We arrived in Auckland aboard the cruise ship Insignia after 24 days on a relaxed and luxurious sea voyage from Honolulu.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and a major seaport.
Our first impression, especially upon arriving by sea, was that Auckland reminded us of San Francisco.
Like San Francisco, Auckland is a beautiful harbor surrounded by high hills offering sweeping views of the city, bay and ocean.
The old song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” could easily be adapted to apply to Auckland. We left a bit of our own hearts there.
Auckland’s city authorities had the foresight to place the cruise ship terminal directly at the foot of Queen Street, the main thoroughfare leading up the hill into the city.
When passengers disembark, they find themselves right in the heart of the city.
Because our ship, the Insignia, arrived one day ahead of schedule, our first night in Auckland was spent on the ship. This afforded us a nice transition between the sheltered, pampered life aboard ship and life ashore in New Zealand.
Docked immediately next to our ship (on our starboard side, since we were backed into the dock) was the massive Queen Elizabeth 2. She looked to be about twice our size.
On the port side of our ship was the ferry terminal, with regular ferry service to various communities around the harbor.
Along with a group of friends from the cruise ship, we took an afternoon outing to a charming little town called Devonport on the opposite side of the harbor.
Our ferry outing (left to right): Jeannie and Ron from Washington, D.C., Susie and Denny from San Diego, and Suzie and Ned from Mexico.
The four couples had become great compatriots during the cruise, both aboard ship and on various shore excursions.
This was our final outing together.
In Devonport, our little group stopped for a nice lunch at a place called the Hotel Esplanade.
The restaurant was full, so they seated us in a dining room by ourselves. We could make as much noise as we wanted.
When another couple we knew from the cruise ship wandered in, we jokingly shooed them off: “This is a private party!”
It was at the Esplanade that we had our first (and what proved to be the best) taste of New Zealand’s greatest culinary delight, seafood chowder.
After lunch, Jeannie and Ron and the two of us hiked to the top of the hill adjacent to the village center.
The hill is actually one of many extinct volcanoes circling Auckland.
From the summit we had a commanding view of the harbor and all of Auckland. It was a great way to get ourselves oriented.
Auckland is situated on an isthmus.
On the east is the main harbor, opening out to the Pacific Ocean, from whence we had come aboard the Insignia.
A short distance across the isthmus, to the west, is the Tasman Sea.
It would be difficult to imagine a lovelier setting for a city.
We spent one final night aboard ship, docked there in Auckland harbor.
That evening, just before dinner, we sat on our deck and watched the Queen Elizabeth 2 from across the wharf as she inched away from the dock and eased out into the harbor.
The next day, amid many fond farewells to our many friends among the passengers and crew, we disembarked at last from the Insignia.
In the morning, after a breezy pass through New Zealand customs, we hopped in a cab and rode up to our new abode, a nicely retrofitted, Victorian-era house in the Ponsonby Road neighborhood in Central Auckland.
Our room was in front, just off the front porch. We had full access to the rest of the home, which we shared with our hostess Adrienne and her daughters.
It was a lovely old house, in a charming, late-19th Century neighborhood, very much like our own neighborhood back in San Rafael, California.
Adrienne was a gracious hostess. She made us feel very welcome.
Images of our Ponsonby House
A couple of other typical Ponsonby houses
Wandering Around Auckland On Our Own
As our pictures will attest, the weather in Auckland during our visit was ideal.
February is late summer in New Zealand.
It was sunny and warm during the day.
In the evenings, the breeze came in off the ocean and temperatures were cool for sleeping.
The municipal buses in Auckland run in three circular patterns around the city — an inner loop, a middle loop and an outer loop.
Exact fare is not required. The drivers carry a cash till and make change for passengers. They stopped doing that in the U.S. in the mid-1960s!
This is but one of many illustrations of how livable New Zealand is. It’s a throwback to an era when everything was easier and nicer.
New Zealand felt to us like the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode depicting an idyllic small town or city, before things turn weird. But New Zealand is not the Twilight Zone. Things don’t turn weird. The story stays idyllic all the way through. Parking spaces are always available. Bus drivers give change. People on the street stop to ask whether you need directions.
Our house, just off Ponsonby Road, was conveniently located along the inner loop. From there it was a simple venture to get out and around central Auckland. So we did.
We rode the bus back down to the cruise terminal. All the ships were gone. We felt now like full-fledged locals, residing in Auckland, poised for 3+ weeks in New Zealand.
We tried walking north along the waterfront, expecting to discover an opening to a beach along the bay, but for a mile or more the dock facilities kept going and we were fenced out.
Eventually we found a break, not on the harbor side but rather a road up the hill away from the harbor.
We noticed some swimmers (four nice looking young guys — we couldn’t help but notice), walking toward us from that direction, so up the road we went.
The road led us across some railroad tracks to a path that took us down to a little inlet called Taurarua Judges Bay.
This tranquil inlet was another world, set apart from the industrial harbor complex we had just left. It felt as if we had discovered a small remnant of paradise, dating back to the days when the Maori people alone occupied this land, so strong was the contrast to the dockland from which we had just walked.
In fact, the tall cranes on the docks were still visible in the distance.
The cove was surrounded by a lush green park and lightly populated with picnickers and swimmers, mostly family groups.
After resting a few minutes next to the lagoon, we resumed our walk around the cove.
By following the guide signs, we then discovered around the bend a 100-year-old swimming complex, recently renovated and updated, called the Parnell Baths. It is a massive and welcoming array of pools. That’s where all the swimmers were.
We had not planned on swimming, so we had not brought swimsuits or towels. Too bad, because the pools looked so inviting.
The environment at Parnell Baths was relaxed and family-friendly, very old-fashioned. What a great place this would have been to bring our kids when they were small!
Meanwhile, down below at Taurarua Cove, we had spotted up on the hill a small, Colonial-era chapel. We continued our upward trek, to find the old chapel.
At the top of the hill, strangely we discovered a very nice but almost totally modern neighborhood. Two men loading furniture into a truck directed us downhill a short distance to the chapel grounds.
There we found the well-preserved St. Stephen’s Church, a petite chapel surrounded by an old graveyard, perched on a hill above the harbor below. Built in 1856, it was the one of the earliest continuously operating Christian churches in New Zealand.
We continued our self-guided exploration into the Parnell neighborhood, just uphill from the historic St. Stephen’s chapel.
Parnell is like Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia, or Bel Air in Los Angeles — a quiet, wealthy, very upscale little enclave tucked away in a corner the bigger metropolis, close to the city proper and yet a world apart.
Parnell has the added benefit of fabulous ocean views.
Later, our hostess Adrienne told us this is the neighborhood where New Zealand’s Prime Minister lives. It seemed suitable for such a personage.
But even there, in this bourgeois haven, a friendly resident greeted us and helped us find our way to the inner city loop bus. It was just up the hill, he explained, past the Anglican Cathedral.
Where else would you put your Anglican Cathedral, if not in Parnell?
Auckland is a charming and beautiful city, and its people are friendly, inquisitive and exceptionally welcoming to visitors. These are our lasting impressions.
And for us the rest New Zealand still lay ahead. This was the beginning of three weeks of exploring both the North and the South Islands.