Blog4NZ is asking travel bloggers around the world to write about New Zealand, in an effort to promote travel and tourism to the country after the devastating Christchurch earthquake one month ago. I thought I’d take part and share what I miss most about my home town … the ‘O for Awesome’ Auckland! (Sorry, private joke that will mean nothing to non-NZers.) But it really is a fantastic city in a fantastic country, and you should, like, totally go some time. Soon.
It’s been four years since I left Auckland, NZ, and though I’ve finally stopped comparing supermarket prices and bemoaning the lack of a decent meat pie (mostly; look it’s a hard one to let go of, okay?), there are just some things about Auckland that I’ll always miss.
Look, let’s just get straight to it. I’ll go ahead and start with the food. While in NZ I never really thought of Auckland as a major food destination. And though you’d be hard pressed to name a particular cuisine as uniquely ‘Kiwi’, there’s no doubt that Auckland has a pretty decent restaurant scene. From tasty gourmet burgers (Burger Fuel, I’m talking to you), to moreish tapas joints (Merchant Mezze Bar), to the swanky Viaduct restaurants when you’re feeling flash (Soul Bar, Mecca), you’re, frankly, spoiled for choice. Special mention has to go to the city’s excellent selection of Asian food, too. I’m stating the obvious here, but being in such close proximity to places like Thailand, Japan, Malaysia and more makes for some top-notch authentic dishes. Here in Toronto, it’s never hard to find a good slice of pepperoni pizza, but the Thai beef salads I’ve tried leave something to be desired.
THE JUNK FOOD
And as for food of the semi-junk variety, it’s my opinion that NZ has the world beat hands-down in the chocolate biscuit department. On the way back from a visit home in 2009, what took up the most room in my suitcase was the packets and packets of choccie biccies I’d stashed amongst my clothes. Tim Tams, Mint Slices, Mallowpuffs, Jaffa Thins, Squiggly Tops … I’m drooling as I type. Mince and cheese pies (as mentioned) are an obvious omission from the daily diets of Canadians. But I miss all the other pie varieties, too — silverbeet and cheese, chicken and veg, potato-top steak, and mmmmmm … curried mince. A few quick, last shout-outs have to go to cheese (yes, who knew I’d miss a kilo block of Edam or Tasty so much), in all its white, not orange (another North American peculiarity) glory. And instant coffee, which I realise will send a shudder through many, but what I wouldn’t give for a jar of Moccona …
Okay, moving on (finally) from food. I miss the fact that wherever you are in Auckland, you’re about a 20-minute drive from a beach. Situated on an isthmus, the city’s surrounded by water. And though the inner-city beaches are sometimes crowded and not always impeccably clean, if you’re willing to venture slightly further (and we’re talking an hour’s drive or so) you can head to some of the wild and wonderful beaches that make NZ famous. Piha, in West Auckland, is a stunning black-sand beach that even at its busiest feels vast and vacant. Or a personal favourite, Tawharanui. North-east of Auckland, it boasts a regional park as well as a number of pristine beaches including Anchor Bay. It’s no surprise then, that Auckland is also known as the City of Sails. I remember in primary school that sailing was even part of the curriculum. ‘Waterwise’ lessons were held every couple of weeks down at a local city bay, and while I have to be honest and admit that I never quite mastered my Optimist, and probably got hit on the head by the boom more than once, I’m grateful for the experience.
I miss Auckland’s hills. I know, weird. But when you live in a flat, grid-like city like Toronto, you come to appreciate the odd curve of a street, or slope down the path. Hell, I’d happily trek up a steep road if Toronto had any. Auckland’s hills are a quintessential part of the landscape. I spent my teenage years living in the suburb of Mt Albert; Mt Hobson was where my highschool friends and I would hang out when skipping class; my twenties were all about Mt Eden, where I lived and worked. And then there’s One Tree Hill, the iconic (and now tree-less) landmark that’s no doubt the most well-known of them all. The reason for all the hills? Auckland straddles the Auckland Volcanic Field — that’s right, they’re all volcanoes. But don’t panic, most of them are extinct. So they say …
My wallet misses not having to pay tax and tip. Well, to be clear, tax is included in transactions in NZ, so you’re still paying it, but it’s all established up front. So when you buy a top with a pricetag that says $50, that’s what you pay at the till: $50. It’s a simple thing, but god it makes life easier. Maths has never been my strong suit, so any time I’m required to do actual calculations on my own, I’m in trouble. Which brings me to tipping. In Auckland, you can tip at a restaurant or cafe, if the service was great and you feel it’s deserved. You don’t tip your hairdresser, the cab driver, the nail salon, the bartender for Every. Single. Drink. I wouldn’t say Auckland’s a cheap city to live in, but not having to pay hidden costs or extras really helps on a night out.
Speaking of nights out, big ups to the Big A on its booze policies. That is, being able to buy wine and beer (and pretty cheaply, too) at most supermarkets. Our local store was open 24 hours, and while we never felt the urge to stop by at 3.15am for a sixpack of Monteith’s (the BEST beer, and another thing greatly missed!), it was kind of nice to have that option. Also, BYO — a concept almost nonexistant in Toronto restaurants — is the norm at numerous AK joints, and not just the odd dodgy place out in the suburbs. Corkage is usually cheap: $2 a bottle is common, which means you can spend $15 on your favourite bottle of sauv blanc and take it with you to dinner, instead of forking out twice or three times that for the same stuff from the menu.
Of course, Auckland has loads more to offer than what I’ve covered above, which just goes to make it, and the rest of New Zealand, a must-see on anyone’s destination list. And while you’re there, if you wouldn’t mind picking up a pack or two of Mint Slices for me, I’d be ever so grateful …