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September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
During the course of the last couple of months Air & Business Travel News has reported on New Zealand. In this his final travelogue down-under editor-in-chief Malcolm Ginsberg tells us about the North Island, three million population, probably uninhabited until 1,000 years ago, and at Cape Regina, at the very north, really part of the South Pacific
Your entry to the North Island, and probably New Zealand too, is Auckland, a sprawling mass, the self-named ”city of sails. ”With water on virtually every side and dominated by the Sky Tower, at 328 metres (1076ft) the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. You can dine at the very top and gain spectacular views. Within the city limits live 1.3m people. Two-thirds of the population are European, the remainder split fairly evenly between Pacific islanders, Maoris and an ever increasing Asian ethnic group. There are non-stop flights into the international airport from Sydney and also other Australian cities. From Singapore, Hong Kong, the Pacific region, the US west coast and Santiago, Chile too.
Air New Zealand now offers one stop services from Heathrow going east or west.
ABTN chose the very comfortable Grand Sky Tower Hotel, for its initial stay, central, with a massive casino and also a 192m (630ft) sky jump. Watching braver souls participating is a good way of building up an appetite. It is an easy ten-minute walk to the Auckland waterfront, quality meals at half the price of London. The fish is somewhat fresher too. The city, small by international standards, is reputed to have 1,000 restaurants.
Once again ABTN recommends the local Explorer hop-on hop-off bus. This example has two routes connecting at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, somewhat of a misnomer, which although it does pay homage to two World Wars, is also very much a cultural centre telling the history of New Zealand and its natural heritage.
The building is set on top of a hill, and in parkland, in what must be described as traditional colonial style. It has been extensively enlarged and extended over the years. Well worth a half day's visit.
For a country that only began in 1840, and a city that is not even the nation's capital, that title going to Wellington for easy administrative reasons, Auckland does very well when it comes to museums.
The Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) has a fascinating collection of trains, cars and industrial growth covering 40 acres and 100 years. There is a small memorial and archive to Jean Batten who flew to London in a tiny Percival Gull monoplane in 1937, the actual aircraft on display in the roof of the international airport. One of the features of the exhibition is the replica plane that Richard Pearse took airborne in 1903 to become the first New Zealander to fly (many believe he flew before the Wright Brothers!).Try the elderly tram to the Auckland Zoo now taking you to the aviation museum which has two (one unrestored) Shorts flying boats plus an Avro Lancaster bomber. Featured in the film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome the Transavia Airtruck (left) is not the latest Dutch idea for basic travel but a 1960's Antipodean crop spraying attempt.Auckland is the home to more than 80 vineyards, including Waiheke Island's Stonyridge, which produces Larose, said to be one of the top Cabernet blends in the world. Sampling is no problem. Don't take the car but the public ferry. The island, somewhat rain swept at times, has a fine bus service and is larger than you think.
Three days was not enough to do justice to Auckland but just one week had been allocated to the North Island.
It is 150 miles (250 km) and four hours by the fastest route from Auckland to Paihia and the Bay of (144) Islands, one of the great natural harbours of the world. The motorway out of Auckland is somewhat misleading as Route One soon deteriorates to a single carriageway road with passing places. The alternative is a 40-minute flight to Kerikeri, a tiny local airport that only seems to open perhaps 20 minutes before departure time. But it does have a security scanner.
In New Zealand they are metric and drive on the left. Avis is two minutes from the Grand Sky Tower, but get a car that has the right suspension for the country. The roads are not the same as in Japan where they are built!
Halfway up the North Island, and a perfect stopover and break, is Whangarei, which calls itself a city but is a village by UK standards. Here is the famous Whangarei Falls (left) known as the most photogenic waterfall in New Zealand, dropping 25 metres into a beautiful bush-fringed pool. A feature of the whole area is stunning walkways typified in the AH Reed Memorial Park, canopoly trails in a lush forest. This being New Zealand wonderful clean sandy beaches are not far away.
And so to the Bay of Islands and the Copthorne Hotel (below) , situated in sub-tropical parkland including the fascinating and historic Waitangi Treaty House, rescued from oblivion by Lord and Lady Bledisloe in 1932, the then Governor paying out of his own pocket. It was here that the treaty with the Marois was signed in 1840. The hotel is a quality leisure complex not only for boat trips, dolphin watching, deep sea fishing and many aquatic activities. But for golfers too, 18 sensible holes par 70 with sensational views.
Across the bay is Russell, now a tourist trap and hosting some of the country's most expensive accommodation. It was New Zealand's first capital and a town of poor reputation. Large catamarans to ferry tourists across the bay and also visit the ”hole in the rock”, a perfect portrayal of a tiny island in the bay with a large hole in a massive perpendicular wall. We don't know if ”cats” still attempt to go through, but the one in which ABTN travelled acquired a very large dent in the side. On board were a group of railway enthusiasts. In the past New Zealand was railway country. Many tracks still remain and ”steaming days” are as popular in that far away country as they are back home.
It is amazing just what one comes across in the most out of the way places. Kerikeri is a small market town in the Northland Forest Park area bordering on the Bay of Isles. Here ABTN found an Israeli restaurant, with absolutely splendid lamb kebabs and falafel. And Pete's Transport Museum, housed in an unimposing prefab building but containing one of the world's great collect of motor cars. There is a 1920 Hupmobile, Essex Coupe 1929, and of course Ford Model A and Austin 7. Pete himself works on them, explains their history to young and old alike, and has never been out of New Zealand. There is a replica of a the inside of a typical early 900s house too. He's into motor bikes too (see picture below).
New Zealand is a hospitable land of contrasts where the pace of life is slower than the United Kingdom but 3G internet keeps one in touch. If Route One was pleasant but hard going on the way up to The Bay of Islands, on the east coast, Route Twelve, on the Tasman Sea side was twice as slow and twisty. But no traffic. Virtually not another single car for a whole hour, in any direction. A great rout back to Auckland through forests and coastline, but allow plenty of time. It”s a long drive.