No, it’s not just your feed—New Zealand is hot right now. Americans make up 9 percent of the country’s visitors, and it’s not hard to see why we’re flying all the way across the globe: New Zealand’s biggest city, built around two harbors, boasts beautiful ocean views, seaside promenades and wharfs, lush parks, hip neighborhoods, and incredible views from atop extinct volcanoes. The city is also literally hot (fine, warm), and summer (our winter) is the best time to visit thanks to minimal rain and dreamy temps; in January, the average high is 73 degrees.
While the city tends to be a gateway to New Zealand’s wild country (uh, perhaps you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies?), there are plenty of photo opps and adventurous to-do’s to be had in this urban oasis. And if you’re part of that lucky 9 percent, you’re sure as hell going to make your brethren back home envious with all the jaw-dropping pics you post (hey, if you visit the other side of the world and don’t don’t document it, does it even count?!). Here, exactly where to head to make your Insta feed worthy of all the likes.
Picture a massive grass-covered crater ringed by sky-high ridges with walking paths along the tippy-top...in the middle of a city of 1.6 million. Yeah, that’s what you’ll find when you head to Mount Eden, a 600-foot-tall (Auckland’s highest!) inactive volcano with 360-degree views of the city. Snap some pics with Auckland’s skyline or suburbs in the background, or stare down at the huge emerald hollow. (Word of warning: It’s windy up there, so expect your selfies to have a wild, sideways-hair look to them.)
This thousand-plus-foot-tall tower is the star of Auckland’s iconic skyline and the crown jewel of Auckland’s SkyCity, a shopping and business center with hip restaurants, a casino, a theater, and more. (I stayed in the connected SkyCity Grand Hotel, a five-star spot housing a delicious Italian bistro and a killer gym with lap pool). The Sky Tower itself has an observatory deck for bonkers views of the city and Pacific ocean, and adrenaline junkies can strap in and walk along an outside ledge or bungee jump (!) off the tallest manmade structure in the country. (Bungee jumping is huge in New Zealand, apparently; I even spotted people bungee-jumping off a bridge during my harbour cruise. Not for me!)
Auckland is set between two harbours: Waitemata Harbour on the Pacific and Manukau Harbour on the Tasman Sea. With that much water around, it’s not surprising that the area is nicknamed the “city of sails.” I headed to Waitemata Harbour for a mid-morning cruise. From the wharf, I booked a one-hour outing on a legit old-school sailboat through the New Zealand Maritime Museum, which offers one-hour sails six days a week.
We cruised out just past the iconic Harbour Bridge, which connects the central city with the North Shore suburbs and dominates the city’s waterfront. (Bonus: They lend everyone cute slickers for that extra nautical touch).
A 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland is Waiheke Island, a lush, hilly, volcano-strewn island covered in Jurassic-Park-esque greenery, and—wait for it—incredible wineries. Stick close to the beach or rent an e-bike or scooter (did I mention the hills?) and spend a day pedaling from one gorgeous vineyard to another and dreaming about the hilltop wedding you’d plan at each (whether you’re in a LTR or not). Batch Winery, known for its bubblies, offers sweeping views of the valley and vines below, while the road just in front of Jurassic Ridge and Mud Brick vineyards is the perfect spot to capture Auckland’s skyline. Hot tips: Jurassic Ridge’s all-natural wines made our knees buckle, and either of the two restaurants at Mud Brick would make a great dinner stop before the ferry home.
Williamsburg, Echo Park, The Mission: Every major city has its hipster neighborhood (the one in-the-know locals swear is totally over, but that’s still 100-percent adorable and worth visiting). Auckland is no exception. Ponsonby is lined with funky cocktail spots, cool boutiques, charming coffee shops, shmancy art galleries and restaurants, and pretty young things wandering the sidewalks. Have lunch in Ponsonby Central, a market with vine-draped brick walls, wander through a dreamy plant wonderland at Bioattic, or pick up a killer cocktail at Conch Records. I had a gin and tonic with sweet red pepper, and I’m still dreaming about it months later.
Devonport, once the district for Auckland’s wealthiest residents, is located at the very southern tip of Auckland’s North Shore—across the bay from downtown. Today, it’s the city’s prettiest, most charming seaside village, with turn-of-the-century architecture housing sweet boutiques, cafes, and ice cream parlors. Pose in front of Victoria Road’s sherbet-colored buildings with their darling white trim (think Disney World’s Hollywood Studios come to life), stroll along the waterfront, or complete the 15-minute hike to the top of Mount Victoria. At almost 300 feet high, it offers sweeping views of Auckland and, on the other side, a mysterious patch covered in red-and-white “mushrooms.”
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