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.
New Zealand has held the America's Cup, yachting's Holy Grail, since 1995. Starting on October 1, nine challengers from six countries, including the United States, Italy, and Sweden, will compete for the preliminary Louis Vuitton Cup and the right to take on Team New Zealand in next year's America's Cup finals. The races take place far out in the Hauraki Gulf, some five miles offshore, and are best observed from spectator craft (for a selection of race-viewing options, from 70-foot catamarans to luxury yachts, visit www.purenz.com). The lean racing yachts are berthed downtown in the specially constructed Viaduct Harbour. If you want a ride on a Cup-class vessel, two ships built for the 1995 regatta offer two-hour excursions (Viaduct Harbour; 64-9/359-5987; $58 per person).
Like Belgium before Dries Van Noten, New Zealand hasn't exactly been known as a fashion capital. But recently Kiwi designers have begun showing in Sydney and London; now their clothing is sold in shops around the globe. Here, a few of the city's best boutiques for gauging local style. • With collections for both men and women and even a line of house paint, Karen Walker is set to become the Donna Karan of New Zealand. Her women's wear, sold at her namesake boutique (15 O'Connell St.; 64-9/309-6299; www.karenwalker.com), is full of inventive juxtapositions: innocent Hollie Hobbie pinafores get an urban edge in murky-colored washed-out cords; simple round-collared shirts are festooned with appliqués made from wooden beads the size of martini olives. And the cut of her trousers is particularly admired—Madonna wore a pair at a recent MTV awards show. • "My clothes are not for shrinking violets," says Trelise Cooper (Ground floor, Hewlett-Packard Bldg., Quay St., Princes Wharf; 64-9/377-6240; www.trelisecooper.com), who, judging by her vibrant, color-splashed dresses, has never met a hue she doesn't like. She's also partial to French lace, ropes of pearls, and silk organza (as is the wardrobe stylist for Sex and the City, who recently snapped up 10 of Cooper's outfits for the show). • With its Pepto-Bismol-pink fitting rooms and matching Victorian tufted sofa, Ruby (4 High St.; 64-9/303-2128), a store that carries inexpensive slim skirts, baggy trousers, and bomber jackets, is style central for the young and hip. • The 1949 navy supply store Gubb & Mackie (10 High St.; 64-9/309-4151) has been updated by new owners Jonathan Duder and Wayne Sorensen, who have designed a collection for men based on naval dress codes: No. 1's (tailored looks), AWD (Action Work Dress), Leave (casual clothes), and PT Rig (gym and training gear). • The pared-down interior at Crane Brothers (4 High St.; 64-9/377-5333) matches the clothes: slim-fit tailored men's suits, subtle English-style dress shirts.