Experiencing Auckland's Natural Wonders And Urban Adventures
Imagine an urban environment where everyone lives within half an hour of beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and a dozen enchanting holiday islands. Add a sunny climate, a background rhythm of Polynesian culture, and a passion for outstanding food, wine, and shopping, and you’re beginning to get the picture of Auckland.
More than just a city, Auckland, based around two large harbors, is a whole region full of things to see and do. Best of all, with so many experiences close by, it’s easy to hop from one adventure to the next. Auckland is a major city in the north of New Zealand’s North Island. In the center, the iconic Sky Tower has views of Viaduct Harbour, which is full of superyachts and lined with bars and cafes. Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park, is based around an extinct volcano and home to the formal Wintergardens. Near downtown, Mission Bay Beach has a seaside promenade. Auckland is considered one of the world’s most livable cities, ranking third in the 2017 Quality of Living survey conducted annually by the global HR consultants Mercer. It’s held that slot since 2012. A similar survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Auckland ninth of 140 cities.
The region is a food lover’s paradise, bustling with trendy cafes, ethnic eateries, and award-winning restaurants. As it is located between two harbors, Auckland’s specialty is fresh seafood, and the region also features a range of vineyards and olive groves. Aucklanders can choose between a sophisticated urban lifestyle, laid-back life in the suburbs, or an idyllic one a short distance away—to the countryside, surrounded by farmland and native bush.
It’s also the largest Polynesian city in the world and the most multi-cultural, with over 180 different ethnic groups. All of which add up to one big, bustling, cosmopolitan, and vibrant place.
With views across Viaduct Harbour, the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour is a 10-minute walk from the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum and 800 meters from the Sky Tower. It is a five-star Auckland hotel blending Sofitel’s French chic and the pure beauty of New Zealand’s largest city. The stylish Auckland luxury hotel places guests in the heart of Auckland Central between the upscale Viaduct Harbour lifestyle development and the attractions of the new Wynyard Quarter. Its understated elegance overlooks the shimmering Waitemata Harbour.
Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
Rooms are furnished in a simple, contemporary manner, and feature free WiFi, flat-screen TVs and iPod docks, plus Bose sound systems, minibars, and tea and coffee-making facilities. Upgraded suites add living rooms. Amenities include an on-site spa with an indoor pool, a whirlpool tub, and an exercise room. There’s also a boutique, a stylish restaurant offering a high-end menu, and a lounge bar. Afternoon tea is served daily in the lobby.
Just eight kilometers away from the hotel is Mission Bay, a waterfront haven for all Aucklanders. Built around the idyllic, Pohutukawa-lined beach and separated from the central city by a brief and beautiful drive, Mission Bay is celebrated as a destination for locals and visitors alike. With Auckland’s iconic volcano Rangitoto as a backdrop, the scenery is beautiful. We wandered along the sandy beach then headed to a traditional Kiwi treat of fish and chips from a local shop: Sea Cow on the Bay. We savored our snack on the beachfront. We watched the sun set at around 8:30PM.
The next day we take the 40-minute ferry ride to Waiheke Island. We take in the beautiful scenery during the ride, traveling through the Hauraki Gulf and witnessing Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands before pulling into Matiatia Bay.
Waiheke is a haven of beautiful vineyards, olive groves, and beaches, all just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. In landscape, lifestyle, and experience, Waiheke is a world away. The white sandy beaches at Oneroa, Palm Beach, and Onetangi slope gently down into the Hauraki Gulf and are perfect for swimming, kayaking, or having a picnic.
If you’re a walker, you can explore the sland’s trails, which meander along cliff tops, down to the beaches and into cool enclaves of native forest. At the eastern end of the island, the Stony Batter walkway leads you to a system of World War II gun emplacements and underground tunnels.
Kennedy Point Vineyard is Waiheke Island’s only certified organic vineyard, set among 300-year-old Pohutukawa trees overlooking Waiheke Island’s Kennedy Bay. In their cellar, you can complement your wine-tasting experience with delicious local oysters, cheeses, and smoked salmon. We sat and enjoyed the stunning sea views and relaxed in the picturesque picnic area in the Olive Grove.
It is the perfect setting for sampling their award-winning organic wines, extra virgin olive oil, and Kennedy Point honey. Our tasting plate selections were paired with the wines to enhance the entire experience.
Batch Winery is the highest vineyard on Waiheke Island with north facing sun-soaked hillsides of vines, including terraces of traditional and elegant Alsace-style vines close to the winery. There are spectacular 360-degree views over the island and beyond the gulf islands. It is surrounded by sun-soaked hillsides of vines, including terraces of traditional elegant vines.
“The vineyard was selected by the owners for its beauty, lifestyle, and the recognition of wines. They searched the world for a vineyard that could match their desire to create batch-driven quality wines. Waiheke matched their wishes with its island location, outstanding beauty, people, and a lifestyle of relaxing holidays, especially family time and the celebrations when the pleasure of quality wine makes the occasion special,” says winemaker Dan Struckman.
Batch Winery is Waiheke’s newest state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery. Hand-picked grapes, small batches, and wine transfer by gentle gravity flow produce quality wines.
There is exceptional wine and food experiences, seasonal plates, and High Tea and Bubbles, and sunset dining year round at Thomas’s Bach vineyard restaurant. Batch Winery creates small batches of wine under Thomas, Thomas Legacy, Thomas’s Bach and Fizz sparkling wines.
After all that food and wine, we headed to Ecozip. It is located at the top of Trig Hill—one of the island’s high points with stunning 360-degree vistas of Waiheke Island, the Hauraki Gulf, and out towards Auckland. We were geared up and guided down a series of three dual-line ziplines each 200 meters in length, ending in a pristine tract of beautiful New Zealand native bush, After the zipline, we went on a guided walk back to the base through the forest (approximately 1.3 kilometers in length), learning about local flora and fauna, New Zealand conservation in general, and how tourists can improve their own environmental stewardship while spending time in the stunning natural environment. On the way back to Matiatia wharf, we turned off the beaten track and traveled down towards the eastern end of Waiheke where vistas change to vast rolling hills, olive trees, grape vines, and sheep dotting the landscape. We spotted some wild pheasants, peacocks, and turkeys.
That evening upon our return from Waiheke, we had dinner at Oyster and Chop in Auckland. It is a modern eatery located along Viaduct Harbour offering an oyster bar, steaks, and other bistro fare.
Old meets new: The most enduring sight on the Auckland horizon, Auckland Harbour Bridge, is also home to a bungy operation of epic proportions. The bungy pod is attached underneath the bridge and is ready to go for thrill-seekers looking for a buzz in New Zealand’s largest city. I even dipped my head in the ocean below, bouncing back up feeling fierce and unstoppable.
Auckland War Memorial Museum is regarded as one of the finest museums in the Southern Hemisphere and is renowned for its unique collection of Maori and Pacific treasures. Housed in one of the country’s finest heritage buildings, the museum tells the story of New Zealand as a nation, from award-winning natural history exhibits to galleries which investigate New Zealand’s cultural origins.
“Scars on the Heart,” the Museum’s war memorial exhibition, tells the story of New Zealand at war, while He Taonga Maori, the Museum’s Maori treasures gallery, displays over 2,000 priceless Maori artifacts, including rare carvings and the last great Maori war canoe carved from a giant Totara tree. We experienced a vibrant glimpse of Maori culture in an engaging performance that takes you on a journey through the story of Aotearoa New Zealand and Tamaki Makaurau Auckland. The Museum’s performance is recognized as being one of the best in New Zealand and culminates with a spine-tingling version of the world-famous haka. After the show, we stuck around and took the opportunity to meet, talk, and take photos with members of the group.
After the visit to the museum, we immediately headed to the airport to catch a domestic flight to Napier. Street after street of stunning and beautifully restored Art Deco buildings have made Napier famous as one of the places with the most complete collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. In 1931, a massive earthquake rocked Hawke’s Bay for more than three minutes, killing nearly 260 and destroying the commercial center of Napier.
Rebuilding began almost immediately, and new buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times: stripped classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco. Napier is often referred to as a 1930s film set, and one of the best ways to enjoy the streetscape is a self-guided walk. Every February, Napier celebrates its heritage with the Art Deco Festival, a stylish celebration of all things 1930s, including vintage cars, fashion, and music.
Art Deco Masonic Hotel is a luxurious five-star property conveniently located near the center of Napier. Local tourist attractions such as Hawke’s Bay Museum, Pania of the Reef, and Opossum World are not far from the hotel. Also easily within reach are Napier Beach, Municipal Theatre, and City Centre Napier. Napier’s Art Deco Masonic Hotel boasts 43 recently refurbished stylish hotel rooms and a two-bedroom self-contained apartment, with all the conveniences you would expect of a modern hotel. In addition, the history, Art Deco architecture, and individuality of the rooms add a unique ambiance and style to this Napier accommodation.
Dinner that evening was at a local restaurant called Mr. D. Located in the east of Napier and a short walk from the waterfront, Mr. D provides a menu featuring fresh local produce that aims to create unpretentious food, complemented by a large wine list that diners will enjoy every time they visit.
The next day, I had a private hunter-gatherer food and wine tour. I had the pleasure of joining award-winning food writer and world cheese expert Juliet Harbutt. She took me to her favorite places and makers to assemble everything we needed for a perfect lunch at her home overlooking Black Barn Vineyards. We gathered the best Hawke’s Bay had to offer in food and drink, while touring the area of outstanding natural beauty. We visited Hastings Farmers Market, Arataki Honey Center, Black Barn Vineyards, and artist Ema Scott at Stonepeace studio.
That evening, we had a sumptuous dinner at Mission Estate Winery. The elegantly restored historic seminary building provides a stunning location for the unique, award-winning Mission restaurant. Offering elegant classic surroundings and world class cuisine and wines, combined with the stunning vineyard location, Mission Estate Winery is one of Hawke’s Bay’s premier venues.
The next morning we went on an Art Deco tour of the city. I was dressed in Art Deco costume. This gave us an opportunity to see Art Deco in wider surrounds on this informative one-hour tour. I traveled in a beautifully restored 1930s vintage car with an art deco-dressed guide, visiting Port Ahuriri and several key buildings including the remarkable National Tobacco Company Building in historic Ahuriri. The tour included Marewa, Napier’s art deco suburb.
That afternoon, I jumped in the back of a trailer and got towed along the beach by a 1949 Minneapolis-Moline tractor to the famous bird colony. I spent time and got incredibly close to the majestic gannets in their natural habitat. I discovered how nature has shaped and formed the towering cliffs of Cape Kidnappers coastline. I viewed the ancient earthquake fault lines and fossils and saw gullies formed by wind and water.
Heading to the airport for a return flight to Manila that evening, we were all very reflective on the five days we experienced in New Zealand. We all agreed that New Zealand was the perfect destination to end the show’s first season. We also agreed that this would be a country we would all like to retire to someday. And we only visited the North Island.
This article was originally published in Metro Society March 2019 issue.
Photographs by Christian Valdes