Perhaps the best view of Auckland apart from the revolving restaurant in Sky City is from the top of One Tree Hill in Cornwall Park. It has history too; a monument dedicated to the memory of the Maori people, who it was thought at the time were on the verge of dying out. Their resurgence has included activists making persistent attempts to chop down the eponymous tree.
The park itself is a great place for a family picnic, with barbeques for hire.
As a child I always wanted to swim with dolphins. In fact, I even wrote to Jim to fix it for me. I always imagined being in a swimming pool in Disneyland swimming with dolphins. However, Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura made my dream come true in a much more natural way. I swam with a pod of about 800 dolphins in the open waters of New Zealand. I played chase with them and sang to them. The company are very conscious of the environment and as such only allow 13 swimmers per trip, so booking in advance is a must. It was the most memorable experience of my life and better than Jim could have done.
96 Esplanade, Kaikoura; tel: +64 3 319 6777; www.dolphin.co.nz/kaikoura
They roast their own coffee, brunches are fabulous, the atmosphere laid-back, and there's a good newsagents with a wide range of imported magazines and newspapers (including the Guardian Weekly) just a few doors away. Open air seating out back with a small sandpit for the kids. The Atomic has been around so long that it's become a bit of an institution and so a wee bit shabby. But then shabby is part of the NZ experience.
121 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland; Tel:09 376 4954
If you don't particularly like heights and don't fancy the Sky Tower to get the amazing views of Auckland, I would seriously recommend a trip to Mount Eden. I was stunned and amazed at just how big Auckland is. You can see everything from there, the harbour, Rangitoto, One Tree Hill, it's well worth a trip. It's real easy to find, just follow the signs. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
After two glorious months travelling round New Zealand, we flew out from Auckland and stayed in a campsite on the edge of town. People leave all sorts of useful stuff behind which you can pick up and use if you are camping. So I would recommend starting out in Auckland, and picking up things like cooking equipment, plates, cutlery, books, gas stoves etc that have been left behind by other travellers. We left behind pillows and a duvet (brand new!) and they were gone before we even left the campsite that morning!
If you're not fussy about everything being new, it's a great way to save some cash and stock up (& you're recycling too).
Top 10 Auckland, near airport. Most campsites in Auckland
The Link Bus provides a cheap way of getting around Auckland. It runs at least every 15 minutes on a circuit around the outskirts of the city and through the centre. It stops at most of the main central attractions (Sky Tower, Viaduct Harbour, Victoria Park Market, K Road, Auckland Museum, Newmarket Shopping, Parnell, Ponsonby and the Cathedral). If you're going to be hopping on and off, it's probably best to ask the driver for an AucklandPass ($9 - unlimited bus and North Shore ferries) or the flat fare is $1.30. All stops have real-time information to tell you when the next bus is due and there are automatic displays and announcements in the bus which list attractions at each stop. The bus operates in clockwise and anticlockwise directions and the driver will tell you if it's quicker to get to your destination using the bus in the other direction
Stops are clearly marked and the buses are painted silver. The website is www.stagecoach.co.nz/thelink/index.html
Devonport is on Auckland's North Shore and is well worth a visit if you don't have time to go to Rangitoto or Waiheke. As well as having a very pleasant main street with cafes (and a good fish and chip shop), there's a good beach and children's playground and there are walks up to the two extinct volcanoes behind the town which offer great views of Auckland and have historical interest provided by 19th century military defences. The ferry ticket also provides free use of the buses for the day.
Ferries to Devonport leave from the main ferry terminal on the waterfront near the Viaduct Harbour (Americas Cup Village area) and Britomart Transport Interchange. Ask for an AucklandPass, which is the same cost as a return but allows free use of Stagecoach buses too.
Smack in the middle of Waitemata harbour, Rangitoto Island (not that silly casino-tower) is Auckland's real landmark. Black rock and shrubby vegetation cover a steep volcanic cone. It can be a hot and mildly strenuous walk to the top, but worth it. Rumoured to be dormant rather than extinct, but unlikely to erupt anytime soon. Hopefully.
The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, meaning "Land of the Long White Cloud" - and not without reason. A thin sliver of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, NZ has weather that defies prediction. Even in mid-summer, you can count on the odd hour or day of rain.
Half an hour by ferry out into the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island is a fantastic day trip for a change of pace. Sea Kayaking, cycling, tramping or hanging out on the beaches, if the weather is good (and it's usually better than the City) you can't go wrong.
Fullers ferries operate services throughout the day departing from the Harbourfront.
The three main beaches on the west coast are made up of Bethells/Te Henga, Karekare and Piha. All beautiful and spectacular in their own right. Bethells is a black sand beach and a favourite for walking. Close by is a little inland, one of the regions best wetlands and a refuge for wildlife. Karekare is a rugged place with an immense landscape and booming surf. An amazing sight to behold on any day. Piha is a great place for activity. Surfing, boogie boarding and frisbee to name a few. Its a lovely place to picnic and there is a camping ground so you can stay overnight and catch the early surf. All three beaches are a must to visit for their beauty and closeness to the spirit of New Zealand.
Bethells/Te Henga - From Scenic Drive, Waitakere Road, Te Henga Road, Bethells Road. Karekare - From Scenic Drive, West Coast Road, Piha Road.
An institution on K Rd this cafe/bar/restaurant has been around since the early 90's. Its a relaxed affair with interesting clientele, a great wine list and excellent music. A perfect place to do some general lounging around.
168 Karangahape Road; Mon-Sat: 11am till late (Fri & Sat even later!), Sun: 5pm till latish; www.verona.co.nz
This company takes you out into the bay to swim with dolphins, dropping you in their path. It's deep and cold but incredible. One tip: make as much noise and commotion as you can to keep them interested.
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