From free-fall jumps to waterside dining, Andrew Gough finds the New Zealand city can satisfy anyone’s needs
Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum
Located in Auckland’s upmarket Viaduct Harbour area, at the western-most end of Quay Street, the Maritime Museum is a great starting point for exploring the city. It gives a good insight into New Zealand’s seafaring past, from the arrival of the first Maori settlers from East Polynesia 1,000 to 700 years ago, to the present day. A ten-minute animated film in the Te Waka exhibition provides an excellent crash-course in early Maori history, while the Edmiston Gallery features some impressive maritime artworks, including paintings, sculptures and detailed models.
On select days, the NZ$16 (£7) entrance fee also includes a 15-minute trip on board the unfortunately named SS Puke, a steam vessel built at the end of the 19th century. Upgrade to the NZ$26 (£12) ticket for a one-hour sail on the Ted Ashby, a more traditional rigged sailing vessel. Open 9am-5pm daily; maritimemuseum.co.nz
Viaduct Harbour and Quay Street
After the museum, stroll along the waterfront down Quay Street, which runs eastwards away from Viaduct Harbour. Auckland has twice played host to the prestigious America’s Cup sailing regatta, in 2000 and 2003, giving some idea of the grandiose yachts that can be found moored all along the waterside. Bars and restaurants are geared towards the young and the affluent, with prices ranging from above average to expensive depending on whether you fancy a pint of stout at O’Hagan’s
(ohagans.co.nz) or a meal at fine-dining restaurant Cin Cin on Quay (cincin.co.nz), which offers superb views across the harbour.
The Viaduct is also the location of many of Auckland’s large corporate offices, such as Microsoft, Vodafone and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, as well as upmarket hotels including the Westin Auckland Lighter Quay and the Copthorne hotel Auckland, Harbour City. On weekday mornings, expect to find suited executives sipping flat whites – essentially a strong frothy latte of apparent Kiwi invention that locals are fiercely proud of – on the promenade outside Toast café, the Westin’s coffee shop. Open 7am-
4pm weekdays, 8am-2pm weekends. Visit starwoodhotels.com/westin
The quay is where all the ferries depart for nearby islands such as the near-deserted Rangitoto, with its inactive volcanic crater, and the more hospitable Waiheke. At least half a day would be needed for a trip to either island, so instead hop across the harbour to picturesque Devonport, one of the city’s outlying residential suburbs, which is best reached by water.
With its small wooden houses and sleepy atmosphere, Devonport offers a striking contrast to central Auckland and provides a taste of the more sedate side of local life past and present. Many of the buildings remain largely unchanged from when they were first built – the art deco Victoria Theatre (thevic.co.nz), for example, which dates back to the 1920s, claims to be the oldest purpose-built cinema in the southern hemisphere still in operation. The Devonport ferry leaves from its dock at 99 Quay Street every half an hour and takes less than 15 minutes, with a return ticket costing NZ$10 (£5). Visit fullers.co.nz for times.
Queen Street and Auckland Art Gallery
Auckland’s main shopping thoroughfare, Queen Street, begins at Customs Street East and runs through most of the city centre. It’s a bit of a tourist trap but is a convenient place to find some souvenirs to take home. Greenstone, made from a jade-like mineral, is a typical Kiwi export and can be bought in a range of traditional and symbolic designs. Opt for one of the specialist shops, such as the Jade Factory (jadefactory.com) at 26 Queen Street, which has a decent range of jewellery to suit all budgets.
Just off Queen Street is Albert Park, which has meticulous flower beds, a bronze statue of Queen Victoria and a rich military history – it was once the site of the Albert Barracks defence post, built in 1845. At the south-west corner you’ll find the Auckland Art Gallery, which boasts a collection of 14,000 artworks including historic indigenous and international pieces. Entry is free, as are the daily 45-minute tours, which take place at 2pm. Open 10am-5pm daily; aucklandartgallery.govt.nz
Skycity and Sky Tower
The Skycity complex is one of Auckland’s main attractions and thanks to the 328-metre-high Sky Tower – the country’s tallest man-made structure – is hard to miss. Walking away from Albert Park’s north-west corner, Skycity is a short stroll down Victoria Street East.
Try not to be distracted by the many eateries along the way – if you ride the lift about 190 metres up the Sky Tower to the observation levels, you’ll find one of the city’s most unusual dining experiences, Orbit, which revolves at the rate of once per hour. Eat here and you’ll get free access to the tower’s main observation deck, otherwise admission is NZ$28 (£13) for the Main Deck, Sky Lounge bar/café and Sky Deck, at 220 metres up.
If you’re feeling fearless, consider doing the Skywalk 360 experience, best summed up as harnessing oneself to a wire for a safe al fresco stroll around the 192-metre high pergola that runs around the outside of the tower before taking a high-octane jump – without a parachute. Daredevils free-fall at just over 88 kmph for about 11 seconds before slowing down to land on the street below. Tickets for the walk and jump are available separately or can be purchased together for NZ$260 (£120), but you should book in advance. The Skycity complex also houses a theatre, casino and two hotels. Visit skycityauckland.co.nz, skywalk.co.nz
Karangahape Road and Ponsonby
Once safely back on solid ground, return to Queen Street and walk south for about ten minutes until you get to Karangahape Road, known colloquially as K Road (kroad.com). This street is a small community in itself and the locals are proud of its cultural diversity – it’s here that you’ll find the city’s most authentic Korean, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine at very reasonable prices.
Ten minutes down K Road is Ponsonby (ponsonbyroad.co.nz), a primarily middle-class residential district that is arguably more upmarket than Karangahape and the preserve of the young and fashionable – finish your tour with a spot of people-watching over a flat white or something stronger in one of the numerous trendy cafés and bars that are dotted around here.
Auckland for free
- Auckland War Memorial Museum (aucklandmuseum.com) – features more than one million historical items.
- Victoria Park market (victoria-park-market.co.nz) – browse locally produced arts and crafts.
- Mount Eden – climb for great city views.
- Coast to Coast walk – a signposted trail that starts at the Viaduct and ends at Manukau Harbour.
- Parnell – a creative quarter known for its art galleries and Rose Gardens.