There’s something about a big city on the sea – I’m thinking Sydney, San Francisco, Stockholm – that says while this may be a serious place of commerce and culture we’re also jolly well going to relax and have a good time. New Zealand’s largest city, which is spread over a landscape of grassy volcanoes and surrounded by water sprinkled with islands, has exactly this vibe.
A half-day tour with TIME Unlimited Tours is an excellent way to get the measure of it all. Our enthusiastic Irish/Kiwi tour guide Ceillhe knows everything and will even phone a friend if she’s stumped – which is exactly what she does when I ask for some advice on where to go fabric shopping for my Alice & Co clients. The result: some excellent lengths of brightly coloured merino wool jersey that are ideal for chic and comfy tops and dresses (get in touch fast if you’d like something made).
If you’re feeling energetic you can take the 16km well signposted and scenic Coast to Coast Walkway which weaves through Auckland’s volcanic parks. Here I am en route…
An Alice & Co stretch jersey print dress, perfect for a sunny city
Some of the best fashion outlets are collected together in the Britomart centre between Downtown and the waterfront. A mix of restored historic buildings and slick black shoe-box boutiques interspersed with lots of lush planting, it’s a relaxing place to browse the latest collections of New Zealand’s top designers.
Shopping makes me hungry, so it’s soon time for some….
… at Peter Gordon’s The Sugar Club restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower.
If you go at lunchtime you can see intrepid souls taking a frightening SkyWalk around the outside of the tower! They are clipped on like the intrepid window cleaners you see working on tower blocks. Visiting for dinner, I get the same frisson of fear by leaning out over the city on a sloping glass window before applying myself to the serious matter of the menu.
The Sugar Club’s concept is lots of small plates to share. Which is great news for the indecisive – but I’m not so sure about the sharing bit! The round the world dishes we try are all delicate and delicious but the paddle crab and Otago saffron linguine and juniper-cured venison score my top points.
If you prefer your feet firmly on the ground the harbour front district Wynyard Quarter is being developed with giant barcode pavement paintings and funked-up container buildings. Of the raft of restaurants here we pick Marvel Grill and enjoy some sublime seafood. There’s also a fish market and cooking school if you want to go DIY.
The Hilton Auckland has plush contemporary rooms with generous bathrooms overlooking the harbour. Built 300 metres over the sea and facing east/west you can enjoy a colourful sunset from your room and a sunny breakfast on the terrace.
My heart, however, most goes out to Hotel Debrett at 2 High Street. Friendly, funky and colourful, its 25 rooms are furnished with an eclectic selection of mid-century furniture and vintage finds from owner Michelle Derry’s travels. The glam bathrooms have black honeycomb tiles and Art Deco fittings. The hotel is decked out in a striped New Zealand wool carpet designed by Michelle, who also finds time to host pre-dinner drinks for guests in a private lounge. And if you can drag yourself away from your lovely room the restaurant’s pretty good too. Alice & Co would be very happy to live here full time.
Stepping out for a night on the town in Alice & Co
At the Auckland Museum I find myself looking at more frocks – Alice & Co just can’t keep away from them! This is a traditional Maori outfit (centre) flanked by two dresses by contemporary young designers inspired by the museum’s fantastic South Pacific collections.
Suffering from island withdrawal (see Alice&Co’s Rarotonga and Aitutaki posts), I hop on a seaplane for the 20 minute flight to Waiheke Island. It’s a superb way to see Auckland and its coastline, and you can also get there in 40 minutes by ferry, which means some lucky Aucklanders can call Waiheke home.
Waiheke has traditional weatherboard houses and some seriously stylish modern homes making this a most desirable suburb and weekend getaway.
I can’t resist the fish and chips at the Oyster Inn in Oneroa – they also have three delightful seaside-chic rooms if you need a lie down after overdosing on their incredible thrice-cooked chips.
You can walk it all off on the island’s beaches and at the Dead Dog Bay wetlands garden and sculpture park.
There’s more engaging art at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery in Oneroa, where exhibitions showcase both local work and artists from throughout New Zealand and Australia. And if you’ve spare dollars burning a whole in your pocket there’s rather a good shop…
Contact Waiheke Island Wine Tours for an informative tour of the island stopping off to enjoy food, wine and art.
After a fab few days in Auckland it’s time to pack my suitcase, put on my driving shoes and head south for some sporting activities around Lake Taupo and a tour around the rest of the New Zealand’s North Island.
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