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Highlights of Auckland, New Zealand - Part I
Positioned between two magnificent Harbours, the city of Auckland offers a vibrant hub of activities and superb set of sights and sounds bound to delight visitors from near and far. These picture-perfect surrounds serve as the perfect backdrop for all kinds of water-based activities, fine wine and exquisite dining, and some epic adventures!
Visitors are often instantly drawn to Auckland’s waterfront – it’s not called the City of Sails for nothing! Down on the waterfront, you will find a marina full of boats, watercraft and superyachts, a hive of bustling water-based activity out on the Harbour, and the Viaduct Precinct with its buzzing atmosphere built around its popular cafes, bars and restaurants.
While the lure of Auckland’s waterfront is understandable, there is so much more to Auckland than just its wonderful watery surrounds. Within a short drive from the waterfront, you will find an exciting range of destinations, each with its own character and charm. Unbeatable landscapes, unique wildlife and even the odd extinct volcano await; let’s explore!
Just across the Harbour from Auckland, you will find the quaint little seaside township of Devonport. Steeped in Naval history, Devonport is the perfect place for a morning coffee and a chance to explore Auckland from a different perspective. Quite literally actually – as Devonport offers some of the best views Auckland has to offer!
Your first port of call when visiting is going to be Devonport’s main street. Here you will find a small selection of interesting little cafes and eateries. Head over to Hemingway’s or the Vic Road Kitchen for some delicious kiwi food, Vondel’s laid back vibe is perfect any time of day, The Living Room if vegan is your thing, or if it’s just a quick coffee you are after, then Devo’s on Wynyard Street is the place to go.
From here, it’s off to find the best views. There are a few excellent options nearby, with Mt Victoria being the closest (this one does require a bit of a walk), Cheltenham Beach for a bit of a stroll along the sand and views of nearby Rangitoto Island, or the North Head Historic Reserve. And yes, we did save the best for last!
Northhead is situated on a small volcano formed headland at the Northern entrance to the Waitemata Harbour. Its protruding vantage point offers the best views in Auckland. A series of loop trails are great for exploring the military history of North Head (tunnels, guns, searchlights and defenses) however, if you’ve come for the views, you are going to want to head straight for the Summit Battery at the top.
Parnell is an affluent neighbourhood known for its high-end boutique shopping, galleries, and excellent dining options. Parnell Village is a short drive or walk to Auckland’s finest neo-classical building, the Auckland War Memorial Museum which holds particular importance to the people of New Zealand. It is home to one of the country’s most treasured collections of military and cultural history.
From Japanese at Gion, the Spanish inspired cuisine of Barulho, fine dining at Cibo and Gerome, and the eclectic 6 seater, Pasture, named in the 2021 ‘Worlds 50 Best’ restaurants, Parnell has something to suit every taste and desire.
Having decided on your favourite restaurant for lunch or dinner (and made a reservation – yes, this is necessary!), you will be looking forward to exploring all of the delights Parnell has to offer. While not to everyone’s tastes, we simply can’t move on without mentioning Parnell’s many boutique shopping opportunities. As you wander along Parnell Road, you will find a relaxed shopping experience complete with home décor, fresh flowers, fashion, high-quality NZ souvenirs, NZ wine and delicacies, jewellery and some fantastic local and international art galleries.
Speaking of art, Parnell is home to some of the best galleries in Auckland. You will find a mix of artist-owned galleries (such as Alvin Pankhurst), NZ specific galleries (Black Door and the Parnell Gallery) and those that favour international artists such as Jonathan Grant Galleries and the International Art Centre.
One of the main tourist attractions located in Parnell is the Auckland War Memorial Museum which is situated in the Auckland Domain. The Domain itself is the result of an ancient extinct volcano and offers sweeping views of the city and beyond from its 75 hectares of manicured green spaces. The museum also acts as a striking memorial and place for commemorating the New Zealand soldiers throughout our history and the various wartime operations kiwi have been involved in over the years.
While Auckland has a lot to offer within its borders, getting out of the city and into more remote areas of the region is often the ultimate goal for many visitors. This is where the beautiful Waitakere Ranges take centre stage! The Waitākere Ranges Regional Park spans some 16,000 hectares of native forest and comes complete with an abundance of native flora and fauna, beautiful walking tracks, secluded beaches, rambling rivers and streams, and waterfalls.
You will want to begin your journey at the Arataki Visitor Centre, the official entrance to the park framed by an 11 metre high wooden kauri pou carved by local tribal members depicting tribal ancestors and asserting their guardianship over the forest within. The Visitor Centre provides an opportunity to learn about the cultural aspects and history of the park as well as finding out about walking tracks and places of interest.
One of the favourite destinations in the area is Karekare Beach – this is where the famous arrival scenes from the classic film, The Piano, were filmed. The rugged, windswept black sands of this beach instantly transport you into the film and its tale of angst, desire, heartbreak and personal growth. A short walk from the beach and you will find the beautiful Karekare Falls.
The popular Piha Beach with its iconic Lion Rock is also nearby and a favourite with visitors from all around the country. Piha is best known for its epic surf breaks, beautiful black sand and stunning surrounds. Piha has tall cliff headlands at both ends and consistently intense waves, making it a very photogenic spot. The beach itself is semi-divided into two by the majestic presence of Lion Rock, the eroded neck of a volcano (don’t worry, it last erupted over 16 million years ago). Over the course of its life is has been used as a defensive position for Maori and is now a popular tourist attraction where you can climb partway up the rock and enjoy the views.