Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city and home to almost three-quarters of the country’s population, is not hell.
Auckland is not full of drug dealers, thieves, Maori gangs, foreigners who refuse to learn English, illegal aliens, arrogant bastards, unfriendly bastards, greedy bastards and elitist bastards.
Auckland is not the place non-Aucklanders say it is, and I’m tired of the mud-slinging.
Living in the South Island and then traveling around there quite a bit, I can’t tell you how many times I had this conversation, or a close variant thereof:
South Islander: been to both islands, eh? Been to the big smoke? [“big smoke” is what country folk call a city here, or any human settlement where people outnumber livestock.]
South Islander: terrible place, eh? Horrible… murders… crime… Maoris… Asians… murders.
Me: actually, I really like Auckland. When was the last time you were there?
South Islander: [grimace] bah, I don’t need to go there! I got everything I need right here! Who wants to go there and get murdered by Maori gang drug dealers?
Yes, Selwyn the racist hillbilly mechanic was not the only, well, racist hillbilly I encountered in the South Island. I didn’t even have to engage in a conversation. Random Kiwis were happy to weigh in with their opinions regardless. On the boat cruising through Doubtful Sound, a Kiwi was quizzing me on which island I liked better. I said “I like both the North and South Islands.” She turned up her nose but, before she could reply, another Kiwi, who had been standing a few meters away and was not part of our conversation, sauntered over and said “I can’t believe you like the North Island better than the South Island.”
“That’s not what I said. I said I like them both.”
He snorted derisively, something South Islanders do well, probably because they practice it so much, and stomped off.
I am not exaggerating when I say I had some variation of the “big smoke” conversation on a daily basis, if not more often, depending on where I was.
One of my favorites, for its sheer absurdity, came in Central Otago, when a woman, without invitation from me, went on and on about how the area where she lived and I was sight-seeing was “magic, absolute magic.” (If you have heard a Kiwi pronounce the word “magic” you’ll know it’s a weird, three-syllable word here. They sort of chew on their vowels.) Then she dumped on the North Island, and Auckland in particular, for a while, freely admitting she hadn’t been there.
“Well, I agree it’s magical here. It’s beautiful here, but I also like Auckland,” I said when she finally shut up for a second.
She gave me a look as if I’d just said the Nazis weren’t so bad. “Well,” she snapped, “You’re just too set in your ways.”
So, I want to tell you what I think of Auckland. And I hope some South Islanders are reading.
Yes, it is a city of a few million people. Many of these people have vehicles, and sometimes drive them on Auckland’s numerous streets, roads, avenues and motorways. This leads to traffic, and the traffic sometimes slows or stops. I can deal with that. Anyone who bitches about Auckland’s traffic needs to spend one day in New York, London, Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Moscow. I’ve found traffic in Auckland to be remarkably smooth, the drivers generally polite and logical and aware of their surroundings… something I most definitely did not encounter with several yahoos, liquored-up dolts and boyracers careening through the South Island.
I also found Auckland easy to get around, whether on foot, by bus or train, or behind the wheel of a campervan or Nissan #($*^% Sunny. I never got lost, or stuck in gruesome traffic, or carjacked.
As for “big smoke,” while I’m sure Auckland has more pollution than, say, Podunk, South Island, I never noticed it. When I blew my nose the tissue wasn’t full of black stuff like when I’m in London, I suffered none of the asthma attacks that plagued me in Moscow and my hands never got grimy and sticky like they have when using a lot of public transport in New York.
Non-Aucklanders think they’re very clever when they slam “JAFA”s… “Just Another F’n Aucklander.” Aucklanders are allegedly arrogant, pushy, bossy, obnoxious, loud and altogether ill-mannered. Oh, really. I find Aucklanders, out of all the people I’ve met in New Zealand, to be more polite, quieter, less aggressive, less racist/sexist/xenophobic, more worldly and generally easier to talk to than the average non-Auckland Kiwi. All the drunks, road rage morons, aggressive macho men and general jackasses I’ve met in New Zealand, and there have been more than a few, have been from somewhere other than Auckland. Does the city have its share of dolts, dicks, drug dealers and dumbasses? I am sure it does. It is a city, after all. I just haven’t run into them.
Auckland is an interesting city, with not one culture but many, and none of them obsessed with sheepdrench. Yes, there are brown people in Auckland. Oh my God!! Despite the prevalence of these brown people, some of whom do not speak English, I have not yet been murdered, sold into the slave trade, offered drugs or mugged. And I’ve spent time in some areas of the city that non-Aucklanders have shuddered just to hear mentioned. Maybe because I grew up in the New York area, I do not get freaked out if the people on the bus with me don’t look like me and are speaking a language I don’t understand. As a bonus… some of the Maori and Polynesian guys are mighty easy on the eyes. Rowr. Mommy like.
Yes, the South Island is a beautiful place, possibly the most beautiful I have seen out of more than 30 countries. But Auckland is a beautiful city. I love its dozens of volcanic cones, lush and green, bubbling up around the city, its many beautiful harbors and bays, its interesting blend of stylish skyscrapers and quaint 19th century wooden buildings. I love going for morning walks on the pedestrian and cycleway that runs along the main harbor, or wandering through funky shopping arcades and quiet residential areas. I love the islands just on Auckland’s edge, especially volcanic Rangitoto, and the deep green ripple of the Waitakere Mountains on the horizon.
Auckland is not a particularly expensive city. Yes, hotels will cost you more (though not as much as in other cities I’ve been), but you can buy fresh produce for about half of what it costs on the South Island, the bus service is cheap and agreeable and gas, or petrol, costs less here than out in the sticks.
I love that, when I get hungry in Auckland, I am not faced with the question “can I stomach another dreadful vegetable pie or should I just get fish and chips… again?” Instead, I must answer the question “do I want cheap and delicious sushi or cheap and delicious pho or cheap and delicious veggie masala or cheap and delicious pide…”
I don’t regret spending most of my time, including the period where I was working, in remote reaches of the South Island. It was indeed beautiful, I saw amazing and varied landscapes and was able to save enough money to extend my stay in New Zealand far beyond what I’d planned.
But if I return to New Zealand and look for work again, which I hope to do, I’m going to restrict my job search to Auckland. Because, while New Zealand is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous country, Auckland is by far, in my opinion, the best place to live. It’s made it into my Top Five Cities list, bumping Manchester down a notch and kicking Oslo off the list entirely. (Sorry, Oslo… while you are by far the best-looking city I have ever visited… my God, even the hobos and heroin addicts passed out in the parks were gorgeous… Auckland beats you on cost of living and weather.)
And if I do return, and find a job here in Auckland, I will be happy to be JAFA.