The flight from LAX to Auckland (AKL) was only 12.5 hours, which I’m told is a blessing compared to what the journey from the US to New Zealand can be. Since my flight departed at 8pm, I slept through the night and watched a few in-flight movies including The Favourite — a personal favorite, as someone who’s fascinated by royal dynasties.
I highly recommend booking a direct flight if it works with your budget and schedule. The jet lag is much more manageable, and I’ve had worse flights within the continental US.
After arriving at the Auckland airport, I wandered through toward customs, which was a very simple process thanks to New Zealand’s new NZeTA, which you apply for ahead of time and basically grants you permission to travel within the country and expedites your time at customs. It’s not a visa per se, but I was able to quickly walk through an ePassport line and I was officially in.
I took the airport shuttle to my Airbnb in Ponsonby, a neighborhood just west of Auckland’s Central Business District (CBD). The shuttle cost about $35 NZ (one US dollar is roughly 1.5 NZ dollars at the moment).
Though Auckland has a reputation of being a bit boring compared to the rest of New Zealand, I really loved Ponsonby. According to my Airbnb host Elisabeth (a French woman who’s lived in New Zealand for 45 years), about 20 years ago the gentrification of Ponsonby began, for better or worse. Strolling down Ponsonby Road, you’ll see a ton of little cafes, eateries and shops.
As I settled into the house, Elisabeth (quite the history buff) told me a bit about New Zealand and offered a few maps & atlases to help me scheme. We shared coffee and freshly baked bread, which I ate with New Zealand jams. Another thing: I tried vegemite for the first time, and I loved it. But I’m also a human trash compactor so maybe don’t trust my taste. I eat apples whole, stem and all.
Elisabeth’s 3-year-old grandson, Sam, came to visit and we played puzzles for the rest of the morning. A gentle start to a long journey. Also, I know it’s lame to say, but children’s accents make me want to die with joy.
Once hungry, I walked up the road to Ponsonby International Food Court, which had about ten different shops with a variety of Southeast/East Asian cuisine options. I chose some Laotian red noodles (about $12 NZ) and caught up on journaling.
I popped into a few shops on Ponsonby before sitting down at Le Cezanne, a homey cafe with great coffee and tea. Auckland’s got an impressive coffee scene, so there’s a lot of roasters to choose from in a hip place like Ponsonby. I also had to grab a scoop of ice cream from Duck Island, with a bunch of unique flavors. You’ll soon find I’m a bit of an ice cream fiend, and the gooey buttercake flavor didn’t disappoint.
I rested a bit back at the house before meeting my old professor and friend, Tim Guthrie, for dinner at Burger Burger Ponsonby. Tim and some students happened to be shooting a documentary on conservation (and much more!) around NZ and this was Tim’s last day before heading back to the States. I was so happy to be welcomed by a familiar face, and to catch up with such an intelligent and creative dude.
We also got ice cream at Giapo’s, an Auckland ice cream institution. I know, I know — but this ice cream was to die for. And giant. It lives up to the hype.
Let me tell ya, I slept well that night. The next morning, I woke up early to go on a 4-mile run around Ponsonby and the Westhaven Marina, which offered a solid waterfront view for a cloudy morning. Running also made me acutely aware that Auckland is full of giant hills. But I persisted!
After a morning coffee back at the house, I had a pleasant hour-long walk to Mt. Eden, a big hill in the center of Auckland. I like to save a bit of money by walking around cities when I can, plus it’s great exercise with all that ice cream business.
From Mt. Eden, I walked over to Auckland City (also known as the Central Business District or CBD). I snagged lunch at Palsun, a super lowkey Korean Chinese restaurant on Lorne St. I ordered their speciality, black soybean noodles, and a side of cream cheese egg rolls, and an L&P (lemon and paeroa, a popular soft drink in NZ that I highly recommend). It was absolute bliss.
I chilled across the street in the Auckland Library, charging my phone and reading a New Zealand Lonely Planet guide. If you can find a library, it’s a great way to keep yourself occupied without spending any money. I also really loved this library and there were a bunch of people just chillin’, like myself.
Around 3pm I headed to the Auckland City Art Gallery, which hosts an array of New Zealand artists. I especially loved their exhibition on Louise Henderson, a French artist who came to NZ in her twenties and never left, blending modern European styles of the 1930s and 40s with the natural beauty she saw in New Zealand.
After all that, I stopped for a quick craft beer at Vulture’s Lane, where I caught up on journaling with the happy hour crowd. Cute bar, though a bit busy. I wandered to the Halsey St. Wharf, which has a bunch of touristy restaurants along a marina. The evening sun felt blissful.
I met up with Baps, an awesome French dude I met on Tinder, at O’Hagan’s, an Irish pub on the wharf. Tip: Tinder is really great for meeting people while traveling, especially in big cities. I promise it’s not always for hookups! Baps (short for Baptiste) is an engineer from Toulouse, here on working holiday visa like so many other Frenchies. We shared a few Guinnesses and nachos before I headed back to Ponsonby for the night. My legs were just a little dead from all that walking.
The next day, I had a hostel booked in Waiheke Island and was prepping to get my ferry over there. But that’s for another post, because this one’s getting long!
Cheers from Kiwi land, and more adventures to come.