2/19/2024     by Guest Contributor

Your Guided Tour of Auckland, NZ

This thriving New Zealand metropolis is a culturally diverse hub of food, art and Maori history. Pincered between two harbors, studded with volcanic cones and within easy reach of both islands and beaches, Auckland is the perfect combination of natural beauty and urban sophistication. Read on for details about what to see, do and eat in New Zealand’s largest city.


In the space of a single day, visitors can hike through rainforest in the Waitakere Ranges to the west, swim in a white-sand bay on the east coast and toast sunset from a rooftop bar before dining at a world-class restaurant.

Most international travelers arrive into New Zealand via Auckland Airport, and the city is a fitting start point for any journey. While some visitors might see Auckland as merely a stopover on the way to the South Island, those who linger soon realize the city has many of the elements that make New Zealand so alluring.

Auckland is home to 1.6 million people (around a third of New Zealand’s population) and of this number, roughly 40% were born overseas, giving the city huge diversity in food, festivals and art. Thanks to its close proximity to Asia, Chinese New Year and Diwali are key fixtures in Auckland’s calendar of events, while the city’s large community of people from Pacific nations means markets in the south of the city offer the chance to browse Samoan, Tongan and Niuean arts and crafts such as tapa (cloth), and lavalava (a clothing item).

With all this to explore, it’s easy for visitors to understand why the Indigenous Maori name for Auckland is Tamaki Makaurau, which loosely translates as “Tamaki, desired by many.”


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Turkish eggs breakfast at Homeland


Auckland’s cultural diversity is most visible in its food scene. It’s as easy to find hand-pulled noodles or Peking duck as it is Andalusian-style pork pinchitos. In recent years, Maori cuisine has grown in popularity, as have dishes with Pacific culinary influences. Modern New Zealand restaurants such as Ahi, Onslow and Mr. Morris have menus that read like highlight reels of the best of the nation’s bounty of seafood and produce — wild shot deer from the South Island, green-lipped mussels from the Marlborough Sounds, paua (sea snails) from the Chatham Islands, and kumara (a type of sweet potato) harvested from fields just a few hours south of Auckland.

At Homeland, chef Peter Gordon’s “food embassy for Aotearoa and the Pacific,” the menu features dishes cooked in the traditional Maori hanga, or earth oven, style. Meanwhile, the restaurant’s cooking school offers the chance to learn how to make classic New Zealand food at home. Check their program for upcoming classes.

Ada, a restaurant in the central Grey Lynn neighborhood, also serves hanga meat and vegetables, as well as other Maori foods like fried bread and manuka-smoked tarakihi (a type of fish). One of the city’s newest openings is Metita in the SkyCity precinct. Named after chef Michael Meredith’s mother, in honor of her cooking, the restaurant features dishes inspired by Meredith’s upbringing in Samoa — the likes of fried pork hock and fireroasted tua tua (clams).


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Gin cocktail at The Churchill


Head to Ponsonby Road, one of Auckland’s hippest drinking and dining streets, lined with classy cocktail joints and wine bars. Deadshot is a favorite among locals, famous for having no menu — drinks are made according to the patrons’ whims. Beau is a must-visit wine bar, with a menu featuring wines from around New Zealand. Try pinot noir from Martinborough or Central Otago, or zesty sauvignon blanc from Marlborough. To pair views with a drink, head to The Churchill, a gin bar located on the 20th floor of the Four Points by Sheraton Auckland hotel. Try locally made gins flavored with New Zealand botanicals, like the Sandymount Distillery’s Ti Kouka Forest Gin, which showcases native produce such as kawakawa leaves, manuka honey and harakeke (flax) seeds.


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Mount Eden volcano in Auckland


One of the more curious aspects of Auckland is its geography — it’s built on a volcanic field. A handful of cones are still visible scattered across the skyline. As well as providing lofty vantage points, these volcanic pinnacles — “maunga” in the Maori language — hold a great deal of Maori history.

Before Europeans arrived, the maunga were the sites of fortified villages. The most impressive of these is Mount Eden/Maungawhau, which was one of the largest and most elaborate settlements of its type in New Zealand. A walk to the summit of Maungawhau is a highlight of any visit to Auckland, thanks to the impressive crater, which is said to be the home of Mataaho, the guardian of secrets hidden in the earth. The remnants of terracing for houses, food pits and ditches dug for defense are still visible. The Te Ipu Korero o Maungawhau/Maungawhau Visitor Experience Centre is free to visit and explains the history of Auckland’s maunga and their significance to Maori people.

Auckland Museum is another excellent place to visit to learn more about Maori culture. Te Marae atea Maori Court, set in the heart of the museum, presents the past, present and future of Maori in Aotearoa (the Maori-language name for New Zealand) through a range of masterpieces such as a full-sized, ornately carved meeting house and Te Toki a Tapiri, one of the last traditional war canoes. The museum also hosts two Maori cultural performances daily, which include the world-famous haka.


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Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant, Waiheke Island


One of the best things about Auckland is its proximity to islands in the glittering Hauraki Gulf. Waiheke Island is a premier day-trip destination. A 40-minute ferry ride is all it takes to be whisked off to this island of white-sand beaches and boutique vineyards. Sip shiraz or Bordeaux-style blends at one of Waiheke’s cellar doors, or go for a decadent lunch at Tantalus Estate, Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant or Te Motu, where dishes are made from vegetables plucked from the onsite garden. Stop by The Oyster Inn in the village of Oneroa to taste oysters harvested the same day from the pristine waters off the southeast of the island.

Another island worth visiting is Tiritiri Matangi, a sanctuary for rare native birds. Walking trails weave around the countryside, and guided walks help visitors spot birds such as saddlebacks and takahes, which are extinct on the mainland.

Catch the ferry to Rangitoto Island, a towering volcanic cone that dominates the Auckland skyline. A short hike through pohutukawa forest and rocky lava fields to the summit affords sweeping views back toward the city.


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Wynyard Quarter


Most of Auckland’s top hotels are scattered along the waterfront, spread between the Viaduct Harbour and the sleek Britomart Precinct. Park Hyatt Auckland is a luxury hotel right on the water’s edge in Wynyard Quarter, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views across the marina and out to the Waitemata Harbour. The sleek, modern hotel has a strong sense of place, with natural and locally sourced materials and references to Maori arts and heritage throughout. A stone’s throw away is Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, a luxury hotel with a distinctive French style.

Eco-conscious travelers will be impressed by the sustainability credentials of the five-star Hotel Britomart in downtown Auckland. Thanks to a focus on optimizing energy and reducing waste, the hotel has almost halved its emissions in the past year. All of the 99 timber-lined rooms come with built-in sofas, handmade ceramics and locally sourced snacks. For a premium experience, check out the top-floor Landing Suites, which have spacious terraces and unsurpassed views of Waitemata Harbour.

Meanwhile, for a convenient stay, it’s hard to beat the InterContinental Auckland hotel, which has the downtown ferry terminal on one side, and the glossy Commercial Bay shopping precinct on the other.


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