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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Auckland is New Zealand's largest, most culturally diverse and cosmopolitan city. Its European, Pacific and Asian influences make it a destination unlike any other. But its urban credentials—a flourishing cultural life and abundant commerce—are often upstaged by its breathtaking geography. Sprawled across an isthmus, the city envelops more than 40 extinct volcanoes, several of which stand in green, pastoral parks overlooking a broad harbor, gulf islands and a seemingly endless shoreline.

Auckland's residents appreciate the city's two-sided personality: They view nature as one of life's privileges rather than a barrier to development, and the city's population is dispersed into neighborhoods of manageable size. All in all, Auckland is a gateway to nature and outdoor adventure, with fine dining and culture there for the asking, too.

Geography

Auckland is on New Zealand's North Island. The city spreads across an isthmus between two harbors and two very different coastlines. The east coast, along the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf, is lined with golden sand and has translucent blue, calm waters. Manukau Harbour flows into the Tasman Sea on the west coast, beyond the forest-covered Waitakere Ranges, and is characterized by deep-blue water with unrelenting swells pounding stretches of black sand. Numerous dormant volcanoes dot the landscape and offer wonderful vistas.

The greater city of Auckland is really a sprawling set of neighborhoods and suburbs and was previously split into four cities: Manukau City (south), Waitakere City (west), North Shore City (north) and Auckland City (center). Auckland is a supercity, with one council and one mayor, but with regional representation.

The downtown area stretches uphill from the cruise-ship terminal area, which includes the Viaduct Basin, Princes Wharf, Queens Wharf (where the ferry terminal is located) and Wynyard Wharf. Queen Street is the main street in the CBD (Central Business District). Karangahape Road, called K' Road, connects Upper Queen Street to Ponsonby Road, the main street through Ponsonby, the neighborhood just west of the city center.

The Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St. Heliers Bay waterfront is a popular place for tourists and locals alike. Visitors also gather at the North Shore beaches and in historic Devonport township.

HISTORY

The Maori, a Polynesian people, are recognized as being the first inhabitants of New Zealand. Evidence suggests that they arrived by canoe during the 13th century in a period when Polynesians did a lot of ocean voyaging. They began establishing strong communities on the North and South islands.

Easy access to the resources of the ocean and rich volcanic soil made the Auckland region highly desirable, which in turn made it the prize of conflict and war. Different Maori groups built fortified strongholds (pa) on the area's volcanoes: Mount Eden, Mount Victoria, One Tree Hill and Bastion Point.

In the early 1800s, the first British settlers began to arrive. Initially, they began establishing communities along the coastline through trading agreements with the Maori and then finally, in the 1860s, through armed conflict. The first governor general, William Hobson, "negotiated" the acquisition of 7,400 acres of land around the tallest volcano, Mount Eden. He declared Auckland the capital city in 1841 and set about making it the country's main trading port.

In 1865, Auckland lost its status as capital to Wellington. Nevertheless, greater Auckland became the largest city in New Zealand and home to a large population of Polynesian (mainly from Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tonga) and, more recently, Asian immigrants. The city remains one of the three main ports of call for cargo, visitors and information.

 
 

Sightseeing

Auckland's must-see sights invariably turn into must-do activities. The reason: The city's most striking landmarks are its natural monuments. Once you see them, you'll soon want to walk, bike, kayak or sail them. The main park, the Auckland Domain, is home to several interesting plant exhibits in the Wintergardens, as well as the magnificent Auckland Museum—and it's a great place simply to take a walk. Dormant volcanoes such as Mount Eden, One Tree Hill, Mount Victoria and North Head provide not only beautiful recreational parkland, but also panoramic views of the city, the harbor and the Hauraki Gulf.

The best man-made vantage point in Auckland is the Sky Tower. It dominates the skyline and anchors the downtown entertainment complex called SkyCity. Guided walks across the Harbour Bridge also offer exhilarating views. For a more accessible vantage point, view the inner city from the external balcony of the Events Centre in the Wynyard Quarter.

The city center has plenty of cultural attractions, including the remodeled and expanded Auckland Art Gallery housing the country's largest collection of New Zealand and international art. Aotea Square, dominated by performing-arts and entertainment venue The Edge, sits midway up Queen Street (across from the historic town hall), and there is a diverse array of cafes and boutiques along Queen Street and adjacent High Street. West of the Ferry Building on Quay Street is Princes Wharf, the Viaduct Basin and Wynyard Quarter. Trendy Britomart's (east of the Ferry Building) train station is a bustling hub of city transportation, which makes the area surrounding a good spot for dining, shopping or leisurely watching the world go by.

New Zealand's sailing heritage is also documented in the Viaduct Basin at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum.

Take a 10-minute ferry ride across the harbor to historic Devonport, the first Auckland settlement and home of the New Zealand Navy. See navy ships at their berths when coming across the harbor on the ferry, swim at the safe sheltered beach at Cheltenham, and walk up Mount Victoria or North Head for 360-degree views of the city and environs.

One of the biggest attractions is just outside the city center toward the eastern beaches on Tamaki Drive. At Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World, you can see a colony of penguins and walk through an underwater passage with stingrays and sharks swimming overhead. The scenery along Tamaki Drive is worthwhile in itself, and you can continue along the coast to such vibrant areas as Mission Bay and St. Heliers lined with restaurants and cafes.

Potpourri

Do accept a drink if you are "shouted" a round by a friendly local. It is polite to buy a round back.

Don't smoke in public buildings, such as cinemas, libraries, restaurants or bars. It's considered rude to drop cigarette butts, as well.

Do look to your right when walking across the road—cars drive on the left in New Zealand.

Do swim between the red and yellow flags at the beach, as these areas are patrolled by lifeguards.

Don't light open fires in the forest if hiking, especially in summer when the fire risk is high.

Do learn and use the Maori greeting Kia ora.

Don't drink alcohol in public spaces: most have a liquor ban, sometimes even beaches and parks.

Don't rely on being able to use cell phones in rural areas, as coverage can be limited.

Do try the national dessert, the pavlova. 

Dos and Don’ts

Do explore the Melbourne Central Business District on foot; its alleyways, bars, shops, galleries and cafes are what give this city its soul.

Don't be offended if someone calls you "Mate." Take it as a compliment.

Do say "No worries" instead of "You're welcome." You can also say "ta" instead of "thanks."

Don't even think about drinking and driving; laws are very strict and enforced regularly.

Do wear thongs (flip-flops) and sunscreen in summer.

Don't ever proclaim Sydney to be a superior city. But by all means do proclaim Melbourne to be a superior city.

Do visit BYO restaurants and take your favorite beer or wine with you.

Dining

Dining out in Auckland is a passion fueled by fresh produce and culinary innovation. No one style can describe New Zealand's cuisine—it's a fusion of Pacific, Asian and European influences. Be sure to try locally caught fish, as well as New Zealand lamb. Kiwis are very proud of their wine industry, so you'll find lots of excellent local vintages to sample. There is also growing popularity in the Central American and Latin-style cuisines developing in the area.

The hot spots for good food and wine in Auckland include the downtown waterfront area. It's the place to head any night of the week for dinner or a late-night drink..

Dining times are generally 7:30-11 am for breakfast, noon-2:30 pm for lunch and 6-10 pm for dinner. Sunday brunch is also an Auckland tradition: Cafes along Ponsonby and Jervois roads, in Parnell, Mission Bay and around the city waterfront are busy 9 am-3 pm.

Some restaurants or eateries, mainly in suburban areas, are not licensed and display a BYO sign (Bring Your Own wine or beer). Even some licensed restaurants will let you take your own bottle. They will charge a corkage fee, usually NZ$5-$10 a bottle or NZ$4-$5 per person.

Etiquette

Generally, New Zealanders are open and friendly and do not stand on too much ceremony. Don't hesitate to ask if you are unsure about a social or business situation.

The Maori have unique cultural practices that are important in certain situations. Their form of greeting, called a hongi, consists of momentarily pressing noses together. If you're invited to a marae (the traditional, usually rural, meeting place), it is wise to ask instructions about protocol and procedures beforehand. Being invited to a marae is a special occasion and an honor. Be aware, however, that any ceremony there may be conducted entirely in the Maori language.

Maori customs are an integrated part of New Zealand society and should be respected. When traveling in the countryside, do not just wander onto a marae without an invitation. Even during cultural performances (or "tourist shows") laughing, making fun of the performers or trying to copy their actions can be seen as offensive. Sitting on a table or furniture that may be used for food is considered highly inappropriate in a Maori environment.

Highlights

Sights—Panoramic views of the city and harbor from the Auckland Harbour Bridge and SkyCity and Sky Tower; a ferry trip to Devonport, Rangitoto Island or Waiheke Island; a drive through the Waitakere Ranges to the vast, wild west-coast beaches of Piha and Muriwai.

Museums—Cultural and natural-history exhibits at the Auckland Museum; New Zealand and international art at the Auckland Art Gallery; maritime history exhibits at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum; Navy history and exhibits at the Navy Museum.

Walks—Visiting plant exhibits in the Auckland Domain Wintergardens or Auckland Botanic Gardens (Manurewa); strolling along Tamaki Drive or through Cornwall Park; hiking in the Waitakere Ranges; walking or cycling the Coast to Coast trail; wandering through historic Devonport, along beaches or on Rangitoto, Motutapu and Waiheke islands.

Especially for Kids—Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World; Rainbow's End; Butterfly Creek; SheepWorld; the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT); interactive children's exhibits at Auckland Museum; Auckland Zoo; Crystal Mountain; Stardome Observatory and Planetarium.

Weather

Situated on an isthmus and near the tropical weather patterns of the Pacific islands, Auckland experiences every type of weather—sometimes all in the same day. Winter (June-September) is a mixed bag of seasons: Warm westerly winds often make some winter days mild, but other days can be cold and very rainy. It never gets cold enough to snow (even frosts are rare). Average winter temperatures are around 58 F, though they can vary greatly.

Spring months are also unpredictable—either wonderfully calm and sunny or a tumultuous jumble of rain, cold and heat. Summer months (December-March) offer the most consistent weather. Average temperatures rise to 75 F, sometimes with high humidity levels. Rain showers are less frequent but still common.

Geostats

Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports but not visas. Proof of sufficient funds and onward passage are required. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.

 

New Zealand's economy is heavily reliant on horticulture and agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has very strict guidelines as to what cannot be brought into the country and zero tolerance for offenders. Anyone caught with fruit in a bag is subject to a fine of at least NZ$200. Read and fill out your documentation on arrival carefully and honestly. Declaring something does not necessarily mean you will have it confiscated—just checked. You can view the customs form at http://www.customs.govt.nz.

Population: 1,482,000.

Languages: English, Maori.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic).

Time Zone: 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+12 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in September to the first Sunday in April.

Voltage Requirements: 230/240 volts.

Telephone Codes: 64, country code; 9,city code;

Currency: The New Zealand dollar is the country's official currency. The NZ$0.10 coin is the smallest currency unit, and NZ$5 is the smallest banknote. Banks and currency-exchange bureaus are readily available, but you're likely to get a better exchange rate with your bank card or credit card at an ATM. All ATMs are linked to major international banking systems, and you'll never be hard-pressed to find one. The downtown area, in particular, has a high concentration of ATMs. Generally, most banks carry reasonable amounts of each major currency.

What to Wear

Dressing for Auckland is a little tricky because the climate fluctuates between temperate and subtropical—the weather in winter and spring varies the most, so think layers. Even in summer you will probably be more comfortable at night with a warmer extra layer. In summer, when the sun can be fierce, hats, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and lots of sunscreen are essential. Rain gear is also recommended because showers can be frequent and unpredictable. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants at night and in bush areas to guard against mosquitoes and sand flies. Take insect repellent with you if you visit in the spring or summer.

Style-wise, for business occasions, suits are the norm, but for leisure New Zealanders have a reasonably relaxed style, so travelers needn't feel compelled to have formal attire. Combinations that you can dress up or down and layers to accommodate temperature fluctuations work well—be it a barbecue or the theater you're off to.

Travel 42

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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon

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