Is Auckland the cultural hub of New Zealand, or a boring warehouse? Flora Gosling describes her experience.
If you ever travel to New Zealand/Aotearoa, odds are the first place you’ll go is Auckland. It’s the largest city in the country, with nearly a third of the population of the country living there, and so you might expect it to be expensive, busy, and touristy, but with enough highlights to make the place unique. What you might not expect is a city of this magnitude to be so boring.
Walking around Auckland is like walking around a warehouse. Sure, there is a sense of grandeur. Sure, there’s the impression that if you went looking for something, you’d probably find it. But there is rarely an atmosphere of invitation, scarcely an indication that the city is bursting with life and opportunity. Even as I went on a walking tour, most of what I was told was about life outside Auckland, in the rich natural beauty of the countryside, or the historical significance of places like Waitangi. In short, I learnt how much better off I would be leaving Auckland as soon as possible.
"Walking around Auckland is like walking around a warehouse... But there is rarely an atmosphere of invitation, scarcely an indication that the city is bursting with life and opportunity."
But in any city that at first seems imposing, there are always hidden gems. The famous Sky Tower, Auckland’s designated tall-building-with-a-view, is surprisingly worth the price of admission. If you go at sunset/sunrise, you can enjoy a beautiful vista overlooking the harbour. My favourite place became the Basement Theatre, a small venue platforming diverse, entertaining, and challenging works. One of my best memories is my first (and so far only) encounter with one-on-one theatre, where I had a fake pregnancy belly put on me and was asked to feed a grown woman yoghurt.
Auckland was also my first real introduction to hostel culture. Over the four times I visited in 2017/2018, I stayed in five different hostels, each more tacky and unappealing than the last, but in all of them I found a mixing pot of travellers who, like me, had arrived, felt disappointed by their surroundings, but were ready to make the most of it. Truly, nowhere is the spirit of backpacking stronger than somewhere you have little choice but to make your own fun. I still send Facebook happy birthday messages to a woman with a moustache tattoo on her finger I met in a mouse-infested hostel in the centre of Auckland.
If you spend enough time in New Zealand, you start to see that the Auckland vs Wellington debate is much like the Glasgow vs Edinburgh debate. Auckland’s reputation, like Glasgow’s, precedes it, and is less regarded outside than its smaller, more architecturally-interesting capital-city sister Wellington, just like Edinburgh. But at the end of the day, scratch a little beneath the surface and it’s easy to become charmed by Glasgow. The character of each street pours into its neighbour, so that the whole city feels coherent and welcoming, like a playlist that seems to contain every genre under the sun but still each song seems to flow seamlessly into one another. When it comes to Auckland, I suspect that no amount of time spent will ever change my impression of a cold, built-up, boxy city.
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