Well what better way to stay warm in the winter than visit the southern hemisphere?
by RLB2 on January 19, 2012
On one of our last nights in Auckland we decided to eat by the wharf, which is quite a trendy area to be. We wanted to have a couple of drinks and really just de-stress after the conference. Not really knowing where to go, we just headed down to the wharf and were actually heading towards a restaurant when one of the staff members jumped out of this little quirky bar and enticed us in (granted it was the happy hour cocktails that really tempted us). We were looking for somewhere to eat as well as drink and so had a quick look at the menu to try and find a vegetarian option (yes that old problem again). Luckily this bar did a platter of vegetarian nibbles that was not only delicious, but looked amazing (see the photos attached) and was actually really filling and nutritous. Think homemade breads, dips, olives, nuts and seeds, cheese, mushroom pate, figs, dried apricots and lots of other similar goodies!Sitting comfortably with our food, and our lovely cocktails we just had a good hour or so cozying up the real fire. The bar/restaurant itself is split between an indoor bar area and a semi-outdoor terrace with the fire, leather chairs and bar stools and brick walls. The music was quite loud and this definitely is a bar rather than a restaurant, so don't be fooled into bringing kids here. We did find however that the menu was reasonably priced to say that we were on the wharf and the selection was actually pretty good for a bar. As our food was digesting a band started playing, well I suppose they were more a two-piece, called Pat for President. They were really friendly and got everyone in the bar involved, taking requests and playing a really good mix of music. Everythng felt very laid back and chilled, there were no rowdy customers and we had a very enjoyable evening. Having said that it did get quite loud as the night went on, so if that isn't your scene then I would try and head there a little earlier in the afternoon. The bar has a license till 3am, although we were well tucked up into our beds by then.All in all a really funky little bar to end a busy day sightseeing, that has a great atmosphere and enough music to dance into the wee small hours!!!
I'm sure everyone has heard of the franchise Subway, which is pretty ubiquitous in every city. Well personally I get a bit sick of bread for lunch and when searching for something to eat in Auckland city centre I found this little shop. While I was there I thought it was a one off shop, but I have since found that this too is a chain, although it seems to be restricted to New Zealand and Australia. I'm sure very soon it will be as ubiquitous as Subway, but do you know what I actually thought this particular store was brilliant. It's located in the CBD of Auckland within walking distance of Britomart (where you catch lots of buses etc.). The format inside is very much like Subway in that you pick a filling for your pita and then choose the various salads that you want in it. The reason I even bother to mention it on here is that it was one of the only places that offered a good selection of vegetarian food, rather than just relying on cheese sandwiches that seemed to be all we could find elsewhere in the CBD. I went to this Pita Pit 3 days in a row for my lunch and managed to get 3 different, delicious and healthy vegetarian pits. Day 1 saw me eat a falafel and salad pita, day 2 I had babaganoush (an eggplant and vege spread) salad and day 3 I had humus and feta. The choice of veges to go in the pita were amazing, with some things I had never had before and you can your pita warmed up if you wish. Of course there are plenty of meat options, similar to what you can find in any sandwich shop. The finished pita is literally bursting with food and they can be a little messy to eat.The shop also did a range of smoothies and frozen yoghurts that I tried and also seemed to be very healthy. Inside the shop was clean and the staff were really pleasant and helpful (especially because I didn't know what babaganoush was and had to ask). I also thought that everything was quite reasonably priced, about the same as a Subway shop, which really isn't that bad (roughly £4-5). If you're a vegetarian or just want something healthy to eat then I would recommend heading here to the Pita Pit.
On a spare day in Auckland we heard about the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and thought that it might be worth the drive. It turns out that it takes a little bit over 2 hours to drive there from Auckland. The drive is very straightforward and the scenery is worth the trip alone. But the Glowworm caves are something else, being from the U.K. I have seen caves with stalagtites and stalagmites before, but have never seen glowworms. When you arrive there are lots of different options and several different caves that you can visit. I would suggest going to the iSite, which is on the way in to find out about all of these options because it's quite bewildering when trying to search on your own. The two main options that I know about are the Blackwater Rafting company, who offer extreme options for exploring the caves or you can go with the standard tour and boat ride. We didn't really want to spend the time or money doing one of the more extreme options (think abseiling, weaving, jumping and floating through pitch black caves that cost in the region of £50-£60 and take 3+ hours) and so choice the latter and waited for the next tour to start. The tours run every half hour from 9am-5pm, so you really can just rock up and get the next one going down. We bought our tickets from the desk near the entrance, so didn't have to pre-book and there was a huge car park just outside, that was free.When visiting the caves remember that you'll be walking through a rocky natural environment, so wear sturdy shoes and have a jacket or jumper because it gets a bit chilly down there. We met our Maori guide at the entrance and after introductions we were led down into the caves. We explored the various areas on the way down to the Cathedral, which is an amazing area with great acoustics that is sometimes used for concerts. You explore around 250m of cave before you get to the glowworms, which you catch a few glimpses at. Our guide gave us quite a lot of biological information about the glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa, which I won't spoil by repeating here, but we did get to see their gooey lures, that help them capture their food. The tour ends with a magical boat ride, that takes you through the grotto with literally thousands of glowworms. The guides ask you to be silent on the boat trip and this really adds the atmosphere, all you can hear is the drip of water and the movement of the boat. As you look up you can see all of the glowworms, well glowing, and it looks like you're looking up at stars. Strangely your eyes play tricks on you and you think you can see depth, which isn't there at all!The boat ride was over after 15 minutes and we were out at the bottom of the caves, so the only thing left to do was walk back up the hill and have a look in the gift shop. As gift shops go it wasn't that badly priced and did have some nice souvenirs. Personally I bought a few postcards because you cannot take pictures while you're in the caves because it damages the glowworms.All in all an amazing natural wonder that is well worth the trip out from Auckland......I can't recommend it enough!
by RLB2 on January 18, 2012
I stayed in this hotel for one night after a few nights of backpacking around the North Island. I have to say that compared to some of the places that I had recently slept in this hotel was a little slice of luxury in the centre of Auckland. The hotel is quite conveniently located on Hobson Street a short walk away from Queen Street and a bit of a longer walk to the wharf. Check-in was very straightforward and the staff on the reception desk were polite and helpful. My room was on the 8th floor and right opposite the lifts, which on the one hand meant it was easy to lug my bags around and on the other was a little noisy everytime someone used the lift. My room however was massive and very nicely decorated. There were full sized mirrored wardrobes along one wall, a big king sized bed with a sofa and chair at the foot of it. There was a small flat screen tv and a fridge along with a desk. The en suite bathroom was set up for diabled people so it was like a wet room.My stay was pretty uneventful, I had a lovely shower (the showerhead was a waterfall shower head), then headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinenr. After this I relaxed in the room and watched some tv, before having a very comfy nights sleep in the kingsized bed. Admittedly there really wasn't much of a view from my window, but I was high enough above street level for no street noise to disturb me. I had breakfast (not included in the price) in the hotel restaurant and found it to be very reasonable. There was a standard buffet with cereal, fruit and toast, plenty of coffee and juice. The restaurant was a south-east asian restaurant so it felt a little strange having my breakfast there, but everything was lovely and the staff were very polite. Finally before I checked out the reception staff arranged for a shuttle to take me to the airport and really that was that. I can't complain about this hotel, it was comfortable, clean and not too badly priced for the city centre (about £80 a night). It's a shame breakfast wasn't included, but then there isn't a lot I could do about that. The hotel itself is centrally located and everything you could possibly need was within walking distance (other than the airport). All in all a good central hotel.
I always like to head to a local museum when I visit a new country so that I can find out as much as I can about the history of the area. Auckland was no different and I soon found my way up to the Domain and the hill (known by the Maori as Pukekawa) that is the base for Auckland Museum. The building has Greek style columns at the front that gives it the look of some sort of Greek haven in the city. The full name of the museum is Auckland War Memorial Museum, which as the name suggests, also has the city's War Memorial to all of the soldiers who have lost their lives in the various wars. If you are interested in this side of the museum then you should head up to the top floor and explore the colourful displays of planes, weapons and war memorabilia.Personally I was more interested in the Maori displays that dominate the ground floor. I paid the extra to experience the Maori cultural experience, which I thought was very well done. At a particular time you are called into the entrance foyer by someone playing a conch shell and collected by a couple of Maori and led into an auditorium. Here you are shown singing, dancing, important games and a haka. I thought that this was very informative and much better than a later experience I had at Te Puia, in Rotorua.After the cultural experience you can also pay to have a Maori guide take you around the Maori exhibits. However, I didn't do this and still found the information about how the Maori arrived in New Zealand and lived prior to Eurpoean settlement, very easy to follow and informative. The museum has some of the best Maori treasures that you'll see anywhere, including a full sized meeting house, a food storage whare, a canoe (waka), carvings and many weapons and other artifacts.I spent a good hour or so looking around the Maori section and then decided to head up to the next level and found a whole section on natural history. I quite liked this area, but felt that it was mainly geared up for children or those that have no background in environmental science. Once I got around to the area with New Zealand's natural history I was in my element, I found it all very interesting and well layed out. You can spend as little or as much time here as you like and still get a lot from it. The area that stands out from the rest of this section is the Maori Natural History section. This area displays how the Maori explained their natural environment. I found this really fascinating and spent a good deal of time there reading the various Maori stories.There were plenty of other places I could have explored but alas the museum was closing by the time I had got around the above sections. I did have time to grab a quick coffee and slice of cake from the museum cafe, which was very nice and reasonably priced. I also made time to do a bit of shopping, where I bought Maori necklaces for my family members, now these are available in every tourist shop around the city, however at the museum you can pay a little extra and get hand carved ones that are made from bone, shell or traditional stones.All in all I really was impressed with this museum, I think it's worth a visit if you have time and it gives you a lot of background to both the Maori culture and European settlers as well as natural history. It's just a shame that the building isn't bigger, because I am pretty sure that there are lots of things that are not on display as there isn't enough room.
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