What’s the difference between the city and the country? In the case of Auckland, and New Zealand, it’s about 30 minutes. That’s all it takes to get from downtown to the countryside, from skyscrapers to wineries, from busy streets to a sandy beach.
Thirty minutes. Half an hour. And you don’t even have to go that far if you don’t want to. There are beaches in central Auckland itself. One of the area’s three distinct wine regions, Kumeu, is only 20 minutes from central Auckland. You can be sipping coffee in a downtown café one minute, and doing a tasting at a winery the next.
Auckland has the best of both worlds: great culinary, artistic and creative scenes, as well as an embarrassment of natural riches. Plus, the city is only a three-hour flight from the east coast of Australia.
Let’s begin with the natural world, because there are more than enough outdoor attractions to keep adventurers amused here for weeks. You would normally have to go well out into the country to access this sort of stuff. But not in Auckland.
The city itself is set on a harbour, which means there are plenty of tranquil beaches within easy striking distance of the centre – in fact there are literally hundreds to choose from in the local area. Close to downtown, Cremorne Reserve is ever popular, as is Point Chevalier Beach to the west. On the northern side of the harbour, Cheltenham Beach is a local favourite with Devonport residents thanks to its flawless sand and views across to Rangitoto Island.
These harbour coves are all “white-sand beaches”, stretches with gentle waves and easy access that are ever popular with locals. Once you start heading out to New Zealand’s west coast, however, the sand turns black – it’s volcanic, of course – and the scenery becomes far more rugged, windswept and interesting.
It takes about 45 minutes to get from the centre of Auckland to these stunning beaches, places like Muriwai, Te Henga and Piha, which will remind Australians of certain points on the Great Ocean Road, with their rocky outcrops eroded by the sea over millions of years, and their waves enticing local surfers keen for a thrill. In summer these NZ beaches are perfect for picnics and swimming in the ocean; in other seasons visitors can hike well-marked trails that hug the coastline, taking time to experience everything this beautiful area has to offer.
One of the highlights is a place called Whatipu, where the two-kilometre Whatipu Caves Track takes hikers past a series of sea caves, cavernous spaces carved out in the rock. One of the caves, Te Ana Ru, once functioned as a ballroom way back in the early 1900s, hosting dances and concerts. The kauri dance floor remains there somewhere, buried under the shifting sands.
But this is just the beginning for keen walkers. In the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park alone – which encompasses many of the black-sand beaches, as well as 16,000 hectares of rainforest and coastal land – hikers can tackle more than 250 kilometres of tracks, including one of the highlights, the gentle stroll up to Kitekite Falls. It’s only a few kilometres on a hard gravel track, this walk, and the sight of these beautiful falls surrounded by dense rainforest is well worth the small effort.
Elsewhere, Tawharanui Regional Park, about an hour and a half north of Auckland, has some truly beautiful coastal scenery to explore, while Hunua Ranges, an hour south of the city, is all estuaries and waterfalls, and hiking tracks through native forest. Those staying in Auckland even have the chance to climb a volcano (there are 48 volcanic cones dotted across the area), including the most popular, on Rangitoto Island, just a 25-minute ferry ride from downtown.
One of the great things about the areas that surround Auckland, though, is that they’re not just about outdoor adventure – there’s cultural enjoyment to be had here too. It’s not just hiking and biking, swimming and fishing; there’s also wine and beer. Surely a worthy drawcard.
Of the three wine regions in the Auckland area, the most famous is Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from the city centre. Forty minutes on a ferry takes you from bustling cityscape to a tranquil paradise, an island whose rolling hills are filled with grape vines and olive groves.
There are walking trails on Waiheke, beaches on which to relax, and even a zip-lining course for those chasing some of New Zealand’s famous thrills. However, it’s the wineries that are the main attraction, places like Cable Bay Vineyards, with its restaurant commanding views over the water, and Mudbrick, with a similarly impressive view, and a similarly impressive menu.
In the Matakana area, too, the attractions are as much viticultural as they are natural. Again, there are great beaches and walking trails in this beautiful area to the north of Auckland, but it’s the wineries that are proving the main attraction. Day-trippers head up here from the city regularly to sample the food at Brick Bay Winery’s Glasshouse Kitchen, or to Sawmill, a craft brewery that not only has a large selection of excellent beer made on site, but a kitchen dishing out sumptuous modern New Zealand cuisine.
The high quality food in these rural centres shouldn’t come as a surprise. Throughout the Auckland area you’ll find excellent cuisine: in the outer regions, the places known as much for their natural attractions as their restaurants, but also in the city, where there’s a huge range of food on offer, from European to Asian to completely home-grown.
The suburb of Ponsonby is probably the most exciting of Auckland’s culinary hotspots, an artsy, trendy area where restaurateurs aren’t afraid to push the boundaries. Stroll down Ponsonby Road of a nighttime and you’ll see purveyors of Italian food and Vietnamese, Southern American and Thai. There’s also, of course, a focus on local ingredients, of taking the produce New Zealand is famous for and doing great things with it.
Same goes for the restaurants in harbourside Britomart too, as well as the smart areas around the Viaduct: chefs using the natural bounty of this amazing area, of the ocean and the land, the places you’ve probably been adventuring in and exploring just a few hours earlier, and turning it into something even more amazing. The best of both worlds.
Auckland. One city. Two worlds.
Auckland is a city unlike any other. With incredible natural wonders on the doorstep of a world class city, Auckland is the perfect short break destination. Start planning your trip now at