Friday 14th November – Monday 17th November
Rotorua to Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
On Friday, we took a bus from Rotorua to Hamilton, and then completed the Northern Explorer train route by riding on the Hamilton to Auckland section.
Our final few days in New Zealand were spent in Auckland. Although New Zealand’s capital is Wellington, Auckland is by far its biggest city, boasting some one million residents.
Rotorua to Auckland
Prior to catching our bus to Hamilton, we took a walk beside the lake in Rotorua, and saw the unusual (for us Europeans) black swans that live there.
We had an hour or so to spare in Hamilton, so we grabbed a snack. Simon decided that a photo was in order, as he felt that a snap with this waffle, banana and chocolate combo should be the updated version of the ice cream sundae shot that my parents always took when I was on holiday as a child!
We arrived in Auckland in the evening on Friday, and we caught a glimpse of the Sky Tower (the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand) on the way to our hotel.
Saturday was unfortunately rainy (although we can’t complain, as we have really had very few days of rain on our trip), but we did manage to have a look around the city. We used our guidebook to follow a bit of a walking tour of the city centre, taking in the modern Auckland Art Gallery building, Albert Park and the university area.
In the evening, we went to a city centre sports bar called Fox’s to watch the Four Nations Rugby League final between the New Zealand Kiwis and the Australia Kangaroos. The game was taking place in Wellington (about 650km from Auckland) and we would have loved to have been able to be there to see it live – rugby league is a less popular sport in NZ than rugby union, so we could potentially have got tickets – but the timings did not work out due to our flight on Monday. However, the atmosphere in the pub was great and we really enjoyed the match – particularly as the Kiwis were eventually victorious 22-18, after a close-fought battle.
Sunday was a brighter day and we kicked it off with a tasty breakfast in an alarmingly-named coffee shop close to the Britomart station.
We then took the train a short distance out of the city centre to go for a walk to get some views of the city. We walked up Mt Eden, which is in fact a volcano (Auckland is a city built on fifty volcanoes – Mt Eden is extinct, but not all of them are!). The top of the volcano later formed a crater, which is sacred ground for Maori people.
A sign at the summit confirmed that we were a long way from home!
From there, we walked through to Eden Park, the stadium where the NZ All Blacks play rugby and the NZ Black Caps play cricket, to watch a Twenty20 cricket game between the Auckland Aces and the Northern Knights. It was mainly a family event, and only one stand was being used by the attendees (hence why the stadium looks deserted in our photos!). This was our first ever live cricket game (we’re definitely going to attend a game at Chester-le-Street when we get home) and it was fantastic to see some sport at the national stadium.
We finished our day back in the city centre in the Britomart area, just behind the central station, which contains a great selection of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Thought for the day
On one of Simon’s favourite sit-coms, The Flight of the Conchords (about a Kiwi band and their manager, trying to make it big in New York City), the wall of the manager’s office is graced by a tourism poster featuring a photo of sheep grazing on the rolling hills of the North Island and bearing the legend: “New Zealand – like Scotland, only further away“.
In fact, and as much as we love Scotland, it seems to us that NZ really isn’t like anywhere else on earth:
– This stunningly beautiful country, which is not much bigger than the UK, boasts beaches, volcanoes, geo-thermal pools, alpine mountains, earthquakes(!), cool cities, rainforests, glaciers and even fjords;
– Its 4 million incredibly friendly residents seem to get along harmoniously, despite their varied backgrounds, with far less of the friction between original inhabitants and European colonists than is the case in other countries;
– 75% of the country’s energy needs are supplied by renewable sources, principally hydro power from the multitudinous rivers and geo-thermal energy from deep underground;
– Its legal system has managed to avoid a “compensation culture” by instituting a state-wide system to compensate victims of accidents and fine the perpetrators; and
– New Zealand has no snakes and only one (very rare) poisonous spider. Add this to the fact that there are no large predatory mammals, either native or introduced, and you have a country where, unlike Australia, the wildlife is not generally out to destroy humanity (the geological fault lines are another matter, however…).
In other words, we loved New Zealand (or “Godzone” as it is sometimes known, after it was described by a poet as “God’s Own Country”). In fact, if we didn’t know better, we would think that the entire place had been carefully designed – perhaps by legendary Kiwi movie director, Peter Jackson…
When we first arrived, we kept saying to ourselves: “We need to do everything we can while we are here – we will never come this far again.” Within a week, our catchphrase had become: “Next time we are here…”!
Goodbye New Zealand – I suspect that we will be back.
PS The title of this post was inspired by our day of volcanoes and cricket. I think I missed my calling as a tabloid sub-editor!