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Travel to Auckland

 
 

The Auckland Plan

20 February 2016

From cool urban districts to lush rolling greenery, perfect surf to some of the best beaches on Earth, New Zealand’s largest city is more than worth the trip.

As recently as ten years ago, Auckland as a destination simply wasn’t a viable option – at least not for much of the globe, and certainly not as a one-destination trip. It was just too far and too expensive. Then technology changed and long-haul flights altered the way we travelled. While rising oil prices dented that enthusiasm, it would never affect the long-terms plan and now, the advent of ultra-long haul flights is changing the way we see the world once again, bringing cities closer than every before. None more so than Auckland.

New Zealand’s largest city is a city with a plan – the Auckland Plan to be exact. A strategy put into action in 2012, it aims to address everything from employment to education, housing to the environment all in an ambitious bid to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city by 2040.

It’s clearly a strategy that’s slowly paying off too, as it rises through the rankings incrementally each year (third in the 2015 Best Quality of Life survey by Mercer – behind Vienna and Zurich, ninth in the 140 Most Liveable Cities in the World by the Economist).

THE GREAT OUTDOORS 

Sprawling across two harbours, the Waitemata and the Manukau, Auckland is surrounded by countless beaches and dotted with islands in the Hauraki Gulf. It’s home to one third of New Zealand’s population and traffic issues like those of other major first world cities are now the norm.

But while the residents groan under their city’s soaring popularity, visitors make for places like the west coast beaches of Piha, Muriwai and Bethells, which are laid in black sand so soft it feels like walking on velvet. The locals know to wear footwear in the heat of the day as it becomes scorching hot, and huge amounts of sunscreen is a must anywhere in New Zealand. These western beaches are excellent for surfing and sunsets and while public transport is almost non-existent to them, if you can get there in your own car, a perfect way to end a day is with fish and chips straight out of the paper on the beach watching the sun melt into the horizon facing Australia.

It’s not hard to realise that Aucklanders love the water and it’s said there is an average of one boat for every four people tied up in marinas or parked on trailers in driveways. You’ll see yachts, powerboats and luxury launches bobbing on the harbour as fishermen anchor at their secret spots and friends and families sail to nearby islands like Motuihe, Motutapu or Waiheke Island.

The latter has enjoyed its busiest summer ever after being voted in the top five of Lonely Planet’s Best Regions in the World to Visit in 2016. Famous for its many wineries and sensational views, a ferry to Waiheke Island takes about 35 minutes from downtown Auckland to Matiatia wharf where a bus will take explorers up the hill about two kilometres into the quaint village of Oneroa. Cafes and restaurants overflow and the street is edged with boutiques, real estate businesses and classy souvenir shops.

Another island perfect for day trips is Rangitoto. It’s almost perfectly round so looks the same from anywhere in the city and is close enough to Auckland to paddle a kayak out to – or a ferry for the less energetic. It’s a magical way to be on the sparkling waters of the Hauraki Gulf, which you can follow up with a walk around its perimeter or a hike on the path to the top of this volcanic crater for sensational views of the city.

For those with less time, just a taxi ride across town is Mission Bay, another of Auckland’s sandy gems. A huge park with a children’s playground at one end and a fountain in the middle is the likely playground for an impromptu ball game amongst the picnickers. But those without a basket need not worry as across the road from this family-friendly beach are restaurants and bars all bumping tables on the pavement.

WALKS 

Auckland offers everything from ten-minute strolls through native bush or along coastal walkways to full day hikes that set you amongst the city’s natural side. Expect to see native birds like the heavy kereru (wood pigeon) taking off with branches bowing under its beating wings. Meanwhile, the piwakawaka (fantail) will fly along with you as you walk, sometimes stopping on a branch to check that you’re still around.

You’ll hear the distinctive call of the tui, identified by its little white beard, but what you won’t see is the kiwi. New Zealand’s avian symbol of national pride only comes out at night and even then, never in the city. However Auckland Zoo has an impressive kiwi enclosure and you might be lucky enough to spot them on Motuihe, Motutapu and Rangitoto islands where the Department of Conservation has been working tirelessly with volunteers on tree planting and pest eradication to help the little flightless bird survive.

CITY PARKS 

In summer Auckland performs all manner of outdoor events, many of them free. Local musicians play concerts in parks and outdoor movies are popular under the Southern Cross night sky.

Wander around Auckland’s neighbourhoods on a Saturday morning and you’ll see families on the sidelines of a cricket match in summer or braving the winter chill at a rugby or football game. School-aged sport is part of the national psyche here, but New Zealanders don’t grow exactly out of it. Rugby League fans will want to make the pilgrimage to Mount Smart Stadium to watch the Warriors and if you’re in Auckland when the national teams are playing you could catch the Black Caps cricket team or the All Blacks filling Eden Park with passion like you’ll have rarely seen before.

CUISINE

New Zealand’s culinary scene is one of the best-kept secrets in the world. For some reason the national tourism board brags little about the abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood and rolling fields dotted with sheep and cattle. Talented chefs all over the country transform the mainly organic ingredients into real food art.

And you don’t need to spend a fortune to taste what Kiwis take for granted either. Try a salad with char-grilled peaches and prosciutto, or a fresh fish slider with a glass of white served chilled directly from the barrel at a casual bistro in the heart of the city.

Some of the country’s finest chefs have trained in Michelin-starred restaurants abroad, but with that system not in New Zealand, their international experience and qualifications are often a humble accolade that very few know about. New Zealanders laugh at the phrase ‘grass-fed beef’ on menus around the world as they can’t imagine cattle being fed any other way.

And when a juicy steak served medium rare set on kumara (sweet potato) mash and drizzled with a rich jus arrives at your table, you’ll understand that there really isn’t any other way.

For at least the last decade the fusion of ethnic cuisine with locally grown ingredients has seen the rise and rise of themed restaurants serving up the tastes of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South America and beyond. It would take a full year of dining out every night to try all of Auckland’s top restaurants, but a good place to start is the Viaduct, Britomart and Wynyard Quarter all located next to each other on the water front. Here celebrity chefs run their own restaurants alongside smaller, family run establishments. You’ll find the flavours of Mexico next to Vietnam, Italy and India all bursting with satisfied diners next to the white tablecloths of fine dining establishments like Euro Bar, Soul Bar and Fish Restaurant.

Weekend brunches are almost compulsory in Auckland where coffee baristas enter competitions to win the coveted prize of creating the perfect flat white. Cafes in neighbourhoods all over the city pride themselves on their Saturday and Sunday morning menus with eggs Benedict being a staple or avocado smashed with feta and topped with bacon served on toasted ciabatta being one of the best choices you could make.

LUXURY

In New Zealand luxury accommodation, scenery, and great food go hand-in-hand. You can try a five star hotel with an award-winning spa or have your luxury quota via a boutique bed and breakfast. In Auckland you can stay on the beach, in the heart of the city, secluded in the bush or out on an island. You could rent a farmhouse on a west coast beach or stay in a hidden inner city boutique hotel frequented by your fellow passengers in first class and likely run into a pop star in town for a gig.

For those with a few dollars to throw around, a helicopter ride over the 48 volcanic cones that Auckland is studded with is an excellent way to spend a day. But you’ll also see folks disembarking choppers at wineries and golf courses or heading further afield to play a round as far north and Kauri Cliffs or down to Hawkes Bay at Cape Kidnappers.

Sometimes luxury just means a private car and a driver to take you out to a beach and eat those fish and chips out of the paper on a blanket as the sun goes down – and there are companies that do that too.

CULTURAL EXPERIENCES

While Rotorua might get the majority of New Zealand’s culture points, you can certainly have an authentic experience of what makes the country unique through various businesses and meet some delightful characters keen to share their stories.

Take an Auckland Maori Tour and you’ll spend the day with a local Maori guide who will tell you stories of Auckland’s history as you visit significant sites that are tapu (sacred) to the Maori people. These tours include a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum where a replica pa (meeting house) allows visitors to take their shoes off and step into another culture, see the hand carved totems presented from all the tribes around New Zealand and even experience the haka (war dance) made famous by the All Blacks rugby team.

A full day tour also covers the black sands of the volcanic west coast beaches, so if renting a car and driving out there is not your idea of fun, then one of these tours provides the best of both worlds. Award-winning TIME Unlimited Tours provide cultural tours, walking tours or even day trips down to the Lord of the Rings Hobbiton movie set or the breathtaking Waitomo Caves.

SHOPPING

There are eight shopping malls spread around the city, many are so huge that a day spent there won’t be long enough. They have hundreds of local and international brand stores, restaurants and cafes, cinemas and supermarkets. But for a more local experience Ponsonby Road is worth spending some time browsing along. The new Ponsonby Central is a hub of dining and shopping experiences and the surrounding streets have seen the arrival of New Zealand fashion brands taking up residence.

Queen Street is an easy shopping day from Britomart, at the lower end, which is the city’s public transport hub with the main train station and bus network. For a touch of old-style glamour, the century-old family owned Smith and Caughey’s department store provides an upscale shopping experience over three floors, and Farmers is a New Zealand institution as a mid-range department store that also recently expanded into their new Queen Street building.

Newmarket is another popular location, anchored by the 277 (pronounced two-double-seven) shopping mall and home to some of the same businesses as Queen Street and the various shopping malls around town. The main difference here are the locally owned and operated stores on Nuffield Street, Teed Street and Osbourne Street which are worth making time to visit.

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