Friends – a new city just skyrocketed to my ‘top favorite cities’ list (it’s in my head, but I have one). Auckland, a bustling, vibrant, colorful, hip, happenin’ port town on the North Island of New Zealand exceeded all of our expectations set by those who told us, “you’ll just fly in and out of Auckland.” It’s a great thing we scheduled a couple days to settle into the awesome, laid back, natural culture, lifestyle, and vibe that is New Zealand in Auckland after our 14 hour non-stop flight from Houston. Why? Because it was full of awesomeness, and thus, we call it “Awesome Auckland”.
But, why such affinity, you ask? It’s bustling, but not too big, it has technology and industry, but is also modern, artsy, live-able (easy to get around and take transportation like the Skybus from the airport to the city center), and easy to get to know in just 5 days (2 on the way out and 3 on the way back before our flight home). We visited end of November, and mid-December, which was late Spring, and just starting to turn to Summer, so we were lucky to get sun the whole time and warm temps. Here are our top 10 highlights from the Auckland area, which includes nearby islands easily accessible by short ferries.
- Waiheke Island. When we arrived at 8am on a week day, our hotel wasn’t ready for check-in yet so we dropped our bags there and took the 20 minute ferry to this adorable beachy island. How cute is this grocery store? There’s a main stretch of shops and restaurants, only steps away from small, clean beaches.
Check out my awesome first meal – this brunch set the bar high! A Turkish-inspired cafe, Delight Cafe, had sun beaming through the windows, and a tasty tagine of tomato and harissa glazed eggs, falafel, hummus, and fresh sesame bread. I was immediately surprised by the Mediterranean influence on New Zealand cuisine, and I could not be more thrilled (I heart all things Mediterranean!).
Pretty much in heaven here since it’s November in Chicago (cold temps) and the sunshine is just the best wedding, jet-lag hangover cure.
Toes in the sand time…
After a walk, some beach time, and exploring the town, we asked a taxi driver to take us to a winery on the island. I wish we could personally thank our taxi driver because he dropped us off at the most exquisite, delicious, relaxing winery in all the land – Cable Bay! Actually, that’s not true – we visited some other gems later in the trip, but on Day 1 of honeymoon, this visit was simply perfection.
And some dancing with my new husband…
Right where we should be at this moment in time.
In heaven again. Post-wedding and 14-hour flight vibes culminated in ultimate relaxation with ocean views on the vineyard lawn bean bag chairs. Sunshine, come to me!
I mean, look at this grilled lamb adorned with pistachios and crunchy grilled asparagus!
2. Shopping for Icebreaker. This is the New Zealand brand of outdoor apparel, often made of breathable merino wool to keep you warm and moving. We found this store in downtown Auckland called Bivouac, that had some pretty good winter sales since we arrived right before Summer. Let it be known that I wayyy overpacked, and ended up wearing this blue pullover hoodie most of the trip, so I didn’t need 3/4 of what I had in my luggage. Lesson learned. (I hope.) Anyway, you can by Icebreaker online and in US outdoor stores, but it’s much more fun to buy it in the country of origin.
3. Find a chic hotel. We stayed at Hotel DeBrett for our first 2 nights in New Zealand and it was not too boutique-y, but small, quiet, felt private, had a lovely cafe, and my new obsession – Under Floor Heating (UFH) in this oh-so-stylish black and white mosaic tiled en suite bathroom. Just, yes! Hotel DeBrett also has a cute corner bar called…cornerbar, that often had live music emanating from the al fresco inviting windows to sidewalk passersby.
4. Explore Ponsonby Street. On our first night, we dined at the delicious Azabu on Ponsonby street, lined with tasty bites and quenching sips at many cafes and restaurants. In fact, on our last Saturday night in Auckland before heading back to the States, we had a progressive (multi-stop) date night that consisted of having a nibble or drink, and never a full meal, at several spots. These delicious mushroom-filled mini dumplings at Azabu were memorable, packed with flavor, texture, and color. A stop at cozy, narrow, personable cocktail bar, Mea Culpa, was a great decision too, where we got a lesson in gin selection.
5. Britomart. While I thought this would be a collection of shops inside a bus station (likely because the name suggested a quickie mart), I couldn’t be more wrong!
According to the Britomart website, “Lying between the Waitemata Harbour and Auckland’s lower CBD, Britomart is a 6.5-hectare waterfront precinct of heritage buildings, new developments and open and intimate public spaces. It is immediately adjacent to Auckland’s main transport hub, Britomart Transport Centre. By 2017, there will be close to 250 businesses based here contributing to the 24/7 buzz of Britomart.”
Britomart also has a Saturday morning outdoor market – check it out! This is where we sampled our first local manuka honey, the country’s health secret with antibacterial properties- so they say. (And a great gift or souvenir!)
What did we find here? Green art, smartly designed indoor/outdoor spaces, and my favorite cafe and dessert spot in Auckland, Miann.
I picked up a delicious matcha latte, made of their own slightly-sweet and creamy green tea powder, which I purchased to bring home, and we indulged in matcha and pistachio macarons for an afternoon pick-me-up. Every dessert and drink is carefully crafted here – you can tell!
My handsome afternoon date!
We even got to meet Roselle, the owner, who had some local restaurant recommendations for us! Hats off to the owner of this cafe that still sits near and dear to my heart.
6. The Gin Room. This sultry cocktail bar had some of the most friendly bartenders on our trip. And, Ross will attest to their knowledge and selection of gins. Great spot for a handcrafted evening beverage.
7. Parnell Street. Near the Domain Wintergardens park is another fun street of shops, restaurants, and exploring called Parnell. Great for a stroll or a bite.
8. Queen Street/Vulcan Lane. Queen Street is the main shopping area of the Central Business District in Auckland. Vulcan Lane is one of the many quaint, narrow offshoot passageways also sprinkled with adorable al fresco seating, open windows, and dining options. Ah, how I wish we were back here.
9. Take a ferry to Devonport. Another short ferry ride (longer if you lug your oversized bags with you) lands you in an adorable island town called Devonport. We chose to stay here for 2 nights before flying back to the States for a different setting from the downtown center on the way in. It felt like a local town, not touristy, with a live music concert on the lawn by the beach, and cafes, restaurants, small shops, like a cute one called Nord, where I scooped up some great gifts. We took a local bus to Takapuna beach, where we found an amazing collection of restaurants called Fortieth and Hurstmere that share dining space so each person in your group can pick their restaurant and dish, then meet to eat together – no more being confined to one menu at one restaurant. Love this concept!
10. Lastly, while this is most definitely the sweatiest picture we’ve ever shared publicly, we took an awesome hike on an island where the only thing to do is said hike – Rangitoto, the youngest volcano in New Zealand. We took a very quick ferry here, then joined the rest of the passengers on the hour-long tramp (as they call hiking in NZ) through volcanic ash and vegetation. From the top, you can see almost a full panorama of Auckland. This definitely ended our trip to Auckland on a “high” note!
There you have it, our top 10 things to do in “Awesome Auckland”. Who wants to go back with us?