Photo by James Garman courtesy of Unsplash
Photo by Henry McIntosh, Unsplash
Auckland has lots of sophisticated urban appeal, as well as waterfront brewpubs and cozy bookstores to explore.
New Zealand’s biggest city, set off by the sparkling Pacific waters of the surrounding harbors, offers distinctive neighborhoods busy with shops, cafés, and restaurants. Step off the normal tourist track to experience Auckland like a local.
Framed by two natural harbors and nestled amid the folds of a distinctive volcanic landscape, the diverse neighborhoods of New Zealand’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city offer an easy-to-love combination of fantastic eating and drinking, active adventures both on and off the water, and access to the country’s indigenous Māori culture.
Punctuated by the soaring Sky Tower—the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere—Auckland’s compact central city is evidence that adventure sports are truly part of New Zealand’s DNA. Options to scare yourself silly while enjoying harbor views include the SkyJump, a thrilling 11-second bungee jump from the tower’s observation deck, or the SkyWalk, which involves negotiating a circular 4-foot-wide (1.2 meter) walking path around its rim at a height of 630 feet (192 meters). Ease that Auckland adrenaline buzz with a measured stroll through the Auckland Art Gallery to get acquainted with the excellent New Zealand collection. Highlights include the bold text-inscribed landscapes of Colin McCahon and the poignant 19th-century portraits of Māori people by Charles Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer. Energizing the central city’s growing reputation for great cuisine are modern shared plates at Culprit and fine dining at the Grove.
A short walk north of the central city, the revitalized warehouses and laneways of the Britomart precinct host eating, drinking, and shopping. Stop in at Giapo, an installation in which you experience art through the medium of ice cream (!!) to sample the wares. Then check out fashion, accessories, and housewares from New Zealand designers Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester. The spectacular display of produce and local goods at the Saturday morning French-accented farmers’ market, La Cigale in Takutai Square, hints at the area’s growing foodie credentials. Those credentials are backed up by Britomart area restaurants—try the Italian flavors at Amano and Japanese cuisine at Ebisu. A block away, Maori Kitchen serves modern spins on food steamed in a Māori hāngi, a traditional earth oven.
Auckland’s Ferry Building in Britomart provides transport to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Just 40 minutes away, Waiheke Island has the allure of spectacular coves and vineyard restaurants with southern European charm thanks to the island’s Mediterranean microclimate.
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Developed following New Zealand’s victories in the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cup yachting events, the superyachts occasionally basking in the Viaduct’s compact marina are surrounded by good restaurants—try the excellent Korean-Japanese fusion flavors at Hello Beasty. To get in on some exciting America’s Cup–style match racing on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, sign up for a sail with Explore. Or try a charming low-tech sailing experience on the 1923-vintage ketch Ted Ashby, bookable at the nearby New Zealand Maritime Museum. A visit to this water-focused city should probably include a view of the skyline from the water after all.
Across the Te Wero Island Bridge, the historic marine warehouses of the Wynyard Harbour are now home to popular bars and eateries. Try Good George North Wharf for waterfront craft beers, and the nearby Auckland Fish Market—which reopened in 2019—for some grazing at its upscale, seafood-focused food court.
For sky-high harbor views and airborne adventures to Waiheke Island, check out Auckland Seaplanes’ harborfront mooring.
Because it’s convenient to both central Auckland and the harborfront, Ponsonby makes a good place to stay when visiting the city: A few of the area’s lovely 19th-century wooden villas have been revitalized as luxury bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Another selling point is the heritage shopfronts along Ponsonby Road that house some of the city’s best cafés, bars, and restaurants. Favorites include Azabu, where New Zealand seafood gets a Peruvian-Japanese Nikkei makeover, and Sidart, for fine dining with an Indian accent (book ahead for chef Sid Sahrawat’s Discovery menu, one of Auckland’s most exciting dining experiences). For the neighborhood’s widest range of eating and drinking options, wander the laneways of Ponsonby Central. Indecisive travelers may have trouble choosing among Venezuelan street food, delicious salads, and rotisserie chicken, or Auckland’s tastiest burgers, but they definitely won’t go hungry.
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The bohemian and relaxed sibling to Ponsonby’s increasingly tony vibe, Karangahape Road—“K Road” (or K Rd) in local parlance—is also where young chefs and entrepreneurs have migrated for the (slightly) cheaper rents. Bar Celeste’s take on the neo-bistro movement of Paris pairs a seasonal menu that often changes daily with the city’s best selection of natural wines, while the spinach and goat cheese dumplings at the exuberant Cotto are deservedly lauded.
Some of the city’s best contemporary galleries and artists’ studios are in K Road, as well as in nearby Ponsonby and Newton. To find your way around, download the art map from www.kroad.com and go exploring.
You can also find good vintage shopping and colorful street art at the hip Cross St. Market, while St. Kevins Arcade, a passageway of shops on Karangahape Road, combines interesting independent retailers with more good eating and drinking. This neighborhood gives you the opportunity to catch some local performances: St. Kevins’ Whammy Bar and the Wine Cellar both host Auckland’s best indie bands, and the eclectic gig list at Neck of the Woods could include spoken word, Polynesian-infused hip-hop or touring bands from the United States and Australia. If you’re shopping for souvenirs with a cool Auckland vibe, Flying Out is your answer: The compact shop’s inventory includes lots of local music on CD and vinyl.
Anchored by the leviathan bulk of Mount Eden (one of the many extinct volcanic cones that punctuate Auckland’s skyline), the adjoining neighborhoods of Mt. Eden and Kingsland combine historic residential areas with good eating, drinking, and shopping. Take the 15-minute uphill stroll to Mount Eden’s grassy summit for excellent views of the Waitemata and Manukau harbors framing Auckland’s narrow isthmus. (Stop en route at Whau for innovative café fare influenced by traditional Māori cuisine.) Amid the late-19th-century shopfronts of Mt. Eden village, Time Out Bookstore has an extensive selection of books by New Zealand authors.
It’s a short Uber ride over to more free-spirited Kingsland, where you can browse for unique designs crafted from New Zealand pounamu (greenstone) at the Royal Jewellery Studio and then taste Auckland’s best cold brew at Atomic Coffee Roasters. For something stronger before seeing the Auckland Blues Super rugby team at nearby Eden Park, adjourn to the beer garden at Holy Hop.
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