If you're after genuine "Kiwiana", check country of origin of the goods. Most of the souvenir shops are run by mainland Chinese and Koreans, and while most are well meaning I found more than a few shops where they used lack of English to feign ignorance.
Fun Alternatives: If you have to go to one of these shops, go to one at your hotel - or if you're not staying at a hotel, ask the hotel staff for recommendations. Don't go souvenir shopping at the airport unless you're ready to be fleeced.
If you are lucky you will see dolpins or even whales which also feature on the brochure of Auckland's Dolpin Explorer. But...
Whereas you will get a refund if you do not see whales on a whale watching tour in Kaikoura, for example, the "highly recommended" Auckland tour has a tourist-trap-like policy. That is why I still have a complimentary voucher since 13 February 2003.
So, if you are on a tour and do not see any dolphin or whale you get such a complimentary voucher for another tour. As most tourists only spend a limited time in Auckland and also want to see and do other things, most of the vouchers will never ever be redeemed.
Although I am in Auckland from time to time I still have not succeeded to redeem mine because on the days I tried to get on a tour they did not operate due to rough sea. As my voucher seems to be valid forever and not only for a month, as originally printed on the voucher, I will try again...
BTW If you do whale watching in Kaikoura and see a pod of a hundred dolphins you do not have to pay a surcharge... ;-)
Unique Suggestions: Just enjoy the day out on the sea. You will surely see some seabirds including gannets.
Fun Alternatives: There is no alternative. Once you are on the boat there is no way back.
Perhaps this one: If you fly out of Auckland try to do the whale watching in Kaikoura first as you will get a refund there for not seeing any whales, and if you are not successful there you can still try to see dolphins in the seas around Auckland.
- Whale Watching
On their Website: http://www.citygroove.co.nz/ this looks like a great backpackers, but in reality, arriving there was a lot different, and I wouldn't recommend it. Mainly for the fact that our double room was very mouldy, especially the floor (we had to remove the large carpet mat from the old brick floor, it was so bad, and open the small window...which revealed a brick wall on the other side, and barbed wire around the window. Cost: $55 non ensuite room or $65 with ensuite - we didn't feel it was value for money at all. Felt like living in a damp basement (our double room is just down from the laundry).
Bathroom has a shower ‘hole’ between the toilet and the handbasin, just flat brick floor (so water runs out into bedroom. Toilet was as old as the hills - and this review is from people used to roughing it and going without creature comforts when travelling....
Kitchen smaller than average house size – very cramped. A bit of a lounge area in same room as reception desk. Building in not very good condition overall.
The only handy part was there was a supermarket only 5 mins walk away on the waterfront
Fun Alternatives: Go somewhere else - even a little bit out of the city, rather than this backpackers.
- Budget Travel
If you ever open up an elevator and witness something like the picture below, make sure you turn and run away. Any non-VTer that joined this group in an elevator would surely be en-trapped into joining VT because of the infectous personalities. You would be instantly signed up by Kiwi, and given your first VT visor, notebook and pen. Then the rest of the Auckland VT crew will offer you their expertise in wine (Cabernetman), Beer (all of above) or some other form of excitement throughout the city.
Unique Suggestions: Pretend you do not have the internet.... or have no clue what VirtualTourist is...make sure to give the people a fake address to avoid spam.
- Luxury Travel
- Beer Tasting
- Road Trip
Mercure Hotel, Customs Street, Downtown area.
This is one of Auckland's larger hotels, but my first visit there was less than perfect. On a recent VT evening in the city, we all popped up to the top floor of the Mercure (nice views), for a coffee and chat in a nice setting. The service and the coffee were a disgrace to the tourism industry in Auckland. We had American visitors with us and goodness knows what they thought of the amateur service and poor quality coffee. The lobby to the hotel looked like a tired bus station. It was very disappointing to see this presented to international visitors to Auckland.
Unique Suggestions: Enjoy the view. It's not bad.
Fun Alternatives: I hear the Hilton on the waterfront has a much better standard of service and some great views from it's cocktail lounge.
- Food and Dining
Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World is a major rip-off. It costs $NZ26 for normal adult entry (as at July 2004). YHA/HI members pay $NZ23.40.
The Antarctic Experience consists of a mock-up of Scott's Hut on the southern continent. It's fairly interesting. From there you pass some windows that are too small to stand at for long to see the penguins in their display. Next, it's a 9 minute ride around the penguin exhibit on board an imitation snow buggy. This is far too short a time to watch these intriguing birds playing around in the water or waddling around the enclosure. At the end of this ride you proceed into the Underwater World. Yawn. There were hardly any fish and the sharks are a little bit ho-hum. The rays are intriguing. You can go round the Underwater World as many times as you like, but as there wasn't much to see swimming around there on my last visit, I only did so once. Finally, it's the obligatory souvenir shop.
Unique Suggestions: Enjoy the brief Antarctic Experience. The penguins are very intriguing to watch. Look at the horsefish in the shop... they're bizarre.
Fun Alternatives: Try the National Aquarium in Napier or the Marine Reserve at Leigh, north of Auckland, where you can swim with the fish. I haven't been to either, so tips still to come!
- Family Travel
I was kind of disappointed with Kelly Tarlton’s underwater world as this was suppose to be voted New Zealand’s best visitor attraction. Actually, this attraction was divided into two areas, one being underwater and the other is a simulation of Antarctica. I found the exhibits were not so exciting.
This Bar is made entirely of ice, including the glasses that you drink from.
Unique Suggestions: It's a gimmick, I know... did I try it?? of course! See my nightlife tips!