“Welcome to a Kiwi summer.”
The pilot had announced clear skies and a warm evening an hour before we landed. No surprises, then, that Lauren and I walked out of the arrivals hall at Auckland airport straight into a howling gale and sideways rain.
“Is the weather always like this?” she asked.
“No”, I replied. “Sometimes it’s much worse.”
We had arrived in New Zealand’s largest city to kick off two months road-tripping around the country with our friend Dustin, in something we were calling ‘Travel with a Local‘. The plan was to go from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South, avoiding the well-trodden tourist route as much as possible in favour of the smaller, more local places that make my homeland truly special.
Before we could do any of that, though, we had three nights in Auckland.
The city gets a bit of a bad rap from travellers. It’s often described as dull, unexciting – a necessary stop on the way to somewhere more interesting. Clogged with traffic and spread over a wide area, most visitors fly in and out of Auckland while spending the bulk of their trip somewhere else.
Our friends at Hostelbookers had arranged a three-bed dorm for us at Frienz Backpackers, right in the heart of the downtown area off Queen St. First impressions weren’t great – a group of teenagers hanging out on the front step and a grimy metal intercom to gain access. Once inside, though, things improved dramatically – a cozy common area with sofas and a reading area, a large, quality kitchen and an exuberantly friendly manager who runs activities every night gave this hostel a fun, friendly vibe. Our room was clean and large enough for the three of us to spread our crap the contents of our packs from one end to the other.
We could have done without the $10/day charge for wifi – that’s relatively high, even by extortionate New Zealand standards – and a few more bathrooms wouldn’t have gone astray but overall, we definitely enjoyed our stay at Frienz.
Auckland itself, though? Well, like most visitors, we weren’t overwhelmed by it. It was a good place to sort out a few basics before starting the trip proper – buying a SIM card for my phone, for instance, and finally renewing my long-expired New Zealand driver’s license. I caught up with an old school friend for a couple of drinks one evening, and a fellow blogger the next. We even found a remarkably good (and comparatively cheap) Vietnamese place for lunch and Asian food court for dinner, just in case we hadn’t eaten enough of that type of cuisine lately.
But, well, we could have done that stuff anywhere. What makes Auckland special?
To be honest, I’m still looking for it. We made a couple of half-hearted attempts to brave the persistent drizzle and head out sightseeing, mostly around the Viaduct Basin. I’m somewhat into yachts, so I found plenty to look at, but there’s not much else of interest beyond a couple of sculptures and a few fancy-ish bars and restaurants. There was a vague plan afoot to head out to Waiheke Island, but the weather put paid to that idea.
Away from the water, Karangahape Road (“K road” to the locals) had more to offer. Formerly filled with brothels and sex shops, the area still retains a slightly gritty feel – and I liked it because of that. Away from the glass and chrome of the shopping districts, it seemed like the kind of street I’d hang out on if I lived in the city.
The chances of that happening, though, seem fairly remote. Even if I was going to put down roots in a city again, it’d be somewhere like New York, Melbourne or Amsterdam. If it had to be in New Zealand, I’d still be more inclined to find a place in Wellington.
Sorry Auckland, it’s not that you’re a bad place to visit or anything … it’s just that you’re only ‘ok’, while the rest of the country has so much more to offer. So, after three days in town, we picked up our rental car and headed north.
It was time to start seeing all that goodness for ourselves.