Harbour Life: Auckland

The City of Sails shrugs of its reputation as a haven for latte-swilling yuppies with its unique and sophisticated style.

From the sparkling waters of Waitemata Harbour to the wild and invigorating west coast beaches, Auckland is a vibrant hive of activity. Whether you’re an epicure or a nature lover, a culture vulture or an adrenaline junkie, there’s something to float almost every boat in the City of Sails. Auckland’s landscape is dotted with 48 volcanic cones of varying sizes and many of them make for excellent outings. Kayak to Rangitoto Island and hike to the summit - there’s a day well spent - or take the ferry and a four-wheel-drive train if you’re not feeling so energetic. Wander the slopes of Mount Eden’s urban pastureland and enjoy 360-degree views from the summit (as spectacular as the Sky Tower, only cheaper). Or take a stroll around one of Auckland’s largest volcanoes, the magnificent three-crater mountain One Tree Hill. Neighbouring Cornwall Park also deserves some attention thanks to its mature trees, historic buildings, playgrounds and cafe. Less than an hour from Auckland by ferry, Waiheke Island routinely steals people’s hearts with its vineyards, beaches and leisure pursuits.

Once there, hire an electric bike - hands down the best way to get around Waiheke. For additional wind-in-your hair exploits, head to EcoZip Adventures. Its three 200-metre long zip-lines are spectacular. Or simply while away the hours relaxing at Casita Miro with wine and tapas. The Coast to Coast Walkway takes about five hours and is perfect for visitors who want to get off the beaten track. Beginning downtown at Princes Wharf, the 16-kilometre trail winds its way through the city’s streets, parks and a handful of pretty suburbs. Online travel guide BootsnAll voted it one of the world’s top 10 urban walks.

Where to eat

Ostro Brasserie & Bar made waves when it opened because of its inventive and flavoursome food by Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett. Set in an excellent location overlooking the container wharves, it has lavish interiors, and although seafood’s a specialty, everything’s deserving of praise. For something more casual, Siostra, in the cosy suburb of Grey Lynn, is the latest venture from veteran food queens, sisters Esther and Beki Lamb. Try the beetroot, goats’ cheese and freekeh salad or the octopus and chorizo skewers served with ouzo aioli. Coco’s Cantina is the perfect joint for people-watching and being seen, and the staff are a mix of rockabilly and pin-up girls. Casual yet hip, Coco’s serves rustic Italian fare. You’ll need wheels for this one but The Tasting Shed is worth the drive. The overall feeling is rural charm with a classy, imaginative menu that includes dishes such as stingray laksa or lamb neck on buttermilk mash.

Hidden gems

The Basement Theatre has a constantly revolving repertoire of theatre, art and comedy. The drinks are cheap, the atmosphere is lively and there’s always something going on. Newer neighbour Q Theatre, is also worth seeking out. The New Zealand Maritime Museum tells the seafaring stories that shaped the country’s identity. Hear the cannon fire or test your sea legs in the ‘rocking cabin’. You can even get out on the water with regular voyages on the museum’s heritage vessels - help hoist the sails, or just sit back and enjoy the experience.

Suburb spotlight

Fringed with pretty little coves, Herne Bay is home to some of Auckland’s most expensive real estate. Indeed, it’s so appealing that when the Sultan of Brunei stopped in for the APEC Summit in 1999, he snapped up 11 Herne Bay homes. The suburb’s architecture is eclectic and some of the bigger mansions boast pergolas as big as band rotundas. Take a respite from all that househunting with a swim at Sentinel Beach Reserve  (at the bottom of Sentinel Road). And, if coveting other people’s property makes you peckish, Jervois Road will see you right with its extensive range of eateries and bars. Zus & Zo has a great vibe and incredible food. Or, if the sun’s over the yardarm, set course to perennial favourite Andiamo for excellent everything. It’s famous for Auckland’s best Bloody Mary.

Where to stay

Luxe Hotel DeBrett is boutique accommodation at its best. Built in 1841, it has survived fires and retained its charm through two rebuilds. The 25 rooms and spectacular suites have flair, and the bar is legendary (even the carpet is charming).

Boutique Looking out over Oneroa Bay, The Oyster Inn will win you over with its stunning views and super service. With just three rooms, you’ll need to book in advance.

Views Hilton Auckland is designed to resemble the white cruise ships that dock at the adjacent wharf. The restaurants and bars are superb, almost all the rooms have harbour views, and the heated lap pool with a glass panel looking out to the sea is a highlight. 

Living like a local

Actress Robyn Malcolm is a South Islander who became a Wellingtonian and now, after 20 years living in Auckland, an Aucklander. We ask her to share her favourite spots.

Where do you get your kicks? Auckland’s got some of the best restaurants and cafes in the world. I love The Engine Room, Orphans Kitchen and The French Café. Once upon a time, I’d go to SPQR for coffee at 3pm and be having cocktails with the same person at 3am. Apparently it’s still that sort of place, although not for me anymore.

What about low-key fun? It has to the Portland Bar and Kitchen. It is without doubt the best pub in Auckland and I can walk to it. They have classic New Zealand food such as pork and puha, the best ceviche I’ve had in ages and a great selection of beers on tap, served in preserving jars. They have regular unplugged music nights from great local bands.

And coffee? I get mine from Ripe Deli and Kokako.

What are your favourite outdoor pursuits? I love beaches, so Takapuna for rock pools and swimming, a coastal walk to Milford Beach, then back to the Takapuna Beach Café and Store for salted caramel or licorice gelato. Wynyard Quarter and Silo Park, at the waterfront, are also great fun. Then, when it’s time to call it a day, head to Swashbucklers restaurant in Westhaven for the best seafood anywhere in Auckland.

Don't leave without...

...taking to the skies. It’s hard to beat a seaplane for a bird’s-eye view of the glorious Hauraki Gulf. Auckland Seaplanes offers visitors everything from fishing charters and scenic flights to beach picnics.

Take the ferry to Devonport and enjoy its quaint village charm.With boutiques, galleries, eateries and beaches, this historic settlement is a darling. If time’s on your side, visit the Torpedo bay Navy Museum and climb up Mount Victoria or North Head.

The island of Tiritiri Matangi is 75 minutes from Auckland by ferry. The abundant native bush boasts staggering birdlife. Spend a day admiring the flora and fauna, the old lighthouse and, if you are lucky enough to stay overnight, you just might see kiwi and tuatara.

Words by Elisabeth Easther, edited by Rebecca Walker - Published in Voyeur May 2015
Quick Facts 
Population 1.415 million
Area 1,086 km2
Time Zone GMT +12
Languages English (official)
Currency New Zealand dollar (NZD)
Electricity 220 – 240v 50Hz
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