Let’s start with an admission: I live in Auckland and have done for years. A three-day holiday in my own city then seemed a little redundant. You can probably see the mistake I made right there.
I’d driven past the Auckland Art Gallery many a time, but I’m a little ashamed it had been a number of years since I’d been inside. Refurbishments were finished in 2011 and now the building is as much a work of art as the treasures hanging on the walls. Julia and Mathew were our tour guides and their entertaining stories made you appreciate what you were seeing even more.
Here’s something I noticed, to my shame, that I’d once again glossed over. Much like the gallery, Auckland has been quietly reclaiming old spaces as new vibrant ones.
Let’s start with Ponsonby. I’m a little guilty of writing off the posh inner-city suburb as home to small dogs and oversized sunglasses, but I’ve done it a disservice. The newest entrant in this historic suburb is Ponsonby Central. Once an inglorious catering supplies warehouse, this is now a charming network of cobbled alleyways, chocka with bars, eateries and fresh food markets.
Over the road, the owners of Golden Dawn have done something similar. What was little more than a service lane has been turned into a simple outdoor bar, all picnic tables and hanging lights.
Down the bottom of Queen Street sits the century-old Roxy theatre, which is now one of the most beautiful bars in Auckland.
While we’re reclaiming old spaces, let’s not forget Wynyard Quarter! The controversial old tank farm on the waterfront is one of Auckland’s newest hotspots and filled with award-winning restaurants like Baduzzi, home to good meatballs, crayfish, venison and wagyu beef.
When visitors ask Aucklanders where they should visit, most of us say, “You absolutely must go to Waiheke,” quietly omitting the fact we’ve likely not been there ourselves for years. It’s a 35-minute ferry ride and it truly is a world away.
We visit Rangihoua Estate to taste the extra virgin olive oil that the Italians, no less, rank in the top 20 in the world.
Down the road, Kay and Lance Petersen at Dead Dog Bay have spent years creating an expansive wetland and sculpture park where art and nature co-exist.
And what would a visit to Waiheke Island be without at least one trip to a vineyard? Cable Bay must be one of the most beautiful spots on the island – the winery and sprawling lawns take in dramatic views across the Hauraki Gulf.
After an action-packed day, it’s a relief to get back to our centrally located hotel, the Rendezvous, in the knowledge we don’t have to go far for dinner. Katsura is the hotel’s Japanese restaurant and once we’re seated, sushi master Suzuki San fillets a fish with such ease the crowd gasps as if he has sawed a lady in two.
Sadly, all this wining and dining must come to an end and it’s time to return to the realities of home cooking.
To ease this process, I visit La Cigale market in Parnell, where the quality of the fresh produce is simply incredible.
One last stop before it is back to real life. We drive up Mt Eden to take in Auckland City. Two harbours wrapping around you, volcanic cones punctuating the landscape, Eden Park, the Harbour Bridge, and, of course the Sky Tower piercing the clouds. It really is a stunning city. Sometimes we just need a little reminder.
Insider's guide to Auckland:
Where to stay: Rendezvous Hotel – an easy walk to the Civic Theatre and Aotea Square.
Best Coffee: Rad in Mt Eden. Order your coffee and get a cute number made of Lego.
Best On A Budget: The Auckland Art Gallery – it’s free! There are two major exhibitions on right now – Toi Aotearoa is a trip through New Zealand’s artistic history, helpfully laid out in chronological order. All the rock star names are there from Goldie to McCahon, Hotere to Hammond. The second exhibition is My Country, which is a comprehensive collection of indigenous art from Australia and really interactive, so it’s a great one for the kids as well.
Not To Be Missed: See a show at The Civic. Whatever the show, the theatre, with its gold columns and starry night ceiling, is a sight to behold.
Best Drink/Cocktail: Bedford Soda & Liquor. Jason Clark is a bartending magician who came fourth in the international cocktail-making champs last year. Try his Wolfberry Sour topped with a toasted marshmallow, or the dramatic Kentucky Coffee, which is delivered swirling in smoke under a glass cloche.
Best Place To Spot A Celeb: Golden Dawn is a hotspot. We saw Lorde’s song-writing partner Joel Little. Also, Waiheke locals tell us Paul Rutherford, of the ’80s hit band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, lives on the island and has been known to perform at the Oyster Inn.