Swagman #21- Auckland, New Zealand

After a few more days of relaxation in Sydney and one more drunken night in
the Quarryman’s Hotel it was time to move on to New Zealand. On my last
night in Australia, Nikki’s mother cooked a Thanksgiving meal for me, since I
would be missing the holiday at home with my own family. The next morning
Nikki drove me to the airport, we said the sad goodbye, and I was off for
the land of the long white cloud.

We descended through the cloud around 4pm and landed in Auckland in the
middle of a rain storm. As this is the last leg of my journey, the time has
come to count every dollar. The airbus is an excellent way to get from the
airport to the city – for $13 ($11 for backpackers) the bus will take you in
and deliver you to various spots around the city. I jumped off in the middle
of Queen St., the main road that slices through the city from north to
south, and quickly got a room at the Albert City Backpackers. The hostel may
lack a bit in its atmosphere – the dorm rooms are a bit drab and there is
not much of a common area, but it makes up for this with free offerings.
Upon check in I received a card for 15 free minutes of internet downstairs,
a pass for a free beer at a local bar, and a pass for a free four hour tour
around the sights of Auckland.

I spent my first full day just wandering around, walking in the rain west
along Victoria Street, pass the Sky Tower, Auckland’s 328m landmark, and
into trendy Ponsonby. The number of cafes in the city is astounding. There
must be enough caffeine flowing to keep the city’s 1.2 million population
awake for days. I settled into one such cafe for some liquid fuel and
breakfast before heading back before making my way back into the city via
Cook St., which brought me right into Aotea Square. From there I made my way
over to Albert Park to check out the Auckland Art Gallery (free). Then it
was a steep climb up the pathways of the park to reach the beautiful
fountain at the top, where people were lounging around on the benches now
that the rain had stopped.

The free tour was fantastic, provided by Stray Bus, one of the backpacker
bus groups that runs through the two islands. They take you through the
major sights of the city, and in return all you have to do is listen to the
guide talk about the many things that Stray has to offer. There is obviously
no obligation to buy a bus pass, but the tour is a pretty nice way of
introducing you to the company. What’s even better is that many other
companies would like to get in on this form of advertising, and offer
discount prices to backpackers just to get a brief mention on the tour.

Our first stop was the Auckland Harbor Bridge, where we stepped into a
harness and ascended the bridge through a series of ramps and stairs. At the
top we reached the control center of the AJ Hackett bridge jump. Welcome to
the land of bungee jumping – it is rampant throughout the country. If there
is a tall structure, chances are good that for a fee you can throw your body
from it. Two girls in our group opted to make the jump from the bridge, so
the rest of us crowded around the jump pad and watched with giddy excitement
as their ankles were strapped in and they shuffled up to the end of the
plank overlooking the harbor before leaping off.

Coming to New Zealand and not bungee jumping is like going to the greatest
steak house in the world and ordering the pasta. I believe it is number 17
on the list of 100 things to do before you die. But with all of the chances
to jump around the country, there is one that towers (literally) above the
rest – the Nevis Highwire Bungee in Queenstown, which stands at 134m (440
feet). I have decided to save my money and my girlish screams for the Nevis,
so I passed on the bridge jump.

After the bridge climb our tour drove around the marina that hosted the
America’s Cup recently before heading up to Mount Eden, which provides a
beautiful view of the city. The crater at the summit of Eden is extremely
impressive, and testament to the enormous amount of volcanic activity
throughout the North Island. The island is dotted by volcanoes, craters, and
plenty of geothermal activity. You can’t say that the Kiwis don’t have a
sense of humor about it though – about five years ago a prankster drove up
to Mt. Eden, threw a few tires in the crater, doused them in petrol and set
them alight. He then called a radio station and announced that Mt. Eden was
erupting, and the sight of the smoke pouring from the crater was enough to
make about a thousand people evacuate their homes and flee the area.

The tour dropped us off at the hostel around 3pm so I headed back to the Sky
Tower and ascended to the top for the view of the city. Luckily it was a
clear day so the view of the wharfs, harbor, and the surrounding landscapes
was incredible. At 328m the Sky Tower is, if I remember correctly, the
fourth highest in the world, sandwiched between the Empire State Building
and the Eiffel Tower. Of course, being in New Zealand, you can strap into a
harness and jump off of it. Jumpers leap from the launch pad, are dangled
for a moment for all spectators in the observation deck to see, and then
released to plummet down to ‘mission control’ below.

I spent the rest of my time in Auckland overdosing on caffeine at the
numerous cafes that line and lurk in the alley ways off of the appropriately
named High Street, which runs parallel to north Queen St. Then, after what
little sleep I could get, I was aboard an early bus for the four hour ride
south to Rotorua.

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