When I first moved to the city from the small town I grew up in, way back when I was 20 and King Henry VIII was still in power, I remember being in awe of the sense of anonymity. No one knew who I was. I was a nobody; a stranger in the crowd; one more person on the bus; yet another eccentric in a top hat and fake moustache loitering near the bar in the local drinking establishments. I could be whoever I wanted. In the city it seemed like anything was possible; this was where ideas were born and people got together to change the world. Or, at least, got together to solemnly discuss all the problems in the world and compare berets until all the red wine runs out at four in the morning. What I liked about city life was feeling ‘amongst it,’ like I was a part of something and that something was important. I didn’t know what ‘it’ was or where to find it, but that didn’t seem to matter.
Having said that, nature is and always will be my jam. I was raised in the countryside and I yearn for that quiet, dark isolation that only the middle of nowhere can provide. But after spending many months last year living rurally in the unfathomably vast nation of Australia, where things are so remote from other things that a spaceship seems the only practical way to get around, I was craving something a little different, which is sort of how I ended up in Auckland.
Auckland gets a bad rap. The traffic is terrible, it’s disproportionately overpopulated, it’s a huge sprawl, and housing can be expensive. Sure, Auckland has urban issues like homelessness, gentrification, big city arrogance, and people dressed in active wear who drive to the gym to drink a green smoothie and take a few selfies near the running machine. But show me a big city that doesn’t have these problems. New Zealand’s distinct lack of big cities is the reason such metropolitan characteristics are unique in this small, green nation, which is maybe why Kiwis elsewhere in the country roast Auckland at any opportunity.
While I will not endorse or justify the way people in this town literally drive it like they stole it, and it’s on fire and full of eels, I’m going to share with you why I like Auckland. So put your slippers on, grab a hot beverage and your canvas of imagination, and I will paint you a picture like you haven’t seen since that glittery, blobby, PVA glue-saturated macaroni art you did in the first year of school.
The weather is excellent, especially compared to other places in New Zealand, with warm, dry, sunny summers and comparatively mild winters. There is the convenience of big city life – things to do, places to buy stuff and meet people, which are simple pleasures in the rest of the world but can be quite challenging in this isolated country at the edge of the map. Despite not being the capital, Auckland is the most densely populated city in New Zealand by a staggering margin, with 1.6 million people calling this metropolis home. To put things into perspective, Wellington, which is the capital, houses half a million and there are 4.8 million people living in the whole of New Zealand. That’s right; a third of all New Zealanders live in this one city. Yet, even though it is home to so many people, Auckland manages to be incredibly green with more trees than you can shake a stick at, pun intended. Unless you are standing in the central business district – a congregation of high rise buildings and the iconic Sky Tower that makes up the nucleus of the city – that concrete jungle feeling is surprisingly elusive. Out in the suburbs trees are so plentiful that houses seem to tip-toe politely around them like a cinemagoer apologising their way back to their seat at the far end of row F. There are also many green spaces like parks, reserves, and the odd volcanic mound – Mount Eden and Mount Wellington, for example.
Auckland is flanked by the beautiful Haruaki Gulf and generously sprinkled with white sandy beaches, offering swimming unmolested by waves that will appeal to even the most nervous sea swimmer. Yet, on the sunniest summer days, I could still find space to lay my towel, unlike, say, I don’t know, England. One of the most distinct things I’ve noticed about New Zealand beaches is the regular presence of some gnarly volcanic island out to sea, and Auckland is no exception. There are several islands scattered in the Haruaki Gulf, but the most dominant and impressive has to be Rangitoto. This conical Auckland celebrity boasts the reputation for being the youngest volcano in New Zealand and also the most symmetrical, looking much the same from whatever angle you care to inspect it from. For $35 you can hop on a ferry and spend the day on Rangitoto, perhaps walking around its circumference, informing yourself of interesting volcano facts by reading the helpful signs dotted along the footpaths, and climbing to the summit to look at the entire city from this incredibly satisfying vantage point.
Speaking of the Gulf, it is an excellent place to observe sea beasts as alluring as whales, dolphins, and, if you’re really lucky, orca. You can climb aboard the Whale and Dolphin Safari boat for an exciting, if a little seasick-inducing, morning or afternoon of whale stalking. Auckland’s harbour is extensive, and it’s nice to walk along the Viaduct Basin because it’s quite peaceful, but also for the simple pleasure of looking at multi-million dollar yachts and marvelling at the preposterous amounts of money some people have. There’s even an area – the notorious ‘K-Road’ – that I can visit to reminisce about the years I spent living in the rough areas of Bristol in the UK. Just like Bristol, here you will find the kooky bars, the best op-shops, and people who back home I would call crackheads but, to be polite, I’ll describe them here as ‘colourful characters’. Honestly, the nostalgia is overwhelming.
While travelling I’ve preferred to spend a long stretch of time in one location, so I can study and analyse while submerged in my surroundings like an alligator with a clipboard, eyes peering surreptitiously over the waterline, poised to snatch unsuspecting nuggets of information about life on this here planet earth. It’s interesting to experience how other people live because it allows me to better understand the places I’ve already been and where I come from. So I’ll call this city is home for now, until I am needed elsewhere for the next chapter in Bella’s moderately lazy global sociological research.