Auckland, New Zealand

Although I began my trip to New Zealand in the City of Sails, I immediately left in search of new things, knowing that I’d have the opportunity to spend a few days in Auckland at the end of my visit. During my journey, I had the good fortune to spend a couple of days with my friend Perin, who with her husband Paul, recently moved from San Francisco to Wellington. When I asked why she decided to move to Wellington, she said it was more like San Francisco and Auckland more like Los Angeles. Although LA’s weather can be superb and the city has some really terrific beaches, it’s also a horrible tangle of divisive interstate highways and one of the worst examples of urban planning. Thus, as I returned to Auckland, I was prepared to be struck with the same sense of discomfort that has greeted previous visits to LA. What I found was something really different. Auckland might be like LA insofar as its population is larger than its smaller counterpart, but otherwise, I found Auckland to have few similarities to LA. Although Auckland wasn’t exactly the paragon of public transit (nor was Wellington), it was charming, stunningly beautiful, packed with all sorts of yachts and a really fun way to wrap up my time in New Zealand.

I arrived via a Pacific Blue flight from Dunedin and took a shuttle into the city. I shared the ride with an American student from Tufts and a garrulous driver who spoke openly about New Zealand’s economic problems and offered her own solutions to the nation’s woes (all the rich assholes need to leave their money in the stock market). In addition to political punditry, seeing as it was the end of her shift, she also gave us an extra little tour of the city before dropping us off. It was a good way to see some of the sights including Mission Bay and the many kite boarders out enjoying the evening’s stiff breeze.

After I checked into the charming Lantana Lodge, I wandered into the lounge where a couple of aging G3 iMacs helped me get online and sort out future travel plans for Australia. It was there that I realized that there really is no accounting for taste: a group of German students were watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and roiling with laughter. Unable to bear it any longer, I crawled into bed and fell into a deep sleep.

The next day, I strolled down to the supermarket, picked up breakfast and read the paper while sipping a frothy flat white (basically a latte as far as I can tell). Then, noticing the Adidas quarter (WTF?), half and full marathon that was in full swing, walked into the city to see the finish area, and to check out some of the many wonderful yachts moored at the city’s marinas. Apparently, Auckland has approximately 1.4 million people and about 800,000 boats of one sort or another (and at least one unfortunately named restaurant).

After allowing my breakfast ample time to digest, I returned to the hostel, changed into my running gear and set out to retrace part of the marathon course. It was a lovely afternoon with a light breeze and broken cloud, and as I settled into my run, I couldn’t help but notice the large number of others I passed along the way. Perhaps so many were encouraged to get out by the marathon, but Auckland was a real city of runners. Yaay!

My evening began with a short walk down the street to explore The Paddington, a pub I passed earlier in the day. When I arrived, a group of boisterous rugby players was sitting out front deep in the piss. They were good fun and were laughing heartily at all sort of ribald jokes. Another smaller group was gathered near the end of the bar, and when they thinned out, I started chatting with the remaining pair: a law student named Lorel and a ex-pat Welshman named Charles. It was Lorel’s birthday and as the three of us traded stories and sipped our drinks, we hatched a plan to head off somewhere else for more revelry.

Charles eventually opted out, but Lorel and I set of for the city center, where we had a few more cocktails, walked around Westhaven and drove across the Auckland Harbour Bridge – at my insistence. On the other end, we visited a small marina and sat on the sea wall where I received a condensed lesson in Maori culture and New Zealand history. Lorel kept insisting that it was too deep a conversation for such an evening, but I found it a fascinating topic, so I kept encouraging her. Given the sometimes abysmal record that my own country has with indigenous rights, it was interesting to learn how New Zealand has incorporated its own indigenous people into the national fabric. Things have not always been done perfectly, and I’m sure there are many opportunities for improvement, but tiny New Zealand certainly provides credible examples for how things might be done better by other nations.

After a fun time in New Zealand, it was off to Australia. I hopped on the Airbus (a less expensive way to get to the airport than the door-to-door shuttle I used earlier) and made my way to the international terminal. I enjoyed a few cocktails in the Air New Zealand lounge before boarding my flight to Sydney. The service on Air New Zealand was superb and the vegetarian meals were outstanding. The business-class service on many of airlines I’ve flown during the past decade has been great, but Air New Zealand provided the best entertainment, cocktails and vegetarian food options of any airline I’ve used. The food was so good that if I were served the same meal in a restaurant on the ground, I would have been delighted. So, if you’re flying to New Zealand and have the means, I highly recommend using the Air New Zealand’s business class.