My stay in Auckland was longer than expected but there’s so much to see and do that it’s hard to be upset. Two days in a row I had plans to leave with people only to have things fall through last-minute, causing me to check out and back in to the Nomads Hostel twice after spending two days with a host in West Auckland. I still have a week to see the South Island and while that doesn’t sound possible, thanks to the input of two dozen different travelers and locals that I’ve met here my ideal itinerary will take about a week to complete. But the future is for future posts; here I’ll go over my Auckland highlights.

Auckland is home to 1.4 million people and is the economic center of New Zealand. The surrounding area has dozens of hills and raised elevation areas due to now-extinct volcanoes, most of which have been quarried away. The biggest remaining hill is Mt. Eden which has a great view of downtown.

I tried my luck at couchsurfing again and had a great time. Toney and Paul live in a small but comfortable two story house in Sunnyvale in West Auckland with another housemate Lanna and Toney’s seeing-eye dog Gilbert. I took a westbound train from Britomart station to get there and stayed for two days. After exchanging pleasantries, Toney asked if I liked beer, to which I said yes, and he left for a few minutes to grab some from the store. He showed up with a crate of huge Tui bottles and said “ok, let’s get to work.”

Toney’s mom took us to Bethel Beach on the west coast. The countryside on the way there was beautiful, just like what I imagined New Zealand would be like.

The beach itself is a local favorite. The sand is flat and extends a huge distance from the water. It has the potential for Aucklanders to throw an awesome beach party there.

Every Chinese New Year Auckland has an event in Albert Park called the Lantern Festival, a celebration of Chinese culture and ornamentation. I’m not sure why it’s kind of late. I thought Chinese New Year was a couple weeks ago. Such tardiness had no impact on the scope of the festival, however. And the lanterns looked great.

My favorite float/lantern/ornament/thing was… well I don’t what this is but I like it.

My favorite performance was the dragon shuffle.

As the crowd filled in and dusk fell, Big Brother aka Da Space Needle aka the Sky Tower (actual name) loomed over us all.

And this was Big Brother’s view of us:

The best part of the night was meeting so many Auckland couchsurfers. I got tons of advice on traveling in southeast Asia and Europe. We also posed for pictures for about fifteen minutes so everyone’s camera could have a turn.

When you walk around Auckland you can’t help but always see the Sky Tower, and if you’re close by you can hear people scream as they jump off of the landing, so I decided I had to go to the top. Not to bungee jump; I’m planning on skydiving next week. But the views of the area were not to be missed.

Near the backpackers neighborhood downtown is a delicious sushi place out on the street that makes huge rolls for low prices. I don’t think New Zealand has a particularly notable food culture so I don’t mind saying this was my favorite place to eat in Auckland, other than meat pie bakeries of course.

No visit to New Zealand would be complete without going to a rugby match. And what luck! Saturday brought the first match of the professional season, between the Auckland Blues and the Christchurch Crusaders. I went with a group of backpackers from my hostel who were from England, Switzerland and Germany.

After grabbing a meat pie and a bottle of Speight we watched the home team win a back-from-behind thriller. The guy next to me was probably the Blues’ biggest fan.

I won’t bore you with four similar stories from nights out at bars in Auckland, but the population here is young and active and there are thousands of travelers and backpackers all over the city. I’ve met so many people from all over the world and had a hundred awesome conversations about traveling and culture everywhere. Danes, Germans, Brittons, Brazilians, Dubai-ians, Malaysians, Kiwis, Ozzies, other Americans. New Zealand is definitley an awesome place for backpackers and now that I’ve spent enough time in the backpacker capital I’m ready to check out the south. One last shot of my favorite landmark of the South Pacific so far:

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