Post jointly written by Dave the Traveling Music Man and Kathy
One of the first things we like to do when we go to a new location is to go on a walking tour. In our opinion, it is the best way to get a general feel for the place, learn about the local culture, and to see the prerequisite important sights of the city. Being led by the hand (so to speak) in an unfamiliar area, makes it a lot easier to break the ice of where you are and can set the stage for the rest of your stay.
Free walking tours are just the right price. They are free! The arrangement is, if you liked the tour at the end, you give a tip of whatever amount of money you deem fit. So, a free walking tour is not really free – but, rather, pay what you wish, which I find preferable.
How do we learn of the walking tours and choose which company to use? I’d say it’s a combination of word of mouth, Tripadvisor and/or Googling. We had good luck with Sandeman’s New Europe Free Walking tours throughout many cities in Europe and Jerusalem. We do research this before the trip because some free walking trips require prior registration while others are just on a show up basis. And then you just show up at a particular place at a designated time – and generally look for a tour guide holding a particular color umbrella at the location.
On our recent trip to New Zealand and Australia, we took free walking tours in all three cities we visited: Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney. In Auckland we used Auckland Free Walking Tours (AFTW). In Australia, both The Sydney and the Melbourne tour were led by I’m Free Walking Tours.
In New Zealand, after a 16-hour flight, we arrived in Auckland fairly well-rested (thanks to Air New Zealand’s lie-flat bedding). We took an airport bus to our hotel, Four Points by Sheraton. Our room wasn’t ready yet (we didn’t expect it to be), but we were told we could use the shower in the restroom adjacent to the fitness room. We showered and changed and then set out on our way to meet our tour guide at the entrance to Queens Wharf Village. We were told to look for a big blue umbrella.
I should note that it was raining, with intermittent downpours (after all, it is winter in New Zealand in August). We met our guide, Martin (pronounced Maaahtin), who was absolutely charming! Martin did not just talk to the crowd, he spoke to each of us, learning where we were from and exchanging information and thoughts and opinions far beyond the sights around us.
We were the first to arrive, but others soon joined us for the tour. Martin asked each of us our name and where we were from. We had a people from Spain, Australia, Canada, England, India and other countries in our group. The funny thing about doing a walking tour is whether the people click with one another. With Martin’s finesse, we all bonded and felt like family. Martin got up on a bench and started to give us some of the history of the country. He showed us pictures from a photo book to give us a visual. Kind of old school in this day of technology. However, Martin explained that his iPad kept malfunctioning so he decided to keep it simple on the tech side.
Since we were getting a ton of on-and-off rain (and some torrential rain), Martin modified the tour so that we could be indoors to avoid the down pours. There were lots of awnings, short-cuts and secret indoor locations on our custom-avoid-the-rain tour.
According to the AFWT website, this is the general route of the walking tour:
Taking off from Auckland’s downtown, the walk heads up through Britomart Transport Centre, taking you through the city’s pedestrian laneways and right up to the recently renovated Auckland Art Gallery. You’ll then wander through the historic Albert Park and University of Auckland, before heading back down to Auckland’s new and thriving Britomart Precinct.
We stood beneath this awning;
The rain was really coming down at this point!
We saw this beautiful train station:
And we cut through this garage-like area, which was pretty cool.
Martin was a native of the town with a passion for sharing his city with us! He took us to places he thought were site-worthy. In addition, he recommended places that he liked to frequent. He showed us his favorite coffee shops and restaurants. He had a strong affinity for the body lotions by an Australian brand known as Aesop. There were testers of the lotions outside the Aesop store, which he encouraged us to try. He even told us where the nicest public toilets could be found. This was NOT one of those recommended toilets:
In between, when the rain would let up, we walked outdoors and saw the more traditional sights.
There was some street from a project called Heart of the City:
There was a painted equipment box that portrayed the history of New Zealand, as well as other street art also focusing on the original inhabitants of the country.
Martin took us to parks and many historic buildings in the area. He had an interesting story about every corner of the city.
I learned that women in New Zealand won the right to vote in 1893, long before the women of so many other countries. I liked the fact that the country is so proud of their women’s suffrage!
We walked through Albert Park, and learned that Prince Albert had never actually visited Auckland. (We liked the park so much that we returned here a few times over the course of our stay).
I was fascinated by the trees in the park and all around New Zealand. This is a Pohutukawa tree also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, which in December (summer in New Zealand) is filled with bright red flowers.
Here Martin is showing us the reverse side of a silver fern plant, the symbol of New Zealand.
I could show you more photos and tell you more stories about the free walking tour, but maybe you should just visit Auckland and find out for yourself why we thoroughly enjoyed our (soggy) walking tour of Auckland?