Auckland - Sailing and other awesomeness!

Before and during my trip, I kept hearing how these other cities down under were so much like San Francisco.  Sydney: eh, sure, it's got some hills and a great bridge, but it's just sunnier and happier.  Melbourne: it's got the diverse hip-ness of SF, and there is a trolley-car line, but that's about it. Wellington: also hilly with a harbor and a cable car line, but still not very urban and gritty seeming.  Auckland comes closest I think.  Sure, it has no cute little antique cable or trolley cars, and no real "grand bridge", but it's got hills, great views, cool neighborhoods, nice parks, and a great downtown port.  And great food - probably the best food I had in NZ (though I was treated to great stuff in Wellington too...). 

So, since my travel buddy Alex was back with friends, I was back in a hostel, but luckily I had my room to myself the first night, and just a sweet older lady the 2nd - no 6-person madness.  I immediately headed downhill toward the CBD and found the cutest little French restaurant ever.  Totally authentic, with ex-pat host & bartender who I got to practice my French with, and awesome food.  Plus, there was another solo diner next to me who turned out to be the loveliest man.  Excellent start to my short time in Auckland.  They next day I pretty much walked the whole city, checking out a very cool vintage neighborhood at the top of the hill (around the corner from my hostel), then headed down through a cool park, and ended up down at the port. 

 (There was a cool film festival going on at the town hall, hence the giant wooden maori arch, which is temporary.)
Down at the port, it is all boats and sailing, but like, high class style.  Not fisherman style like in SF.  And a lot of the buildings down there are still the late 19 century style, which gives it charm.  With all the sailing around, and with my time limited, I decided to go for a sail in one of the former America's cup sailing vessels they have.  My other option, which I REALLY wanted to do, would've been a day trip out to Waiheke Island, which has great hiking, beaches, and wineries, but it would've taken a full day, which I decided would just take too much time out from getting to know Auckland.  One of the problems with moving so fast was missing out on stuff like this - but it gives me an excuse to come back as well!! :)

SO- after booking my sailing trip, I hit the busses to head back up to my hostel & then out for another FABULOUS dinner.  One of my favorite restaurants here in SF is called SPQR, and lo & behold, they have one there in Auckland too!  It was in one of the trendy neighborhoods on Ponsonby Road which was SUPER cute.  Tons of great looking restaurants, but with the coincidence of the names, I couldn't resist.  This was seriously the first meal I'd had in a while that seemed fresh and modern.  Maybe because it was Italian, but man - I was in heaven!  Plus- great views of downtown!
The next day I used the easy-peasy bus system to sort of do a tour of some of the other cool-looking neighborhoods, and to get over to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.  This gorgeous building is set in "The Domain" which is this giant city park, and it's up on a hill with views out over the city and the water - really beautiful.  Plus, it had really great Maori and other South Pacific Islander stuff.  Again- I think it was a bit better than the vaunted Te Papa in Wellington. 
 Spears!  Each island has a different style - super cool!
SO- after too brief a visit, I dashed across town for another "favorite" experience: sailing an America's Cup boat!  Seriously - this was really, really great.  There was a cool group of people on the boat, they gave everyone a chance to steer & operate the winches (or whatever you call the things that help raise, lower, and trim the sails), the views were amazing, and they even unfurled the spinnaker sail on the trip back into harbor. 

Needless to say - I looooved it!  The next day, I had just enough time to run back down to the harbor to the Maritime Museum, where there were tons of cool exhibits about sailing, the America's cup history, and also all the immigration history into NZ.  I was dodging a very rowdy school group during my time, but it was still really cool - plus they had the winning America's Cup boat there (NZ won it back in the '90's I think - they're very, VERY proud):
This was obviously before they swapped the design to the catamarans used today, but it's still a massive yet incredibly sleek boat.  It really made me excited to get to see some of the action this summer back in SF! 

Sadly, at that point, I had to head out to the airport and end my time in fabulous New Zealand.  I really, really, REALLY love this country, and definitely hope to come back.  Heck- I would live in Auckland in a heartbeat - you know, except for the fact that it's on the complete opposite side of the world from my family.  Sigh.  Great, great country.

Up next- I had about a week to relax in Sydney before heading back to the states.  My big trip was coming to an end - sadness!!!