Auckland - The Hard Way By Travel Writer, Ken Spearen

Issue 18

Following a gruelling 28-hour journey with BA/Qantas from Newcastle Airport to Auckland, New Zealand via Heathrow and Los Angeles, we finally arrived in Auckland for a three day stop over before boarding Cunard's Queen Elizabeth en route as part of its world tour. Although a well meant gesture by a local travel agent who thought he was doing me a big favour by circumnavigating the world as "not a lot of people have actually done that" (oh really?), I would have gladly paid anything to get off even with the added comfort of business class flights.

Having never visited Auckland before, we set about some serious sightseeing but not before getting the feeling back into our bruised derrieres. The time difference (+12 hours GMT) initially slowed us down somewhat but we quickly became acclimatised thanks to the amazing recuperative powers of New Zealand’s famous Sauvignon Blanc. It worked for us anyway.

From my pre-trip research, apparently it was the Mãoris who were the first people to arrive in New Zealand from the Polynesian Islands around 1,000 years ago. Dutchman Abel Tasman was the first European to see New Zealand following his previous discovery of Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) but it was the British who actually claimed NZ for their Commonwealth Empire In 1840, when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and the Mãoris. British law was quickly adopted and the founding document remains an important part of the country’s history. This hugely popular tourist attraction is still housed in the building where the treaty was signed over 170 years ago. Auckland is a major city in the north Island of New Zealand and has a population of just over a million people. It is based around two large harbours. The central part of the urban area occupies a narrow isthmus between the Manukau Harbour on the Tasman Sea and the Waitemata Harbour on the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the few cities in the world to have two harbours on two separate major bodies of water.

On central Queen Street, the iconic Sky Tower has views of Viaduct Marina (the home of the America’s Cup in 2000 and 2003) which is full of super yachts and trendy bars and cafes.

Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park is situated on an extinct volcano and home to the more formal Winter Gardens. The pristine Mission Bay Beach is also just minutes from downtown and very popular on a weekend. By contrast, the South Island has a mix of beautiful sunny beaches and the most amazing craggy mountain ranges where some of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.Auckland has a rich and fascinating history reflecting a unique fusion of Mãori and European cultures. It offers great seafood, wine and shopping opportunities at reasonable prices and on our three days based there, we tested, tasted, enjoyed and examined all we could in the time available but it was simply not enough to do it justice. The highlight of all the tourist attractions was the Sky Tower. At 328 metres high and with supersonic, ear-popping lifts, it is the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Unassumingly located on a street corner in the city centre, the Sky Tower is an observation and telecommunications tower that attracts over 1,000 visitors per day. The upper portion of the tower boasts two restaurants and a café. It has three observation decks at different heights providing amazing 360-degree views of the city. The main observation level at 186m has 38mm (1.5 in) thick glass flooring giving a view straight down to the ground. It’s one of those places where your brain refuses to do as it is told and you find yourself rooted to the spot and unable to move. I have a great video of my wife feeling her way across it with her eyes tightly shut which totally defeated the object of the exercise. Is it me?

The tower also features the Sky Jump, a 192-metre jumping platform from the observation deck, during which free-falling speeds of 53 mph are achieved. That said, jumpers are attached to a cable to prevent them from colliding with the tower in the event of high winds – which is most of the time. We watched people with some kind of death wish pushing their luck to the limit. My reasoning of the situation quickly went past “how” to “why”?

It is also used for the Amazing Race (similar to our Iron Man contest) where competing teams use the tower’s exterior maintenance ladders to climb from the sky deck to the red light at the top of the structure itself before completing a Sky Jump and continuing the race at another location. What? Exhausted by just watching the training regime of some its contestants, we opened another bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. In my opinion, it is the only sensible way to fly unaided.

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