1. Waiheke Island
Spend a day on Waiheke Island, just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, and you’ll probably end up planning a permanent move there. Fringed by 100 gorgeous white-sand beaches, it has a warm and breezy microclimate, making it the perfect home for 30 wineries and fledgling olive groves. For vinophiles eager to sample, it’s probably best to book a reasonably priced Ananda Tour (ananda.co.nz), highlights of which include visits to the award-winning Obsidian and Mudbrick vineyards. There’s a distinctly bohemian spirit to the island, which, having been ruled by its artist and artisan residents since the 1960s, has become a gallery-rich art destination.
2. Hauraki Gulf
Hauraki Gulf, home of Waiheke Island, is studded with small islands and is a fantastic cruising area. It’s home to more than 1 million hectares of sheltered, sparkling-blue waters teeming with resident pods of whales and playful dolphins. Bird enthusiasts won’t be disappointed – penguins, terns, shearwaters and petrels are common sights.
3. Rangitoto Island
The graceful volcanic cone of Rangitoto Island is an essential Auckland landmark. Its unique volcanic landscape is only 600 years old, and includes explorer-ready lava caves, shipwrecks and a spectacular crater rim. Catch a Fullers ferry from Auckland’s waterfront and explore the island either on foot or on the quirky four-wheel-drive road train. For the more intrepid traveller, Fergs Kayaks offers six-hour twilight kayaking trips to Rangitoto, which include a trek to the summit – $185 including all gear and catering. fergskayaks.co.nz.
4. Viaduct Harbour
No trip to the City of Sails, as Auckland is known, would be complete without a visit to this waterfront precinct in the heart of the city. Twenty years ago it was a scruffy collection of rustic fishing boats and warehouses but, following New Zealand’s victory in the America’s Cup yacht race in 1995, the precinct has been transformed. Now more than 30 bars and restaurants line a marina crammed with yachts and launches. The area is the site of the new Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour hotel, which has panoramic views over Waitemata Harbour. It’s one of the swankiest hotels in town, but the real drawcard has to be the Sabrage champagne bar, where guests can experience the heady joy of lopping the top off a bottle of Perrier Jouet champagne with a sword. 21 Viaduct Harbour Avenue. sofitel.com.
5. Waitakere Ranges
Covering 28 square kilometres of hauntingly beautiful native forest, rivers and beaches along the western coastline of Auckland, the Waitakere Ranges offer more than 250 kilometres of walking tracks – from 10-minute strolls to multi-day hikes over mountains, through river valleys, past waterfalls and kauri trees, and along wild deserted beaches. The best place to start is at the Arataki Visitor Centre, 25 minutes’ drive from Auckland’s centre, where you can stock up on maps and advice.
6. La Cigale
There’s a palpable sense of joie de vivre pulsing through the veins of this French provincial-style farmers’ market, which runs every Saturday and Sunday morning in Parnell. Seasonal fresh fruit and veg, fresh-baked artisan bread and French pastries, cheese from the fromagerie, home-made preserves and confiseries, freshly brewed coffee – the list of delectable treats goes on. There’s a smattering of French antiques and clothes, and a little Parisian-style cafe, complete with wicker chairs and red gingham tablecloths. lacigale.co.nz.
7. Sky Tower
It’s the tallest man-made structure in the country, at 328 metres, and the best place to take in 360-degree views of one of the world’s great harbour cities. The only better view is from the ground, watching thrill seekers leap from the tower’s 192-metre SkyJump, the highest tethered jump in the country, or inch their way around the observation decks on the SkyWalk. Sky Tower has a few restaurants and bars to choose from (Orbit slowly rotates while you enjoy your meal), not to mention the buzzing SkyCity casino. $28 entry fee. skycityauckland.co.nz.
8. Ponsonby Road
One of the hippest neighbourhood villages in Auckland, Ponsonby is a hub of dining, drinking, shopping and gallery-hopping. Ponsonby Social Club is one of the best bars in the city – think live music, DJs and swanky cocktails – and has a Sunday grill that’s a terrific way to wind down (ponsonbysocialclub.com). At Chapel, hot hipsters drink and jive along to a soundtrack of 1970s hits, and deer antlers and vintage Playboy covers line the walls. Be quick to snare the pick of the cool collectables, vintage and retro trinkets, designer clothes and handmade jewellery at the outdoor community-based Ponsonby Road Market.
While Queenstown is often seen as New Zealand’s adventure hub, cosmopolitan Auckland also has its fair share of adrenalin-pumping activities. Aside from the aforementioned SkyJump, there’s canyoning on the west coast, bungy jumping 47 metres off the iconic Auckland harbour bridge, scenic helicopter rides across the city with Inflite scenic tours and private charter, or tours on the back of a Harley-Davidson.
Auckland is unique in that it straddles two coasts, with calm, white-sand beaches on the Pacific Ocean on the east coast and wild, black-sand wilderness on the Tasman Sea to the west. Both are picturesque, but for something different go west to the black-sand beaches with their pounding waves, brooding skies, dramatic cliffs, high rugged dunes and native bush. Karekare, where The Piano was filmed, is at its best on windy, cloudy days when the surf is churning.
11. Coast to Coast Walkway
Auckland’s 16-kilometre Coast to Coast trail links Viaduct Harbour on the east coast to Manukau Harbour on the west, cutting a path through sights including Auckland Museum, Auckland Domain (an area of parkland covering 80 hectares) and Cornwall Park (worth visiting for the high tea at the Cornwall Park Restaurant) on the way. Pick up a map from the tourist information centre and consider taking the bus back.
A visit to Auckland isn’t complete without a trek up at least one of its 53 volcanic peaks. The two most popular are Mount Eden near the central business district (the tallest and with the most impressive crater and great views of the city), and One Tree Hill, which was one of the largest Maori settlement complexes in the country. A drive or walk to the 182-metre-high peak offers amazing 360-degree views over the city.
13. Art Gallery
If you want to learn the history of Auckland, the newly developed Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tamaki, is the place to do it. The gallery houses more than 15,000 works in its national and international collections, which show art through the ages since colonial times, and as a result tells the history of the country. Toi o Tamaki hosts a huge variety of exhibitions and activities, and the new auditorium features some great documentaries and talks. aucklandartgallery.com.
14. Hobbiton Day Trip
Hobbiton, the film set used in the Lord of the Rings movies, is on private farmland near Matamata, a two-hour drive south of Auckland. It’s a fantastical wonderland that includes a restaurant and function centre named The Green Dragon after the inn frequented by the Hobbits, as well as 44 “Hobbit holes”, the grass-covered mini-houses they inhabited.
15. America’s Cup Yachting
Prince William did it when he was in the City of Sails, so why shouldn’t you? Sail a former America’s Cup yacht, that is. If hoisting the sails seems a tad too energetic, you can opt to sit back, let others do the work for you and enjoy the sights of Waitemata Harbour. $160 for two hours with Sail NZ. explorenz.co.nz/sailnz.
16. Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World
If you’ve got littlies, this will be at the top of your list. Marine explorer Kelly Tarlton’s aquatic wonderland, built in the mid-1980s on the waterfront at Ohaku Bay, recently had a $5.5 million upgrade and now includes 30 live-animal exhibits and the world’s largest Antarctic penguin colony display, which you can ride a snowmobile through. Other highlights include Seahorse Kingdom, featuring the world’s only display of spiny sea dragons, and the Shark Dive Xtreme. kellytarltons.co.nz.
The dining scene in Auckland has really come into its own in recent years, and the bustling Britomart precinct is leading the way. Cafe Hanoi (casual dining in an impressive high-ceilinged dining room, with food inspired by the Vietnamese street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants of Hanoi’s Old Quarter), the Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar (an unpretentious bistro with a buzzing energy, friendly service and informal but top-notch Kiwiana fare) and Everybody’s Bar & Bistro (set in the glamorously decayed remnants of a 200-year-old cinema with plush booth seating, a relaxed lounge atmosphere and great casual bistro eating – New York-style), are all highlights.
18. Auckland Museum
What’s a trip to New Zealand without a haka performance? Catch this ancient tongue-poking, skin-slapping dance, traditionally used to prepare a war party for battle, during the daily Maori cultural performance at the Auckland Museum. The performance is followed by a tour of the Maori gallery, which houses the world’s largest collection of taonga (Maori ancestral treasures), including carvings, weapons and an imposing canoe custom-made for 100 warriors. And if you’re game enough to witness what could happen if Rangitoto ever erupted, check out the “volcano eruption room” in the museum’s Volcanoes Gallery. Maori cultural performance $25 a person; entry to the museum is by a $10 donation for non-Aucklanders.
19. Shopaholic treats
For high fashion, stroll along O’Connell Street and High Street, home to designer stores, including that of New Zealand’s Karen Walker. Parnell is where you’ll find interesting speciality stores. Craft, vintage and market stalls are popping up all over the city, from galleries such as Ponsonby’s ObjectSpace to Kingsland’s Crafternoon Tea, a monthly showcase for artisans and the best place to find home-made treasures on the third Saturday of the month, corner of Sandringham and New North roads.
20. Auckland City Heritage Walk
Guided Maori heritage walks are a terrific way to explore the city’s history. About four hours, including a picnic lunch. aucklandnz.com.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of Accor Hotels.