The Gateway to New Zealand
As the most populous city in the country, and the only one with a half-decent airport, it’s hard to avoid Auckland if you’re planning on visiting New Zealand. From the rugged West Coast, the glistening waters of the northern North Island, and countless other exhaustively and whimsically described wonders of New Zealand, to the drab, grey urban landscape Auckland persists in presenting to the world, the scenic transformation can seem dramatic. And depressing. I don’t want this to come across too negatively. I think now is a good time for a disclaimer.
Disclaimer: I’ve grown up in Auckland, and have ultimately spent more time here than I maybe would have liked to, and as such, my outlook is skewed towards cynicism – don’t let that fool you. I quite like the place really.
Cynicism aside, such an upbringing has let me in on a few secrets, a few gems, dotted around the region, gems I will now attempt to polish and highlight in this article, for you, the unwashed masses and optimistic tourist. For those wishing to relocate to Auckland on a more permanent basis, I advise looking at some other articles (or getting your head examined). This article is not for you.
So, enough of the negativity, the doom and gloom. Welcome, dear reader, to an exciting orientation of the City of Sails.
Things To Do
There are actually a surprising number of tourist-focussed activities available in Auckland, activities which, as a permanent citizen, I find far too expensive to justify doing on a regular basis. This, combined with the fact that any travel guide you pick up in or around the city is likely to give you all the info on all the things you could possibly wish to throw money at, means I will not be going into detail about the giant hypodermic needle that decorates our skyline (the SkyTower), the Harbour Bridge bungee or bourgeoise Waiheke Island wine tours in this article. Instead, here are some of my favourite (read: cheapest) ways to waste time if you’re in Auckland on a budget.
If you fancy getting annihilated by some monster waves, go to Piha. If you fancy seeing one of the most beautiful, wild West Coast beaches in the North Island go to Piha. If you fancy paying $9 for a pie at the only shop for miles around, go to Piha. Less than an hours drive from the CBD and with some stunning native bush to explore in the surrounding area, Piha is a great day trip for those who are (understandably) already bored of the urban metropolis we call Auckland. Check out the Mercer Bay loop walk off Te Ahu Ahu Road for some hella views and local history.
One of the many volcanic cones around the isthmus, but definitely the best one for taking panoramic photos of the city from. Best to go at night, see Auckland lit up in all it’s glory, and you’ll doubtless get at least one Instagram-worthy snap.
Silo Park is the centerpiece of the newly revamped Viaduct Quarter of the city. Some award-winning urban design (if you’re into that sort of thing) is worth checking out, but mostly just look out for the various (usually free) events they host there, from gigs and galleries to food festivals and silent films.
There’s hundreds of islands in the Hauraki Gulf, all of varying size, accessibility and quality, but for the most interesting trip check out Rangitoto/Motutapu. Rangitoto is only 600 years old, having literally exploded right in front of the Maori living on Motutapu at the time. With an abundance of wildlife, a convoluted and complicated history and a few friendly rangers, it’s hard not to have enjoy. Unless you work there for a week at a time like I have. Then it sucks.
If you have the time and the motivation, I recommend volunteering there or Motutapu for the day – you’ll get to see a lot of the island, learn some amazing, regurgitate-to-impress-your-friends facts, and maybe get to plant some trees. They’ll take anyone as a volunteer, they’re that desperate. The onsite ranger is an outstanding fisherman, so if you feel like wetting your line ask him for the best spots. He won’t tell you the actual best spots, because that’s just not what fishermen do, but he’ll tell you some pretty good ones all the same.
Without a doubt, the coolest street in Auckland. Maybe the only one. Beginning to suffer from the inevitable effects of gentrification, but if you’re a Macklemore fan there’s some cool thrift shops, and a bunch of delicious eateries, but mostly the charm of K Road comes from the characters. Hookers, homeless folk and the odd raving revolutionary are all down for a good old chinwag, and are for the most part nowhere near as scary as they can first appear.
Things to Eat
Apart from a traditional Hangi, authentic NZ food is something of a misnomer – you’re better off tasting the multiplicity of Asian restaurants dotted around the place, particularly around the hotspots of Dominion Road, Sandringham Road (for a great curry), and downtown. Here are some of my favourites.
Mercury Plaza 23-32 Mercury Lane
The grungiest, dirtiest food court you’re likely to see in a first world country, but the food is first rate, most notably the Japanese place upstairs and the Thai food downstairs.
Coco’s Cantina 376 Karangahape Road
Okay, not Asian food, but a fun place to eat. Their menu changes weekly, and usually delicious, and can get quite rowdy on Friday evenings.
Ponsonby Food Court 106 Ponsonby Road
There is no other reason to go to Ponsonby Road. Maybe I’m just saying that because I’m broke and Ponsonby is upper-middle class central. In either case, the food court is always busy which gives you an indication of how good the food is. Just don’t bother with the Italian counter on the end, everything else has something to offer.
Eden Noodles 105 Dominion Road
The best till last! Order handmade noodles in Special Sauce with Crispy Pork Mince on Top (Dry), and the dumplings in Chilli and Paper (yes, paper) soup. Also read the menu for a laugh at some good old fashioned translation errors (slobbery chicken anyone?).
If you’re in Auckland for a while, you’ll need a car. Taxis are expensive, the trains are improving but provide about as much network coverage as a G-string bikini, and the buses, don’t even get me started on the buses.
Presumably, if you’re going to be or have been exploring the rest of the country you’ll have hired some sort of vehicle, as that’s the only way to see the country properly, so I recommend holding onto it while you’re in Auckland too, especially if you’re staying more than 20 minutes from Downtown.
Getting the Hell Out of There
As above, get a car/van. If you’ve arrived in the country with a plan, you might not need this advice, but for those who are like me (i.e. completely inept when it comes to preparation), heed this warning: an awful fate awaits those travellers who attempt to see NZ by bus.
It’s Not So Bad
Cynical I may be, and in my eyes, justifiably so. But there are definitely ways to avoid boredom in Auckland, you just have to look for hard for them. Really hard.
One last piece of advice; make sure you refer to everyone as a JAFA, this shows you’re a local and will likely get you better service and better seats at restaurants etc. Honestly. I promise.