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Insider: Auckland

For the next five months, Auckland will be playing host to the world's most glamorous yachting event, the America's Cup regatta. The racing series couldn't ask for a more fabulous setting: situated on a hill-dotted isthmus between two natural harbors, the town is often called the City of Sails. But Auckland is much more than a yachtsman's paradise. The city has evolved over the past two decades from a staid bastion of British colonialism into a multicultural mix of Europeans, Maori, Pacific Islanders, and Asians. And the fashion world is taking notice of forward-thinking Kiwi designs and trends. Whether it's designer Karen Walker tempering Nordic seriousness with South Pacific insouciance, chef Amanda Morris conjuring an international menu out of a Far Eastern staple at Rice, or artist Fatu Feu'u rendering Polynesian motifs in pure wool rugs, if it's made in Auckland, it looks like the future.

Where to Stay

Perched on the tip of Princes Wharf, the 16-month-old Hilton Auckland (147 Quay St.; 64-9/978-2000; doubles from $193) looks like a gleaming passenger liner—it even narrows to an ocean-cleaving prow. There are harbor views from most of the 158 rooms and eight Bow suites, as well as from the glass-walled rooftop lap pool. • A sleek tower houses 219 rooms in the Ascott Metropolis (1 Courthouse Lane; 64-9/300-8800; doubles from $183), but at its base is the Magistrate's Courthouse, a 1912 Baroque-style building that now contains the hotel's marble lobby, soigné lounge bar, and two upscale restaurants. • Although its 17 rooms were recently renovated, the 1903 Esplanade Hotel (1 Victoria Rd.; 64-9/445-1291; doubles from $104) hasn't lost its Edwardian charm. Neither has Devonport, the quaint Brightonesque suburb (10 minutes by harbor ferry from downtown Auckland) whose waterfront the hotel dominates.

Auckland at Table

The cuisine at Rice (10-12 Federal St.; 64-9/359-9113; dinner for two $45) may sound as bland as baby food—its menu is based on more than 20 different types of rice—yet the piquant dishes are anything but boring: duck and prawn rice noodle broth with star anise; whole fish stuffed with kaffir lime leaves, coriander, lemongrass, and Thai red curry. The retro-modern interiors delight, too, with Verner Panton chairs, black leather banquettes, chrome-and-glass Sputnik chandeliers, and glass walls that slide open in warm weather. • Sydney chef Luke Mangan has created a Pacific menu with a French accent—venison with beetroot custard, tuna with wasabi crème fraîche—at White (Hilton Auckland; 64-9/978-2020; dinner for two $60), the Hilton's aptly named restaurant. With its pale wood, marble floors, and billowing sheer curtains, this airy space is a temple of blond-on-blond minimalism. • If you were any closer to the super-sized yachts berthed next to the terrace at Soul Bar & Bistro (Viaduct Harbour; 64-9/356-7249; dinner for two $45), you'd be dining on board. As you gaze at the opulent flotilla from the cream-and-neon dining room, comfort yourself with some of the freshest seafood around. • Chef Kate Fay presides over a first-class kitchen at Cibo Parnell (91 St. Georges Bay Rd.; 64-9/303-9660; dinner for two $50), a high-ceilinged retreat with a lushly planted courtyard. Try her tea-smoked salmon with wasabi potatoes and apple salad.

Shopping, from Bags to Bangles

Pauanesia (35 High St.; 64-9/366-7282), a sliver of a shop, overflows souk-style with decorative items inspired by Maori and Polynesian crafts—tapa-cloth lampshades, woven-flax baskets and mats, hand-painted ceramics, screen-printed cushions, and curios made from seashells. • There's a head-spinning variety of Mid-Century Modern lamps and light fixtures at Peter Rogers Real Time (74 Ponsonby Rd.; 64-9/376-3814), all of them meticulously restored. Great furniture and housewares, too. • You'll find a superb selection of the best contemporary New Zealand handicrafts—glass, ceramics, textiles, jewelry—at Masterworks (77 Ponsonby Rd.; 64-9/378-1256), located in a light-filled Edwardian villa with an exhibition gallery that extends into a garden in the back. • FhE Galleries (2 Kitchener St.; 64-9/302-4108) has a rigorously edited collection of artisanal objects, such as Humphrey Ikin's super-refined furniture. • At Dilana Rugs (40 George St.; 64-9/630-2337), Hugh Bannerman displays limited-edition handmade wool rugs designed by some of New Zealand's top artists. Richard Killeen weaves witty images of giant moths and insects into his designs, while Fatu Feu'u uses motifs based on the stylized frangipani blossoms found in Polynesian art.

Raise a Glass

Luminaire (6 Beresford St.; 64-9/308-9090), a small, minimalist vodka bar, has gray walls, three white leather daybeds, a line of bar stools, and not much else. But owner and bartender Marty Prinsep serves more than 27 vodkas, including 42 Below, a velvety New Zealand brand. • Located in a former auto shop, the restaurant and bar SPQR (150 Ponsonby Rd.; 64-9/360-1710; dinner for two $38) is a funky pizzeria with sunny sidewalk tables by day. After sundown, the tempo picks up and house music pulses as the spot turns into a nightclub frequented by manicured glamour girls and raffish street punks. • With dark wood paneling, chocolate leather banquettes, diaphanous curtains, and discreet candlelight, the low-key Whiskey (210 Ponsonby Rd.; 64-9/361-2666) attracts a cool, youthful clientele bent on conversing rather than cavorting. • Near the downtown waterfront, Spy Bar (204 Quay St.; 64-9/377-7811) is a compact basement-level nightclub with a dance floor the size of a cocktail coaster. Some of the best DJ's in town spin deep house infused with disco, funk, and soul.

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