Katie Miller gives us her ideal tour of the ‘city of sails’… New Zealand’s largest city is beautifully situated on the Hauraki Gulf. For many, a trip to New Zealand is all about exploring the (admittedly stunning) great outdoors, but this city is certainly worth at least a few days of your time as there is much to discover, perhaps more than you thought. Most travellers head straight to the downtown area, but Queen Street itself doesn’t showcase Auckland at its best, and there are alternative ways to obtain a good view that don’t involve a substantial fee to reach the top of the Skytower. Nonetheless there are areas surrounding Queen Street and the waterfront that make for a perfect day out.
Head first for a stroll around the Viaduct and admire the super yachts, but when you feel peckish walk over the new pedestrian bridge to the trendy Wynyard Quarter for a choice of nicer eateries along the waterfront. Our pick was Jack Tar, a renovated wharf shed right on the Waitemata Harbour serving delicious lunches. On summer weekends, the nearby Silo Markets offer a mix of food stalls, vintage clothing and contemporary artists. Heading back towards downtown, if you started your day early you’ll have plenty of time for a trip across the water to Devonport Village. The ferry from the downtown terminal at the foot of Queen Street only takes ten minutes and it’s a great way to get a glimpse of Auckland from the water. Devonport is home to plenty of historic buildings and villas as well as some lovely small beaches, plus it is overflowing with quaint shops and great cafes. A highlight of a trip here is the climb up to Mount Victoria lookout which affords stunning views of Auckland and the harbour; the walk generally takes about ten to twenty minutes.
Back in town, the Britomart area on the opposite side of Queen Street is a vibrant district of fashionable shops, art spaces, restaurants and bars. Surrounded by heritage buildings it’s a buzzing neighbourhood especially in the evenings. Our favourites include The Northern Steamship Co for an evening drink, or the waterfront Tyler Street Garage for dinner and a glass of wine (or two) – you’ll find a nice roof terrace here. Or try Mexico at 23 Britomart Place for totally fabulous quesadillas and burritos – and of course tequila! Earlier in the day, the Shakey Isles Cafe on Customs Street East is great for either coffee or brunch, or you might want to catch the weekly Farmers Market on a saturday.
A trip to Rangitoto Island is another reason to linger a little longer in the city. Rangitoto is one of Auckland’s iconic landmarks, a dormant volcano rising out of the Hauraki Gulf. It is a pest free island providing a sanctuary for wildlife and a home for the country’s largest Pohutekawa forest. The ferry journey takes approximately 25 minutes from downtown, and allows fabulous views of the Auckland skyline. Departures are in the morning only. There are some ten or so short and long walks around the island and magnificent views from the summit – the climb is not taxing and takes about 45 minutes, plus another 15 to walk around the crater. Don’t forget to take your own water and refreshments, as there are none available on the island.
The evening can be pleasantly passed in Ponsonby, one of Auckland’s most sought after suburbs which straddles a ridge just a 30 minute walk uphill from downtown (there is a bus!). Ponsonby Road with its long string of cafes, shops, bars and eateries also makes a good place to stay overnight. Locals can always be found enjoying a glass of wine after work at the lovely Chapel Bar, and we also loved the cosy little wine bar Bonita on the corner of Summer Street and Ponsonby Road. Prego is a fabulous and good value Italian restaurant that consistently serves delicious food with great service; their outdoor terrace is perfect in summer. Ponsonby Road Bistro is also a hit and around the corner on Jervois Road you’ll find Didas, a fabulous wine and tapas bar (there is another branch on Wellesley Street West, closer to downtown).
If it is more shopping you are after, you can easily while away an afternoon or longer amongst the mix of boutiques and high street favourites of Newmarket, a five minute train ride from the Britomart transport centre. There are also some great stores selling kiwiana and classy souvenirs here, especially around Teed Street. When your feet get sore, both Teed Street Cafe and Zarbo on Morrow Street offer excellent pit stops. A short walk from Newmarket will then bring you to Parnell Village, often referred to as Auckland’s oldest suburb, since it dates from the earliest days of European settlement in 1841. Today it is an upmarket shopping area with a plethora of heritage buildings. You’ll also find a number of boutique art galleries here, while just a stone’s throw away, at the heart of The Domain, Auckland’s oldest park, lies the fantastic Auckland Museum and War Memorial. Its excellent collections concentrate on New Zealand history and natural history. The Domain itself is a beautiful space for some well-earned rest and relaxation on a sunny day.
For those keen on culture, the Auckland Art Gallery on the corner of Kitchener and Wellesley Streets is home to the most extensive collection of national and international art in New Zealand, and frequently hosts travelling international exhibitions. The newly developed galleries reopened in 2011 after extensive expansion and restoration and last year the World Architecture Festival named it ‘Building of the Year’.
For others, a trip to Waiheke Island will be on the not-to-miss list; for us it is the jewel in Auckland’s crown. Just a 35 minute ferry ride from downtown, Waiheke is a picturesque blend of forest, beaches, vineyards and olive groves with an international reputation for food and arts. It is worth an overnight stay as opportunities for outdoor activities abound, from mountain biking to swimming and stand up paddle boarding, but if you only have a day, don’t miss a stroll along one of the beautiful beaches: Oneroa is the most accessible, being the nearest to the ferry terminal at Matiatia, and is close to the array of cafes, restaurants and gift shops of Oneroa Village. Palm Beach is beautiful, affording views out to the Coromandel Peninsular on a clear day, and you’ll find a great fish and chips shop here. Onetangi Beach is a long, stunning stretch of white sand where you’ll also find the beachfront Charley Farleys, a great spot for a beer or a coffee or even dinner, overlooking the ocean. All three beaches are linked by the island’s bus service. However, these days Waiheke is most famous for its fabulous wineries; the only problem you’ll have is choosing which one(s) to choose for a tasting – or for dinner. Our favourites include Cable Bay, a modern winery in a beautiful spot not far from Matiatia with gorgeous views of the Gulf and the distant city skyline. Mudbrick is also very special, with lovely gardens and great wine tastings. Te Whau is further from the ferry terminal towards Rocky Bay but worth the trip. The views are spectacular and it is a very special place for either lunch or dinner; both the food and the service here are exquisite. Another option for trying local wines is the Man O War tasting room at the opposite end of the island, although you’ll need a car to reach it. A colonial style tasting room on the waters edge offers free tastings or wine by the glass (or bottle!) as well as platters. You can also picnic using the free barbeques nearby. Whichever winery you choose, sipping a glass of Sauvingon Blanc or Syrah as the sun goes down, you’ll feel life can’t get much better. In fact with the Waiheke Island of Wine Vintage Festival taking place from 29th March to 6th April, there’s no better time to go! Katie Miller
Useful websites for planning a trip to Auckland: www.aucklandnz.com, www.waihekewines.co.nz, www.waihekeauckland.nz, www.iloveponsonby.co.nz, www.wynyard-quarter.co.nz, www.aucklandmuseum.com, www.aucklandartgallery.com