(Originally published November 9th, 2009)
I stood in a busy section of Auckland today glaring at the Starbucks across the street. About two blocks down the road was another Starbucks. I recall that at one place in Seattle, a person can view three Starbucks from where they are standing. Apparently, Auckland is trying to compete with the very city that founded Starbucks. This also may fuel fun conspiracy theories about Howard Schultz and his company trying to take over the world.
The ride was about 3 hours south today to Auckland- the largest city in New Zealand. There are about 1 million people that live in Auckland and about 4 million people that live in the country. From statistics that I read, 80-85% of people are in an urban living situation in New Zealand. Quite amazing and leaves a lot of room for natural wilderness and some beautiful national parks.
Auckland is a cool city. We went to the skytower today which is sort of comparable to the space needle but only bigger. They have an elevator that takes people up to an observation deck. I went to the main deck and also a higher skyviewing deck. From there, I witnessed a 360 panoramic view of the city. It really was something. The water is very bluish green and clean as it surrounds the very modern looking city with some old historical buildings thrown in for good measure. There is a dormant volcano within view across the bay from the city that last erupted 600 years ago. I witnessed a few people jumping off the skytower observation deck with ropes of course. It was about a 200 meter drop if I remember right and it takes the person all the way to the ground where they have a big bullseye that one lands on. People also bungee jump off the Auckland bridge, over water, and it looked to be about 70 feet down.
I spent a good amount of the day walking around and taking in the city. People here are very friendly from the customs official we first saw, to construction workers, to grocery store clerks that helped us when we got lost the first day. They say Kiwis (New Zealanders) are independent but friendly. This might have been a description of the Seattle area if people didn’t seem so cold and closed off.
Tomorrow, we head south to some of the national parks and places where they filmed the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Some interesting, random facts I’ve learned about New Zealand:
-The country’s bird is the Kiwi. Go figure. This is actually a flightless bird that is nocturnal.
-A sidewalk is called a footpath.
-Freeways are called motorways.
-Women were given the right to vote in 1893 pre-dating the women’s suffrage movement in the United States by a couple of decades.
-A form of social security was also passed in the 1890s.
-New Zealand has universal healthcare for its 4 million person population.
-There seems to be about a 12.5% tax on everything a person buys which probably helps pay for all of these social programs. The government also gives money to the Maori peoples who are the natives of the island.
-To get to Australia, one would have to sail west through the Tasman Sea more than 900 kilometers.
-A person does not tip in any restaurant in New Zealand. All food is a set price which includes the tax.
-The capital of New Zealand is Wellington. Most of the cast of Lord of the Rings lived in Wellington for 3 years while they were filming. Unfortunately, I won’t make it down to Wellington which is in the far south of the North Island.
-A visitor can take a 3 hour ferry ride to the south island (which has the large city of Christchurch) out of Wellington.