We reunited with Mario over an eggs and sourdough brunch at a cafe on the famous Karangahape Road near our apartment. The food was a massive departure from what we’ve been eating over the past few months but it made us really excited – we’d read that NZ had great food and this was a strong start! You’ll just have to imagine that our plates are full in the picture below because we demolished them way too quickly for a photo.
Anyway, now seems like a good time to introduce Mario, one of Oli’s good friends and old colleagues who has used his (self-imposed) annual allowance of one long haul flight to join us for a month’s travel around NZ. He is into sustainable energy, low carbon travel, cats, hiking, and loves a good train or two, so he fits right in! While living in Berlin, he’s been working on a Restaurant World Tour, eating along with our travels at restaurants that serve the national cuisines of countries we’ve passed through on our trip – dedication!
We began our time together in Auckland with a walking tour to get a feel for the city, and found it to be full of handsome buildings, parks, and charming shopping arcades. Our walk ended at Viaduct Harbour, where a well-timed downpour gave us the perfect excuse to sample our first NZ wine and craft beers.
We then watched the sunset from the top of Auckland Domain, a large park that wraps around Pukekawa, an ancient volcano in the centre of the city.
The next morning, we caught the bus to Cornwall Park and climbed the 186-metre volcanic cone of One Tree Hill (which, contrary to popular belief, has more than one tree at the top – at least until 2026, when the last tree standing is due to be crowned in what the Lonely Planet describes as an “arboreal version of the X-Factor”). After a beautiful start to the day, it had clouded over by the time we reached the summit, but we still had a great view over the city and the sea on both sides. Being New Zealand, as well as standing on a volcano, we could also see several more on the horizon – after all, Auckland is built on 53 of them, not all extinct!
Our next stop was lunch, and we headed to the hipster enclave of Ponsonby, which was full of cafes, arty boutiques and beautiful people. It was also home to the Ponsonby Food Court, which I’d heard about on a podcast and was excited to visit. Unsurprisingly, we already miss Southeast Asian food, so we gravitated towards Thai (Oli and Mario) and Vietnamese food (me) for lunch.
Our guidebook also suggested that Ponsonby was a good place to get a feel for the city outside the commercial centre and to see some of the Victorian and Edwardian villas in the area. So, in a thinly veiled attempt at cat spotting, we set off for a wander. The villas were really beautiful and ornate wooden affairs and the area looked like a thoroughly nice place to live. More importantly, though, it didn’t take long before Mario spotted NZ cat number one behind a picket fence, although the cat seemed less pleased to see us peering over at him than we were to see him!
When the heavens opened, we headed for Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology. It soon became apparent that this was mostly aimed at children (particularly being the Easter holidays), but there was enough geeky stuff there split over two sites to keep us occupied for some time.
My favourite exhibit at the first site was this VW Beetle (below). At first glance, it might look unremarkable, but it had been on a grand adventure – twice! In 1961, Ivan and Beth Hodge drove it from where they were living in London to their home country of New Zealand on their honeymoon, crossing the USSR and the Middle East to India, where they took a container ship home to New Zealand. In 1996, they celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary by doing it all over again! It sounded like an absolutely epic adventure.
When it was time to travel between the two museum sites, we hopped on a heritage tram to make the 2 km journey. Here, surrounded by children on their Easter holidays, Oli and Mario tried (and failed) to play it cool at the prospect of riding on one of their favourite modes of transport.
At the second site was the aviation hall, where we saw a wide range of military aircraft, flying boats, and civilian aircraft. While I always love a flying boat (second photo), I think my favourite exhibit was the Lockheed 10A Electra (third photo). Not only did it have a very snazzy paintjob, it was also the first aircraft to run regular domestic services in New Zealand, during which time it was a handy timekeeper for farm workers under the flight path near Auckland: when it passed overhead at midday they knew it was time for lunch, and the returning flight from Wellington signalled time for afternoon milking!
This concluded our brief first visit to Auckland (we’ll be back at the end of May, when we’re due to fly to the United States). We liked the city a lot, but it felt very strange to be somewhere so far from home but so familiar – perhaps a little too comfortable? But anyway, we didn’t travel to New Zealand for its largest city, so we were soon on our way to visit some creatures far more elusive at home: the glowworms of Waitomo Caves!