Posted by Anura Samara, 23 January 2016
Auckland is our first taste of New Zealand. And we live everything we see.
We’ve arrived in Auckland for the start of a week-long tour of the North Island.
When we arrived, the first thing we did was to catch the ferry across to Devonport. Despite being so close to Auckland, Devonport it much quieter – it feels like more like a village than a dormitory suburb for works.
We enjoyed just sitting in the park on Devonport Beach and really wished that we had bought swimmers to join the others in the water. After a snooze in the shade, we set off for the climb to the top of Mt Victoria. Despite it’s name, Mt Victoria is just a large-ish hill behind the town with housing all around it’s base. The walk is pretty steep but then the payoff is the view from the top – literally 360 degree views including the islands to the east and Auckland itself to the south. This is why I love being up high, the ability to get a sense of the geography and how things fit together.
After wondering to look at the old fort and lighthouse, we sat and waited for the sunset. What a great spot to see the sunset over Auckland! The sun set directly behind the city so we had the colours of the sky, the lights of the city and the water in front of us.
After dinner, we walked along the shore and took in the view of the city at night, with its lights reflecting on the water.
I’d read about Auckland’s Skytower before leaving Australia and knew it was something I wanted to see. But we tend to be pretty casual as tourists so hadn’t got round to actually making a booking – it turns out that that’s pretty important, even for a weekday. We rang to find out that there were two vacancies for the SkyWalk the next day but none for the SkyJump.
As we arrived at the base of the tower, we craned our necks upwards to watch the first jumpers of the day. The jump itself looks fairly controlled – I’m sure it doesn’t feel that way – with jumpers landing on a platform three to four metres above the street.
Arriving in the control centre, we waited for our allotted time before being kitted up and going through the safety routine. First up, everything you have (including watches, jewellery and even rings) is packed away in lockers and you don a single piece jumpsuit. Then you put on a harness which is locked shut using cable ties – from this point on, you can’t get out of your suit.
We then took the elevator up to the top, where it turns out that you exit to the Skywalk from the observation deck used by tourists – you do the whole walk with an audience. Before going outside, all of us are hooked up to an overhead rail with two cables – one on the front and one at the back. The cable at the back is tightened using a spanner so it would be next to impossible for the person behind you to undo it by hand. We’re hooked up in the order in which we will go outside which became a bit of a problem when one lady realised on reaching the outside deck that she no longer wanted to continue. Luckily she was behind us but there was a delay while we waited for the guide to take the others back in and re-arrange things.
The delay meant we could stand on the platform and watch three people do the jump. It looks pretty nerve-wracking to stand on a platform, lean over the edge with someone hold your harness and then just leap. But then it’s all over and done with pretty quickly – less than a minute I would guess.
Being on the platform is easy – it’s very wide with hand rails at the edge. But the first step on to the true Sky Walk makes you pause. The fact that you’re securely linked to the overhead rail doesn’t stop your brain from rebelling. At first we just walked (or probably shuffled slowly) so our guide got us to do a small activity – walking backwards whilst looking up at the rail. Much harder than it sounds. The next test was to stand on the edge of the platform with our back to the city and lean out; if you were happy that, the guide would then release some slack on one of the cables which allowed you to swing right back over the platform with a clear view downwards. Our final test was to do the same but this time to lean out forwards ie. face down. All up, the experience at the top must have been about 30 minutes long – it’s amazing that after the first attempt to lean out, you become pretty laid back about the whole thing. Which is good, because once you relax you can then appreciate that: (1) the views across Auckland, the harbour and out to the islands is freaking awesome and (2) wow! I’m standing on a narrow metal ledge above a city!
After the Sky Walk, we headed over to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Despite it’s name, this is both a museum about New Zealand, including its Maori history, and a war memorial.
The museum is an imposing building in an imposing location that was clearly visible from Devonport and Mt Victoria. Inside, it’s well laid out museum covering the Maori and Pacific Islander people, through to colonial times and then on to more recent arrivals. There’s a natural history section and a good gallery on the underlying geological features of the country – particularly it’s volcanic past and present. For me, reading about the Treaty of Waitangi and the ongoing implications of it were important to understanding modern day New Zealand. It was also interesting to see how much awareness of and preparations for volcanos impact on daily life, much like bushfires do in rural communities in Australia.
Only the top floor is set aside for the war memorial. There are rolls of honour, a few complete aircraft in two galleries, an armoury, a small Holocaust Gallery and formal commemorative area.
Out the front is a formal cenotaph and then an expanse of grass heading downhill – a great place to admire the views looking north across the harbour.
We enjoyed our time in Auckland. It’s a quite compact city with most things within easy walking distance. The harbour provides a visual anchor and the city uses it quite well. In particular, the developing area around Viaduct Harbour is converting the industrial part of the harbour into a modern hub of high-density accommodation together with an eating and entertainment precinct.
Despite it’s compact size, it still has all of the things that a modern city boasts including shops, museums, modern and efficient public transport and civic spaces. The suburbs are fairly well spread out but when driving in from the airport and leaving by hire car it feels well serviced with modern and wide roads.
The only strange thing we noted is the presence of a working port right next to the city. The working ports in Australian waterfront cities have progressively been moved away leaving the shore for development and access. I’m not sure which approach is better – the Australian approach tends to mean expensive development and working class people pushed out of the city centre.
As always, our time there was too short. Maybe we’ll be back again and use Auckland to explore the northern part of the North Island.
Categories: New Zealand