Auckland is truly a place where cosmopolitan style and spectacular landscapes go hand in hand. Breathtaking scenery, beautiful beaches, natural habitats, great shopping, exciting nightlife, and deep history are all a part of the Auckland experience, and we had the opportunity to see and do so much in two glorious days. New Zealand Maori called this area Tamaki Makaurau (maiden desired by 100 lovers), while today’s residents refer to it as the City of Sails because of the number of luxury boats per capita. The seafaring city has hosted two America’s Cup challenges and its marinas are brimming with world-class yachts. And the Mercer Quality of Living Survey consistently ranks Auckland near the top of the world’s most livable cities, and except for the cost of living, we agree!
We started our visit to Auckland with a panoramic city tour. Situated between two stunning harbors, Auckland boasts spectacular waterfronts and bays just brimming with unique shops, quirky cafes, and interesting boutiques, some new and some in restored Victorian buildings. One of our more interesting stops was the Michael J. Savage Memorial, with panoramic views of the Waitemata Harbour and Rangitoto volcano, lush gardens, and imposing monument. Located at Auckland’s Bastion Point, the memorial to Michael Joseph Savage celebrates the contributions made by New Zealand’s first Labour prime minister. Although he only served from 1935-1940, Savage is credited for instituting many of the social programs in education, healthcare, housing, fair labor practices, and other programs that enhance the quality of life for all New Zealanders to this day.
Back in the central business district, we walked along Queen Street, with its exciting blend of new and old architecture. Of particular interest to us was the historic Civic Theater. The Civic opened in 1929 as a “picture palace” to usher in the era of the talkies. It was the creation of Thomas O’Brien, who declared at its opening “It is with supreme confidence in the future of Auckland, and with gratitude to those who have toiled with me in this great endeavour, that I present to my fellow citizens the consummation of an ideal – the creating of a place of entertainment symbolising the progressive spirit of our beautiful city.” O’Brien chose an Eastern theme, with Indian-inspired motifs in the public foyer including seated Buddhas, lavish twisted columns, and domed ceilings. The main auditorium features Spanish courtyard turrets, minarets, spires, tiled roofs, Abyssinian panther statues, and a soft-top ceiling that looks like a domed sky with twinkling stars and floating clouds. Every year in July, the Civic becomes an iconic destination for the New Zealand International Film Festival.
We also spent a delightful afternoon in the kiwi countryside, where we took in the North Island’s splendid beauty during an excursion to the West Coast. Traveling through the wine regions of Kumeu and Huapai, we made our way to Muriwai Beach. We enjoyed a short hike through this unspoiled area of black sand, rugged terrain, and pounding surf to the cliffs overlooking the beach. We took in spectacular views of the Tasman Sea and its rocky coastline, but the real reward was the colony of gannets that greeted us at the top. This seabird colony is one of only three in the country, and was a highlight of our tour.
We continued on to the family-run Haumoana sheep farm. While taking in the peaceful ambiance of their rolling 300 acre property, we enjoyed refreshing afternoon tea and some delicious home-made treats. Then, their two sheepdogs rounded up several sheep for an interesting sheep-shearing demonstration. One of their good boys silently organizes the sheep with “the look” while the other barks them into the paddock to await their turn for shearing.
Our next adventure took us to Auckland’s North Shore and Devonport Village (sorry, Devin…they use the British spelling for your name!) This picturesque peninsula village boasts a colorful array of lovely homes and cottages ranging from Victorian to modern. Its main street has a wonderful array of specialty shops and cafes, and we were delighted to visit Peter Raos’ fine glass art gallery, where we met Peter and learned that several of his exquisite hand made pieces are in the permanent collection at the Corning Glass Museum in New York, one of our favorites. We might have even made a small purchase or two! Devonport also has its own historic theater (The Old Vic), and the modern, inviting library provides a welcoming place for young and old. Inspired by yesterday’s sheep-shearing, Doug went under the expert shearing of the lovely Mira and was none the worse for the experience!
And no visit to Auckland would be complete without a visit to the iconic Sky Tower. Located at the corner of Victoria and Federal Streets within the city’s central business district, it is 328 metres (1,076 ft) tall, as measured from ground level to the top of the mast, making it the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere and the 25th tallest tower in the world. We DID NOT do the tower jump, but we did ride to the sky deck for some of the most spectacular views of this wonderful city! At the base of the tower, SkyCity Auckland, a casino and event center, was celebrating Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rat.