After our six-week adventure in Australia, we departed from Cairns on an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland on the north island. It was one of the most fascinating flights we’d even taken, following the Queensland coastline, flying over reefs and islands for more than an hour. We were lucky to have window seats and a clear sunny day to enjoy amazing views for hundreds of kilometers.
After about three hours, we passed over small islands off New Zealand’s north island. We flew from east to west, crossing the north island to the Auckland airport on a bay about 25 kilometers from downtown. A beautiful flight, best taken in the daytime.
New Zealand’s largest city
Auckland has the distinction of being rated one of the most livable cities in the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit rated four cities we visited Down Under in the top ten in 2011: Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Auckland. We’d experienced that more relaxed, efficient, and modern life style in many cities we visited, especially Cairns and destinations in New Zealand we’ll write about in future posts.
One feature of this high quality of life is transportation. New Zealand, like Australia, has excellent public transportation. A half hour after we landed, we were on an express bus headed downtown. It cost about 15 NZ dollar, a bargain considering what a taxi would cost to drive the distance. On the drive into the city with no traffic delays, we passed parks, neat middle class neighborhoods, and blocks of retail shops, especially Asian restaurants and markets. It was rush hour, but we didn’t encounter a single traffic jam.
We crossed a couple of bridges until we reached downtown and Auckland’s main thoroughfare, Queen Street. Our driver dropped us off on Queen Street and gave us directions to our hotel. We walked up a hill, passing Albert Park and the University of Auckland. We were checked in and took an elevator to our room. We were thrilled to have a nice view from our 12th floor balcony, of the harbor, shipyards, islands, and dormant volcanos in the distance. We were going to enjoy Auckland.
“I Left my Heart in . . . Auckland?”
After freshening up in our hotel, we walked down the hill to Queen street again then headed toward the harbor where night life was starting up. Along the way we commented how much Auckland resembled San Francisco where we lived for almost a dozen years. But Auckland has less traffic, urban pollution and noise. It’s also easier to walk around Auckland. The city bus system is fast, efficient, clean and affordable. And people were kind, helpful and pleasant. Tony Bennett should visit and compose a song to Auckland’s many charms of ‘the city by the bay.’
Auckland’s ferry building and the busy street running the length of the harbor are very reminiscent of San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Embarcadero lined with tall palm trees. Notice the resemblance?
University of Auckland
Our first full day in Auckland we wanted to explore neighborhoods near our hotel. we didn’t have far to go; five minutes from our hotel we were walking through Albert Park and the campus of the University of Auckland. The campus had spacious lawns, shaded walks, flower gardens, and indigenous trees like nothing we’d seen in the U.S. As we’ve noted before, gardens are one of the first sites we visit in a new city. Auckland did not disappoint us. We returned several times to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the campus gardens.
Auckland has a vibrant and attractive waterfront where we enjoyed lunches and dinners. Fresh seafood was on every menu, sea bass, mahi mahi, barramundi, shark, tuna, and eel. We stuck with the white fish, shrimp, and calamari.
The Cowboy bar – restaurant displayed somewhat tacky mementos of the American West that reminded us of Montana saloons: stuffed moose and pheasant, deer antlers, rifles, and signs. It almost made us homesick.
Every time we returned to our hotel, I’d hurry to open the curtain. I never tired of the view from our balcony. Our first impression of New Zealand proved to be a lasting one.
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Next: Auckland Harbor
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