New Zealand’s gateway and largest city, a direct Emirates route, is coming into its own, as spring is beginning
My Kind of Place: Auckland, New Zealand
The de facto capital of Polynesia is beginning to make the most of its natural blessings. Auckland is squeezed into an isthmus, with natural harbours on each side, a sprinkling of islands to its east and a series of volcanic cones sprinkled throughout.
In short, it should be a destination talked about in the same breath as Sydney, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro.
It isn’t, though, largely because Auckland has never truly hit its stride. But this is changing. New developments are giving the city a genuine dose of cool – and Auckland may be about to make the most of what it has been given.
A comfortable bed
The Great Ponsonby Arthotel (www.greatpons.co.nz) is essentially a B&B, but done exactly right, with lots of Pacific Islander art influences, and staff who are delighted to give run downs of their favourite local places to eat. Beds are comfy, while fair-trade teas and hot chocolates are in the rooms, which cost from 162 New Zealand dollars (Dh432) a night.
Of the chain hotels, the Hilton (www.hilton.com/auckland) has a perfect waterside location and an amiable quirk factor. It has been designed to look like a cruise ship from the outside, and doubles down on nautical decor inside, down to the wave-pattern carpets. Double rooms cost fromNZ$ 331 (Dh883).
The Hotel DeBrett (www.hoteldebrett.com) is the most likeable high-end option. It is theatrical, eccentric, covered in art and livened up with a contradictory mix of antique and uber-contemporary furnishings. Doubles cost from $390 (Dh1,038).
Find your feet
Spending a day taking on the 16-kilometre coast-to-coast walk is the classic way to get fit and take in many of Auckland’s best attractions. Take the train from Britomart to Onehunga, then follow the signs.
The route involves climbing up two volcanic cones – One Tree Hill, where cows and sheep roam free in an incongruous urban setting, and Mount Eden. The latter is the highest point in the city and offers spectacular views of the harbour.
Near the end of the trek, you will find the sprawling parklands of the Auckland Domain, which plays host to the excellent Auckland Museum (www.aucklandmuseum.com).
The bottom floor has great collections on Maori and Pacific Islander culture and history, while the first is all about New Zealand’s tempestuous geology. Volcano and earthquake geeks should head straight up there.
Meet the locals
Waiheke Island is technically a suburb, but acts as Aucklanders’ favourite weekend retreat. Some of New Zealand’s best destination-dining restaurants can be found on the vine-covered hilltops, while there are walking trails with magical clifftop views criss-crossing the island, and a series of impressive beaches such as the long straight stretch at Onetangi. Ferries (www.fullers.co.nz) take 30 minutes to reach there from downtown, and run until late.
Book a table
Ponsonby Central (www.ponsonbycentral.co.nz) is the best example of how Auckland is trying new ideas and catching a bit of cool. It feels like a cross between a traditional restaurant strip and a food court. Every joint caters to its own niche, whether rotisserie chicken or Argentinian barbecue, while giving an overall vibe of a coherent whole. It has surprises in store, too, sprawling down two adjacent laneways. The Dairy (www.the-dairy.co.nz) is a fine example of what is found there, specialising in grilled cheese sandwiches that cost from 15 dollars (Dh40).
Culprit (www.culprit.co.nz) is giving the dim-sum concept a New Zealand twist. Individually priced mini-dishes arrive on trolleys, but include local ingredients such as honey yams, venison carpaccio or kingfish chowder. The results are experimental and largely high-quality.
The Queens Arcade (www.queensarcade.co.nz), a Georgian diversion off main shopping strip Queen Street, is home to several specialists, many of which sell distinctive Kiwi items, such as possum knitwear, wood carvings or greenstone jewellery. There is also Marbecks, a fantastic record shop that makes special efforts to give prominence to emerging local artists.
The Britomart (www.britomart.org) precinct which is around the main transit centre has been given a makeover, too, now housing flagship stores for several New Zealand designers.
What to avoid
For all of Auckland’s improvements, the city centre is not its strength. Central Auckland is best used as a base for a series of half- or full-day trips to the genuinely beautiful places within its boundaries – such as the Hauraki Gulf islands or the black sand beaches such as Karekare and Piha on the west coast.
New Zealand won the America’s Cup earlier in the year, and bumbling amateurs have their chance to play at being world-class yachtsmen in the Explore Group’s America’s Cup Sailing Experience (www.exploregroup.co.nz; 170 dollars [Dh454]). It is a twist on a classic harbour cruise, in a racing yacht used as a training vessel for the big event, and passengers get roped in as crew to grind, tack and jibe the yacht at high speed.
Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies direct from Dubai to Auckland, from Dh6,510 return.