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Okay. Iíll admit it. New Zealand was never at the top of my places to see list, writes OutUK correspondent Ed Walsh. A good friend went recently and couldnít stop talking about it. So I looked into visiting and finally arrived recently for a ten-day whirlwind tour.
New Zealand may never achieve the party-central status of its massive neighbour, Australia, but what it lacks in gay venues it more than makes up in spectacular scenery, climate and a distinctively different gay/lesbian scene. Whatís unique about the gay/lesbian community in New Zealand?

I first put that question to Peter Graczer, who writes for Express, New Zealandís gay newspaper. As he explained in his opinion piece, some gay and lesbian tourists to Auckland, New Zealandís largest city, are quick to point out the lack of the numerous gay venues found in other cities such as London, Sydney and San Francisco.


Downtown Auckland at night.
ďFor all the lack of thrills, we instead enjoy an enviable position as citizens,Ē Graczer wrote. ďYes, Iíll admit it doesnít have the same sell as cheap sex and drugs, but why arenít we a little prouder about this? In Australia, a Holy Grail of hedonism to many gay New Zealanders, the state has actively moved to curtail or preclude adoption and marriage for same sex couples. In the USA, the situation has improved in terms of same-sex marriage, but there are still many policitians who seek reform that will permanently entrench a lower civil status for gay men and lesbians.Ē
Graczerís opinion was echoed by dozens of gay men and lesbians, including the two openly gay members of Parliament, with whom I spoke during my tour. The gay and lesbian communities are integrated into the fabric of the countryís population of nearly 3.5 million. Itís not uncommon to see groups of gays and lesbians gathering at predominately ďstraightĒ clubs.
Out gay MP Tim Barnett (right) with his partner Ramon Maniapoto.

AUCKLAND

Auckland is the stopping off point for most people who visit New Zealand. The Auckland area is home to 1.1 million people, about a third of the population of New Zealand. It also boasts that it has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world. Auckland is very walkable and is best explored on foot.
The cityís crown jewel is its Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Itís a great landmark that will help you get your bearings if you get lost. The Link bus is a great way to get around to see all the wonderful sites in Auckland. The city fare is only $1 NZ, which is about 55 pence. You can take it to Aucklandís wharf to take a number of harbour cruises.

I took the bus to the Pride of Auckland cruise on my first day for a spectacular view of the land and sea. The bus will also take you to the Auckland War Memorial Museum for some great exhibitions on New Zealand history, including the rich history of its native inhabitants, the Maori Indians.

The Sky Tower.
There are a number of wineries in the Auckland area and throughout New Zealand. I took a Fine Wine Tour and that took in three wineries, lunch, and some spectacular scenery along the way.

BARS & CLUBBING

As I've said, the gay scene in New Zealand is integrated in the mainstream throughout the city. That said, there are a number of gay/lesbian venues.

The Eagle bar is a popular gay bar with a mixed clientele of all ages. Family is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and has Karaoke and drag shows. It's one of the biggest and most popular locations on K-Road. Late Shift Men's Cruise Club in Dundonald Street, Newton has fetish playrooms, extensive maze and cubicals, pool table, pinball and cable TV. There's free breakfast at the weekend, a full bar with full range of alcoholic beverages and some snacks. And if you need to do some shopping, The Grinder has Gay magazines, videos, leather, adult toys and more. There's a cruising lounge, video rooms and some play areas.

Aucklandís most popular gay/lesbian friendly restaurant is SPQR. Itís on 150 Ponsonby Road, in the Ponsonby neighborhood. The cafť-laden Ponsonby Road is probably Aucklandís gayest section, although there is no definable gay neighbourhood.

Auckland is also home to a popular sauna, the Centurion Sauna For Men on Beresford Square, and some cruise clubs, their term for sex clubs, nearby.

The San Francisco Cafe on gay-friendly Ponsonby Road.
Some of the more popular gay-welcoming accommodations include Moana Vista Bed & Breakfast in the upscale Herne Bay neighbourhood, a short walk to Ponsonby Road. Itís owned by a young gay couple. For those on a budget, Brown Kiwi Travelers Hostel, in the Ponsonby neighborhood, is a good choice. A private room there will run you under 30 pounds.

MONEY & TRAVEL

You will get about 1.8 New Zealand dollars for a Pound. Auckland is overall New Zealand's most expensive area. New Zealand is proudly a non-tipping country. If you are given exceptional service in a restaurant, you can tip 5% or 10% but it's not expected.

You can find a big selection of hotels throughout New Zealand at special online prices from our partners Bookings.

WEATHER

Overall, the weather in New Zealand is very mild. The temperature rarely dips below freezing in Auckland and the rest of the North Island. The weather in the South Island is more seasonal. For example, it often gets below freezing in Queenstown during their winter, our summer, although it seldom snows at ground level. The average winter day is crisp and sunny.

Christmas time through February are the warmest months, with daytime temperatures in the 80s but it's also the busiest tourist season, so if you go then, you will have plenty of company. To give you an even greater incentive to visit in the quieter winter months, many hotels discount their rates and you can usually get better flight deals.

Part 2: Wellington Queenstown & Nelson

 

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