Wednesday 3rd November
In these formative days of my New Zealand experience, I have to confess to being in two minds about the city where, mostly for reasons of convenience and job prospects, we’re more than likely to end up living next year. Auckland is a strange place. Half of me really likes this hip, vibrant metropolis that boasts more quality bakeries (that’s bakers for those of you back home; patisseries for you Francophiles) than you’d find in the whole of the UK put together and offers up such delightful suburbs as Parnell and Devonport. But the other half of me is perplexed by the way that its architecture often steadfastly refuses to compliment the awesome beauty of the countryside around it and disturbed by a primitive public transport system that drives the entire population into a twice-daily log jam on the notorious “Spaghetti Junction” (and let’s be honest, anywhere that takes its inspiration from Birmingham’s eyesore of a road network needs to seriously rethink its transport policy.)
So, let’s get the bad stuff out the way first because I hate being negative, especially about somewhere that I might be living in the none-too-distant future. While not quite the “concrete jungle” that one of Holly’s relatives once described it as, Auckland, it is fair to say, won’t win too many prizes for architectural splendor. While a handful of individual buildings are of noteworthy design, many of the major streets are bedeviled by cheaply-built, single-storey blocks plastered over with bland facades and tacky signage. Of course, there are plenty of towns and cities in England to which this description could equally apply but they don’t have the spectacular scenery of Auckland’s surrounding countryside to take as inspiration. The limited capability of the bus and rail networks is also a source of some frustration, not least because it means limiting ourselves to a couple of drinks whenever we go out for dinner. But it strikes me more as odd that a country boasting such precious natural resources would make such a paltry effort to get people out of their gas-guzzling cars. Trams, I’m sure, would go down a storm here.
On the upside, I’ve seen some very lovely areas of Auckland, areas that dovetail respectfully with the natural scenery around them and all but make you forget that you’re in a big, sprawling city. The seafront suburb of Devonport is one such example, with its modern, beach-facing apartment blocks and tranquil village-esque shops and cafes providing a tasteful contrast with the harbour around it. The sleepy Sunday afternoon we spent there - and on its adjacent North Head hill that looks back out to the city - has been one of my favourite NZ experiences so far. The hills (or, more accurately, dormant volcanoes) that surround Auckland provide a welcome contrast to the greyness below, not to mention great opportunities for some serious calf exercise. Mount Eden and Cornwall Park, for example, provide stunning views out over the city and act as little havens of natural beauty far above the madness. The curiously-named “Domain”, too - a vast area of greenery in the middle of the city that houses both the botanical gardens and the one indisputably great piece of design here, the Auckland Museum - shows that for all of my above reservations, it’s a city that is, at least in part, still in touch with the land on which it is built.
Though the likes of Ponsonby Road – a fashionable street in the west of the city – are not much to look at from the outside, they more than make up for it with the staggering volume of excellent shops, cafes and restaurants contained within. I struggle to understand how such a small population manages to sustain so many eateries – none of which ever seem to be full - but I’m glad that they’ve somehow found a way. It makes the experience of drinking one's long black (a slightly-bigger-than-espresso-sized coffee, fellow Brits) so much more pleasant when you can actually choose which table you want to sit at and aren’t being blasted by the inane chatter of your fellow café-goers.
So like I said, it’s still early days and there’s still plenty for me to explore before I can really make a judgment on the place. Like all cities, Auckland seems to have its pros and cons but at the moment I’m thankful to be living out in the country while still being close enough to the city to make the occasional expedition. Now if someone can point me in the direction of a pub where I can watch the football at 2 in the morning then I might just want to spend a little bit longer there…