I’m back! Happy 2015! My trip up north was incredible. It never ceases to amaze me how varied New Zealand really is, despite not being that large. I didn’t plan a whole lot of time in Auckland, since I wanted to get out of the city, but I did have a great Christmas Day exploring its extremely quiet streets. Unsurprisingly, almost nothing was open, so I decided to climb Mount Eden, an ancient volcano and the highest natural point in Auckland. The site is sacred to the Maori people and also offers incredible views of the city. Even the path up was beautiful, with enormous trees providing much-needed shade on a humid day.
It was definitely unique to experience a Southern Hemisphere Christmas, but I really can’t complain!
It didn’t take much climbing, especially compared to Wellington, to get some awesome views. You can see Auckland’s famous Sky Tower (I keep wanting to call it the Space Needle) dominating the skyline. I sat back and enjoyed the cityscape while trying to cool off a little bit before continuing on to the summit.
Mount Eden is understandably a popular tourist spot, but luckily the crowds were pretty thin on Christmas.
The crater itself is off-limits because of it’s significance to the Maori people. They once had fortified villages that covered the slopes of Mount Eden, but sadly today the city has taken over.
You can walk the whole rim of the crater for great views on all sides.
As cities go, Auckland isn’t bad to look at. 31% of New Zealanders live within its environs, and it’s an interesting cultural hub with a lot to offer. I chose Wellington because I wanted to settle somewhere a bit smaller, but Auckland is a lot of fun.
Mount Eden has some great trees that just begged to be photographed.
After a few final shots, I decided it was time to head back towards civilization.
I skirted the cone and headed down towards my hostel, desperate for a bite to eat. Nothing seemed to be open, but I finally stumbled upon an Indian restaurant that looked delicious. Turns out, they were serving free Christmas lunch, and the lamb curry I got was incredible. Luck, or Christmas miracle? You decide!
After relaxing for a little while, I decided to make the best of the rest of my quiet holiday in the city and explore Auckland Domain, Auckland’s oldest park. On the way there, I passed through Symonds Street Cemetery, which of course piqued my interest. It was Auckland’s first official cemetery and has a unique character and atmosphere. It has been in use since 1842, which in New Zealand terms is REALLY OLD.
The cemetery’s giant sheltering trees provide an ideal resting place, even though their roots are slowly cracking some of the headstones. I guess everything goes back to the earth eventually, after all.
I especially loved this solitary grave, dwarfed by native bush.
Despite the surrounding city, the cemetery exudes an air of peace and timelessness. There’s no better place for reflection and an escape from the 21st Century. After wandering around for a bit on the flower-strewn paths, I reluctantly headed back to the modern era.
Onward to Auckland Domain! One of the largest parks in the city, it was also created by a volcano, as pretty much all of Auckland has been. It contains impressive gardens, beautiful walking trails and the wonderful Auckland Museum, among other things.
Did I mention the Domain also has some HUMUNGOUS trees? I couldn’t get enough of this one, which I think the Vikings would definitely find reminiscent of Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life.
I continued on to the museum, which presides regally over the entire park.
It brought back a lot of memories, since this was one of our first stops when I studied abroad in New Zealand over six years ago. Just off the plane from America, our group was whisked off to see some sites in Auckland before heading south. I am so happy to be back after so many years spent dreaming of this country!
I then meandered downhill towards Auckland Domain’s Wintergardens. I arrived just in the nick of time, as the greenhouse was closing momentarily. Luckily, I had enough time to take some photographs before everyone was ushered out.
After the gardens, I decided I had seen as much of Auckland as was humanly possible in one day. It wasn’t the type of Christmas I am used to having back home, with family, crisp air and fires, but it really was a great day. I retired to my hostel to rest up for my journey to the Bay of Islands early the next morning. Now that will be another blog post… or three.