Auckland has a quirky side that is hiding beneath the industrious exterior of the CBD. The city is situated off the Hauraki Gulf and has a close proximity to farmland. This means that day trips and adventures out of the city are possible and accessible at any time. The CBD itself is small although has a few university buildings, a casino and some adventure sports opportunities.
Auckland airport is located far away from the city, this means that you either need to hire a car or purchase tickets for the airport bus. We ended up purchasing return tickets for the Skybus, and were able to disembark at a stop close to our apartment. On our return trip to the airport, we were able to hop on the Skybus easily as we had already purchased our return tickets.
Transportation around Auckland can be difficult, it is easier to get around by a car or even walking. Transport late at night is really tricky, you are better off catching a taxi or uber. Auckland also has some fantastic ferry services to travel to the Islands of the gulf, these boat services are efficient and easy to use.
The first time we were in Auckland, we stayed in serviced apartments in the CBD, which was a relatively easy location for getting around. On the second trip, we stayed further away from the CBD on Karangahape Road. K road as it’s called by locals is a loud area with nightclubs in nearby buildings. The AirBnb apartment we were staying in was a beautiful colonial style building however the noise from the street below was audible. We had decided to stay in this location as I was attending a conference nearby.
The islands off the Hauraki Gulf provide great opportunities for island hopping and are a treasure trove of adventures waiting to be discovered. Waiheke Island is the most popular to visit and is renowned for its beaches and award winning vineyards. Some of the other islands are protected wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves. One of these is Rangitoto Island which is the youngest volcano in New Zealand. You can travel by boat to this island to hike upto the peak of the dormant volcano.
Getting to all the islands of the gulf is easy and can be arranged either via a chartered vessel or by catching the public boat services. Some of the islands have restricted timetables so its best to plan ahead of time to ensure that you can get there and back before dark.
This is one of those must-do experiences on the North Island, especially if you are a Lord of the Rings fan. I generally avoid visiting theme parks whilst on holidays, however this was one of those places I absolutely wanted to visit. The company that runs the Hobbiton tours, manages to keep the spirit of the movies alive whilst allowing you to savour the natural beauty of the farm.
The original movie set for Hobbiton, is located three hours drive from Auckland in Matamata. You are either going to need a car or organise for a tour company to take you there. The trip is completely manageable as a day trip from Auckland. Just make sure to book your Hobbiton tour ahead of time to avoid disappointment. To gain access to the movie set, you need to purchase tickets for the tour which are all timetabled depending on the day and time of the year. The tour times and ticket bookings can be found on their website.
The tour takes 2 hours and departs via a bus from the entrance of the farm. The farm itself, is stunning, it is set amidst verdant farming country with gently rolling hills. The tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable about the movie and all the special effects used during filming. You are able to visit all areas of the Hobbiton set and even try your hand using some of the props. The special effects used to make the hobbits look tiny were really cool and the pictures we took during our trip also created the same effects.
Rotorua is a one hour drive away from Hobbiton and four hours away from Auckland. After our tour of Hobbiton, we decided to push ahead with the trip to Rotorua as we were so close to it. The town of Rotorua has a host of activities to explore including geothermal parks. One of these parks is within the city and it’s easy to take a stroll around to explore the area. The other reason people explore this area is to visit the hot springs for bathing.
The first thing you notice as soon as you arrive in Rotorua is the smell. The hot springs of Rotorua are all derived from sulphur and the smell of rotten eggs is strong in the air.
The bathing in the hot springs at Rotorua is a great experience, we visited the Polynesian Spa. The soak in the hot mineral water is very relaxing, just make sure not to wear any jewellery into the water as it will become discoloured – I learnt this the hard way! The pool house also offers a host of beauty treatments available to help enhance the relaxation. The gift shop at the hot springs is also a great place to pick up New Zealand souvenirs like mud masks and mud soaps.
The food scene in Auckland is taking off. There are a plethora of eating options from hip new joints serving tapas style food to the quintessential fancy dining experiences and farm to table cuisine.
The Store, Breakfast:
We visited this laidback brunch cafe: The Store, which is located in Britomart. This area is a relatively new development near the marina that has turned a previously industrial area into a shopping and dining precinct. This cafe has its own farm nearby that grows the majority of its produce. Eating breakfast here was the ultimate gourmet farm to table dining experience for the city slicker.
We stopped off at a new wave cafe in Auckland prior to our ferry to Waiheke. The coffee here was fantastic and on top of that they were serving bagels for breakfast which were delicious!
During my first trip to Auckland we ended up having a fancy dinner at the 360 degree revolving restaurant: Orbit, situated in the Auckland Sky Tower. This building sits in the centre of the CBD and provides spectacular views of the city and the harbour. The food at this restaurant was impressive however the slow 360 degree revolution of the restaurant can be nauseating. Just stick to looking out of the windows and not into the interior of the restaurant if you get travel sick.
The quality of the food was fantastic and had a very farm to table approach albeit in a fine dining capacity. The main dishes were were all fresh and perfectly cooked. The cheese course was my favourite though with fresh local cheeses and a dob of honey for added sweetness!
Depot, Auckland CBD:
On our second trip to Auckland, we decided to goto Depot, which is a hip restaurant located near the Auckland casino. It is one of the new wave of restaurants serving delicious food, tapas style. As we didn’t have a booking, we had to wait for a table for quite some time, however it was definitely worth it. The restaurant specialises in seafood and even serves bluff oysters when they are in season. Unfortunately by the time we were seated they were all sold out. We also ordered some NZ Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough here which was fantastic.
Gammyze street, K road:
This was a little Persian restaurant recommended by our Airbnb hosts on K road. The food here was divine! We were blown away by the middle eastern flavours and the quality of the food. The restaurant is located within a shopping centre and serves some fantastic middle eastern cocktails as well.
Dessert bars, Britomart:
Our friend who lived in Auckland, recommended that we try one of the new dessert bars in Britomart. We ended up walking all the way there which was a decent hike, although was well worth it! We initially tried to get a table at Milse which serves artisan deconstructed desserts however were unable to be seated. We ended up at Miann a specialist chocolate bar that served ice creams and specialist hot chocolates.
- Auckland on the surface can appear dull, however the culture is live and kicking.
- Public transport around Auckland can be a little tricky, so best to try and stay within the cbd/central areas as most things are within walking distance
- There are plenty of day trips near Auckland city so keep your options open as you never know where you may end up!
- Book your Hobbiton tickets in advance so that you can skip the crowds when you arrive
- Many of the cafes in Britomart use a farm to table philosophy and source their ingredients from a near by farm