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Auckland had a love affair with water. Shruti Nanvaty lives it up amidst hundreds of bays and sandy beaches in New Zealand's largest and most happenning city

Was once a time when every ambitious Indian, tired of the country’s lack of opportunities, looked towards the United Kingdom, United States of America and then Australia. Not anymore.

New Zealand is the place to go to nowadays. And the most happening city of this most happening country is undoubtedly Auckland.

In Auckland there is something pleasing to the eye, mind and soul for everyone - from sophisticated city living and cultural experiences to outdoor adventures. Draped over seven volcanoes and wrapped around Waitemata Harbour, Auckland is built amid the cones of more than 50 extinct volcanoes on a narrow isthmus on the North Island, between the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. With spectacular harbors on both shores and a bridge, a third of the people in town own or have access to a boat. Hence the sobriquet — ’City of Sails’. Aucklanders just adore water. On North and South of Waitemata Harbor are hundreds of other bays and inlets as well as sandy beaches, most waiting to be explored.


Viaduct Harbour

If it has been so blessed by nature, Auckland also has its own identity when it comes to money matters. The largest city in New Zealand dominates in trade and business. So apart from exuding cultural extravaganza, it is also where the who’s who in business rub shoulders. The commercialism is very much evident in daily life. Auckland is changing constantly, growing and thriving each day, luring people from all over the world in search of a better life, especially those from South Pacific island. Over a quarter of New Zealand’s inhabitants live in the Auckland region.

Sky Tower

In the beginning
The first race to settle here were the Maoris nine centuries ago. Since they alighted from their canoes to occupy the densely forested land, a steady stream of migrants have followed. Europeans, Asians and Polynesians have all made the journey. Once the capital city of New Zealand until 1865, modern Auckland is actually a fusion of four cities - Auckland, Manukau, North Shore and Waitakere.

Culture corner
Despite its trendy nature, Auckland oozes with culture. Museums, art centres, monuments speak volumes of Auckland’s culture which is alive and growing even as you watch it. Auckland Museum is the finest place to get an insight into Maori culture, with its excellent display of artifacts, canoes, New Zealand wildlife including an exhibit of a 4m tall extinct Moa. A live performance of Maori dance and music is an additional bonus and a good way to initiate yourself into their culture. Another must see, would be the New Zealand National Maritime Museum which details a comprehensive history of the country’s maritime history. Auckland Art Gallery has a voluminous collection of Kiwi art. Museum buffs can also visit the Museum of Transport & Technology which features the history of Kiwi inventions and technological advances. Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World & Antarctic Encounter is a must-see for its unique simulacrum of ocean and exploration activities. It has a stunning aquarium where you can scuba dive.

Must-see must-do
Auckland is dominated by two towering, powerful icons which define the city’s soul viz. the volcanic cone of Rangitito Island and the futuristic Sky Tower. At 260 metres, Rangitito is Auckland’s largest and youngest volcano which last erupted 600 years ago. Views from the summit are exquisite on a clear day, with vistas to Kawau Island to the north and Great Barrier and Little Barrier to the north-east. The latest attraction is Sky City, a multi-entertainment complex packed with cafes and bars, with an indigenous theme. For a mind-blowing experience, check out the view from the top of the 328-metre Sky Tower, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. The tower boasts of a lovely revolving restaurant and snack bars.


Youth Culture

Saints Waterfront Brasserie, St Heliers

The activity prone can indulge in water sports at some of Auckland’s famous beaches like Mission Bay and St Heliers Bay. Judge’s Bay is perfect for lazing around because the sea is calm here. The best place for surf rides is at Te Hanga, 50 kms away.

Water babies need to plan day trips to the cream of beaches further west. The dare-devil can be satisfied with a thrilling experience at Urban Rap Jumping where you can jump off face-down abseiling from Novotel Hotel. There’s also sea kayaking, tandem skydiving, scuba diving, windsurfing, horse-riding, mountain biking, abseiling and hot-air balloon rides to have a go at. For the off-the-beaten-track backpackers, there are no limits to nature’s bounty enhanced by spectacular environs - subtropical offshore islands, sparkling waters, lush green forest land, little cones of volcanoes, the brilliant foliage off the Pohutukawa trees, beaches, vineyards and waterfalls.

Shopping at Newmarket

Of the 58 extinct volcanoes on which Auckland is built, many are now the foci for lovely walks and retreats from the city. The best way to explore these unforgettable sights and sounds is to walk it up. Some of the most beautiful views are encountered from the highest of them: Mt Eden, the God of all Volcanoes, also known as Maungawhau (mount of the Whau tree), is rich in Maori heritage. One of the largest scoria cones in Auckland’s volcanic field, it has three craters and is the principle trig station for Auckland surveys. One Tree Hill, also an extinct volcano, as the name suggests, once had just one pine tree on its summit which sadly had to be removed in 2000, following several chainsaw attacks on its 105-year-old trunk. Also known as Maungakiekie (hill of the kiekie vine), it is a 20,000 year old scoria cone offering spectacular scenery over central Auckland and surrounding areas.

Getaways
Once you’ve had a taste of Auckland’s variety, excursions to nearby islands will add that extra flavour to your visit. The Hauraki Gulf off Auckland is dotted with islands such as Great Barrier and Waiheke, which have affordable accommodation, a number of walks and diving possibilities as well. Waiheke Island has to its name some excellent art galleries. Auckland is also a good starting-point to visit the amazingly scenic Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki Plains regions to the south-east.

However, the most popular getaways are undoubtedly Lake Taupo and the Bay of Islands, two of the most picturesque of New Zealand’s sights. Lake Taupo was created due to a huge volcanic explosion whose after-effects were felt as far away as China and Italy. The area is still very much active with lots of thermal springs to dip in. The Lake, which is in the middle of the North Island in the Central Plateau, is the world’s trout-fishing capital.

The Bay of Islands, an archipelago of 150 islands, is a beach lover’s paradise with beautiful aquamarine water, white sandy beaches and lots of adventure and leisure activities. Largely undeveloped and unspolit, it is an ultimate retreat from urban bustle. The main centre in the islands is Paihia followed by Russell, Kerikeri and Waitangi.

Eclectic cuisine
If food is what makes you tick, then Auckland reigns over all other New Zealand cities for its superior dining, with gourmet delights that simply gets your taste buds rolling. Try out the new wave ’Pacific Rim’ cuisine - a hybrid of many indigenous cooking styles of the region. The variety of ethnic cuisines available is amazing: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Thai including an eat-out run by the Hare Krishna sect.

A dinner at a restaurant on the quay gives you a picturesque view of the harbour as you relish the food. Sky Tower gives you spectacular views from its revolving restaurant. Casual luncheons can be a delight at the numerous easy-on-the-pocket Cafes that dot the city, especially those at Queen St and K Road which boasts of Latin and Vietnamese cafes.

Night-outs
If Auckland by day is a treat, by night it can be equally charming. Its buzzing nightlife offers a plethora of music events, concerts, theatre, opera and nightclubs. For concerts, go to the Aotea Centre. If in a mood to earn some quick money or even lose it, head straight down to a casino where one can also attend the theatre, eat at restaurants, drink at the bars or promenade on the observation decks. Pub crawlers needn’t be left behind. The concentration of pubs is very satisfying.

Shopping
Shopping in Auckland is as good as it gets. Souvenir collectors can buy lovely Asian, Polynesian and Maori arts and crafts at the Victoria Park Market or the Otara Markets. The Newmarket suburb is the place to go for trendy shopping and you’ll find a nice range of clothes, furniture and great outdoor fashion wear.

Auckland’s charms rests in its accessibility. You might be busy with work, but you know that leisure and recreation is just a few minutes drive. All in all, the city is an astounding blend of old world charm and new trends.

FACT FILE

Getting There
Air India, Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific have connecting flights to Auckland from the metros. Auckland’s International Airport is the gateway to New Zealand’s other cities. Located 21 kms Southwest of city centre, it is a 30-minute ride to the city by way of taxis, shuttle bus services or car rental services available for transfer.

Getting Around
Within Auckland, there is a good network of bus services and a small metro rail service. However, it is ideal to take the ferry service if you wish to travel to any of the suburban islands. Bus services are the most convenient, efficient and economical way to commute.

Stagecoach services connect the city suburbs while link buses cover the inner city circuit at 10 minute intervals. The Auckland Explorer Bus is a terrific way to get a guided first time tour of the city, with the option to hop off and on at will. The other option would be, local commuter trains that travel to the southern and western parts of the city at regular intervals.

Getting around by a rent-a-car is also convenient, with a variety of options to choose from. Taxis too are available through phone bookings or at the cab stands. But cycling or Auckland by foot is the best way to see the place. Boats trips in the Auckland region run several times daily and give you picturesque views of the harbour and areas around the Gulf.

Specials
To see a city when in its festive garb is a different experience altogether. Try to plan your travel accordingly but bookings should be done much in advance. Special events include the Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta in January and February, the wine festival in February, Dragonboat Races in March and April, Auckland to Suva Yacht Race in May, Rally of New Zealand in July, the Great New Zealand Crafts Show and the New Zealand Golf Open in December.

A comprehensive list is available at any visitor centre.

Tourist Offices
The National Visitors Information Centre in New Zealand provides tourist information and bookings through its regional and local offices. At the Auckland airport, there is a Visitors Information Centre for fresh arrivals. The Auckland Visitor Information Centre at 24 Wellesley St. West will give you all the information on activities, transport and tours. Grab a free copy of ’The Auckland Tourist Times: What’s Happening’ on arrival.

Accommodation
Accommodations range from boutique and luxury hotels to service apartments and motels. Hotels are mainly located in the city centre and you can have a pick of many top-end hotels. The business hotels provide excellent convention/conference facilities and rooms at competitive rates.

Luxury:

  • Quest Hotel Auckland 363 Queen Street Situated in the heart of Auckland’s central business district, Quest Auckland is close to Aotea Centre and Auckland’s Town Hall as well as nearby restaurants and shopping precincts.
  • Quest on Mount Street Hotel 15 Mount Street, presents itself as a Hotel of Apartments that caters to both the corporate and leisure markets, short one-day stays to long term residency.
  • Crowne Plaza Auckland, 128 Albert Street, is conveniently located in the centre Auckland’s business district, with retail shopping within the complex.

Middle Budget:

  • Ascot Parnell 36 St. Stephens Ave., Parnell, New Zealand Phone: 09/309-9012 Fax: 09/309-3729
  • Devonport Villa Inn 46 Tainui Rd., Devonport, New Zealand Phone: 09/445-8397 Fax: 09/445-9766

Economy:

  • Albion Hotel, Hobson and Wellesley Sts., Auckland. Phone: 09/379-4900 Fax: 09/379-4901
  • Hotel Debrett, 2 High St., Auckland. Phone: 09/377-2389 Fax: 09/377-2391