Simon Hird / / Geography / / University of Auckland / / NZ
First few weeks
It’s funny how much things have changed since my first blog post back at Heathrow. I have now been in NZ for 17 days and in that time I have explored the city, set up a bank, got a NZ SIM, had my first week of classes, been on a weekend trip to the Bay of Islands and made some pretty special friendships.
The first week saw a lot of time dedicated to sorting out admin things like banking, phones, 18+ cards (bars don’t accept UK driving licenses for proof of age – you can use your passport but this could be risky on a night out) as well as household and food shopping. It wasn’t all menial things like that though – we watched the sunset over the city from Mt. Eden, watched an Auckland Blues rugby match at Eden Park and we have been on a few nights out. I don’t think we have sussed out the right places just yet – I guess a contrast from Manchester where you are generally spoilt for choice.
My first week of classes here went pretty fast. Most of the lectures were introductory so didn’t require a great deal of thought but most of them seemed really interesting. I won’t go into specifics on my Geography courses (do feel free to email me if you have any Geography specific questions: firstname.lastname@example.org) but in one of my classes the first reading was a paper published by a Geography professor back at Manchester. The way my lecturer spoke with such sincere respect for this professor made me feel kind of proud and made me realise that perhaps I had forgotten how lucky I am to be part of such a global institution and influential department back in Manchester.
One stand out course that may be relevant for those thinking of taking a NZ specific module whilst here is Politics 107G: New Zealand Politics. A first year module aimed at exploring and understanding the development of and workings of modern day politics in NZ. Perfect for those with no prior experience of Politics at degree level and/or those with a limited knowledge of politics in New Zealand. There are some academic differences to studying here but I think I will dedicate a blog post to it later on in the year for those interested…
Seeing as most of my friends and I don’t have deadlines for the next few weeks, 10 of us decided to go on an impromptu trip this weekend. The weather forecast for the south wasn’t looking great so we hired some cars and headed north, to the Bay of Islands. We booked into a little hostel in Paihia for Friday and Saturday night, leaving a few days to explore some of the Northland. After a somewhat shaky drive up from Auckland in small little automatic, dubbed ‘El Cheapo’ by the rental company, we arrived in Paihia, 3 hours later.
Driving in NZ is relatively simple. As long as you don’t mistake the brake for the clutch… if you aren’t used to driving an automatic. Manuals don’t seem to be as popular here. The roads are generally much quieter than the UK, particularly when you get out of the city, and routes are generally much more simple due to fewer roads. We spent most of the drive on Highway 1, the main road up both Islands, I guess this would be the equivalent of maybe a an A road in the UK in terms of size and usage.
We spent Saturday in Whangaroa, where we hiked up St. Pauls rock for a misty view over the rolling bays and harbours of the Northland (a less touristy recommendation from a local we met on Friday night in Paihia, not that the Bay of Islands were very busy at this time of year anyway). After the hike we enjoyed an Indian Takeaway in a sleepy town just North of Whangaroa before checking out the thermal pools at Ngawha. The hot springs were kind of weirdly set-up and in the middle of nowhere, arriving at night time didn’t help either, but they were pretty relaxing after our slip ‘n’ slide up and down St. Pauls Rock. After leaving the mysterious hot pools stinking of Sulphur we headed back to Paihia. We checked out a local bar in Paihia where it seemed most of the relatively small village were out in force. Without a doubt people here seemed much more friendly than back in Auckland. Up until now I was beginning to believe that all the things people have told me about how friendly the Kiwis are was perhaps just spew from clouded loving memories of travelling here. But this, as my first experience in NZ out of Auckland smashed that thought and overshadowed the slight cold shoulders I felt I was being dealt by staff and workers back in Auckland, minus the lovely ladies in the Co-op bank though! Having spoke to a few Kiwis about this there is apparently a bit of a divide between people in Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. But don’t get me wrong, people in Auckland are certainly more friendly than your average stranger in London – this is all just relative to the friendliness of Kiwis outside of Auckland.
On Sunday morning I woke relatively early and I was starting to feel the Auckland strain of Freshers Flu taking hold. A run along the beach and a dip in the icy cold hostel pool freshened me up though and we headed to Whangarei (different place to Whangaroa…). Some Instagram research on Saturday night threw up this waterfall that looked pretty cool, so we tapped that into google maps and headed off. Ben and I were both pretty adamant we were going to swim at the base of the waterfall but it is mid-winter here, and the prospect of chilly water and damp sulphury swimming shorts weren’t overly inviting. From the car park at the top of the falls it doesn’t seem that special. The area around the falls is still kind of built up and the paved surfaces and fences definitely ruin the aesthetic. But once you get down to the bottom it’s like being in a tropical jungle. Warm golden sun, thick alien vegetation, rainbows projected from the spray of the falls, it felt a bit like paradise. This place was special.
Wet trunks on I decided this was too good not go for a swim. The water was cold and the current strong but slowly everyone else came in. Ben and I managed to swim up the current and get round the back of the thundering waterfall. The noise, spray and adrenaline as we perched on slippy rocks behind the powerful falls was insane, we were both so hyped to be there, in the moment.
Filled up with Whangarei’s finest pizza we cruised back as the sun set over the rolling hills of the Northland. It’s weird, considering how briefly we have all lived here, but it felt as if we were heading home. Seeing the Auckland skyline after the weekends adventure made us all realise that Auckland is very quickly becoming a home from home for us.
Apologies for the long post… I guess a lot has happened recently.
P.S. If you guys want to see a few more photos feel free to check out my Instagram: @simonhird
We have just set up an Instagram dedicated to studying abroad at The University of Auckland: @studyabroad_auckland