Wish You Weren't Here
Like a surprise visit from a rainbow-coloured unicorn dancing upon a sun ray amidst a downpour, The Lonely Planet has voted Auckland the World’s Best City to Visit in 2022.
That this same reputable publication also once recommended an unhygienic shack of a restaurant I made a special Tuk-Tuk trip to in South Goa, with pungent toilet smells wafting into the dusty dining area as “a must” for local seafood, can be forgiven, but selecting Auckland for this accolade is a stretch of creativity and test of humour I am not currently in the mood for. (Friggen Day 70 something of lockdown.)
As someone who has lived in Auckland for 19 months now and (patiently, I might add) waited for any semblance of summer weather to appear (to no avail), I am curious about the judging criteria. A closer investigation reveals the contest addresses topicality, unique experiences, ‘wow’ factor and sustainability (interestingly all terms I had never associated with Auckland) with no mention of weather, which in my view should be clement if not outstanding if one is to bother visiting anywhere.
I should add, I do think Auckland - lack of heritage, culture, dangerously extortionate property prices and atrocious traffic aside - is a great city to live in. It's got incredible nature nearby, access to healthcare, good schools (public and private), excellent restaurants, world class food, vineyards, green walks and nice people, but as the foremost place to visit when you have the pick of the world? 'Wow', no thank you. I see you San Sebastian/ Muscat/ Barcelona.... (literally anywhere in Europe with a castle).
In the last Aussie Married At First Sight show I watched, the newly-wedded couples are told which holiday destination they will be going for their televised honeymoons, and the list of tropical hot spots is unveiled - Great Barrier Reef, Samoa, Fiji and... Auckland. The NZ-bound couple visibly droop and grimace before mustering up more of the forced enthusiasm they've been deploying since meeting awkwardly at the altar. When they arrive here, it is grey and cold, and they are quickly whisked off up north for the week. It’s telling that the only highlight we see from their trip is a miserable kayak in the rain, which the city slicker bride tips out of, and I would argue it’s unlikely she was thinking ‘this might just be the world’s best city to visit’.
I wonder if the judges' decision has something to do with the fact New Zealand has been completely closed off to the world since March last year, and Auckland has even been closed off to the rest of New Zealand since August, it has an added sense of mystique, a forbidden, untouchable place? Like Pyongyang but with flat whites.
If the Lonely Planet award was for the 'World’s Best City to Visit During a Lockdown', well that I could fully back. Auckland folk are relatively compliant in lockdowns, there have been almost no riotous protests. The notorious traffic is alleviated by a lockdown, so it's just a short drive from the city to beautiful (rain sodden) beaches and walks, while the interminably bad weather means you don’t feel guilty for choosing to stay at home. Lastly, the Kiwi accent is one of the few in the world which is actually improved by wearing a face mask, the mask seemingly catching the vowels before they can be swallowed. Yup, I'm here for it.
Cue: theme song to Bachelor In Paradise, 'Almost Paradise'.