Tuesday, May 24, 2016

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND: Things to see and do in town

When planning my recent trip to New Zealand’s largest city, I expected to find plenty of things to see and do. As it turned out, there is as much to do outside of Auckland as there is within its borders.

I arrived in Auckland after taking the world’s longest passenger flight (#WLPF), the route between Dubai (DXB) and Auckland International Airport (AKL). U.A.E.-based carrier #Emirates began flying the 8,825-mile route on March 1, and provided me with passage so I could experience the flight. The opportunity to see and experience Auckland was a bonus.

Auckland Sky Tower
A mid-sized city of 1.3 million people on the country’s north island, Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city with 32.4 percent of the country’s population, according to the 2013 census as reported by Statistics New Zealand. That makes it the largest city of the 16 regions in New Zealand.

According to local lore, there was a T-shirt some years ago that read, “Auckland: Sydney for beginners.” Today, many locals prefer to think of it as Seattle without so much rain.

The Seattle comparison might have been more appropriate 30 years ago before the tech and building boom brought on by the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and other high-profile companies. Still, there are similarities. Auckland has Sky Tower and Seattle has the Space Needle. Both cities are on bodies of water. Both have many islands that can be reached by short boat rides and where visitors can enjoy small towns that range from quaint to funky.

Before the construction of Sky Tower, Auckland was struggling to find an identity but today, advertisements in bus shelters, magazines and other publications herald Sky Tower as “an emblem” and the city’s symbol tower, just as the Space Needle from the 1962 World’s Fair is Seattle’s emblem.

SkyWalking on the Sky Tower
Construction on the tower was completed in 1997 and today, it is an iconic as the Space Needle, Toronto’s CN Tower, the London Eye and Big Ben, or the Sydney Opera House. At 328 meters, or 1,076 feet, from ground level to the top of the mast, it is the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

The observation deck is located 220 meters above the ground. In addition, Sky Tower offers three restaurants and cafes including the obligatory revolving restaurant named Orbit 360˚, a more chic and elegant establishment called The Sugar Club, and a casual venue that serves beverages and snacks called the Sky Cafe.

Adrenaline junkies will appreciate two activities offered at Sky Tower: the Sky Walk and the Sky Jump. Yes, I said “jump.”

The Sky Jump
The Sky Walk pictured above allows guests to walk in the open air around the ring near the level of the observation deck. Participants are tethered for their safety, but it’s still a long way down. (Photo courtesy www.skywalk.co.nz)

More hard-core thrill seekers may choose the Sky Jump. Guests’ descents are controlled by a wire but their falls aren’t slowed until they are relatively close to the ground. Passersby on the streets below inevitably look up when they hear the screams of those hardy (or is it “foolhardy”) souls who choose to take the plunge.

Sky Tower is situated in an area dubbed SKYCITY Auckland, an entertainment venue at ground level that is home to two world-class hotels, the city’s premier dining precinct with over 20 bars and restaurants, a 700 seat theater and a casino.

Auckland is home to a university, several parks, lovely churches, and other attractions including Mount Eden, an extinct volcano that overlooks the city from south of the downtown area. There are also museums, including the New Zealand Maritime Museum which a long-time friend recommended, and other attractions including abundant shopping. The lower end of Queen Street near the Ferry Terminal is like a mini-Rodeo Drive with high-end shops like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Prada and other upmarket retailers.

St. Matthew-in-the-City
Auckland struck me as a very clean city. There was very little litter about and, at least within the downtown and Queen Street core areas, very little graffiti. A representative of the Visitor Information Centre at Queens Wharf told me the city is quite aggressive about removing graffiti when it turns up but candidly admitted there are areas of the city where it is much more prevalent than in the central business district, areas where "You probably wouldn't want to go," she added.

Getting around Auckland is fairly easy. The city is small enough that one can walk many places and hop on buses for others. However, even locals I spoke to acknowledge that the local public bus system is a bit confusing.

 Auckland Transport operates three different bus lines: CityLink for getting around the city center, InnerLink for getting around the inner city (describing areas that are “close in” and not to be confused with U.S. “inner cities”), and OuterLink to get around the outer suburbs. Each has its own fare structure, so carry plenty of coins for maximum flexibility.

Unnamed sculpture at Symonds Street Cemetary
Bus transportation includes SkyBus, which travels between the city center and Auckland International Airport for NZ$16 each way. Round-trip, or “return,” tickets represent a bit of a savings over two one-way fares. While I enjoyed Emirates’ chauffeur drive service from AKL to my hotel, The Langham, I found SkyBus to be both a convenient and pleasant way to get back to the airport.

I caught the bus at a stop about two blocks from my hotel, paid the driver as I entered, and was at the airport in about 25 minutes. In addition, SkyBus offers free Wi-Fi so I was able to catch up on my email en route as well as follow my progress using the Google Maps app.

There is also much to do just outside of Auckland. More on that in my next installment.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek unless otherwise noted
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