Volcanoes and Kiwis – Auckland, New Zealand, November 2023

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Published: November 6th 2023

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Sky Tower from the hotel windowSky Tower from the hotel windowSky Tower from the hotel window

Within this city’s boundaries there are 53 volcanoes, more than 50 islands, 3 wine regions, numerous beaches and a boatload of Kiwis that make it a truly exciting and vibrant place – what’s not to love? As the largest and most multicultural city in New Zealand, Auckland is far more than just a gateway to the country’s blockbuster natural scenery. Indeed, it is an attractive place, formed by volcanoes and flanked by natural harbors. Its population is as notable for its size as its diversity, with one-third of all Kiwis calling it home. It’s a genuine cultural melting pot, and the nation’s most vibrant city. Thanks to its location on a narrow isthmus, many of Auckland’s districts weave around bays and harbors, and most residents live within 2 miles of the ocean. As a result, the city and its surrounds are blessed with almost 1,000 miles of coastline.

If you fancy a refreshing ocean dip, head for the beaches at Mission Bay, Devonport, or Takapuna. For surfing aficionados, try the outlying settlements of Piha and Muriwai. Auckland is also obsessed with sailing, with more boats per capita than any other city on earth. Significant Polynesian, Asian and Maori communities help

Auckland WaterfrontAuckland WaterfrontAuckland Waterfront

create an eclectic feel, in everything from the Pacific Rim cuisine (fish and seafood here is excellent) to the range of diverse neighborhoods. Alongside the regenerated waterfront area and expanding downtown zone, you’ll also find hip districts still characterized by Edwardian and Victorian architecture.

A Little Bit of History: The Maori know it as Tamaki Makaurau, the indigenous peoples (population then estimated around 20,000 before the arrival of Europeans) who first settled this land around 1350. When the British arrived, it was renamed after George Eden, 1st Lord of Auckland who was then the Viceroy of India. The city was founded (officially) on September 18, 1840, and was declared New Zealand’s capital in 1841. Auckland has long attracted eager immigrants arriving to seek their fortune. The indigenous population was decimated due to European diseases, and in 1840 the then most prominent chief of the Ngati Whatua tribe, offered Governor Hobson land around the present-day city of Auckland, for the grand sum of 55 GBP ($66.60) and some blankets. This deal was struck with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, but within 20 years, the Maoris lost 40 percent of their land as a result.

Before any exploration

One of many  volcanoesOne of many  volcanoesOne of many volcanoes

is planned for the city, check out the great public transportation options. An AT HOP card is the way to go – a reusable prepaid smart card for travel on trains, ferries, and buses around Auckland. As cash is not accepted on AT buses, it becomes necessary to obtain this card prior to any travel. Using this card provides at least a 20 percent discount on every single trip as compared to cash fares. This blue card is an initial non-refundable $5 NZ and requires a minimum of $1 NZ top off at time of purchase (minimum $5 NZ top off if card is purchased online). Cards can be purchased directly at various retail vendors (see Central Auckland AT HOP retailers for complete list).

My all-time favorite way to explore a new city is the HOHO bus and Auckland supplies a pretty good one, albeit with rather expensive tickets. A 24-hour ticket is adults $55 US/kids $30 US, or one for 48 hours – adults $65 US/kids $35 US. The tickets include two bus routes – the red city loop which starts and finishes at the main downtown Auckland bus stop, and the blue outer loop, which connects at the Auckland Museum. Each

Central Auckland from the hotel windowCentral Auckland from the hotel windowCentral Auckland from the hotel window

loop takes approximately 60 minutes to complete. Tickets can be purchased online or from any official street sales staff, found at some of the stops. Check online prices first, as they are often available much cheaper using the Viator website. Considering the cost of these tickets, your best bet is to use public transportation – you will see all the same places at a fraction of the price.

Tourists are deeply attached to their smart phones and that necessitates coping with different countries’ communication options. Data is important these days, whether you need to find a place, check a map, reply to an urgent e-mail from your business contacts, or upload inspiring photos to Instagram. While you are away from home, avoid roaming charges and use a local network. Stay connected with an affordable and convenient New Zealand SIM card. Choose between 4 different packages, all with options for micro, nano, mini, or standards SIM cards. These can be purchased at various retail vendor locations across the city and at the airport at very reasonable costs.

Unfortunately, there are not many free museums or indoor attractions in Auckland. At all attractions, be sure to ask about discounts for

Auckland MuseumAuckland MuseumAuckland Museum

families, kids, seniors, or students depending on who you are. If you happen to be from New Zealand or specifically Auckland, you can get even more discounts and often free admission. Visiting the beautiful islands around Auckland costs only the price of a ferry ticket and it is well worth it.

You could do the coast-to-coast walkway which passes by some of the most impressive scenery as well as Auckland landmarks. It starts at the Viaduct in Auckland harbor and goes through Mamakau Harbor passing One Tree Hill, Auckland Museum, Mount Eden, and more. The route takes about 4-6 hours one-way. And the best part? It’s free. The Auckland Botanic Gardens is also free. Entrance to Sheep World is $15 NZ, while entrance plus the sheep shearing show is $29.50 NZ. At Butterfly Creek, there are several options including different areas of the site. To save money you could opt for the cheapest option, which is just entrance and access to farm animals – the kids would probably love this.

In the summer months (November through March) there are free movie screenings projected onto a silo in Silo Park. Another freebie is the complementary tea and coffee tasting

Auckland Harbor BridgeAuckland Harbor BridgeAuckland Harbor Bridge

at T2 Queen Street. Cinemas in Auckland usually have one night a week when tickets are cheap. The Auckland Art Gallery has free admission, although special exhibitions come at a fee. Visit Auckland’s oldest church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral for free. For cheap shopping in Auckland, take the free Dress Smart shuttle from Sky Tower to the outlet center. Auckland also has a discount card called Auckland Multipass which includes Butterfly Creek, Fuller Ferries, Sea Life, Rainbow’s End and Sky Tower for $135 NZ for adults and $75 NZ for children. This is a saving of $46 NZ per adult and $35 NZ per child. Worth considering for sure.

At the Stardome Observatory the planetarium shows cost money, but you can enjoy the free telescopes in the courtyard and see the exhibits and Space Gallery for free. If you really want to see a planetarium show, you can see a second show that day for half price. If you have a backpacker’s card, show it at the Sky Tower for discount entrance.

The impossible-to-miss Sky Tower looks like a giant hypodermic giving a fix to the heavens. Spectacular lighting renders it very space age at night, and the colors

The WaterfrontThe WaterfrontThe Waterfront

change for special events. At 1,076’ it is the southern hemisphere’s tallest structure. An elevator lifts you up to the observation decks in 40 stomach-lurching seconds – if you’re after an extra adrenaline kick – try looking down through the glass floor panels. This is an idea place for enjoying a cocktail at sunset in the Sky Lounge Café & Bar. It’s also home to the Sky Walk and the Sky Jump. Located at the corner of Federal and Victoria Streets in Sky City complex in the heart of the CBD.

From the top of Auckland’s highest volcanic cone (643’), the entire isthmus and both harbors are laid bare. The symmetrical crater (164’deep) is known as Te Ipu Kai a Mataaho (the food bowl of Mataaho, the god of things hidden in the ground) and is considered sacred. Do not enter it, but feel free to explore the remainder of the mountain. The remains of terraces and food-storage pits are clearly visible. Until recently, it was possible to drive right up to the summit but concerns over erosion have led to vehicle access being restricted to only travelers with limited mobility. Six different paths lead up the mountain and

Auckland Waterfront from the marinaAuckland Waterfront from the marinaAuckland Waterfront from the marina

the walk will take only around 15 minutes, depending on fitness level. A network of boardwalks was established in mid-2020 to help protect the historical and cultural significance of the site. The best way to reach Mt Eden is to take bus #27 from Britomart to stop #1870 near Tahaki Reserve. Start and finish your exploration at the nearby Maungawhau Visitor Experience Center. Opened in late 2019, this excellent center showcases the geological and Maori cultural history of Maungawhau/Mt Eden. Highlights include an interesting 10-minute video about Auckland’s volcanic field, and the café here is great with innovative brunch fare and fine views of the city’s isthmus location.

Calling all adrenaline junkies: picture yourself 200’ above the water, atop one of the grandest structures in New Zealand’s north island. Gazing down, you witness the buzz and beauty of one of the most enchanting cities in the world – this is the Auckland Harbor Bridge climb. Built in 1959 it’s truly iconic, spanning the Waitemata Harbor, connecting St Marys Bay in Auckland with Northcote in the former North Shore city. This bridge climb is the only opportunity to do a bridge climb in all New Zealand! The one-and-a-half-hour tour will

One Tree HillOne Tree HillOne Tree Hill

captivate you, with the history and secrets of this amazing structure being revealed by your tour guide. You are securely tethered, ensuring your safety and the gently curving custom engineered walkways mean that the climb is enjoyable for everybody. During the climb, witness the amazing dynamics of the bridge as it flexes with the traffic above it. You also have the chance to witness the Bungy jumpers at the “Pod”, a securely suspended bungy jumping launch pad – who knows, you may even be inspired to try the Bungy yourself! Operating daily year-round except for public holidays, ticket prices vary depending on choice of activity – bridge climb only or combined with a bungy jump. Minimum age is 7, maximum weight limit is 331 lbs. You can walk there from the CBD; catch the free AJ Hackett shuttle from the Sky Tower; or drive and park right in front of the bridge. Not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights, obviously.

An Interesting Day Trip Outside the City – One Tree Hill: Maungakiekie was the largest and most spiritually significant Maori fortified village prior to the British arrival. At the top of this volcanic cone (at 597’) there

Exterior Hobbit HoleExterior Hobbit HoleExterior Hobbit Hole

is an obelisk and epic 360-degree views of Auckland and its harbors. It is also the grave site of John Logan Campbell (the “Father of Auckland”) who gifted 568 acres of land to the city in 1901. He also requested that a memorial be built to the dispossessed Maori people at the summit. Today there is only a stump of the last “One Tree”. The original totara tree was cut down in 1852 by a white settler, either because it was significant to the Maori people, or because he needed firewood – depending on which account you believe. In response, John Logan Campbell planted a stand of Monterey pines of which only one lone tree survived. That tree was felled in a chainsaw attack in 2000 by a Maori activist who wanted to raise awareness of the government’s fiscal envelope policy – a target to settle all historic Treaty claims for $1 billion NZ – on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In 2015, new native trees were planted on the site, with a view to one day having a single totara tree. From the city, take a train to Greenlane and walk approximately 1 mile

HobbitonHobbitonHobbiton

along Green Lane West.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy: transformed into the fictional village of Hobbiton in the Shire, it’s as epic as Tolkien’s tale. If you’re a “Lord of the Rings” or “The Hobbit” fan, then visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set is a bucket list-worthy activity that you’ll never forget. Taking a tour of Hobbiton is one of the top things to do in New Zealand. It transports you out of reality and right into the Shire, where you can see Hobbit Holes, the Mill, and the famous Green Dragon Inn. If you’ve always dreamed of going to Middle Earth, then you really can’t pass up the opportunity to visit. And even if you’re not a die-hard fan of these books and movies, it’s still a pretty amazing place to experience. It’s a beautiful movie set that’s been kept in pristine condition and it’s located in one of the most picturesque regions of the country, just a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland.

Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Hobbiton, New Zealand: “The Hobbit” was published in 1937 and “The Lord of the Rings” books were written between 1937 and 1942. However, the story of the Hobbiton

Touring a Hobbit HoleTouring a Hobbit HoleTouring a Hobbit Hole

movie set doesn’t start until 1998, when director Sir Peter Jackson was searching for a location to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novels to life on the big screen. Sir Jackson and his team performed an aerial search across New Zealand and found a farm just outside of Matamata that would be perfect for the movie set. At the time, it was a working sheep farm owned by the Alexander family. Legend has it that the team knocked on the door to speak to the Alexanders, only to be told to come back later because they were watching a rugby match! Eventually, however, the Alexanders made a deal with Jackson and his team, and the construction of Hobbiton began.

With tremendous effort and help from the New Zealand Army, the land was transformed into the Shire from Middle Earth, replete with Hobbit Holes, gardens, and other features that brought the novels to life. Production was top secret, and the team went to great lengths to keep the set hidden from prying eyes. After production wrapped, the insides of the Hobbit Holes were demolished but the facades remained intact, and Hobbiton opened for guided tours in 2002. Several years later, in

Lord of the Rings Scenery SetLord of the Rings Scenery SetLord of the Rings Scenery Set

2009, Sir Peter Jackson returned to Hobbiton to film “The Hobbit” movies. As a result, Hobbiton is now home to 44 permanent Hobbit Holes and The Green Dragon Inn, which appear frequently in the books and movies. Unsurprisingly, Hobbiton has become an incredibly popular tourist attraction. By 2015, it had welcomed its millionth visitor!

Although Hobbiton is located far from many other attractions in the region, it also happens to be close to another famous tourist attraction: Waitomo Caves. For this reason, many tours include both places, which makes the drive even more worthwhile. Prices for Hobbiton tours depend on the package you choose – and yes, you have a lot to choose from! Most include roundtrip transportation from Auckland (sometimes your hotel) and can be booked in advance online. The most basic and most popular is the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour lasting 2 hours. It departs from the Shire’s Rest which is basically Hobbiton HQ. Here you’ll find the ticket office, gift shop, café, and parking. From there, you’ll take a short bus ride to the set itself, where you’ll enjoy a walking tour covering the Hobbit Holes and the Mill, as you learn all about how the

The Green Dragon InnThe Green Dragon InnThe Green Dragon Inn

movies were made. The tour ends in the Green Dragon Inn, where a Hobbit Southfarthing cider, beer, or soft drink is served. This tour (not including round trip transportation from Auckland) costs $89 NZ for adults, kids 9-16 ages $44 NZ, ages 8 and under are free. There’s also a family pass available for 2 adults and 2 teens for $225 NZ.

Another very popular choice is the Evening Banquet Tour which begins at dusk with a guided walking tour of the set. Just as with the standard tour discussed above, you’ll finish with a drink in the Green Dragon Inn but after that, you also get to enjoy an amazing banquet feast. It’s a two-course, self-service from-the-table situation, with a vegetarian option available. Typical main dishes include roast chicken, slow-cooked lamb, and roast pumpkin while dessert options include kiwi pavlova and apple crumble with vanilla custard. At the conclusion of the feast, you get to experience a lantern-lit stroll back through the Shire and see Hobbiton by moonlight. Somewhat more expensive than the standard tour, this one comes in at $199 NZ adults, kids 9-16 ages $162 NZ, kids 5-8 $104 NZ, with 5 and under always free.

Entering the Glowworm CavesEntering the Glowworm CavesEntering the Glowworm Caves

Waitomo Caves: discover a moment of magic in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Known as one of New Zealand’s best natural attractions, take a boat ride through the glow worm grotto, marvel at the thousands of magical glow worms and become part of over 130 years of cultural and natural history. Discover an ancient world 30 million years in the making, and marvel at Mother Nature’s light display. Explore the caves by foot before embarking on the boat ride, gliding silently through the starry wonderland of the grotto. Here you can experience the serene ambience as you enter a galaxy of tiny living lights. The glow worm (Arachnocampa Luminosa) is unique to this country and is an absolute “must see” in my opinion. Watch as thousands of these tiny creatures radiate their unmistakable luminescence in a subterranean world. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves tours are made up of two levels. The upper chamber is dry and decorated with stunning, delicate cave formations, and the lower level consists of stream passages, glowworms and the Cathedral, the tallest chamber in the cave. Many of the tour guides are direct descendants of the Maori chief who originally explored the cave, bringing the cave to

A glowing blue wonderlandA glowing blue wonderlandA glowing blue wonderland

life through storytelling and explaining the world-famous cave’s history, features, and legends.

Open daily from 9am to 5pm with multiple tours departing at approximately 1-hour intervals (extra tours added during public and school holidays). Pre-booking is essential, and you must check in 30 minutes prior to your tour departure time. Wear comfortable shoes and warm clothing. The Waitomo Cave is accessible to those with reasonable mobility, with good handrails and paths. Some areas of the cave can be wet and slippery. Note: Waitomo Cave does not have wheelchair access, however, Ruakuri Cave is wheelchair friendly. Prices are $75 NZ adult, $34 NZ child, $191 NZ (2 adults/2 kids), $27 NZ for each additional child added to the family pass.

Some things to keep in mind when visiting Auckland: with a population of around 1.6 million, Auckland is New Zealand’s only big city. Despite its size, it is a generally safe and surprisingly easy-going place to spend your vacation time. One-third of residents were born overseas, which is why you’ll find it a very cosmopolitan place with strong British, Asian and Pacific Islander influences. This mix underscores the city’s appreciation for different cultures, and tourists will feel welcome in

Magical GlowwormsMagical GlowwormsMagical Glowworms

many places. It might be the largest city in the country but note: it is not the capital!

1. Pack casual clothes – it’s a relatively informal city. There are very few places where you need to dress up to go to, even if you’re catching a theater show or having dinner in a “classy” restaurant. While many visitors do dress up, you can wear jeans almost everywhere, so don’t feel you need to overpack.

2. Bring a pair of good walking shoes – there are several beautiful hikes around Auckland, so good hiking shoes are a must. To help stop the spread of Kauri Dieback, a disease which affects the huge, native Kauri trees, give them a good clean before arrival in New Zealand, otherwise, they may have to be sanitized at the airport during customs checks.

3. Tipping is not needed nor expected – while you may see the occasional tip jar at a café, tipping in this country isn’t common. Tips may be appreciated but definitely are not expected, with tipping being the exception to the rule, rather than the norm. In fact, if you leave change on the table, don’t be surprised if your server tries to return it, thinking you accidentally left it there!

4. Pay at the counterwhen eating out, restaurants and cafes may offer table service, or you may need to order food at the counter. If paying at the counter, you usually pay immediately. If there’s table service, when you’re ready to leave, it’s customary to get up and pay at the counter, rather than requesting the check.

5. Bring food if invited to dinnerif the invite asks you to “bring a plate”, take a food dish with you. This can be sweet or savory. If the invite says not to bring anything, it’s still polite to bring a bottle of wine, a small contribution to the meal or token gift for the host (such as a small box of chocolate).

6. Remove your shoes when entering a homeit’s customary to take off your shoes when entering a private home, unless told otherwise. Nowadays wearing shoes indoors is more common, but it’s safer to assume you should remove them.

7. You don’t need much cashalmost no-one in Auckland uses cash. Instead use credit or debit cards to pay for even the smallest purchases. Contactless payments are very common. If handed a terminal, you’ll see three options: cheque, savings, or credit. The first 2 options work for local cards only. For international cards, select the credit option and enter your pin or sign as usual.

8. 111 is the emergency numberit will connect you with the police, fire service or ambulance.

9. Be prepared to talk about where you’re from and your heritagein Maori culture, people introduce themselves by announcing their birthplace and ancestors. In Auckland, many people originally hail from other countries, and it’s very common for locals to ask about your hometown and even about your ethnic background and heritage.

10. Don’t sit on or lean against tablesdoing either of these actions against tables, countertops or other surfaces that are used for food preparation, is generally frowned upon by all New Zealanders and is particularly offensive to the Maori.

11. Remove your shoes before entering a Marae (traditional meeting place)you will see many pairs of shoes at the entrance to a Marae. Usually, you will be accompanied by a local who will give you further pointers about what to expect and what to do while you’re there.

12. Learn a few words of the local lingo/slangto really blend in with the locals or to simply understand what the hell they are saying, here’s a small list of commonly-used slang: bach (holiday home); bro/cuz/mate (mostly used when addressing a friend); chilly bin (cooler box or bag); chur (thanks/cheers); dairy (corner store); guttered (disappointed); jandal (flip flops); scroggin (trail mix or granola); ta (thank you); togs (swimsuit); yeah nah (a non-committal statement or acknowledgement

13. New Zealand has recently instituted their Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) requirement which must be obtained online prior to arrival. Check their website to see if your country is included on the list. It’s a simple process to complete the questionnaire, pay the nominal fee, and receive the ETA in your email box in a matter of hours (mine took less than 60 minutes). It’s good for two years from issue date and is digitally attached to your passport but be aware: this is NOT a visa and does not guarantee entry into New Zealand. Upon arrival, you must also complete an arrival card (airlines/cruise ships supply these prior to disembarking) and present it to an immigration officer.

14. New Zealand has VERY strict biosecurity rules and regulations to prevent unwanted organisms devasting native agricultural industries. Therefore, DO NOT attempt to bring any meat or dairy products; nuts; seeds; honey; dried flowers into the country. Keep it simple, don’t bring anything through customs and don’t risk the $400 NZ fine if found in violation. Depending on the situation, your ETA and/or visa could immediately be revoked, and entry denied. It’s not worth the hassle.

Did You Know:

· Sir Edmund Hillary was born in Auckland in 1919.

· In 1999 and 2003, Auckland hosted the America’s Cup sailing contest.

· Auckland’s Harbor Bridge may lack the global resonance of its Sydney counterpart, it does – in true Kiwi style – allow bungy jumping.

· Is one of the most livable cities in the world, and a very popular tourist destination.

· Has a diverse population, with over 200 different ethnicities represented.

· Has a harbor on each of two separate major bodies of water.

· Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world.

· Built on one of the world’s youngest volcanic fields, the city is dotted with over 50 volcanoes, each originating from a magma source located 328’ below the city.

· Has a very vibrant street art scene, adding color and creativity to its walls. Street murals and graffiti can be found throughout the city, showcasing local talent.

To sum up my visit here: Auckland is a vibrant and diverse metropolis with a rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. From its iconic landmarks and bustling city center to its beautiful beaches and picturesque landscapes, it offers something for everyone. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or a food lover, this city has it all. With its thriving arts and music scene, world-class dining options, and a wide range of outdoor activities, Auckland has established itself as a must-visit destination. So, whether you’re planning a vacation or considering settling down in a new city, Auckland has plenty to offer. With its unique blend of urban sophistication and natural wonders, this city has captured the hearts of many – including mine – and continues to leave a lasting impression on visitors and residents alike.


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