In a country where nature has superseded its urban offerings, visits to New Zealand’s cities are usually quick and mandatory en route to a more remote part of the island. But Auckland – the country’s largest city – is beautiful and buzzing with potential as the harbor-city looks to welcome back the America’s Cup in 2021; boutique hotels are popping up and rooftop culture is taking off.
Now is the time to not just use Auckland as a starting point to explore New Zealand, but as a home-base for a few days of vineyards, volcanic beaches, waterfalls and scenic hikes, all within 45 minutes of downtown Auckland. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.
Spend a day in the vineyards
A wine tour on Waiheke Island is the perfect half-day itinerary — Photo courtesy of Jillian Dara
Second to nature, wine is undoubtedly a distinct appeal for visitors to New Zealand. And around Auckland, vineyards are only a car-ride (or ferry-ride) away. One of the more popular vineyard itineraries is Waiheke Island, a 45-minute ferry from Auckland, where 26 boutique wineries dot the 12-mile-long island; the majority of them organic, family-run and small production.
Ananda Tours offers a full-day immersion into some of the top wineries, including Peacock Sky and Kennedy Point, which also pair their varietals with local cheeses and charcuterie, island-grown olives or freshly delivered oysters.
Pro tip: Be sure to leave about an hour at the end of the tour to explore the boutiques that are about a 15-minute walk from the ferry terminal. There are also wineries just outside Auckland central, like Villa Maria or Babich, where you can tour, taste and dine for a quick getaway from downtown.
Educate yourself on Maori culture
Savage Memorial at Bastion Point is one of the stops on TIME Unlimited’s Auckland Maori day tour — Photo courtesy of Jillian Dara
The Maori culture throughout New Zealand stems from the thousand-year-old indigenous population comprising about 14% of the country. Though a sliver of the island’s population, the Maori are proud of their heritage, and thus strive to maintain their culture and traditions, as well as educate future generations and tourists as to the significance of their history.
TIME Unlimited tours offers day and multi-day tours that introduce you to some of the most important sites in Maori history, including Mount Victoria and Tamaki Drive, as well as the Maori Museum. Led by Maori guides, the tours are a fascinating lesson in history, as well as a scenic opportunity to experience some of the most dramatic vistas surrounding Auckland.
TIME Unlimited also runs tours to some of New Zealand’s other iconic attractions, like Hobbiton and Rotorua, along with day and wilderness hikes.
Explore Piha Beach
The views of Piha’s surf break from the top of Lion Rock — Photo courtesy of Jillian Dara
Just because you’re anchored to Auckland doesn’t mean nature isn’t a stone’s throw away! A 40-minute drive west of the city is Piha Beach, a popular surf break with volcanic sands. Whether you bring a board and hang ten or a towel to lay down and absorb the heat of the black sand beach, be sure to bring your sneakers to climb to the top of Lion Rock for a bird’s-eye-view of the iconic coastline.
Created as a defensive landmark, the viewpoint is significant to Te Kawerau a Maki people as it’s said that their ancestors lived, fished and fought here.
Experience the city’s emerging rooftop scene
Sip on a classic cocktail or trust the bartender’s choice at HI-SO — Photo courtesy of SO/ Auckland
Though rooftop culture has long prevailed stateside, for Auckland, rooftop culture is only beginning to emerge. SO/ Auckland opened their rooftop last year and quickly became a hot spot for locals and visitors alike, to enjoy sunset cocktails over the city’s developing skyline.
HI-SO offers small bites from charcuterie to their take on fish and chips, so you can keep the drinks flowing well into the night. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more substantial, spend your evening just a level down from the bar at Harbour Society, where chef Marc de Passorio presents modern New Zealand dishes with a French twist (think lamb rack on charcoal or celeriac root with comte cheese).
Treat yourself at brunch
Amano’s muted floral decor invites you to stay a while — Photo courtesy of Jillian Dara
Just as rooftop culture is emerging, brunch culture is also gaining popularity with places like Amano and Federal Delicatessen stealing the show. The city’s coffee culture calls for splurging on a cappuccino, and the Southern Hemisphere’s rendition of an avocado toast is unlike anything you’ll find up north, so don’t miss out on your chance to order this hot item.
At Amano, their bakery consumes the front-of-shop, so make sure you try one of their daily-made pastries like the almond and chocolate croissant (warmed up!) or the lemon tart.
Spend time harborside
Views of the mega ships docked in Viaduct Harbour — Photo courtesy of Jillian Dara
Built up in the ’90s, in anticipation of the 2000 America’s Cup, Viaduct Harbour is a dreamy spot to spend an afternoon. Soak up the rays while you sip local beers like LegaSea Lager at Dr. Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing Co. overlooking the mega yachts and sailboats hogging the harbor.
Or simply bring a good read and relax at the open-air promenade recognizable by its Moët & Chandon umbrellas. There are also burger joints, wine bars and oyster happy hours among the 30+ places to eat and drink at Viaduct Basin. It’s only when you stop to enjoy this part of Auckland that you can fully realize the city’s pride as a port town.
The Karekare waterfall is easily accessible for a quick stop on your way to Piha Beach — Photo courtesy of Jillian Dara
Once again, nature is undoubtedly built into New Zealand’s culture, and with 53 volcanic peaks surrounding Auckland, there’s opportunities to spend a morning, afternoon or full day in nature before returning to the city for rooftop drinks or world-class dining.
Karekare Falls is en route to Piha Beach,and a must-do if you’re already out west, or Hunua and Maketu falls are south of the city. Whether you decide to extend your visit with a hike or settle in for a picnic and swim at the base of the falls, you can make this adventure a half- or full-day experience.
Enjoy fresh oysters
Fresh oysters at Soul, topped with zesty horseradish and accompanied by local wines — Photo courtesy of Jillian Dara
Typically delivered no more than a couple hours prior to your reservation, fresh oysters are prevalent in Auckland. Te matuku from Waiheke Island and te kouma from Coromandel are a couple of the popular tiny and briny variety of oysters that pair perfectly with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Slide into a bar stool at Depot to watch your platter be shucked in front of you, or snag a reservation harborside at Soul Bar; the perfect place for a refreshing round of oysters as the sun shines down on you.
Pro tip: Ask for outside seating on the terrace and freshly shaved horseradish atop your dozen!
Learn about Giapo’s ice cream narrative
The Pikorua cone represents the Maori emblem of love and friendship; perfect for sharing with a lover, friend or family — Photo courtesy of Davide Zerilli
A meal in itself, Giapo’s unique ice cream is all the rage. It’s not just about grabbing a cone to go; this an entire experience as you’re assigned to a tasting table where you’ll learn about, and sample, Giapo’s most popular flavors. You might try Hokey Pokey (New Zealand’s term for honeycomb toffee) or seasonal offerings, like the Five Citrus Sorbet, with lime, tangelo, lemon, orange and grapefruit.
Giapo began as a way to transcend boundaries in the ice cream world, which is immediately clear with their “wearable” offerings, including selfie cones and finger cones. Italian and American owners also connect with the Maori culture by offering a cone decorated with the Pikorua, the Maori emblem of love, so that family, friends or lovers can order this interactive cone for a memorable experience and lessons in Maori symbolism.
Pro tip: If you plan to do the sampling prior to buying a few scoops, be sure to plan this stop as a meal, perhaps a lunch, as the cones and presentation are truly a heaping wonder of decadence. Plus, one of their offerings is actually a cone served with fries as a play on the quirky combination from fast food joints.
Dine at The Grove
Head Chef Kira Ghidoni prepares dishes based on seasonal availability allowing for an innovative dining experience — Photo courtesy of The Grove Restaurant
The Grove serves up a menu dedicated to showcasing seasonal flavors with a focus on foraged produce and herbs. Choose from the 5- or 9-course tasting menu and whether or not you want a wine pairing. The answer should be yes, as this ensures you taste even more local varietals for an immersive experience into New Zealand cuisine.
Chef Kira Ghidoni impresses with dish presentation, as intricate as her combination of French-infused flavors, as well as pleasant palate cleansers as unlisted courses, transcending all other dining options currently available in Auckland.