Stories & Essays

On Auckland: The City I Love to Hate

On Auckland: The City I Love to Hate

During my year in New Zealand, I visited Auckland quite a few times. It’s the usual entry and exit point for international travelers, since most have to go through the Auckland Airport. I spent a total of about 9 days in Auckland within the first month of my working holiday visa—and I absolutely hated it.

Before landing in New Zealand, I was warned by just about everyone that Auckland was a boring, ugly city. I wanted to give it a chance, though, and make up my own mind. I spent the first few days in the country in Auckland to get my working holiday stuff sorted (open a bank account, get my IRD number, etc.). I also did a little bit of exploring. When I left at the end of the week, I had made up my own mind: it was a boring, ugly city.

That’s totally unfair, though. It’s not actually boring OR ugly. As travelers, sometimes our perception of a place is based on our mood rather than the place itself. My mood on that first visit was anxiety about being in a new country for the next year, needing to find a job, but also just wanting the preconceived vision I had of New Zealand—mountains and beaches and incredible landscapes. Auckland, being a city, is not any of that.

On Auckland: The City I Love to Hate

I made a return visit to Auckland just a few days after my first visit. I spent the better part of a week up in the Northland region, in a relaxed beach town called Paihia. I didn’t want to go back to Auckland, but it was the only logical place to stopover; plus it was hard to find a hostel bed during the holiday weekend. So back to Auckland I went, totally unhappy about it.

The city was pretty empty since most people were away for Easter weekend. Everyone went out to the beaches and the holiday towns to enjoy the end of summer in New Zealand. It was nice to feel like I had a little more breathing room. The air I breathed wasn’t so great though. Auckland was heavy with humidity at that time of year; no wonder everyone wanted to escape. The hostel dorm rooms were too stuffy at night, even with the windows wide open, and I couldn’t sleep.

I did venture out to Waiheke Island on my second trip to Auckland. I took the ferry over on Easter Sunday, a fact I completely overlooked beforehand.  It didn’t make much of a difference, except the wineries weren’t allowed to serve alcohol without food—and the food was expensive! It worked out however, and I spent the afternoon eating a $60 cheese plate and drinking wine while looking out over the vineyard. Not a bad way to spend Easter.

On Auckland: The City I Love to Hate

It was boiling hot, though. Everyone in New Zealand will tell you to wear lots of sunscreen because the “sun is stronger here,” and I’d advise you to listen. I wore a lightweight cardigan that day to cover my skin, but I made the mistake of pushing my sleeves up…by the end of the day my forearms were lobster-red. To make things worse, I sat at the bus stop for almost an hour waiting for the public bus. There were so many people waiting that not everyone could fit on one, so I got stuck waiting for another bus to come around.

However, Waiheke is a beautiful island and I actually really enjoyed my time there–regardless of the heat, humidity, and sunburn. I was dreading my return to the city, but it was my final night in Auckland for a while.

Months passed while I worked on the Coromandel. Some more months passed as I traveled around the North Island. A lot more months passed while I went back to work. But I couldn’t avoid Auckland forever. It was sort of like a necessary evil.

Some friends and I decided to take the train from Auckland to Wellington after we finished our contracts. Because of the train schedule (it runs each way three times a week) we had to hang around Auckland for a couple of days. Most of our time was spent drinking and bar-hopping, which only made us hate the city more. Auckland was always crowded, it was always noisy—and yet, when we went out, it seemed there was no one around. The bars were always empty and we were getting pushed out before midnight.

My friends and I woke up energized on the morning of our departure. We hopped on the train to Wellington and said good riddance to Auckland.

On Auckland: The City I Love to Hate

I traveled around New Zealand the following two months, sticking mostly to the South Island. I visited all of the other major cities in New Zealand (Wellington, Queenstown, Christchurch, Dunedin) and found myself subtly comparing them to Auckland in the back of my head. “This city is so much cooler than Auckland.” “This city is so much prettier than Auckland.”

What was this hatred I had for New Zealand’s largest city? The city people associate with the country more so than the capital city? Did I really hate Auckland?

Hate is a strong word, but I really, really didn’t like Auckland. I didn’t like the crowds. I didn’t like the noise. I didn’t like the blandness of Queen Street. I didn’t like the humidity in summer. I just didn’t like it, right?

The end of my working holiday visa was nearing. I was in New Zealand for the better part of a year, and it was time to go. I flew up to the Auckland Airport from Dunedin, and I had to spend my final two days in the country in Auckland.

I took the Skybus into the city and dropped my stuff off at my hostel. I went for a short walk to get some food before doing my laundry and going to bed early. The next day, I walked around Auckland. My mission for the day was to buy gifts for my family. I walked in and around the Central Business District for hours, and something strange happened.

On Auckland: The City I Love to Hate

I knew every street so well. I knew where things were. I could visualize each street and shop I planned to visit. I passed the public library and noted the construction going on in front of it, and how the steps people usually lounged on—the steps I had spent hours sitting on while making phone calls to friends—were blocked off. I stumbled across a new community garden they put in near the Sky Entertainment Mall. I realized they knocked down an entire building and shopping center near the waterfront, the one I had planned on going to.

That day in Auckland, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of familiarity. I didn’t hate the city for the crowds that were still there, or for the construction that made it ugly, or for any of the things that made me hate it before. I realized I actually kind of liked it.

I liked how easy it was to walk down the street and find a café or any type of cuisine I was craving. I liked how people sat in the public spaces with friends, and others performed on the streets, sending music though the air. I liked how convenient is was to hop on a ferry for a little getaway, to somewhere quieter. I liked all of the independent shops on K Road and in the alleyways. I liked that I knew the city.

Perhaps my view of Auckland changed because it was my final day in New Zealand, and I was simply building up my nostalgia catalogue. Or maybe Auckland is just a hard place to love since it doesn’t have the “cool” factor that Wellington has, or the stunning mountain views that Queenstown has. Auckland has the advantage of being the most populated city in the country, but it doesn’t seem to have anything that people generally love about New Zealand. It’s easy to point fingers at Auckland, and it’s easy to hate on it—everyone else does.

Maybe I never really made up my own mind about Auckland after all.

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