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For years we have been flying Air New Zealand to the South Pacific visiting such places as Tahiti, the Cook Islands and Fiji. The Kiwi crews were so nice we always wondered what it would be like to see the birthplace of the airline--Auckland--and we finally got a chance!
New Zealand has very close ties with Polynesia having been settled by folks from that part of the South Pacific who now live here. They're called Maoris and there are 600,000 living in New Zealand. You'll definitely recognize the Polynesian features on many Kiwis.
We chose Emirates Airlines for the roundtrip from Sydney to Auckland and it was a great choice! The business class fare was considerably less than those offered by Qantas and Air New Zealand and the airline, based in Dubai, was absolutely fabulous. Their international business lounge at the Sydney Airport was one of the classiest we've ever seen anywhere in the world. More on Emirates at the bottom of this page for aviation nuts like myself!
The government of New Zealand is perhaps the most anal we've ever run into when it comes to admitting people from other nations into their country. As we checked in at the Emirates desk in Sydney for our flight to Auckland, the agent apologized for the delay in getting clearance from the government of New Zealand to admit us! Your passport numbers must be punched into the computer and you must be given clearance to fly before you even leave for New Zealand or the airlines will not print up a boarding pass! And this is on top of the fact that the airlines require your passport number when you book your reservation to New Zealand! This is anal, sure, but I think it's good. I think it might help keep dangerous or unwanted people out of the U.S. if Washington implemented it. Do allow a little extra time in checking in for your flight to New Zealand.
Our first impression of Auckland was that it was kind of a "Sydney light". It was obviously a lot smaller than Sydney but yet similar. Our hotel, the Auckland Hilton, was right on the harbor (in a very similar spot to the Park Hyatt in Sydney) with a good view of ferries coming and going from the main ferry station. The Hilton sits on the end of a wharf right on the harbour with great views. And it's in an ideal location for restaurants. Many of Auckland's finest and most trendy eateries are just a short walk away. The hotel was lovely and we appreciated the balconies overlooking the busy harbour.
Like in Australia, you'll find the Kiwi people very friendly. They're anxious to talk about their wonderful country and chances are that even while riding in a cab, you'll hear friendly boasts about the country. On the taxi ride to the airport for our flight back to Sydney, our driver was very chatty and helpful. He gave us ideas of where to go on our next visit to New Zealand and even gave us some tour books. It was funny when I asked him how Kiwis got along with Aussies and his reply was something like: "All and all we get along quite well although they like to brag about how big they are compared to us."
When visiting foreign countries I always like to ask people how people in their country view the United States. And the answer is usually the same. This very friendly cab driver said: "We like Americans. We just disagree with your government's policies." In this case he was referring to the war in Iraq. I'm glad that people in other countries don't always assume that all Americans agree with what is going on in Iraq. I'm not saying that because of my political beliefs which I'll keep to myself. I say it because if others did think all Americans supported the war then we--as Americans--might all get the cold shoulder while visiting foreign lands.
One prominent feature of downtown Auckland is a tall needle like tower called Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. Amazingly people actually bungee jump from this tower! And the tower offers special internal climbs for the brave.
Auckland is a little more south than Sydney and spring was very apparent during our visit in mid to late September. All the threes were in full, spring bloom. This climate is interesting because it is certainly semi-tropical although it does get nippy and raw sometimes. We experienced it first hand and I'm so glad I took a warm jacket on this trip! There are loads of palm trees, orange trees, banana plants, birds of paradise, etc. Auckland sits on the North Island which is a lot warmer than the South Island. Remember you're south of the equator here so the farther north you go--toward the equator--the warmer it gets.
You might be interested to learn that Auckland's past was extremely volcanic. The city has 48 extinct (hopefully!) volcanoes and hiking to the top of some will offer great views.
We saw something incredible on our first day in Auckland, a Saturday. I heard the distinctive sound of a piston powered airplane and rushed out onto the balcony. There it was, a beautiful old DC-3. It was followed by an old World War II PBY seaplane. Behind those two were waves and waves of vintage planes including very old mono and biplanes. I'm just about sure there was at least P-51 Mustang, too. They have a distinctive sound. This had to be one of the biggest gatherings of vintage 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s planes since the days of World War II. It was a real treat seeing the dozens of planes fly over the city of Auckland. I still don't know what the event was all about. There was no mention on tv or in the local newspaper. If you know would you please let me know? Thanks!
There are many parks and museums to visit in Auckland but we preferred to just stroll around the city and especially around the harbour area. My wife and I had agreed prior to heading to Auckland that we wanted to visit the brewery where the world famous (the Rolling Stones love it) Steinlager Beer is brewed. We enjoy brewery tours and then buying beer items for our house. We've got beer mementos in our family room from many breweries including Stingray from Grand Cayman, Brains Beer from Cardiff, Guinness from the brewery in Dublin, etc. Steinlager is brewed by parent company Lion. We figured out the bus schedule and headed to the brewery on a Tuesday afternoon. Reservations were suggested for tours but we figured that even if the tours were completely booked, we'd just visit the gift store and buy some items. Turns out, however, that the brewery is closed to visitors on Tuesdays! Oy! And they don't have a visitor shop. They only offer tours. Oh well....
The Hauraki Gulf--right in Auckland--is home to many islands and we highly suggest a visit to at least a couple of them. Fullers Ferries operate out of the main ferry terminal in downtown Auckland with frequent service.
We visited the island of Waiheke on our first outing and found it downright enchanting. It's about a half hour ferry ride from Auckland. Once reaching the island you can catch a bus from the ferry terminal for the short but uphill trek to the island's main town of Oneroa. The town had a distinctive "hippy" feeling to it mixed in with a little New Age influence. It sits on a hill and the views of the water are great. The island also gave us twinges of being on a tropical island in the South Pacific. If you get on a bus and ride around the island you go up and down on big hills with incredible vistas. The weather is better, on average, on Waiheke than in nearby Auckland. There are plenty of lush, tropical plants including palms, banana plants, orange trees, and many tropical plants and trees that we had never seen before. And Waiheke is home to the world's smallest penguins - little tiny Blue Penguins. These little guys are found elsewhere in the region including Australia but I'm told that Waiheke is a good place to spot them when then come back on shore at night after a day at sea.
On another outing we took a short, 12 minute ferry ride to Devonport for some shopping. It's a nice little town and here, like in Waiheke, you can clearly feel the New Age movement. That type of thing isn't my cup of tea but I did think it was worth mentioning. One note of caution when shopping here, however. We blew about $200A on New Zealand items here only to find that prices in Auckland for the very same items---even in the heavy tourist zones---were much, much less expensive. So I'd pass on collecting souvenirs in Devonport.
People always rave about New Zealand and our short visit really
didn't do it justice. There is so much to see and do. The
South Island is quite a bit
different than the North Island and offers unique touring opportunities.
SOME AUCKLAND & AREA DINING RECOMMENDATIONS BASED ON OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
Wildfire--Auckland, Harbor Area
Harbourside--Auckland, Harbor Area in the old Ferry Terminal
Danny Doolans--Auckland Harbour
Nourish Cafe--Ostend, Waiheke Island
FOR AVIATION BUFFS: The Emirates Airlines flight down to Auckland from Sydney was a quick two hours and thirty minutes. Heading back it was a three hour journey. As with the Sydney lounge, the Emirates lounge in Auckland was first class all the way with great food and beverages ranging from soda to hard liquor to vintage wines and champagnes. Our flight down to Auckland was a straight shot across the Tasman Sea all the way. We flew business class and while our Boeing 777-300ERs didn't yet come with the new, ultra nice seats it was a beautiful cabin. Flight attendants checked out the lavs after each use. Toilet paper was folded in a "v" just like you'd find it in a fine hotel. The food was the best we've ever enjoyed on a flight and that's saying a lot because we've flown some of the best airlines in the world including Singapore! The IFE (in fight entertainment system) was the best we've ever seen. The video screens, even in business, were huge and offered more than 500 channels featuring everything from dozens of movies to musical selections. They had games and even talking books. Video game players can challenge other passengers in other seats. And you can call other seats from your seat! I loved the two live video cameras they had on board. One pointed straight ahead. The other one pointed straight down. During landing when personal video screens must be stowed for safety reasons, they featured the nose cam on the main cabin screens as the jet landed. It was incredible watching the jet touch down, especially in a cross wind! The cabin, as mentioned, was flawless and the airline went the extra mile in featuring wood-like edging around the windows. The flight crews were super anxious to help. On most international airlines nowadays the attitude is "snack 'em and sack 'em." Feed them and hope they go to sleep and stop bothering the crews! Not with Emirates. We can't wait to fly with them again!
You'll need a passport to visit New Zealand but not a VISA. They're a little more anal when it comes to immigration and customs here. Be sure to have an onward ticket or you could run into trouble. And be sure you're not trying to bring taboo foods into the country. Your bags will be screened in a machine looking for "bio hazards." Driving is on the "left" like it is in the U.K. Currency is the New Zealand Dollar.