Friday, 2 March 2012

Aotearoa: the land of the long white cloud

Kia Ora from New Zealand! After an action packed couple of weeks in Singapore and Australia, it’s been down to some more serious business for the last few days with setting up banks accounts and applying for IRD numbers (or tax numbers), as well as scoping out potential motors. However, it’s not all been plain sailing in the City of Sails, especially when you’re treated like “The Great Unwashed” (Lizzie’s new phrase) when trying to set up a bank account… the main culprits being the front desk staff at ANZ and the National Bank, who aren’t even New Zealand owned despite being “the National Bank”. Based on a recommendation we opened an account with Kiwibank who are part of the New Zealand Post and they were much more helpful and welcoming.

The area we’re currently staying in is a suburb west of the city called Ponsonby, which kind of reminds me a little of St Kilda in Melbourne in that it's quite a popular place to be, but it doesn't have the same effortless coolness or pretentious yuppies.

View of the old Ponsonby Post Office against the city skyline

Since we’ve arrived in Auckland we haven’t had many opportunities to explore the city apart from frequently walking down Queens St and past the Sky Tower on numerous occasions. It’s hard to miss the Sky Tower as it dominates the city skyline, especially as it’s the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

The impossible-to-miss Sky Tower from Ponsonby

Buying a car in New Zealand seems a little less straightforward than at home, especially as all the cars within our budget seem to be 20 years old and have over 200,000 kms on the clock. I’m guessing this is fine if your expectations are low are and you don’t mind owning a car which has changed hands more times than Mario Balotelli has been sent off in his career (!) but having a car really does open up your opportunities for sightseeing around New Zealand as regular public transport outside the big cities can be non-existent.

After checking out Auckland City Car Fair we headed over to the Auckland Domain, which is the site of the Pukekawa volcano. This covers an area of 80 hectares and contains sports fields, formal gardens, sculptures and the Wintergarden. As it was quite a hot day we decided to start off in the cool house to check out the collection of temperate plants, before heading into the hot house and the relative shade of the fernery where we saw the iconic silver fern – the national symbol of New Zealand.

The "Lover's Walk" track at Auckland Domain

View of the tropical hot house at the Wintergardens

Walking through the Domain we headed over to the Auckland Museum (Tamaki Paenga Hira), an impressive neo-classical building which is also home to the war memorial. The views from the top of the hill were excellent as you could see all the way across to the harbourside suburb of Devonport.

The Auckland Museum is considered one of the finest Greco-Roman buildings in the Southern Hemisphere

On a separate occasion, we took a short trip out of the city to Mt Eden (Maungawhau) as this is the highest  volcanic cone in Auckland at 196m. The 360o views from the top were truly superb and it’s not too challenging a walk to the summit. The main crater is 50m deep and is known as Te Ipu Kai a Mataaho. It’s considered to be sacred and there are several signs warning people not to enter the crater (more for their own safety as it’s quite steep) but inevitably this doesn’t stop the occasional moron venturing down, although one couple were told to stop pretty quickly!

Lizzie by the massive 50 metre deep crater

As tempting as it is, you're not allowed to go in the crater

View looking North to the CBD with the crater in the foreground

Unfortunately, we haven’t covered as much of Auckland as we hoped but I wouldn’t be surprised if a return visit was on the cards soon. The plan for the next couple of days is make our way over to Napier for the Art Deco Weekend via a stop off in Taupo.

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