Big City Tales

New Zealand’s Treasure Trove of Cities

April 4, 2013
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The Shire may be the home of fictional hobbits, but in reality most New Zealanders live in big cities.

If you thought New Zealand was just a land of shires, sheep and seashores, it may come as a surprise that the country is actually heavily urban-based.

In fact, over 50 percent of the population resides in the country’s four largest cities (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton) that have historically ranked amongst the world’s most livable places, and there is nary a shire (or hairy-toed hobbit) to be found!

What you will discover, instead, is a treasure trove of cities boasting modern amenities and beautiful panoramas that rival the picturesque pastures outside of their municipal borders.

Of course, no trip to New Zealand would be complete without venturing out into said rural pastures, but to get a sense of what life is like for the vast majority of people be sure to head to the cities for a Kiwi-style urban experience.

Auckland

According to the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, Auckland is a city desired by many and full of riches to be had. Little wonder, then, that it is the country’s largest urban centre and a major tourist destination.

Auckland also has the distinction of being the yacht and launch capital of the world, earning it the nickname ‘City of Sails’. Indeed, with one in three Aucklanders owning a boat, it is sometimes hard to see the water in Waitemata Harbour through the sea of boats bobbing on its surface.

The city’s mild climate and sheltered harbour contributes to boating being a popular leisurely activity, but Aucklanders also enjoy other outdoor pursuits such as rugby, cricket, soccer and netball.

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Waitemata Harbour in Auckland hosts many nautical events throughout the year.

Shopping is also a favourite pastime with a number of upscale markets and mega malls providing a myriad of options to purchase goods at. Queen Street, High Street, and Karangahape Road are the main retail areas in the central business district drawing the socialite crowd; while those looking for more affordable wares head to the suburbs. Auckland’s three largest malls are: Sylvia Park, Botany Town Centre, and Westfield Albany.

Aucklander’s love of shopping is matched by their love of cultural activities. The Auckland Art Gallery boasts a collection of over 15,000 works and is considered to be the home of visual arts in New Zealand. In the realm of music, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performs its own repertoire of concerts as well as accompanies visiting artists.

Yes, when it comes to things to see and do in Auckland, the Maori had it right…there’s truly an abundance of riches in a city of abundant natural beauty!

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The “City of Sails” earned its nickname for having more yachts per capita than any city in the world.

Christchurch

Famous for its historic Cathedral Square area and its one-time status of ‘Garden City of the World’, in recent years Christchurch has been in rebuild mode following a series of damaging earthquakes.

Despite the destruction and loss of some significant heritage buildings in Cathedral Square, the city remains a garden oasis with Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens being two of the largest and most popular green spaces.

Christchurch’s inner city is also noted for the Avon River that winds through its midst, offering long stretches of tree-lined banks where people can commune with nature in all its glory.

Given the city’s mild weather and close proximity to the ocean and nearby mountain ranges, Christchurch has the added perk of offering a diverse array of outdoor activities.  From skiing to hot-air ballooning to whale watching, there’s much to enjoy be it on land, in the air, or at sea…all of which can be accomplished within a two-hour drive of the airport!

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Although damaged by major earthquakes in recent years, Cathedral Square is still the geographic centre and heart of Christchurch society.

Wellington

As New Zealand’s ‘Capital of Cool’, Wellington’s appeal lies in its hip cafe culture, arts scene, ‘Wellywood’ film district, and eclectic architectural styles.

The Wellington Cable Car is another of the city’s iconic features, taking passengers from the Lambton Quay shopping area out to the suburbs. With a total length of 612 km and rise of 120 m, the cable car offers a great city view and a peaceful, gentle ride.

Along the waterfront, the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) is world-renowned for its interactive exhibits celebrating the country’s natural history. Meanwhile, just outside the city core is Zealandia, a protected wildlife sanctuary home to birds, lizards and other rare creatures unique to New Zealand’s landscape.

Whatever your pleasure, it’s hip doing anything in the ‘Capital of Cool’.

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The Wellington Cable Car is a recognized city symbol.

Hamilton

With its large student population, Hamilton boasts a vibrant entertainment scene along its main street with bars and eateries that rival similar offerings in other New Zealand cities.

Outside of the city, the Matamata region attracts legions of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans to the Hobbiton Movie Set. From Bilbo Baggins’ house to the Party Tree, a tour around the Shire is a treat for everyone.

Back in town, Hamilton Central is where most of the action takes place, but other attractions include:

  • The Base – New Zealand’s second largest shopping centre with 190 stores.
  • Hamilton Gardens – A series of public gardens designed around the theme of ‘the story of gardens’.
  • The Waikato Museum – Exhibits tell the story of Hamilton’s history from its visual art to Maori traditions.
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Hamilton is New Zealand’s fastest growing urban area.

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Every Day is a G’Day in the Land Down Under

April 2, 2013
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Crikey, there sure is A LOT to see and do in Australia! Best be on my way and ‘hop’ to it!

Ah, Australia!

What’s not to love about this country/continent dual entity where natural wonders abound on land and sea, and one glorious city after another populates its coastlines?

Indeed, the stomping grounds of koalas, kangaroos and Crocodile Dundee is also renowned for its world-class metropolitan centres where wildlife and people are learning to live in peaceful co-existence.

From the cricket grounds in Melbourne to the coral reefs in Cairns, to Sydney’s iconic Opera House and Brisbane’s famous Australia Zoo, there is much to explore (and enjoy!) in this corner of the world.

Melbourne – The Culture Capital of Australia

As the birthplace of the Australian film and television industries, Melbourne also lays claim to the place where Australian rules football, the Heidelberg School of Australian Impressionism, and the Melbourne Shuffle and New Vogue modern dance styles came to be.

The city’s creative energy is palpable and is especially evident in the network of laneways, alleys and arcades that make up the central business district. At Centre Place, for example, patrons are treated to an array of shops, restaurants and bars that are enhanced by the unique street art/graffiti showcased in this district.

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Melbourne is a cultural hot spot where you can wine, dine and enjoy all things mighty fine.

Sydney – History, Harbour, and Hinterland

Established by the British in 1788 as a penal colony, Sydney has come a long way from being a barren wasteland for criminals to waste away in. Back then people were not clamouring to Australia’s first port of call, but nowadays the city ranks as one of the country’s top tourist destinations, and a “long stay” in Sydney is definitely not a bad thing!

Even if you’re not a fan of the arts or the water, a trip to the harbour is a must to see the highly unusual designs of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. These iconic structures have contributed to the city’s reputation as a world-class arts, entertainment and architectural centre.

Equally awe-inspiring is Sydney’s hinterland region that is blanketed with national parks, and its coastal region famous for attracting the world’s best surfers to ride the waves at Bondi Beach. In particular, the “Backpackers’ Express” is a notorious stretch of rip current located along the beach’s southern side that continues to draw visitors to its shores despite its high hazard rating.

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From penal colony to one of the world’s most visited cities, Sydney has come a long way, mate!

Brisbane – Home of Kangaroo Point Cliffs and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Australia’s “New World City” offers up the thrills of outdoor pursuits in the heart of its central business district. Adventures are many to be had along the Brisbane River, where tour boats, kayaks and beach balls are perfectly at home alongside city streets and skyscrapers.

Thrill-seekers will relish in the opportunity to cascade down Kangaroo Point Cliffs, Brisbane’s 20 million year old natural wonder that also is a great city vantage point.

Meanwhile, wildlife lovers will delight in the chance to cuddle up close with koalas and other species native to Australia at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This haven for abandoned and misplaced animals allows visitors to hand feed kangaroos, wallabies and lorikeets, and photo ops are a plenty holding your favourite homegrown creature.

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More than business is conducted along the shores of the Brisbane River…it’s also a place for outdoor fun!

Cairns – Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

The locals “Love It!” and you will, too!

With its tropical climate and close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the north-eastern based city of Cairns is a mecca for tourists who enjoy a host of marine activities above and below the surface.

From sailing to scuba diving and snorkeling, whatever your favourite water pursuit you’ll find ample opportunities to splash about in nearby inlets and bays, as well as further offshore in the Coral Sea.

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The Great Barrier Reef is a marvel of colour, texture and exotic marine life. It’s beautiful from above and below!

Sing a Happy Song for Australia

When it comes to singing the praises of Australia, there’s really no end to the chorus of happy refrains about its vast beauty and endless wonders. So, grab your mates and get ready to have a “Waltzing Matilda” good time and “Advance Australia Fair” for every day is a g’day when you’re in the land down under!