After a short, ten-hour flight from Singapore, I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. Going through immigration, I realized this was going to be a good next step for me. To tell this story, I’ll need to fill you in on a little background about where I was in my life at the time.
Before this point, I had been in Asia for about 17 consecutive months. Thirteen of those being in South Korea and the rest in other random parts of Asia. I have never been stared at so much in my entire life. I have never felt like so much of an outsider at any other point in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love Asia for all its quirks, food, and other weirdness. However, it does start to drain on you without a return to western culture. I couldn’t have been more excited about getting back to western culture.
Scene: New Zealand Immigration at Auckland International Airport.
Characters: Many grumpy immigration employees having basically the same frustrating conversation with everyone person that went before me. Most of them went something like this: “Why did you come to New Zealand?” The officers had to repeat this and many other questions in varying degrees of slowness. The answers were often incomprehensible to me, and I teach English. As I walk up to the counter, I hand the officer my passport and a copy of my working holiday visa.
She glances at it, says, “So you’re from the States, eh?”
“Yes, I am,” I reply.
“Welcome to New Zealand,” She said with a wonderful, Kiwi-style smile. Passport stamped. No hassle. I was already in a good mood.
The country of New Zealand has around 4.4 million residents. Of those, 1.4 million or so live in the Auckland area. Sounded like as good a place as any to start. If you travel through New Zealand, chances are you won’t spend much, if any, time in Auckland. And the time you are there, you probably won’t venture much outside of the downtown area (which is actually quite small). This is a shame. Auckland has a lot to offer, you just have to go find it.
A view of Downtown
I already had accommodation set up with the best part being that I wasn’t living downtown, but a short distance from it. After spending 17 months in Asia, the rolling hills of the suburbs of Auckland look like paradise. Instead of the cramped city apartments of South Korea, I was now in the spacious Auckland cityscape. My new, yet temporary, home had a huge kitchen overlooking other parts of the neighborhood. Growing up in Texas, this was the closest thing I had seen to home since I left.
Upon my first trip to the supermarket in New Zealand, I must’ve looked like a caveman walking into a computer lab. With a look of wonder on my face, I strolled along the aisles just drooling at what I could purchase. It’s quite comforting to see foods in the supermarket that you actually recognize.
I arrived during winter, but the winter months in the north island are quite mild. It rains often and sporadically, but the rain typically lasts for about a quarter of an hour and then it stops. In between the rain, beautiful, deep blue sky permeates your surroundings. I quickly fell in love with New Zealand. Only problem now was that I needed a job to support myself. It’s shockingly expensive to exist in Kiwiland.
Being that I was on a working holiday visa (which for some reason, I didn’t have to pay for!), I was able to work anywhere that would hire me. I figured I could get a job at a local cafe without too much trouble. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I searched for almost a month without any luck. It seems that everyone required at least a little barista experience. However if you don’t have any barista experience and every cafe requires barista experience, I don’t understand who they are hiring. So I used my free time to relax, read, and explore.
Public transportation in Auckland is not as good as Europe or certain parts of Asia, but if you come from a place where there is no public transport, then it’s still pretty good. Buses go pretty much everywhere. The biggest problem that I found, though, was the frequency of buses after around four in the afternoon. In the morning, the buses run pretty regularly. In the evening, most bus routes run about every 30 minutes or even every hour. If you happen to show up on the wrong side of that waiting time, you could be in for an unpleasant wait, especially if the weather is being less than kind. Instead, I chose to do a lot of walking. In between the rain, the blue skies provide a perfect backdrop to explore Auckland on foot.
One day while walking aimlessly around the downtown area, I noticed a few language schools. Since I had been teaching English in South Korea, I decided I might as well just say hi. To my surprise, I landed an interview the next day and was given a temporary one month position at a school in need. I ended up working there for the rest of my stay in Auckland. There is a very relaxed attitude to everything about New Zealand. Walking into a place of business and asking for a job seems quite commonplace here.
While in Auckland, there are many points of interest to keep you busy. However most of them are outdoor related activities. Great for me, but I had many students who were very bored because they missed the busy metropolitan lifestyles of their home countries. Lazy people! You’ll want to get out for a day over to Devonport, which is just across the harbor from downtown. You can stroll around the little peninsula area and around its many beaches. Take the ferry over to Rangitoto Island and walk around the volcanic reserve. There are many other places to visit, but it is often much more convenient if you have, or know someone who has, a car. I’ve had some wonderful coffee in remote parts of Auckland that I would never be able to visit without the assistance of a car.
A view of Rangitoto Island as seen from Devonport
The cuisine in New Zealand today is a big melting pot because of the number of immigrants that have flocked there. I would suspect this has a lot to do with the somewhat lax immigration laws. It seems quite easy to get a visa. However, the influence of English cuisine is very strong. You’ll find fish ’n chips and savory pies just about everywhere. Sunday roast is advertised outside many pubs on the final day of the week. A favorite of mine was potato wedges with a sour cream and sweet chili sauce. May sound a bit weird, but I found them delicious. The best food I had in New Zealand though was Thai food. With that said, I still ate at home whenever possible just because food was quite expensive.
I even had the accidental fortune to show up in New Zealand just in time for the Rugby World Cup. Not having been interested in rugby ever before, it’s hard not to get into the spirit when people from 20 different nations suddenly show up and run around Queen Street screaming and waving flags.
The city of Auckland was all done up with everything from giant-sized inflatable rugby balls to flags of all twenty participating countries. After every game, the streets of downtown would flood with fans celebrating a win or wallowing in their sorrows because of a lose. I was told that downtown Auckland had never been so lively.
I really wish that I could have attended one of the games, but prices for the games between the less talented teams were close to $300. Not a price I was willing to pay to see two crap teams play. The New Zealand squad, the All Blacks, dominated the tournament though and ended up in the final against France. By this point, I had moved into the city to be closer to my school and to experience a different side of Auckland. The city of Auckland was kind enough to set up a large screen displaying the final game on the street in front of my apartment building. We watched the game from my balcony. It was pretty incredible.
Watching the final match from my balcony
Four months in Auckland passed by pretty quickly. It was nearing the end of November. I had promised my family I would make it home for Christmas and I had been informed that if I hadn’t seen the south island, I hadn’t seen New Zealand. So I said goodbye to Auckland and decided to make my way down to the larger, colder island.
Next time on This Is My Travel Blog – New Zealand: Auckland’s Coast to Coast walk: A 16km walk across the city