We’re cruising under the Auckland Harbour Bridge on a late-afternoon sail around the city’s Waitemata Harbour when our boat captain says, “Okay, everyone, if you look up, you might get lucky and see someone bungee-jump off the bridge.”
Our ferry slows down, and we get a clear view of a woman plunging from the bridge, held up by just a knot of a long rope that leaves her inches from the icy waters below.
New Zealand invented the bungee jump, which comes as no surprise considering the country is an adrenaline junkie’s dream. Our trip on the Fullers ferry harbor cruise offers a quick taste of what the city has in store. On land, as my colleague and I explore Auckland after a business trip, our itinerary includes one of the city’s main cultural attractions: the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which houses well-curated Maori and Pacific collections. We spend a couple hours discovering the history and art of the country and are also treated to a Maori cultural performance showcasing song, dance and spiritual calls. Before leaving, we make sure to peruse the photographs by Margaret Matilda White, who captured images from the Auckland Mental Hospital in the late 1800s.
The museum sits atop Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park, located on an ancient volcano. The Domain is also home to Sensory Gardens, Wintergardens, formal gardens and other open space.
Nearby lies the trendy village of Parnell, where we stop for a coffee at popular Domain and AYR Café before taking in the historic buildings, many of which have been transformed into boutiques, antique stores and specialty shops. Though mostly window shopping, we make sure to browse the irresistible Chocolate Boutique Café for a sweet-tooth fix, much like former President Bill Clinton did years ago.
Another art stop: We head to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, focusing on local art, though here it is mixed with works by the European masters as well as other artists based in the Pacific region.
Afterward, we head downtown for the highlights of the easily walkable Central Business District — the funky shops and cafés on Karangahape Road, better known as K Road, and the more general shopping district on Queen and High streets. K Road is also Auckland’s nightlife hub with karaoke bars, pubs and live music venues in the mix.
On our walk around the waterfront, we make a stop at the New Zealand Maritime Museum, located in the restaurant and entertainment precinct of Viaduct Harbour. Yachts used in the America’s Cup take visitors sailing here and, though we don’t make the trip, we do spy an America’s Cup yacht in the harbor.
Just outside downtown Auckland, the Museum of Transport and Technology Aviation Hall impresses with its imposing military aircraft, such as the famous de Havilland Mosquito hanging overhead.
Our stay in New Zealand’s capital is literally topped by a visit to SkyCity Auckland, home to the iconic 1,000-foot Sky Tower, touted as the tallest freestanding tower in the Southern Hemisphere. We watch visitors leap from the tower and fall 630 feet straight down, an activity aptly called SkyJump, though jumpers are tethered to a wire. And even though the attraction promotes its full-body harness and overhead safety lines, we opt for the slightly less terrifying SkyWalk, hugging the edge of the Sky Tower’s platform.
For a lunch outing, we wander the City Works Depot, an old industrial complex now housing creative spaces like Dry & Tea, where patrons indulge in teas and cakes while getting a quick stylish blow wave, as well as foodie spots like popular Chef Al Brown’s Best Ugly Bagels — hand-rolled, boiled and wood-fired to New York bagel perfection.
Culinary hot spots spread throughout Auckland in neighborhoods like Ponsonby, Britomart and Parnell and also along Federal Street Precinct, home of popular Depot, headed by award-winning Chef Al Brown, as well as trendy locales like MASU by Nic Watt, Sean Connolly’s The Grill and Peter Gordon’s Bellota.
Visitors can embark on a variety of special food and wine tours, and we make time on our short four-day visit for the most popular tour in Auckland — the daytrip to Waiheke Island, featuring 30 vineyards.
“I see the island as a food and wine island,” says Jenny McDonald, our guide and director of Ananda Tours, which runs tours of Waiheke Island. Waiheke is known for its Bordeaux-style red wines, and McDonald explains, “In general, New Zealand is known for Sauvignon Blanc, but they can’t grow that on the island.”
In addition to producing wine, the island farms fresh oysters, produces local honey and mills olive oil, all of which visitors can experience on tours.
Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant is one of many on Waiheke we visit, along with specialty vineyards such as Jurassic Ridge, known for carrying vegan wines which don’t use any animal products in their production.
We head out early one morning to watch the daily fish auction from a viewing platform at the Auckland Fish Market, another popular stop. Also at the market, the Big Picture Wine Experience includes an interactive session in the Aroma Room, which teaches about the distinctive aromas of various New Zealand wines. A wine tasting with a winemaker follows a wine video.
For our final excursion, we choose to visit Sheepworld, New Zealand’s sheep and wool center, providing a step-by-step insight into how the country farms its sheep and harvests and uses the wool.
A live demonstration starts with dogs bringing in the sheep and continues to shearing and lamb feeding. The center’s “Wonderful Wool” multimedia exhibition explains how the shorn fleece is transformed into woolen products, some of which are on sale at the center’s small shop. I am tempted by everything from sheepskin rugs to miniature woolen stuffed lambs.
Alas, we’re not in Auckland at the right time for the interactive nature tour on Auckland’s Rangitoto and neighboring Motutapu islands with tribal guides. January through March and October through December, visitors participate in traditional practices such as food harvesting, weaving or learning the medicinal properties of the island’s flora and fauna.
We also learn New Zealand Rugby and Discovery Partners are building and will operate the All Blacks Experience visitor attraction in Auckland’s most recently developed waterfront precinct, The Wynyard Quarter. The interactive attraction showcasing the heritage, culture, people and stories from New Zealand rugby expects to open in 2017, all the more reason to schedule a return trip.
Auckland Info to Go
Air New Zealand offers direct service to Auckland (AKL) from North American gateways including Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Honolulu (HNL) and Vancouver (YVR). Starting in December, Air New Zealand will launch non-stop service from Houston (IAH). Domestic flights connect Auckland with destinations throughout the country. Cruising is another popular way to get to and explore New Zealand; most cruises depart from Australia and the Pacific Islands, and some are round-the-world journeys.
Where to Stay in Auckland
The Langham Auckland Along with its 411 guestrooms, the 5-star luxury hotel at the heart of the city offers views of the Auckland Domain, as well as the Palm Court bar focusing on handcrafted cocktails. 83 Symonds St. $$$$
Pullman Auckland With views of Auckland Harbour and parks, the hotel features 270 guestrooms and suites in the 14-story Pullman Tower, complemented by 70 deluxe rooms, one- and two-bedroom apartment-style suites and penthouses. Corner Princes Street and Waterloo Quadrant $$$$
SkyCity Grand Hotel Discover an oasis of sophisticated luxury in the vibrant heart of Auckland. The 5-star, 312-room hotel offers a range of facilities and services, including four on-site restaurants, three with award-winning chefs. 90 Federal St. $$$$
Restaurants in Auckland
Clooney Since opening in 2006, Clooney has won awards for its unique approach to Kiwi cuisine. Housed in a former warehouse, the space now emanates visions of grandeur. 33 Sale St., Freemans Bay $$$$$
Masu by Nic Watt Winning Metro Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year, Best New Restaurant and Best Smart Dining for 2014, Masu adds a modern twist to traditional Japanese robata cooking. SkyCity Grand Hotel, 90 Federal St. $$$$
Sidart Restaurant Sidart combines fresh and unusual ingredients with a menu the chefs constantly craft and tweak throughout the year. Tasting menus offer five- or nine-course options with wine pairings. Three Lamps Plaza, 283 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby $$$$
Hotel Indigo Madrid Princesa opened in Madrid’s primary shopping district (temporarily closed due to COVID-19, but expected to open soon), adjacent to Parque del Oeste, giving first-time visitors to Madrid a perfect location for city exploration. The property offers more than 100 guestrooms, with two designs found throughout, both inspired by the natural greenery found in Parque del Oeste and reflecting the spring and fall seasons. In-room amenities include smart televisions and complimentary WiFi.
Finding a beachfront Punta Cana all-inclusive resort for all ages can be daunting when you want to take home great memories with loved ones but also experience a sophisticated escape. Now, you can have both thanks to a new resort: Finest Punta Cana.
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The city took its name from Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy and war, and protector of the city. The financial, political and administrative center of the country and an all-powerful city-state in antiquity, Athens is a major center of culture. A visit to the first-ever museum dedicated to Byzantium, a stroll around the National Garden and a trip to the Olympeion archaeological site will take you back through time.
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