Washed by South Pacific squalls and some of cleanest waters on the planet, Auckland is an invigorating and sophisticated oceanic outpost.
It commands a wide, north-facing expanse of shoreline lapped by the waves of Waitemata Harbour and looking out to the Hauraki Gulf and its idyllic islets.
It’s hard to stroll around Auckland, experience its natural beauty, sail on its waters and taste its amazing food without feeling just a tad jealous of its inhabitants.
Friday Evening: Get acquainted with an evening stroll around the city centre and the harbour-front area. There are several wharves and an abundance of restaurants so you can grab anything from a gourmet supper to fish+chips and a Monteith’s beer. It’s also a good chance to check out the different harbour cruise companies and book one in advance for tomorrow.
Saturday AM: Take a harbour cruise to see Auckland as many locals believe it should be seen – from the water. There are numerous ones included on www.aucklandnz.com. One suggestion is a cruise to Rangitoto, the 600-year-old volcano island from whose summit there are terrific panoramic views (www.fullers.co.nz). The entire trip takes 4-5 hours and, for early risers, there’s a Saturday Early Bird outbound ferry at 7.30am. Another option is to take a cruise that goes in search of some of Waitemata Harbour’s famous wildlife. Dolphins can be seen year-round but if it’s orcas you want try April-October, and for migrating whales March and April, and August and September.
Saturday PM: Grab a quick post-oceanic bite in Britomart (see Eat section) and head for Ponsonby Road, which is a bit of a shopping mecca and a great place to pick up some NZ designer fashion. Start at the northern end of this long road and make your way south. Up at that northern end is the Carly Harris boutique (www.carlyharris.com), which is a good place to start; Carly is a Kiwi designer who has recently been creating women’s tops inspired by vivid Japanese prints. Ponsonby Road runs along a ridge so look out for good views between the buildings. There is also a host of small cafes, coffee roasters and places for light lunches.
Saturday Evening: Three options. If you didn’t take a cruise during the day, maybe you’d like to take an evening boat trip to watch the sun set and the city lighting itself up. Or, embark on a sky-high adventure up the famous Sky Tower, the tallest building in town (last tickets sold at 9.30pm in winter, 10pm summer). I confess I have not scaled its dizzy heights but I am assured that the views are stunning and that there’s a revolving restaurant up there. And, should you feel inclined, you can bungee-jump off the top although; not recommended after a big meal!
The third option is on terra firma: head for the Britomart district near the harbour-front, a chic shopping precinct with one or two good (if expensive) bars and a gastronomic gem called Ortolana. You can’t book so you have to turn up and put your name down for a table, then wander off and window-shop or have a drink until they call you; or you can wait on stools at the front of the restaurant. The owners have a small farm just outside Auckland where all the produce comes from, so super-fresh! The food and service were so good that my wife and I ate there two nights in a row. The snapper with pancetta vinaigrette was a standout dish.
Sunday: Get your boots on and tramp part of the Coast-to-Coast Walkway. The whole walk is 16km, which might be demanding for a Sunday morning, but you can do as much as you like. The walk begins in the city centre on the harbour and the first section goes along the waterfront, then inland to Albert Park and the university. It crosses a gully to reach the native forest and gardens of the Auckland Domain and on to the summit of Maunga-whau (Mount Eden) with great views (more info: www.newzealand.com/uk/feature/coast-to-coast-walk/).
Got more time? If you’re taking a longer break and not flying home until Monday, then hire a car and take a day-trip south and then east to the magical Coromandel Peninsula. It’s a leisurely three-hour drive to the small town of Coromandel. The scenery en route is beautiful, and driving the twisting, turning roads of the peninsula itself is a thrill. The roads wind through tree-fern groves and offer dramatic views over the stunning northern and eastern coastlines. If you’re making an early start, you may have time to join a kayak trip from the village of Hahei with Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours.
L’Assiette, a cute French patisserie and bistro on Britomart Place. The breakfast crepe with dark chocolate and orange is superb. It’s perfect for brunch (especially on a Sunday) and but they also do evening menus on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Britomart precinct scores well again, offering a few popular bars, and pick of which is probably the funky Tyler Street Garage, which has got a cool, urban New York City (Chelsea) feel to it.
For something completely different, try Sabrage at the Sofitel Viaduct Harbour, which has been designed like a Parisian bar (although a lot cleaner). It’s usually quieter than the city centre pubs and offers French champagne by the glass.
Carly Harris, 269 Ponsonby Road for women’s fashion.
Masterworks Gallery, 77 Ponsonby Road for art, sculpture and jewellery.
Redcurrent, 63 Ponsonby Road for homewares and candles.
WORLD, 60 Tyler Street, Britomart for possibly the most eclectic mix of fashion, perfume and oddments in the city.