Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city, but you’d be forgiven for not realizing it. The downtown area is compact, and quickly gives way to neighborhoods which sprawl out for miles in every direction, meaning that much of the population is somewhere else entirely. Even relatively busy areas don’t experience the sort of rush-hour crush that most big cities are so used to. This is perhaps a hint at the Aucklander psyche. For many, the most appealing part of the city is the ease at which they can escape it. Within less than an hour, people can go from sipping coffee in a city cafe to strolling across beaches on the rugged west coast or looking back at the city skyline from atop Rangitoto, a volcano in the Hauraki Gulf. Here’s how to make the most of it.
8:30 a.m.: New Zealanders often refer to their ‘cafe culture,’ meaning that they love to get up early and head to their favorite local cafe for coffee and breakfast. Bestie, located in St. Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road—or K Road, to locals—is a good place to start. The cafe’s dining area is in the back of an open-air atrium (at night, the space is used by a neighboring restaurant) with views of the Sky Tower. The food here is creative and flavorful without being overwhelming. Try the coconut and cardamom rice pudding or flatbread with spicy chorizo if you’re feeling adventurous, or, if not, go for the scrambled eggs—they’re a failsafe option in Kiwi cafes. For coffee, ask for a flat white, which is somewhere between a latte and a cappuccino, and be warned that in Auckland a double shot of espresso is the norm. If you finish breakfast quickly, take a few minutes to wander around K Road. It’s one of Auckland’s funkiest areas, and though it’s gentrifying quickly, it’s still the heart of creative energy.
10 a.m.: Catch a taxi to Britomart for a quick dose of shopping New Zealand labels. Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester, and Juliette Hogan are popular women’s designers, all of which can be found in this small outdoor plaza. If you’re already running low on caffeine, pop into The Store for another.
11 a.m.: One of the highlights of Auckland is the accessibility to New Zealand’s stunning landscapes. Waiheke Island is one of the best. From Britomart, walk down along the waterfront to Auckland Ferry Terminal on Quay Street. The trip to Waiheke is about 40 minutes and ferries depart the downtown terminal hourly.
12 p.m.: From the Waiheke terminal, make your way up Oceanview Road to Oneroa Beach. (There is a taxi queue across from the ferry terminal, e-bike rentals up the road, or, for more active travelers, the walk takes about 30 minutes.) Oneroa has a short strip of restaurants, bars, and shops to browse before wandering down the hill to the beach. The water itself is typically chilly, and while locals are unphased, if you prefer staying on the sand you can still enjoy the view of blue-green water speckled with anchored boats.
1 p.m.: When you’ve had your fill of the beach, turn back the direction you came. At the top of the hill is Cable Bay Vineyard. The lunch menu includes wood-fired pizzas, mezze plates and plenty of wine, but the real draw here is the fantastic view over the water toward Auckland’s skyline. Lounge on the sprawling grass lawn with a glass of wine and soak up the sunshine.
3 p.m.: Take the ferry back to the city center, and on your way out of the ferry terminal, stop for a dozen oysters at The Shucker Brothers. New Zealand is best known for Bluff oysters, which are oversized bivalves from the southern tip of the South Island. They’re worth trying, but for people who prefer a more delicate oyster, the waitstaff are happy to suggest a smaller variety. Whatever you choose, we recommend them served naked, with the house mignonette. If you’re still peckish, the creamy scoops from Island Gelato next door should do the trick.
4 p.m.: From here, make your way to the Auckland Museum in Parnell. Along with an ever-changing series of exhibitions, the museum has two permanent galleries with collections of Maori taonga, or treasures. When the museum closes, head out into the surrounding park. Auckland Domain is an excellent place to wander and take in some of the local flora and fauna. Dependent on the time of year, you may be able to see the Wintergardens, grown in Victorian glasshouses, as well.
6:30 p.m.: For dinner, make a reservation at Saan on Ponsonby Road. The Ponsonby neighborhood has a reputation for being pretentious, but this is by New Zealand standards: visitors will find it relaxed and the people down-to-earth. Saan serves northern Thai dishes with fresh ingredients and complex, often spicy, flavors. (Hint: as you read the menu from top to bottom, the dishes grow increasingly fiery.) You’ll find local fish, vegetables, and meat, and one of Auckland’s best cocktails: the ‘By Any Other Name’ is rum-based with a just-sweet-enough coconut flavor. You need only one, and it works as an entree or a dessert.
9 p.m.: On your way back into the city for the night, stop at Caretaker for a nightcap. The cocktail bar has speakeasy vibes, not least because it’s tucked among high rises in the central business district. Tell your server what flavors or liquors you like, and they’ll bring you a drink that will likely cement itself on your new list of favorites.
Where to Stay
Despite the fact that tourism is a major industry for New Zealand, many of Auckland’s hotels seem to cater to business travel more than leisure. The city has long suffered from a shortage of hotels, but luckily the imminent return of America’s Cup in 2021 has several more under construction. The recently-renovated Cordis is a 411-room hotel on the outer edge of the CBD, within walking distance of many of the city’s attractions. The upper-level suites give access to the club lounge, and the rooftop pool and Chaun Spa offer a place to unwind. At the waterfront, the Hilton is the perfect stepping-off place for fast access to the heart of the city, and rooms give way to stunning views of the harbor, which guests can enjoy from the privacy of their balconies.