We New Zealanders often think of New Zealand as two separate countries, divided by the Bombay Hills which are located just south of Auckland: “North of the Bombays” and “South of the Bombays.” Quite frankly, Auckland is a different place for us who live South of the Bombays — in the “rest” of New Zealand.
Auckland just has its own special charactertistics. For example, it is geographically one of the largest cities in the world, it is home to 1/3 of New Zealand’s population, it is the largest Polynesian city in the world, and it has the most coastline of any city in the world, located on both coasts of the North Island as well as surrounding Auckland’s many islands, bays and peninsulas. It is also a city that is fun, funky, quirky, stylish, intriguing and innovative, and one which loves life.
With its size and sheer variety of experiences — from city to bush, from sea to islands — it is always difficult to choose what to do in a short visit, but we had already organised lunch with local friends in the new Wynyard Quarter. What a great choice it was for a sparkly, sunny and very warm day in the City of Sails. Disembarking into a terminal that looks like a cruise ship, we wandered along Quay Street, towards the Viaduct Harbour which came into its own as an inner city entertainment district during the Americas Cup Races. Restaurants and bars occupy the landside of the harbour whilst Americas Cup sailboats, luxury cruisers and touring boats are just metres away in the basin itself.
Crossing the Wynyard Crossing Bridge with its intriguing “disappearing” (retracting) bollards to enable the occasional vehicle across, we found ourselves in Auckland’s newest, funkiest entertainment district, constructed to host, feed and entertain our visitors to Rugby World Cup 2011 (which our All Blacks won, in case you hadn’t heard). An extraordinary area which to me represents one of the best examples of public space that I have ever seen. Sheds converted into wonderful restaurants, a precinct devoted to innovation, spaces for walking and cycling, a splash pool for the littlies with its overhanging stainless steel Wind Tree created by Michio Ihara, an events centre, a larger-than-life Advent Calendar placed within a gantry for climbing and walking – just some of the things to do, look at and enjoy in this magical space, hugging one of the most magnificent harbours in the world.
On this golden day, our walk took us past a pile of shipping containers (at the top of which was a rear view projection screen announcing the Quarter’s events), past hugely oversized wooden chaise lounges which could become your personal space for the day, along a row of restaurants and then across Jellicoe Street to the Auckland Fish Market full of its displays of fish and general market food — a mecca for any foodie. Walking through the courtyard, we found ourselves at Big Picture Wine, an extraordinary, innovative wine experience which starts in the Aroma Room for a chance to sample and experience each aroma. Next, the Wine Film — a visual flight over six of the Auckland Region’s wineries, followed by a Cellar Door tasting.
Walking back through the fish market, we spotted the Auckland Seafood School which offers an almost daily, full schedule of mostly one hour classes and demonstrations, with some longer courses. Just the perfect way for visiting cruise passengers to learn about, cook and savour the Auckland region’s vast range of fish and seafood. Me? I wish I had booked a class!
But then it was time for lunch, and we found ourselves at a great table just outside Jack Tars, a large, wonderful restaurant serving great straightforward Kiwi food – from burgers to fish and chips to pizza to steaks … just the right food for cruise passengers who want to sit, enjoy and watch the passing world go by. Armed with some great Marlborough sauvignon blanc, it was the perfect lunch for four friends on a warm summer’s day. Alas, lunch was over, so we headed back towards the Oosterdam, still with lots to see and experience. Walking back towards the city are some magnificent views of downtown Auckland, with its ever growing and impressive skyline, including the Sky Tower which is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.
And then it was time to sail — down the Waitemata Harbour, through Bastion Point and North Head, towards Rangitoto Island (a dormant volcano) which we could almost reach out and touch, through the rest of the Harbour with Auckland on one side and the Coromandel Peninsula on the other, eventually out to sea dodging dozens of islands big and small, towards Nothland and the Bay of Islands, our next destination.
Wendy R. London is a HAL Mariner and corporate affairs manager and founder of CruiseBubble.com, sailing aboard Oosterdam.