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Auckland New Zealand
vibrant multi-cultural international-style city - and
for nothing do they call it the City of Sails"
Don't make the mistake of thinking that Auckland has little to offer the overseas visitor and thus whizz through before you've had much of a chance to unjetlag.
You could while away five or six pleasant days in this, the largest Polynesian city on earth.
It is also rated by international agencies as one of the most liveable cities in the world with a laid-back lifestyle made possible by its benign climate along, cafes and restaurants ranging from cheap ethnics to top-of-the-line fine dining, easy access to a wide range of recreational activities, a largely pollution-free environment and by world-standards a low crime rate.
Auckland is, above all else a maritime city. It is built astride a narrow isthmus that bridges two coasts: the Tasman Sea to the west, the Pacific Ocean to the east. The Waitemata Harbour and its front-yard, the Hauraki Gulf, are among the world's most stunning sailing and boating waters and Aucklanders are thus boat crazy. Not for nothing do they call it the City of Sails. On the average summer weekend the harbour and gulf are confettied with white canvas.
The city is home to a million souls - a polychromatic melting pot of races and cultures. Predominantly British, but with, naturally enough, a very strong Maori element. On top of these base tones add in the peoples of the Pacific Islands - notably Samoa, Tonga, Niue, and the Cooks - Dutch, Dalmatian, and (especially recently) Chinese. But then add the coloratura high notes - Indian, Greek, Italian, African, Middle Eastern and many more. The result is a true multi-cultural city which for the most part works harmoniously and successfully.
What it has meant is an interesting melding of cuisines which have combined to create a very distinctive New Zealand style of cooking.
But what to see, what to do?? The Auckland Museum is one of the most-visited museums in the world.
The best views of the city, however, are from the volcanic cones that dot the isthmus - Mt Eden or One Tree Hill.
Prominent on the city's skyline is Sky City Skytower ranked as the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and the seventh tallest in the world. The view from the top platform is stunning. If you want a rapid adrenalin rush the Skytower has a couple of other options: Climb to the top of it to the highest man-made viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere. or simply jump off it on a wire-controlled base jump, the highest of its kind in the world. You fly a bit like Superman for 20 seconds down 192m (630 ft) to the landing below. If that's all a but too hyper-ventilation-inducing, go to the Weta Cave in the basement of the hotel. Inside you will discover full scale displays and official merchandise from Weta Workshop, the multi-Oscar winning company that helped bring to life The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, District 9 and the The Adventures of Tintin.
Keep up the adrenalin levels with a bungy jump off the harbour bridge, or simply climb to the top of it on the Bridge Climb.
Auckland Zoo is popular with visitors because of its well-presented kiwi house. While you're out that way take a look at the Museum of Transport and Technology. The aviation section is particularly good with a replica of Richard Pearse's monoplane, now accepted as the first heavier-than-air machine to fly, beating the Wright brothers by over a year.
Probably these days the premier man-made attraction in the city is Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Experience and Underwater World. It'll give you an inches-away view of such lovelies as piranhas, sharks and stingrays. Indeed, you can now get up-close-and personal with the sharks - take a dive into their tank. The Antarctic section recreates and presents the life and conditions of the great frozen continent away to the south. The main feature is the penguins - live emperor penguins on display.
While you're out that way, along Tamaki Drive in the eastern suburbs, continue on eastwards. Okahu Bay, Mission Bay, Kohimarama Beach, St Heliers Bay make up a line of superb swimming beaches.
If there are kids among the crew, Rainbow's End at Manukau City is a fun-filled day. Not in the Disneyland class perhaps, but they'll love it anyway.
But the real mega-star of Auckland is, as mentioned above, its harbour. There are literally hundreds of thousands of boats in this town. It's no accident that NZ yachties have at one time or another captured every international yachting prize worth winning, culminating, naturally, in their win over Dennis Conner to take the America's Cup.
A quick way to sample the harbour is to take a ferry ride to Devonport. There are a variety of cruise options on the harbour from quickie coffee or luncheon cruises of the inner harbour to ferry trips to the Hauraki Gulf islands - Waiheke, Rangitoto, eco-marvel Tiritiri Matangi Island or remote Great Barrier Island. But you can go dolphin watching, bug-boat sailing or simply paddling your own kayak.
To see how some of our early merchant princes lived, visit one of their erstwhile historic homes. Out at Howick - if you get that far out of town - is a better-than-most replica of a colonial village.
Out of town on the other side of the city is West Auckland. Take a drive along the tops of the Waitakere Ranges - great views of the city and a quick snapshot of primaevel NZ rainforest. There are also several walks in the area.
Further west from the ranges are the stunning west coast beaches at Piha and Muriwai. Well worth a visit, especially if you are into surfing. At Muriwai is a gannet colony that is worth the visit on it own.
A good reason for western wandering is wine tasting. Some of the oldest vineyards in the country are headquartered here and you can while away a pleasant day trying and buying premium quality wines.
A New Zealand Travel Guide is written by David Morris and published by
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10 March 2012