There was a time when visitors to New Zealand’s largest metropolis would disparagingly refer to it as “Sydney for beginners”. Like Portland, Oregon, a frontier town once overshadowed by its big-city neighbours that became the United States’ capital of cool, Auckland has been remade by innovative and energetic thinkers.
Now, as well as being geographically blessed – it’s set on an isthmus punctuated with volcanic cones between two harbours – Auckland has world-class restaurants, a thriving contemporary-art scene and robust economy. Hit the eateries in the revived Britomart historic precinct or relax by watching a film projected onto a concrete silo in the emerging waterfront Wynyard Quarter. Business travellers will be pleased to learn the city’s stagnant hotel scene is being revitalised with the arrival of two new five-star properties, including the So by Sofitel. Whichever way you look at it, Auckland is on the rise.
Population: +1.6 million
Language: English but Māori is also an official language with expressions such as kia ora (hello) and iwi (tribe) in common use.
Currency: New Zealand dollar
(subject to change)
Summer: 15°C - 23°C
Autumn: 13°C - 20°C
Winter: 8°C - 15°C
Spring: 10°C - 19°C
Average price of a cup of coffee: $NZ4 for a flat white.
Airport: Auckland Airport – the city’s only one – is 23 kilometres from the CBD.
Airport transport: There’s no train to the airport. SkyBus is a 24-hour shuttle that takes about 55 minutes ($NZ19 one way) from the airport to the CBD. Thanks to a deregulated system, taxis are numerous but of varying quality. Fares to the CBD are $NZ75 to $NZ90 for up to a 50-minute trip. Corporate Cabs can be pre-booked but are at the expensive end of the range.
Local transport: Transport infrastructure has not kept pace with Auckland’s development. Public transport is minimal compared with other major cities. Uber or a hire car are your best options.
Best SIM card: Spark’s $NZ5 SIM card (spark.co.nz) can be purchased at the international terminal and supermarkets and loaded with funds.
Best local app: Neat Places provides a guide to “treasured places, faces and spaces” via a selection of galleries, cafés, restaurants, shops and bars.
Greeting: At a formal Māori occasion after the welcome speeches it’s customary for visitors and hosts to shake hands and hongi (the head is bent, the eyes are lowered or closed and noses are pressed together).
Tipping culture: Tipping isn’t required but is appreciated if service is good. A service charge of 10 to 15 per cent is commonly added to restaurant bills on public holidays.
Dining custom: Your guest may offer to split the bill but if you invited them you should expect to pick up the entire cheque.
Coffee pit stop
8 Drake Street, Freemans Bay
You’d never find Allpress Espresso’s Freemans Bay café and roastery unless you knew where to look – and that’s how the locals like it. Since it was founded in the city in the 1980s, Allpress’s brand of understated cool – and excellent espresso – has spread across the globe but the Drake Street outpost remains its spiritual home (there’s another branch in the suburb of Ponsonby). Try single origin filter or the famed Rangitoto blend named after a volcanic island in the harbour.
67 Shortland Street
This sleek space in the legal hub of upper Shortland Street in the city has just the right vibe for breakfast with a colleague or prospective client. Perch at the marble bar and watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen or sink into one of the comfortable booths. Feeling virtuous? Order the famous three-grain porridge with spiced roast pear and pistachio crunch. If not, the Toulouse sausage burger with a fried egg, gouda and tomato jamwill set you up for the day.
125 Queen Street
If the idea of asking for a table for one fills you with dread then hip laneway dining precinct Queen’s Rise is for you. Behind a historic façade in the CBD, 11 eateries share a buzzy space. At the neon-lit Lowbrow, order the signature fried chicken while enjoying the work of local graffiti artist Haser. Or try New Zealand lamb cutlets with pickled courgette, a mint salsa verde and buffalo-yoghurt labne at Grace.
52 Tyler Street
New Zealanders are an informal bunch so a business dinner can be a more laid-back affair. On the second floor of the waterfront Seafarers building, Ostro is impressive without being starchy. Helmed by renowned chef Josh Emett, it has expansive views of the harbour, which is best seen at night when the working port is mostly quiet. Charming staff serve classic bistro fare such as lobster and snapper pie, and beef Wellington paired with sides, including Brussels sprouts sprinkled with bacon, raisins and hazelnuts, and doused in Pedro Ximénez sherry.
Drinks with clients
12 Vulcan Lane +64 9 377 1821
On the first floor of the Queen’s Ferry Hotel building in an inner-city laneway, this speakeasy-style bar offers a huge number of premium gins (almost 100 at last count). Order a Perks of Being an Elderflower cocktail (Hendrick’s gin, St-Germain liqueur, Aperol and lemon) or sample one of the boutique local gins paired with excellent Quina-Fina tonic made in New Zealand using cinchona tree bark from Ecuador.
1. Head for the award-winning East Day Spa – a softly lit Balinese-style haven in the CBD. Set aside two and a quarter hours for the full-body Yatra package with a massage, facial and foot soak.
2. Lace up your trainers and go for a run along the waterfront to Westhaven Marina – the largest yacht anchorage in the Southern Hemisphere – to understand why they call Auckland the City of Sails.
3. Stroll along Ponsonby Road – a 1.7-kilometre stretch that is arguably New Zealand’s hippest strip. Grab a green smoothie from Ceres Fresh Market at Ponsonby Central. Hugo’s Bistro brings a European vibe to the city centre
Best co-working space
With four architecturally designed spaces, Generator lives up to its promise to be “the future of work”. Whether you prefer a heritage-listed warehouse or sleek industrial space, there’s a spot to suit. Each office has onsite IT and events teams and concierges, plus a bar and “collision spaces” – common areas where contacts can be forged.
The new hotel in town
Hotel Grand Windsor is an elegant CBD bolthole in a sensitively refurbished 1928 heritage-listed building. Part of Sofitel’s MGallery collection, the hotel’s 79 rooms aren’t huge but are opulently furnished with refined touches such as a real china tea set.
If you have a couple of hours…
On your way to meetings in the city centre you’ll probably walk right past the front door of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki – an architectural marvel in itself. Inside are 17,000 works dating back to the 11th century so if you don’t have a lot of time to spare you’ll need to choose wisely. Head for the gallery’s level-one corridor to view Gottfried Lindauer’s late-19th-century portraits of prominent Māori.
If you have half a day…
The setting for Jane Campion’s The Piano, Karekare is a wild beach on Auckland’s remote west coast (50 minutes’ drive from the city) where huge surf pounds black volcanic sand. Take a restorative walk along the vast shoreline or make for Karekare Falls – a short stroll from the car park through verdant bush.
If you have a day…
Australia doesn’t have anywhere quite like Waiheke Island. Just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, the 92-square-kilometre island’s European-style vineyards, high-end eateries and beautiful beaches make for an appealing daytrip. Hire a car and drive south-east to the less inhabited part of the island and dine at Poderi Crisci Restaurant, set in what feels like a Neapolitan farmhouse. Lunch can be a leisurely four-hour, five-course affair of Italian classics or you could sample the dégustation menu.
If you have a weekend…
Auckland’s gourmet getaway of choice is Matakana. Just over an hour north of the city, this once sleepy hamlet has an upscale farmers’ market (think rhubarb and tamarillo crêpes and jalapeño schiacciata bread), produce-driven restaurants, a fine patisserie and cosy wine bar offering local reds. Walk off the excess at the nearby Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, doze on a golden beach at Tawharanui and retire in time to see the last light leak from the sky while gazing across vines at Takatu Lodge & Vineyard.