Window on Auckland, New Zealand

First things first. Once on a cruise to Auckland, top of my list on leaving the ship was to find a decent - no make that fabulous – cafe. Cruise ships are not noted for the coffee they serve and, to put it simply, we were desperate for a good shot of caffeine, delivered in the right surroundings.

Because the port of Auckland is located almost at the waterside end of Queen Street we had only a block or so to walk to reach The Square cafe in Queen Elizabeth Square.

There is something about the smell of a good cafe. The aroma of freshly ground coffee, the scent of just-baked blueberry muffins, and this also goes for Imperial Lane, just a little further up Queen Street, another place which became an instant favourite with its moody interior and truly fabulous coffee. Just watch for the fairly obscure entrance.

In fact Auckland is a good place for food-lovers. Not only is the city centre well-endowed with cafes and restaurants, but the surrounding areas produce almost everything needed by their kitchens. 

One bustling pedestrian mall is packed with pubs and restaurants, and it is obvious the locals appreciate having alfresco dining so close to their workplaces. Auckland's temperate climate make places like this ideal to enjoy a sunny lunchtime.

Enjoy the video

And, yes, of course there's the ubiquitous fish and chips!

While Wellington has Peter Jackson of LOTR fame, Auckland has Lucy Lawless, screen siren who appeared as Xena Warrior Princess in the late 1990s. She is an Auckland girl of Irish stock - the former Mayor of Mt Albert's daughter, in fact. While filming the series she split her time between Auckland and Los Angeles.

Yet, long before these silver screen idols - five hundreds years before white man set foot here - there were real warriors on these islands. Although some of their exploits are lost in the vapours of history, pride in New Zealand's Maori heritage is strong. This fine sculpture stands at the end of Queen Street overlooking the harbour. In his hand he holds a ceremonial club, which possibly would have been made from the local greenstone, and his cloak would have been woven from native flax and the feathers of indigenous birds.

To see some originals, the most significant collection of Maori treasures in the world, including a waka taua (war canoe) from the 1830s, can be found at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Auckland looks after its visitors. These 'Big little city guides' who will be happy to give information, hand you a map and point you in the right direction to see as much as you can of their city.

 

Don't want to walk? Short on time? These easily recognised buses are useful.

One thing I always notice when visiting New Zealand is the standard of arts and crafts. Maybe its origin is in the Pacific heritage that uses so many of the fluid lines of ferns and sea creatures in emblems. Maybe it is just the country's separation from Australia - and the rest of the world for that matter - that has enouraged its artisans to reach deep into their creativity and explore their individuality. 

Whenever I am in Denmark or Sweden I am always struck by the marvelous restraint used by local designers, and in local carvings and sculptures. New Zealand artisans adopt a similar economy of line in their work. As far as arts and design goes, I see this country as the 'Scandinavia of the Pacific'. Whatever is the case, the net result is unique souvenirs and irrestistible keepsakes .....

.... and a fashion eminence that encourages people to travel here........... 

....just to meet up with New Zealand designers and maybe take home next year's wardrobe.

But even though New Zealand has a confident, prosperous air, and aspires to be on the cutting edge of things, there is a respect for the past as well.

Auckland has some lovely old heritage buildings....

....all still in use.

Here, the old Ferry Building Erected by the Auckland Harbour Board between 1909-1912, oversees the sleek ferries that constantly come and go just below it.

Each year dozens of cruise ships visit Auckland, bringing many thousands of international visitors to the city, now nicknamed SuperCity.

The city centre has grown in recent years and now a modern high-rise CBD is the backdrop to the harbour. 

When people think of Auckland they're most likely to remember the hotly contested America’s Cup in early 2003, which brought the cream of the world’s sailing fraternity, complete with well-heeled hangers-on, and put this harbour city smack bang on the tourism map. Suddenly Auckland (the country’s capital for the first 25 years of the colony) went from a relatively small city, with a population of 1.3 million, to a vibrant centre with a café culture, night life and heaps to do.

Auckland is home to 23 regional parks, two marine reserves, 100 kilometres of coastline, more than 500 kilometres of walking and hiking tracks and – believe it or not - 48 volcanic cones! Fortunately the latter are inactive.

The city centre itself is relatively flat, but if you make your way to the 328 metre-high Sky Tower and take the elevator to one of the several observation levels, you can enjoy a panoramic view coast to coast. At this point, the North Island of New Zealand is only 16 kilometres wide and it is possible to see 80 kilometres in every direction from the top of the tower.

If you want to see one closer, then you can take a ferry from the wharf at Auckland  and walk to the summit of a volcano on Rangitoto Island.  The alien landscape of this black lava volcano, which last erupted in 1750, is softened by beautiful Pohutukawa forest. It's also the youngest volcano in the Hauraki Gulf.

 

These red street lamps are a feature of the waterfront, and just a half-hour ferry ride away (or ten-minute helicopter flight, if you have the cash), is Waiheke island, home to New Zealand's smallest wine producing area. Goldwater Estate was the first, established in 1978. Stoneyridge the second, in 1982, also planted the first olive grove, and there are now 27 wineries, and more groves, dotted across the island.

Te Whau Vineyard - pronounced the Maori way, Te Fow - was established in 1993 by Tony Forsyth (above) and his wife Moira. It is one of the best situated with its lookout position on the headland, and views of the island, the Gulf and distant Auckland. With an endless panorama - forest and pastures deeply indented by watery inlets, then more islands, more bays and stony headlands trimmed by bobbles of rock - it's hard not to gasp.

Shaped much like an eagle in flight, Waiheke’s elongated outline only enhances its beauty - coves, inlets, rocky promontories, isthmuses - a whole geography lesson in one place. More than 50 South Pacific islands scatter the Hauraki Gulf beyond Auckland and include native bird sanctuaries, lava-strewn inactive volcanoes, sunlit sandy islands, vineyard covered islands and retreats with ferries that provide regular links to Auckland.

Once the precinct of artists and get-away-from-it-all escapists who found the space and  rhythm here to follow their alternative lifestyle, Waiheke still has a peaceful ambience, but has morphed recently, into the base for a number of wineries and olive groves, and home to white collar Auckland commuters who value the separation it allows from their work. After all, Waiheke is just a comfortable 35-minute trip by Fullers ferry from Auckland CBD, so who could blame them?

This island, the Gulf's largest, is home to around 7500 residents, but summer sees the crowds arrive, swelling the population to 30,000 or so. To deal with this, there are all the usual backpacker, bed and breakfast, and self-catering accommodation options - some of them 'bach's', a New Zealand word for a simple cottage or fishing shack -  but also many more upmarket lodges, plus a resort and conference centre. 

Back in the city, as night falls,it is almost time for us to leave.

Sunset gilds the Sky Tower and paints the twilight cityscape in surreal film-set colours.

From a vantage point, high on the top deck, we watch as we slowly pull away. In the Maori language the Auckland area is known as Tamaki Makau Rau – the maiden with a hundred lovers. So it’s not surprising, with this area’s great natural beauty and charm, that thousands more visitors become smitten each year.

 

As our ship is piloted out through the channel to leave this lovely city, we reluctantly also say goodbye. But not for too long, we hope. 

More information....

 


 

Words and photos: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

Sally and Gordon Hammond travelled independently to Auckland.

 

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