The Auckland skyline with the office towers of downtown and the futuristic Sky Tower.

Part two of a three part series on New Zealand’s North Island

 

The 1,075-foot Sky Tower provides a distinctive signature to the Auckland skyline.

      

Hillside neighborhoods have panoramic views of Wellington and its scenic setting.

In terms of size, it’s something of an unfair comparison.  With a metropolitan area of more than two million (about half the national population), sprawling Auckland is New Zealand’s commercial and financial capital. It’s highrise towers, capped by the futuristic 1,075-foot Sky Tower, give it a big city skyline.  With a population of 300,000, Wellington, the nation’s capital, is a Honolulu-sized city, with a downtown mix of high-rise and government buildings. Like Auckland, it faces a great bay with access to the open ocean, but surrounding mountains work to maintain the city’s expansion, a plus in the eyes of Wellingtonians. AUCKLAND

Arriving at dawn, with Auckland, right center, below.

Situated on the shores of the Hauraki Gulf, which almost bisects North Island, metropolitan Auckland sprawls over coastal flatlands and dozens of volcanic hills, extending its reach to bedroom communities on islands that dot the gulf and are reached by ferry.

Auckland is located where Hauraki Gulf nearly bisects North Island. Centrally located, it is about 2.5 hours from the Bay of Islands and 3.5 hours to Rotorua, North Island's two most famous destinations,

       At 1,075-feet, futuristic Sky Tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.

The upper floors of the Sky Tower offer panoramic views and several sky-high adventure options.

( It’s not only the city’s defining landmark, it is also a key attraction, both for the panoramic views it affords of the city and its surroundings, and as a jumping platform for the surprisingly varied mix of people forking over about $125US to be harnessed in for a guide-wired plunge to a waiting attendant on the small wooden platform at street level, where they land.  If a free-fall adrenalin rush isn’t your thing, you

A wave en route from Sky Tower summit.

can don a space-age moonsuit and catwalk the tower’s exterior summit for about $100.  The pursuit of vertiginous thrills in this land where bungee jumping began remains a Kiwi passion.          

Old and new. Downtown is domianted by 21st centiury highrises, but neighborhoods like Ponsonby retain the feel and scale of earlier times.

Downtown Auckland has a somewhat generic 21st century urban feel, glass-sheathed and highrise, with an occasional building of historic interest that survived the growth of the past 20 years. Beyond downtown, the city is a patchwork of neighborhoods, some of which were independent, encompassed by the city as it grew.  Several retain a Victorian feel, with Ponsonby and Parnell Village a reminder of old Auckland, with galleries and boutiques to browse and eateries to enjoy, making them daytime or evening locales. Newmarket offers a mix of high-end retailers, many with internationally known brands, as well as upscale restaurants. All three attract a mix of locals and visitors.           My most impressive Auckland  “find” was the island of Waiheke, a scenic 45-minute ferry ride to the east of downtown.

A ferry departs dowtnown's hisgtoric Ferry Terminal heading to Waiheke Island.

Departing the historic ferry terminal, the cityscape rises from the waterfront, fading to a sharp-edged

Auckland rises in Oz-like silhouette.

silhouette as the ferry passes Rangitoto Island, a nature preserve (also accessible by ferry) with

Volcanic Rangototo is a natural preserve within minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland.

hiking trails that lead to a conical summit that’s an obvious clue to its volcanic origin a mere 600 -800 years ago, a time frame that reveals Auckland’s potential vulnerability to Pele’s power. The grassy pu`u that are part of the cityscape are further evidence of a not-too-distant volcanic past.        

Oneroa Beach, one of several on Waiheke.

Nothing so apocalyptic comes to mind on Waiheke Island, a casually sophisticated retreat of vineyards and roses, beaches and tropic-hued waters 45 scenic minutes from downtown Auckland, visible in silhouette on the western horizon. bed-and-breakfast options that make it worth considering as an overnight option.        

The Devonport ferry returns to downtown.

Closer at hand…a mere 10 minutes from downtown, Devonport preserves a village feel, making it nice for an afternoon visit and dinner, with an evening ferry ride back to downtown, the night-lit skyline reflecting the gulf’s dark waters. 

Sprawling Auckland: The view toward the northeastern suburbs. The metropolitan area is home to half the country's people.

A still-widening network of suburbs surround the city, accommodating a population that now includes immigrants from Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Taiwan and China, as well as a large population of foreign students from these and other countries.

Kiwi reserve quickly surrenders to shared smiles. A chance encounter in the street. Wellington suburbs.

It’s a mix that adds a cosmopolitan feel to the city, where many restaurants and businesses are run by this new generation of immigrants. DINING & ACCOMMODATIONS Check out www.beeflambnz.co.nz/index.pl?page=restaurant_directory&m=232  for a take on Auckland (and other North Island) restaurants worth considering.  I stayed with friends and ate in most nights, but their recommends for Auckland were Vinnie’s in Herne Bay and Iguacu in Parnell.         As for hotels, the Langham and the Stamford Plaza are good in-town choices—classy and well established. The Devonport Hotel is a comfortable alternative within a 10-minute ferry ride (or a 20-minute drive) from downtown Auckland. There are also mostly pricey bed-and breakfast options on Waiheke Island, which has something of a Marin County feel. GETTING AROUND   There is an excellent bus system that makes center city easily accessible, with well-priced day passes. Time Frame for a Visit: Two or three days if you make a day of it on both Rangitoto and Waiheke islands.   WELLINGTON        

Wellington from the top of Victoria Peak,

Like Auckland, Wellington faces a great bay that provides it with direct access to the open ocean.  Unlike Auckland, Wellington is surrounded by steep mountains that provide a natural limit to its growth, with 164,000 people within city limits and another 300,000 in the region.  

Wellington is located on the southernmost end of North Island,

Scenically situated on North Island’s southernmost coast, a mere 20-30 miles across the Cook Strait from South Island, which is linked to Wellington by ferry service across sometimes choppy seas. Air New Zealand offers inter-island service to Christchurch, South Island’s largest city.

Facing north from the summit of Victoria Peak.

      

The tram railway makes its way to the Wellington Biotanical Gardens. A free shuttle links the Garden & the Zealandia eco-preserve.

A tram links downtown to the hillside summit of the Wellington Botanical Garden, providing another scenic perspective of the city and its surroundings. Meandering pathways provide a long-but-beautiful descent back to the city. Free shuttle service links the

The Zealandia eco-preserve provides more than 400 acres dedicated to restoring native flora and fauna. It is home to many native bird species seen in a walk through the grounds.

summit garden with Zealandia, a 400+-acre nature preserve that is home to a variety of rare native birds. Feeding plaforms and a forest wired for birdsong, attract the native mountain parrot and other rare species that make sightings likely. An informative museum takes aim at New Zealand’s botanical past.        As in Hawaii, human settlement, habitat destruction (about 80% of North Island’s native forest was destroyed and converted to pasture between 1840 and 1900), and the introduction of non-native predators have decimated native bird populations. Kiwi, the flightless bird that is an iconic symbol of the country and which once number in the millions are now reduced to an estimated 50,000, their survival aided by a number of hatching facilities that save vulnerable chicks from predators like cats and dogs.     

The magnificent5 feather cloak and helmet given to Captain James Cook by Big Island ali`i nui Kalanikupule in 1777 is one of the treasures at the Te Papa National Museum.

       Nearby, ferries depart for islands in the Wellington Bay, with Days Bay, with beaches and small-town charm, a popular day trip that includes enroute-scenic views of Wellington’s hillside setting.

Maori pride, revealed in traditrional facial tattoos.

Time Frame: Two days for the city proper, three or four if you use Wellington as a base and set out for Wairaparapa’s wine country or an ATV adventures  in the surrounding hills, or a day trip to Days Bay. .    GETTING AROUND

Comfortable electric busses make getting around Wellington easy.

It’s an easy city to circumnavigate on foot, passing through the central business district and returning along the harbor-side promenade. Convenient bus service includes day passes that make it easy to get around either downtown or surrounding neighborhoods.     

Winery tours and tastings are centered on Martinborough, about 90 minutes from Wellington.

Tours are offered to the vineyards of the Wairaparapa district centered on the town of Martinborough, about 90 scenic minutes from Wellington by car.  

Martinborough's tasting rooms, restaurants, pubs, and shops, with a wide selection of local vintages for sale make an enjoyable day trip out of Wellington. or en route between Wellington and Auckland.

Boutique wineries line a grid of roads just outside of town, which is a relaxed place to wander and take a break for lunch. The same is true of Greytown, about 20 minutes away, where antiques are the temptation.  

DINING & ACCOMMODATIONS        I stayed at the Museum Art Hotel and found it a recommend for size, facilities, service, and location, with the larger InterContinental an alternative closer to government offices. The trendy restaurants in the vicinity of Courtney Place include Monsoon Poon, a justifiably popular Asia-fusion restaurant with a delicious range of appetizers and entrees. Best meal of my visit: Hippopotamus at the Museum Art Hotel, a five-star experience in terms of setting, service, presentation and taste.  This is contemporary cuisine at its best.  

WOW (World of Wearable Art), a Wellington extravaganza of whimsical couture,attracts entrants from around the world. It's a must see event if you're in town Oct 10-13, 2012. Wellington supports a sizable arts community. Te Papa Tangarewa, (the National Museum), the Botanical Gardens, and Zealandia ecopark all reveal Wellington's creative energy.
A warm welcome for two American visitors.

                                                                                                                                                                          Auckland or Wellington, New Zealanders are  genuinely warm and helpful to visitors.                 

 

USEFUL CONTACTS Guide Book recommend: Lonely Planet: New Zealand’s North Island. Tourism New Zealand:  www.newzealand.com Positively Wellington: www.WellingtonNZ.com  

The road in Taranaki district, half way from Auckland to Wellington. with a passing lane (center) temporairly added to the typical two lanes.

 

 

 

 

 

Car Rentals: Best deal is GO rentals. Round trip between Auckland and Wellington is about 1,000- $1400  miles, depending on the route selected and side trips made.  Roads are well maintained, but usually two lanes wide with occasional passing lanes added. Traffic moves quickly, with 100 km (65 miles) the general, rarely posted, rule. www.gorentals.co.nz>

Allan Seiden:   aseiden@hawaii.rr.com

     

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