Auckland is a harbor city and New Zealand's largest, sitting at the narrowest part of the North Island and fringed by both the Pacific and the Tasman Sea. While it isn't the country's capital, it often serves as a transient portal for visitors, a stopover point when entering or leaving the country.
Auckland's little brother down south, Wellington, hoards most the credit as the cultural, liveable epicenter - but upon close inspection, Auckland comes a close second. Like any big city, a good deal of a exploring down inviting alleys and glittering side streets will lead you to funky shops, chilled out cafes and fantastic restaurants. New Zealand overflows with small town charm and pastoral gems, but enter the cosmopolitan eyeful that is Auckland, and you'll find all the worldly, the sophisticated gastronomy, the lively entertainment, and the shining cityscape you could crave after a week in the mountains.
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Destination Auckland: Orientation
Auckland city itself has a number of distinctly different feeling neighborhoods - each offering a unique taste of their own. We've summed up the main ones below...
Inner City: The Inner City has vague borders, but represents what we would call the business district. It's a central spot, home to most major hotels and a slew of clubs and attractions. If you are interested in a water based tour of the city, this is where you will leave from. But don't be fooled by the ties and slick briefcases strutting through the lanes, there's an edgy and eclectic side to Inner City if you make it to Vulcan Lane or High Street—a magnet for the high fashion tourist looking for something different.
Ponsonby/Herne Bay: Ponsonby is a distillation of what makes Auckland, Auckland. It's the perfect mix of the sophisticated glamour of New Zealand's young and dazzling, bohemian ethnic food joints, historic architecture, and an array of clubs that fuel the buzzing nightlife. The area is also home to Karangahape Road, or K'Road, famous for the most eccentric, gritty and glitzy spots in town, including an impressive array of body-piercing studios, specialty shops, massage parlors and strip clubs.
Mount Eden/Epsom: Mount Eden is a woody, nostalgic, and well-kept spot. Here old families keep mansions alive and the manicured hills groomed. There is a sprinkling of student apartments as well that patronize the eccentric old shops and trendy restaurants that have popped up in the villages.
Parnell/Newmarket: This suburb is a lively and relatively more expensive spot, featuring a smattering of fine restaurants and bars that hum and glow through the night. It's situated close to attractions of the Inner City, including the Auckland Museum and some lovely parks.
Remuera: Auckland's poshest spot, and a gorgeous spot to walk through as well. Elegant mansions and a special little village full of upscale specialty shops and gourmet food make this a desirable day outing.
Mission Bay/St. Heliers: A little seaside suburb with excellent café's and spots to sit by the water. Good for a half day picnic or lunch if you have a car, but not so central if you plan on seeing much of Auckland.
Devonport/Takapuna: These two neighborhoods offer a host of B&B's and a charming village, just a ferry ride from the Inner City.
The Eastern Suburbs: Another well kept constellation of slow-paced, beachside suburbs.A popular spot if you'd rather lounge seaside rather than flit around sightseeing.
The Greater Auckland Region is actually comprised of four cities— Auckland, Maukau, North Shore and Waitakere.
North Shore City: A comfortably contemporary hub with a casual twist, full of laid back residents with a thing for fresh produce and a slower pace of living.
Central City: More cosmopolitan than the north shore, Central City has a touch of glitz and an ample dose of Eastern aesthetics, atmosphere and expensive Chinese food as a result of a wildly growing Asian population in the wealthy eastern sects.
Waitakere City: Lying to the west, Waitakere is the premiere wine growing spot in this immediate region. Like many spots in New Zealand, as a result of the comparatively late arrival of settlers, residual hints of Eastern European presence in the 1900's still linger visibly.
Manakau City: Manakau is a truly dynamic area, housing vibrant Polynesian, Maori and European traditions, a rich history that lives on in the fabulous ethnic food and architecture of the area.
Destination Auckland: Getting Around
Auckland has a reliable, extensive and intuitive public bus system that can take you to most corners of the city. The City LINK bus is the easiest way to get around, running from Wynard Quarter, all along Queen Street, and up K'Road—making a loop through the most well-traveled routes by tourists. The buses are bright red and run less than every 10 minutes.
Big Little City Rides is a company that operates something like a fancy rickshaw-type transportation. It's eco-friendly and the drivers are a knowledgeable bunch. Inner and Outer Link buses accommodate the suburbs and inner city, refer to city guides for maps and timetables. Of course mid-priced cabs are readily available, as are rental cars, and trains from Britomart can bring you to areas outside of Auckland frequently and cheaply. But the bus will get you most places for the least amount of money.
The Airbus runs from the Airport to Auckland's CBD every ten minutes for NZ $16. Naturally, to get the best sense of the city and increase chances of stumbling on magical nooks, we recommend walking if you have the time and energy. It's nice to see what you came to see, but chancing upon the unexpected often makes a trip worthwhile.
Destination Auckland: Hot Spots
In typical New Zealand style, there are no shortage of terrific walking opportunities in and around the city. Outside of that, look forward to funky cafes, white-sand beaches, a hopping nightlife scene and the might All Blacks.
No one comes to New Zealand to hibernate in the cities. The country has some of the world's most spectacularly soul-tingling landscapes, and you never have to go far to find them. Right outside of Auckland, you'll find the Waitakere Ranges Regional park along the western coastline. The treks inside the park vary from ten minute strolls to multi-day excursions, coursing through mountains and carving through river valleys. If you have time, check out one of the famous black sand beaches—the stunning mélange of volcanic ash and ground marine coral and rock.
Rugby is the lifeblood that runs in the sporting veins of New Zealand. The All Blacks' flag—a silver fern on a black background—papers most flag poles in the country, and the country's pulse halts for larger games, as loyal fans hang on to every play in pubs and homes alike.
Even if you are not a rabid sports fan, experiencing a rugby fame in a sea of painted, frenzied Kiwis is as much a cultural immersion as surfing in Raglan or fishing crayfish off the West Coast. And Eden Park is an impressive venue to break in your rugby chops. Just be sure to wear the right colors or you might incite an angry mob!
As part of the Pacific's “Ring of Fire,” New Zealand's landscape is scattered with active and extinct volcanoes, many of which are readily climbable. Mount Eden, is 196 metres high and stands as the highest volcano on the Auckland isthmus; it's able to be summited by foot or car for stunning views over the city and harbor.
The volcano features three craters, surrounded by lush parkland ideal for traipsing and easy-paced exploring. If you are a volcano junkie, there are plenty of others to be conquered all around Auckland. Consider these: Rangitoto Island, One Tree Hill, North Head, and Mangere Mountain.
When you need to break loose from Auckland's crowds and towering fields of buildings head north to a quaint and scenic marine reserve called Goat Island. New Zealand's coast is peppered with small, uninhabited islands that make for perfect one day or weekend escapes when cramped city visits grow stale. Goat Island offers adventures both above and below water, from snorkeling to tours on glass bottomed boats, and sunset gourmet pizzas and beer at a beachside café. This corner has been a highly spiritual place for the Maori for centuries, but you'll have to come to find out why.
New Zealand famous Waiheke Island is just a 35 minute ferry from downtown Auckland. Waiheke truly has everything: vineyards, rolling farmland and stunning beaches.
The island is plenty more crowded than others, but for a reason. If you're in the mood for a wine tasting excursion and don't mind hoards of other enthusiasts, this is a great option. Crowds in such beautiful places can often add a lot of energy to the atmosphere. For active types, there is plenty of mountain biking and water sporting, as well as golden sand beaches and art galleries for the more contemplative folks.
Destination Auckland: Final Thoughts & Recommendations.
Sample Auckland's Fantastic Food Scene on a Culinary Tour...
If you can, we suggest opening your wallet a little to the breadth of quality restaurants in Auckland. Not normally pegged as a culinary capital of the world, Auckland hoards a good deal of the best and most innovative chefs you'll find anywhere.
Peter Gordon, an iconic kiwi chef, has set up a tapas bar as well as his acclaimed restaurant “'Dine' by Peter Gordon” in the SkyCity Grand Hotel. The tapas bar is called “Belotta,” and boasts the best selection of ports, Spanish wines and basque cheeses that you'll find in the South Pacific. Also worth a visit is Depot, an outstanding and unpretentious new project by Al Brown that features thoughtful and complex regional foods and quality quirks like Central Otago pinot on tap. Once you're in the right area, take a walk around and you'll find a row of mid to upscale gems. Just follow your nose.
Explore the Funky K'Road...
It's easy to have a fine and classy time in Auckland—enjoying local wine to sunsets over the harbor, touring old mansions and exploring Maori Heritage—but there is another kind of cultural center in Auckland. Karangahape Road.
The stretch is known for its eclectic boutiques, progressive performance art, quality ethnic food, edgy shopping, gay nightlife and all the bohemian thrill that comes from a heritage as a red light district. The K'Road used to be quite genuinely bizarre, eccentric and somewhat dangerous, but doses of tourist money and more exposure have brought about a gentrification that has made is a slightly milder and safer place, palatable for foreigners but still a daring and ever-changing spot to be if you find the right places.
K'Road - much like Auckland itself - is bound to surprise and delight if you keep yourself open and curious.