Auckland: Little city, big world

Written 28/2/2008. The tone is dismissive I know, but I defend what I wrote at the time. A nice little marker post, as I have just come full circle back to London after my four and a half years of living in Auckland.

Now I’ve lived and worked and studied here – sometimes all three at once – for 2 years and 7 months. So I feel somewhat of a residential tourist in the city, or a touristic resident, I answer to both. I feel at home and still feel the novelty of it all. I’m used to driving in the roads but am still shocked at the right turn rule. I like the culture but pine for other cities I like.

After returning from a whirlwind tour of Melbourne (a lot bigger, and a little more impressive…?) being asked by Melbournians on how I like Auckland, I feel a summary of my personal discoveries and conclusions of the place is in order. I feel like I know the place well yet still feel like my writings are only first impressions. I can only write how I feel and invite readers’ corrective opinion of comments wildly out of order.

Night life is down the Viaduct – horny teenagers with hair dripping with gel, shirts undone on skinny drunk guys, sometimes the girls too. The 20-somethings are overseas, you see, probably clubbing in London or something. K’road is the alternative night life, the cool side of town, but one is told to avoid the dodgy end, with bars with dodgy clientele, and all that illegal streetwalking and legal prostitution. But most Auckland University students just party cheaply in their expensive flats near to class, disturbing any middle class families who wanted to live peacefully in the city but now realise it’s not big enough for them as well.

The day is where Auckland thrives. Under the hot, oppressively humid summery sun of October – April, the lush and the pretty of nature seduces the eye while seeping under the skin in the form of cancer and giving all Aucklanders prematurely old skin. But when you get to the particularly nice and popular beaches of Mission Bay and St Helier’s, it’s worth it all. The sea is gleaming and the sand is soft, while the Movenpick parlour at Mission Bay renders all childhood memories of little ice cream vans quaintly redundant.

Another favourite in Auckland is Piha beach, but that’s a bit too far West, so I’ve only been driven there once. The black, volcanic rock-ish sand is also prone to burn the tootsies in the hottest part of the day. And the tidal waves are famous because they are dangerous for surfers and swimmers with sudden currents or undercurrents or maybe both. Never been in the water, actually. Wise move, I might not be alive otherwise. To get to this beach, the drive through Titirangi consists of sharp swerves through bushy cliff faces that drop precariously milimetres beyond the road. Not a drive for the light hearted. Hence… I’ve only been driven there once. But I did enjoy it there.

Auckland has classy fashion retail spots, and some very classy prices, in Newmarket and Remuera. And there’s some high end chain fashion shops in every Westfield local mall. Newmarket in particular is often filled with the sight of cleavage cleverly emphasized in tailored business suits and the sound of clicking stilettos, lunch time for women on a mission. The traffic in this area is usually the worst on the way home from the city University to East Auckland, where I like to live. Street parking is to die for. Nevertheless, I haven’t really found shops to die for, but maybe I’m just not that kind of girl (a full time well-paying graduate job later, I may confess the contrary…). I don’t really hang there much… this is the scruffy tramp told not to bother entering Melbourne’s Crown Casino on her holiday. Yes, indeed, I did work full time in nice offices for a year or so before University. What did I spend my money on? In a new country, with no established friends, I found no one willing to take me under their wing, so I spent a lot of it on coffee to get me through the working day. The Newmarket area is also where the top end car showrooms are – Lambourghini, Ferrari, Jaguar, through to Mini showrooms. Gleaming, metallic and imposing, the showrooms shoulder each other all within this compact vicinity. And while I am a drooling fan of pretty cars, I don’t hang there much either. They’d spot a scruffy tramp a mile away. Sorry, I mean 1.6 kilometres.

Art. Well I was just recently impressed by the immensity of Melbourne’s Arts Centre andI guess the closest Auckland has is The Edge, a convention centre, most notable in my eyes for the geek-chic-fest Armageddon in October. I haven’t been aware of any permanent, established historic museums or galleries or theatres, so I’m sorry if I don’t do Auckland justice, but if they don’t leap out at me when I walk through the city, how do I know they exist? I just see the publicity for annual festivals which borrow buildings, like the comedy festival in the Town Hall in May where I saw a couple of (very funny) international acts, or the film festival during summer in The Civic where I saw Lady Chatterly’s Lover on screen. Auckland University has the Maidment Theatre. Memo to self, must go there.

I had an English Literature tutorial last year that turned to the subject of New Zealand’s own tinge of embarrassment. Since it feels it is too young to have a culture, of it’s own, while it’s big brother London is impossible to compete with, it is therefore self-deprecating about it’s own emerging art. Most famous artists, historically, move overseas to make it big, and this in turn makes conscientious kiwis back home unsure whether to call them their own. However, a classmate, an astute and ambitious young film director and producer, Brice Varan, had a point when he asserted the film industry in New Zealand is exploding, with a steady stream of, quite simply, brilliant talent, from Gothic (Crush) to epic (Lord of the Rings) to comedy and music (Flight of the Conchords – ok, TV, but they’re worth a mention, although, they did set off to conquer America). Although, two years on, I believe Brice is heading for Sydney.

But if you’re looking for lovely little streets with flowery back alleys and cobblestones and picturesque architecture, Parnell is the place. With a range of art galleries and sculpture displays and a constant source of exhibitions that are intimate but often impressive, Parnell is a little spot of artistic tranquility amid the small town insecurities evident around Auckland.

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