The Big Smoke (aka Auckland)

Trip Start Dec 02, 2008
Trip End Feb 27, 2009

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

We have arrived-- leaving Seattle on Dec 2nd and arriving in Auckland 2 days later.  Thats what happens when you cross the international date line, everything gets screwed up.

First up a few vital stats about the "big smoke" -- it's 1.2 million people big, holding roughly 1/3 of NZ's population, it's a sprawling mess much like the central puget sound area, has great neighborhoods much like seattle and has all the trappings of a big city.  But let's face it you don't come to NZ to taste the finest lamb in the finest restaurants in Auckland. you come to brave the outdoors and wander the country-side in search of kiwis and other crazy birds.  What I do love about Auckland is the cafe culture where even McDonalds has a great latte, hard to imagine but it's true!  There are so many cafes it almost puts Seattle to shame.  The town is set on a beautiful bay with many many islands and volcanoes in sight.  The amazing thing about Auckland is that there are 50 or so volcanoes strewn about the city.  Most are dormant...luckily.  The most iconic to Aucklanders is Rangitoto which is its own island and finished erupting only 600 years ago.  The hike to the top is pretty sweet.  

We spent five days in the city, to overcome jet lag, get our bearings, and see a few Auckland sights. We stayed in the Parnell neighborhood, pretty close to downtown, somewhat like a more laid-back Queen Anne with colonial victorian architecture and a coffee shop on every block. One day we rode the city loop bus around town, stopping at the Auckland Museum (catching our first Maori show -- see pic).

The next day we took the afternoon Harbour Cruise around the bay, stopping in the cute neighborhood of Devonport where we hiked up Mount Victoria, one of the dormant volcanoes John mentioned. Great views back towards downtown! On another day, we ferried over to Rangitoto for a day of hiking among the lava rocks. My goal was to walk at least three miles per day. So far so good (but newsflash -- it didn't always happen).

Public transit update: gotta mention this for my transit peeps. The city loop bus is called, funny enough, Link. They run every 10 to 15 minutes and are painted green. No transfers though. Bummer. We also rode both the city commuter rail, called Maxx, and a regular city bus out to Mission Bay east of the city center, then walked back part of the way along Tamaki Drive where tons of people stroll and bike along the waterfront. From what we can tell, all transit (and ferries) is privatized and run by a network of operators. All the buses look different (except for the green Link buses) but I think it's overseen by the Auckland Transit Authority. The commuter rail is run by Veolia.

Best meal: La Bocca (our first meal in NZ, actually). Cute Parnell Italian place with a side courtyard.

Best experience: Rangitoto Island. Crazy scenery and it feels like it's a world away from the city.

Worst experience: Amanda's shoes giving her blisters on a long walk to Mission Bay. Had to stop in the middle of nowhere, take the Maxx train back to town, buy flip flops, then bus back out in time to go to the Aquarium before it closed. Thank god for public transit!

Word/Phrase of the Week:
We decided to have an interactive contest. Each week we will post a funny NZ slang word or phrase and you will have to guess what it means from the choices we provide. Post your guess as a comment. We will then post the correct answer in the following week's blog entry. Since we are three weeks behind we will have some catching up to do! Winners will get an amazing prize -- being right!

This week's word/phrase is: Dodgy Ticker
A) ubiquitous annoying bird that is compared to our common crow
B) travel alarm clock
C) bad heart (don't attempt to climb Mt. Rangitoto!)
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