Did you hear that New Zealand is beautiful? Did you watch Lord of the Rings and couldn’t quite believe that this place actually existed? On a whistlestop tour from Auckland to Dunedin, this far flung country is incredibly beautiful, quirky, fun and easy to get around.
Cricket – the disclaimer
In the southern summer of 2022, New Zealand hosted the Women’s Cricket World Cup. Eight teams played across seven different stadia throughout the north and south islands. This is what took me to New Zealand, and why my trip didn’t do justice to the country’s spectacular scenery.
Covid was still a thing. It took a 14 hour flight down to Auckland, isolation in the airport and a transit before reaching Christchurch. At the airport in Christchurch there was a painful Flight of the Concords moment, when I got yelled at by a border guard Murray for stepping off my assigned queue dot too quickly. Dots being assigned 2m apart.
My sixth quarantine and third major event until COVID conditions. I know when it is important to stand on a dot and when its not !!
Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake in February 2011. Ten years on and the evidence is still there in the centre of the city. The old cathedral is walled up as are some of the other older buildings. But also noticeable is the modern, urban renewal where modern buildings have sprung up alongside. The city centre is trying hard at grunge, but facing strong competition from the surrounding mountains and the city’s green gardens.
Hagley Park provides 164 hectares acres of green. It includes the botanic garden and importantly is home to a cricket ground. There are a number of pubs and restaurants on Oxford Terrace that runs alongside the Avon River / Otakaro – including the Riverside Market that has a number of options.
Dunedin is on the southern end (but not the most southern) of the southern island.
The starting point is that I absolutely loved my time in Dunedin, so what I’m going to say is not a slur at all. But I wondered about the thought that took the early colonial people to such an inhospitable location. If you were Scottish, would you be thinking ‘I’m going to go as far away from Scotland as I can to a place that even within its own landscape is isolated’. The answer : gold. There was a goldrush and Dunedin was built on the harbour and for a time was the place to be.
More recently it has become a University town, home to Otago University and a lot of students.
Also located in Dunedin is Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street according to the Guinness Book of Records. If you travel 2.86 metres (9.4 ft) horizontally, the elevation changes by 1 metre (3.3 ft).
This is a true story – until the factory closed in 2018 Cadburys used to sponsor a charity event, based on Jaffas and Baldwin street. Jaffas are round balls of chocolate with a hard orange flavoured crust. You could buy one, put your number on it and then put it in a bucket with all the other Jaffas. The bucket was emptied at the top of Baldwin Street and the first Jaffa to make to the bottom of the hill was the winner ! All profits from sale of Jaffas to charity.
Geographically west of the city is the Otago Peninsula and right at the end of the peninsular is the Royal Albatross Centre. Visitors to the Centre can see a colony of these semi-mythical birds. Blue penguins or yellow eyed penguins nest nearby in a tiny bay. A short walk will take you to the beach and might get lucky and see these tiny birds, or you might also be chased and barked at by fur seals as you try to get a closer look.
Returning to the city will take you along the ridge of the peninsular and from this height you can see truly spectacular views of the southern ocean. This is the way to get to Larnach Castle – a historic house linked to a Dunedin businessman. Hiking and cycling trails criss cross the peninsula and will take you up into the hills, or down along the bay or coast. You might also be shouted at by locals for driving too fast (60km not 40km) as you try to find the road along the top of the ridge and find yourself in someone’s driveway instead.
With a population of 1.65 million Auckland is a proper big city –out of proportion in comparison to all the other cities in New Zealand. Dunedin, for example has 114,000 and Christchurch has 402,000. Auckland is beautiful and like Sydney it is situated around a major harbour.
When I last visited Auckland, the city was hosting the Americas Cup yacht race. At Viaduct Harbour, the cup facilities were integrated into a new mixed-use urban extension of the city. This visit I didn’t stray far from Eden Park, a 40,000 seat stadium where two of the matches were being staged. Shoutout however, to Azabu Restaurant, on Ponsonby Street where we got to one night and had a fabulous Japanese fusion meal.
Prior to the drive down from Auckland to Wellington the map was studied. I did an extra side-project to get an understanding of the location for the Lord of the Rings locations – the trip that Gandalf and Co did over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, with a view of the volcanic landscapes and Mt Ngauruhoe which featured as ‘Mt Doom’. Not far from Mt Doom is beautiful Lake Taupo. But as it turns out I saw none of this because one of the biggest storms of recent memory hit the moment I left Auckland and I struggled to see the road in front of me, let alone the lake or the mountain trail.
And yes, even on a good day Wellington is windy. One of the pivotal things about cricket is that one team directs most of their efforts to knocking the bails off three upright posts or wickets (at about leg height). It is the batter’s job to protect the wickets and the bails. It was so windy that the umpires decided to play without bails. The opposing team had to yank a wicket out of the ground instead of just knocking off a bail.
It is located on the southern end of the North Island – a 3 ½ hour ferry ride from Picton on the southern island. The water front in downtown Wellington has also undergone a renewal and there are a range of restaurants and bars along the promenade.
The NZ houses of parliament are located in ‘The Beehive’, along with a cluster of other government buildings in the centre of the city. The cricket stadium is at The Basin, so-named because it is inside a volcanic crater. The volcano actually erupted and what was once swampy became a city park.
New Zealand’s advertising campaign as we flew in was about the decision between which of New Zealand’s features could be nominated to become the Eighth Wonder of the World – Milford Sound, Franz Joseph Glacier, Stewart Island (off Invercargill – the southern most city) and where you can see the southern lights, Waitomo Caves, Napier, Tairawhiti Gisborne, Waiheke Island and Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty.
On my trip, I didn’t even touch on these options – and in the end the conclusion of Air New Zealand was that no one can decide and it is the whole country that is the eighth wonder and they’re probably not far off the truth.
I highly recommend finding out for yourself.