As New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland once observed, Auckland has a weight problem: "It is one of the biggest cities in the world. Its swollen bulk hangs out over the constricting belt of its isthmus and bulges further than the eye can see. Its head cannot locate its toes."
Over a quarter of the nation's inhabitants live in the Auckland region. Since the Maori alighted from their waka (canoes) to occupy the densely forested land, a steady stream of migrants have followed; Europeans, Asians and Polynesians have all made the journey to create the largest Polynesian enclave in the world. More than 50 volcanoes have erupted in Auckland, permanently scarring its landscape. The last, 600 years ago, gave birth to Rangitoto Island . Today, the buzz, aggression and vitality of the city echoes this turbulent past.
Central Business District
The main artery, Queen Street, studded with retail and commercial buildings, flows from Newton to Downtown, with the shadow of the Sky Tower reflected in every gleaming, glass tower. Take a cultural stopover at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki , the Auckland Town Hall , the Aotea Centre or the Civic .
The main fashion hub is located nearby on High Street, and is home to some of the world's hottest new labels: World Deluxe Store , Karen Walker and Zambesi . Queen Street eventually converges with the waterfront and the revamped Viaduct Harbour Marina .
A passion for uprooting the past (Auckland was once dubbed the "City of Cranes") began with Pakeha (European settlers) removing entire volcanic cones in order to revamp the waterfront. Now it is an essential playground for all. Millions have been spent beautifying Viaduct Harbour Marina , a perfect backdrop for the New Zealand National Maritime Museum , the Ferry Building and a bevy of restaurants and nightspots.
On the inner city fringe lies the infamous Karangahape Road , although its garish sex parlors now compete with many exotic shops and restaurants. On the fringe is Grafton, location of Auckland Hospital, the ice-cream colored Starship Children's Hospital and Auckland's major recreational park—the Auckland Domain , with its sports fields, Wintergardens , duck ponds and the Auckland War Memorial Museum .
South of the Domain, you can fully appreciate the city from the summit of Mount Eden (Maungawhau). Try one of the trendy village cafes nestled at its base. Another volcanic vantage point, offering views to both the Waitemata and Manukau harbors, is One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie). Stargazers will enjoy the Auckland Observatory and Star Dome situated in surrounding Cornwall Park .
West of downtown, you'll find Ponsonby--The Strip , a cluster of popular restaurants. Although competition has become fierce with the new waterfront restaurants and bars, many remain loyal to Ponsonby icons such as Prego , S.P.Q.R. and other institutions like the Hero Parade , Auckland's own gay pride Mardi Gras, voted best annual event by Metro Magazine.
Newmarket and Parnell
Heading east, but still hovering on the fringes of the city, are the suburbs of Newmarket and Parnell. Newmarket is a fashion addict's delight, and perhaps a smarter, slicker version of Parnell, once the domain of yuppie excess. A more sober past is reflected in historic buildings such as Kinder House and Whitby Lodge, which sit alongside a lively mix of shops and restaurants. Further east along Tamaki Drive is Auckland's own Riviera of crescent beaches, stretching from Okahu Bay and Bastion Point to Mission Bay , Kohimarama and Saint Heliers Beach . Along the drive you will find Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World , more street cafes and seaside playgrounds.
Manukau City, with 50 different ethnic communities, is proudly multi-cultural. It shows off its Polynesian flair in a cornucopia of markets, festivals, community churches and some of the region's most diverse shopping, including Otara Market . For an adrenaline rush, there is Rainbow's End theme park.
West Auckland offers rugged scenic beauty and, as home to the Dalmatian population, has a unique cultural heritage. To fully appreciate its natural attractions, drive 45 minutes west from the city to the black sand and surf beaches at Piha Beach , Karekare Beach and Muriwai Beach . Also check out the nearby Gannet Colony . For outdoor enthusiasts there are over 140 bushwalks in the Waitakere Ranges , trails for bikes and four wheel drive vehicles, and horse riding opportunities.
There are a number of established family wineries here also, notably Matua Valley , House of Nobilo and Coopers Creek , near Kumeu. Several of the wineries have excellent restaurants--the Hunting Lodge at Matua Valley and Allely House at Selaks are both worth the drive to enjoy their beautiful settings.
The North Shore
Across the Harbour Bridge lies North Shore City and miles of superb beaches. Seaside suburbs with relaxed shopping centers and restaurants wind their way north, with a major highlight being the historic village of Devonport accessible by boat from the Ferry Building . To view some expensive real estate, walk along Takapuna Beach and continue on to Milford Beach along the sea wall at low tide.
Beyond the confines of the city lie the 47 islands of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, including Rangitoto Island and Waiheke Island , which attract many visitors to their idyllic bays and beaches, galleries, vineyards and restaurants, and the annual Montana Waiheke Island of Jazz Festival .
Auckland has it all: a thriving coffee culture that manifests itself in stylish cafes that seem to be everywhere, vineyard restaurants set amongst the grapes, a heady mix of Asian food led by the city's large Oriental and Fijian-Indian communities, Mediterranean-style eateries in the form of Turkish mezze bars, Italian wood-fired pizzerias and the best that France has to offer. Unlike most cities, Auckland does not group its cuisines into ethnic districts. They are wonderfully blended, so you can find what you want no matter where you are.
Parnell is a long-established foodie enclave, with restaurants, bars and cafes dotted all the way along the rise. There are eateries lining the pavement, in brick-lined backstreet courtyards and tucked away in charming warren-like old buildings. Try Non Solo Pizza for an alfresco meal that runs the whole gamut of Italian food. Thai Friends is a local favorite that has both a fast food cafe on the street and a more serious dining room set in traditional Thai decor at the back. Or stick your head in at Iguacu , an always-busy Cajun-fusion restaurant and bar offering live jazz on the weekends.
Before the Viaduct Harbour rose to prominence, Ponsonby was Auckland's most popular eating district, with a string of eclectic places stretching along Ponsonby Road . Though the buzz has died down a little, this is still the heart of cafe culture in the city. The Atomic Cafe is one of the city's busiest and most well-established cafes, known for its legendary coffee and its choice menu. Across the road is trendy S.P.Q.R , a favorite for its well-prepared light meals that can be washed down with lots of wine. Also try the nearby South American owned and operated cafe Santos . For Indian meals in a modern brasserie setting, Masala is a good bet.
Find yourself in downtown Auckland at lunch time, and you will see the place filled with workers enjoying cafe society. In the evening, the city is awash with the noise of Aucklanders out to have a good time. Columbus Coffee roasts their own, so sit down in this beautifully designed cafe and breathe in the heady aroma. Step into the Occidental on Vulcan Lane and you are in Belgium. There is a good selection of imported beers on tap here that you can enjoy accompanied with a massive bowl of green-lipped mussels. The local watering hole, the Shakespeare Tavern on Albert Street, brews its own award-winning ale.
The city also boasts numerous food courts, where you will find the meeting of many cuisines under one roof. If you are on a budget then this is the way to do it. Food Alley on Albert Street is the best place for Asian food, with Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian all on the menu. Downstairs at the Force Entertainment Center there is another food court with a blend of European and Asian cuisine, albeit in more upmarket surroundings.
Hosting the America's Cup in 1999 and 2000 totally rejuvenated Auckland's downtown and waterfront area with a myriad of new places to eat and drink springing up as a result. Evenings and weekends find the streets and wharves around the Viaduct Harbour swarming with Aucklanders as they enjoy a relatively new side to their city.
Do not miss the establishments along Prince's Wharf, in particular Euro , which consistently rates highly in the "Best of Auckland" awards. Just around the corner is Leftfield, an immense sports bar and restaurant with televisions and stadium-style seating. For the carnivore, Wildfire is a Brazilian-style eatery, boasting succulent spitfire roasted beef, lamb and seafood. For a real seafood extravaganza, wander over to to Kermadec in the Viaduct Quay complex. This well established, high end restaurant puts the Pacific on a plate in dining rooms overlooking the water.
Just remember, however, these enclaves and eateries are just the tip of the culinary iceberg. There is much more to be discovered if you dig a little deeper, for example Waiheke Island , jewel of the Hauraki Gulf, with its vineyards and sea-view cafes. A trip to the suburbs of Newmarket, Devonport, Takapuna, Herne Bay and Mission Bay will reap many culinary rewards.