Exploring Auckland, New Zealand
Are the 13+ hour flight times from Canada to Auckland, New Zealand worth the journey? Visiting Aotearoa, or the land of the long white cloud, is a serious commitment, and not a trip one chooses on a whim for the long weekend. My answer? Most definitely, especially if it all begins with boarding a flight from award-winning Air New Zealand. They set a bar I wish more airlines would strive for. Expect incredible food, wine and service that makes the time pass quickly in comfort and style!
Take a Trip to Auckland, New Zealand
The city of Auckland is surrounded by water. Its two gorgeous coastlines are only 2km apart at its narrowest point, so you can walk from coast to coast in a day! The country is surrounded by 3,700 kilometres of coastline, so water-based activities are a key part of life. Auckland is also known as the “City of Sails” for the Kiwis’ feverish passion for yacht racing!
The region features plenty of unique and stunningly beautiful landscapes just begging to be explored. With more than 50 volcanoes in close proximity, it is the only city in the world built on a still-active basaltic volcanic field.
In the past year, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Auckland more than three times, and yet, I still can’t get enough! This city calls me back again and again for its approachability. It offers all my favourite activities: hiking, biking, running, water sports like surfing and swimming, fishing, and of course, eating!! Auckland celebrates the casual, and reminds me of the Vancouver vibes I am so familiar with. Just swap GORE-TEX and Lululemons for shorts and jandles (flip-flops for us Canadians) to adapt to Auckland’s tropical climate.
Be sure to take a tour of the city when you arrive – I always find it is the best way to get your bearings and discover some hidden treasures. One of my favourite tours in Auckland is AuckyWalky. Liz, the host, is a multi-generation Aucklander, and her passion for sharing her city is contagious.
Food & Culture in Auckland
Auckland is home to the largest South Pacific/Polynesian population on the planet. With an open immigration policy with many of the surrounding islands, Auckland embraces these incredible cultures. New Zealand also celebrates its Indigenous Maori traditions, which form the backbone of its culinary scene.
Pit cooking (or hangi) is well known and used for celebratory cooking throughout the region. If you want a taste, check out celebrity Chef Rewi Spraggon’s new Maori Kitchen on Queen’s Wharf. I have also enjoyed fantastic local flavours at a small café and catering company called Puha and Pakeha, which offers a modern take on Maori cuisine.
The food culture in Auckland is one of the best reasons to visit this amazing city! Wellington has historically been the food capital of New Zealand, but Auckland is now home to the majority of the award-winning restaurants in the country, and for good reason. More than 200+ cultures call the region home, and the temperate climate allows for fertile growing conditions. As a result, more than 25% of all of New Zealand’s produce is grown within the geographic limits of the region. This is the best place to find fresh, local ingredients from the sea, rivers, lakes, and farmlands in the hands of some of the most talented chefs in the country!
Culinary Adventures in Auckland
In my view, food is an accentuator to experiences. It can take a good experience and make it incredible. For example, I love eating oysters – anywhere, anytime. In Auckland, you can take it to a whole new level! Jump on the Shuckle Ferry and head out into a bay. Floating on the most azure blue waters, you’ll get to harvest oysters directly from the beds and eat them right on the boat. Once you’ve tried floating in the sunshine while drinking a chilled bottle of local bubbly or Sauvignon Blanc . . . Trust me, eating oysters will never be the same!
Culinary adventures are so much more than just fine dining restaurants. Even Michelin knows it, and is now awarding stars to hawker market stalls in Singapore. While New Zealand may not have any Michelin-starred restaurants (and personally, I hope it never does), it can compete with the best food in the world thanks to its incredible farmers, producers and chefs.
If you’re looking for a great day trip, take a ferry from the Auckland waterfront to Waiheke Island to explore some of the region’s top wineries and restaurants. One of my favourites is Tantalus Vineyards, which happens to be owned by a fellow Canadian! Pick up a bottle or a few to enjoy while hiking to the top of local volcano, or picnicking on a wild beach while surfing. Savouring a bottle of local wine, even out of plastic cups, surrounded by New Zealand flora is an experience you will not soon forget!
Day Trips from Auckland
There’s no shortage of day trip options close to Auckland’s city centre. Head out to nearby Clevedon to try some beautiful buffalo cheese and milk products including their insanely smooth and creamy buffalo milk yogurt.
Before you head out to eat your oysters on the Shuckle Ferry, venture into Matakana, a picturesque village nestled amongst beautiful greenery and a charming little river. Quaint shops for books, chocolates, cheese and charcuterie, fragrant baked goods, coffee and wine abound. It also boasts a movie theatre with its own wine tasting room and an incredible farmers market on Saturdays. My wife loved this village so much, she went back to visit it again to stock up for a road trip up to Paihie with our children.
If you are a fan of food and art, be sure to pay a visit to the Brick Bay Winery, Restaurant and Sculpture Garden. Admire the ever-evolving selection of masterful sculptures on a trail that meanders through the acres of property, guided by an expertly crafted map. This is a perfect afternoon stop for a glass of wine, a delicious bite and some culture.
If you visit at the right time of year (early January), you can head out to the Ōtuatua Stone Fields and the Public Avocado Orchard and pick your own avocadoes right off the giant trees. My daughters have tried in vain to get avocado pits to sprout in our kitchen, so they were ecstatic to not only see an orchard of full-size trees bearing fruit but even better, get to climb up to pick them!
Where to Eat in Downtown Auckland
If you are staying put in downtown Auckland, don’t worry, there is no shortage of great places to check out to eat. Here are some of my top picks:
Depot is from celebrity chef Al Brown, arguably the most vocal and important figure in celebrating Auckland cuisine. His super casual place right in the heart of the CBD showcases the ingredients and casualness that makes Auckland special.
Convict is another spot that celebrates ingredients without pretension in its upstairs location just off busy Queen Street. With a model similar to Dim Sum restaurants, their unique take on Auckland cuisine has me booking my reservations before I even leave Vancouver.
The multicultural imprint on Auckland’s dining scene is evident with standout restaurants like Cassia with its modern interpretation of Indian cuisine that would easily rank it as one of the world’s best. Azuba prepares Japanese inspired cuisine that is as gorgeous as it is tasty, with impeccable service. And the recently opened La Fuente Mezcal and Wine Bar will have you lining up for a taste of Mexico!
If more of a theatrical dining experience is what you are looking for, Auckland does not disappoint either. Experience stand out fine-dining at places like Pasture, a tiny 20-seat restaurant that was just voted Auckland’s restaurant of the year.
For a meal that is a true performance, visit Clooney’s. Located just outside the CBD, it offers a style of service that is more like a Broadway show. Expect an open kitchen, and tables enveloped in sheer drapes. Each dish is delivered with a story and plenty of passion.
If you still have room for something sweet, do not miss Giapo. This place takes ice cream to a level I have never seen anywhere else. The line-ups will be long year round, but don’t be deterred – trust me, it is worth it!!! An Insta-dream, and with a wide selection of innovative and delicious flavours for even the dairy-intolerant.
Where to Stay in Auckland
Personally, I love to gather ingredients at the local shops and markets to cook when I travel, so I usually book a short-term vacation rental or Airbnb. While in Auckland, I discovered a fantastic property management company called Urban Butler. They represent some of the best apartments in Auckland. They also go above and beyond to help you plan your experiences, and introduce you to the right people and places during your visit.
Is a traditional hotel more your style? I would recommend the Hilton for its location on the waterfront, or the Heritage Inn for its central location and rooftop pool. If you want to be right in the middle of the CBD and all the action, the Sky City Hotel cannot be beat!
You’ll forget the long flight to this gem in the southern hemisphere the moment you arrive. The natural beauty and purity of New Zealand, the Kiwis and Maori people combine to provide the trip of a lifetime!