After a long journey from Calgary we arrived in Auckland, the first stop in our 3 month tour of New Zealand’s 2 islands. We left Calgary on October 8th arriving in Auckland the morning of October 10th, losing October 9th along the way!! Prior to flying to New Zealand we knew that we must have our newly implemented New Zealand visitors visa approved before arrival and proof of an onward ticket leaving New Zealand, which we did. What was not discovered in any of our research was the fact we need to have a visa, or the right to enter, the country we were going to after New Zealand, in our case Australia. I knew we needed a visa for Australia and had plans to purchase a 1 year visitors visa sometime in December, before our January flight to Melbourne. However, when trying to board our Air New Zealand flight in Vancouver, we were not allowed on board until we had an Australian visa!! So, $50 CDN ($37.50 USD) each later for the instant approval visa we were allowed to board the flight. Had we done this ourselves earlier the cost is only $13.60 USD, somebody is seriously overcharging for these instant visa approvals 🙁 Lesson learned, now we are going to make sure that we not only have onward flights booked but any required visas for the country we are going to after the one we are landing at…more planning!!
Our entry through Auckland airport was one of our smoother experiences. Clearing immigration as a Canadian was quick and easy through the eGate – scan your passport, have your photo taken and you are in. But before immigration you walk through a large duty free area where we purchased our local SIM card from Vodafone. By doing this in the duty free zone you save the GST on your purchase. We used Vodafone while in Europe for 12 months finding their service and prices very competitive, here in New Zealand the cost is a very reasonable NZD $43 (USD $27) for 60 days of service including 4GB of data. We can top up online for our final 29 days, pretty simple. With luggage and SIM card in hand we made our way to the car rental agency and to our surprise were offered a free upgrade from a Toyota Corolla to a lovely Nissan X-Trail SUV, nice!!! This will be a great vehicle for all the driving we have planned over the next 3 months. We booked our car through Rentalcars.com choosing Aerodrive Car Rental, their prices being the most reasonable for an 89 day rental, plus one of the very few companies which allow us to take the car on the ferry across to the South Island, returning it in Christchurch. When we were picked up by the Aerodrive shuttle bus our driver was a fellow Canadian, from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan of all places. Small world 🙂 The drive from the airport to our Airbnb apartment in downtown Auckland took only 20 minutes where our very kind landlady agreed to meet us at 8am letting us into the apartment, our home for the week.
When planning our time in New Zealand we had hoped to stay in one location for an extended period however doing so meant long drives to see all the places on our list. Therefore, we are staying in each city or town for one week, and although it means a lot of moving, it gets us closer to the scenic locations we want to visit. With so much upcoming travel we made sure that travel days are relatively short distances to keep stress at a minimum. The first day after arrival we usually give ourselves the time to relax and get grounded in our new temporary home, leaving plenty of time to explore each new place.
While large cities are not high on our list of places to stay, we thoroughly enjoyed our first week in the CBD (central business district) of Auckland. With a population of 1.7 million the downtown core and harbor area is relatively compact and very walkable. The day we arrived it was raining so we drove to the supermarket, and around the neighborhood, noting places of interest to visit later. We walked to the harbor area regularly during the week and very early on discovered The Shucker Brothers, a tiny oyster bar serving soft-shell crab sliders…we were in heaven enjoying this tasty delicacy.
The starting point for the Auckland free walking tour was a 15 minute walk from our apartment at the downtown ferry terminal building where we met our charismatic guide Marty. 2.5 hours later we had covered a good part of the CBD including a lovely walk through Albert Park. Marty shared his love of New Zealand’s history, the city of Auckland, the Maori culture, his favorite places to eat and drink, and his lovely accent. Did you know the Kiwi accent has been ranked the sexiest accent in the world? I must say it is very easy on the ears 🙂 This was one of the most enjoyable free walking tours we have done and we recommend going for a walk with Marty if you are in Auckland.
After the free walking tour concluded the clouds had cleared and it was warm and sunny so off to the Sky Tower we went, not wanting to miss the opportunity while the sun was shining. This turned out to be a good decision with stormy weather arriving the next day! As far as towers go, this one is not overly high with the observation deck at level 51 (610 ft) and the sky deck at level 60 (722 ft), roughly half the height we ascended at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai last year. The views of Auckland and the bay were well worth the seniors ticket price of NZD $23 each (USD 14.55) and had we wanted to dine in the restaurant this cost would have been applied to our meal. For the thrill seekers out there the Sky Tower offers a Sky Jump, off level 53 of the tower free falling 192 meters (629 ft) in 11 seconds to a landing pad on the ground, securely harnessed to a bar and cable system of course. The other adrenaline rush available is the Sky Walk, a walk around the tower on a 1.2 meter wide platform hanging 194 meters (636 ft) above the ground. There are no handrails on this platform, guests are secured by a harness and safety lines…yikes!! No, we did not partake in either of these adventures!!
Mount Eden is the highest volcano in Auckland and from the summit we were treated to spectacular views of the city and it’s harbors. Within the summit cone is a large crater which is considered sacred Maori ancestral grounds so access is not permitted. There are numerous walking trails up and around the volcano busy with locals out running, biking and walking on this sunny Sunday morning.
Across the bay from downtown Auckland is the suburb of Devonport with gorgeous views of central Auckland, which is where the header photo was taken. We visited a couple of scenic viewpoints before enjoying lunch at the Devonport wharf restaurant. After lunch we continued along the coast to the North Head Historic Reserve, a former military fortification built on a headland at the entrance to the Auckland harbor. One of the few remaining disappearing guns in the world can be seen here, what an interesting piece of machinery! More details on how this gun works and the fortification can be found at the above link to the Historic Reserve.
New Zealanders are coffee lovers and this is evident by the abundance of coffee shops and their famous “flat white” coffee. New Zealand claims to have invented the flat white, but Australians beg to differ! A flat white has less milk, less foam and more coffee than a latte and is almost considered an art form here in New Zealand. Needless to say we have become fans of this delicious coffee already 🙂
During our week in Auckland a severe storm blew in bringing 90 km wind gusts and heavy rainfall, keeping us housebound for a couple of days. We spent our time blogging and researching future travel plans while wondering if we would be able to get to our next home on the Coromandel Peninsula when we heard the road was closed due to a landslide. Fortunately the road re-opened the day we were scheduled to travel and off we headed to Pauanui, our second stop on New Zealand’s North Island…..
Before arriving to New Zealand apply online for your visitors visa, book your flight leaving New Zealand as well as any secure any visas required for the country you are going to after New Zealand.
We recommend booking a free walking tour with this company.