Landing in New Zealand was a breath of fresh air, mostly in the literal sense. The sky was more blue than we had seen in weeks and the hills in the distance were clearly visible without the smog to which we had become accustomed.
Landing in New Zealand also meant a change in lifestyle – the Asian accommodation prices are now in the past so we slept in a hostel dorm for the first time since 2010 (just a 4-person dorm… we learned our lesson after attempting an 18-person dorm in Dublin). All was well and we met plenty of friendly travellers.
On our first full day in Auckland we took the bus out to One Tree Hill, one of the more prominent volcanic hills in the area. The original tree was cut down by a settler in 1852 (possibly for firewood). Other trees were later planted and a single pine tree survived until 2000 when it was cut down by Maori activists. Nine more trees were planted at the summit in 2016 in collaboration with the Maori people, with the plan of eventually having a single survivor.
Next we walked to Mt. Eden, which features a large volcanic crater along with excellent views of central Auckland.
We used the following day to explore the downtown core and walk along the piers. It turns out about a third of the country’s 4.8 million residents live here, so the city is more dense and built up than one might expect for New Zealand. We popped into one craft beer bar for a pint (which was excellent), but chose to stop at one given that pints typically go for $10-12 here.
Our next couple days were relatively quiet due to large amounts of rain. We visited one art gallery, The Wallace Arts Centre, and were impressed by the local works on display. In particular we loved the drawings by Susan Te Kahurangi King, a self-taught artist who lost the ability to speak by the age of 8 and whose work evolved from surreal cartoon-like drawings to complex geometric patterns.
Feeling the need to sample Auckland’s nightlife, on Friday we decided to check out the Ding Dong Lounge. In memory of Keith Flint, the Prodigy singer who passed away last week, the bar was playing their tunes all evening (at least until the fans from the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert arrived post-gig). The bar had a good vibe, drawing in more punks than hipsters, and Dan was delighted to revisit his favourite Prodigy songs.