Stretching for only a small grid of blocks above the train station, Britomart is a compact enclave of historic buildings and new developments that has been transformed into one of the city's best eating, drinking and shopping precincts. Most of Auckland's top fashion designers have recently decamped to the Britomart area from further uptown in High St.
Viaduct Harbour & Wynyard Quarter
Once a busy commercial port, the Viaduct Harbour was given a major makeover for the 1999/2000 and 2003 America’s Cup yachting events. It’s now a fancy dining and boozing precinct, and guaranteed to have at least a slight buzz any night of the week. Historical plaques, public sculpture and the chance to gawk at millionaires’ yachts make it a diverting place for a stroll.
Connected to the Viaduct by a bascule bridge, Wynyard Quarter opened in advance of another sporting tournament, 2011's Rugby World Cup. With its public plazas, waterfront eateries, events centre, fish market and children's playground, it has quickly become Auckland's favourite new place to promenade. At the Silo Park area, down the western end, free outdoor Friday night movies and weekend markets have become summertime institutions. Most of Wynyard's better restaurants are set back from the water, on Jellicoe St.
Parnell & Newmarket
Parnell is one of Auckland’s oldest areas, and amid the cafes, restaurants and fancy retailers are several heritage buildings. Neighbouring Newmarket is a busy shopping precinct known for its boutiques.
This scenic, pohutukawa-lined road heads east from the city, hugging the waterfront. In summer it’s a jogging/cycling/rollerblading blur.
A succession of child-friendly, peaceful swimming beaches starts at Ohaku Bay. Around the headland is Mission Bay, a popular beach with an electric-lit, art-deco fountain, historic mission house, restaurants and bars. Safe swimming beaches Kohimarama and St Heliers follow. Further east along Cliff Rd, the Achilles Point Lookout offers panoramic views and Māori carvings. At its base is Ladies Bay, popular with nudists.
Buses 767 and 769 from behind Britomart station follow this route, while buses 745 to 757 go as far as Mission Bay.
With well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian buildings and loads of cafes, Devonport is an extremely pleasant place to visit and only a short ferry trip from the city. There are also two volcanic cones to climb and easy access to the first of the North Shore’s beaches.
For a self-guided tour of historic buildings, pick up the Old Devonport Walk pamphlet from the Visit Devonport information centre. Bikes can be hired from the ferry terminal.
Ferries to Devonport (adult/child return $12/6.50, 12 minutes) depart from the Ferry Building at least every 30 minutes from 6.15am to 11.30pm (until 1am Fridays and Saturdays), and from 7.15am to 10pm on Sundays and public holidays. Some Waiheke Island and Rangitoto ferries also stop here.
Mt Victoria and North Head were Māori pā and they remain fortresses of sorts, with the navy maintaining a presence. Both have gun embankments and North Head is riddled with tunnels, dug at the end of the 19th century in response to the Russian threat, and extended during WWI and WWII. The gates are locked at night, but that’s never stopped teenagers from jumping the fence for scary subterranean explorations.
Between the two, Cambria Reserve stands on the remains of a third volcanic cone that was largely quarried away.
One Tree Hill
Looking at One Tree Hill, your first thought will probably be ‘Where’s the bloody tree?’. Good question. Up until 2000 a Monterey pine stood at the top of the hill. This was a replacement for a sacred totara that was chopped down by British settlers in 1852. Māori activists first attacked the foreign usurper in 1994, finishing the job in 2000.
After much consultation with local Māori and tree experts, a grove of six pohutukawa and three totara trees was planted on the summit in mid-2016. In an arboreal version of the X-Factor, the weaker performing trees will be eliminated, with only one tree left standing by 2026.
Auckland’s most beloved landmark achieved international recognition in 1987 when U2 released the song ‘One Tree Hill’ on their acclaimed The Joshua Tree album. It was only released as a single in NZ, where it went to number one for six weeks.
Auckland Volcanic Field
Some cities think they’re tough just by living in the shadow of a volcano. Auckland’s built on 50 of them and, no, they’re not all extinct. The last one to erupt was Rangitoto about 600 years ago and no one can predict when the next eruption will occur. Auckland’s quite literally a hot spot – with a reservoir of magma 100km below, waiting to bubble to the surface. But relax: this has only happened 19 times in the last 20,000 years.
Some of Auckland’s volcanoes are cones, some are filled with water and some have been completely quarried away. Moves are afoot to register the field as a World Heritage site and protect what remains. Most of the surviving cones show evidence of terracing from when they formed a formidable series of Māori pā (fortified villages). The most interesting to explore are Mt Eden, One Tree Hill, North Head and Rangitoto, but Mt Victoria, Mt Wellington (Maungarei), Mt Albert (Owairaka), Mt Roskill (Puketāpapa), Lake Pupuke, Mt Mangere and Mt Hobson (Remuera) are all also worth a visit.
North Shore Beaches
Fine swimming beaches stretch from North Head to Long Bay. The gulf islands shelter them from strong surf, making them safe for supervised children. Aim for high tide unless you fancy a lengthy walk to waist-deep water. Cheltenham Beach is a short walk from Devonport. Takapuna Beach, closest to the Harbour Bridge, is Auckland’s answer to Bondi and the most built up. Nearby St Leonards Beach, popular with gay men, requires clambering over rocks at high tide.
Māori NZ: Auckland
Evidence of Māori occupation is literally carved into Auckland’s volcanic cones. The dominant iwi (tribe) of the isthmus was Ngāti Whatua, but these days there are Māori from almost all of NZ’s iwi living here.
For an initial taste of Māori culture, start at Auckland Museum, where there’s a wonderful Māori collection and a culture show. For a more personalised experience, take a tour with TIME Unlimited, Potiki Adventures or Ngāti Whatua’s Tāmaki Hikoi, or visit the marae (meeting house) and recreated village at Te Hana.