T+L's Definitive Guide to Auckland
Published: October 2013
By Maria Shollenbarger
New Zealand’s largest city has the appeal of a small town and the style of a modern metropolis. T+L checks out Auckland’s scene.
Lay of the Land
CBD: Auckland’s Central Business District, or CBD, is made up of the waterfront harbor area, the SkyCity casino complex, and the buzzy, newly rehabilitated Britomart shopping and dining district.
Ponsonby: The rambling residential neighborhood teeming with beautiful people and Victorian-style houses is Auckland’s answer to New York City’s West Village. Ponsonby Road, lined with bars, cafés, and restaurants, is the best place to shop and eat alfresco.
Parnell: A slightly more staid version of Ponsonby, this district is characterized by a handful of good restaurants and contemporary art galleries along Parnell Road.
Takapuna: Previously known mostly for its dreamy white-sand beach, the monied northern suburb—about a 15-minute drive from downtown—is gaining attention for its burgeoning retail and culinary scenes.
Our picks of the top hotels, from the CBD to nearby Waiheke Island.
Hotel Debrett: Smack in the middle of the CBD is this funky redo of a turn-of-the-20th-century building. The 25 rooms are a riot of graphically patterned carpets, Midcentury furniture in orange and turquoise upholstery, and generous black-and-white-tiled baths. $$
Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour: The marble- and metal-clad lobby at this sleek former Westin in central Auckland glows with the light of hundreds of candles in the evening; Sabrage, the champagne bar, fills early with an after-work crowd of young professionals. On the top floor, there’s a new 3,500-square-foot spa. Rooms are done up in shades of brown and white, and have all-inclusive mini-bars and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the boat-filled marina. $$
The Langham: Auckland’s onetime jewel has retained some of its luster thanks to the renovated lobby and lounge, with their high ceilings, marble floors, and old-school tea service. The CBD and Ponsonby are within easy walking distance of the hotel, and the exceptional warmth of the staff goes a long way toward compensating for the rooms, which, though spacious, could use a little sprucing up. $$
Hilton: A local favorite since its opening in 2001, this steel-and-glass structure has 240-degree views of the city and Waitemata Harbour from its front suites (though east-facing windows are occasionally blocked by cruise ships that come in to dock). The rooms are simple—gray carpets; sparse furnishings; large, comfy beds—but the lively Fish restaurant and Bellini Bar more than make up for it. $$
The Boatshed: It’s Hamptons-meets-Kiwi style at this seven-room hotel set above Little Oneroa Beach on Waiheke Island: interiors have wainscoted walls, teak and rattan furniture, and abundant nautical touches (a ship model here, a telescope there). Made-to-order three-course dinners and breakfasts are served on multiple terraces. Book the Lighthouse, with its private veranda high above Hauraki Gulf. $$$$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Five one-of-a-kind boutiques across the city.
Department Store: Stylist Stephen Marr and fashion designers Karen Walker and Dan Gosling are the brains behind Auckland’s version of Colette, in Paris, or Dover Street Market, in London: independent labels such as Lemlem and 3.1 Phillip Lim mix with Walker’s own line and those of other Australasians. Home accessories by the ceramicist Simon James are also on offer, as is a small edit of TopShop pieces each season.
Zambesi: A Ponsonby Road classic, designer Elizabeth Findlay’s one-room boutique stocks clean-lined, deconstructed pieces for men and women that recall Helmut Lang or Rick Owens: draped cottons and linens in greige and shades of ebony. A well-curated collection of shoes and boots rounds out the picture.
Flotsam & Jetsam: Cameron Woodcock’s funky merchandising style belies the blue-chip quality of many of the goods at this antiques and ephemera emporium. You’ll find vintage gardening books and eclectic furniture, Fiesta Dinnerware and photographs with serious provenance, and much more in the multiroom space.
Father Rabbit: Devotees of Restoration Hardware won’t want to miss the impeccably ordered housewares here, including vintage wooden cutting boards, southern-French crockery, and white enamel cookware.
World: This hodgepodge of own-brand clothing for both sexes (think a little Paul & Joe, a little Theory), jewelry, and, um, taxidermy (a fetish of the owners) is a longtime Auckland favorite.
See + Do
Three places worth the detour.
Auckland Museum: One of the country’s most recognized heritage locations, the 84-year-old museum houses the most comprehensive collection of Maori and Pacific Islander art in the Southern Hemisphere: graphic textiles; carvings, some of them war canoes; whare (traditional Maori meeting houses) and other full-size buildings; and 18th- and 19th-century portraits.
Devonport: This self-contained, late-Victorian neighborhood has historic sites, including North Head, a British fort dating back to 1887; popular cafés and restaurants—Dida’s Wine Lounge & Tapas is a must—and not one but two of Auckland’s picture-perfect beaches. Climb to the top of Mount Victoria for staggering 360-degree views of the city, Hauraki Gulf, and the North Shore.
Waiheke Island: A 40-minute ferry ride from downtown brings you to this island escape. Rent a moped or car at the landing and cruise the beaches; Little Oneroa, Palm Beach, and the mile-long Onetangi are among the best. End the trip with a dozen Bluff oysters and a glass of Chardonnay at the Oyster Inn ($$$),a barefoot-chic restaurant and guesthouse opened last year by a former Louis Vuitton executive.
Haute cuisine? Kiwi comfort food? Traditional French dishes? Here, six of Auckland’s top tables.
Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar: Don’t let the offbeat location in the shadow of the SkyCity Casino deter you—Al Brown’s temple to dude food is the buzziest spot in town. If there’s a wait for a table, the friendly servers will set you up outside with a quartino of Sauvignon Blanc; inside, it’s all about the seasonal small plates: lamb with mini Yorkshire puddings, carnitas tacos, and snapper sliders with a killer lemon mayo. $$$
Ebisu: The dimly lit converted warehouse in up-and-coming Britomart turns out contemporary Japanese dishes—the seared duck breast and soft-shell crab with wasabi tartare and orange ponzu are standouts—accompanied by a formidable cocktail list. Try the Sakura daiquiri. $$$
Engine Room Eatery: Owners Natalia Schamroth and Carl Koppenhagen opened their bistro seven years ago. But mouthwatering dishes such as the signature twice-baked goat-cheese soufflé and Thai pork salad with green mango—along with unusually personal service (Schamroth herself works the floor most days)—have kept it perennially packed. $$$
Everybody’s Izakaya: Concrete and raw brick, filament lights and exposed pipes set the backdrop at Everybody’s Izakaya. The food ranges from Asian-inflected raw-bar offerings to maverick takes on sharing plates like mirin-braised ribs with curry and tiger prawns with pork belly, bok choy, and yuzu miso. $$
French Café: Locals swear by this award-winning temple to gastronomy for the city’s most elegant dining experience. You’ll find contemporary French cuisine with innovative twists on classic roasts (the quail with bacon, chestnuts, and croissant sauce is unbeatable). The addition last summer of the 30-seat chef’s table, the French Kitchen, only adds to the allure. $$$$
SPQR: Is the food at SPQR among the best in Auckland? We’re not sure it matters. Ponsonby’s unofficial social epicenter is all about air-kissing, flowing Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris, and a hilarious, campy waitstaff. For the best people-watching, snag a table on the terrace and order the cockle linguine or thin-crust pizza with smoked salmon and watercress. $$$
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Three Aucklanders share their go-to spots in the city.
Chef/TV host/owner of Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar
“Some of my favorite places to eat: Coco’s Cantina ($$$), in the CBD, has great food—risotto balls, bruschetta, and polenta fries; it’s casual to a fault, but super fun. Barilla Dumpling (571 Dominion Rd.; 64-9/638-8032; $) is for down-and-dirty late-night snacking—wobbly tables and fluorescent lights set the stage for house-made dumplings from another stratosphere. On Waiheke Island, I love to go saltwater fly-fishing for large snapper off the rocky outcroppings.”
Interior designer and owner of Everyday Needs housewares boutique
“In the suburb of Ellerslie, Mexican Specialities ($$) is a well-guarded secret; it’s only open for lunch Thursdays through Saturdays, and is slightly off the beaten track, but worth the trek. The Golden Dawn ($$) has the best seasonal food, craft beer, and natural wines in Auckland, not to mention great live music. On summer afternoons, I like to walk on the black-sand Bethells Beach, take a quick dip in the sea, then grab a West Coast burger with kumera chips at the Bethells Café (64-22/384-0500; $).”
“I’m a big fan of Michael Lett’s gallery, in Newton; one of his top artists is Michael Parekowhai, who was New Zealand’s entry for the 2011 Venice Biennale. Sunday Painters ($$$), in Ponsonby, is my go-to restaurant; there’s an old record player—you can grab a Wham! album and just put it on—and the chef serves elevated French home cooking. About halfway between Milford and Takapuna Beach, there’s a little cove I like to visit on weekends called Minnehaha. It’s private and relaxing.”
Auckland is surrounded by some of New Zealand’s best wine regions. Less than an hour north of the city lies Matakana, with more than 30 rolling vineyards. Takatu grows standout Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Pinot Gris.
Just south, there’s Clevdon—don’t miss Puriri Hills for rich red blends.
Or visit a few of the vineyards on Waiheke Island. Obsidian and Kennedy Point Vineyard are more grassroots; Cable Bay Vineyard, Te Whau Vineyard, and Stonyridge Vineyard all have established reputations.