Adventure in Auckland

by Ollie Barstow on 14 February 2012, 15:02PM Adventure in Auckland

There is nothing like an adrenaline rush to get your mind racing at a ferocious rate of knots… And leaning over to nervously glance at the 190 metre plunge beneath my toes is enough to send my brain into frenzy.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on where you stand on extreme sports), the rush is such that there are so many thoughts in my head – probably numerous questions as to how I ended up here -, not one is coherent. In such a moment, it means the only thing you can do is breathe, relax, momentarily enjoy the view… and jump!

I’m at the Sky Tower in New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland, the tallest free-standing building in the southern hemisphere, one that presides over the skyline and, I hear, has a very pleasant restaurant at the summit from which to enjoy the magnificent views.

Unfortunately, my tastebuds aren’t the senses being tickled on this occasion as I sample one of hair-raising activities available at the peak. Indeed, while some ascend and descend by lift, I was exiting the Sky Tower by less conventional means on the SkyJump, a cable controlled 192m leap from peak to base, and as my stomach dropped at the sight of the expanse of nothing beneath me, I couldn’t help but wonder how much I’d rather be tucking into a lamb chop at that moment…

Gulping a sharp intake of breath and giving myself no chance to change my mind, I stepped off. Other than the rush of wind around me, it’s still a remarkably peaceful experience and though having my eyelids welded shut meant I didn’t make the most of the incredible views, the sensation is hard to forget.

But if flinging myself off a building isn’t normally how I spend my days, what makes Auckland so special as to literally step out of my comfort zone…?

Well, for a country that only has 4 million people, its national identity is recognised the world over, from its World Cup winning rugby team, to its Kiwi mascot, to its iconic setting for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But since I won’t be doing the haka, chasing a flightless bird or growing hair on my feet on this trip, I figured it’d be best to sample that other thing New Zealand has established a reputation for – extreme sports!

A sense of adventure can be found across New Zealand, but while the adrenaline junkies’ mecca can be found in Queenstown, Auckland is a fine introduction for those who are mere tempted novices. Indeed,whether it is the SkyJump, or the SkyWalk, where you tiptoe around the rim of the summit tethered with only a cord, or the bungee jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, you’ll soon discover whether you have an appetite to stomach the many thrills on offer.

Myself? My relief at reaching the bottom is tempered by a desire to do it again (maybe with my eyes open this time), but for the time being I decided to get my kicks on terra firma and get exploring this intriguing city.

Indeed, Auckland’s ‘terra firma’ is what makes it a spectacular destination, the city having been built on a volcanic field that is, remarkably, merely dormant. Fortunately, the event of an eruption is still believed to be ‘hundreds of thousands’ of years away, so in the meantime I am free to discover the cones, craters, lakes, lagoons and quarries that now has a city settled around them.

As bizarre as it is to know there is a volcano brewing beneath me as I wander through the city streets, the result of the previous eruption gives Auckland its identity, with grassy hills sprouting from the houses and apartment blocks to add a dash of colour to the more sombre commercial development.

Mount Eden is a particular highlight, its lofty peak allowing for magnificent 360-degree vistas of the city and is a wonderful place to enjoy a laid back lunch in the summer climate, which plateaus at a pleasant 20-25°C during the months of December to March.

Taking myself away from the bustle of the city atmosphere, which bounds to an upbeat atmosphere akin to that of its Oceanic cousin Australia, Aucklanders find solace on Waiheke Island, a short ferry trip away, where beaches and picturesque landscapes can be found. Bracing winds make the beaches more Brighton than Bondi, but Waiheke Island blissfully slows the pace down from which to appreciate a small snippet of the country’s beautiful scenery.

Stepping back on the ferry takes you past Auckland’s other iconic landmark at the uninhabited Rangitoto Island, distinguished by its shallow ascent to the peak, one that gives it an unusual symmetrical appearance.

It also returns you to Auckland’s magnificent harbour, a hive of activity and representative of one of the New Zealand’s favourite pastimes, sailing. Indeed, with boats of different size and wealth moored on the harbour and bobbing on the lazy waves, it’s no surprise to learn that this flotilla belongs to almost a third of all Auckland households. When you consider that a third of all New Zealanders actually live in Auckland, that statistic becomes all the more remarkable…

Such size gives Auckland arguably greater importance to national identity than New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, as noted by the impressive cultural references to be found. Visits to Toi O Tamaki Art Gallery and the Auckland War Memorial Museum were both insightful and interesting, providing me with a greater knowledge of a country that is far more than the aforementioned national icons.

Even so, if a visit to New Zealand conjures images of thrills or relaxation, then Auckland captures the best of both. Indeed, Auckland offers the very best that a New Zealand holiday has to offer in one concise city, whether you prefer to appreciate the excellent setting standing upright or upside down with a cord attached to your feet…

Normally I prefer to enjoy my surroundings with a glass of wine and a quiet sense of wonderment, but Auckland goads you into exploring your sense of adventure and if that means jumping off a 200m high building, then so be it.

The rush is addictive too, so here I am again, mind racing, heart pumping, stomach dropping, but this time I am determined to keep my eyes open…

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