Days 212-215 Sunday-Wednesday November 18-21, 2007
Nadi, Fiji to Auckland, New Zealand
Because of our flight cancellation in Fiji, we arrived in Auckland much later than originally planned. While this wasn’t really a problem for us, the one issue we faced was not having any accommodation booked for the night. We had felt that booking a room ahead of time wasn’t important given that we were going to arrive in the early afternoon. Luckily, when we finally cleared immigration at around 10pm, the visitor’s information desk was still open and they were able to call around for us. After trying several places, we finally found a small room in a downtown hostel with a bunkbed and an extra mattress thrown on the ground for Shawn Reece at the bargain basement price of $70NZ per night.
After getting to the hostel, we settled into our closet sized room and quickly went to bed. Immediately upon waking up on Monday morning, we showered and headed out into the city for a first look. Auckland pretty much looks like any big city in North America. One of the first things we noticed while walking around is the sheer number of Asian immigrants that call Auckland home. The signs of a diverse immigrant population are varied throughout the city, but show through mostly in the small businesses and restaurants scattered around downtown. Given the range of immigrants and culture and its designation as a port city, Auckland most closely reminds me of Vancouver, British Colombia.
Our first task of the day on Monday was to head over to the I-site visitor center located in the Skytower a couple of blocks away. We wanted to pick up some more information to better figure out our plan of attack for seeing the city. At the I-site, we talked with one of the clerks and also gathered more information on rental cars and campervans. While looking through the sea of brochures, we found an Auckland city pass that included admission to the Skytower, a ferry out to Rangitoto Island, ticket to a local aquarium and admission to the largest theme park in New Zealand, Rainbow’s End. The pass basically provided these admissions at half price, so we decided to buy it. It also helped to shape our itinerary for the city and ensured that we would get to ride some roller coasters!
Just outside the I-site a shuttle picked us up to use our first activity from the pass, a visit to Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World, an aquarium on the other side of town. Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World is built into the side of a hill across from downtown and adjacent to the harbor. The ride from the Skytower took around fifteen minutes, dropping us near the entrance in the parking lot.
Upon entering we were delighted to see that this aquarium had a full penguin exhibit. In fact, the first exhibit we came to involved getting into a snow crawler for an up close look at the penguins. The snow crawler experience allowed us to get incredibly close and provided a unique experience for an aquarium. After the first ride, we couldn’t wait to do it again for another glimpse of the flightless birds.
The rest of Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World consists of areas dedicated to stingrays and fish in general. Kelly Tarlton’s was also the first place in the world to deploy an aquarium that is all around the visitor as they pass through on a moving walkway. While this idea has now been done many other places, the setup at Kelly Tarlton’s is rather immersive and unique. While this aquarium doesn’t compare in size to something like the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, it does provide a few neat experiences and was good for a couple of hours of educational fun.
We doodled around the rest of Monday night and woke up on Tuesday, explored downtown for part of the morning and then boarded a ferry to Rangitoto Island which sits in Auckland’s Harbor. Rangitoto Island is a non active volcano which has the distinction of being the newest in the heavily seismic area. From the time the ferry dropped us at the dock, we had about three hours to complete an ascent to the top, take in the magnificent views and get back to the dock to catch the last ferry of the day back to Auckland.
The hike from dock to summit was signposted at sixty minutes or so. Almost immediately after embarking, it became evident that this hike was going to be special. The further along we went on the path, more elaborate lave fields started to creep into the scenery and the hike got progressively more difficult. The first 75% of the way was a piece of cake, but that last twenty minutes or so was trying. We are old pros though and eventually made it to the crater before heading up to a viewing platform above it.
At the top, we ate our picnic lunch and enjoyed the three hundred and sixty degree view of Auckland’s Harbor. From the summit, we could see downtown Auckland and all of the smaller islands that call the harbor home. This was our first taste of the vibrantly green scenery in New Zealand. Unfortunately due to our tight schedule we didn’t have much time to loiter at the top and after lunch we began our descent back to the dock. Our timing proved to be just right and shortly after arriving at the bottom, the ferry came and whisked us back to the mainland.
Disembarking from the ferry, we decided that we hadn’t experienced enough for the day, so we decided to head over to the Skytower, which was the third activity on our pass. Our ticket included admission and an elevator ride to the observation deck which sits about 650 feet above the city. The Skytower is the largest tower in the Southern Hemisphere standing at just over 1000 feet from base to tip of antenna. As we entered the elevators, one neat feature was immediately noticeable. All of the Skytower’s elevators are equipped with glass floors, allowing guests to look down as the elevators ascend the 650 feet at a rather rapid pace. Shawn Reece and I enjoyed staring down as the people shrunk to the size of ants and before long the elevator dinged and we were at our destination.
The Skytower’s observation deck isn’t much different than others we have visited. One disappointment for me was that it doesn’t have any outside element, something I have grown to like at other buildings. We spent around thirty minutes at the top, during which time we witnessed the sun start to go down over this beautiful city. With the sun, we also went down, back to our hostel to settle in for the night.
Wednesday morning we sprung out of bed ready to head over to the Rainbow’s End amusement park. The bus ride from downtown to the park took around 45 minutes and when we arrived it wasn’t very crowded. Like madmen we headed straight for the coasters, both of which are nothing special by anyone’s standards. The first coaster is a mine train type than was actually pretty well themed and the second is the only double corkscrew coaster in New Zealand. (WOW!) While both of these left a lot to be desired, it was nice to be riding coasters again, so I won’t complain. While the park is small, we also found fun in riding some of the other attractions including: go karts, a log flume, drop tower and a kiddy coaster among others. Since the lines were nonexistent most of the day, we whipped through the park in around four hours, riding several rides more than once.
Somewhere in between completing all of the fun activities mentioned above, we managed to figure out that renting a car was our best option budget wise. We found a car for $28NZ a night including insurance which is a great deal considering our rental period stretches into the peak season. A campervan was going to cost us over $100NZ a night so it just didn’t make sense. Gas prices here are over $5USD a gallon so filling up the tank is going to be a bit painful.
From Auckland, we are going to head north to explore the top tip of New Zealand’s North Island, an area they call Northland. It should take us a couple of days to get around Northland and during that time we hope to visit a couple of interesting areas including the 90 Mile Beach which isn’t 90 miles at all! So far we are really enjoying New Zealand and are eager to get out of the city and into nature. Oh yeah and did I mention that they drive on the left side of the road here. That will be a fun adjustment!
The Coomer Family