Today I climbed Mount Eden and looked over Auckland, the city where I have been living for the last two weeks. The first time I admired the view from this dormant volcano – the highest natural point in the area – was my first day in New Zealand. I’d had little idea what to expect. This time, I was ready for the spectacular view over the crater and cityscape, including the Sky Tower, which dominates the skyline.
After five months of travelling, this country is where I’m due to settle for a few months, put some roots down and find some work. Auckland is my first port of call and I’m staying in a warm, homely hostel a short walk from Mount Eden. So far I have found it to be a very relaxed, easy city with clean streets, blue skies every morning and genuinely friendly people. On my first morning in the centre of town, I was looking for a place to have breakfast and a twinkly-eyed tourist warden was happy to help, recommending a stylish joint called Shaky Isles, which shares its name with the nickname for New Zealand. It had a sign saying “This coffee is the sh!t”. I know this to be true from my Bali trip: Luwak coffee beans are passed through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet mammal to create a smooth and expensive coffee (yes, I tasted it).
On my first couple of weekends I went out with friends to watch the British and Irish Lions rugby team on their successful tour of Australia at the bars down by the Viaduct, overlooking the harbour with its host of gleaming white yachts. Lots of people to meet and dancing until the early hours – I always think a fun night out is the sign of a good city so I wasn’t disappointed.
I even enjoyed a trip to the inland revenue office. The trip was to apply for my New Zealand tax number to allow me to work in this country. Auckland has several beaches and this office is based in the suburb of Takapuna, to the north of the city, which boasts a picturesque example. Being winter, there is the occasional rainy day here, but more often than not, it is accompanied by a vivid rainbow that lights up the grey skies. I have hardly scratched the surface of New Zealand but already I can see it showing off its natural beauty.
Of all the people I have met so far, few have been Kiwi born and bred – there are a fair few expats here, largely from the UK it seems. They talk about their appreciation of the outdoors lifestyle, the beaches, the happy people and the opportunity to get out and into nature, whether for a hike or something more adventurous. In summer, the sun shines all day long for months. All this, they say, balances out the downsides of being far from home, the more limited career opportunities and the feeling of being more separated from the world at large, exemplified by the somewhat parochial news reports. For most, this is a small price to pay for living in New Zealand.
At a yoga class last week I met a Maori girl who suggested we watch the Kapa Haka Super 12s, as part of the Matariki Festival. This festival is to mark New Year – 22nd June to 22nd July – as celebrated by the indigenous people of New Zealand. The waterfront venue on Queens Wharf hosted colourful trade market stalls selling Maori arts, crafts and clothing. One we saw was a traditional Maori wood carving depicting Mother Earth holding her pregnant belly.
The Kapa Haka Super 12s is a contest in which 12 groups battle it out with creative variations of the traditional Maori haka, or dance, for the chance to win NZ$12,000. Some went all out with Avenue Q style puppets, while others gave us cover versions of well-known songs sung by the troupes in the Maori language. Then, of course there were examples of the fierce haka performed by the New Zealand rugby squad ahead of their international games. What I love about this are the crazy wide eyed expressions and gestures that make the haka so enjoyable and so intimidating.
So today when I looked over Auckland from the summit of Mount Eden, I smiled. I have started to feel at home here. I like the lighthearted, good-naturedness of this city and its people. There is plenty more left to explore, but if even the greyest days can be uplifted by a rainbow, then New Zealand will surely continue to charm.
Next up, find out the best way to go backpacking around New Zealand if you’re a solo traveller.