New Zealand – Alluring Auckland

My transfer from airport to hostel was smooth as a baby’s bum and I collapsed gratefully into my bunk. I stayed at Newton Lodge which is a 10 minute walk from Auckland CBD. It was clean and warm. What else do you want for $21 NZD a night?

My first few days in Auckland were spent lost in administration (which will be covered in another blog) but when I did eventually get going, here’s what I got up to.

Auckland CBD is basically 1 main street (Queen Street) flanked by several other less busy streets. It has shops, cafes, eateries, a cinema, hostels, hotels, a theatre, a city hall and a harbour at the end. The harbour is a good looking thing though.

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Unless you want to shop, there’s not a whole lot to do on Queen street. I saw a film (The Wolverine, I didn’t think much to it), drank coffee and bought some beautiful shoes. You have to travel a little to see interesting stuff.

Back when I was young, one of my school friends emigrated to New Zealand and lives in Auckland. This meant I was treated to a wonderful catch up and a chauffeur driven trip to a black sand beach. More specifically,  Piha beach. I’ve never seen a black sand beach and my first trip was rather bracing and threatened with rain. I can only imagine how busy it is in summer with the sun beaming.

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Auckland is built on/around many volcanoes and I think this is how black sand beaches came to be. I don’t know the true origin but I think it’s more likely to be volcanic than my other theory (which is that food colouring is used to stain sand grains black).

Whilst in Auckland, I thought it would be rude not to go and visit the museum. It’s a 15-20 minute walk from the CBD and located in a place called the Domain. The name sounds ominous but what you’ll actually find in the Domain is a great green space. There’s a cafe and the museum quite close to one another so you can have a rest after your (uphill) walk. Here’s the museum.

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Entry to the museum is free for Aucklanders but for everyone else it’s $10 NZD. I opted for a tour and to attend the Maori cultural performance so my bill was $35 NZD.

They have some striking pieces in the museum but maybe the most impacting is the stained glass ceiling.

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The top floor is mostly dedicated to the war memorial but the museum does contain various collections. These range from animals in the deep seas to inhabitants of the Pacific Islands which contributed to migrating populations in New Zealand. There is a dedicated Maori heritage collection.

I very much enjoyed the Maori cultural show. The participants demonstrated various training techniques, weapons and tools accompanied by beautiful vocal arrangements. The biggest impression was left by the Haka they performed. I cannot find the words to describe the effect a haka had on me ,even when I knew i was not about to be attacked. I found myself shrinking towards the back of my chair despite best efforts at withstanding intimidation. It is truly a fearsome and powerful thing. Excuse my photography but the room was dimly lit and I was a few rows back.

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As I’d ticked the box labeled ‘culture’, I progressed onto the one labeled ‘geek’. I am referring to the fact that I visited the Hobbiton set on a day trip from Auckland. I booked with a company, whom I can thoroughly recommend, called Bush and Beach. I was collected from the door of my accommodation at 6:35 in the morning and the day began.

It’s a few hours drive from Auckland to the Hobbiton set but on the way our guide informed us about the landscape, native species and conservation in the area. New Zealand native birds had so few predators that they evolved to be flightless. When man arrived with cats, dogs, stoats, possums and rats, the flightless bird took a real hammering. In an effort to revitalise the populations, areas of their habitats have been fenced off, all predators removed from inside the fence and the species reintroduced. It seems to be working not only for native animals but also for native plants. New Zealand is slowly returning areas to their pre man state.

All this learning was a welcome distraction for me as I was almost ready to eat my fist with excitement. When we eventually arrived at the set I was basically hopping with joy. The first thing that struck me was the absolute, untouched beauty of the place.

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You get collected from the visitor centre by a bus and taken to the set. You are left in no doubt as to where you’re headed.

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A guide accompanies you around the set and points out Hobbit holes of interest, regails you with trivia, behind the scenes facts and is generally very entertaining and informative. For example, when filming the party scene, from The Fellowship of the Ring, extras were given beer to drink prior to filming in order to make the atmosphere authentic. The beer was 1% strength and brewed especially for the film. You can still buy the beer in the shop. Here’s a shot of the party tree.

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And here is Bag End! If you watch the Hobbit, you will see Frodo and Bilbo removing letters from that very postbox.

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The entire process of building the set was lengthy and a logistical nightmare. The New Zealand army was drafted in, lakes were drained, roads were built and a mammoth undertaking was completed.

The most impressive thing for me was the Green Dragon pub. It has been decorated inside to be just like you see it in the films. It was very cosy and the specially brewed pale ale was delicious.

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The attention to detail is amazing inside the pub.

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It’s a properly licenced food and drink venue and can cater for events and weddings (of which there have been a few). I wanted to stay and have more beer but we were moved along. Still, lots of fun and one last shot of the hobbit holes to leave you with.

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Auckland is incredibly relaxed and quiet. Considering a third of the New Zealand population lives in Auckland, you might find that hard to believe but, I thought it was quiet.

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