Auckland reminds me a lot of Seattle, which is probably not a lot of help to those of you who have never been to Seattle. It is built around the water, with an iconic skyline up a slight hill, and ferries running to various islands and peninsulas. Seafood is abundant, and cute shopping districts, museums, and gardens can be found all over.
Sky Tower even reminds me of the Space Needle. It is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Auckland is actually built on a very narrow isthmus on New Zealand’s North Island, only six miles wide at its narrowest point, connecting the deep waters of the Pacific on the east with the shallow and sand-bar lined bays of the Tasman Sea on the west. Home to nearly 1.6 million residents, more than one in every three New Zealanders lives in this diverse cosmopolitan region.
The city sprawls north to south (as east and west are water), but most tourist destinations are centrally located in or around the CBD – Central Business District. About 30 minutes’ drive north of the airport, this is where you will want to stay. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza, and was thoroughly satisfied with both the location and the property.
The highlight of Auckland is the waterfront. The historic Ferry Building stands at the gateway to – shockingly – the ferry terminals, your ticket to exploring some of the islands and districts that Hauraki Gulf – the body of water on the west – is known for. The water is so much a part of Auckland’s spirit that the city is known as the City of Sails, and boasts the highest boat ownership per capita rate in the world.
The Ferry Building as seen from one of the ferry terminals.
Traveling a bit further west from the CBD, one reaches Bastion Point, a former defensive position – as the name suggests – and now a monument to a former Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage. In addition to great views (when it isn’t raining), the site is also famous for the Māori occupation in 1977-78 to protest confiscation of sacred Māori land. The protest lasted 507 days until it was ended by force, and became a major step in the fight for Māori rights, which we will be talking about at length here on The Royal Tour in the coming weeks.
A rainy day at Bastion Point.
In addition to its natural beauty, Auckland is also home to a number of museums, chief among which is the Auckland War Memorial Museum, also just called the Auckland Museum. It is really a catch-all for museum buffs. The first floor focuses on art, and has a spectacular Māori art exhibit. (The people are rightly known for their woodcarving.)
Māori wood carving at the Auckland Museum
Head up the stairs to the second floor and the exhibits are of natural history, with fossils found in New Zealand. One thing that will jump out is the exhibit on Māori natural history, the world and its origins being seen through the eyes of New Zealand’s indigenous population. This is something you certainly wouldn’t find in an American natural history museum. The third floor is pure history, with exhibits on New Zealand’s participation in the world wars.
The Auckland Museum
If shopping is your thing, make sure to visit Parnell Village, an upscale and trendy neighborhood, and check out the nearby Parnell Rose Garden. For a unique view on religion, swing by the Holy Trinity Cathedral and its design and stained glass art inspired by the local populations and nature.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral is not your ordinary church
So what about food? Sadly, Auckland isn’t really known as a foodie destination, though New Zealand as a whole is among the world leaders in farm to table cuisine. Lamb is obviously well-known, though the top quality meat is exported. In the CBD, you can visit Major Sprout for one of the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever eaten.
The eggs Benedict at Major Sprout sit atop crispy potatoes!
All in all, Auckland is a world-class city, and one that both nature lovers and history fans will enjoy. A few days here are worth being included in any New Zealand itinerary!
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