Local's Guide: Auckland
I’m introducing a new series of posts that I’ll be rolling out for you guys. These posts will be “Local’s Guide” posts. Having now lived in 23 houses in my 21 years, I’ll show you some of the places I’m living (yes, that is currently between a few different places) or have lived in before. For places I don’t know well, I’ll call in the help of friends who are locals.
This first post highlights my favourite places in one of my hometowns, my place of birth and, until last month, where I’d been living for over three years - Auckland, New Zealand.
I totally see how people can visit Auckland and not fall in love with it - the city centre is pretty plain. But as you explore the suburbs and venture out into the natural beauty that surrounds the city, you’ll realise there’s so much more to Auckland than just the SkyTower.
I’ve been living on-and-off in Auckland since I was born there in ‘97. When I wasn’t living there, I was making regular trips across the ditch from Sydney (sometimes up to four times a year), so it’s very much a part of me! However, it has been in the past three years of living there that I’ve really got to know it inside-out. I may not be living in Auckland now or any time in the near future but it’s always going to be a place I call “home”.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT
Summertime (December to February) in Auckland is prime time. The sun is out, the pohutukawa trees are in bloom and Aucklanders are throwing barbecues in their local parks, hitting the beach and enjoying the many public holidays.
THE ONE WORD OF ADVICE I'D GIVE TO TOURISTS
I touched on this in the introduction, but my advice would be to get out of the city centre! Auckland is so beautiful but so many visitors don't see this because they don't leave the CBD.
Viaduct Harbour & Wynyard Quarter: Yes, this area of the city was made for tourists but locals love it too! This beautiful harbourside precinct, dotted with superyachts, has a happening restaurant and bar scene, plenty of leisure and entertainment options and killer views of the city's skyline.
Rangitoto Island: Sitting pretty in the middle of the Waitematā Harbour, this volcanic island emerged from the sea in a series of eruptions over 600 years ago. Today, it makes the perfect backdrop to Auckland's east-facing beaches.
Nelson Street Cycleway: This hot pink cycleway adds a pop of colour to the city centre. Tangled in between the spaghetti-junction of motorways, it has won numerous architecture awards. Gosh, the architect must be incredible! (I may be a little bit biased because the architect is my uncle!)
Piha Beach: This iconic surf beach is just a 45 minute drive west of the CBD, but it feels a world away! Tucked amongst towering cliffs and vibrant native forest, this rugged black sand beach has beautifully ferocious waves and a giant lion-shaped rock standing proudly in the middle of it.
Forage the Markets: There are so many different markets to check out in Auckland and they all have distinctly different vibes. My favourites are: the classy, artisan markets at Matakana; the central-city Britomart Farmers Market; the vibrant and culturally diverse Otara Flea Markets in South Auckland; the Auckland Night Markets, where dingy carparks come alive with rows of street food stalls; and the chic La Cigale French Markets in Parnell.
Climb a Mountain: There are 48 volcanic cones in Auckland but don’t worry, they’re highly unlikely to erupt. They do, however, make great lookout points over the city. My favourite mountains to climb are Mount Eden, Mount Victoria and One Tree Hill.
Days on the Bays: On the eastern side of the city lie the peaceful bays of the Waitematā Harbour. They’re great places to go for a picnic, a walk, fish and chips on the beach or to play a game of sport. You’ll find these bays on the North Shore and in the Eastern Suburbs of Auckland. The most commonly visited bays are Takapuna Beach and Mission Bay, which are lined with bars and eateries. There are also bays that are a bit more tucked away if that's what you prefer.
Wine tasting: New Zealand is world-renowned for its wine and Auckland is home to some fabulous vineyards and wineries. There are three main wine areas in the Auckland region - Waiheke Island, Kumeu and Matakana Wine Country.
PLACES THAT CAN BE ENDLESSLY EXPLORED
Waitakere Ranges & West Coast Beaches: On the other side of the Auckland from the peaceful city beaches, is the Wild West - with rugged beaches, pristine waterfalls and mountains clad with dense native greenery.
Tawharanui & the Rodney District: It may be a bit of a drive out of the CBD, but the Northern Auckland region is home to some gorgeous beaches that put the more central east-facing beaches to shame! You’ll also find the cutest towns in the Auckland region here. My favourites are Leigh, Matakana and the pretty little town of Puhoi.
Waiheke Island: Once upon a time, this island community was a haven for hippies. In some ways it still is, but being just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, you can definitely see the influence of the city folk all over it. Here, you can zipline through the lush native forest, walk down stunning beaches and enjoy Waiheke's world-class vineyards and cuisine.
Ponsonby: This hip and happening suburb on the fringe of the city centre is full of interesting places to eat, shop and play. Here, you’ll find designer boutiques and some of the coolest cafés in town. If you’re ever feeling indecisive about what you want to eat, head to Ponsonby Central. It’s an upmarket food court with a great atmosphere and options for everyone.
Karangahape Road: Locally known as "K Road", this quirky street at the top of the Auckland CBD marches to the beat of its own drum. It's brimming with funky eateries, vintage fashion stores, gorgeous little gift shops and an eclectic and eccentric mix of people.
Britomart: You’ll find excellent eateries, shopping and nightlife under the twinkling fairy lights and amongst cobblestone laneways of this downtown hot spot. Being the centre of Auckland's transport network, Britomart is always bustling and full of activity and excitement.
GREAT PLACES TO STAY
Ponsonby or Parnell: These suburbs on the fringe of the CBD are lined with heritage villa and bungalow-style houses. They are also lined with great cafés, restaurants, shops and art galleries.
Viaduct or Britomart: For close proximity to the CBD, I'd recommend these areas of Downtown Auckland. You may even find a place with views of the sparkling harbour.
Waitakere Ranges and the West Coast Beaches: If it's sweet seclusion you're after - head west. Check out Huia, Titirangi or one of the West Coast beaches for peaceful accommodation among the trees.
Takapuna or Devonport: Just across the Harbour Bridge from the CBD are these beachy North Shore suburbs. They've got an up-market, yet laid-back vibe and plenty of excellent places to eat, shop and explore.
SURREAL SUNSET SPOTS
Muriwai Gannet Colony: Between August and March, you'll find thousands of breeding gannet birds on the cliffs of Muriwai Beach, about an hour’s drive from the CBD. If you can get past the funky smell, it's a great place to watch birds dart about as the sky is painted with the intense hues of the sunset.
Mt Eden: This is the closest volcano to the CBD and a great place to watch the sun as it sets behind the city skyline.
Any of the West Coast Beaches: Yes, this is the third time I've mentioned the West Coast beaches in this post but they're seriously hard to beat - especially when their rugged beauty is illuminated with a golden glow.
Westhaven Marina: Auckland is known as "The City of Sails", so why not head down to this centrally located marina to watch the sun sink behind the Harbour Bridge and between the boat masts.
THE EASIEST WAY TO GET AROUND
With only one toll road and an easily navigated network of motorways - Auckland is definitely a driver's city. The best way to get around is driving. However, depending on where you're staying and what you plan on doing, purchasing AT Hop card may be a good option for you. These tap on/tap off cards give you access to the city's buses, trains and certain ferries. Just bear in mind, that with public transport, you won't be able to reach some of the more secluded and naturally beautiful parts of the Auckland Region.
THE COOLEST CAFES
Major Sprout: This was, without a doubt, the café I visited most frequently when I lived in Auckland. Not only is the food absolutely exquisite (both to eat and to look at) but the modern, nature-infused, minimalist décor feels sophisticated and upmarket. It’s a great place to meet friends. For exceptional quality you get here, it isn’t overpriced either.
Lei: With beautiful murals and an island flair, this Ponsonby establishment brings a Pacific flavour to your typical café dishes.
Deco Eatery: Nestled in the tree-speckled suburb of Titirangi, this Mediterranean-inspired café boasts beautiful décor and an equally as exquisite menu. It is situated in the historic Lopdell House. After brunching, you can climb to the roof for gorgeous views of the Manukau Harbour.
Federal Street Deli: I'm not if this Auckland classic, right below the Skytower, is counted as a café, restaurant, or bar. It’s open early and closes late and covers all of these. "The Fed" as it's affectionately referred to by Aucklanders, is an NYC-inspired deli and the perfect place to sit for hours and chat with friends over bottomless black coffee, a pastrami sandwich or an indulgent piece of pie.
REALLY GOOD RESTAURANTS
Woodpecker Hill: This upmarket Asian-fusion restaurant in Parnell was my go-to restaurant for special occasions. The east-meets-west sharing menu boasts bold flavours, unique combinations and exceptionally cooked meats. My favourite dish is the 14-hour smoked brisket.
Amano: With beautiful rustic décor, genuine service, locally sourced ingredients, authentic dishes and possibly the freshest pasta in Auckland, you can't go past this Britomart Italian restaurant!
Mexican Specialties: Auckland is really no place for authentic Mexican food, but this restaurant in Ellerslie, the humble heart of suburbia, absolutely nails it! This family-owned business has delicious food and a laid-back vibe.
Orphans Kitchen: I'm not sure how, but this cosy, intimate restaurant on Ponsonby Road manages to be both upmarket and unpretentious at the same time. They serve up unique dishes with Kiwi flavours and ingredients, accompanied by an excellent wine selection. It’s also opens as a café during the day with some delicious brunch options!
Satya Spice and Chai Shop: These whimsical chai lounges are tucked away: one behind an inconspicuous shopfront on Karangahape Road, the other in an alleyway off Sandringham Road. These hidden gems are an authentic, yet super hipster take on Southern Indian drinks and nibbles. As well as an extensive menu of beers and cocktails, these magical bars specialise in chai. My favourite drink to order is the Hard Chai cocktail, which combines their signature spicy chai with cognac.
Dr Rudi’s Rooftop Brew Kitchen: There are plenty of bars on the Viaduct, but my go-to is this rooftop bar with a bowling alley and beautiful views over the sail-studded harbour. In the summer months especially, you can't beat sipping on one of Dr Rudi's home-brewed beers with good company on the sun-drenched deck.
Bedford Soda & Liquor: To be perfectly honest, I found this place on Instagram shortly after moving to Auckland. I simply “had to” try the bright blue ‘Hawaiian Time’ cocktail with floating flowers in a spherical glass. That particular cocktail was great, but it was their extensive menu of speciality drinks that kept me coming back to this New-York inspired bar in Ponsonby Central.
Caretaker: Inspired by the golden era of bartending, this downstairs cocktail lounge in downtown Britomart is a fantastic experience. You sit down in this dimly lit den and tell one of the waiters about the kinds of drinks and flavours you like. Then, they go away and use their expert knowledge to whip up an old-fashioned bespoke drink just for you.
** Rest in Peace to Golden Dawn, also one of the best bars in Auckland, which closed just as I left.
THE BEST BAKERIES
Amandine: Tucked away inside Parnell's La Cigale French Market, the popular pastries here usually get snatched up as soon as they’re out of the oven. I was pretty notorious for detouring on a Saturday morning for a piping hot almond croissant - literally the best I’ve ever had!
Little & Friday: I’m sure most Aucklanders would’ve heard of this bakery with homely feel a cult-like following. Their giant baked goodies are far from the stale, mass-produced sorts that you see in places like Starbucks and their donuts are to die for!
Olaf's: This artisan bakery and cafe in Mt Eden Village has won numerous awards for their European breads. They also do delectable pastries, brunch and coffee. Olaf himself has over 20 years' experience as a baker, pastry chef and chef - and it sure shows!
Daily Bread: It may be one of the new kids on the block, but this recently-opened Point Chevalier bakery, deli and café is already a favourite of mine! With an aroma of freshly-baked bread and trays full of fresh-out-of-the-oven treats, everything here is totally irresistible and incredibly good!
WHERE TO GO FOR GOOD COFFEE
Atomic Coffee Roasters: This café, roastery and brew bar in the trendy suburb of Kingsland has loyal customers and a reputation for having Auckland's best coffee. They also do great food in a clean and modern café setting.
Chuffed: Tucked away behind the offices and foot traffic of High Street, this cosy café was a haven during my uni days. My flat white would always come with the most elaborate coffee art perfectly poured into it.
Dizengoff: There are a fair few cafés on Ponsonby Road, and after caffeinating at many of them, I still swear by the coffee at this Auckland classic. They were the first in the city to make double-shots a standard order and their coffee is perfectly complemented by their Jewish-inspired breakfast menu.
Kokako: This café in the old Grey Lynn post office serves espresso and filter coffee, made from organic and Fair beans, alongside a selection of comforting vegetarian food. You can enjoy good coffee and good ethics.
THE TOP TAKEAWAYS
Big J’s: There are an insane amount of burger places in Auckland, but I reckon this simple, no-frills takeaway joint on a residential street in Mt Wellington serves up the best-tasting burgers in the entire city!
Mr Zhou's: I tried the pork and fennel dumplings at Mr Zhou’s right before I left Auckland after a friend highly recommended it. Wow - I wish I knew about this place sooner! In a city full of outstanding dumplings, they certainly shone through.
Better Burger: With old-school American burgers, fries and shakes, this is kind of like Auckland’s equivalent to In-N-Out. Better Burger started in the heart of Auckland's CBD and has since expanded. There are now restaurants all over the city and they are a whole lot nicer lot nicer than a greasy old McDonalds.
F&C Remuera Village: It would be un-Kiwi of me to not include a fish and chip shop in my top takeaways. This was my local fish and chip shop and there was a white paper-wrapped parcel full of deep-fried goodness in our house almost every Friday!
Milse: Real candy, and eye candy all in one. This dessert joint, tucked behind Britomart’s twinkling lights is simply beautiful! You’ll want to order everything on display, but I’d highly recommend my usual, the Bombe Alaska ice-cream stick.
Giapo: This ice cream extraordinaire has been a long-standing favourite of mine when it comes to Auckland dessert joints. They work wonders with a selection of interesting flavoured ice-creams and innovative toppings. Although I must say, I’ve spaced out my trips here recently because the prices have taken a steep hike since they opened on Queen Street back in the day.
Miann: Somewhat similar to Milse, you'll find gelato sticks, petit gateaux, macarons and the most indulgent hot chocolates at this sophisticated downtown dessert bar.
The Diary: No matter how full I am, I always have room for dessert! After many dinners at the array of restaurants in Ponsonby Central, I've hit up this little ice-cream bar for a scoop of Kapiti ice cream sandwiched between two giant cookies.
Little Bird Unbakery: It was this café that introduced me to the idea that healthy food can, in fact, be delicious - like insanely delicious. I’m talking creamy cheesecakes that are free from any kind of cream, or even cheese. Everything here is dairy, gluten and refined sugar-free, totally raw and, somehow, still manages to taste like heaven.
Mondays Wholefoods: This cosy little ivy-clad café in Kingsland serves up wholesome, hearty, handmade goodness that is beautiful to look at, good to eat and satisfying to the soul.
Revive: Just down the road from my university, this vegetarian take-away gave me energy to keep studying without a gross, greasy feeling afterwards.
Wise Cicada: This vegan café and health food store in Newmarket is the perfect place to stock up on organic and everything-free goods or sip on on a matcha latte.
WONDERFUL WINERIES & BRILLIANT BREWERIES
Mudbrick: If I ever get married in Auckland, I sure hope it's at this gorgeous vineyard on Waiheke Island. It has charming grounds, fabulous wine, a heavenly restaurant and a breathtaking view over the city.
Villa Maria: Just a short drive from Auckland Airport and peacefully set amongst picturesque vineyards, this is a great place to come for a wine-tasting or lunch on the terrace at the Vineyard Café.
The Sawmill Brewery: This fantastic brewery in Northern Auckland Region is a popular lunch stop after mornings spent at Matakana Markets but worthy of the drive in its own right!
Hallertau Brewery: In the north-western suburb of Riverhead, this ambient brewery is the perfect place to stop for a beer tasting on your way back from the West Coast beaches.
THE BEST PLACES TO SHOP
Britomart: New Zealand designers and international labels can be found in the beautifully merchandised stores of Britomart. Close to great food, public transport, the city centre and the waterfront, Britomart doesn't just have great shops, it makes for a great day of shopping!
Jetset Bohemian: If you are what you wear, then I want my whole wardrobe to be from this Grey Lynn boutique. Every item here tells a story and is internationally inspired and there's a mix of high-street labels and hand-picked vintage pieces.
The Super Cool Second Hand Stores: With plenty of awesome second-hand stores around Auckland, you can have a great wardrobe while spending less and minimising waste! My favourites are Tatty's and Recycle Boutique but there are some great second-hand stores on K Road too. Oh, and I can't forget my local - the Glen Innes Dove Hospice shop!
The Back Streets of Newmarket: Forget Broadway (Newmarket’s main street). The best shops are tucked away in the back streets. Here you'll find beautiful boutiques and Kiwi labels and designers. Sure, it's pricier than the fast-fashion on the main strip, but in my opinion, it's worth it!
QUIRKY LITTLE FINDS
Cross Street Markets: On a back street, just behind K Road, this super cool market pops up from time to time, selling vintage, handmade and one-of-a-kind clothing, books, homewares and knick-nacks. I'd definitely recommend catching it if you can.
Junk and Disorderly: First and foremost, I'm instantly in love with any place with a name as punny as that. Secondly, this shop on the North Shore is an absolute treasure trove of bric-a-brac and bits and pieces, artfully arranged in a way that makes you want to hoard it all!
St Kevin's Arcade: At the beating heart of Auckland's eclectic and eccentric K Road, is this character filled little arcade full of speciality shops, fabulous cafés and gorgeous gift stores.
Real Groovy: While I often advise tourists to steer clear of Queen Street (the main street of the city), it does have its gems. This is one of them. This Auckland-famous record store is full of collector's items, music memorabilia and weird and wonderful gifts.
Hillary Trail: Named after a Kiwi hero, Sir Edmund Hillary, this trail through the Waitakere Ranges lives up to its legendary status. It's a four day hike, from Titirangi to Muriwai, but many Aucklanders just do bits and pieces of it at a time. Unfortunately, some of the trail has been closed recently due to Kauri dieback disease, which has been killing the native trees. If you plan on visiting, please be kind to the beautiful natural environment!
Rangitoto Summit: Climbing to the top of this distinct and iconic volcano is definitely an item to add to your Auckland bucket list! A ferry to the island takes around 25 minutes from Downtown and it's a pretty easy 2 hour return walk through native pohutukawa forest.
Tamaki Drive: This coastal road stretches along the Eastern Bays. The flat pathway makes for a leisurely stroll or an easy run. As you wind your way around the bays, you'll have Rangitoto in the background, and the city in view as you get closer to Orakei.
ANNUAL EVENTS WORTH CHECKING OUT
Guy Fawkes Day: I'm not too sure what relevance this English celebration has to people all the way down in New Zealand but it was one of my favourite times of year for one reason - fireworks! In New Zealand, the only time you can buy fireworks is the three days leading up to Guy Fawkes on the 5th of November. They can be let off at any time of year, but for nights on end, the sky is lit up with bursts of colour. The best way to spend Guy Fawkes is either letting some off yourself or admiring them from a mountaintop, as sparks are sent soaring from backyards in every single suburb.
Pasifika Festival: Held in Western Springs each March, this vibrant festival celebrates the cultures of the Pacific Islands. There are villages set up to represent the different Island nations with food stalls, shops and live performances.
Auckland Lantern Festival: Around Chinese New Year, the Auckland Domain is lit up with hundreds of colourful lanterns and the mood is set with live music, performances, fireworks displays and spectacular street food.
Auckland Diwali Festival: If you can't already tell, I love any kind of festival that celebrates the cultures that make up this diverse city. Each October, my brother Jamin and I would hit up this Indian festival which starts in Aotea Square and sprawls out onto Queen Street. As well as delicious curries and Indian sweets, Jamin and I also gave Bollywood dancing a try amongst the excited crowds.
MY FAVOURITE WEEKEND ROADTRIPS
Mangawhai: Just an hour and a half north of Auckland is this magical town that perfectly epitomises Kiwi beach culture. Think jandals (or no shoes), streets lined with baches (Kiwi holiday homes) and plenty of water activity on the peaceful estuary or in the waves of the surf beach.
Rotorua: Rich in history, Māori culture and geothermal activity, Rotorua makes the perfect weekend getaway from Auckland. It's about a three hour drive away and surrounding the city are some of the best natural hot pools and most beautiful lakes in the North Island.
My Maunganui: A picturesque three hour drive south-east of Auckland will take you to this buzzing surf town near Tauranga. The towering green mountain watches over the popular strip of beach that bows before it and people frolic in the waves and dart between the trendy shops and cafés.
Taupo: On the edge of Great Lake Taupō, with mountains in view, this pretty city looks peaceful, but is truly action-packed! You can enjoy water activities on the still lake, hike and ski in the mountains of the nearby Tongariro National Park or visit the thundering Huka Falls. Taupo is about a 4 hour drive from Auckland.