City Travels - Auckland
After visiting Sydney, I took a short haul flight to Auckland, New Zealand.
I was there from June 1st to June 7th. I planned the time to be used for both sightseeing and job hunting.
All prices are given in New Zealand dollars, with the exception of my flight.
I was in Sydney, Australia, and took a short-haul flight via Virgin Airlines to Auckland. The flight cost around US$163, and was booked through Student Universe. However, the flight ended up costing me more than that.
Having never flown Virgin Airlines before, I did not realize they have a tiered ticketing system. If I wanted food, soda, or to not pay a huge fee for my baggage, I would have had to book a different type of ticket. While I was fine not eating, my bag ended up costing me an unexpected ~US$88.
While I think that tiered tickets like that are actually a good idea for airlines to use, booking sites need to be set up to warn people about what they're buying. Student Universe provided me with a flight to New Zealand, and did not offer me any other options. I had no indication I was buying a ticket with limitations, or the name of the type of ticket I bought. Student Universe should help clarify ticket limitations before purchase. I imagine they're not the only travel site that would have this issue. But they do focus on budget travelers who especially do not want to get hit with an extra fee, so this is very concerning for their audience.
But the booking agent isn't solely at fault. Even when I looked at my ticket on Virgin's website, it had a generic instructions that sounded like my suitcase was going to be free. There was not enough indication of what type of plane ticket I had purchased, which I feel Virgin should help clarify on their website. I didn't even realize there were tiered tickets until I was on the airplane: that's not OK. The situation was made more annoying because I DID look to see if there would be a baggage fee, and the website seemed to indicate there would not be.
But, complaints about baggage fees aside, the flight was smooth and clean. It took about two-and-a-half hours.
New Zealand is very strict with what you can bring into the country. They are very conserned about plant contamination and have banned bringing in outside food, lest the native plants may get infected. I thought it was unique when I flew to Hawaii, and they had a whole video about not being able to bring fruit, animals or plants to the islands. New Zealand takes that up several notches. Absolutely no outside food (including things you might not expect like jarred, sealed honey or pre-made, airport-bought, wrapped sandwiches) or other potential contaminates like dirty hiking shoes, can be brought in. While I didn't have any problems, I think that's a good think to keep in mind when packing for your trip. I had considered buying dinner, or at least snacks, at the airport in Australia. I am very glad I didn't because I would have had to throw it out.
Before you leave the airport, make sure you grab an Arrival magazine. There are a lot of legitimately good coupons in there for attractions throughout the country. There are several displays before you even hit customs.
From the Auckland airport, you can take a bus called the SkyBus to get to central Auckland. The SkyBus will cost you $16, and runs very frequently, 24/7. I bought my ticket in advanced online, which most people don't do. You can buy a ticket right at the stand outside of the airport. The bus driver looked confused when I handed him my ticket because it is so rare for people to print the tickets at home. But he took it. The ride to the city took about an hour, but I was traveling during the heart of rush hour. The bus dropped me off a few blocks from my hostel, but if I needed to go deeper into the city, I could have transferred to a SkyBus shuttle.
A Place to Stay
I stayed at the Haka Lodge in Auckland. The hostel is located on K-road, which can be a little shady, and is about 30 minutes from the main parts of Auckland. However, it is very close to a bus stop.
I was in a 20-bed mixed dorm, but the layout of the beds made this very reasonable. Each of the beds has curtains, an outlet and a reading light. The bunk beds are made out of solid wood and the don't shake at all. The beds are all grouped into clusters of 4-5 beds, with walls between the clusters. This gives more privacy than may be expected in a 20-bed dorm. There is also lockable storage under all the beds.
The toilets and the showers were in separate rooms. In the toilet room, there were three toilets, each separated by a solid, normal door and solid walls rather than stalls. In each individual toilet 'stall', there was an individual sink. Hand towels were provided, and although they were meant to be reused, if one was too wet, there was a small pile of clean ones to use.
The showers were similarly separated. Each shower was separated by an actual door with solid walls. The shower 'stall' had a small area to change, and the shower itself was completely enclosed in glass, with a swinging glass door. By completely enclosed, I also mean the top of the shower had a glass ceiling, which I thought was interesting. It was like showering in a bubble. The only thought I had about the shower is that there wasn't quite enough room in the changing area for the glass shower door. A larger person would legitimately have problems fitting around the door to open/close it. I had to maneuver myself a few times.
Outside of the shower stalls, there were two sinks and two mirrors. I do wish there was a garbage can outside the shower stalls, as I couldn't floss my teeth at that set of sinks and mirrors since there was nowhere to throw the floss away. I imagine girls that wear make-up would encounter similar issues using those sinks.
The hostel also provides a clean, well-supplied kitchen. They have several sinks available for washing dishes and a surplus of cookware and serving supplies. They have two large dining tables to eat at, and couches to relax on nearby. The hostel, however, does not provide any meals.
The hostel also offers free wi-fi that works very well, and a tv room. I heavily used the wi-fi and did not ever enter the TV room. Apparently it's quite fancy, but I didn't actually know where it was located, and didn't need it due to the power of Netflix.
I would absolutely stay here again, and recommend you do as well. I'm somewhat of a brand loyalist at this point.
K-Road is a questionable shopping road at the end of the heart of the city. The pattern usually goes homey fashion shop, local restaurant, liquor store, closed store, strip club, fashion shop, open but suspiciously empty convenience store, restaurant, etc... I was there to walk elsewhere.
Queen Street is the central road to downtown Auckland. From K-Road it starts with a lot of Asian shops and restaurants, and then gets more touristy the closer you get to downtown.
Downtown, there is tall observation tower named SkyTower, which is part of a large hotel/casino called SkyCity. While I didn't visit SkyCity, I did go up the SkyTower. I would recommend going up SkyTower about a half-an-hour before sunset, watching the sunset from it and then watching the lights of the city come on. That way, you get the most bang-for-your-buck, and can see all three phases of the city. Also, they apparently have a student discount, so don't be like me and leave your ID at your hostel, alongside your $3 off coupon.
There is a nice little walk along the harbor, where you can go to Silo Park or the Viaduct area. The Viaduct is just fancy restaurants, but the boardwalk is very nice. Silo Park has a bit of interesting architecture, and modern sculptures, but isn't anything to write home about.
The Domain however is great for a walk in nature. There are several trails in the large park, and you could spend a day exploring the park. There is also another nearby park you can walk through if you're coming or going to the center of the city.
The Auckland Museum is located in the heart of The Domain, and will run you $25. The musuem is quite large. They have many Maori tools and cultural objects. My favorite sections, however, were a large gallery of old toys, and an exhibit on volcanos. Those are well worth seeing, and very captivating. They also a small nature collection, a artistic design section, and most importantly, the top floor is dedicated as a War Memorial. There are sections describing Kiwi efforts in WW1 and WW2, and it can be quite poignant.
There was a free art musuem in the center of Auckland that's worth peaking your head in. There's many portraits of Maori people and a few artifacts. It's free, so you might as well stop in.
If you need to get back outside, you should hike up Mt. Eden. The hike is fairly easy and free. The base of the mountain is 45 minutes from K-road on foot. If you enter the trail to the mountain off of Cliff Road, the climb uphill will take you about 25 minutes. If you enter off Mt. Eden Road, it will take 5 minutes. The view is beautiful and well worth a 25-minute uphill climb; The key point here being don't listen to Google map's walking directions.
Nearby is the suburb of Ponsonby, which is quite nice to walk through. The suburb is high-end, but walking through it is free! It was a nice walk, and didn't take that much time to walk through the main shopping area.
I rode the SkyBus. I walked everywhere else.
This was done mostly out of an 'I Walk Everywhere' attitude, rather than out of financial need like in Sydney. Auckland has a City Link bus that only costs $1 to go downtown. Other City Link busses go to further destinations for only a few dollars more, and there are metro busses and trains that go even further. If you have one of their city transport cards, these City Link busses are free when transferring. Bus stops are well marked with electronic signs saying what the next three busses are, when they're coming, and where they're going.
It seemed like a very well set up system. I was just too lazy to take the bus, and by lazy, I mean I felt like walking for hours.
In downtown Auckland, there is both a medium sized Countdown and a New World. I found I preferred the New World, but both stores had more expensive prices than I found elsewhere in the country. I bought a five pack of ramen, a pack of eggs, bagels, cream cheese, a small, discounted pack of artificial crab, and I lived off that for about $40. There is also a Countdown in Ponsonby, but I didn't discover that until my last day. That one may have been closer than going all the way downtown, if you're staying on K-Road.
I did eat at No. 1 Pancake, which is a small street-front Korean pancake shop. Korean pancakes are similar to having two pancakes stuck together and in the middle it's filled with either a sweet or savory filling. I bought both a ham and cheese pancake (savory) and a red bean pancake (sweet). The sweet pancake was a little smaller than the savory one, but it also cost a little less. While I didn't love the ham and cheese pancake (and adored the red bean one), the entire, large meal cost just $8. You should try this if you get the chance, even if it's just for dessert.
After I got hired at my working holiday job, I decided I wanted a burger. This was a dangerous decision, because the day I decided to do this was a national holiday: the Queen's birthday. Some places were closed, while other places were adding a surcharge to their prices for their staff that had to work on the holiday. They were also all packed because most people had a three-day weekend. I ended up eating at Murder Burger, because who can resist a name like that. I ordered their cheapest burger and a milkshake for a little over $12.
So them milkshakes. I don't think a New Zealand milkshake will bring all the boys to the yard; it will make them run away screaming in terror. I had seen thickshakes advertised places, and had no idea what that was. It turns out, I totally know what that is: a thickshake is an American milkshake. A 'milkshake' is frothy, flavored milk. It was like drinking a sweetened head of beer. Luckily, I had googled what a thickshake was before I caught myself completely off guard: I had an idea what to expect when I tried a 'milkshake'. But I will not be trying another one.
There is also a small Asian dumpling/crepe stand across the street from the downtown Countdown. I had my suitcase on me, but needed lunch before I got on the bus. It was hard to walk into any restaurant or store with my luggage, so a food stand was perfect. I bought a curry chicken crepe at that stand for $5.50. While not super filling, it was really good and I recommend trying it.
Someone recommended I eat at the Tanuki bar; He had had fun there in the past. I found the bar. I was going to go there my last day. I stayed an extra day, making my last day a Monday. The Tanuki Bar is closed on Mondays. I regret my poor planning.
I honestly didn't need to spend that much time in Auckland. I didn't really like the city that much. But I also was trying to come up with other plans for the rest of my time in New Zealand.
I almost went to Frenzi's Bar Crawl. Apparently, it is a huge 100 person+ bar crawl that leaves weekly from the Camel Bar at 8PM on Thursdays that only costs $10 for four drinks. However, I had a cold and decided the healthy decision was to stay in and rest. I'm not one for a bar crawl or major drinking, but it sounds like a must-see event.