We arrived quite late at night, so our Uber drive into the CBD (Central Business District) from the airport offered little in the way of orientation to the city. Since we had flown from Hawaii, our time change was only an hour (though we lost a day thanks to crossing the international date line) and, thankfully, jet lag wasn’t an issue. A good sleep in our little AirBnB suite and we were ready to head out and explore.
First up, a Free Walking Tour so we could get our bearings quickly and learn a bit about this seaside city. We don’t think that ours was a good representation of a normal tour. After just an hour of wandering through the CBD we arrived at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. We hadn’t realized that our first day in Auckland was Auckland Anniversary Day, and the gallery was offering free visits. Our guide, having realized she’d left her backpack somewhere, handed us off to a gallery employee and zipped off. What started out as a free walking tour ended with the added bonus of a couple of hours wandering through the gallery and appreciating both its exhibits and its architecture.
On our way to our tour meeting place, we had noticed huge signs about the Seeport Festival being held over the weekend, and lots of things happening on the wharves. Once we were done at the gallery, we walked back to check it out. We visited a coast guard tug, toured a mussel farm boat and learned about the area’s mussel production, watched some drumming and dancing, and tasted amazing ceviche made with coconut and coconut milk.
Everywhere we went, we were met with incredible friendliness. The fellow offering us a tour on the mussel boat sent us first to go try some ceviche so we didn’t miss out, the women at the ceviche table were closing up because they were empty but, as we were chatting with one of them, the other managed to scare up the last scrapings and handed us a cup so we had a chance to try it. We asked another person where the seafood market was and received a full route description along with a hand-drawn map. It seemed like everyone we spoke to went out of their way to do just a little more than we expected, and it felt warm and welcoming.
The next day, we walked to the Viaduct Basin and Wynyard Quarter along the waterfront. We walked past inner-city marinas with yachts, sailboats, and whale-watching tour boats squeezed in among the buildings and walkways. These two ex-industrial areas are being developed into vibrant cityscapes with office and residential buildings, restaurants and green spaces.
We stopped in at the Auckland Fish Market (AFM) and found a vat of the green-lipped mussels (or just New Zealand mussels) that were the product of the mussel boat farm we had seen earlier. These mussels are huge and colourful and are available in most grocery stores and on restaurant menus. The AFM is a mashup of fish market and seafood restaurants. Everything looked wonderful and the variety of fish and seafood was astounding.
It seems that the whole of the waterfront area is involved in some sort of construction project making the views unsightly and traffic a nightmare. Pedestrians were often behind fences and were detoured to cross roads and then recross farther down. Feeder streets to the waterfront were dug up. More than one big project is in preparation for–and must be completed by–the next America’s Cup race in 2021. Other projects, like underground transit, will take many years to complete. We had the sense that returning to Auckland in about five years would give us a completely different sense of the city.
One day, we walked away from the waterfront into the Parnell area, which I had read rave reviews about. We walked uphill and uphill and uphill some more. Though we did see some shops and cafes, we didn’t quite get what people were raving about. It might just be a case of needing to stay in the area and wander about at different times of the day to better understand the place.
From Parnell, we walked into Auckland Dominion–a huge inner-city park. We found ourselves a bit lost in the forest as we wandered along narrow gravel paths, unable to see where we were or what was around us. When we finally exited the pathways into a clearing, at the top of the hill was a most majestic building–the Auckland War Memorial MuseumTāmaki Paenga Hira.
By the name (and lack of research), we thought this was a museum dedicated to war history, but it is not. Though it does include collections on war history and it is a war memorial, it is also considered one of New Zealand’s most important museums. It is filled with New Zealand history and natural history collections and offers daily Maori cultural performances for an additional charge. We may need to set aside a full day when we’re in Auckland again to visit.
On our way back to our AirBnB, we walked through the Auckland University campus and neighbouring Albert Park. These are right behind the art gallery but had been fenced off the day we were there for a music festival. The fences were still coming down, but the park is a pretty green space with fountains and gardens. When it was originally created in the 1880s, it offered amazing harbour views. Now the views are of city towers.
One final note on cash and credit in Auckland. Small purchases or even large purchases at small stores often incurred a credit card charge (we saw up to 35 cents). We have a no-exchange-fee credit card, and did quite well on the NZD/CAD exchange when we used it. Withdrawing cash from an ATM, though, the rate was about 7% worse, not including the local ATM fee (which ranged, as we accessed different machines trying to get our card to work–our fault for not reporting this particular trip, from $3-5 NZD). We were pleasantly surprised to see the bills that the machine delivered to us, though. It looked and felt awfully familiar. (Canadians will understand this.)
- Uber ride from airport to CBD: $52 NZD ($45 CAD). There is a shuttle that would have dropped us within 750m of our AirBnB at about two-thirds the cost. We opted for convenience since we had our suitcases and it was late.
- Auckland War Memorial Museum entry: $25/adult plus $20/adult for the Maori cultural performance. New Zealanders by donation.