Auckland is a city of stunning contrasts: a cool, cosmopolitan cityscape around the bustling harbours of the “City of Sails”; wild and windswept west coast beaches; exotic native rainforest in the Waitakere Ranges; and the laid-back luxury of island wineries.
For a weekend escape that takes you away from typical tourist traps, I’d recommend combining “further afield” activities during the day with evenings spent discovering restaurants and enjoying the nightlife. Take a scenic drive into the Waitakere Ranges and hike through Huia for stunning views and giant trees, before dining in the stylish Wynyard Quarter. Try your hand at surfing at Piha Beach, or just hang out on the black sands, before heading back to discover the amazing artisan food on offer in The Heart of the City, and people watch over a flat white. Catch a ferry over to Waiheke Island, and hire a bike to tour round the wineries and cellar doors, then recover from it all in the spa at your hotel. Sweet az.
An Aotearoa Adventure
Welcome to Auckland! This trip is all about getting to know the secrets of the city, and escaping from the typical tourist throngs. So after enjoying breakfast in your hotel, today you’ll explore the wildlife side of Auckland life, in the Waitakere Ranges.
Rugged hills running along the western side of the isthmus, the Ranges have over 250km of tramping tracks, taking in lookout points with stunning views, scenic streams and waterfalls, and wild native bush. There are a number of nature reserves in the Ranges, and the whole area is a haven for threatened native wildlife and birds.
Book a walking tour with Time Unlimited, and let your guide show you the best trails to stretch your legs. A full-day tour is NZ$245/person, including transport and a picnic lunch. They also recommend bringing your swimming togs, for the chance to take a dip in a forest pool.
Later, take a stroll from your hotel, through the funky Britomart Precinct, down to the waterfront around Viaduct Harbour and the recently redeveloped Wynyard Quarter for views of the harbour and city skyline. Choose from the many restaurants in the area. The Foodstore on Custom Street West serves up some of the best locally-sourced Kiwi produce, with the added interest of an open kitchen, or Ebisu, on Quay Street, for modern Japanese and a live DJ.
Wheels and Wine on Waiheke
Visit Britomart for the Saturday morning farmer’s market, and pick up a selection of fresh produce and artisan foods for a picnic lunch. Head down to the quay to catch the ferry to Waiheke Island. Day return tickets cost NZ$36/person, and sailings depart approximately once an hour, with the crossing taking around 35 minutes. Stop on the way for a leisurely breakfast at the Quay Street Cafe.
You could join a guided tour, but a self-led tour lets you take things at your own pace, enjoy each others company, and spend your time how you want to. Hire bikes from Waihere Bike Hire (be sure to book in advance) at Maiatia Wharf, and set off around the island in search of vineyards, white sand beaches, and secret sculpture gardens. The Bike Shed will provide you with all the equipment you need, plus maps of the island. Any additional information you might need can be picked up at the i-SITE tourist office in Oneroa.
Crossing the island takes around 2 hours, and takes you to the Man o’War Vineyard and tasting room, where you can relax on the sun deck, sample a sophisticated Pinot Gris with artisan cheese and local olives, and watch ships sail by. Return via Onetangi Bay, and stop to stroll along the white sand, before returning your bikes.
Take a taxi to Te Whau Vineyard, to dine in the award-winning restaurant (Saturday nights only in winter), and enjoy Pacific Rim cuisine paired with a fruity Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s no need to eat early or rush your meal to get back to the city, as return ferries sail at 21.30, 23.00 and 00.30, and offer a stunning view of the city skyline at night.
Wet and Wild West Coast
Grab a breakfast of coffee and freshly baked pastries at L’Assiette in the Britomart district, and prepare to be immersed in Auckland’s laid-back surfer lifestyle (quite literally).
You might have glimpsed the wild west coast beaches from lookout points on your hike the other day. The striking black sand of Piha Beach is New Zealand’s most famous surf beach, with breaks that attract surfers from around the world. The protection from Lion Rock at the north end of the beach means that conditions in the shallows are excellent for beginners too.
Piha Surf School offer lessons for NZ$80/person (max.group size 4), including wetsuit and board hire, plus a little extra for your transport to and from central Auckland. After your lesson, hike across the sand and climb the trail up Lion Rock for a picnic with stunning sea views.
Back in the city, dry out over a flat white in one of Auckland’s excellent coffee houses. Try the Three Beans Roastery at the City Works Depot, on the corner of Wellesley Street and Nelson Street, then spend the afternoon soaking up the culture at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (admission free, although some exhibitions may have a charge).
For dinner and drinks, head over to the stylish suburb of Ponsonby. Try the fabulously-named MooChowChow for authentic Thai food or SPQR for great Italian food and the place to chill out with a cocktail or two.
Check your i-Site. I think NZ has the best tourist information service in the world. Helpful, informative and passionate about their country, they’ll help you book activities and tickets for activities and find any maps you need.
What’s Going On? Keep an eye on events.nz.com before you go for the insider’s guide to exhibitions, gigs, markets and festivals.