I had hoped to get this entry started earlier (that is, before my impressions bleach into whiteness). Better late than never.
First things first: The flight is long (13 hours), but the newer in-flight entertainment systems are really quite fun. I worked my way through just some of the very large music catalog and watched two movies. And, against all advice, I did have a glass of wine with the hope that it would enable sleep in spite of being in steerage. I managed to get about 5 hours each way --- That was enough to make the first day bearable.
Auckland is built on volcanic hills and has only a few bridges. If you're going to walk all over town then it's going to build muscle and cardiovascular conditioning. My slogan for the city is "British Past, Asian Future". All over the city you hear different asian languages --- particularly Japanese and Chinese. Many of the menial jobs are now done by the Chinese. Even the chippie shops are run by the chinese (note: in Edinburgh, they are run by the Italians and Turks).
Architecturally, I wouldn't say that Auckland is that interesting, except for the indigenous bungalow style. There are a collection of repurposed buildings from the 1930s but unfortunately the new awnings damage the impression. But it was fun walking all over the city checking out the flora and fauna. One day we took a ferry to Davenport (just a short hop). From the top of this extinct volcano we had a very nice view of the city and harbor.
I kept looking for bakeries that produced something other than puffy white bread. I was unsuccessful. Other food expeditions were more successful: the Dim Sum was excellent and we had a wide choice of various asian cuisines. Food in NZ isn't cheap so while I'd hoped to give modern NZ cuisine a try, I would only succeed once in the trip (at a winery no less).
From Auckland, we rented a Toyota and proceeded to the volcanic center of NZ: Rotorua. As Americans, we take many things for granted. One of them is our National Park System. Imagine if you had to pay a commercial operator for every geological wonder in the US! In NZ, that's almost the case (the volcanic mountains are National Parks).
The volcanic landscape of NZ is spread out (the crust is thin and you don't know when magma will escape). But the overall impression is that Yellowstone is a good approximation --- except the state owns it instead of private parties.
The ecology of NZ is varied: In the grazing areas, I got the impression that the landscape had been radically altered by the western settlers. One could imagine dense vegetation but instead it was mainly fields of grass and cows (not as many sheep as I expected). Forests were clearcut down to the road. And, the introduction of various mammals including the opposum have been deadly to the local flora and fauna (Kiwis are killed by non-native mammals, esp. dogs and ferrets). And interestingly enough, it was the Maori who introduced rats into NZ. The Maori are relative recent immigrants to NZ: only a few thousands years since they navigated eastward from Polynesia.