Top 5: Auckland

Photo by: sids1, Flickr

Photo by: sids1, Flickr

1. Harbor Bridge Climb

For those of us who are not content only experiencing life from the ground, the Harbor Bridge Climb offers participants the chance to view Auckland from above. The one and a half hour climb over the Bridge, which connects Auckland City to the North Shore, is a culmination of giddy excitement and pure terror, with an experienced guide available to point out all the sights and sounds that one might otherwise miss. Having climbed the bridge myself, I can tell you there is nothing quite like standing out over the road, being honked at by indulgent truckers as their hulking vehicles slip away beneath your feet, with Auckland Harbor gleaming on one side of you, and crystalline waters stretching out as far as the eye can see. And for you dare-devil types, there is also the opportunity to bungee jump from the bridge, while your fellow climbers watch on in awe from close by. A day you are sure never to forget—and I say that from experience!

2. Auckland Zoo

Auckland Top 5 zooIf heights aren’t your thing, then Auckland Zoo is the perfect alternative for a day out with the family. I first went to Auckland Zoo as a child, cooing over the meerkats and lion cubs, and laughing hysterically as my parents chased me around and around the playground in Kidzone, which now houses a giant multi-colored dragon, and eggs that are perfect for hiding in. Even now, as an adult, I still can’t resist walking past Kidzone without having a go on the slide. I went back to Auckland Zoo only a few months ago and found it to have the same indescribable power to captivate me that it did when I was a kid. The Aussie Walkabout, in particular, was a great place to rest, sprawled out on a bench in the sunshine while Wallaby’s, Peacocks and Ostriches roam around, unrestricted by fences or gates. My friend even plucked up the courage to hug one of the ostriches, and the look of childish delight on her face as she curled her arms around its soft neck was something I will never forget. Auckland Zoo is a place where the magic never dies, no matter how old you get.

3. Sky Tower

The most recognizable and breathtaking building in the Auckland skyline has got to be the Sky Tower. Again, this is not a place for the faint of heart, being the tallest overall structure in New Zealand, and with people throwing themselves from the top of it at regular intervals (the Skyjump), or standing on glass floors to peer down at the city below. The Sky Tower is part of the SKYCITY Auckland casino complex, with the upper portion housing two restaurants, one of which revolves, and a café, from which visitors can enjoy the spectacular view of all of Auckland. It is from this building that fireworks explode every New Years Eve, and the tower itself has been known to glow in different colours to celebrate different holidays and events, such as blue for the local rugby team, and red and green for Christmas. And for a bit of local flair, the firefighter stair challenge is held every year to raise money for various charities. This is where hundreds of firefighters are sponsored to battle their way up the Sky Tower, one stair at a time, carrying firefighter gear weighing up to 25kg. Clearly, the Auckland Sky Tower is the heart of the city, and certainly should be high up on any traveller’s list when visiting New Zealand.

Photo by: Jason Pratt

Photo by: Jason Pratt from Flickr, Rangitoto Pier

4. Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island is an icon of Auckland, sitting about 8 kilometers northeast of Auckland. It’s name has been translated to mean ‘the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed’, after a major Maori battle waged at Islington Bay in 1350, and was purchased by the Crown in 1854 to be set aside as a recreation reserve. There are 10 possible summit walks, resulting in stunning views of the Hauraki Gulf, the Waitemata Harbor, and Auckland City. For those who enjoy a day away from civilization, hiking the trails of Rangitoto is a most glorious escape. With the sun on your face and the air tasting of seawater, and views so beautiful they make you want to cry, Rangitoto should be your priority when in Auckland.

5. Eden Park

For those of you who just came for the Rugby, why not catch a game at Eden Park? Though not an avid fan of the sport myself, I have spent many an occasion within the stadium that saw some of the biggest matches of the last Rugby World Cup. The atmosphere, even for a domestic match, is palpable. And when the Rugby is abandoned for the season, the cricketers descend, bringing a whole new life to the suburbs of Auckland. The epicentre of New Zealand sport, Eden Park is a great place to spend the day, eating gluttonous food, bonding with the family, and screaming hysterically for the local team — whether you support them or not.

 
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Surprise – I’m Cuban!

When you think of Cuba the first faces that come to mind are those of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara; undoubtedly the two most iconic figures that are commonly associated with the small, but diverse Caribbean island. However, with a bit of a research you quickly discover that many other famous faces are Cuban or have strong ties to the island nation.

Cameron DiazI know it’s a bit of an odd thing to research, but I was happily bobbing along working on my dissertation when stumbled upon an article about famous Cuban-Americans and my journey of discovery began. It honestly isn’t too difficult to lead me away from my ever-looming monster of a dissertation. I read the article from start to finish and was absolutely astounded by all of the people I didn’t know had such a strong Cuban heritage. Naturally, I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon looking up more information and the next day everyone I saw was greeted by ‘Did you know this person or that person was Cuban?!’ Now, as a result of my arguably irrational excitement, I will share some of my discoveries with you too.

 

Maria Teresa, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg

Coming from a colonial Spanish background, which includes a strong link to the first Catholic King of Spain, Ferdinand I, Maria Teresa was born into the upper echelons of pre-revolutionary Cuban society and in 1959 she and her family were among the many who immigrated to the United States after the Triumph of the Revolution. I never imagined European royalty would have such a strong Cuban heritage, but clearly I was wrong.

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La Cumbrecita – a slice of the Alps in Argentina?

It was raining. For a person who thought that it would be summer all year round in Argentina, the rain was not good – who knew that English weather could be found abroad? (Don’t answer that.) So when we woke up in Cordoba and looked outside, it was an effort not to go straight back to bed. We’d reached that point where our money was running low, we were exhausted from another sleepless coach journey and we were generally feeling sorry for ourselves. Neither of us wanted to be responsible for having to plan the day ahead, so we stamped the 5 flights downstairs to speak to the hostel owners and get a dulce de leche-less breakfast (never a good start to an Argentinian day).

Now, apparently the thing to do on a rainy day like this is to visit a really cute alpine village called La Cumbrecita, situated an hour and a half outside of Cordoba. The woman behind the desk was raving about the architecture, the great walks and the woodland. It’s totally unique, she told us, and we’d only have to spend money on the bus fare. So we wandered off the coach station, and headed out to Villa General Belgrano, before switching there to another bus heading right up to La Cumbrecita. It was still raining, and somehow, it was actually getting colder the closer to midday it got.

lacumbrecita2 wikipediaAs we pulled into the edges of the village (it’s been fully pedestrianised since 1996), we began to see why the architecture was deemed to be unique: there are obviously no alpine style buildings to be found in Argentina. So, what we’d spent a couple of hours travelling to, was a seemingly fake and dare I say it, tacky German style village. Don’t get me wrong, the sentiment behind it is pretty interesting. It was founded in 1934, when central European immigrants moved out from Villa General Belgrano after the Kabjoski family bought up the land. However, with tourism becoming a central part of the town’s economy just three years after its creation, it is understandable that the authentic feeling of this town began to get a little lost.

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Curry, Caribbean Style

In the U.K., we’re accustomed to – and love – a good curry, and it’s no different in the Caribbean. However, the curry we eat here is nothing like the curry you can savour in the Caribbean: trust me.

Despite both being rooted in Indian gastronomy, the cultural milieu of each region has definitely impacted the dish’s flavours and diversity. In the U.K., thanks to a booming Indian and Pakistani subculture (such as you find along Manchester’s famous Curry Mile) a curry is a variety of dishes ranging from your slightly more subtle Korma to a flame-throwing spicy Lahori Karahi. Meanwhile in the Caribbean, the only difference between curry dishes is the meat you choose to throw in and the spices in your kitchen cupboard at any given time.

chillies flickr heymrleej

 

The West Indian Curry was initially brought over to the Caribbean around the nineteenth century when workers from India emigrated across the Atlantic Ocean and brought their stack of delicious recipes with them. Of course, there was the slight problem that the Caribbean didn’t offer the same ingredients as India did and some adjustments had to be made. Shortly afterwards, the wider population caught on to the delicious and ever-adaptable dish and decided to give it a bit of an Afro-Caribbean twist that has stuck around. Today when you order a curry, especially in Guyana or Trinidad, you get a whopping serving either over steamed rice or wrapped in a roti skin (a type of flat bread) and no two are ever alike. As a result, eating a curry is always an exciting adventure for your taste buds and it’s a dish that never fails to disappoint. The recipe below is your  perfect chance to take a whack at it:

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Dance of the Sugar Plum Armadillo

What armadillo? What is a sugarplum? What is this dance? Well, probably a tango since this crazy critter hails from Central Argentina. I am talking about the pink fairy armadillo. If you research faerie folklore throughout the continents and ages, you will find a number of stories. British faeries tangle the hair of sleeping victims, faeries of mainland Europe don’t exist, and Argentine faeries have armour and fur. How badass is that? Better, in my inexpert opinion, than their petal-wearing counterparts. So, now we must learn of their magical powers. Pay attention because this is pretty cool. You know when you are embarrassed, and you wish the ground could swallow you up? Well, the pink fairy armadillo can arrange it so that the ground literally does just that! I am playing fast and loose with the word ‘literally’ here because it is the fairy and not the ground that does most of the work. They can use their mad armadillo fairy skills to disappear underground in record time. Less than a whole second. Other magic powers include the ability to swim through solid earth as if it were water. Well, grainy and sandy earth, but as if it were water!

Pink fairy armadillo, via Hawaii McGraths flickr

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