Getting under the skin of Auckland

I was sitting on a plane bound for Charlotte, North Carolina when the lady next to me started a conversation. “Where are you from?” was her first question after she heard me pronounce water with a ‘t’. As we talked I discovered that she was planning a visit to New Zealand and although she had very detailed plans for her time in the South Island, she was not sure what she would do in Auckland, or indeed if she would linger there. “Maybe just a day,” she said and rattled off some of the places she wanted to visit: the Sky Tower, wine tasting on Waiheke, a walk on the wild West Coast or a harbour cruise.

These are all wonderful things to do but as we talked and I told her about the things that I like to do in Auckland, things that may not appear on the lists of must-see attractions, I realised how hard it is to get under the skin of a city and see it’s heart.

An Aucklander’s view of Auckland

There are plenty of excellent places to grab a coffee in Auckland but one that is worth seeking out is the Espresso Coffee School. The coffee is fair trade, organic and local, the baristas are so good they train other baristas. The cafe operates on a gift economy model which means that whatever you order is their gift to you and you can return the gift in the form of payment but only if you want to. Judging from the queues outside the cafe every morning, it’s a business model that works.

If you’ve got time, enroll in a class and learn how to make coffee like a barista. You’ll join an elite group of graduates who actually know the difference between a cappuccino, latte and flat white and how to make each one perfectly.

A couple of blocks away, there are always people standing on the pavement outside  No 1 Pancakes. It’s popular with students from the university nearby, and savvy visitors of course. Choose your filling, take a number and watch as your pancake is poured and patted in the tiny kitchen. It will be too hot to eat immediately so wander along Lorne Street to Khartoum Place and enjoy its shady trees and colourful tile mural that never fails to remind me of an animation from Monty Python.

IMG_2457Just a hop and a skip from No. 1 pancakes is the best ice-cream shop in Auckland, maybe the world.  Seriously, Giapo (just a few doors up from the Civic Theatre which, incidentally, is another ‘must do’) is the Prada of ice-cream and it’s worth the wait (there is usually a queue). If you’re lucky Gianpaolo will be there. He’ll be the tall guy with the funky glasses.

I like to get to know a city by walking and Auckland is a place for that. There is art to be admired (and sometimes eggs) and parks to be discovered. Try the  pink path (watch out for cyclists) or take a stroll along the boardwalk that links the Harbour bridge to the city and gets up close to the thousands of boats that give Auckland it’s name as the city of sails. There’s a cafe at the bridge end and a cute statue of a little bear.


Farmer’s markets and bric a brac markets are a great way to get among the locals and one of my favourite is in Takapuna, a suburb on the North Shore of Auckland. The market is held on Sundays in the public carpark. It starts early and closes at midday. There will be people with baskets shopping for veggies, flowers, bread and other artisan foods and others scouting for a second hand bargain amongst all sorts of clothing, jewellery and knick knacks. There is plenty of good coffee and food to be found within walking distance of the market and a lovely long beach to walk along with views across to Rangitoto Island. In the city, on Saturday morning, there is a small but perfectly formed, farmer’s market. There is always fresh coffee, live music and hot bacon rolls.

Ponsonby Road is an inner city bus ride from the central city or a brisk walk through Victoria Park Market and up College Hill. Things of note….. Ponsonby Central (for all sorts of food and groceries), Western Park (for art), Ramen Takada (for ramen noodles), Ma Cherie (for macarons), Tatty’s (for pre-loved designer and vintage clothing), The Poi Room (for NZ art and great gifts). Most NZ designers have a store here and theres always something new to look at and drool over.

If you are feeling energetic (and have time) walk all the way up Ponsonby Rod then  turn left and walk along Karangahape Road (popularly and more conveniently known as K Road). Stop at St Kevin’s arcade for a browse in the Green Dolphin bookshop and a magnificent grilled cheese sandwich at Forte Greene, then return to the city via the shortcut through the arcade to Myers Park or carry on along K Road (past pre-loved clothing shops and funky little gift stores) until it intersects with Queen Street. Either way, you’ll be back in the city centre in about 20 minutes, longer if you get lost in the vinyl, comics and general quirkiness of Real Groovy on Upper Queen Street.

Take the train from Britomart Transport Centre to Orakei Station… get off and walk the boardwalk and have a coffee at King’s Garden Centre … or stay on for a few stops to Sylvia Park for mall shopping and movies. Be prepared for crowds.

Eat fish and chips and sea food at the fish market. Or book yourself into a lesson and learn how to cook it yourself.

Skip breakfast and lunch and book a place on a spice tour in the eclectic suburb of Sandringham. Or take a port tour,  an hour-long cruise with commentary around the busy harbour which, at $5 per adult (free for children under 16), can’t be beaten for value for money

Spend a morning at Pah Homestead, a lovely old home which is now a magnificent art gallery with awesome outdoor sculptures and a great little cafe. Sit on the deck or wander in the adjacent park with glorious trees and unusual views of Auckland. This is one of my favourite things to do on a sunny day and surprisingly few Aucklanders do it.

Auckland has many volcanic cones and my favourite is North Head in Devonport because it has tunnels, and a bird’s eye view of the gorgeous Hauraki Gulf and Rangitoto Island, another volcano. It is also close to the Torpedo Bay cafe where you can mosey around the naval museum and take a quick look at the fishing activity at the end of the wharf. You’ll feel like you are in the middle of the harbour, close enough to see whether the boaties are drinking sauvignon blanc or chardonnay as they sail past.

I still had many more places to tell my travel companion about when we landed in Charlotte but I’m pretty sure her head was reeling and she was already adjusting her travel plans. I hope so anyway.

Categories: Auckland, North Island

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