The shortest trip from Canada to Auckland is going to run about 14 hours. Which means that if you ever head to New Zealand, odds are you will arrive tired, hungry, at least somewhat cranky and in desperate need of a shower. It will likely be early in the morning, and all you will want to do is find a comfortable bed and lie down in it.
Resist this urge. Auckland is, quite possibly, the perfect city to be jet-lagged in. It’s not too big, not too busy and everybody seems strangely Canadian, except with funny accents. So before you set off hiking or searching for hobbits, spend a night or two in Auckland. (You’ll be in no shape to start driving on the other side of the road, anyway.)
Elske is likely the most cavernous coffee shop you’ll ever see. A former cinema, it’s a long industrial-chic space, with high, cement ceilings and brick walls – yet somehow it still manages to be cozy. Probably because of the amazing coffee and baked goods by Michelin-starred pastry chef Kristina Jensen. Order a flat white: It’s microfoam (a kind of steamed milk) poured over a shot or two of espresso – like a cappuccino but better. Get it to go (along with a small bite), because after all those hours of sitting, you’ve got to get moving. 7 Fort Lane, 09-929-2703
When the city hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2011, one of its goals was “making the most of Auckland’s waterfront.” And that they have. Viaduct Harbour is one area that’s really come into its own, with upscale residences, slick restaurants and boutiques of Kiwi designers. Across the way, the Wynyard Quarter was transformed from a working shipyard to an award-winning mixed-use area with cafés and parks. (And that was only Stage 1 of the revitalization.) But one of the best attractions is one of the oldest: The Auckland Fish Market has existed in some form since the 1890s. Take in the fresh green mussels, ridiculously expensive whitebait ($16.99 per 100 grams!) and glistening eels and start dreaming about lunch. (For an informative – and delicious – tour of the area, book the Auckland City Tastes from Zest Food Tours. Guide Kerry Swan is as passionate about her city as she is local cuisine. zestfoodtours.co.nz)
The bluntly named Foodstore bills itself as a “live food entertainment experience.” The open-concept kitchen takes up a large portion of the dining room, and overhead TVs stream closeups of the food prep. Dinner (or lunch, as the case may be) literally becomes the show. Is it any surprise its a creation of Food TV? Fortunately, the food – made with 100-per-cent New Zealand ingredients – doesn’t need gimmicks to be noteworthy. Entrees such as Cloudy Bay clam pappardelle and coastal lamb with pecorino cream will wake up your tastebuds. Market Square, Viaduct Harbour, thefoodstore.tv
Make your way through Viaduct Harbour to the Sail NZ kiosk. It’s mighty difficult to fall asleep while aboard an America’s Cup yacht, the crisp wind blowing in your face as you speed along the shore. It’s a thrilling two-hour experience (no sailing background necessary) that can be as active as you want: Take the wheel for a bit, help crank the sails – or simply chill out. explorenz.co.nz
Head to the Kapiti cheese shop for a nibble, where it’s a toss-up between savoury and sweet. In the savoury corner: an array of award-winning cheeses, including Kikorangi, a golden, creamy blue voted New Zealand’s “best known and most loved cheese” earlier this year. But don’t count out sweet. Ice-cream flavours such as black Doris plum with crème fraîche are as surprising as they are delightful. To quote one customer: “yum bum.” 19 Shortland St., 09-358-3835
At some point, exhaustion is going to set in. Not that you’ll need any help, but the luxurious beds at Hotel DeBrett (2 High St., hoteldebrett.com), the city’s best-reviewed lodging, will have you counting sheep in no time. It’s a bright, funky boutique hotel in a prime location with deep soaker tubs and heated bathroom floors. If you want a room with a view, head to the Sofitel (21 Viaduct Harbour Ave., sofitel.com). Don’t forget to set an alarm, and crank the volume, otherwise you’ll be scrambling to find a restaurant that’s still serving at midnight.
You could easily stay in Britomart for dinner (Café Hanoi, Xuxu and Agents & Merchants are all good choices), but head toward the Sky Tower instead. Near its base you’ll find Depot, a popular restaurant from Al Brown, one of New Zealand’s top chefs. The room is folksy and crowded – but service doesn’t feel rushed. Which is good, because you need time to savour such rich dishes as crispy pork hock (fatty in all the right ways) with apple and horseradish salsa verde. If (somehow) you’re already feeling homesick, try the sugar pie for dessert. 86 Federal St., eatatdepot.co.nz
Because two incredible waterfront areas isn’t enough, Auckland has a third (it’s enough to make a Torontonian weep). Long-neglected heritage buildings dating from the 1890s (along with a handful of new ones) have been rejuvenated, and are buzzing once again with chic bars, trendy office space and a weekend farmers’ market. More than 200 businesses are expected by 2015. Finish your night with a passion-fruit mojito at Ebisu, or a feijoa fruit and mint cocktail at the Britomart Country Club. 31 Galway St., britomartcountryclub.co.nz
If you did not heed my earlier advice (seriously folks, learn from my mistake) you are now on the search for food. No matter the day of the week, you will be able to find something to eat at the SkyCity casino (at Victoria at Federal Streets, skycityauckland.co.nz). It’s not the flashiest gambling hall ever, but it’s got everything that matters: table games, slot machines, bars and restaurants. But also of note is what it doesn’t have: windows or clocks in the play area. So stay up until you start feeling sleepy again – it’s open 24 hours – and push your luck. Remember: The exchange rate works in your favour, even if the time zones don’t.
IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME
Have another day to spend in Auckland? Lucky you.
For a foodie fix, book a winery tour (such as Ananda Tours, ananda.co.nz) and hop on a ferry to Waiheke Island. You’ll get to try some of New Zealand’s famous wines and other gourmet surprises, such as internationally acclaimed extra-virgin olive oil from Rangihoua Estate and refreshing limoncello from Peacock Sky Vineyard.
If beer is more your thing, have lunch at Wild on Waiheke, a restaurant/brewery/activity centre set in a vineyard (wildonwaiheke.co.nz). Try a flight of Waiheke Island Brewery samples (don’t knock the non-alcoholic ginger beer until you’ve tried it). Afterward you can have a go at archery or laser claybird shooting (possibly a bad idea, depending on your refreshment intake).
If you’re craving a more highbrow experience, the Auckland Museum back on the mainland tells the story of New Zealand over three floors and provides a good introduction to Maori culture (aucklandmuseum.com).
The writer stayed and toured as a guest of Tourism New Zealand. The tourism board did not approve or review this story.