Nestled on an isthmus between the Waitemata Harbour to the north, and the Manukau Harbour to the south, Auckland provides plenty of options for water-based activities, with a high-population of boat ownership in the city lending the city its nickname as the ‘City of Sails’. Living in a small city undergoing a rebuild and redevelopment, it can be refreshing to get away from it all and visit a vibrant city with such a beautiful skyline. Both within the city boundaries and within reach on its outskirts, there is always plenty to explore.
I have visited Piha beach, to the west of Auckland, twice. It is a winding drive across the Waitakere Ranges National Park, and as ruggedly beautiful as it is, I’m always slightly disappointed with the place when I get there. Piha itself is small with little to do there, and the water is too rough for my swimming capabilities, and on a sunny day, the black sand burns to the touch. On a poorer day, the wind whips in from the sea and it feels exposed and dangerous. The draw card back there for me is to climb Lion Rock, the distinctive coastal rock that juts out from the beach, and can be ascended when the tide is right. One of these days I’ll get up there.
The Waitakere Ranges National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Within easy reach of Auckland city, it is littered with hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties, as well as a golf course and some stunning coastal views. Again, I’m yet to manage any of the hikes, but on this visit I was taken on a drive through the park, and this time stopped at the main visitor centre from where the famous Sky Tower of Auckland was visible to the east, and the sea was visible to the west. It was a scorching day, and the surrounding trees were filled with the thrumming sound of thousands of cicadas. It is one of my favourite sounds in nature, and always makes me think of summer days in the countryside.
That night, my partner and I partook of an Auckland tradition: visiting Franklin Road on the edge of Ponsonby to view the famous Christmas lights. Every year, many of the properties on this street deck their frontage and gardens with all sorts of glowing festive displays and the street becomes jammed with locals and tourists alike who wander up and down, serenaded by carol singers and musicians. The pavements are crammed with people, and the last few nights before Christmas are particularly busy with everyone jostling through the crowds.
No trip to Auckland is complete without visiting Mission Bay and/or St Heliers. Round the harbour from the city centre, these lovely suburbs feel a million miles away from the towering buildings of the city centre, but Mission Bay especially gets very busy on weekends and public holidays. One of my favourite ice cream parlours, Movenpick, has a store here and I love to walk through the park and along the waterfront whilst I devour one of their milky delights. The beach here is relatively sheltered and the beaches at both suburbs are a good spot for a bit of swimming and paddling.
After a quiet family Christmas, on Boxing Day we headed into town and caught the ferry over to Devonport. I hadn’t been there since that first week after I moved to New Zealand 3 years ago, and we wandered round Torpedo Bay and up the hill at North Head to the old war gunneries on the headland. The pohutakawa (Christmas) trees were in full bloom, in glorious red, and the place was littered with families enjoying picnics on every spare spot of grass around. We followed the path to the summit and enjoyed the view back across the harbour to Auckland’s skyline before following the coast round to Cheltenham beach on the northern side of the peninsula. From this side, Rangitoto Island stood proudly across the waters. After a beautiful lunch in one of Devonport’s delightful eateries, we caught the ferry back to downtown. On route, there was plenty of opportunity to see why Auckland is known as the city of sails with a plethora of sailing boats dotted across the water.
One of the highlights of a trip to Auckland at this time of year for my partner is the Boxing Day Speedway. A sport I knew nothing about prior to meeting him, I’d been to a meet in Christchurch a couple of years ago where we got splattered in mud. In the baking late afternoon sun we roasted ourselves whilst the rounds were raced, viewed by an exceedingly packed crowd.
The following day we went to the second meet of the season as well, and sweated the hours away under another fiercely hot sun. The track ran differently both days, making for very different conditions which meant a thrilling watch on both days for very different reasons.
Our last day in Auckland was spent wandering round our favourite haunts, mainly the Viaduct and marina on the waterfront. Every time I go there, I walk to the same places and take the same photos over and over again, because it is such a beautiful sight. Like many cities, the commercial parts of the city is nothing to write home about, but like my favourite city, Sydney, Auckland has made good use of its waterfront position, and I love nothing more than to stare out to sea or to ogle at the Sky Tower from every possible advantage point. Auckland will always hold a special place in my heart because it was where I spent the first few weeks of my life in New Zealand, and I never fail to find an excuse to go and visit.