AUKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

I feel like all my Christmases and Birthdays have come at once. Not only because of yesterday’s visit to the Hobbiton Film set, which was an extraordinary experience, but I also discovered that I can use my regular phone minutes and data on my EE phone contract when in New Zealand. So I have more access to the internet than I’ve had in weeks. Marvellous!!

After being blown away by Tauranga yesterday, we weren’t totally sure what to expect of Auckland, other than it being a big city – the largest in New Zealand, in fact.

No surprises, then, that it didn’t take us long to decide we like the place. It’s a big city, to be sure, with an impressive high-rise skyline. I always say that a city is a city, but you can’t help warming to some more than others. Auckland is modern and clearly very progressive. Because it has a large university, it also feels like it has a large population of young people, and many of the shops we saw as we walked through it certainly seemed to be aimed at those young folk. Auckland also seems to be a place for backpackers, with lots of backpackers hostels providing cheap accommodation; one of the ladies from the class is getting off in Wellington, and has hired a camper car to take herself around New Zealand for the next three weeks… now that seems like an interesting idea…

One building dominated the skyline as we looked out from the ship at breakfast; the Sky Tower, which is where we headed towards as soon as we’d disembarked. At 328 metres in height (over 1076 feet), it stands taller than the Eiffel Tower. It took two years and nine months to build at a cost of 85 million New Zealand Dollars (about 42 million pounds), and opened in 1997. It weighs a massive 21 million kilograms (or approximately 6000 elephants), apparently.

Entrance to the tower, which includes a lift to the Main Observation level, at 186 metres, and a further lift up to the Sky Deck at 220, cost us 64 NZDollars (roughly £16 each), and it was fabulous!

Bearing in mind we took a similar ride up to the top of the Euromast in Rotterdam and only saw the inside of a cloud, this more than made up for it, and then some.

Needless to say, the views were nothing less than spectacular, in all directions. Both the Main Observation Deck and the higher ‘Sky Deck’ were glass encased circular platforms. Some portions of the floor were also glass, allowing you to walk across. This was a little scary for some, but not half as scary as those people who had paid to walk on the Skywalk Platform outside (where they are attached by ropes to a metal pole that skirts the entire tower), at a cost of 150 NZDollars. For 225 NZDollars, though, the ultimate thrill ride is available; a controlled drop known as the SkyJump, allowing the thrill-seaker to plummet to the ground on wires, with cameras positioned all over the place streaming video to a large TV monitor inside. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t consider taking the plunge… maybe another time…

We had a drink and snacks in the Sky Cafe, while continuing to enjoy the spectacular views, before finally heading back down to ground level. We even spent a bit of money in the gift shop, and both agreed that the visit had been extremely worthwhile.

From the tower, we headed in the direction of a couple of parks we’d identified on Maps.Me.

The first was Albert Park, a small, restful area featuring fountains, colourful flowerbeds and a whole host of massive trees with huge exposed roots.

The second was Auckland Domain, a much larger, sprawling park that is home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Cenotaph, and a myriad of footpaths and smaller areas of interest, such as the Wintergardens, and a wooded path known as Lovers Walk.

We ate a beefburger and fries for lunch in the Wintergarden Cafe before heading back towards Downtown Auckland and back to the ship (we didn’t go in the museum).

Many people have disembarked, and a lot of new passengers have come aboard. It seems a little strange to see so many new faces, but the same thing will also happen in Sydney… when we’ll be two of those that are getting off…

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