If you are cruising to or from New Zealand, you will almost certainly end up in Auckland at some point. Lapped by the waters of picturesque Waitemata Harbour, the city is surrounded by beaches, native forests, and also islands such as Waiheke, which are ideal for a day trip or a longer stay. Auckland is home to almost one third of New Zealand's population but somehow it never feels crowded.
There is plenty in the inner-city to keep visitors entertained with lively neighbourhoods, parks and gardens and world-class museums to explore. And, of course, it wouldn't be a trip to Auckland without a jaunt around that beautiful harbour. Just beyond the city limits, you will find hiking trails, wildlife sanctuaries and wineries, making Auckland the ideal destination for a pre- or post-cruise stay.
Just 10 minutes from Auckland's city centre, you'll find the suburb of Ponsonby, a hip inner-city haven that's home to some of the city's best cafes. Drop into Orphan's Kitchen (118 Ponsonby Road, Grey Lynn) for slow-poached eggs with anchovy, lemon, and sourdough or crunchy toast topped with buffalo curd, fig and honeycomb. Little Bird Cafe (Cnr Summer Street & Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby) specialises in raw food and caters brilliantly for diners with dietary requirements. Don't miss the delicious banana bread salted caramel waffles.
After you've fuelled up with a delicious breakfast, spend the morning window shopping and indulging in a little retail therapy at Ponsonby's intriguing shops and boutiques. Mr Bigglesworthy (15 Williamson Avenue, Grey Lynn) blends hip vintage items with new designer finds from around the globe. Tatty's (161 Ponsonby Road) sells vintage fashion for men and women. Even if you aren't in the market to buy, it's fun browsing Ponsonby's retro finds, cute gift stores and boutiques.
People-watch and enjoy the view from a waterside table at Oyster & Chop (Market Place, Viaduct) as you dine on steak, Ora King salmon, and oysters sourced from around New Zealand. For Asian share plates showcasing contemporary New Zealand fusion, Hello Beasty (95-97 Customs Street West) is exceptionally tasty and a lot of fun. For something quick, cheap and cheerful, order a single serve of ramen noodles with BBQ char siu pork belly, a pork and prawn dumpling, chicken broth, spring onion, and a six-minute egg for $14.
After lunch, board a genuine America's Cup racing yacht and spend a couple of hours sailing around Waitemata Harbour with the wind in your hair, a tang of salt on your lips and a huge smile on your face. When the crew invite guests to take the helm, it's not just for show. Elite racing yachts require 11 people to sail them and each trip features half that number of professional crew. There is no pressure to participate – it's fine to sit back and enjoy the ride – but for those who want to get in on the action, there's plenty to do. Book online or at the Explore Group stand at the Auckland viaduct.
Sip a cocktail and admire views of Auckland's Sky Tower at The Glass Goose Bar & Eatery (78 Federal Street), which attracts a cool inner-city crowd. For a drink somewhere that's more fun than fancy, Dr Rudi's (Level 2/204 Quay Street) is a rooftop bar with its own boutique brewery and two bowling lanes that are free to play. The ‘dude food' here is excellent, too.
After a drink or two (and perhaps a game of bowling), head to Harbourside Ocean Bar Grill (Ferry Building, Level 1, 99 Quay Street) for a romantic dinner with superb seafood and water views. Classic Kiwi dishes such as whitebait fritters, paua and a retro-inspired prawn cocktail sit side-by-side with Fiordland crayfish and a rack of lamb from Central Otago. Federal Delicatessen (86 Federal Street), which is affectionately known as ‘The Fed', dishes up comfort food such as steamed Cloudy Bay clams and strip steak with dill butter, green salad and chicken crackling.
After dinner, drop into Cassette Nine (9 Vulcan Lane) for one of its famous teapots, which are filled with cocktails, not tea, and see what's playing. It could be anything from smooth Latino to pop, retro tunes or anything in between. Sophisticates will enjoy the libations at Caretaker (Downstairs, 40 Customs Street), which is reminiscent of a speakeasy and the place to go for smooth jazz.
It's hard to go past Odettes Eatery (90 Wellesley Street West, Auckland) and its Wagyu meatballs served with an artfully draped crepe, ‘nduja, and baba ghanoush. For something lighter, try the granola with cashew, macadamia, and berries served on a bed of coconut yoghurt. Another top breakfast choice is The Store (5B Gore Street), which puts a New Zealand twist on classic eggs benedict, using smoked warehou instead of salmon.
Spend the morning at the Auckland Museum (Auckland Domain, Parnell) to view the world's largest collection of Maori taonga (treasures), which represent all the major tribes of New Zealand. Artefacts include a full-size meeting house, the last great war canoe used in battle and what is considered to be the world's earliest surviving Maori carving. With helpful staff and more than 1,000 artefacts to explore, a visit here is a culturally rewarding experience.
If you're not still full from breakfast, grab an outside table at the pretty Wintergarden Cafe (20 Kiosk Road, Parnell) near the Auckland Museum or take a taxi to Postal Service (537 Great North Road, Grey Lynn), a cafe housed in a former post office, for smashed avo (avocado) on toast with raspberry vinegar and goat's cheese or a plate of hearty huevos rancheros.
It's a 10-minute stroll from Postal Service to Auckland's Museum of Transport, Aviation and Technology (805 Great North Road, Western Springs) which is best known as MOTAT, covers 16 hectares and is spread across two sites. Highlights include an aviation hall packed with historic aircraft, a fully operational circa 1877 pumphouse, and retro gaming area where you can get your geek on. The Kiwi sense of humour throughout this museum is an added highlight. Entry includes a ride from one site to the other on one of MOTAT's heritage trams, which comes complete with a dapper conductor and stamped souvenir ticket.
With its impressive range of local wines by the glass, Hugo's Bistro (67 Shortland Street) is the perfect spot to kick off your night and learn a little more about New Zealand's diverse wine scene. For something a little different, Fukuko (43 Tyler Street) serves Japanese-inspired cocktails (and mocktails) and tasty bar snacks in industrial chic surrounds.
Lillius (19 Khyber Pass Road, Grafton) offers a compact menu featuring the likes of South Island duck served with carrots, grapefruit and endive, with the option of impressive wine matches. If you want to push out the boat, The Grove Restaurant (Saint Patricks Square, Wyndham Street) serves a sophisticated seasonal degustation menu focussing on New Zealand produce. This multi-award winning hatted restaurant isn't exactly cheap, and you'll need to book, but it's worth it.
For a fun end to your night drop into Holey Moley (204 Quay Street), an Instagram-able cocktail bar with a mini golf course featuring pop culture-themed holes. For something a little more sophisticated, Coley & Punch (139 Quay Street) serves more than 250 different whiskies, single malts and scotches from around the globe, in chic surrounds.
A few things to note:
- Skip the sleepy CBD on weekends and head to one of Auckland's happening suburbs such as Ponsonby where there will be plenty going on and a great local vibe.
- Get out on that gorgeous harbour in a boat that's smaller than your cruise ship at least once while you're in Auckland.
- If you get lost wandering around town, ask a local for help and they'll go out of their way to point you in the right direction.