Auckland, a place so different from the rest of New Zealand. At times, you wonder if you are in China or India or the Pacific Islands.
Auckland has the most diverse of populations and as a result, the food scene is a vibrant smorgasboard of the world’s cuisine. You want Chinese? Better be more specific – northern? Xinjiang Muslim? Hong Kong? Malaysian? Dumplings have become a staple, just like the good old fish and chips. If you feel homesick, just head to one of the night markets and you are sure to meet see a stall selling your national food.
Apart from the food scene, Auckland is pretty laidback. Downtown Auckland is neither the prettiest nor the most exciting of the great cities. The two main areas are Queen Street and the Waterfront. Queen Street is filled with souvenir shops (expensive is the adjective). Upper Queen Street has many cheap eateries as they cater to students but most of them are closed on Sundays. The Waterfront hums with many cafes. Better Burger serves well, great burgers. The Fisherman’s market is nearby but being small and expensive, it is strictly one for the tourists.
Auckland is a very livable place. There are the malls to assuage your shopping addiction and the eateries for your hunger pangs. What push it above other cities are the abundance of beaches and scenic parks.
You will quickly appreciate why Auckland is nicknamed the City of Sails. Rows of sailboats are moored at the marinas. In driveways, boats are parked side by side with cars. You cannot go far in Auckland without reaching a beach. Devonport and Mission Bay are the most famous but most of the suburbs like Point Chevalier, Herne’s Bay, Blockhouse Bay, Eastern Beach and Point England have their own slices of heaven. At low tide, the coastal walkways reveal themselves for you to explore, crunching cockle shells underfoot while anglers stand on rocks catching red snapper for supper.
There are many regional parks in Auckland that are well maintained and appointed, a real pleasure to explore in spring and autumn. A big plus – no leaches! On the downside, there are cows and bulls! Oftentimes, the park areas include working farms affording you face to face encounters with grazing animals. The Kiwis kept telling us the animals are harmless but after being chased by those cud chewing animals, we beg to differ.
Most of the parks share similar scenic views of beaches and rolling hills, but some just have a little extra to offer. Before you head off, drop by the Auckland Botanical Garden to pick up leaflets on each of the parks. If you only have time for parks within Auckland itself city itself, the nicer ones are Cornwall Park (one tree hill), MJ Savage Memorial Park (panoramic views), Parnell Rose Garden (if the roses are in bloom), Western Springs (huge squirming eels and swans) and Mount Eden (crater). The Rotary Walk along Half Moon Bay and Pakuranga is also worth mentioning. If you prefer to wander amongst beautiful period villas and upmarket cafes, then head towards Ponsonby and Parnell.
Omana / Duder / Maraetai-Clevedon
For tourists who visit Howick Village (normally highlighted as one of the places to visit), I would recommend that you continue with a drive along Whitford-Maraetai. It is just a few minutes away and the scenery suddenly gives way to rolling hills, farms and the sea. The Omana and Duder National Parks are located there. Further on is Clevedon.
On Sunday mornings, Clevedon, a small charming village has a market in the village centre and a farmer’s market at the Showground. The farmer’s market reminds one of a village fair in rural England where the residents, their children and dogs are out in the sunshine amongst the food and fresh produce stalls. Just a few kilometres out of Clevedon is the Clevedon Oyster Farm where you can buy shucked oysters and slurp them down at their picnic area or by the beach. They are closed on Sundays, though. By the way, the dairy in Clevedon sells the cheapest tip top ice cream.
The drive along the Awhitu Peninsula has excellent contrasting countryside and rugged landscape views. The regional park has excellent walks along parkland pastures and for more panoramic views, climb up the restored Manukau Head Lighthouse for views of the harbour. There are white sandy beaches but if you want black sand beach then head to Karioitahi.
Shakespear Regional Park lies on the northern side of Auckland. The highlight of Shakespear is you can collect cockles at the beach, an activity which is becoming increasingly rare. It’s a favourite with Asians and at low tide, there would be scores of people bent over digging through the mud. Do observe the limit on the number of cockles you can pick. It would be such a shame if the cockles die out, just like on Penang Island beaches, where I used to dig for siput when I was young.
The Waitakere Ranges has many beaches and parks like Bethel’s and Piha where the big waves are ideal for surfing. For something a little bit more than sand and trees, head towards Muriwai Beach which has a gannet colony.
Goat Island Marine Reserve
Goat Island is more than an hour’s drive from Auckland. When the sea is calm and the tide is in, fish are visible through the clear waters from the rocky outcrops. The drive to Goat Island Marine Reserve passes through Orewa and Warkworth. Orewa has a long stretch of beach and just outside Orewa is a bee farm. At Warkworth, grab an ice cream and stroll along the boardwalk by the Mahurangi River.
Dressmart has great outlet shopping. Hush Puppies, Country Road, Timberland, Adidas, Puma, Kathmandu, Esprit, Bendon, Rockport, Levi’s, Roxy, etc can be found there at good bargain prices. Hannahs Outlet in Mount Wellington has a better selection of Hush Puppies and Geox than the one in Dressmart.
The bigger malls are in the suburbs. Sylvia Park in Mount Wellington is one of the bigger ones. Basically, if you go to one, you have gone to all as the shops are of the same chain at the malls. If you need to get something to just tide you over, just head to one of the two dollar shops with cheap China made goods. They have everything from travel adaptor to kitchen utensils to toiletries etc. You can also get souvenirs at some of the better shops.
Did I mention that parking at the malls is free?
This may seem strange, cooking while on holiday. NZ has an abundance of fresh produce – meat, seafood and fruits. The mussels are cheap, yummy and easy to cook. Grab a few kilos (ranges from $3 to $4/ kilo!) from the supermarket – Pak N Save, Countdown or Tai Ping – boil them, fry them, grill them. All good!
If you stay at motels, most of the rooms have full kitchen facilities.
Other things worth a mention
Dominion Road is a long road filled with restaurants. Special mentions are Eden Noodle (cheap, tasty and spicy, really spicy Chinese noodles), Tom Yum Eden (Thai, especially the Pad Thai), Barilla (dumplings), Tasca (tapas in pleasant Spanish garden setting).
Go to Grabone website to buy vouchers for dining deals.
Auckland libraries have free computer facilities and wifi.