After a 6 month trip to Japan and six weeks of discovering Australia, I flew out from Sydney on Sunday the 5th of June and arrived New Zealand! Ah! The land of beautiful scenery, hiking, Middle-earth, Mordor and Hobbit holes! I’ve been wanting to go there for such a long time! Ever since I saw the “Lord of the Rings” by Peter Jackson about fifteen years ago.
New Zealand (Aotearoa in Maori, which could be translated as “Land of the long white cloud”) is a country consisting of two main islands (North and South) which were one of the last territories to be discovered by man. Maori from Polynesia settled here from the 8th century, before being settled by the Europeans who landed in 1642. For many years it was a British colony before fully gaining independence in 1947. It has many native flora and fauna including the Silver Fern, which is a national emblem of the country and the Kiwi (also an national emblem) which is a flightless bird very dear to the heart of New Zealanders. They even refer as themselves “Kiwi”.
After a 3 hour flight, I arrived in Auckland – the largest city of the country. The weather is wonderful and I am particularly happy to be here. I drop my stuff off at my hostel, the Haka Lodge Auckland which is a very friendly hostel, full of charm, with everything you need and very well located. If you come to Auckland, I definitely recommend the place! I then decided to go out and explore the city center.
Auckland is the largest city of the country, situated on an isthmus and built around fifty volcanoes. It was first discovered by the Maori around 1350 and named Tamaki Makau Rau (“Battle of the hundred lovers”) referring to many tribal wars that took place in the region. The first European settler to settle there was a Scottish man named John Logan Campbell in 1840.
Auckland is a city like all major cities in the world. It has many large buildings apartments, shops and businesses, but for me I felt it had a certain special charm to it. Maybe it’s because the center is not very big and so its atmosphere is quieter than a bigger city? Maybe it’s the beautiful architecture of some of the older buildings or the the presence of the Sky Tower (a gigantic radio/television tower) that dominates the city? I do not know. But what I do know, is that I liked the city instantly! I stroll along the marina at dusk and wander through different areas like Queen Street, Patrick’s Cathedral and the Wynyard district with its warehouses which have been converted into residential housing. The harbor lights and the Sky Tower illuminate the city. There is a different atmosphere here. Yes, I am in New Zealand.
I spend the five next days walking quietly around the city, and exploring its different neighborhoods, all the while beginning to experience the Maori culture and its influence through the names of the streets and neighborhoods. Whether it’s Posonby, a very charming neighborhood just out of the city center, or Orakei along on the coast, full of luxurious houses – I like this city more and more.
I also had several very friendly encounters with Sophie, a young French woman who just landed in the land of the Kiwis and is going to do an internship of four months in Dunedin (in the South Island), and two Indian guys studying in Auckland, who I met while waiting at the bus stop on my way back to the city after an evening stroll around Orakei.
I like the quiet, laid back aspect of the city, the close proximity to nature, the beautiful landscapes and the bay with its many islands. Several people told me that there is not much to do in Auckland, well that’s not true! There are lots of lovely walks and a lot of activities just waiting for you. The problem (especially for me being on a tight budget), is that most of these activities are not free and are actually quite expensive.
Among the beautiful walks I did, my adventure to the volcanic Rangitoto Island in the Hauraki Gulf, a 30 minute ride by ferry from Auckland, was one of my favourites. Rangitoto is the newest and largest of the 50 volcanoes in and around Auckland. The walk through lava fields (partially covered by vegetation) to the summit of the volcano was a great experience. The ferry ride offered a nice view of Devonport, which is a small historic village now part of Auckland.
The Coast to Coast Walkway, a 16km hike 16km through the city of Auckland was also a very nice discovery. The trail goes through all the oldest parts of the city and climbs five of the most remarkable volcanoes located around the city center. The view of Auckland from Mount Eden with its crater in the foreground is worth seeing. Mount Eden (in Maori, Maungawhau) is with 196m above sea level and the highest volcanic peak in the city.
The One Tree Hill, by its Maori name Maungakiekie is another volcanic hill of historical importance since the Maori had built a “pa” (fortified village) in the crater. It’s also at the foot of the obelisk, which is at the top of the hill that is located the tomb of John Logan Campbell. Cows and sheep graze along the slopes of the hill. Animals in the city center! Definitively New Zealand !
I also spent a lovely afternoon at the Auckland Museum located atop a hill in the beautiful park called the Auckland Domain. The columns of the museum façade reminds me of ancient Greek temples. The exhibitions dedicated to Maori culture, and New Zealand’s native flora and fauna have a lot of interesting information and this is by far what I liked most about the museum. For example, did you know that New Zealand is home to the largest parrot in the world? The Kakapo is a huge parrot that can not fly and is nocturnal and solitary. It breeds only once every 3-5 years depending on the amount of food it finds.
Needless to say, the beginning of my journey has started off very well and despite being winter, the weather was rather pleasant. Not too much rain and beautiful sunlight. But after five days in Auckland it’s time to go visit the rest of the country. North Island here I come!
A big thank you to Roman Modzelewski for helping me with the english translation !