Lonely Planet Local Brett Atkinson has lived in Auckland most of his life and loves the urban vibe this Pacific city and its diverse population of 1.5 million have to offer. He's also very happy it's just a short journey to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf to explore deserted surf beaches.
The city of Auckland is surrounded by azure waters and cerulean skies © Susan Blick / Lonely Planet
A typical weekend...usually involves trawling one of the city's farmers markets like the one at La Cigale in Parnell, or heading out of town to take in the surf beaches, forest walks and vineyards of west Auckland. While I'm out west, I'll often stop in for craft beer and a leisurely lunch at Hallertau's beer garden in Riverhead. They usually have good live music on Sunday afternoons too. If I'm out west from November to January, I'll detour to Muriwai Beach to check out the newly-hatched fledglings at the Takapu Gannet Refuge.
La Cigale market is Brett's top recommendation for a healthy snack, or two © Brett Atkinson / Lonely Planet
To soak up some history and culture...I always recommend that visitors to the city spend time at the Auckland Museum. The museum's Pacific Island and Māori collections are especially interesting for travellers from the northern hemisphere, and it's always worth checking out what special exhibitions are on. Recently I've taken in great one-off displays on Kiwi pop and rock music and the history of Air New Zealand. Major international touring exhibitions are often installed at the neoclassical building, which is located in Auckland's wonderfully vast, 80-hectare leafy Domain.
Auckland's one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet...with almost 40% of the population born overseas. One benefit of this blend of cultures I particularly enjoy is we've got some of the best eating in New Zealand. For regional Chinese cuisine I like the Balmoral area around Dominion Rd, especially the hand-pulled noodles at Shaolin Kung Fu, and from there's it's just a short hop to the Indian spice shops and Sri Lankan restaurants around Sandringham. My go-to spot for cheap eats is 7 Siri Taste of Sri Lanka.
It’s a great city if you’re feeling festive...as there are plenty of special events to take in over the year. During the last weekend of January, the city's anniversary commemorations include the annual Anniversary Day Regatta when the harbour is packed with colourful yachts. My favourite festivals are Pasifika celebrating Auckland as the biggest Polynesian city in the world, and the Auckland International Cultural Festival, both in March. You'll usually find me there watching Somalia play Iraq in the soccer mini-World Cup, while I'm combining Ethiopian curry and injera flatbread or snacking on Chilean empanadas.
The French Cafe is a safe bet if you want to pull out all the stops and indulge in some fine dining © The French Cafe
When I'm celebrating something special...it's always a toss-up between one of Auckland's more established eateries like The French Cafe or Merediths, and trying one of the newer places that always seem to be popping up in areas like Grey Lynn, Mt Eden and Kingsland. I'll usually begin with drinks at a bar like Golden Dawn or Freida Margolis before dining on modern Thai at Saan or Japanese-Peruvian cuisine at Azabu. The Ponsonby Central precinct is always a fail-safe place for a special night out too.
New Zealanders love their sport...and I'm no exception. From March through to October the NZ Warriors (rugby league) and the Auckland Blues (rugby union) are the main teams to watch, and if I'm not in the grandstand at Mt Smart Stadium or Eden Park, you might find me enjoying the game over a few Kiwi brews at Galbraith's Alehouse. I'm pretty excited New Zealand has won back the Americas' Cup in yachting because having the next regatta in Auckland will improve exciting waterfront developments like Wynyard Quarter and Viaduct Harbour even more.
Auckland's Silo Park hosts a range of festivals and outdoor events throughout the sunny season © Sandra Mu / Stringer / Getty Images
Summer in the city...is a great time to experience all the goings-on around Silo Park at the harbour front Wynyard Quarter area. I'm a big fan of the outdoor weekend movie season down there, with flicks ranging from Monty Python's Life of Brian to Kiwi classics like Goodbye Pork Pie. The films usually kick off at 9.00pm, but it's wise to get there earlier to secure a good spot and enjoy the food trucks, free live music and DJs.
Whether you're looking upon or down from Mt Eden, the igneous formation provides sating views all round © denizunlusu / Getty Images
The best views in town...are atop Auckland's volcanic craters – don't worry, they're all dormant or extinct! I’m fond of taking a walk up Mt Eden or One Tree Hill for panoramas over the two natural harbours that the city has been built around. I've also negotiated the 192m-high SkyWalk on top of Auckland's Sky Tower, base jumped down, and lived to tell the tale!
A good spot to stay…for travellers include Ponsonby, Mt Eden and Devonport. They're all linked to the city and ferry terminals by decent public transport, so it's easy to get out to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. All three suburbs have chilled neighbourhoods and a selection of great bars and restaurants.
Just a short hop from the city, Waiheke Island is a fantastical escape © Troyana / Getty Images / iStockphoto
When I want to get out of the city...my friends and I jump on a ferry and zip across to Waiheke Island. There's plenty to do throughout the year, and it's definitely worth spending at least one night staying over there. Standout places for a leisurely winery lunch include Poderi Crisci or the Shed at Te Motu. And yes, the unsealed road out to remote Man O'War Bay is winding and a bit bumpy, but where else can you taste superb chardonnay and swim just metres away at a sublime beach?
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