With the ink barely dry on my marriage licence I left my husband forever. Not something I’m proud of, I didn’t have the guts to tell him that I had fallen in love with another man. Let’s call him Murray (because that’s his name). Nor that I was I moving from Australia to Auckland to be with Murray, whom my then husband considered a friend (that friendship fizzled fairly quickly). I did however tell him just enough of the truth to soften the blow. Which was probably no kindness in hindsight. But love bowled me over, reason went out the window and I followed my heart blindly.
Admittedly my heart was not fully engaged within my marriage. Rather, getting hitched seemed the right thing to do after 8 years together. There was a lot of outside pressure with friends and family constantly asking ‘so when are you two getting married?’ It’s unfair to say we married just to shut them up. But it certainly had that effect. The next thing I dreaded them asking was ‘so when are you two having a baby?’ That was never going to work for me. Perhaps it was easier to run than to stand my ground. Or face the reality that I had married for the wrong reasons.
Like any self respecting ex girlfriend of course I searched for Murray on Facebook before travelling to Auckland. Wouldn’t you? But I didn’t stoop to sending him a Friend Request – that would be a little too weird. Oh no, I just stalked him briefly from afar.
But I digress. I started writing this article after returning to Auckland ostensibly to run the Auckland Marathon but also on assignment for Foxtel Travel Channel. I was curious to visit a city that had previously etched itself in my heart. You can read about the 42 km run at 42 Reasons to Visit Auckland. Here however I want to share some of what I observed as a visitor dropping into a city I called home almost twenty years ago.
1. Voyager NZ Maritime Museum
An island nation influenced by the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, to understand what makes New Zealanders tick, take a visit to Voyagers NZ Maritime Museum. Known as the ‘land of the long white cloud’ after clouds forming above this isolated land mass guided navigators such as Polynesian seafarer Kupe around 950AD, Abel Tasman and James Cook to pinpoint Aoteroa. Kiwi’s retain this strong bond with the ocean: boats are in their blood. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the City of Sails where an estimated 25% of Auckland households own at least one boat.
The museum traces New Zealand’s heritage from the first Polynesian arrivals and its intrinsic link to Maori culture through to European arrivals and migration. In more recent times the Kiwi’s success in bringing home the America’s Cup in 1995 then again in 2000 is displayed with a significant exhibit as well as other tributes to New Zealanders exceptional sailors. There’s an emotional tribute to one of the country’s finest sailors, Sir Peter Blake, who was killed while protecting his vessel from pirates on the Amazon River.
2. Auckland Harbour Bridge
The well-travelled folk at Lonely Planet rate Auckland Harbour as the country’s top visitor attraction so it’s a pity that pedestrians are banished from its Harbour Bridge. There are however two ways to bypass that ban in order to enjoy a spectacular panorama from the bridge.
The most popular option is to join an escorted tour on an Auckland Bridge Climb atop the struts high above Waitemata Harbour. If you’re feeling particularly daring you could also jump off the bridge with an industrial strength bungy cord carefully strapped around your ankles. Unfortunately I didn’t have time nor the courage to do either.
The only other way pedestrians can hoof it across the 1,000 metres of asphalt is by entering the Auckland Marathon, held each year in November. In 2013 over 12,000 runners and walkers took advantage of the rare opportunity to view Auckland from the Harbour Bridge. I probably won’t be back to run it again but my coveted Finishers Medal stands proud amongst my collection. I always get emotional at the end a taxing event – in this case I physically sobbed on the finish line as my emotions bubbled over. But not for long as I staggered to find warm clothes that were cooling in puddles of drizzly rain somewhere beyond the finish line. And champagne. Lots of champagne.
3. Sabrage and Champagne
There’s a noble French tradition known as sabrage which is the practice of opening a bottle of champagne, not by simply popping the cork, but by rather dramatically slicing the top off the bottle with a sabre, or sword. As you do. Trust the French to apply the same beheading technique whether quashing treason (think Marie-Antoinette and her husband King Louis XVI) or celebrating success.
There are only two barmen in Auckland that should be trusted when celebrating in a similar manner. Both of them can be found, sabre in hand, behind the gilded bar at Sabrage Bar in French styled Hotel Sofitel Auckland on Viaduct Harbour. At NZD235 for a bottle of Perrier Jouet you wouldn’t do this every night. But it’s a thrilling way to celebrate a significant birthday or special anniversary that you’re unlikely to forget. Regrettably my budget didn’t quite stretch to this extravagance, nor was I inclined to drink a whole bottle on my own despite having a marathon to celebrate. But I know where to go when finances improve or I find a new lover!
4. Wynyard Quarter
In a previous life the Wynyard Quarter (or the docks, as it was then known) was a downtrodden industrial wasteland to be avoided at all costs. Times have changed. The area flows naturally on from popular Viaduct Harbour with its swanky apartments, hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars overlooking luxury yachts bobbing gently alongside floating berths.
Much of the original infrastructure like grain silos, warehouses and wharves topped with rail lines remains, albeit with a 21st century spruce up. Harsh industry has been softened with children’s playgrounds, parks with water features and striking public artworks along with a café strip with outdoor dining beneath colourful umbrellas waterside. Friday night Silo Cinema beneathr the stars and on the grass is the place to be during summer with a blanket and picnic hamper as cult movies and old favourites are projected onto the exterior of Silo #7. Nearby a Superyacht docking facility offers a not so subtle decadent divide between the ‘haves and have yachts’.
Future plans include a five star luxury hotel alongside apartments and no doubt a plethora of new restaurants and bars. Watch this space.
Visit Wynyard Quarter
5. A Day in Devonport
Dominated by twin volcanic cones of North Head and Mt Victoria, Devonport is a ten minute ferry trip across Waitemata Harbour from the Auckland CBD. Divided into small farm plots during the late 1800’s, many of the timber villas constructed during that era have been carefully restored to their former glory. If you’re feeling energetic take a walk to North Head and its summit for views across the harbour before calling into the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum where bunkers and tunnels penetrate North Head. The less energetic might find Segway Tours a more relaxing mode of transport to explore Devonport village or tree-lined Windsor Reserve on the waterfront.
For lunch, it’s hard to recommend just one café or restaurant – there’s too many to mention. Alternatively,pack a picnic and laze away a couple of hours at one of the parks along the water and watch the yachts sailing on the harbour. There’s a heap of boutiques, gift shops, studios and galleries too if you’re looking for gifts or uniquely New Zealand souvenirs. Linger after dark and take in a movie at the country’s oldest cinema at the Victoria Picture Palace. Visit Devonport
6. Views from a Volcano
Blessed with a fiery topography, there are 48 volcanic cones dotted across Auckland, many of which have significant Maori links. The city’s oldest volcano, Pukekawa, is in the Auckland Domain and last erupted 150,000 years ago. Draw a circle 20 km from the CBD and it’s not hard to find one nearby to tramp (as the Kiwi’s say when they mean hike) to the top to enjoy elevated views. Most are free public parks and are accessible either by hiking trails or bitumen roads to the summit. Hiking across a volcano is one of those quintessential New Zealand experiences everyone should do.
Feisty Rangitoto Island juts out of the Hauraki Gulf as an iconic Auckland landmark with its wide spreading lava flow creating a classic symmetrical cone shape. Erupting a mere 600 years ago, the island is connected to Browns Island (Motukorea) and both are popular with day trippers kitted out in sturdy hiking boots.
Mt Eden (Maungawhau in Maori) at 196 m is Auckland’ s tallest, One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie) is the city’s most culturally significant as a pre-European fortification while North Head is surely the prettiest with views over Waitemata Harbour.
7. Mystic Greenstone
New Zealand Greenstone is the English name given to nephrite jade, or pounamu, as Maori call it, though traditionally they knew it as the God stone. Historically it was shaped into weapons, fish hooks and tools though these days you’re more likely to see it carved into sculptures or jewellery. An accidental product of nature and found only in the South Island, greenstone is revered for it durability, strength and subtle beauty. But so too for beguiling life force qualities that are said to pass through the stone. It’s said that pounamu was created when a warrior named Poutini chanced upon a woman of such mesmerising beauty he snatched her from her husband. A chase ensued which resulted in Poutini turning his dazzling crush into greenstone to prevent losing her to her husband.
Make of that what you will. But it comes as no surprise to discover greenstone finding a place in spa therapy and beauty treatments. Hot stone massages are indeed one of life’s real pleasures, none more so than when mystical greenstone is utilised.
Descending below sea level at SoSpa (at Hotel Sofitel) don’t be discouraged by chocolate brown walls that line the steps into a cavern-like space bereft of natural light. Softly lit and smelling of subtle perfumes wafting from oil burners, white leather sofa recliners, pearly shimmering gauze curtains and plush floor rugs make the place feel like a cosy den. With warmed and oiled greenstones used in place of masseuses’ hands, it’s a perfect antidote to the exuberant sea level excitement of the City of Sails above.
So how did it feel returning to the city where love played such a major part? I felt a strong connection to parts of the city where Murray and I had played extensively. Much has changed but some things remained the same. Running past Westhaven Marina where so much of our time was spent, both on boats and in yacht clubs dotted along the sea wall, 20 years seemed to have flashed by so quickly, I felt like I was here yesterday. Which for me highlights the true value of travel: time has little relevance, it’s all about savouring the moments, treasuring the memories. Making that intangible emotional connection.
I’m excited to be returning to New Zealand on assignment next month as I head to the Abel Tasman National Park for a hiking and cycling adventure. Perhaps I’ll have the courage to give Murray a call.
Fiona Harper was a guest of Hotel Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
For More Info visit Auckland website