What can you say about Auckland?
My mother instructed me, like all the other good mothers out there lectured their sons and daughters, that if I didn’t have anything good to say to hold my tongue. Well, I’ve never been a tongue-holder, sorry Mom.
Auckland is sorely lacking in charm and soul. If you’re headed to New Zealand, save yourself the trouble and head directly for the country. The countryside is pleasant and inviting, don’t waste your time in the city of sails.
We looked for a reason to like Auckland, really, searched high and low, but couldn’t find it. We even believed it was there and wished for it but alas, nothing. Not like Melbourne, or even Sydney. (But more on that later)
Landing in Auckland a little after 6 o’clock in the morning and taking a bus through the outskirts into the city, my nose pressed against the glass and my breath fogging up the window trying to take it all in, I read the names of store fronts and inspected cafes and to me it looked like a vibrant, original city.
How wrong I turned out to be…
We booked a room across from the sky city tower and casino where I once I peeked out the window and saw a body dropping to the earth — they sky-dive off of it for kicks, and charge tourists to do the same.
The hotel was the best part. An indoor hot tub on the 7th floor we made good use of the morning we landed, a bed the size of South Dakota, it was luxury we weren’t use to but weren’t afraid to wrap ourselves up in.
I’m just a drive-by visitor, only stayed three days and then booked it, so I’m not saying there is a complete and utter lack of soul within the limits of Auckland, I’m just saying you don’t stumble across it in the CBD, those are the drunk 18 year-olds we saw the night before on the corner cursing and yelling at their friends across the street. I remember a day when a city of drunk college kids sounded like heaven on earth, (Boston) am I that old?
I had a serious sushi-craving that night and the first spot we ducked in only had salmon. What? We’re surrounded by ocean, the city is built on an isthmus, the sign said sushi and sake bar, and they only had salmon? My inner elite was enraged.
Now don’t take the criticism as an indication that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. We scampered around town, through the university grounds, through the parks, studied the Maori artifacts in the museum, had a decent thai meal, watched the brave tourists launch themselves into the air on an elastic string with the view and a promise that all was safe, right on a busy street corner, amid the high rises.
Kiwi’s love their adventure activities. (more on that later)
So you see, we gave it a go with a smile on our face. We really wanted to love the place. Auckland. The city of sails.
There were things to be seen, exotic conversations to eavesdrop on, outfits to admire with something approaching morbid curiousity, and a big sprawling lawn to relax upon outside the museum.
But something was off. It felt a little hollow. There wasn’t a feeling that people loved to live here, just that they did to get by. The prices were out of control. 15 dollars for a sandwich. 30 for a new book. 40 for a 4-pack of lithium batteries. Cars were everywhere, beeping and kicking around exhaust. Auckland has 1/7th the population that London does but covers more ground. The vibe was a little stale.
Maybe that’s part of it…
Maybe because the rest of the country is so beatiful, lush and green and full of peace, that you have to really be in a bind not to live somewhere else, and pissed that you have to live in a place like Auckland instead.
The locals certainly withheld any of the welcoming attitude that Australians exhibit.
It wasn’t as much contempt the average clerk or waiter showed us, but rather restrained indifference. A gigantic boredom that seemed to be crushing their spirits, and I was somehow culpable.
The day ended with a disappointing meal of raw fish and rice prepared in an utilitarian fashion, so as not to offend with too much flavor. At least there was more than just salmon.
The next day we boarded a ferry and left Auckland behind, for one of its “subburbs”, Waiheke Island.
Waiheke enjoys a warmer climate due to its position in the Haurki Gulf and people have owned vacation homes there for awhile but now they’re starting to commute into the city. I can see why. The place is beautiful.
Beautiful coves shelter gentle, sandy beaches as vineyards string up the hillsides and colorful birds pick about in your front yard. The weather was fine, sunny and happy – as much as certain weather can be defined as happy.
After taking some pictures we found a place for lunch overlooking one of those spectacular beaches, where we ate the most succulent mussles, from the Coromendel Pennisula – a place we were headed shortly – cooked in a buttery cream sauce that made me giggle like a baby as I drank my beer and squinted the scene into memory.
The fact that people live here, take a ferry into Auckland for work, and come home to this everynight was really sickening. It made me want to work my ass off, make a heap of money, and join the good times. It made me want to escape here some day with nothing on the plate but eating good food and maybe a novel to write. I couldn’t help picking up the real estate section and set to day-dreaming a bit.
Only half a million American dollars can get you a little cottage on the beach, better than a condo in the valley, the kookaburros could laugh at you as the sun sets and the ideal climate blows kisses and sweets for you.
Waiheke Island is the place your dreams go for holiday.
It was sad to leave such a calm and soothing place that inspired us to lay on the sand and stare at the sea all day, but we did, we had to get back to Auckland and get ready for the road the next day.
A wannabe “b-boy” dressed in baggy clothes plastered with NBA logos bumped some terrible rap from a boom box in his backpack, G-Unit I believe it was, his parents telling him to turn it down as they boarded the ferry, but allowing us to endure the 15-minute prior wait, (thanks mom and dad) and that exemplified the feeling I got from Auckland. It’s a little dark spot on an otherwise beautiful island. It’s not dangerous or dirty, just lacking originality and spirit.
There’s a feeling that the city is trying but just doesn’t do “urban” well.
It’s New Zealand, it doesn’t need a cutting-edge “scene”. It didn’t need “real hip-hoppers”. It doesn’t need world class restaurants, or stylish fashion whores.
Back at the room, the sun bedded down behind distant hills, forcing to me to squint at it some more in a mad attempt to “catch a New Zealand sunset”. It’s weird, on the plane ride over I fantasized about falling in love with Auckland and moving here, and now honestly I wouldn’t feel amiss to never see the city again.
So you see, by this time we were ready to hit the road and see more of this charming and exquisite island.
We were also ready to say goodbye to Auckland.
Next up: the Coromendel Pennisula.