by visitors such as Oprah Winfrey.
It doesn’t have an opera house to rival Sydney or a series of streets like Toronto’s Queen West or, at least as far as I can see, a Yorkville or a Greenwich Village. But it’s a city blessed with positively amazing geography.
It’s built on and around a series of (I think) mostly dormant volcanoes, although they say Rangitoto, which sits right across the harbour from downtown, erupted 600 years ago and that’s only a second or two ago if you’re talking in terms of the history of the place.
You get outstanding views of Rangitoto from Mount Victoria, another old volcano where they built military installations many years ago to try to fend off a Russian invasion that I was told never arrived, having been met somewhere along the way by an equally determined Japanese force. You also get great views of downtown (see photo) and of the hugely expansive Hauraki gulf from downtown from Mount Victoria, which sits high above the supremely pleasant suburb of Devonport, with its old-time shops and B and B’s and fine, wooden houses.
Even better is a trip up Mt. Eden, just north of downtown. From there you can stare down into a miniature, dormant crater and also gaze on a 360 view that takes in the sparkling waterways and the islands that surround Auckland and help make this what’s called “The City of Sails.”
The downtown has too busy a harbour – with giant cruise ships and a massive container port – to be called lovely, although the Viaduct (at right and below) has wonderful restaurants and a fine harbour filled with sparkling boats. But there are some nice pockets, including Vulcan St. and the Chancery, and also plenty of nice neighborhoods, such as Parnell with its stunning flower shops and coffee places and, they tell me, fine Thai restaurants.
The Domain is a large park that includes a wonderful museum and fine walking grounds and a winter garden, not that anyone in Auckland really knows what winter feels like.
I’ll have more later, but I’d highly advise anyone who has a day to spend in Auckland (which, by the way, includes about one-third of the entire population of New Zealand), to take a tour by Time Unlimited.
They’re smart and funny and they’ll tailor a tour to include just about anything their group demands. Owners Neil and Ceillhe Sperath are remarkably patient and hospitable and will do anything from Maori tours (she’s part Maori and part Irish, a delightful combination) to kayak/fishing trips and even take you out on a kite-fishing expedition, which involves fishing lines dangling from kites that fly high over the ocean and sounds extremely cool.
They try to do their tours in an environmentally sustainable way, and they have great tour vehicles and great snacks to keep patrons fed and watered. If you ask for an ice cream, or just mention the words “ice” and “cream” in the same sentence, Ceillhe will probably pull her car over faster than you can say Rotorua.
All in all, a pretty good town with a ton of activities all around. You can even bungee jump off Auckland’s Harbour Bridge if you’re so inclined.
More to come later in Star Travel on Auckland, for sure. Stay tuned tomorrow for a report on the joys of nearby Waiheke Island, with its stunning wineries, beaches and art scene. And some fun Canadians.