Auckland! It’s the place that the rest of New Zealand loves to hate. It’s a maddening city to get around, and at any dinner party or gathering a key topic for conversation is always the traffic and just how bad it really is.
We wear these stories as a badge of honour, outdoing each other with hellish tales of endless commutes. These can range from relatively trifling distances that seem still to never end, to circumnavigating the outer suburbs of the city late on a Friday, wondering if you will need to stop for a snack to sustain yourself before you make it home some time in the next two hours. And let’s not get started on what happens when it rains, there is a breakdown or, God forbid, an accident.
Then there are the ludicrous house prices that see Aucklanders cashing up and moving out in their droves. But they’ll be back, you mark my words. Because despite the gridlock, the insane price of houses, and the lack of work/life balance (due largely to Points A and B above), there’s something about Auckland that just gets to you in a good way. You somehow feel alive and well, connected.
And in addition, it’s really very pretty. You can’t beat both those harbours, and where else can you get such brilliant swimming at beaches just minutes from the CBD (depending on the traffic, of course). There is world class shopping and dining. It is one of the most multicultural places anywhere, and is essentially just a really cool place to be.
We had an American friend to stay a month or so ago. She lived here 40 years ago and hadn’t returned for over 25 years. On her last night in town we had dinner somewhere at the Viaduct, and as we walked in from the car I was fizzing with pride. The city looked stunning, and very cosmopolitan. I hope my friend was as impressed as I was, but I refrained from that thing we do when we keep asking our overseas visitors, “so how are you liking it so far?” And she didn’t offer any sighs of appreciation, so I just hope she liked it. Well, it certainly looked a bit more stylish than 1977! But not as easy to get around as then.
A number of years ago, perhaps as a bit of a midlife crisis on both our parts, we relocated lock, stock and two pre-teen children to a perfectly nice place out of Auckland. This seemed like a sensible lifestyle choice at the time, and yet it was one I came to bitterly regret almost immediately. Six years on and we were back in Auckland, and immediately I felt invigorated and alive. Ten years on, and in ways that really matter, we’ve never looked back.
So imagine my own surprise early this year when I accepted a job out of Auckland. After I had given myself a good stern talking to, and slapped myself about a bit we decided to go ahead and make the move. Well kind of. This time we’ve done it a bit differently. We kept the Auckland house, installed a flatmate, sold a portion of the place to No. 2 child, and we return most weekends for that city fix and buzz, to catch up with friends and moan about the traffic. It’s a bit of a compromise, but so far it’s working. And on the weekends we don’t go “home” we have enjoyed a number of rural delights.
In meetings I now hear about things like rendering plants (don’t ask), lost livestock, share milking and a whole raft of topics to which I had never, ever given any thought – at all.
And so as I gently cruise the uncluttered rural roads of our weekday home with car windows down and the gentle waft of manure, or possibly something more sinister, in the air, I think that this was a good, if somewhat surprising move. It’s not the forever move. But I’m learning a lot, and at least I now know that most cows aren’t milked through the winter (Really? Who knew that?), and that the best way to become vegetarian is to tour the chicken factory or take a job at the meatworks. The people are salt of the earth and very welcoming. They like having a bit of a laugh at the expense of the gullible Aucklander, and I’m always up for a bit of a laugh too.
But Auckland, you know I too will be back. I arrived as a child of six, and still remember the playground at the top of Farmers in Hobson Street (now a reception room at the Heritage Hotel), I remember dressing up for special visits to Queen Street with my mum and dad back in the days when chicken in a basket was considered to be a sophisticated meal. I remember going to the cinemas of Queen Street by bus with my friends as I grew a little older. I remember the Cook Street market, and Saturday morning shopping at Parnell – the first and only place for weekend shopping back then. I also remember the magnificent His Majesty’s Theatre, now sadly gone, but I think that’s another story for another day.
I will be back because, as the songs says, Auckland, “I’ve got you under my skin.”