New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland is the quintessential little big city. I had the pleasure of visiting during the heady days of the Rugby World Cup, a contest in which the All Blacks eventually emerged victorious, defeating France 8-7 and breaking a dry run of 24 years. The city was festive and in a party-going mood; and that was before the finals. Auckland is a remarkably friendly, and above all pleasant little city – the perfect base to the rest of the North Island, but with enough sights to warrant a day or a weekend spent within its cosy bars, wandering the quiet streets and exploring the excellent museums.
Spacious, light-filled and modern, the Art Gallery hosts a vast collection of New Zealand artists, of both European and Maori origin. My favourite was the installation from Michael Parakowhai, a Maori sculptor. His “The Indefinite Article” is a giant piece of text that dominated an entire room – “I AM HE.” The word “he” is an indefinite article (hence the title of the work) as well as the Maori word for “wrong.” There are other works that date from colonial to contemporary and best of all – the Gallery is free.
2. Sky City and Casino
A key component of Auckland’s skyline, Sky City is a complex in the middle of the city centre. Inside there is a casino for high rollers, a revolving restaurant with 360 degree views for foodies and a Sky Jump from the top of Sky Tower for the daring. There’s also restaurants, bars and two hotels to choose from. While I was there a Weta Cave shop opened in the bowels of the Sky City building – orcs, elven cloaks and merchandise galore. A LOTR fan dream come true.
3. Mount Eden
Fancy climbing a volcano? The highest non manmade point in Auckland, Mount Eden is the remains of a volcano that blew its top about 28,000 years ago, give or take. Now, the slopes are green and verdant, and the only thing remaining of the volcano is the perfect, bowl shaped crated at its heart. Take a guided tour with Auckland Council’s Heritage Walk.
4. Wynyard Quarter
Wharf side, tree-lined streets, restaurants and cafes – what’s not to like about Wynyard Quarter? It’s also right next to the viaduct, where the festivities of the Rugby World Cup, complete with giant screen, bars, video games, and merchandise shops were situated. Lunch at Wynyard Quarter on a sunny day, fill up on New Zealand’s fresh, bountiful seafood, washed down with a glass of Oyster Bay wine.
5. Bars and cafes
The food in Auckland is fresh, the flavours simple. Explore the heart of the CBD, stopping by the many excellent bars, cafes and restaurants that line the streets. The meandering streets bordered by Queen Street, Albert Park and Beach Road are best for aimless discovery. If you find the Occidental Belgian Beer Cafe, order the mussels when they are in season.