Where to start in this rejuvenated harbour city that’s rich in culture and natural beauty? Survey the scene from one of its volcanic peaks then dive in. New Zealand’s largest and, many would say, liveliest city was known to its original inhabitants as Tāmaki Makaurau, which means “Tāmaki, desired by many”. Today, the modern metropolis that is Auckland is no less desirable – as a tourist destination, business hub and home to an estimated 1.6 million people. There’s always something at play here: arts events, cultural festivals, sports fixtures. Aucklanders may have justifiable concerns about the city’s escalating housing costs and the traffic (neither funding nor planning has kept up with population growth) but there’s an energy that’s driving the city forward. Innovative development, both private and public, has seen industrial areas transformed. In the CBD’s Wynyard Quarter, apartments and restaurants have arisen where silos once sprawled. To the west, New Lynn’s brick-and-ceramic-works heritage is recalled in a new precinct that honours the past and is attracting a younger demographic to a once-staid suburb. All over the city centre, green walls are the new black and, in the case of lofty Te Ara I Whiti/Lightpath cycleway, pink is the new green.
Rise and climb
07:00: Mōrena (good morning) Auckland! Five kilometres from the CBD, watch the city awaken from the summit of Maungawhau/Mount Eden. At 196 metres tall, it’s the city’s highest volcanic cone. You can get to the base of the mountain by car or bus from the CBD. Walk the path to the summit (30 minutes from the car park, at a gentle pace), winding past three craters and historic Māori terraces and food-storage pits. The view from the top is 360 degrees of land, sea (both of Auckland’s harbours are on display) and other summits. From Mount Eden, you can salute nearby Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill, which rises from the green acres of Cornwall Park. It’s a great way to get your bearings. Back at street level, on Mount Eden Road, it’s a short walk to The Return of Rad, a welcoming example of Auckland’s buzzing café culture. The staff are young, cool and friendly, sending out excellent Flight coffee and one of the best versions of eggs Benedict you’ll find in the city. Enjoy the dish with house-cured South Island salmon or pulled bacon hock and apple slaw.
Honour the past
10:00: After breakfast, hop on an OuterLink bus from stop 8510, across the road in Mount Eden Village, to the Tāmaki Paenga Hira/Auckland War Memorial Museum, which sits imposingly on a knoll in the Auckland Domain. The Tūī Package, which includes a Māori cultural performance, brings context to one of the museum’s most popular displays, the Māori Court with its war waka (canoe), traditional buildings, artefacts and information about the migration of Polynesian peoples to New Zealand. Upstairs, the poignant war memorial gives many visitors pause. The museum store has a thoughtfully curated selection of artworks, books and quirky Kiwiana souvenirs.
Away with the ferries
12:00: From the museum, take a 10-minute walk to Parnell Road, catch a city-bound InnerLink bus back to the CBD and hop off at the Britomart Transport Centre – a modern reinvention of what was the GPO. Across the road on Quay Street, next to the historic sandstone and brick Ferry Building, you can purchase a return ticket to Waiheke Island. The ferry trip across Waitematā Harbour and out to the Hauraki Gulf takes 40 minutes. Waiheke is famous for its fine wine, good food and sparkling bays. There are always taxis and shuttles to meet the ferries but if you want to stretch your legs, it’s an uphill stroll of about a kilometre to Cable Bay Vineyards. The winery’s position on a ridgeline allows a panoramic view across the gulf and back to the city. A seat on the all-weather verandah (or a beanbag on the lawn if it’s warm) is the perfect place to sample the house wines (there are also cellar-door tastings) with a meze plate or wood-fired pizza. Alternatively, take a cab a little further to the village of Oneroa. After a walk along the tree-shaded, white-sand bay – or a swim in it – have lunch at The Oyster Inn. It’s reason enough to visit the island. The kitchen is open all afternoon from midday so lunch works to your body clock. Much of the seafood, produce and well-matched wines is locally sourced.
Home and hosed
16:00: Back on the mainland, stroll to the end of Queens Wharf – adjacent to the Ferry Building – to see The Lighthouse, the city’s newest large-scale public artwork. Eminent New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai has created a full-size replica of the country’s historic timber state houses, his version twinkling with lights to both signify a safe harbour and welcome visitors to the city. Commissioned by realtor Barfoot & Thompson to mark the company’s 90th anniversary, the work experienced a budget overrun and predictable debates about the subject matter, which made it tabloid fodder. Now that it’s been unveiled, you can make up your own mind.
Get pedal power
17:00: Ready for some gentle exercise? It’s a short walk to the Auckland branch of Adventure Capital, where they’ll kit you out with a bike (or an e-bike if you’re footsore), maps and a helmet. You’re headed for the “pink path”, or Te Ara I Whiti/Lightpath, a fun and purposeful reworking of a redundant piece of motorway infrastructure. The three-metre-wide cycleway, with its magenta resin surface and interactive lighting, won the transport category at the 2016 World Architecture Festival awards in Berlin. Cyclists freewheel above the traffic, taking in CBD views from a different perspective. The Lightpath connects with other commuter cycleways but for your whirlwind visit, a round trip will be a pleasant diversion through the heart of the city.
Take a load off
18:00: Bike returned, you’re ready for refreshment and it’s nearby. Behind the CBD’s public transport terminus, what was a windswept bus interchange is now the Britomart precinct, a creative retail, corporate and hospitality hub. On summer afternoons, drop into a beanbag and enjoy music from a DJ or do some shopping. Local style icons Zambesi and Karen Walker are in the neighbourhood, as are Tiffany & Co., MAC Cosmetics and Lululemon Athletica. At Ostro, on the second floor of tåhe Seafarers Building, order a spritz and wander out to the terrace, where Waitamatā Harbour glistens before you. If hunger bites, you’re in experienced hands: Ostro is the dining room of renowned chef and MasterChef New Zealand judge Josh Emett.
Wander Ponsonby Road
19:30: From Britomart, take a cab or bus to Ponsonby Road, inner-Auckland’s restaurant mile. Ponsonby Central, a converted industrial building, has options for all palates (and lighter meals if you’re still full from your Waiheke lunch). Taking the street frontage is The Blue Breeze Inn, a great spot for both people-watching and food that matches the modern-Chinese-meets-Blue-Hawaii feel. If it’s a balmy night, ask for a seat on the verandah and surrender to chef Che Barrington’s justifiably lauded dishes, from steamed buns to chocolate desserts. Order one of the bar’s signature rum cocktails to enhance the island vibe.
Fancy a nightcap?
22:00: If you’ve still got fuel in the tank, the streets around Ponsonby Central are home to some of the city’s coolest bars. Join crowds of inner-city denizens meeting and greeting in the beer garden at Bedford Soda & Liquor or enjoy the music scene, happy hour and late night service (through to three or four am, depending on the day) at stalwart Grand Central. If you’re into great cocktails or a boutique space, you’ll find a hip atmosphere and top-notch bartenders at Deadshot.