Around about this time of year, I get a bit second-homesick. Having just invented this form of melancholy, I’ll explain. My entire immediate family relocated to New Zealand a few years ago. Yes, my parents, two brothers and their respective wife and girlfriend, plus little baby Conor are all there. Albeit in one of the prettiest places on earth – Queenstown. But before we get there, we’ve got a stop in Auckland.
Despite being New Zealand’s most cosmopolitan city, Auckland doesn’t give up any of the laidback lifestyle that the country is known for. With harbours on two separate bodies of water, Auckland naturally lures visitors and locals alike to enjoy the seaside scene that lights up the city at night. After a few days in the City of Sails last December, I discovered what makes it the perfect starting point for a trip down under.
The Amora Hotel is ideally located on tree-lined Greys Avenue, close to the main downtown streets. Deluxe rooms and two-bedroom suites are washed with muted tones, well-appointed and spacious. Book a two-level loft overlooking a lush park, and with a view to the city and beyond. Each room has a kitchenette, washing machine, and a private balcony. Add heated pool and gym, and the entire package makes the hotel a complete homebase for business and leisure travelers.
If inspired design and a fashionable location is your thing, check in at Hotel DeBrett (top left photo). Since popping up in the heart of the aforementioned district three years ago, the boutique hotel has cemented its status as the spot for the see-and-be-seen set. The 25 rooms are a decadent and eclectic mix of retro furniture, New Zealand art, and photography. Guests have fun exploring the nooks and crannies of the property, including the luxe Corner Bar, as well as a shop filled with beautiful breads and cheeses. Foodies will also appreciate dining at DeBrett’s Kitchen restaurant, where Chef Mark Sycamore has perfected gourmet-casual cuisine.
If privacy is preferred, and money is no object, Mollies in St. Mary’s Bay is your link to 5-star luxe.
Fuel up on lattes at Shaky Isles before hitting Customs Street for some of the best shopping. Laundromat Boutique has a full selection of local label Federation. Country Road and Witchery (my personal favourites) are just a short skip away on Queen Street. Head up High Street for more fashion-forward finds from World Deluxe & World Man, sweet dresses at Ruby, and Ted Baker for the boys.
There is no shortage of Asian restaurants in Auckland, and I found Café Hanoi and Tanuki to be delicious destinations for Vietnamese and Japanese respectively. For a break from the usual, it was over to Britomart – a new complex within the CBD that has over 30 eateries, bars and shops. Britomart Country Club is in the mix, and its lush outdoor setting is perfect for High Tea (that, sadly, I did not have an afternoon to indulge in).
For later on in the day, I suggest tucking into drinks and savoury snacks at Northern Steamship Co. Alternatively, over at the SkyCity entertainment district, celebrated chef Peter Gordon heads up dine and Bellota. Both are award-winning restaurants. The former serves a blend of Asian, Pacific and traditional European cuisine, while the latter is well known for authentic Spanish tapas. Bellota has a more casual atmosphere with live music Thursday through Sunday, as well as outdoor seating in the summer season. If you’re with a group, Gina’s Italian Kitchen is a fun night out in the inner city suburb of Eden Terrace.
And for late night…Limes and fresh ginger are muddled with coriander, then mixed with passionfruit vodka and topped with ginger beer to make the signature cocktail at Smith Bar (cnr Galway and Commerce Streets). Then it is merely a few steps to enjoy funky live music and DJs that don’t disappoint at 1885 (27 Galway Street).
As a winner of national and international environmental awards, Auckland Zoo is recognized as one of the most progressive zoos in the world. From downtown, it’s a quick and easy bus ride to check out 117 different species and more than 700 animals.
Waiheke Island is just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown and its farmland, forest, beaches, vineyards and olive groves are picture perfect. The island also boasts some of New Zealand’s top wineries. Don’t miss Te Whau Vineyard and a lunch in their café, which has one of the country’s largest wine lists. Best to book a day trip with Ananda Tours for this essential experience.