Auckland Travel Guide

Auckland Travel Guide

As New Zealand’s largest metropolis and the world’s largest Polynesian city, Auckland has long been proud of the diversity of its 1.4 million residents. Centred around the soaring Sky Tower needle, the City of Sails blends history, culture, and nature like no other. Far from being late to the party as a result of its geographic isolation, New Zealand was the first country in Oceania to legalise gay marriage, making it a hub for the region’s LGBTQ population. Regularly ranked as one of the gayest cities in the world, the gaybourhood around Auckland’s K’ Road is at its most colourful during Pride celebrations in February. However, there’s always plenty going on, as you’ll discover with our gay Auckland guide.

The best hotels in Auckland

A short walk from the Sky Tower and Auckland’s famed waterfront in the Central Business District (CBD), the low-rise art deco stylings of Hotel DeBrett on the fashionable High Street stand in sharp contrast to the modern tower blocks that surround it. Each of its 25 individually decorated boutique rooms mixes mid-twentieth century and contemporary furnishings to create an airy but elegant setting for any city stay. The nearby SKYCITY Grand Hotel offers spacious rooms with fantastic views of the skyline and other Auckland points of interest. Just around the corner from the Sky Tower, this hotel’s facilities include a 25-metre heated indoor lap pool, fitness centre, and sauna. Right on the waterfront on the edge of the Viaduct Basin area, which is one of the city’s main nightspots, M Social provides harbour views from every room. A laid-back ambience pervades the interior, thanks in part to the subtle yet playful design, and to the well-chosen feature furniture that stands out in the otherwise neutral colour scheme.

The modern edifice of Cordis is equally well located, just a stone’s throw from Karangahape Road, better known as the gay district’s K’ Road. Its collection of rooms simply ooze sophistication with their soft grey colour palette, complimentary warm wood surfaces, and top-quality soft furnishings. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of K’ Road, you’ll find Haka Hotel Suites. These stylish self-contained apartments include a small kitchenette and private lounge area, in addition to a balcony that would be the ideal setting for a glass of wine over a romantic sunset.

Photo: Marissa Rodriguez

Photo: Marissa Rodriguez

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Recommended hotels in Auckland
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Piha Beach | Photo: Tim Marshall

Piha Beach | Photo: Tim Marshall

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Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, is home to 15,000 works from home-grown, Pacific, and international talent

Things to do in Auckland

New Zealand’s largest art institution, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, is home to 15,000 works from home-grown, Pacific, and international talent. One of the top Auckland things to do, a regular series of temporary exhibitions accents the 150-year-old collection, which spans genres as diverse as William Blake watercolours and Jacob Epstein bronzes. For live art performances, head to The Civic Theatre, a former cinema and splendid survivor of the art deco period. It’s worth the cost of a ticket for the opportunity to explore the enchanting original interior, which includes a re-creation of the southern hemisphere night sky in the 2,000-seat auditorium. To uncover the city’s Maori heritage, be sure to pay a visit to the Auckland Museum’s unmissable Maori Galleries. The hundreds of exquisite exhibits are considered deeply-held treasures by those of Maori descent and provide visitors a window into all walks of traditional Maori life. The full-sized and intricately carved wooden buildings in Maori Court, and hunting and fishing trinkets in the Natural History Gallery, are just the start.

Wherever you are in Auckland, you’ll feel salt on the air, a sign that you’re never far from the ocean. The country’s history is intricately linked with its coastline, and Maritime Museum-run sailings offer a fantastic way to get out onto the water for yourself. There are a variety of vessels to choose between, from steamboats to fully-rigged sailing ships, each of which delivers a unique way to explore the City of Sails. Back on dry land, stop off at the museum to explore its collection of more ancient vessels; admission is included in the price of sailings. If you’d rather try your luck in the waves rather than on them, Muriwai Surf School is just a 35 minutes’ drive from Auckland’s CBD, on a spectacular west coast beach. Welcoming all levels of experience to their two-hour lessons, this school is also the place for pros to rent boards and wetsuits before heading out into the country’s great breaks.

New Zealand Maritime Museum

New Zealand Maritime Museum

New Zealand Maritime Museum

New Zealand Maritime Museum

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Recommended experiences in Auckland
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What to see in Auckland

Situated within the upmarket residential area of the same name, Mount Eden (Maungawhau) is a popular green space a couple of miles south of the CBD. It offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and an insight into Auckland’s volcanic origins. The city’s highest point, this dormant volcanic cone rises 196 metres above the surrounding area while boasting an impressive crater 50 metres deep. Another pleasant escape for those wondering what to do in Auckland is a visit to Waiheke Island. One of the city’s most bohemian districts, the island is a hangout for artists and sees a seemingly endless number of private galleries pop up as a result. Most visitors to Waiheke, however, are seeking a couple of days of rest and relaxation on its sheltered sandy beaches.

Whatever the reason for visiting Waiheke, make sure you check out the Public Art Route on the way to the waterfront ferry terminal. Here you’ll find the brilliant Long Modified Bench, which winds its way ribbon-like along Waitematā Plaza, and the more traditional form of A Māori Figure in a Kaitiaki Cloak by Molly Macalister.

If the 40-minute ferry ride to Waiheke sounds too much like hard work, the unusual black sands of Piha Beach are located just west of the city. Having played a bit part in Oscar-winning film The Piano, the rugged scenery around Lion Rock is sure to leave you spellbound. However, if it’s an inner-city oasis you’re after, look no further than Silo Park. Packed with picnic benches, the park is the location for many of Auckland’s finest street food vendors, in addition to street performers, market stalls, an outdoor cinema, and a long series of live music events throughout the summer.

Piha Beach | Photo: Sylvain Cleymans

Piha Beach | Photo: Sylvain Cleymans

Waiheke Island | Photo: Greg Nunes

Waiheke Island | Photo: Greg Nunes

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The Grove has been named not only the best restaurant in the land of the long white cloud but also the ninth best in the world

Where to eat in Auckland

Although the Michelin star system has yet to make its way to New Zealand, that hasn’t stopped The Grove being named not only the best restaurant in the land of the long white cloud but also the ninth best in the world. Serving a modern take on classic cuisine, The Grove focusses on the seasonality of its ingredients, purchased from small local suppliers to ensure the freshest of flavour profiles. Using international influences to create the best of seasonal New Zealand cuisine, the reservation-free Depot Eatery is a great place to just drop by when hunger strikes after a long day of Auckland sightseeing. While it’s known for its oyster bar, much of its menu is seared over charcoal or wood to enhance the ingredients’ deep-set natural flavours. With space for just six diners and one menu option – the ten-course degustation menu served by the chefs themselves – Pasture uses traditional culinary techniques such as open-fire cooking and pickling to create dishes with tastes and textures seen nowhere else. In contrast, Sidart marries traditional Indian flavours with contemporary New Zealand cooking techniques. The effortlessly stylish interior acts as the perfect backdrop for dishes such as hapuka (groper) with Bengali spices, followed by jaggery with nutmeg and raspberry for dessert.

Transport yourself to the Middle East rather than the Indian subcontinent with the shared platters of Lebanese classics at Gemmayze St, which also hosts a ‘pay as you feel’ non-profit three-course menu of produce that would otherwise go to waste each Monday. Nearby Madame George is a favourite in the gay quarter, combining the vibe of a much-loved bar with the offerings of a fine-dining restaurant, and which places a particular focus on vegetarian- and vegan-friendly dishes. The Ponsonby Road Bistro has a menu that changes every three to four weeks, creating an informal and warm dining experience popular with locals, while an even more laid-back atmosphere can be enjoyed at the Orakei Bay Night Market. This market provides plenty of street food classics to choose between, accompanied by the sound of local up-and-coming musicians. But if you’d rather eschew the mains altogether and go straight to dessert (and why wouldn’t you?) then check out Giapo. More than your average ice cream parlour, this Auckland institution has served its imaginative and adventurous flavours of Italian gelato – including yellow kumara (a type of indigenous potato), and peach sorbet with apricot jam – to Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General.

Photo: Michelle Tsang

Photo: Michelle Tsang

Photo: Dan Gold

Photo: Dan Gold

Shopping in Auckland

The hottest brand in New Zealand menswear, I Love Ugly is the store in which to start any shopping trip in Auckland. With just enough of an edge to be noticeable without straying into oddness, the brand’s independent mindset has created a sophisticated simplicity in everything from its range of clothing to its cologne. For a more formal wardrobe update, head to Crane Brothers. Their made-to-measure suits, shirts, and winter coats continue the tradition of offering the finest tailoring and hand-worked garments, although the store also sells ready to wear accessories, including a beautiful range of Italian made trainers.

Creating a space in which to exhibit in-house designs as well as some of the most striking brands of the moment, the Simon James Concept Store has a collection that ranges from furniture to homeware accessories – all brought together by crisp lines and an über cool look. Doing the same for tea as Simon James does for design, Tea Total stands out as a counterpoint to the rise in coffee consumption, offering 151 different blends, both traditional and newly-invented. Each is carefully packaged in the store’s North Shore warehouse, using only the highest quality leaves, herbs, and fruits to create aromas you would never think possible from a humble mug of tea. Turning the idea of the souvenir store on its head, there isn’t an All Blacks shirt in sight at Elephant House, a gift shop in the village of Purnell which has been supporting local artisans for more than 30 years by acting as a gallery space for their authentic Kiwi works. Tactile wooden objet d’art, pounamu (greenstone) jewellery, and carved bone are all in evidence, making it one of the must-see things to do in Auckland.

Tea Total Shop

Tea Total Shop

Photo: Dan Freeman

Photo: Dan Freeman

Cosy yet sophisticated, with the style of a contemporary wine bar but the air of an Old World pub, My Bar successfully manages to be all things to all people

Auckland nightlife

The gay quarter’s K’ Road has its fair share of bars and clubs, but we’ve picked out the Eagle Bar for our Auckland travel guide as a relaxed space in which to start – or end – any evening out in the city. Meanwhile, the bistro-like setup of Apero provides an intimate setting in which to enjoy the K’ Road vibe alongside good food and great wine. Managing to weave together casual dining and a sophisticated ambience, SPQR is a bar and restaurant popular with the LGBTQ crowd. You’ll find it busy throughout the day thanks to its outdoor dining, fresh Mediterranean-inspired menu, and a long list of champagnes.

Cosy yet sophisticated, with the style of a contemporary wine bar but the air of an Old World pub, My Bar successfully manages to be all things to all people. The six regularly cycling taps satisfy craft beer drinkers, while off-the-wall cocktails tempt those with a sweeter tooth. For a wilder night out, there’s nowhere better than Caluzzi Bar & Cabaret. At Auckland’s original drag queen cabaret evening, Taro, Elibra, and friends serve tables in what is widely recognised as one of the funniest nights around. Finally, for the best of the underground house and techno scenes, head to Ink Bar, which has regular live DJs sets in addition to a stunning bar.

Apero

Apero

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