I regularly need to pinch myself when I think how unbelievably blessed and lucky I am to call New Zealand home. I will always be a proud Scot, but there’s something about New Zealand that makes me immensely happy. I love getting out and exploring new parts of the country but I also love revisiting some of my favourites. I love living in Christchurch in the country’s South Island, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now, but at least once a year, I try to get up north to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. It was the place where I touched down when I first arrived here, nearly 4 years ago, and I have spent many days here exploring different aspects of the city and its surroundings. I have my favourite places that I like to go each time, but I also try to go or do something new too.
This past weekend, I headed up for the first time in nearly a year. The weather played ball, and for the most part, I got to soak up the sun whilst making the most of the place. The greater Auckland population is over 1.5m compared with Christchurch’s roughly 360,000, and with the latter still in the throes of a post-earthquake rebuild, it is nice to escape to the Big Smoke and experience the goings on of a big city. Usually there is another reason to head north, and on this occasion it was to support some of my fellow pole dancers in a national competition. There were some amazing performances and it was lovely to see several people from the studio I attend winning awards.
But the most exciting thing about this trip, was the boat trip that I treated myself to the next day. Aside from travelling, I have a major love of all things cetacean, and am always eager to get out to sea at any available opportunity. I had discovered a couple of years ago that a whale and dolphin safari is available from downtown Auckland, and now was my chance to head out for a new experience. The weather conditions couldn’t have been better and it was a lovely calm trip east to the dominating Coromandel Peninsula that juts sharply out into the Hauraki Gulf. A convergence of currents here brings blooms of both phytoplankton and zooplankton which attracts Bryde whales and common dolphins on a regular basis, and Orca and bottlenose dolphins on a seasonal or sporadic basis. Any or all of these was going to keep me very happy indeed.
There was a while where it looked worryingly like there wouldn’t be a sighting. I’ve been lucky enough to have a multitude of whale watching trips under my belt, and not a single one of them has occurred without a sighting. But I’m always aware that there could be a first time, and I was starting to think it might be this one. But finally the call came out that a whale had been seen popping its head out the water straight ahead, and finally, not far off the Coromandel coastline, we came upon a Bryde whale lunge feeding. It repeatedly threw its head straight out the water before rolling onto its side. After a few lunges, it stopped feeding and swam around us from a distance. I’d last seen this species 10 years earlier in South Africa where the sightings had been so brief that I had managed no photographs, so it was fantastic to get a much better viewing this time round. We spent some time watching it move around us for a while before we went off in search of dolphins. Common dolphins are my favourite species of dolphin, and I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing them again. My memories from my only sighting of them are fading as again it was a brief occurrence in South Africa 10 years ago. We took a long route north then west back towards Rangitoto island, but alas it was not to be. The crew told us that it didn’t happen often, but I was gutted to see no dolphins on this trip.
The next day, I decided to revisit a place I hadn’t been for nearly four years: the observation deck of the Sky Tower. Auckland’s most iconic building, it was officially opened in 1997, three years after construction began. Like the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Sky Tower had its critics, but like in Sydney, it is hard to imagine the skyline without this building now. Next to the SkyCity Casino, the entrance is underground, and then the elevator with its partly-glass floor whisks you up to the 51st floor to the lower of two observation decks. From here there is a 360o view of Auckland and its surroundings. It was an awesome thing to do when I first arrived in New Zealand as it helped me get my bearings in such an expansive city, and on a second visit it was just nice to see everything from above again. Like many buildings of its type around the world, there are sections of the floor made of reinforced glass so that you can stand over the massive drop and laugh as people either jump up and down on them or scare themselves silly on them.
On the 60th floor is a smaller observation area, but the glass up here is tinted differently, so I personally prefer the view on this floor with regards to being able to take photographs. The day I was there, there were two men doing repairs on the outside, suspended off the side of the building in harnesses and inside a ‘bucket’. It’s definitely not a job for the faint of heart. There are a few adrenalin activities available from the Sky Tower itself. It is possible to do a Sky Walk where you are harnessed up on a platform outside the building on the 53rd floor for a wander round. From here, it is also possible to do a harnessed base jump down to the ground. I don’t remember there being the Sky Jump there last time (although it’s quite possible I was oblivious to it!), so although I knew about its existence more recently, I didn’t know a lot about it. As it turns out, you can be merrily looking out the window on the 51st floor to be caught off guard by a human being hurtling past the window towards the ground. It was funny hearing the gasps when people on the observation deck weren’t expecting to see this! I’m thinking next time round, this may be my new experience to try in Auckland!
A trip to the City of Sails isn’t complete for me without a wander along the foreshore past the ferry terminal, the viaduct and beyond Wynyard Quarter to the marina. With an estimated 1 in 3 households in Auckland owning a boat, there is a plethora of boats in the marina, and the harbour is always full of boats both private and commercial chugging past. In the summer months, large cruise ships dock regularly, dwarfing the neighbouring Hilton hotel. There is also a multitude of spots to get a different angle of the stand-out Sky Tower dominating the Auckland skyline. It’s a view that’s hard not to fall in love with.