Waves lapping on white-sand beaches, a glass of chilled white wine on the balcony, dinner parties with friends: this is Auckland for me. It’s home and always will be, even though we spend much more time away from it than we spend there.
As a native of Auckland, I’d become immune to its charms due to years of association. And, to tell the truth, ten years ago Auckland was a less charming city than it is today. However, reflecting after our most recent long visit has made me realise that Auckland is an awesome, world-class city, just like the Mercer surveys have been saying for the last several years (it’s currently number 3 on their quality of living list). Although at least part of this realisation is due to my new perspective on an already great place, the council has also implemented significant changes that have really improved the city for locals and visitors alike.
1. Green spaces
When we headed overseas for the first time, we took a frisbee with us, planning to get our exercise by tossing it around in a local park. Imagine my surprise when I realised that not all cities are as studded with parks as Auckland — and the green spaces that do exist are often packed with people.
It’s not just the parks that make Auckland so green — the streets are lined with trees and there are heaps of hills sticking their summits above the houses around them. Plus, the fact that the city is located on an isthmus means that we have a multitude of beaches to choose from, so we have a choice of natural environments. Another green space is the forest, which abounds just a short drive from the city centre. We particularly love the Waitakere Ranges, and a visit home without going hiking there feels like something is missing.
2. Summer events
Auckland has hosted a number of summer events for as long as I can remember, many of them located in the aforementioned parks. Christmas in the Park in the enormous Auckland Domain draws a large percentage of the population, and other music events are held in smaller parks around the city. Plus you can take part in sports events like the Round the Bays run or the triathlon. Theatres put on outdoor summer performances and movies are shown on large screens erected in the larger parks. There’s also cultural events like the Lantern Festival to celebrate Chinese New Year and the Pasifika festival to celebrate Pacific Island culture. In short, there’s always something to do, and a lot of it is free.
Although the summer events outweigh the winter ones, things are happening throughout the year — from sports, to music, to random festivals.
3. Good bars and restaurants
Having such a multicultural population means that Auckland has a great range of dining options; you can find almost any cuisine you like. Although we don’t eat out as much as people from some other countries, and prices can be comparatively high, there are also a lot of good deals around, for eating in and taking away. And if you’re looking for a cheap option, there’s always the standby fish and chips, eaten on the beach, and accompanied by a fair portion of tomato sauce.
Auckland’s nightlife isn’t world-renowned, but we do have a great range of bars for a night on the town. Personally I prefer a quiet drink or coffee after work, and there are plenty of options for that too — many with sea views! We’ve enjoyed spending time in the new Wynyard Quarter and Silo Park, which have been recently developed.
4. Improved infrastructure
Due to its low population density, Auckland’s public transport falls far behind that of other cities in terms of quality, frequency, and value for money. However, it has improved a lot in recent years as council and government investment in light rail has paid off amazingly — when I left the country in 2006 nobody I knew caught the train. On a visit home in 2010 some of my friends had started to use it occasionally. Now, although the system has its problems, services are running at capacity and pretty, new, quiet electric trains are being rolled out.
Buses that run circular routes through the inner city have improved communications there, and an integrated ticketing system has made the whole experience of using public transport a lot more pleasant. Aucklanders still moan that there’s a lot to be improved, and that the transition to the new system was anything but smooth, but from my perspective, Auckland now has a reasonable public transport system — and that’s something I certainly wouldn’t have said five years ago.
5. Things to do
If you’re looking for something to do that isn’t eating out, spending time in a park or admiring the public transport, there’s plenty of choice. Excellent museums and art galleries, shopping streets and centres, theatres, cinemas, zoos — well, everything you’d expect a small city to offer. You can even bungy jump off the two main symbols of the city (the Sky Tower and the Harbour Bridge) if that’s what you’re into!
One thing I really appreciate about Auckland is its accessibility to wine regions. Within an hour or so of the central city there are four distinct regions where you can visit wineries and taste their wares: Matakana to the north, Kumeu to the west, Clevedon to the south, and Waiheke Island to the east. You need a car to get to the first three and a ferry for the fourth, but if you get four or five people together, it’s an excellent day out.
Auckland’s a great city that deserves its high quality of living rating. Though it doesn’t get as much attention in tourism circles as other parts of New Zealand, it’s definitely worth spending some time in if you’re heading to New Zealand or Australia (it’s only a three-hour flight from Sydney). Have you been? What did you like best? Leave a comment below.