Despite being a city of over a million people, Auckland, like the rest of New Zealand, is really just a small town—albeit with a few more high-rises. One in three of New Zealand's four million souls live here in the City of Sails, and another one will probably move here soon, but despite the urban crawl and café scene sophistication, touches of postcard New Zealand are but a short drive from the centre of town.
Away from the inner city and its' impossibly expensive suburbs, Auckland is the embodiment of the more familiar New Zealand, the New Zealand of small town sensibilities, of friendliness and courtesy and innocent unaffected charm. If you take a walk along the waterfront you will see children and families strolling casually as well as million dollar yachts. If you go to your local café, you are as likely to share a morning coffee with a celebrity as meet an old friend. And if you go running in a park, you will quite possibly run into professional athletes, who will be friendly enough to say "Hi boys" as they speed past. Runners are friendly everywhere in the world, but New Zealanders are everywhere friendly.
I went for a run with a friend yesterday in such a park, where views of the central city are possible along with the rolling green farm pastures beyond. Where cattle and sheep were tending their spring new-born—the very image of the stereotypical airport souvenir—and yet to their ignorance, or perhaps more correctly idyllic simplicity, only an electrified fence away from the rush-hour traffic I escaped.
Auckland may be the only city in the world where an actual farm exists almost in its' very centre. New Zealand is like this—the modern and the rural as well as the sophisticated and unaffected jostle constantly for attention. To one such as myself for whom the bigger the city the better is the maxim, it is a slightly uneasy yet totally endearing mix of unplanned charms, alongside all the other things you see elsewhere in the world.
One Tree Hill is both the name and literal description of this inner city park, a moniker modified in recent years to "None Tree Hill" by an unfortunate midnight lumberjack incident—an incident I won't relate.
The park with the hill formerly known as "One Tree" is also the home to a long dismantled Maori hill fort, or "pah", which once straddled the man made terraces that crisscross it's sides. In reality One Tree Hill is an extinct volcano, one of almost fifty which the city is built upon, and ominously not all of them extinct. The predominant residents of the park, the cows and sheep, couldn't care less for their impending fiery destruction. When not eating the abundant daily rain-fed grass, they vie for the attention of busloads of camera-wielding Japanese tourists, and dodge locals taking their exercise.
I am a recent arrival in Auckland, a economic migrant drawn north by a change in work, and despite my grounding in and continued affection for Wellington, our nation's political and artistic capital, I am fast becoming a convert.