Auckland – “where the fish are so succulent you can eat them bones and all!”
Today was our first real day to explore the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland. With 1.5 million residents, Auckland is home to one quarter of the country’s entire population. The city is physically teeming with tourists at this time of the year and it’s no wonder, there are harbors to explore, beaches to lounge upon, volcanos to hike and a seemingly infinite supply of hip, foodie streets.
Our hostel, Oaklands Lodge, is located at the base of the Maungawhau volcano and lies roughly 2.5 miles from the center of Auckland. It is one block from Mt. Eden Village – a perfect neighborhood filled with chic cafes and restaurants serving only the freshest of food. The idyllic nature of Mt. Eden Village cannot be overstated. Families and backpackers live in harmony on these quiet streets. Charming homes hide behind landscaping that is not quite “perfectly manicured,” but feels like a garden of eden with overgrown trees and free-range plants.
In our first day properly exploring the city, we walked a staggering 13 miles – that’s 21 kilometers! We did see quite a few of the typical tourist sites in a single day, but the only way we made it 13 miles is purely attributed to our luck stumbling into a handful of secluded getaways that left us feeling refreshed and ready to walk on.
The Coast to Coast Walkway is a 16km walk that takes you from one coast to the other, right across the Auckland Isthmus and into the heart of the city. Along the way, you walk through sacred Maori sites and catch glimpses of panoramic views that will fill up your memory card. The trail is marked, but it’s easy to miss a marker and wind-up a bit confused, so make sure to pick up a map before you start.
If your legs aren’t feeling up to the 16km walk, set your sights on these next four spots of peaceful seclusion.
Wynyard Quarter itself is quite the opposite of peaceful, but it is worth a visit. Situated next to Viaduct Harbour, it is jam packed with waterfront cafes and millionaire yachts. The morning auction at the fish market is a fun place to start, followed by a drool-evoking stroll past yachts that make your realize just how much money there really is in the world.
When you need a little peace and quiet, climb the stairs at The Gantry and stroll above the crowds. The city looks surprisingly calm at such high heights. If you stick around long enough on Friday night, you will be part of the crowd who has come to watch a flick being projected onto a harbor silo. Wynyard Quarter is an unlikely pairing of commercial fishing meets tourist hangout that somehow works like a charm.
3. Albert Park
Right when you think you have walked your legs off and you are cursing the tectonic plates that created so many hills in one city, you reach the sublime that is Albert Park. Bordered by Auckland University, it is filled to the brim with mysterious, handsome men reading poetry and witty, beautiful women in yoga pants. The manicured grounds are fit for a queen and mist from the water fountain instantly cools a weary walker. Don’t miss Albert Park!
I wouldn’t call it a hike, because it is relatively short, but with the sun shining and the elevation climbing 700 ft, you might be out of breath. The 360 degree view of Auckland is well worth the mild discomfort. Learn a little Maori history while you are at it, the volcano crater has been a sacred spot for hundreds of years.
Don’t stop reading yet, I have saved the best for last. Auckland Domain is the city’s oldest park. There are quiet walking trails, old trees, a duck pond and…..wait for it….the Wintergardens. The Wintergardens were built just after WWI and consist of two, magical greenhouses – one non-heated Temperate House and one Tropical House. Between the two greenhouses lies an ornate courtyard containing a sunken pond in the center. Hidden through a side door in the courtyard is The Fernery. Historically the site of a quarry, The Fernery descends down a spiral, stone staircase into a fern sanctuary – dark, damp and quiet – a stark contrast to the sweltering city that sits just outside its walls.