visiting auckland

Framed ViewPeople would probably say Auckland is an odd choice to spend all your time in if you are going to New Zealand, especially with the beauty of the South Island beckoning. And I would venture to guess that most only visit Auckland for a couple of days before they head south for great adventure. But I like a nice city, and had no problem filling my nearly 6 days to the brim. I rather liked it there. If you like a beautiful city that’s easy to get around, full of nice people, with beaches all about, good food, is multi-cultural, and easy going . . . you will probably like it there too. Maybe next time I’ll head south. Or maybe not.

Stay:

I did the AirBnB thing again and I am just absolutely in love with the whole concept. I had booked a hip design hotel in the CBD where most of the hotels in Auckland are located. But when my research started telling me that the bulk of what I wanted to do was not in the CBD, I opted to cancel the hotel and, instead, find a place in what seemed like the best residential neighborhood — Ponsonby. And I wasn’t wrong. Not only was it much more economical but the neighborhood was fantastic. Exactly where I would want to live if I lived in Auckland. And being in a little apartment there, indeed made me feel like a local.BnBMy host, Jennifer, has sectioned off the front of her charming bungalow into a private accommodation with a walled garden, glass double doors, a comfy light-filled bedroom, and a large modern bathroom. The added wall between the BnB unit and the back of the home where she lives, is cleverly disguised by a full length curtain. The furnishings are eclectic and beautiful. There is no kitchen but she supplies the makings for coffee & tea and a small fridge. There is TV, Wi-Fi, a washer and dryer, ample closet space to unpack, extra bedding, a hair dryer, literature on the area, and suggestions for local activities & restaurants. Plus, anything else you might need is within a stones throw. The perfect accommodation, in the perfect neighborhood. I couldn’t have asked for more.

See and Do:

Big Foody Tour — right off the plane I was picked up and whisked off on a little tour of some of Auckland’s foodie destinations. We went to a charming farmers market, the fish market, a local cookbook shop and stopped to take in the stunning views high above the city at One Tree Hill and Mt. Eden and even visited the north shore beaches for a look-see. My favorite part was meeting Elle, the proprietor. She may just be the friendly type but I felt an instant kinship. Following the tour, she emailed me a list of places to go based on my interests, we kept in touch via text throughout the week, and we even met up for dinner one night.

Hobsonville Point Farmers Market — While I visited as part of my above food tour, you can take the ferry right to the door of this farmers market, making it easy to get to, not to mention, a beautiful and uniquely Auckland-esque experience. The market is small but every vendor is special. Award winning olive oils, Manuka honey, sausages, cheeses, hand made crackers, jams, produce, baked goods, and prepared foods as well — don’t miss the cinnamon ginger tea at the Asian Pancake stall. Every Saturday and Sunday from 9-1.farmers Market

Tip:  Definitely pick up a jar (or better yet two) of Manuka Honey. Not only is it delicious but it has amazing healing powers (Really! The anti-biotic nature of this honey is well documented and each batch is tested and rated on a strength & effectiveness scale from 5 to 25) and it’s unique to the North Island of New Zealand. First day hesitancy kept me from buying the Earthbound Raw Manuka Honey 250 I enjoyed at the market. But thankfully Elle tracked it down for me at Little Bird Organics, 1A Summer Street, just a block away from home. I only wish I would have bought more even at NZ $32 a jar and added weight to my suitcase.

Cook the BooksCook the Books Cooking Workshops, 139 RIchmond Road, Grey Lynn — another stop on my foodie tour was this lovely little cookbook shop run by a husband and wife team that live upstairs. Most weeknights they offer cooking demonstration classes for up to 8 people that include a hearty meal and drinks (beer or wine) for NZ $55-60. I’ll choose an experience with locals any day over dragging home a heavy book and so I quickly signed up for an Indonesian/Malaysian class on a Wednesday night at 7PM. I am now a new fan of Malaysian food with its balance of sweet and spicy flavors and promise to actually cook the recipes we sampled. Fantastic food, new friends, new recipes and great memories all in one night — highly recommended!cooking classThe Black Sand Beaches — There is plenty of natural beauty to behold in and around Auckland, from volcanoes, to green pastures, to beaches, waterfalls, and sub-tropical rain forests but for my money, the black sand beaches take the cake. You’ll need a car and no fear of narrow, curvy roads, or left side driving to get there. Or do what I did and take the full day Auckland Adventure tour with Milestone Tours. On this tour you’ll take in all the beauty of the Western Coastal region but the highlight for me was definitely the black sand beaches. They are simply breathtaking.Piha BeachRose Hellaby House — this was a stop on my West Coast tour but just in case you are traveling on your own, be sure not to miss it. By far my favorite view over the city was from the cliff-side deck behind this lovely home in the Waitakere Ranges that now acts as an antique shop open to the public on the weekends, while the grounds are open daily. I can only imagine what it would be to live there and look out the bedroom window to that view everyday.

Auckland Art Gallery, Kitchner & Wellsley Streets, CBD — Funnily enough, the gallery was hosting a special exhibit of modern Australian Aboriginal Art when I was there. Australia being my next stop, I found this keenly interesting and paid for the exhibit while the rest of the smallish museum was free. Recently re-opened after a huge redesign project, the building is a beautiful modern timber and glass structure that looks out over neighboring Albert Park — a treat in itself. TOI Spectacular views abound  — over the park, into the city. It’s worth going just for that if you ask me. But i was impressed by many works on display as well. A very rewarding and rich experience. And if that’s not enough, my absolute most favorite thing I brought home with me from this trip were 4 paper kangaroo masks that were a free kids activity associated with the Australian art exhibit. Go figure!

Tip: Because the museum is free, it is a great CBD bathroom stop if needed.

Auckland War Memorial Museum — don’t be put off by the name of this museum. The main draw here is the indigenous Maori cultural exhibit and show. I left this until the last day not sure I was that interested in spending $45 to see a staged performance that I was sure would be cheesy and touristy. I would go only if i had the time. But let me tell you, this was one of my favorite things. First off, the walk through the Domain (park) to the museum was beautiful. The 30 minute show was really well done, informative and super entertaining. I was blown away by the voices of the 7 cast members, especially the girls. I skipped the picture taking session with the cast in native dress following but did wander through the exhibit (included in the price) that traces the history of the Maori people and includes an impressive collection of cultural treasures.

Eat:

Little & FridaysLittle & Friday, 43 Eversleigh Rd, Belmont— this was undoubtedly my most favorite stop in Auckland. Not only for the food but for the entire experience. Located on a residential street in a suburban neighborhood inland of Takapuna Beach on the North Shore, you’ll wonder how anybody finds this place. Yet it has become a true destination. Here’s the trick about getting there that I learned on the way home — there is a bus stop immediately across the street that connects you to the Bayswater Ferry Terminal with direct service to Downtown Auckland once every hour. After finding my way to the cafe through a much more circuitous route, indulging in a Mediterranean frittata, lemon meringue tart and house made hibiscus soda, talking with my expat American communal tablemates, soaking in the atmosphere and grabbing a raspberry jelly/custard combo donut for later . . . taking my first ferry ride towards the downtown skyline on a sunny afternoon, was the icing on the cake.

Depot Eatery, 86 Federal Street, CBD — the hottest restaurant in town at the moment with communal tables, shared plates, a casual atmosphere and flavorful, wood-fired food. No reservations are taken so expect to wait. What we ate: Yorkshire pudding, bone marrow on toast, Kingfish belly with eggplant kasandi on toast, and brussel sprouts. All wonderful!

IMG_3797Best Ugly Bagels, Wellesley & Nelson Streets, CBD — I was warned these bagels were nothing like what I was used to — as they are sweetened with sugar water after baking. But loaded with cream cheese, lox, capers & onions, I didn’t find them sweet at all. The vibe of the place in a converted warehouse complex, was relaxed and kind of hipster. When you place your order over the loud music, the entire staff yells it back in confirmation. $12 for my order (called The King) might be a little higher than a bagel joint in the states but every bit quality and just as good.

No. 1 Pancake, 38 Lorn Street, CBD — for a cheap street food fix in the heart of Auckland University territory this little joint is a students dream. Asian style pancakes stuffed with melty cheese and other fillings (I chose veggies). They’re greasy, gooey, delicious and just about $5.

moustacheMoustache, 12 Wellesley Street, CBD — milk & cookies in a cute milk bottle and moustache laden CBD storefront. I had read the cookies were nothing special — more like those you might make at home than pay top dollar for in a shop. However, my large chocolate cookie with a soft peanut butter & melted chocolate center was pretty special right out of the oven. Cookies are $3.50 each plus $1.50 for dunking milk.

Bird on a Wire, 234 Ponsonby Road — just my kind of place. Spit roasted chicken and an assortment of side salads. Nothing fancy but simply delicious. The kind of place i could eat at every night. Generous portions, good prices, and just around the corner from my apartment.

mince pieThe Food Room, 250 Ponsonby Road — you must have a “pie” when down under. Savory fillings of beef, lamb, chicken or vegetables in various flavor combinations surrounded by a flaky crust served with “sauce” (tomato ketchup). This place makes a mean pie and was my perfect first night early dinner to welcome me to New Zealand. Also located just around the corner from my apartment.

Little Bread & Butter, 136-8 Ponsonby Road — one of many restaurants at the Ponsonby Central Market complex, this little bakery is a great breakfast or lunch stop. But you could hardly go wrong at any of the restaurants in the market. In fact, you could probably eat at the Market every day, experience plenty of variety and be perfectly happy. Just a hop, skip and jump away from the apartment. Seeing a pattern here?

Shop:

On my very first afternoon in town, after my food tour, I decided to take a little walk to buy a bus pass at a local grocers. I grabbed some cash, left my phone (and therefore camera) at home and wouldn’t you know, I happened into my favorite little shopping strip of the entire city — the far end of Jervois Road in neighboring Herne Bay. No photos but here are the highlights:

Simon James Concept Store, 230 Jervois Road – my absolute favorite shop offering a well curated selection of international and local homewares, art, clothing & accessories, and Aesop toiletries (of course!). The nicest woman was working when I happened in. We chatted about travel and she offered a list of restaurants I shouldn’t miss. Rumor has it they also take appointments for the city’s best facialist who has her studio out back. I just loved this place!

Father Rabbit, 232 Jervois Road — a real point of view this shop has. Homewares and cleaning supplies of the natural and simple material variety. All white surrounds, the shop just makes you take a breath and soak it all in.

Novel, 202 Jervois Road — the perfect little selection of just the books and magazines you want to read. Interesting fiction, cookbooks, travel books, design magazines. Not much more. Lovely.

Kathryn Wilson Footwear, 236A Jervois Road — local womens shoe designer with a quirky yet stylish point of view. As the girl at Simon James put it, “Sometimes she’s off but when she’s on, she’s really, really good.”

In addition to these lovely shops, my walk home through the residential streets (a challenging uphill adventure) took me by beautiful home, after beautiful home. Because of the unseasonably hot weather, each had their front door wide open revealing a common style central hallway that consistently lead to gorgeous modern additions out the back. I honestly could have moved into any one of them. It was like my own private house tour and had I had my camera I could have shared this unexpected treat.

department storeThe Department Store, 10 Northcroft Street, Takapuna  — this store was the thing that started me thinking about going to Auckland to begin with. Can you imagine, a shop inspiring a trip to the other side of the world? But that’s the way I roll. Multiple venues under one roof:  A cafe, a beauty bar, a hairdresser, children’s shop, various mens and womens wear boutiques including Karen Walker (who also owns the place) and Top Shop. Think of it as a kind of poor mans Dover Street Market, although the stock is not cheap by any means. Located in Takapuna Beach, it’s a bit off the beaten path for tourists but easily reached by a 40 minute bus ride. Worth it if you want to take in the beach or venture to Little & Friday as I did. But otherwise, this concept shop that may be the only place of its kind in New Zealand, really isn’t so unique in the end. Although they do have a great website that is worth a regular read.

Dry & Tea, 90 Wellesley Street, CBD — part tea shop and part salon you can buy a lovely pink and gold Limoge teapot for $500 or get your hair done. Tempted by the first, I opted for the latter as is my newest luxury when I travel — having somebody else blow out and straighten my hair so i don’t have to pack a hairdryer. My stylist, did a wonderful job and it was NZ $45 well spent. Book ahead online and ask for Sam.

Ponsonby Road Favorites:

everydayEveryday Needs,  270 Ponsonby Roadowned by a young interior designer this special shop (and I don’t say that lightly) emphasizes well crafted items for the home and personal use. Together they make for a beautiful collection with a decidedly minimalist flair.

Karen Walker, 128 A Ponsonby Road– This local designer has shops all around the city including the Department Store (above) & Britomart. However, this location was the nicest and carried the best assortment from her extensive line in my view.

Zambesi, 169 Ponsonby Road — a local upscale designer shop that I discovered first in Melbourne. It is always nice to see the home turf version.

The Stockroom, 2/282 Ponsonby Road – a tiny little shop that carries very nice, casual imports from Australia, Europe, and the USA.

Superette 3/282 Ponsonby Road — This funky shop for men, women, and home has a little bit of everything and a casual relaxed atmosphere.

Flotsam & Jetsom, 86 Ponsonby Road — an interesting assortment of vintage oddities, books, classic homewares and on Saturdays only, Little & Friday’s amazing donuts are on offer as well.

Despite all these lovely shops, I didn’t find anything I needed to buy in Auckland (except some wine & honey). So I launched plan B — search out the reproduction Crown Lynn mid-century ceramics I had seen on a local design blog.  crown lynnKitchy yet beautiful I love the entire collection, especially the swan vases. I stopped in every kiwiana shop in hopes that they would be there and found lots of Tikis and Kiwis, but no swans. Then on my very last day I found a small assortment of pitchers at The Texan Art School, 95 Ponsonby Road. Content with my purchase of a large pink pitcher emblazoned with Made in New Zealand, I headed off to the museum that I had saved for the last day. Wouldn’t you know, the gift shop at the War Memorial Museum had a large selection of Crown Lynn reproductions on display in the window. As tempted as I was to buy a swan, too, I had no idea how I was going to get it and a pitcher home. So I decided one great souvenir of my trip to New Zealand would be enough.

 Odds ‘n Ends:

Travel

  • I flew Air New Zealand from LAX to Auckland using miles and the taxes were only $17. A pretty great deal. My first time flying Air New Zealand, I really appreciated the sense of humor the airline has. Our campy safety video featured scantily clad Sports Illustrated models on the country’s beaches while others reported their safety video starred the cast of Lord of the Rings. The bathrooms (which were kept immaculate for the full 13 hour flight — my biggest pet peeve on long haul flights is the filthy bathrooms after so many hours in the air) had fancy chandeliers wallpapered on the walls. I got a kick out of that.
  • I flew Emirates Air from Auckland to Melbourne and it was extremely economical. A four hour international flight on an A380 for US $175. You could easily swing over for a weekend at those prices.
  • My beloved car service Cars On Demand out of Australia, also operates in most New Zealand cities.

Getting Around:

  • If you read about the public transportation in Auckland it sounds dismal. But I found just the opposite. Buses go everywhere and ferries are a great compliment, not to mention kind of romantic. Both modes of transportation are extremely reliable and take the AT Hop Card, providing simple touch on access and discounted prices for every trip. So be sure to pick up a transit card for $5 that you can load with any amount of credit. For 6 days as my only transportation source, I spent apprx. $60 and I ventured out pretty far including a round trip ferry to Waiheke Island which accounted for over half of this amount.
  • There are two bus routes that loop around the city both clockwise and counter clockwise — the Inner and the Outer. Unless you are traveling far outside the city, one of these buses will take you anywhere you will probably want to go. $1.90 per ride or less with your AT Hop Card.
  • Download the AT Public Transport App for on the go transit directions and schedules. Having this information at my fingertips was a lifesaver.
  • Always exit out the back door and say thank you to the driver on buses. And if you’re using the AT Hop Card, don’t forget to touch off.
  • Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in Auckland. So to further complicate the look left, look right thing to accommodate left side driving, don’t ever expect a car to stop for you. Always proceed with extreme caution.

Lay of the Land:

  • The CBD is geared primarily at the tourist and there are throngs of them everywhere, from all over the world. In recent years a renaissance of sorts is taking place downtown with shops and restaurants moving in (led by the Britomart redevelopment which sounds like a big thing but is really very small). But this area still has a long way to go. I am extremely happy I opted out of staying in the CBD as I felt much safer and a part of local life in Ponsonby. One full day was more than enough to do what i wanted to do down there, other than connections to transport or the occasional destination restaurant. Stay off Queen Street as your number one rule. Better shopping and restaurants are on High Street (which runs parallel) and the small alleys and side streets.
  • Auckland is the land of volcanoes and is therefore very hilly. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a little huffing and puffing.
  • Humidity rules bringing with it mosquitoes (although mosquitoes in New Zealand do not carry threat of diseases) and curly hair if you are so inclined. Be warned.

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