When I first heard that I’d be travelling to Auckland for a conference, I did the usual happy dance. I was going away for a few days, and to an exotic place I’ve never been to. For months I’d fantasied about the Te Aurora hiking trail that runs through the north and south islands of New Zealand, covering all historic and culturally-significant sites. It’s a 3000 kilometre trek, one that’d take 3 months for an experienced hiker and about 8 months for me.
But that’s all I knew about New Zealand. Pathetic, I know. Which is why excitement ballooned in me as I clambered on to my flight, scarf and jacket on, ready to face the unknown weather conditions the kiwis were conditioned to.
When I landed at 12:30 am, it was chilly and breezy. But hey, I’m from Canberra—chilly and breezy is my jam now. I’d researched and planned to take the public bus system all the way to my hotel, a mere 500 metres from the bus stop. What I didn’t anticipate, though, is the lack of meals in my flight. Argh, vegan problems.
I touched down with a rumbling stomach, and the only place open at 2 am (security checks are a pain in the ass) that isn’t a McDonalds or Hungry Jacks was another burger place: Lord of the Fries—a complete, vegan junk food chain. Oh, well.
Dumping the public transport system, I chose the capitalist corporatism of Uber to feed myself. When I slept that night, it was 3:40 am and Batman was on television.
Every time I’m in a new place, my energy levels are so high that it baffles me. I was up and charged to explore at 9 am. I soon realised how cool Auckland’s public transportation system is: their bus card, called AT HOP, comes in two variants—a standard plastic card like the rest of the world or a key tag for practicality. Of course I went for the key tag!
With a dangling key tag full of bus cash, the streets had become my oyster. Wandering around the neighbourhood, I went past the Sky Tower, spotting it from everywhere I stood. It’s a telecommunications and observation tower in the heart of the city, and like any massive piece of architecture, a tourism magnet. I’d seen a few towers to know my money’s better off someplace else, but I did take plenty of photos for free.
After all, Canberra has its own tower—the central point of focus for many a camera folk and sun gazers.
So far Auckland seemed abundant in glorious buildings. And every shop—cafes, restaurants, bars, quoted reasonable prices. Auckland is far more affordable than what I’d become used to. Nothing to complain.
When I looked up activities nearby, my top hits were Mount Eden and One Tree Hill. Two dormant volcanoes, havens for trekkers. Bring it on, I thought as I traced the route first to Mt. Eden.
The bus got me there in about thirty minutes from the city. As I ascended, I came across a notice board declaring the Mt. Eden trek as part of the coast to coast walking trail—the same Te Aurora I’d had my eyes on for ages. Elated, I told myself this’d be a practice session for when I’m indeed ready for the actual one.
It was easy enough. Joy and excitement are great motivators when you’re climbing a hill far more massive than yourself. I felt a spring in my step with every forward step. I smiled at trees, chuckled at bushes bursting with blossoms, and marvelled at the study ground that pushed me back as I pressed down on it.
All around me, nature showered in hundreds of shades. Flowers in yellow, white, purple, and red laughed at me as I scaled their home, welcoming but also doubtful—as if they weren’t sure I’d make it all the way up the mountain. Ha, I never shun from a challenge like that.
Breathing in some of the freshest air I’ve experienced, I powered through. The higher I went, the more I saw of a deep gash in the ground. A valley sunk downwards, a clear sheen of grassland except it looked like a mountain turned inside out.
When I got to the top I saw it for what it was: a massive hole in the hill, covered with green, green, and more green.
As I looked around at the city, spotting the Sky Tower and the thousands of miniature homes that housed Aucklanders, I knew I was in utopia.
Sitting on a pile of rocks not long after that, basking in the rather hot sun, I savoured my raw chocolate caramel slice, engulfed in the uplifting scent of wet plants.
It only got better as I left for One Tree Hill.
This one had more plains to walk through before the actual climb up. A well-paved pathway led me through light green meadows spotted with darker bushes, water tanks, sheep, and tiny humans scurrying across the vastness that enveloped them.
Unlike Mount Eden, the higher I went on One Tree Hill, the more greenery I saw patched by the unmistakable signs of human. I’ve always hated people’s irresistible urge to leave marks in places, to emboss their presence, to shove their opinions and fantasies on unassuming nature. And yet, there it was—a massive heart carved on the ground, names of long lost lovers scratched into the earth, without the least regard. Love can be so cruel at times.
At the top stands a tower, a memorial for Sir John Logan Campbell. Scotsmen Cambell and Willian Brown were the first Europeans to settle in the region, and together they built the first house and set up the first shop. Campbell was also a member of parliament and a prominent social figure before that. No wonder he’s called the Father of Auckland.
Daylight lingered as I descended from the hill. Spring had reached Auckland and I set out to wander the streets—there was still so much to see. But first, coffee. And some glorious raw treats. Well, why not?