Exotic...edgy...exciting...these may not be the words that spring to mind when thinking of Auckland as a holiday destination, but it actually has a lot to offer, and may well surprise you. A three hour flight (and getting out of Australia) is a fairly compelling reason to go there, but if you need more, try stunning wild scenery, a brilliant cafe culture, great shopping, fabulous vineyards and water everywhere.
As I grew up there I may be a little biased, but I did leave it nearly 20 years ago, and each time I go back to visit I'm more enthralled with this city. It's quite diverse, incredibly relaxing and the people are ridiculously friendly. Below are pics and tips from my last visit.
First stop: Waiheke Island
Only 30 mins by glorious ferry from downtown Auckland, this little island has seduced people for decades. Originally only inhabited by hippies and alternative people (with long-drop toilets!), Waiheke has become a little gentrified with many Aucklanders having holiday houses there. However, it still has a reasonable permanent population and hasn't lost any of it's charm - just gained a few more cool cafes.
You can take the car ferry over from a different part of Auckland, but no need when there are buses to take you all over the island, or do what I did and hire an electric bike from Oneroa village (or non-electric of course if you like steep hills).
The plethora of vineyards is reason enough to visit Waiheke, and there are special buses that take you around, vineyard-hopping. They all offer incredible food, as well as wine tasting of course. Below is our pick that day - Stonyridge Vineyard in Onetangi - la ovely view over olive groves and one of the best platters I've ever eaten.
Did I mention beaches? Think deep green water and huge pohutakawa trees leaning over the sand offering shade. The top beaches are Oneroa, Onetangi, and Palm Beach (all on the northern side of the island).
Next stop: Titirangi
Set in the bush and full of creative, nature-loving people, Titirangi is only a 25 minute drive from Auckland CBD, but feels a million miles away. It's surrounded by dense bush and birdsong, and has a buzzing little village with lots of shops and cafes. Our pick that day fro breakfast was Deco Eatery in the historic Lopdell House building. Fairly new, the interior has been transformed, and is a cross between Turkish and Scandinavian - may sound strange but really works! Patterned aqua tiles, oak and marble interact beautifully, and my Turkish breakfast was pretty good too, served out of interesting earthenware and metal platters.
After breakfast, duck next door to the contemporary art gallery - Te Uru. There was a wonderful James Cousins exhibition on, plus some beautiful ceramics.
Last stop: CBD
I didn't visit the CBD this time so don't have any pics, but it's a pretty good place to base yourself as you're near the ferry and transport links. Not just a soulless CBD, the Britomart area has been rejuvenated and has some great shopping and restaurants. I've enjoyed delicious Vietnamese meals at Cafe Hanoi.
There is also a lovely waterfront area stretching along Tamaki Drive to the east and to the Viaduct Harbour to the west. Re-developed in 200 when the America's Cup Yacht race was hosted in Auckland, The Viaduct, and Beaumont Quarter next to it, offer a huge array of restaurants and bars overlooking the marina. Or you can feel the thrill of sailing on an America's Cup yacht for the day.
Nearby is Ponsonby Road with it's cool cafes and bars (SPQR never fails) and Newmarket for great shopping. The Auckland Museum in the Domain has a wonderful Maori cultural show and spine-tingling haka, on daily.
So if you're visiting New Zealand but are planning to head straight to the South Island, think again. Likewise if you're planning a long weekend away and love food, wine, scenery and shopping, look at going to Auckland. There are wonderful experiences to be had, almost on your doorstep.