Newest Review: ... a daytrip incorporating an organised tour around 3 wineries and an olive grove. This is quite well organised; the ferry trip is included... more
New Zealand's largest metropolis uncovered
Auckland (New Zealand)
Member Name: larsbaby
Auckland (New Zealand)
Date: 26/12/09, updated on 29/12/09 (105 review reads)
Advantages: Great nature nearby, lots to do, great food, friendly people
Disadvantages: A long way to travel to see another industialised city
Following on from my general review of New Zealand, I thought I'd go into a bit more detail regarding our first port of call. Auckland. As we spent 5 days there, we managed to get to know the city and little bit and share our experiences.
The Hauraki Gulf Islands are easily reached by boat from the main harbour in the centre of the city. Great Barrier Island is the largest and has beaches, hot springs, a sanctuary and lots of walking paths, but it's a 4 ˝ hour ferry journey, or a 30 minute flight. We didn't go there though; our first excursion was a 20 minute boat ride to Rangitoto, which erupted from the sea about 600 years ago, and offers an interesting view of volcanic activity. We walked to the summit around a slightly tricky but mostly accessible path. There are several paths up and around, including one circling the crater rim, which is quite impressive. My own recommendation would be to get the earlier ferry out in the morning to ensure that you don't get scorched by the midday sun. Normally this is about 9am but there is also an "early bird" ferry at 7.30 pm at weekends which I personally think is a great option as you also avoid the throng too, and can get back into the city without using too much of the day up here. Also of note here are the old houses or Baches, built in the 1920s but now vacated due to government policy of making the island inhabitant free. The owners were allowed to stay and gradually after they passed on, the island became a sanctuary. Originally they were all to be demolished, but some remain and are restored for visitors to look at from outside. On the island some interesting plaques describe island life, and how islanders boasted they if they wanted a certain fish to eat, they'd just go out and catch it. The community sounded quite close knit and enjoyable.
Next on the island itinerary was Waiheke Island, an island which 30 years ago was populated by alternative types looking to drop out of city life; they couldn't give land away. Now though, thanks to the many wineries, real estate is very expensive and exclusive, and there is a mix of those old, bohemian types and the new businesses. Here you can stay at various hotels or even local houses rented out by enterprising islanders avoiding the tourists. It's also possible to take a daytrip, with the ferry taking 35 minutes. There are 26 wineries you can visit; some by appointment, some just by dropping by, some of which have fancy restaurants and gift shops where they will be more than happy to peddle their variously priced wines direct. We took the quick option, which was a daytrip incorporating an organised tour around 3 wineries and an olive grove. This is quite well organised; the ferry trip is included and you are met off the boat by the tour guide who will direct you to their bus. Our guide was very amusing and chatty, telling us about the island as we drove around. The 3 wineries varied in interest; one we found to be informative but lacking real interest, and selling hugely expensive wines, though our included lunch was in their restaurant and was pretty OK. Another was more interesting, also having a micro brewery where we bought a bottle of dark ale to taste later one. The final one though was the best, with the winery guide seeming to have real passion and interest in engaging with his visitors to bring this across. All 3 guided us to their gift shops, and the final one was honest in saying that these trips with the resultant wine purchases helped fund the winery. I can certainly recommend the Fullers wine tour as a good way to see this pretty island.
Visiting Auckland Museum takes you to Auckland Domain area, where you can also visit the Wintergarden, which has a tropical house, fernery and café. There are also playing fields and lots of grass where you can just hang out and enjoy the scenery. The museum itself is an impressive building, housing exhibits such as World War Two planes, the British Spitfire and Japanese Zero fighters, as well as an explanation of their individual histories. There are also Maori artefacts such as a large ornate meeting house, and information about the Pacific Islands and their cultures.
Sky Tower offers a great view of the city. You can choose to go to one or both of the observation decks, and visit the café on the lower one if you don't mind the height. The lower Observatory is 194m up; the Sky Deck 220m. For the more adventurous, bungy jumps or a walk around the tower 192m up are possible; good luck with those. On the Observation deck there's even a countdown clock so that you're not shocked when you see someone fly down. There is also a casino in the tower, which I had a quick look round. I can't imagine why people would come here to gamble, though.
The best place to orientate yourself from is the main shopping road, Queen Street, which has every chain you'd expect in a big city. There are also many side roads worth exploring. One I can recommend is Vulcan Lane, home to Occidental Belgian Beer Café. Admittedly it seems an odd thing to go to somewhere which you'd easily get to via Eurostar in a couple of hours, but I have to say there's a lot to be said for sipping a glass of Duvel in the Auckland sunshine (when it appears). The café really does look like somewhere you'd find in Belgium, complete with many imported, authentic beers such as Leffe.
Karangahape Road (known as K Road) has real character; walking away from the city you pass many restaurants, cafes and fast food eateries, which at one point make way for seedier shops and characters, although it's never intimidating at all. It's a very interesting place to stroll down, have a coffee or perhaps in the evening a few drinks and a nightclub.
Ponsonby is a trendy area, although I didn't find it too pretentious. A little uphill from the city centre, we had a walk down the main road, Ponsonby Road. Landreth & Co (272 Ponsonby Road) offered us a pleasant stop for a coffee break, with its colonial type fittings and trendy music. There were a lot of bars and restaurants, and the lunch time that we spent walking there had a lot of suited types enjoying a leisurely lunch.
One area we didnt visit but I have heard is worth looking at is Parnell & Newmarket, one of Auckland's oldest areas. Head to Parnell for a slice of the high life with expensive eateries, and Newmarket for a good selection of boutiques.
Being a very cosmopolitan city, there is a great variety of food to try. As New Zealand is deceptively close to Asia, many immigrants and students find their way from China to Korea. I have not experienced Korean food much before, not encountering it in any great amount, so the various options here were a welcome change for me. I developed a taste for Korean Barbeque dishes, with meat or fish barbequed in some kind of sweet and savoury, sticky dark sauce, served to you on a hot plate with side dishes of rice, vegetable and kimchi (a spicy Korean way of pickling vegetables like cabbage). Japanese cuisine offers fresh sushi with the quality expected from the many native tourists & residents. The usual noodle and rice dishes are also on offer such as udon & katsu, as well as a couple of teppenyaki restaurants, which I saw were hugely popular with visiting Japanese tourists, where the food is cooked at your table. Chinese food offers the usual experience as in the UK, although it's worth noting that there wasn't a specific Chinatown; restaurants were dotted around town. To try these cuisines and more, such as Vietnamese, Malaysian, Turkish and Indian, there are various food halls around town; the concept is something like the food courts you'd get here in shopping centres, only these places are just about the food. Food Alley (9 Albert Street) is a highly recommended option; in fact so impressed were we by it's choice, taste and value for money huge portions that we went here 4 times and never even tried any others. A tasty Korean BBQ squid dish, chicken katsu and duck with rice & vegetables kept me more than happy. I just wish I had a chance to try all of the other stalls, of which there were 20 or so. We had a look around Ponsonby Village Food Court (106 Ponsonby Road) which is reputedly the best in sound, but sadly this was after we'd had our fill elsewhere, although the stalls did look quite promising.
At the end of Queen Street, past the main shopping area, is a strip of Japanese, Korean and Chinese restaurants, and Restaurant Seoul (470 Queen Street) offers decently priced authentic Korean cuisine. The BBQ chicken dish I had was as good as anything I tasted in the city. The teriyaki eel that Ms Larsbaby tried was melt in the mouth tasty.
Auckland offers various crossover dishes, and we tried a seafood platter at Neptune Café & Bar (Unit 1 Shed 23 Princes Wharf) which, although gave us an excellent selection of local specialities such as sizeable green lipped mussels, scallops and shrimps, really didn't need the cheese mixed in with it. The local coffee chain, Esquires, had a branch located close to the harbour and we spent several times sipping lattes and watching the world go by. I found their food selection interesting, with sandwiches and pastries accompanied by pies. Great idea! I did enjoy my breakfast of latte with pie one morning. There was a great variety of places to have a coffee; it seems that they take their coffee very seriously as it was always excellent.
However, such fans are myself & Ms Larsbaby of Asian food, this along with Auckland Fish Market (corner of Jellicoe & Daldy Streets) was our only foray here into anything vaguely resembling "native" kiwi main meals. The fish market was slightly out of town in an area by the sea, naturally, but well worth seeking out. A few fish shops offered a glimpse into the many kinds of excellent seafood available, such as red snapper, green lipped mussels, bream and gurnard. A couple of eateries offered the chance to try some of this succulent seafood, and we tried a seafood platter from one of them. The deep fried scallops, mussels, prawns and oysters were a real fresh treat, alongside a small salmon kebab stick. We couldn't resist having a seafood chowder as well which was pleasingly rich and chunky.
Auckland offers all the facilities, sights and sounds you'd expect in any major European or North American city; perhaps more in terms of nearby nature. It reminds me of Vancouver a lot if that's a helpful comparison. Perhaps you won't go all the way to the other side of the world just to see another city. If you do though, you won't be disappointed.
Summary: A great city on the other side of the world
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