Rated by locals as the best city in the world, and they just might be right.
The city has it all, they’ll proclaim. All the amenities, culture and vibrancy of a big city, while still maintaining a friendly, relaxed small-town feel. World class shopping, fantastic restaurants, thumping nightlife and a café scene second to none. Two magnificent harbours, the Waitemata and Manukau, and two coastlines with calm golden-sand beaches on one side and wild black-sand beaches on the other. The Hauraki Gulf, a stretch of sparkling water with islands home to vineyards, wildlife sanctuaries, and yet more perfect beaches. Volcanoes dot the city, providing spectacular viewing points and green space for the city’s two million inhabitants. And last but not least, the mighty Waitakere ranges: dense rainforest, soaring peaks and waterfalls straddling a rugged coastline.
Far too many visitors to New Zealand spend only a day or two in Auckland, long enough to arrange their onward transportation, check their email and wander up and down Queen Street … which is a shame as the city’s delights generally take a little more time to discover. Make the effort and you will be richly rewarded.
Auckland’s CBD stretches from the waterfront along a narrow valley with Queen Street running up its middle. Most hostels and hotels are located with two blocks of the main thoroughfare. The Train Station is at its harbour side base, across the road from the Ferry Terminal. Most visitors to New Zealand who find themselves on Queen Street are somewhat underwhelmed by the experience. With the country’s tallest buildings running along either side, it is an often cold and windy canyon, home to a hodgepodge of mainstream stores, souvenir shops and takeaway joints.
Auckland Ferry Building.
The CBD’s redemption comes in the form of a number of small inner-city precincts that showcase New Zealand’s best urban design, shopping, dining and nightlife. Leave any gear you don’t want to lug around at The Luggage Hotel on Quay Street, where they charge low rates for 24/7 secure storage.
City Hot Spots
In Britomart you’ll find the country’s top fashion designers and some big names from overseas. Dining options are modern and stylish – Baduzzi, The Sugar Club, Ortolana, Ebisu, and Mexico are all award-winning and recommended. For a gourmet, artisan icecream experience that you won’t see the likes of anywhere else in New Zealand, pop into Giapo Haute Icecream's infamous store on 12 Gore Street.
The heart of the city is home to small quirky shops, pubs and cafes in the small lanes that run off High Street. Vultures’ Lane on Vulcan Lane serves craft beer and their outdoor tables are great for people watching. Mezze Bar on Durham Street East offers affordable and delicious tapas.
Auckland Art Gallery is a must-do, with fresh exhibitions on display regularly. A block further on from here is Aotea Square, Auckland’s civic centre. Auckland’s theatre and music scene is based in and around here, working out of the magnificently restored Civic Theatre, modern Aotea Centre and Auckland Town Hall, together with a number of smaller theatres and venues.
Auckland War Memorial Museum.
SkyCity, with Auckland’s most recognisable landmark; the Sky Tower, straddles Federal Street. The Depot Bar and Eatery on Federal Street is the restaurant of New Zealand’s top TV chef Al Brown, offering kiwi comfort food including fresh oysters.
Continuing past SkyCity is the City Works Depot, where a collection of old council workshops have been converted into offices and eating and drinking venues. Highly recommended is Brothers Beer, a working brewery with 18 taps, over 200 bottled beers and thin-crust pizzas. The Botanist cafe and wine bar serves sumptuous food in uber-cool surroundings.
Down the hill, Victoria Park Market is home to an ever increasing number of shops, bars and eateries. Walk across Victoria Park and down Halsey Street past the former America’s Cup bases back to the waterfront, Wynyard Wharf and Silo Park. This new urban space is home to markets on Friday night and Saturday morning, and hosts many concerts and events.
Cross the Te Wero pedestrian walk bridge and you’re back in the popular Viaduct and Princes Wharf entertainment precinct, also home to The National Maritime Museum. Most bars and clubs are open until at least 3am, and there are a multitude of dining options.
If you’d like a slice of all the action Auckland offers without doing lots of walking, there are plenty of day tour options through providers such as Gray Line www.graylinetours.co.nz.
Surfing West Auckland.
There are many cute cafes and excellent art galleries in Titirangi, a must-visit is Lopdell Precinct – which includes three buildings, The Historic Lopdell House, the Treasure House and Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery. Regular exhibitions are held at the Upstairs Art Gallery and Te Uru, or you can relax watching the latest flick at the theatre in Lopdell House. Visit Deco Eatery after wandering around and soak in the Spanish Mission architecture.
You’ll find excellent waves along the coast, with surf schools and board hire at Muriwai and Piha. These West Coast beaches can be dangerous so taking a surf lesson will help you learn better, faster and safer. Piha Surf School has small classes and champion surfers for instructors (www.pihasurfschool.com). Make sure you call into the famous Piha Cafe afterwards for a bite to eat. If surfing isn’t your thing, AWOL Adventures run exciting canyoning trips down a series of waterfalls out the back of Piha.
New to West Auckland is family-fun extravaganza Whoa! Studios in Henderson, which features a ground-breaking giant climbing net, hand crafted out of 70 kilometres of coloured nylon by Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi Macadam. You can also visit their film studios to see the behind-the-scenes production of animated movies.
Sailing on the Waitemata Harbour.