New Zealand, as a whole, is elegantly scaled. In a land mass that roughly approximates the primary British isle, the topography is like a sampler at a Chinese restaurant, with at least one of every major land formation crowded in. Similarly, Auckland presents us with an ideal scale for our 24 hour problem – the city is compact but bristling with opportunities for the hedonist and adventurer. If you’re heading to NZ, get used to the place hitting well above its weight.
The problem with trying to lock down 24 hours in any city isn’t so much how, but where to start. With so much on offer and so little time to do it all in, the anxious traveller can sometimes overlook this city’s real hidden gems. So with so much to do and – as always – so little time, here’s a different way of spending 24 hours in the City of Sails.
Albert Street Food Hall – right smack in the middle of downtown Auckland (opposite Stamford Plaza), this unassuming Asian food hall has a great selection of authentic Asian food, with no bullshit. For more of the same, try the Ponsonby Rd Food Hall, which is as affordable as it is delicious.
Time to jump on a ferry to Waiheke Island. Just 35 minutes away from downtown Auckland, it’s the ultimate escape from the urban rush, with lush reserves, breathtaking beaches and a fine collection of wineries and restaurants. You can also take a guided sea kayak tour around the island with several operators on Waiheke. Fullers Waiheke Ferry offers up to 19 sailings daily. Adult return fare is $28.50. For more info, call The Kayak Company or (09) 372 2112; or Waiheke Kayak Adventures Ltd, on 0800 529 252.
If this doesn’t float your, erm, boat, try Snowplanet: an indoor snowboarding joint just outside of Auckland with 50cm of powder every day. It’s the only all-year snow resort in the Southern Hemisphere. Carving out two rugby pitches, it’s a good way to blow a few hours and at least you can say you skied New Zealand. Call (09) 427 0044.
Back in Auckland, and by God, we’re starving. The best restaurant in town is The French Café, where the atmosphere is relaxed, not stiff at all, the service is impeccable and the food irreproachable.
Sri Penang offers top Malaysian food at super cheap prices on Auckland’s Karangahape Rd (K Rd).
If you’re looking for something straightforward but quality, Korus is a very popular, affordable Japanese eatery on Queen St.
Gina’s on Symonds St is a pretty special Italian restaurant, especially for the girls. See, all the waiters are pretty hot young Italian guys who don’t mind working for a tip, and seem to want to go over the top to please every customer (note: any double entendres in that last sentence are purely the responsibility of the reader).
A lot of people have never seen the sun set over the ocean…and if you haven’t, well, there is only one place to be – Auckland’s west coast beaches. Heading 40km west of the city, it’s a bit of a drive (hence our early start), but this is some of the wildest, most untamed coastline in the world, and it is less than an hour from New Zealand’s largest city.
Piha is probably the most popular beach, with odd geological features that look like the coast exploded about 50 years ago and left huge smouldering chunks of earth fizzling in the surf. The place is enlivened considerably after dark by the bedraggled surfers from the city who don’t want to go straight home just yet.
Now, it’s about time to head into Auckland’s dark underbelly – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in New Zealand… a place that at times seems completely populated by 18-25 year-olds. Depending on what you’re into, there are choices galore.
Spy Bar is the biggest meat market in town, open until a foot-blistering 10am. Here the musical calibre is exchanged for availability and sheer numbers of single boys and girls.
Spqr Bar is an Auckland institution. Gay friendly and stylish, this bar has good tunes, great atmosphere, and that ineffable thing that makes a place like this still relevant after years in a volatile and fickle industry.
The Musket Room is a very bohemian place to drink and talk under the dim lamps and rough edges. You won’t find the usual cabal of drink-to-get-drunk tourists here, and that’s precisely its lure.
Calibre is a real house club – dark, underground and not so much a pick-up joint as a serious hiding place for house fans.
For the band/pub experience, The Dogs Bollocks and The Kings Arms are both great live venues where drinks aren’t too much.
The Pony Club plays a mix of hip hop and rock; it’s pretty trendy, so bring your good trainers and you can see how the antipodean hipsters do it New Zealand-style.
Still haven’t met that Mr or Ms special? That’s okay. Auckland has a thriving trade in dancing girls (and brothels). Showgirls, on Customs St, is strangely hip – a friend calls it “sometimes trendy”. Urge is the gay sauna on K Rd, I can’t recommend the facilities, because I haven’t seen them… but it’s there. The White House is a big spacious brothel on Queen St modelled and themed on politics and the US White House. This place shames the “Oval Office” almost as much as Bill Clinton. And Femme Fatale offers probably the best girls in Auckland, though I’m told that’s not necessarily a recommendation.
The White Lady offers quite simply the best burgers in the CBD at 4am (though probably the only burgers in the CBD at 4am). This is the Auckland equivalent of Harry’s Café De Wheels in Woolloomooloo, Sydney. This old converted bus serves up the usual array of greasy fare, staving off starvation for a midnight generation of stumbling backpackers and straggling business-types at Shortland Street, just off Queen Street. You know the feeling, when this kind of meal feels right, so I don’t have to explain it to you.
Jet lag and the heady rush of travel itself mean you’re probably still up… wondering what the hell you’re going to do until breakfast. Why not drive to the top of Mt Eden (Maungawhau) in time for a spectacular sunrise? After all, this is practically the first place the sun hits each new day, according to a completely arbitrary system of date lines, based on the fact that London is the centre of the universe. But hey, that’s the world we live in, and this is the land of the rising sun, for real. This extinct 196m volcano, complete with crater, offers 360 views over Auckland, including the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea.
There aren’t many better ways to witness the diurnal climax in NZ, excluding things like parasailing up Mt Cook or skydiving at one of the dozens of jump zones around New Zealand, catering to that spirit of first times and breaking in of egos that this tiny country seems to inspire in even the most prosaic English archaeology majors. This ancient Maori settlement was used for around 500 years before being abandoned in the 1700s. They say the volcano isn’t going to erupt again.
Breakfast time, provided you still have an appetite after all this trundling around and not sleeping. So we’re going to slow down a bit now. The Chancery and High Street provide probably the best boutique shopping and eating in the city, especially on a Saturday morning. Head to Chancery Square and you’ll have an appetizing selection of cafés and restaurants spliced between high-powered attorneys at law and high-dollar fashionistas.
Over on High Street, the shopping is a little bit more eclectic, but still fairly highbrow. There are plenty more cafés here to choose from, so either way, you can just eat at one place, wander around and find your way to the other and have a shop.
My advice is to really spread out breakfast, because nothing opens for a while.
Otara Market in Newbury Street – every Saturday this Maori and Polynesian-flavoured market takes place from 7am in Otara, south Auckland. Everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to weird gimcracks and “funny” t-shirts are for sale, alongside island music, traditional fabrics and a menagerie of doodads sure to keep you busy long enough to work up an appetite for the food on offer. Things like marinated fish and pineapple fritters are sure to stir the imagination, if not the stomach.
Back in New Zealand, our 24 hours is up. You can do anything you like from here on out. We’re heading to a pub… see you next time.
Auckland’s Big Days Out
If you want to know what it’s like to climb 40 metres up a ladder, in through the inside of the Auckland Sky Tower while strapped in to a harness – give the Vertigo Climb a whirl. It only takes about 20 minutes of actual climbing to reach the top, you’ll need to be reasonably fit and be comfortable with dizzying heights. Freephone: 0800 483 7844 or visit .
Auckland Sky Tower Jump
Get strapped into a “flying suit” connected to the edge of the Auckland Sky Tower, 192 metres in the air and jump for your life. Afterwards you’ll be beaming like Colin Farrell in a strip club. Freephone: 0800 759 586.
Check out the constellations over Auckland at the Stardome Observatory, which operates two evening shows explaining the night skies. You’ll also get to take a look through the massive Zeiss telescope, where you can get a close-up view at stars tens of millions of light years away. Ph: (09) 624 1246
Head to Auckland Museum to see an impressive collection of Maori artefacts, including carved tikis, pleated skirts and some beautiful pendants made of ivory bone, shell and jade. To top it off, a mosey on upstairs will find you wandering around dinosaurs which roamed New Zealand 208 million years ago. Call (09) 306 7067.
Harbour Bridge Bungy
What can we say, the Harbour Bridge Bungy is another biggie on the “to-do” list that’s bound to stain the trousers a little. But still, it’s not as though you’re going to see any of those people who witnessed you lose control of your bodily functions again! Freephone: 0800 462 8649.
Photos: Getty, TNT