I’m not a fan of brief stops. In fact, I find you really need a few days to feel the vibe of a city when you’re traveling long-term and have the time to do so (side note: I also think that to live somewhere new, you need to give it a year before making a true call on whether you love it or not). Despite my own rule, I decided to visit Auckland, New Zealand for only 36 hours because of some commitments on either side of the trip. I arrived on a Saturday evening around 8:00pm, and departed on Monday morning at 8:00am. So, that basically gave me all day Sunday to see as much of the city as I could. And, despite my brief timeline, I had a great day! Here is how it went.
8:00 pm – Get off the plane, and board the Auckland Sky Bus which takes me straight into the heart of the Auckland CBD (Which costs $18 NZD for a 45 minute bus ride. Absolutely criminal… but that’s beside the point). I get off in the CBD and head to the nearest supermarket to get some wine for my couchsurfing host, KK.
9:30pm – I arrive at KK’s place on Beach Road and meet him for the first time. We share the bottle of wine that I brought and watch some Louis CK and Bill Burr on Netflix until late.
7:00am – I wake up on the couch and look outside to find a beautiful view of the sunrise over the Commercial Harbour and Stanley Bay.
8:00am – After breakfast, I walk down to the harbour and the Queen’s Wharf, sit down in the sunshine and write in my journal a bit. What a beautiful morning!
9:00am – I meet KK at a coffee shop nearby. We get coffee to go and walk all the way across the Viaducts to Silo Park and St. Mary’s Bay on the Western border of the Auckland CBD. We got to talking about food and beer, living in Auckland, and our past travels.
10:00am – KK takes me in his car to Mt. Eden, where we walk to the top for an unbelievable 360 degree view of the city which on this clear and beautiful day showcased the surrounding national parks, islands, the Coromandel Peninsula the Auckland Volcano Field. Yes, Auckland is built on a volcano field and you can see the craters dotted all around the city. Mind you, most are inactive at the moment, so don’t worry too much if you visit 😉
11:00am – We part ways back at his condo and I take off down Queen Street for a couple of hours to browse the shops and end up at the Auckland Central City Library to use their wifi (which was free and super fast, woohoo!).
1:00pm – I walk over to the Auckland Art Gallery, and check out the art until I meet one of the tour guides at 1:30 who gave a fantastic, free tour of the gallery for over an hour. She walked me and only two others through the architecture of the building, then through the museum following basic art history from the Renaissance, through Portraiture, Realism, Impressionism and Cubism (I honestly didn’t know much about art history before this lady, and I am so glad I took this tour. She was fascinating!). We ended up at the NZ artists which included a lot of Maori work, modern NZ artists and some of Polynesian descent.
2:30pm – From the gallery, I head over to the Aotea Square. I find it packed with people because of the ongoing Auckland Writers Festival. Also, tons of kids on skateboards use this spot to hang out on the weekend. It was pretty cool to just people watch and admire the architecture of the Aotea Centre and the Town Hall.
3:00pm – I find out that the Auckland Youth Orchestra is playing a free concert at Town Hall. I pop in for the last piece, which is Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”. It was beautiful and inspiring. The Oboist, in particular, was fantastic and had a few solos throughout the piece.
4:00pm – I walk back to KK’s place again and wait for him to get back so we can go grocery shopping. In retrospect, I should have walked through Albert Park to check that out, but unfortunately I did not, and have only the one regret about the day. (Oh well, you can’t have everything).
5:00pm – I take half an hour or so to write about my day! Because it was great!
6:00pm – KK and I go to the supermarket, and pick up some supplies for dinner.
7:00-10:00pm – I make a rather simple spaghetti bolognese for us which we have with some delicious French wine (KK is a huge fan of red wine – my kinda dude). We chat about all kinds of things and find that we have lots in common! Always great to meet good, interesting people through couchsurfing. I’m exhausted, so fall asleep quickly!
7:00am – I walk down to the Strand Train Station where I meet my friend Alex (who I met through couchsurfing in Wellington months previously). I have been recruited to take photos of the Northern Explorer train ride from Auckland to Wellington which will be featured in Alex’s travel piece.
7:30am – We board the train, and off we go! Cheers Auckland!
I had a fantastic day in Auckland, and I realize now that I followed a sort of framework if you will, that I tend to apply to almost any new city I visit. So, here are some basic tips that I have gained through traveling that will help you get the vibe of a city and to get a bit oriented.
- One of my favourite things to do in a new city is to find a high up point where you can check out the landscape and the geography, whether that is a lookout point at the top of a hill/mountain, or the top of a skyscraper! It is great way to get an aerial view of a city so you know basically where the different neighbourhoods, suburbs and landmarks are rather than relying on a map. In Auckland, this was Mt. Eden. I have also done some cool ones around the world like the Octave Rooftop Bar in Bangkok, the Pittock Mansion in Portland, Lynn Peak in North Vancouver, and the top of the Marble Mountains between Da Nang and Hoi An in Vietnam (side note, for the sake of us all, please don’t go up the CN Tower in Toronto unless you want to be the worst kind of tourist. Haha.)
- Go to the water. Most major cities are built around a lake, river or coastline. It is always cool to see local boaters, and some commercial routes and ports to get an idea of how the city connects to the rest of the world. This is also an indicator of the major imports and exports, and may give you an idea of the local industry!
- Meet a local. I realize that depending on the nature of your trip, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do. One of the main reasons I use couchsurfing is because the people on there tend to be really interested in their cities and showing them off to tourists. They have tons of local knowledge that you really only get from an extended period living in one place. Ask questions about the geography, the best restaurants and about events happening in the city! You’ll save hours of googling time by talking to a local, and very likely, you’ll make a new friend in the process.
- If you don’t know what to do, start with the free things. Honestly, just google “free things to do in ____ (any city in the world) and you will usually get a list of 30+ things to do. New Zealand is really great at providing free entry to museums and art galleries. Not all places, *ahem, Toronto* charge reasonable prices for these types of activities, but it is almost certain that there will be a free garden, some sort of tour, street art, market, park, etc! Go to these things, because they tend to be local favourites and are great spots to take photos if you’re into that.
- Go out at night. This could range from a walk through the illuminated city, to a full on night out at the bars. Cities change dramatically at night, and I promise that you won’t really get a full(ish) picture of a city until the sun goes down. Go out for dinner at a local joint, get a craft beer at a cool bar, go see a concert! Or just walk around until you find a place that interests you (and then go in!). Maybe I’m a bit of a romantic, but one of my favourite things to do is to walk through a city at night. This is obvious, but New York City (specifically the East Village and LES) is one of the best places ever to do this, because.. you know what, I’m going to stop writing about it now because this is just making me miss New York so much, ugh. On the flipside, San Francisco becomes super weird at night. See a previous post about this – but honestly, walking through San Fran at night gives a fuller picture of how that city functions (or rather, fails to function) and the underlying social issues.
Those are my basic tips for seeing a new city. They definitely won’t cover everything, but they do give a good starting point for anyone who is visiting a city for the first time, or for a short period. I know you’ve got some tips too, so feel free to share them in the comments.
Happy Travels 🙂