Many years ago, a classic New Zealand Tourist & Publicity Board campaign urged New Zealanders, “Don’t leave town until you’ve seen the country.”
The campaign was designed to encourage Kiwis to tour New Zealand before they see the world. After spending a world-class weekend break in Auckland, perhaps this should be updated to “Don’t leave town until you’ve seen the city” – one of sails, volcanoes and a vibrant, cosmopolitan mix of locals and visitors.
There’s plenty happening in the heart of the city, so it makes sense to base yourself here during your visit, as so much is within easy walking distance. Spend Friday evening settling in and then stroll to find dinner virtually on your hotel’s doorstep.
For dinner and a show, try The Foodstore’s live food entertainment experience, where you can watch the chefs preparing your meal on the big screen. The food is just as memorable, with a focus on fresh and organic New Zealand produce from local farmers and artisan producers.
Rise and shine on Saturday with a substantial breakfast at a downtown café. “The Shaky Isles” was the name Australians gave to New Zealand. Shaky Isles, however, is a bustling café in the revitalised Britomart Precinct, where you can enjoy free Wi-Fi and an ever-changing witty menu that stars (individually) pikelets, sardines on ciabatta bread and pink grapefruit with vanilla sugar. Shaky Isles is perhaps best known for its Whittaker’s mochaccino: Coffee served latte style, “stirred” with a dark chocolate santé bar. This pairs beautifully with the sweet treats on display in the cabinet.
After that degree of indulgence, you may or may not feel the need to do something active. It’s just a short walk to the ExploreNZ kiosk in the heart of the Viaduct, to buy tickets for SailNZ, a unique opportunity to be part of the crew on an ex-America’s Cup yacht. Take the helm or join the grinders, as you skim across the sparkling waters of the Waitemata Harbour.
Saturday night dinner is best served with plenty of character, so where better to dine than the quirky Sunday Painters on Ponsonby Road? It’s small, but exquisite French bistro-style menu is almost as comfortably delicious as the décor, with its colourful upholstered seating, and walls painted a tranquil green. For something extra special, try the goat cheese soufflé with baby Chioggia beetroots and roast grapes.
Now that you are oriented with the city, Sunday is a day to venture a little further afield. Just 40 minutes across the water from downtown is Waiheke – dubbed “The Island of Wine”. But as well as boasting some of the country’s best vineyards, it is becoming a hub for a gentler sort of adventure tourism and outdoor activities that showcase the Island’s beautiful bush and beaches.
Perched atop Trig Hill (the highest point on the Island) EcoZip Adventures offers state-of-the-art flying fox ziplines and an eco-immersive forest walk back to headquarters. As they say, the activity is for nature lovers aged 8 to 88. If you prefer the water to the treetops, Waiheke Board Riders operates from both Oneroa and Onetangi beaches and specialises in stand up paddleboards, with comprehensive lessons for the uninitiated.
Of course, after that mild exertion and fresh air, you will have worked up a bit of an appetite – and with a wealth of dining options on Waiheke, you’re in luck.
The Oyster Inn in Oneroa is a relative newcomer that has quickly earned a reputation for delicious, unfussy food and a well-edited wine list. The Inn also features three bright and airy guest rooms. This is not a suitable spot for spontaneity, however, as advance bookings for the restaurant and guest rooms are essential. The Waiheke Wine website has information about dining facilities on many vineyards. Or join a Waiheke Island Wine Tour to sample some of the finest local vintages.
With public transport improving constantly, and shared space revitalising the walkability of downtown, you can have a wonderful holiday in the city without a car.
• Catch a ferry from downtown to historic Devonport or beautiful Waiheke Island.
• There are three types of Link Bus, each looping around the city and inner suburbs.
• Trains from the Britomart transport hub deliver you to Newmarket shopping and beyond.
A brief guide to Auckland’s central precincts
This newly revitalised, architecturally diverse neighbourhood is filled with fashionable shopping and global cuisine.
Stroll or cycle over the Wynyard Crossing bridge from the Viaduct Harbour. Hop on a restored 1920s heritage tram or simply enjoy good food (like the quintessential fish and chips from the Auckland Fish Market) and events.
Elegant antiques, ladies lunching and strip of galleries, design boutiques and cafes meandering up genteel Parnell Road.
This rather bohemian enclave offers ccontemporary art galleries, vintage clothing and a wide variety of cuisine, as well as late nights.
This hip strip runs the gamut of independent retail. Visit Ponsonby Central for casual ethnic dining or tasty picnic ingredients.
Where to sleep
It’s easy to find a place to lay your head (and shopping bags). Here are a few that tripadvisor.com rates highly.
This 5 star hotel – close to the Viaduct and Britomart Precinct – boasts a blissfully calm, award-winning spa; perfect for a soothing couples massage.
With its timeless luxury, The Langham is also a short stroll from the Auckland Domain, where you’ll find the excellent Auckland War Memorial Museum.
This welcoming boutique gem in the heart of the city offers hosted pre-dinner drinks, colourful décor and decadent local bath products.
Sitting between Wynyard Quarter and the Viaduct, this hotel offers panoramic views of Waitemata Harbour, just perfect for boaties of all stripes.