New Zealand Circuit: Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington (and Christchurch)

I’m alive!

And quite embarrassed. I’ve spent a regrettably long time away from the blogosphere. Seven weeks and some change, if you hadn’t noticed. While friends of mine were busy dodging bullets in Thailand, creating new businesses, even losing their jobs—and finding time to share their experiences—I’ve somehow managed to put my Internet life on hold. As my father says, intermittent hiatuses from technology are healthy, yet I feel like I’ve been missing out on some amazing stories and discussions in the travel and lifestyle design community, a group of folks I’ve worked so hard to become a part of over these last few years.

Thanks for sticking with me.

So, without further ado, let me jump right back in and tell you about my most recent trip to New Zealand. It’s a doozy of a post, so feel free to skip around.

Auckland: Sky Tower, Auckland Domain and Livability

As winter approaches the Southern Hemisphere, hundreds of yachts dominate Auckland’s Westhaven Marina. Auckland, nicknamed the “City of Sails,” has more yachts per capita than any other city in the world, more than 135,000 if you can believe it. An even more revealing statistic: one in three Auckland households owns a boat. But I wasn’t interested in the water. Flying in from Sydney, quick-eyed and anxious to stretch my legs, I thrust my head against the cabin window. Where are the mountains?

I imagine many first-time travelers to New Zealand (that route through Auckland) are thinking the same thing. Little did I know that the New Zealand stereotyped in the U.S.—you know, Lord of the Rings, epic mountainous landscapes, etc.—that’s all on NZ’s southern island. Auckland, and the two other cities I visited for work, are in the north.

Lack of mountains aside, Auckland has a lot to offer. According to Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey and The Economist, Auckland is one of the most livable cities in the world. With my work done and a day of sunshine to be enjoyed, I put on Vibram FiveFingers and hit the town.

I walked up Victoria Street, through Albert Park to the University of Auckland campus. Just past the campus lies the Auckland Domain, New Zealand’s oldest park. I chose my path, opting for the Centennial Walkway (over the Lovers Walk), meandering my way through wildly named forest ferns like sickle spleenwort and perching pittosporum, both of which would be great additives to any Harry Potter potion.

Because it was ANZAC Day, a national day of remembrance for Australian and New Zealand troops that fought in WWI, the War Memorial Museum inside the park was bustling with people. Three floors of New Zealand history, a nice gift shop and café, definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking through Parnell, a chic and homey suburb of Auckland proper, populated with antique jewelry shops, art galleries, paper/wool stores, a chocolate boutique and a handful of restaurants. Needing a drink, I sat down at Village Café, a Russian-owned eatery tucked under the shade of a large tree. My table is next to three people, and as I opened the menu noticed that they had already downed two bottles of wine. It was three in the afternoon. Moments later, a few sips into my cappuccino and they ordered shots of vodka, first one round, then another. They were tanked. I left them to their inebriation, giggling as I heard one of the women laugh, “they need a dessert vodka!”

I spent the evening at the Auckland Sky Tower, a 328 metres (1,076 ft) observation and telecommunications tower that houses a casino complex and several high-end restaurants. Nothing particularly “New Zealand” about it, but some great people watching. Especially at the Black Jack table. Many an Australian pissing money away that night. Many an Alan doing the same.

Auckland is increasingly cosmopolitan and, from what I gather, has a growing urban socialite scene. If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, there’s a chance your flight will route through Auckland. Instead of immediately jetting down to the south island, it might be worth staying a few days to scope out nearby wineries and take a few walks through the park.

New Plymouth: Brownie Points, Taranaki and the Coastal Walkway

My next stop was New Plymouth, a sleepy coastal town on a piece of land that juts westward, toward Australia. Directly toward Melbourne, actually. I landed just after sunset, the city shrouded in a dull and rainy grey. I hopped into a taxi.

The driver, Rosie, was a riot. The way she phrased things, her accent, her approach to answering my questions. She either represented a different NZ vernacular or was a little nuts. Maybe a little of both. At one point, she said, “brownie points again, put them in the frying pan,” and I lost it, literally started cracking up right there in the front seat. What the heck was she talking about?

The conversation shifted to New Plymouth, also called Taranaki. Nearby, just south of the city, is Mt. Taranaki, one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world. Because of its striking resemblance to Mt. Fuji, Mt. Taranaki provided the scenic backdrop for many of the scenes in The Last Samurai. While it’s a relatively easy mountain to climb in the summer, taking 6-8 hours to get up and down, it’s proximity to the coast causes rapid changes in weather. Both days I tried to climb it, I was strongly advised to stay at sea level. When I learned that 60+ people have died trying to summit, I was glad I heeded the park rangers’ advice.

With only a couple of main streets running through the center of town, New Plymouth lacks the vibrancy of larger cities like Auckland. On Devon Street, the main drag, you’ll find small cafés, restaurants and art galleries featuring the work of local artist Lee Russel. A few streets north and you’ll find the ocean. I spent a lot of my free time there, running the Coastal Walkway, a 7km sea-edge promenade, stretching almost the entire length of New Plymouth. It’s a fantastic path, and I only wish the weather was a little more pleasant during my hour-long escapades. Nothing beats running next to an open ocean. Well, maybe running in the mountains, but the Coastal Walkway was quite spectacular.

 

Also, for all you golf nuts out there—there are twenty golf courses within an hour’s drive of New Plymouth. Not bad for a small town. I briefly considered trying to play every golf course in New Zealand, possibly writing a book about it, but realized it would take way too long. New Zealand has oodles of golf courses.

Rosie, at the end of my five days, gave me a lift back to the airport. Questioning me about my experiences, I’ll never forget her closing remark. “For such a little place, Taranaki sure has a few wows.” I couldn’t agree more.

Wellington: Botanic Gardens, Te Papa and Beer

Wellington! What a city.

It reminded me a lot of Seattle. Cozy cosmopolitanism, hilly, totally walkable, with a friendly and funky atmosphere. One highlight was visiting Te Papa, the national museum with the only colossal squid on public display in the world. I spent an hour or two in the museum, learning about the origins of New Zealand, its wildlife and incredibly diverse ecosystem.

I also spent an afternoon running through the Botanic Gardens, a small and steep expanse of land just northwest of the city center. It’s the kind of picturesque verdant landscape I expected from New Zealand, and after spending so much time surveying prices in the heart of dense urbanism, I’m always looking for various forms of nature as an outlet. This particular botanic garden served as a pleasant oasis in that regard.

At night, I would walk up and down Cuba Street, sampling New Zealand’s various microbrewery selections. For such a small country, New Zealand has a ton of beer. I went out one night with Kenny, a geological surveyor based in Wellington, eager to show me a good time. We must have drank 6-7 different varieties at 4-5 bars. I, er, don’t remember much, other than Macs Gold, Monteith’s New Zealand Lager and Speight’s Gold Medal Ale were particular favorites. Hat tip to Kenny. Good on ya brother.

Christchurch: Networking Awesomely, Lamb Pizza and Air New Zealand

Speaking of showing me a good time, I had spoken with Colin Wright of Exile Lifestyle about trying to meet up at some point during my time in New Zealand. For those of you who don’t know Colin, he runs a boutique design and branding company from his laptop, traveling to a new location every four months as determined by his blog audience. Buenos Aires was his first stop, and I caught him at the tail-end of his time in Christchurch. When he’s finished romping around the U.S. this summer on an epic road trip, he’ll continue his jet-setting in Bangkok.

I flew down to Christchurch, my only stop in the south island, bussed into the city center and met up with Colin in front of an impressive Anglican cathedral. He toured me around town, past places like the Bangalore Polo Club and through Hagley Park.

A couple of months ago, Colin had included me in his Networking Awesomely eBook. Nathan Seaward, a Christchurch native, was also featured, so I was stoked to hear that he and a few others would be joining Colin and I for pizza and drinks at The Bicycle Thief.  Nathan, interestingly enough, is the youngest pilot ever to fly for Air New Zealand, and considering how much I enjoy that particular airline, I enjoyed hearing about Nathan’s various experiences. Between the drinks, the exceptionally delectable lamb pizza and company, it was a great night. Big thanks to Colin, Nathan and everyone else I met for showing me a good time. You all are welcome in Boston anytime.

That goes for any of you readers out there.

5 thoughts on “New Zealand Circuit: Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington (and Christchurch)”

  1. Nice update! That’s one hell of a trip. The part about you laughing at that sentence from the taxi driver gave me a good chuckle. Pretty outrageous sounding. My stereotype of New Zealand is spot on to what you described as far as Lord of The Rings, etc. These photos you took (which are great) pretty much smashed that perception. More of an urban feel.

    Thanks for posting this!
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..why i am mad at myself and how to not be like me =-.

  2. @Nate: Yep, it’s always nice to smash stereotypes while traveling, and New Zealand was no exception. As Colin mentioned in one of his posts, when NZ’s Internet infrastructure becomes more approachable (cheaper and faster), we’ll be seeing a lot more business activity there.

    Thanks for your comment.

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