a converts guide to New Zealands cities
08.11.2012 - 20.01.2013
I would say I was a country bumpkin. I grew up in the country, not quite the sticks but we did get cut off in the snow and collect milk from the local farm. After a brief dabble in the big smoke in my twenties I knew that, cities really were not for me and purposely sought out a future in the countryside. As the years have gone on I feel more and more out of place in cities, so imagine my suprise when after 3 months in the remoteness that is New Zealand I find myself yearning for people, noise and streets that buzz after 9pm.
I thought I would love the miles of space that New Zealand offered. The miles without people. The getting away from it all feeling. But instead I have craved human company, towns with people and even ,yes, dare I say it cars!
The roads in new Zealand are widely empty, the main traffic seeming to be tourists. When we were in the West Coast staying in Teapot Cottage we were at first disappointed to find that we were next to the only main road. Most of the day it was quiet but everyday like clockwork from about 9 to 10 and 5 to 6 it is a constant stream of rental camper vans, all heading south... rush hour in the west country ! A couple of months later when leaving our friends Bach next to a beach in remote Hawkes bay, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving an hour along gravel roads until we at last found a main road.
If you like space and getting away from people New Zealand is for you. In North Island there is a lot of bush, and I mean a lot. This is so dense it is actually quite hard to get into, this is a good job because people have been known to dip into the bush to relieve themselves, then are never seen again! Talking of bush last week we 'popped' in on a friend who is running an outdoor centre under the shadow of Tongararo. When we got there we asked ourselves why is there an outdoor centre here? All we could see was miles upon miles of bush. She explained that under that bush were increadible gorges, rivers, and the thing that most surprised me, caves. Of course you do have to know where to look!
Auckland is New Zealands biggest city, although not its capital. Around half of the population of New Zealand live in Auckland although to be honest that's not a lot. I have been amazed by its diversity and beauty. I have never before stayed in a city where you can camp next to the beach (Takapuna) then wander into the hub ub. Everything feels really close and very green. Aucklanders have some great ideas, such as in the centre it has a bus service that is almost idiot proof with the buses being the same colour as the route on your map and only 50c (about 25p). Almost everywhere you go in Auckland you can see the sky tower which is great as along with the sea you are unlikely to get lost. If you do get lost there are these cool information people zipping around on those upright wheely things.
Wellington is the capital, it is the first city in New Zealand I properly visited. The boys and I took a train into the centre from the outskirts which were very hilly, green and full of characterful weather boarded houses. I was completely gobsmacked to find the ticket lady on the train was really friendly I'm sorry Britain but I haven't come across that before. Infact she was positively cheerful greeting everyone as if they were old friends (maybe they were). I did have a slight mis location problem when we got off the train but on asking a friendly passerby where the sea was (much to my kids embarrassment )I was soon off in the right direction. Cities by the sea are useful like that. I was impressed with Wellington, it's water front is lovely (great playground) and Te Papa which is a museum does have a ridiculously large squid (size of a large car) which shouldn't be missed. On the downside it does seem to be a tad windy, not great for immaculate hairdos.
The third city we visited is Christchurch. People advised us not to bother going here. There is nothing left they said. I'm glad I ignored them. Post earthquake Christchurch is moving, yet hopeful. The people seem to have an incredible optimism, seeing the devastation as an opportunity to rebuild bigger better and of course earthquake proof.
Impressions of Christchurch
Replaced by a silent epitaph of space
Nature mocks man
Man fights back
A vision of cultural excellence
The dust billows in silence
Tram lines disappear
Cracks ominously remain
and punts drift along a green avenue oblivious of the chaos around them.
So three cities later, I am now a convert, I have decided I like cities. Next stop Bangkok.