News, Culture & Society

Thrills and spills in New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland

Rio, Cape Town, Sydney.

They’re all thrilling ocean-side cities — just like Auckland, in fact. But where New Zealand’s largest urban centre picks up points is that it’s far more manageable than any of the above.

Things are looking up: The 328-metre Sky Tower, above the fashionable Ponsonby district

You can walk everywhere; it’s safe; the food is reliably good; the Maori culture thrives; and hundreds of little islands await in what amounts to a spectacular archipelago. 

WHEN TO GO: Famously, in the City of the Sails, you can experience all four seasons in one day, but best to go in New Zealand’s summer (Dec-March) when sea breezes make the temperatures comfortable.

The Live Well Festival in October also comes highly recommended. Weave your way around the array of exhibitions, graze through the healthy food stalls, and listen and learn from the country’s top lifestyle, wellness and nutrition speakers (

TAKE IT EASY: More than 1.6 million people live here, but it seldom feels like it. By the standards of many cities of the same size, the pace is remarkably relaxed.

At weekends, along the pier in the Wynyard Quarter, people do stuff: tango dance classes, paddling, reading in pop-up libraries, practise gymnastics. There are also children’s playgrounds, exhibitions and cleverly designed restaurants occupying old industrial buildings.

CULTURE HUB: Auckland Art Gallery (, just off Wellesley Street, is fascinating, not least because its striking glass and wood atrium has been grafted on to the 1887 French chateau frame.

The Auckland War Memorial Museum (, in the central district of Grafton, is renowned for its collection of Maori and Pacific treasures and as a memorial to those who died for their country.

TOP SHOP: Queen Street and some of the small alleyways off it offer a good choice in the centre of town, as does Britomart, occupying several blocks of heritage buildings.

Boutique central is now the fashionable Ponsonby district. Prices for merino wool and cashmere are steep, but you can’t fault the quality.

The same cannot always be said for jade, with souvenir shops passing duds off as the real deal.

For New Zealand’s famous paua shells head for Tessuti ( and for lovely sweaters the weight of feathers try twenty-seven names (

LEAP OF FAITH: The 328m Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in the southern hemisphere — but with this one, you can jump off it and live to tell the tale.

City summit:  The top of the Sky Tower features a revolving restaurant and a viewing platform

City summit:  The top of the Sky Tower features a revolving restaurant and a viewing platform

A lift takes just under 40 seconds to get you to the 220m-high viewing platform. You can walk around the outside of it without or a balcony but in a harness. Or plunge downwards at 53 miles an hour for 11 seconds, by base jumping on a wire.

But if you’d rather not, there’s a revolving restaurant offering ‘high tea in orbit’. Or for a full culinary experience, book a table at The Sugar Club, Peter Gordon’s fusion extravaganza, where the waiters take longer to explain the dishes than it does to eat them.

WHERE TO STAY: Not cheap (from £213 for a double), but the Skycity Grand Hotel is in a buzzy spot almost opposite the Sky Tower and casino ( Great views if you bag a room high up.

Otherwise, try the Scenic Hotel, from £109 per night, on Queen Street (scenichotel

FOOD AND DRINK: Spoilt for choice. But an outdoor table at Soul ( on the waterfront will do nicely. Make sure you order some Bluff oysters — they’re big and creamy and come from the southernmost waters in the world.

And drinks into the early hours at The Golden Dawn ( must be on your agenda.

Natural resource: Just 45 minutes away by boat, Waiheke attracts Aucklanders on day trips

Natural resource: Just 45 minutes away by boat, Waiheke attracts Aucklanders on day trips

DAYS OUT: Catch a 45-minute ferry to enchanting — and well-healed — Waiheke Island, where you can go zip-wiring, kayaking, wine-tasting or just hang out on one the island’s 97 beaches, most of which are sandy.

Action stations: You can kayak off Waiheke

Action stations: You can kayak off Waiheke

Lunch at Tantalus ( nz), a new winery where the Canadian owners have worked wonders to make a destination restaurant in lush surroundings.

WHAT ELSE? The Maoris were here some 800 years ago and it’s well worth experiencing the Auckland Maori Tour & Cultural Performance.

Explore Tamaki Makaurau with its volcanoes and the amazing West Coast, be guided around the Auckland Museum and see the Cultural Performance, including the famous Haka war dance, which the British & Irish Lions will encounter on Saturday.

Travel Facts

Qatar Airways ( flies from London to Auckland via Doha from £739 return. More information: Tourism New Zealand (