15 November 2017

48 Hours in Auckland: Coffee, Food, Shopping and Things To Do

I came to Auckland three times during my fortnight in New Zealand, although only went into the city twice, for one full day each time. I was supposed to have an extra afternoon and evening the day I arrived from Sydney, but my Qantas flight was cancelled and rescheduled so I got in at 00:30 am rather than nine hours earlier. It was perhaps for this reason that I didn’t really take to New Zealand’s largest city the first time I arrived. I don’t like arriving in new cities after dark — and especially not at 2:00 am — and my late arrival meant I woke up late and grumpy on the following day.

Things were going better the second time, when I arrived at the airport from Queenstown at 11:30 am on my last day in New Zealand. Unexpectedly, I was able to check in my suitcase so I grabbed my somewhat heavy carry-on backpack and headed for the SkyBus into the city. During the day, the buses run every 10 minutes and the journey takes about 45–60 minutes —unless the bus breaks down in the middle of a junction before even leaving the airport, which it did. Once we were eventually able to board another bus, I was on my way again and got to the city centre around 1:00 pm. This time, I found myself really liking Auckland. It helped that the city was much livelier on a mild and intermittently sunny Saturday than it was on a Tuesday afternoon.

I’ve organised the things I did on both days by neighbourhood. The first time, I stayed two nights at a pleasant motel called Abaco on Jervois (the owners were really friendly and it was quiet, comfortable and well appointed), near Ponsonby Road, and spent most time there and in the CBD. When I returned, I visited the hip Parnell neighbourhood, did a little shopping in the CBD, and caught the ferry over to picturesque, arty Devonport, before heading back to Karangahape Road for dinner.

With little time in the city, I decided to follow my Lonely Planet North Island New Zealand’s suggested city centre walking tour, which covered some of the key sights. I started near Karangahape Road, known as K' Road, which has lots of interesting restaurants and shops (I particularly liked The Bread and Butter Letter, which focuses on New Zealand-made goods and vintage). Inside St Kevins Arcade, there are some eateries and bars far cooler than the period décor might suggest. I had a passable piccolo and very nice cake at the popular Besties, which I think might have been a better brunch option. It has great views down the hill over Myers Park, particularly if you nab one of the window seats.

I returned to K' Road for my last supper, which I had at Coco’s Cantina, an awesome restaurant run by two sisters, which was recommended to me by multiple people. You get the impression that the sisters just created what would be their ideal restaurant to eat at and there’s a pasta happy hour (!) and sweet notes to customers with suggestions of small ways to be kind to their fellow customers and the staff. I had the pasta special of the day — pappardelle with chicken, nduja, broccoli and parmesan — which was delicious and filling, and a cocktail called Becka the Wrecka. This was also a nickname of mine when I was younger so I couldn’t not order it; it was essentially a pimped-up Pisco Sour.

Continuing on with the Lonely Planet walk, I descended through Myers Park to Queen Street, the CBD’s unlovely main drag. There are a handful of points of interest there, but kept up walking up to the Auckland Art Gallery. You will notice from my verbs that Auckland is a very hilly city and your legs will be grateful if you master the topography. I spent an hour or so in the New Zealand art galleries, and there was even a local dance group rehearsing on the mezzanine, which was fun to watch.

Next to the gallery, leafy Albert Park connects the CBD with the University of Auckland campus, where there are a few interesting sights, including the (literally and figuratively) striking clocktower. The walk then brought me back down to Queen Street, where I went to Eighthirty for coffee. This roaster has several coffee shops in Auckland and I had by far the best piccolo of my first day at their central branch, a stark-white café tucked away down an arcade off High Street.

It was a short walk over to Britomart, an area which houses the train station and a main ferry terminus, as well as a number of cool restaurants, bars and shops in the warehouse-style buildings a block or two back from the harbour. I window-shopped at Deadly Ponies, a New Zealand handbag and leather goods brand, and stopped for a delicious chocolate, salted almond and caramel patisserie at dessert bar Milse. I didn’t have time this trip, but just next door, the Italian restaurant Ortolana is also supposed to be excellent.

I walked along the waterfront, through the harbour to the Wynyard Quarter, admiring the views of the nearby islands and the stunning turquoise colour of the ocean. There are some funky restaurants and bars, and a few pieces of public art in this area and it’s a pleasant place to stroll on a sunny day. I ended up walking all the way round to Westhaven, where you can do a harbour bridge climb. I didn’t think it would compare favourably to Sydney, but I enjoyed the views of the bridge and the gulf. It was then a short, if steep, walk back to my motel in Ponsonby, just west of the city centre.

On my return to Auckland, after a month of almost no shopping, I finally let down my guard and bought a few things. The catch was that as I had already checked in my suitcase, everything had to fit in my small backpack and even smaller handbag. The bustling Queen Street is best for the high street chains. I liked a shop called Cotton On, which seemed like a slightly nicer version of H&M, and which had a particularly good loungewear and activewear section. Given the antipodean spring weather, I kept forgetting that Christmas is on the way, but the pirated-themed decorations in the windows of department store Smith and Caughey's soon set me straight. I picked up a few gifts and enjoyed browsing the fashion and homewares section — once again, I almost bought the hot pink Frank Green reusable cup I’ve been coveting, and once again, I didn’t have enough space.

Lorne Street is one block east of Queen Street but has some more interesting and independent shops. There were a couple of nice book shops there — Unity Books for new, and Jason Books for second hand — and a shop called Pauanesia, which had some unique New Zealand-themed gifts. On the clothing front, boutique Flo & Frankie has a great combination of fashion, accessories and homewares (they also have a branch in Ponsonby); Untouched World has nice merino clothing; Storm is a slightly more upscale womenswear boutique; and Decjuba reminded me a bit of Zara. Industrie (menswear) and AS Colour (a bit like Uniqlo or American Apparel) also caught my eye.

Just over a mile from the CBD — although you have to go downhill and then back up again to get there — the bobo neighbourhood of Ponsonby has stacks of great places to eat, drink and shop. I decided to stay there for this reason, although ended up having less time to take advantage of it than I’d hoped. Most places are on or near the Ponsonby Road, which runs south from College Hill.

I had a nice piccolo at the Allpress coffee bar — you can buy beans there too, although if you have more time and it isn’t the weekend, you may prefer to visit their roastery in Freemans Bay instead. One day, I had brunch at Orphans Kitchen, which was great. I had heirloom tomato and nasturtium pesto on toast, which was delicious and unusual. The coffee was decent too.

There’s a popular gourmet food hall called Ponsonby Central, which has many different food and drink options, and a few shops. There’s a branch of Eighthirty here if you’re in need of caffeinating. For dinner, I was spoiled for choice, and considered having rotisserie chicken at Bird on a Wire or Boy & Bird, but ended up going for Neapolitan pizza at Dante’s Pizzeria, which was really good. A friend recommended that I go to The Golden Dawn bar, but it was closed for a private function.

Some of the shops that caught my eye included: Everyday Needs (beautiful and useful homewares); Iko Iko (gifts and toys); A Little Shop (clothing and accessories); The Open Book (second-hand books) and Widdess (clothing).

One of the difficulties of planning extensive coffee-related activities in antipodean cities is that most coffee shops are shut by 3:00 pm; some (especially cafés located inside roasteries) don’t open at weekends either. Thus, I had a pretty tight schedule for Saturday afternoon, not helped by my airport bus problems. From Queen Street, it’s a hilly 25-minute walk to Parnell, an area with lots of cafés and restaurants, many in warehouse-style buildings.

I managed to get to the Red Rabbit café–roastery on Faraday Street just before their 2:00 pm closing. Although I had some Red Rabbit coffee at Frank’s in Wellington, I didn’t get the chance to visit their café so I was glad I caught them in time. I had a really excellent piccolo there in the industrial-style coffee bar. They were a busy getting set up for a wedding that afternoon — what a great wedding location! — but took great care of me nonetheless.

A few doors down is Simon and Lee, which I’d read about in a coffee-industry magazine while I was in Sydney. They serve espresso-based coffee drinks and single-origin filter coffee (batch brew, of course, this being New Zealand) from Flight, and a Korean-influenced all day menu. I had a Colombian filter coffee, which was very nice and came in a beautiful mug. I also fended off my hangriness with a delicious eggs benedict with bacon, kimchi, miso truffle béchamel and nori. The stylish, colourful interiors and friendly staff make this a great all-day eatery.

My third coffee destination of the day was the Parnell branch of the Espresso Workshop, a café that also runs training for baristas, retail clients and interested home-brewers. I arrived just before they closed at 3:00 pm, and ordered a single-origin Tanzanian espresso, which had some nice blackcurrant notes. As their name suggests, there’s no filter coffee, but there is a good selection of coffee-making and coffee-drinking kit.

I initially planned to take a ferry ride — perhaps to Waiheke Island — straight after I returned to the CBD from Parnell, but then the weather looked like it was going to turn and I got distracted by the shops. By the time I’d finished shopping, at about 5:00 pm, I realised that I needed another activity as I didn’t need to get a bus back to the airport until 10:00 pm and even I can’t spend five hours eating dinner. I thought about going up the Sky Tower, but instead decided to take the ferry to Devonport, just across the Hauraki Gulf. The return trip costs $12, the ferries run frequently and the journey takes about seven minutes. There are some good views of the Auckland harbour and skyline as the boat pulls out of the port.

Devonport itself is pretty and characterful with colourful period houses, a nice esplanade along the waterfront and Victoria Road, which has myriad shops, cafés and watering holes. I spotted a second-hand bookshop called BookMark, a great looking cinema/theatre called The Vic, and an arts and craft workshop called Marbles.

After a quick stroll around the shops, I made the steep climb up to Mount Victoria, which has panoramic vistas of the city and of the Hauraki Gulf and nearby islands. Unfortunately, the bright sun I enjoyed during the ferry ride went into the clouds by the time I got to the top, but the views were still great.

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