Friday, May 20, 2016

We Visited New Zealand from 15 Apr to 06 May

Iconic Sky Tower Auckland

Somehow, New Zealand does not automatically come to one’s mind when planning a holiday abroad. The general impression is - It is very far, tucked away somewhere close to Antarctica, Kiwi is their national bird, all of us have used Kiwi shoe polish and they play cricket. While talking to friends who travel a lot, New Zealand emerged as a very promising tourist destination with breathtaking countryside, pristine lakes, snowy mountains, geysers, beaches, virgin forests and an opportunity for extreme adventure. 

New Zealand was first settled by Eastern Polynesians between 1250 and 1300. Over the centuries that followed, these settlers developed a distinct culture now known as Māori. The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Able Tasman and his crew in 1642. Europeans did not revisit New Zealand until 1769 when British explorer James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline. Exactly 247 years later Self, Jai, Kats and Naveen landed in Auckland on 15 Apr 2016.

Having been in the travel game for a very long time, we did the entire research and planning on the internet. I can definitely go on record to say it cost us only half as much as any reputed travel agency. The exploration on the net is really fascinating – getting to know the country, people, culture and much more. Planning your own trip gives a tremendous amount of involvement and satisfaction.

To get a better perspective of the size of NZ - It is smaller than Maharashtra. With a population of 4.6 m, this is half of Bangalore’s 8.42m.

Australians account for the maximum number of tourists visiting NZ. What stands out is the large presence of Chinese and Japanese. 46,000 Indians visited NZ in 2015

Popular tourist activities in New Zealand include sightseeing, extreme adventure sports, nature tourism, hiking and camping. New Zealand is marketed abroad as a "clean and green" adventure playground.

Auckland - 15 to 18 Apr

We opted to fly by Malaysian Airways, as the cost and connections were good. ‘Bangalore to hotel in Auckland’, including immigration, transit halts and the actual flight is almost 24 h and extremely tiring. We were really worried about the immigration process concerning food, medicines etc. We went through without any problem. We checked into Auckland Airport Kiwi hotel and crashed.
Jai in front of Kiwi hotel
First thing in the morning we went out and hired a Toyota Corolla for our internal travel. Hiring a car is extremely easy. An Indian driving license, readable in English, is sufficient. One must be very conversant with NZ traffic rules, signage and other regulations. 100Km/Hr is the driving speed throughout the country.NZ has extremely well laid out roadways, running from North to South. Like India, it is also a left hand drive. Driving is effortless and tension free, as there is no traffic at all. In my opinion there is no other way of doing NZ than by car.

Auckland in the North Island is the largest and most populous urban area in New Zealand. Auckland has a population of 1.4 m which makes up 32 percent of New Zealand's population of 4.6m.The city is bustling with people like any other metropolis. The Central Business District is a shade dirtier than its European counterparts like Prague or for that matter Cape Town in SA. 
Jai Naveen and Kats on the run Auckland CBD
CBD Auckland
It is better to use local transport within the city as parking is a major issue inside the CBD. Taxis are reasonable. We decided to use the Hop on Hop off bus to tour the city and it turned out to be very convenient. HOHO picks you up from the hotel and drops you off at the end of the day.

The first afternoon we visited Waiheke Island which is known for its beautiful vineyards, olive groves and beaches, just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. We had an excellent lunch by the sea. Their helpings are large and generally sufficient for two. Kats and I used to share non veg meals, similarly Naveen and Jai being vegetarians. NZ has no particular cuisine of their own – Continental, Indian, Chinese and Japanese restaurants dot the entire eating scene. A good lunch with beer and wine for four costs around 110 NZD, ie about INR 5000. 

On the ferry

Auckland from the ferry
Another view of the city from the ferry
Waiheke Island
Jai having lunch at Sand Shack Waiheke Island

View from the restaurant
There are a large number of Indians in Auckland, most of whom work in the service sector in hotels and restaurants.

The next day was spent on the HOHO going around the city.  The township itself is very well laid out and very tidy. The town boasts of many parks and gardens. We drove around the picturesque Mt Eden, a suburb of Auckland which boasts of houses built during the late eighteen hundred and extremely well preserved. Most of these houses are built from the trunk of the Kauri tree, one of the world's mightiest trees, growing to over 50 m tall, with trunk girths up to 16 m, and living for over 2,000 years. The guide told us that 15 houses can be built from one tree trunk. In contrast, it is sad to see all the old, beautiful bungalows giving way to glass and steel high rises in the city of Bengaluru. Preserving heritage buildings in a city is what gives the city its character and ethos.

A bungalow in Mt Eden
Each one is better than the other
Suburb of Auckland

We got to see a kiwi in Auckland Zoo. The Kiwi enclosure is totally dark as they come out only at night to feed. 

We visited the ‘Auckland War Memorial Museum’- a very dignified and imposing structure is situated on top of a hill. The building is considered one of the finest Greco-Roman buildings in the Southern Hemisphere- a must see item. In the natural history section, there is an enclosure for children named ‘Look Touch and Explore’ which is very unique and interesting. 
An Imposing Structure
In the museum in front of a Maori House
Te Toki-a-Tāpiri is one of the last of the traditional waka taua (war canoes) remaining from the 1800s. It is 25 metres long and carried up to 100 people. It was built around 1836. It is now on display in the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
The weather is extremely unpredictable – a lady in the restaurant remarked that Auckland often experiences all four seasons in a single day! We visited the iconic ‘Sky Tower’ which offers a panoramic view of Auckland from 220 m – 722 ft height. We had a nice lunch and for the more adventurous types there is a Sky Jump and Sky walk from the tower.
Finally - At the Sky Tower
Sky Jumper caught on camera
View of the city from 722 ft
Our HOHO driver was a Maori gentleman. During the short interaction I had with him, I learnt that the Maori have by and large integrated well with the European settlers. Unlike the aborigines of Australia the Maoris have integrated into the modern social fabric of NZ reasonably well. The current governor-general is Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae, a Maori. At times they are considered second class citizens. Maoris used to have extremely large families. The driver was one of 11 siblings and his father was 1 of 18. This trend is tapering down and they now have 3 to 4 children. 36,000 NZD/year is required to lead a decent life in NZ. All Maoris have embraced Christianity and some continue to observe old traditions and Maori religion alongside. A lot of Kiwis go to work in Australia as they get 30% more wages. Kiwis and Indians are ranked as extremely hard working people. Maori are the backbone of the labor community of NZ. The driver was not happy with the government dolling out social security – it has made many Maoris lazy and induced them to booze and take drugs. We did come across a group of high spirited Maoris in the city, having a whale of a time.
HOHO Maori driver
If one is not a club member in Auckland, it costs 400 NZD (INR 18,500) for playing 18 holes golf, which includes green fees, caddy, golf set and the cart.

One or at the most two days is more than sufficient for seeing Auckland.

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