Explore Auckland and around
AUCKLAND’s urban sprawl smothers the North Island’s wasp waist, a narrow isthmus where the island is all but severed by river estuaries probing inland from the city’s two harbours. To the west, the shallow and silted Manukau Harbour opens out onto the Tasman Sea at a rare break in the long string of black-sand beaches continually pounded by heavy surf. Maori named the eastern anchorage the Waitemata Harbour for its “sparkling waters”, which constitute Auckland’s deep-water port and a focus for the heart of the city. Every summer weekend the harbour and adjoining Hauraki Gulf explode into a riot of brightly coloured sails.
Auckland is increasingly focusing on its waterfront, with former docks and fishing wharves now dotted with bobbing yachts and the rejuvenated surrounds converted to flashy restaurants and swanky apartments. This is very much the place to hang out, sucking life from downtown Auckland, which is fighting back with the superbly renovated Auckland Art Gallery.
At the top of Queen Street lies Karangahape Road, an altogether groovier strip of cheaper shops, ethnic restaurants and more down-and-dirty clubs. To the east lies The Domain, an extensive swathe of semi-formal parkland centred on the city’s most-visited attraction, the Auckland Museum, exhibiting stunning Maori and Pacific Island artefacts.
Neighbouring Parnell forms the ecclesiastical heart of the city, with one of Auckland’s oldest churches and a couple of historical houses. At the foot of the hill, Tamaki Drive follows the eastern waterfront past the watery attractions of Kelly Tarlton’s to the city beaches of Mission Bay and St Heliers.
West of the centre, the cafés, shops and bars of Ponsonby Road and up-and-coming Kingsland give way to Western Springs, home of the MOTAT transport museum and the excellent zoo.
Across the Waitemata Harbour the seemingly endless suburbs of the North Shore stretch into the distance, though you’re only likely to want to spend much time in the old waterside suburb of Devonport and perhaps the long golden beach at Takapuna.
Immediately south of the centre, two of Auckland’s highest points, Mount Eden and One Tree Hill with its encircling Cornwall Park, provide wonderful vantage points for views of the city. Pah Homestead presents more great art, but the main reason for heading further south is to visit Saturday’s Otara Market.Read More
The Auckland Zoo is the best in the country. There are still a few tigers in cages but the zoo is strong on spacious, naturalistic habitats and captive breeding programmes. The “rainforest walk” threads its way among artificial islands inhabited by colonies of monkeys, you can walk through the wallaby and emu enclosure unhindered, and the trailblazing Pridelands development has lions, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, zebras and gazelles all roaming across mock savannah behind enclosing moats.
Te Wao Nui
The zoo’s New Zealand environments are grouped as the brand-new Te Wao Nui, a major development divided into six environments – coast, islands, wetlands, forest, high country and a nocturnal section. It’s beautifully designed with loads of sculptures, water features and clever deceits such as entering a free-flight aviary through what appears to be a high-country hut. It is great to see the animals in something approaching their natural setting – kiwi are kept with ruru (native owls) and nocturnal flax snails; reptilian tuatara share island space with skinks, geckos and luminous green kakariki (parakeets); and penguins are found next to the fur seals.
There’s plenty on the desperate attempt to save various species from extinction, and you can even watch animals being operated on in the treatment room at the nearby Conservation Medicine Centre.
Ponsonby and Herne Bay
Ponsonby and Herne Bay
Ponsonby and Herne Bay
The once fashionable suburb of Ponsonby had fallen on hard times by the 1960s when large numbers of immigrant Pacific Islanders made the area their home. Ponsonby took a bohemian turn in the 1970s and before long young professionals were moving in, restoring old houses and spending fistfuls of dollars.
For the last twenty-odd years Ponsonby Road has been a byword for designer clothing, cafés and see-and-be-seen lunching for long-term residents and the overspill from the adjacent media suburb of Grey Lynn. The street itself may not be beautiful, but the people sure are; musicians, actors and media folk congregate to lunch, schmooze and be seen in the latest fashionable haunt here. The cutting edge is now fragmented around the central city, but Ponsonby retains a great vibe and is a prime target for some of the city’s classiest clothes shopping, a good meal and some people-watching. While in the area you might want to check out The Women’s Bookshop at 105 Ponsonby Rd, which has plenty for men too, and knowledgeable staff.
To the north of Ponsonby, the waterside suburb of Herne Bay also has a cluster of excellent spots to eat, mostly along Jervois Road.
There’s not a great deal to go-ahead Kingsland, with no real sights unless you count Eden Park, where the All Blacks finally lifted the Rugby World Cup in 2011, after a 24-year drought. But it’s a fun place to hang out for a few hours, with some lively cafés, a couple of good bars and a handful of funky shops. Check out the industrial furniture at The Boiler Room, at no. 486, and the beautiful, contemporary jewellery at Royal, at no. 486.
The Museum of Transport & Technology (MOTAT) offers an entertaining trawl through New Zealand’s vehicular and industrial past, nicely balancing preserving the nation’s machinery while keeping the kids entertained. The jumble of sheds and halls is centred on the restored Western Springs’ pumphouse where the massive 1877 beam engine and associated boiler room mostly sit grandly immobile, except when fired up (generally Thurs noon–1pm & 2–3pm).
Appropriately for an agricultural nation there’s an impressive array of tractors through the ages, with pride of place given to the one Edmund Hillary used to reach the South Pole in 1958, the first overland party there since Scott and Amundsen 46 years earlier.
Elsewhere there’s an entertaining, science-oriented, hands-on section, a Victorian village built around the original pumphouse engineer’s cottage, and a shed full of trams that plied the city’s streets from 1902–56.
An ancient, rattling Melbourne tram (every 10–30min; included in admission price) takes you 1km to MOTAT’s Meola Road site, with its impressive new Aviation Display Hall, a hangar eco-designed with vast laminated wood beams. Star attractions are one of the few surviving World War II Lancaster bombers, early crop-dusting planes a805 Great North Rd, Western Springsnd fragile-looking things that took early tourists to the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers in the days before decent roads. Imminent completion of restoration should see centre stage occupied by a double-decker Solent flying boat, decked out for dining in a more gracious age and used on Air New Zealand’s South Pacific “Coral Route” until the early 1960s.
Auckland Art Gallery
Auckland Art Gallery
A recent $120 million expansion of the Auckland Art Gallery has made the country’s best art gallery a whole lot better. The elaborate old mock-chateau galleries have been gutted and, though elegantly integrated, now play second fiddle to a superb new glass-cube atrium supported by kauri-wood columns that fan out to form an organic, forest-like canopy. The gallery feels open to the street and integrated with Albert Park behind, allowing everyone to see the atrium’s keynote sculpture, which changes annually.
There is a significant international collection, but the emphasis is on the world’s finest collection of New Zealand art. Works on display are frequently changed, but might include anything from original drawings by artists on Cook’s expeditions and overwrought oils depicting Maori migrations through to site-specific installations.
Europeans depicting Maori
Romantic and idealized images of Maori life seen through European explorers’ eyes frequently show composite scenes that could never have happened, contributing to a mythical view that persisted for decades. Two works show contrasting but equally misleading views: Kennett Watkins’ 1912 The Legend of the Voyage to New Zealand, with its plump, happy natives on a still lagoon; and Charles Goldie’s 1898 The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand, modelled on Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa and showing starving, frightened voyagers battling tempestuous seas.
Much of the early collection is devoted to works by two of the country’s most loved artists – both highly respected by Maori as among the few to accurately portray their ancestors. Gottfried Lindauer emigrated to New Zealand in 1873 and spent his later years painting lifelike, almost documentary, portraits of rangatira (chiefs) and high-born Maori men and women, in the mistaken belief that the Maori people were about to become extinct. In the early part of the twentieth century, Charles F. Goldie became New Zealand’s resident “old master” and earned international recognition for his more emotional portraits of elderly Maori regally showing off their traditional tattoos, or moko, though they were in fact often painted from photographs (sometimes after the subject’s death).
Pakeha depicting New Zealand
It took half a century for European artists to grasp how to paint the harsh Kiwi light, an evolutionary process that continued into the 1960s and 1970s, when many works betrayed an almost cartoon-like quality, with heavily delineated spaces daubed in shocking colours.
Look out for oils by Rita Angus, renowned for her landscapes of Canterbury and Otago in the 1940s; Colin McCahon, whose fascination with the power and beauty of New Zealand landscape informs much late twentieth-century Kiwi art; and Gordon Walters, who drew inspiration from Maori iconography, controversially appropriating vibrant, graphic representations of traditional Maori symbols.
You may well see one of the gallery’s most expensive works, Tony Fomison’s 1973 painting Study of Holbein’s “Dead Christ”. It’s typical of his later, more obsessive, period, combining the artist’s passion for art history and his preoccupation with mortality.
More recent acquisitions are strong on art by Maori artists. You’ll usually find some of the excellent contemporary work by painter Shane Cotton, dark pieces by New Zealand’s most lauded living artist, Ralph Hotere, and sculptor Michael Parekowhai, whose bull-on-a-grand-piano entry for the 2011 Venice Biennale turned more than a few heads.
Devonport is one of Auckland’s oldest suburbs, founded in 1840 and still linked to the city by a ten-minute ferry journey. The naval station was an early tenant, soon followed by wealthy merchants, who built fine kauri villas. Some of these are graced with little turrets (“widows’ watches”) that served as lookouts where the traders could scan the seas for their precious cargoes and wives watch hopefully (or warily) for their returning husbands. Wandering along the peaceful streets and the tree-fringed waterfront past grand houses is the essence of Devonport’s appeal and there’s no shortage of tempting bookshops, small galleries, cafés and even an aged cinema along the main street to punctuate your amblings. Walkers should consider the North Shore Coastal Walk.
The imposing Greco-Roman-style Auckland Museum sits at the highest point of the Auckland Domain, and contains the world’s finest collections of Maori and Pacific art and craft. Traditional in its approach yet contemporary in its execution, the museum was built as a World War I memorial in 1929 and has been progressively expanded, most recently in 2006 with the capping of a courtyard with an undulating copper dome. Below the dome, a striking slatted Fijian kauri structure hanging from the ceiling like some upturned beehive dominates the new Auckland Atrium entrance.
At the opposite end of the building, the original colonnaded Grand Foyer entrance is the place to head for the thirty-minute Maori Cultural Performance of frightening eye-rolling challenges, gentle songs and a downright scary haka, all heralded by a conch-blast that echoes through the building.
As traditional Maori villages started to disappear towards the end of the nineteenth century, some of the best examples of carved panels, meeting houses and food stores were rescued and brought here. The central Maori Court is dominated by Hotunui, a large and wonderfully carved meeting house built in 1878, late enough to have a corrugated-iron rather than rush roof. The craftsmanship is superb; the house’s exterior bristles with grotesque faces, lolling tongues and glistening paua-shell eyes, while the interior is lined with wonderful geometric tukutuku panels. Outside is the intricately carved prow and stern-piece of Te Toki a Tapiri, a 25m-long waka taua (war canoe) designed to seat a hundred warriors, the only surviving specimen from the pre-European era.
The transition from purely Polynesian motifs to an identifiably Maori style is exemplified by the fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Kaitaia Carving, a 2.5m-wide totara carving thought to have been designed for a ceremonial gateway, guarded by the central goblin-like figure with sweeping arms that stretch out to become lizard forms: Polynesian in style but Maori in concept.
The Pacific Masterpieces room is filled with exquisite Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian works. Look out for the shell-inlaid ceremonial food bowl from the Solomon Islands, ceremonial clubs and a wonderfully resonant slit-drum from Vanuatu. The textiles are fabulous too, with designs far more varied than you’d expect considering the limited raw materials: the Hawaiian red feather cloak is especially fine.
Daily life of Maori and the wider Pacific peoples is covered in the Pacific Lifeways room, which is dominated by a simple yet majestic breadfruit-wood statue from the Caroline Islands depicting Kave, Polynesia’s malevolent and highest-ranked female deity, whose menace is barely hinted at in this serene form.
The middle floor of the museum comprises the natural history galleries, an unusual combination of modern thematic displays and stuffed birds in cases. Displays such as the 3m-high giant moa (an ostrich-like bird) and an 800kg ammonite shouldn’t be missed, but there’s also material on dinosaurs, volcanoes and a Maori Natural History display, which attempts to explain the unique Maori perspective unencumbered by Western scientific thinking. The middle floor is also where you’ll find hands-on and “discovery” areas for kids.
Scars on the Heart occupies the entire upper floor and explores how New Zealanders’ involvement in war has helped shape national identity. The New Zealand Wars of the 1860s are interpreted from both Maori and Pakeha perspectives and World War I gets extensive coverage, particularly the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, when botched leadership led to a massacre of ANZAC – Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – troops in the trenches. Powerful visuals and rousing martial music accompany newsreel footage of the Pacific campaigns of World War II and Vietnam, with personal accounts of the troops’ experiences and the responses of those back home.
At just 196m, Mount Eden (Maungawhau) is Auckland city’s highest volcano. It is only a few metres higher then several other cones, and doesn’t poke far above the surrounding suburban housing, but the summit car park affords extensive views all around. Unfortunately it is on just about every tour bus itinerary, so once at the summit take a walk around the cone rim for a more peaceful viewpoint. Alternatively, walk here on the Coast to Coast Walkway.
Pah Homestead and Monte Cecilia Park
Pah Homestead and Monte Cecilia Park
One of the best reasons to stray south from the city centre is to visit Pah Homestead, an Italianate residence perched on top of a small volcanic cone. When completed in 1879, it was the largest house in the Auckland region and an ideal place for its owner, businessman James Williamson, to throw lavish parties. Much of its wood panelling and elaborate ceiling bosses are original, despite spending much of its life as a novitiate home for the Sisters of Mercy, a boarding house and emergency housing.
The homestead overlooks the graceful, mature cedars and Moreton Bay fig trees of the surrounding Monte Cecilia Park and has great views of One Tree Hill.
Wallace Arts Centre
Though impressive by New Zealand standards, and extensively restored in 2010, Pah Homestead alone wouldn’t warrant a special trip. What does is what’s within: an array of pieces from the five thousand-work Wallace Arts Trust collection, created by Kiwi meat-processing magnate, James Wallace. In the mid-1960s Wallace began collecting works by emerging New Zealand artists and has continued to buy their best stuff (and commission more) as they’ve risen to become some of the country’s most eminent. The result is a wide-ranging collection particularly strong on artists such as Toss Woollaston, Philip Trusttum and Michael Parakowhai. What’s on show is constantly changing but always superb. The equally excellent on-site Pah Café spills out onto the veranda, overlooking the sculpture garden.
On Saturday morning, Otara Market sprawls across the car park of the Otara Town Centre. Though often promoted as the largest Maori and Polynesian market in the world, these days it is far more diverse than that, reflecting the racial makeup of modern South Auckland. Certainly there is still a strong Polynesian influence. Reggae beats and Pasifika rhythms ring out across the market, and the adjacent Community Hall is full of kete (woven baskets), tapa cloth and island-style floral print fabrics. Reasonably priced Maori greenstone carvings and Maori sovereignty shirts (look for tees emblazoned with the words “Tino Rangatiratanga”) can be found next to Sikhs flogging gold bracelets, Koreans selling Korean-language DVDs and Chinese (lots of Chinese) selling truckloads of cheap fruit and veg.
There’s plenty of low-cost eating from coffee and pastries to wieners, goat curry, pork buns, whitebait fritters and even a classic Maori boil-up of pork bones, watercress, pumpkin and fry bread. The market is liveliest from 8–11am.
Guided and self-guided walks in Auckland
Guided and self-guided walks in Auckland
The most ambitious walking normally attempted by visitors to Auckland is a stroll through The Domain or a short hike up to one of the volcano-top viewpoints. More ambitious hikers can head to Rangitoto Island or pick off sections of the Hillary Trail out west in the hills of the Waitakere Ranges. Most of the West Coast tours also include some gentle walking.
Coast to Coast Walkway (16km one-way; 4hr) The best of the city’s sights are threaded together on this fine walk which straddles the isthmus. All is revealed in the free Beyond your Backyard – Discovering Auckland City by Foot or Bike leaflet available from the tourist offices, and a route map can be found at
waucklandcity.govt.nz. The northern section is the most interesting: stop after One Tree Hill (12km; 3hr) and get the #328, #334 or #348 bus back to the city from Manukau Road.
North Shore Coastal Walk (23km one-way) Free leaflet from visitor centres. The Devonport ferry wharf marks the southern end of the North Shore Coastal Walk (part of the tip-to-toe Te Araroa) which follows the waterfront past the Navy Museum, close to North Head then up the coast past several pretty beaches with views of Rangitoto. If you’ve come over by ferry, consider following the walk as far as Takapuna (10km; 2–3hr) then getting the bus back to the city from there.
Auckland Walks t 0800 300 100, waucklandwalks.co.nz. Learn more about the city centre on these informative guided walks (daily 10am; 2hr; $30; booking essential) leaving the Harbour information Centre at the Ferry Building, 99 Quay St.
Tamaki Hikoi t 0800 282 552, wtamakihikoi.co.nz. Maori-led walks giving a Ngati Whatua perspective on Tamaki Makaurau. Choose from a tour of Pukekawa (Auckland Domain; 1hr 30min; $40), and interpretation of the Maori galleries at the Auckland Museum complete with the cultural performance (3hr; $95), and a guided walk around Maungawhau (Mount Eden; 3hr; $95). All come with lots of stories and give a completely different perspective on Auckland and colonization.
TIME Unlimited t 0800 868 463, wnewzealandtours.travel. Maori-led city tour explaining the significance to Maori of locations around the city (full day; $245). Their “Extra” package ($295) includes a visit to a marae that’s far more intimate and authentic than the mass-market extravaganzas around Rotorua, and they’ll even organize marae stays and host Maori dinners on request.
Les Harvey: Parnell’s saviour
Les Harvey: Parnell’s saviour
In the mid-1960s, Parnell narrowly escaped a high-rise-concrete fate when eccentric dreamer Les Harvey raised enough money to whisk the quaint but dilapidated shops and wooden villas from under the developers’ noses. He then campaigned against New Zealand’s strict trading laws, with the result that during the 1970s and much of the 1980s Parnell was the only place in Auckland where you could shop on a Saturday. Parnell Road soon established a reputation for chic clothes shops, swanky restaurants and dealer art galleries that it retains today.
One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill
Sir John Logan Campbell is buried at the summit where a single totara tree originally gave One Tree Hill its name. Settlers cut it down in 1852, and Campbell planted several pines as a windbreak, a single specimen surviving until the millennium. Already ailing from a 1994 chainsaw attack by a Maori activist avenging the loss of the totara, the pine’s fate was sealed by a similar attack in 1999 and the tree was removed the next year. Immediate demands for a replacement have gone quiet in recent years though it seems likely that in mid-2012 a grove of six pohutukawa and three totara will be planted in the hope that a single dominant tree will flourish. Then again, many people seem happy enough with, as it were, None Tree Hill.
As befits a city of its size, Auckland has numerous festivals and annual events. These are some of the best.
Anniversary Day Massive sailing regatta on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. Last Monday in January.
International Buskers Festival waucklandbuskersfestival.co.nz. Buskers from around the world take over the city streets. Free. Late January.
Big Gay Out w biggayout.co.nz. An extravaganza of comedy, music, drag and community events that takes place in Coyle Park, Point Chevalier, just west of the zoo. Usually held the second Sunday in February.
Devonport Food, Wine and Music Festival w devonportwinefestival.co.nz. Windsor Reserve is the venue for top chefs, local musicians and plenty of wine. It’s a great occasion, particularly if the weather’s good. Tickets $40. Third weekend in February.
Mission Bay Jazz and Blues Streetfest w jazzandbluesstreetfest.com. Beachside evening bash with a stack of bands and food stalls. Tickets $20. Last Saturday in February.
Auckland Festival w aucklandfestival.co.nz. Major international arts and culture festival at venues all over the city with everything from street performances to ballet. Held during two middle weeks in March, every odd-numbered year.
Pasifika Twenty thousand people enjoy this free, all-day celebration of Polynesian and Pacific Island culture – music, culture, food and crafts – at Western Springs Park. Free. Second Saturday in March.
Round the Bays Fun Run w roundthebays.co.nz. Up to 70,000 people jog 9km along the Tamaki Drive waterfront. Second or third Sunday in March.
Royal Easter Show w royaleastershow.co.nz. Family entertainment, Kiwi-style, with equestrian events, lumberjack show, wine tasting and arts and crafts, all held at the ASB showgrounds along Greenlane. $20. Easter weekend (moveable feast; check website for dates).
International Comedy Festival w comedyfestival.co.nz. Three weeks of performances by the best from New Zealand and around the world; recent acts have included Danny Bhoy and Arj Barker. Early May.
Auckland International Film Festival w nzff.co.nz. The nationwide film tour usually kicks off in the city where it all started back in 1969. Tickets $16. Mid- to late July.
Auckland’s volcanic cones
Auckland’s volcanic cones
Within 20km of the centre of Auckland there are fifty small volcanoes, but on the whole the city hasn’t been very respectful of its geological heritage. Even the exact number is hard to pin down, not least because several cones have disappeared over the last 150 years, mostly chewed away by scoria and basalt quarrying.
That might sound a Herculean feat, but Auckland’s largest volcano, Rangitoto Island out in the Hauraki Gulf, is only 260m tall, and in the city itself none is taller than Mount Eden, just under 200m. Many are pimples barely 100m high that only just poke above the surrounding housing. Early on, Maori recognized the fertility of the volcanic soils, and set up kumara gardens on the lower slopes, usually protected by fortified pa sites around the summit. Europeans valued the elevated positions for water storage – most of the main volcanoes have reservoirs in the craters.
It is only in the last few decades that volcanic features have been protected from development, often by turning their environs into parks – all or part of 37 of them have some form of protection. City ordnances dictate that some summits can’t be obscured from certain angles, and yet recently the edge of one volcano was only just saved from removal for a motorway extension. Some see UNESCO World Heritage Site status as the best means of protection, but it is unlikely anything will happen soon.
In the meantime, the volcanoes make wonderful viewpoints dotted all over the city, notably from Mount Eden, One Tree Hill, Devonport’s North Head and the top of Rangitoto Island where you can also explore lava caves.
The oldest volcanoes erupted 250,000 years ago, though it is only 600 years since the last eruption, and the volcanic field remains active. No one knows when the next eruption will be, but it is unlikely to be through one of the existing volcanoes – meaning one day a new peak will emerge.
With several efficient door-to-door shuttle services into central Auckland there’s hardly any reason to stay in any of the hotels at, or near, the airport, though Auckland is a place where you might choose to stay outside the city centre. Most sightseeing can be done as easily from the suburbs, particularly Ponsonby, less than 2km west of the centre, Mount Eden, 2km south of the centre, Devonport, a short ferry journey across the harbour, and Parnell, 2km east of the centre. All are generally more peaceful than the city centre but still well supplied with places to eat and drink, and access is good on the Inner Link and Outer Link buses. Note that airport shuttle buses will drop you in these suburbs for a similar price to downtown, and Devonport only costs a few dollars extra. Predictably, camping involves staying further out and it’s not really worth the hassle unless you’ve rented a campervan.
Aucklanders take their eating seriously and, as befits a city of this size, there’s a huge range of places – and standards are generally very high. Daytime cafés often morph into full-blown restaurants, with alcohol consumption becoming an increasingly significant activity as the night wears on. A couple of culinary highlights reside in the shopping district of Newmarket, nearby suburban Mount Eden and up-and-coming Kingsland. If you find yourself peckish while visiting Kelly Tarlton’s or swimming at Mission Bay, try one of the selection of places along Tamaki Drive. Sadly, Devonport doesn’t have the culinary heft you’d expect of a wealthy suburb with several pricey B&Bs.