No other city in the world with a waterside location has more boats per capita aside from the hundreds of yachts often dotting the harbour than New Zealand’s city, AUCKLAND, earning this place the nickname, “City of Sails”. About one in three Auckland’s households owns a boat.
Also known as the “maiden with a hundred lovers”, this biggest Polynesian city of 1.4 million people with a vibrant mix of European, South Pacific, Asian, and indegenous Maori culture flourishes as the largest industrial, educational and commercial centre of New Zealand.
One of the cleanest and most peaceful, Auckland with its subtropical climate has plenty of parks and open green spaces, scenic landscapes dotted with dormant volcanoes and hillsides cloaked with rainforests, enchanting islands and beaches, and stately old Victorian buildings and houses of wrought iron and balconies.
We explored the city on our own and travelled farther afield by hiring a vehicle as the best option. There are however many tours on offer which will take you to many different places of interest throughout the region. The common legal age to rent a car is 21. In New Zealand like in Australia always drive on the left side of the road.
We experienced first hand the culture mix of this sophisticated metropolis by taking a walk down Queen Street, the major commercial thoroughfare and main outdoor shopping area in the heart of the city.
One of the most famous landmarks of Auckland, Mount Eden, an extinct eponymous volcano with a bowl-like crater about 50 meters deep, is the highest natural point in Auckland providing good views in all directions over the city.
To the north and barely three hours away from Auckland we took a day trip to seaside township of Paihia, the gateway to the beautiful Bay of Islands, a cluster of big and small islands with sheltered coves and sandy beaches of spectacular scenery in a subtropical paradise. On a high-speed yellow and black Dolphin Discovery catamaran cruise we discovered the islands and saw the iconic “Hole in the Rock” and travelled though it. We’re suppose to come close or encounter dolphins/whales as the skipper had announced but unfortunately none of them showed up. We enjoyed the island stop at Otehei Bay resort in Unupukapuka Island.
West of Auckland city centre is Piha Beach of unspoiled black sands, the birthplace of New Zealand surfing. Then we headed on a picturesque trip to Mission Bay, a place rich in history and culture, and strolled along The Promenade lined with restaurants and cafes where you can have a Movenpick icecream or a fat-free cone of Paradiso gelato.
On to Rotorua, about three hour-drive south from Auckland with several nice towns and villages along the way. With a Maori guide we experienced “Te Puia”, a place of Maori culture and a thermal valley wonderland of boiling mud pools, spouting geysers and mineral terraces.
We gained an insight and understanding of the traditional Maori culture and history though a guided tour of the reconstructed Pakirangi Maori Village and the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, the Rainbow Springs Nature Park and the Agrodome. The tour ended at the Maori traditional meetinghouse where we watched a performance of traditional dances and chants. At the end of the show with audience participation we were able to speak some Maori words: “Haere mai” for welcome, “Kia ora” for hello, and “Haere ra” for goodbye.
A must-see for any traveller to New Zealand is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, a labyrinth of limestone caves and formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Gliding silently in the dark by paddled boat on the underground river under thousands of magically sparkling glowworms is an experience we will never forget. By doing so we became a part of over 120 years of cultural and natural history of the original world famous caves.