Auckland: A City in Search of Itself

Auckland’s CBD viewed from atop Mount Eden

The first stop on my quick sprint around New Zealand was Auckland, where I spent just a day and a half. This could have been considered longer than necessary – friends told me I should avoid it all together – yet I viewed this brief stop as an opportunity to acclimatise after a gruelling 24 hours of travel (and related interrogation).

Checking into a budget hostel, and a small dingy room decorated in various shades of brown (broken desk lamp, Johnny Cash playing loudly in the next room) adjustment was clearly needed.

After unpacking and settling in, I ventured outside, intent on discovering the city. Before doing so, I took a moment to breathe in and survey my surroundings. In front of me, a small city park in the shadow of several sky-scrappers. The pulsating sound of pedestrian crossings were just about audible as was the hum of traffic from the nearby CBD. Both accompanied by the indescribable smell of a place until now unencountered.

It was at this point I remembered why I love to travel. Whilst photos and entries such as this become remnants of such trips, there is so much of the experience you can’t take back home. This, as well as knowing I had achieved something that was just an idea a few months beforehand, proved to be an enormous rush.

A section of wall on the outside of the War Memorial Museum, commemorating battles fought in Palestine during World War I

The feeling of the familiar was the immediate impression I got of Auckland. Having visited many other ‘post-colonial’ cities (Sydney, San Francisco, Montreal) there were many times I felt I could be in any one of those places.

I walked through the Domain, around the harbour-side, climbed Mount Eden and explored the CBD (or Central Business District). With better planning I would have caught a ferry to see some of the outlying volcanic islands around Waitemata Harbour. Auckland’s signature building – The Sky Tower – whilst impressive, lacked the views offered by the similar observation tower in Sydney, nor did it provide the level of excitement I found when I visited the Space Needle in Seattle.

In fact, the same could be said of the entire city, and by Sunday afternoon I found myself in a local cinema. Luckily for Auckland, I chose to watch The Informant!, and soon realised I’d have been served better catching a ferry or visiting the War Memorial Museum. Lesson learnt.

I’m probably being too harsh on Auckland, particularly as I remember feeling disappointed to be leaving early the next morning. However, for such a small city, it seemed intent on projecting an image of itself that is clearly larger than reality. I suspect this is due to it struggling to find a true identity, both within New Zealand (where it’s considered to be something of a show-off) and the wider region – it certainly didn’t feel like a city with the largest Polynesian population in the world.