SPONSORED BY AUCKLAND TOURISM, EVENTS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Travel enough, and you’re sure to come across a place you never want to leave. You can’t help but imagine yourself settling in, making yourself at home among the locals. For many, Auckland, known as Tamaki Makaurau in the Maori language, is one such place.
Set toward the top of New Zealand’s North Island, Auckland encompasses a breathtaking array of harbors, bays, peninsulas and islands as well as the vibrant metropolis by the same name. Urban and rural, land and sea—all within remarkable proximity. These elements are draw enough, but they don’t tell the whole story. Auckland possesses what is perhaps the rarest, and most endearing, characteristic a destination can have: a population that has a healthy appreciation for living the good life.
This ethos manifests itself in a multitude of ways, but perhaps the most obvious is in the culture, where food and wine, nature and the arts are celebrated not as occasional distractions, but the essence of life itself. Nowhere is this more immediately obvious than at the Ponsonby Central, an outdoor strip lined with global cafes & bars, gourmet food stalls & eclectic boutiques in Auckland’s trendiest neighborhood. Here, over a plate of short ribs and empanadas at El Sizzling Chorizo or while enjoying a cocktail at Bedford Soda & Liquor, locals of all stripes come to eat and drink, shop and socialize in this open-air market that epitomizes all that is local, fresh and handmade.
A short stroll away is another such place: Apéro Food & Wine. Although not hard to find, Apéro is what could be termed a hole-in-the-wall. Owned and run by Leslie Hottiaux and Ismo Koski (aka Mo), this former tattoo parlor turned inner-city local seats maybe twenty patrons at a time. Quality ingredients are the name of the game here, where the menu features such soul-warming delights as pork sausage and goat cheese croquettes—made in-house of course. Diners are asked to trust in Mo’s intuition as he expertly pairs menu items with wines from New Zealand and abroad. What makes this restaurant truly special, however, is the congenial dinner-party atmosphere you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Of course, Auckland is so much more than the city. The region, about the size of Delaware, is incredibly diverse and remarkably accessible. Hop on a ferry, and in 40 minutes you’ll be on the picturesque island of Waiheke. Disembark and you’ll immediately understand the why Auckland is considered one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Green rolling hills and miles of beaches, Waiheke has been a beloved weekend destination for generations of Aucklanders.
The Waiheke terroir also just happens to be particularly well-suited for growing grapes. The cool sea breezes, fertile volcanic soil and abundant sun support over two-dozen world-class wineries that produce a range of varietals from Pinot Gris and Chardonnay to Syrah, Merlot and Malbec. Cable Bay is perhaps the best known of the island’s vineyards, known not only for its two on-site restaurants, but for its sweeping views of the bay as well. Arrive in the afternoon for a tour and tasting and stay for dinner at the Dining Room, where the five-course menu is sourced from the vineyard’s own organic gardens. It probably goes without saying, but the optional wine pairing shouldn’t be skipped.
Back on the mainland, drive north from Auckland about an hour and you’ll find yet another extraordinary: Brick Bay Wines & Sculpture Trail. This boutique winery is set amid 25 acres of large-scale outdoor sculptures by leading New Zealand artists. Wander the trails, and you’ll be treated to an array of installations that transform the landscape into an immersive sight and sound experience. This mesmerizing soundscape fills a grove of local Kahikatea trees with the sounds of a Baroque choir, but not so loud as to drown out the chorus of birds who make the forest their home. While there, don’t miss the Glass House Kitchen, a charming restaurant that features contemporary Auckland cuisine in an all-glass dining room delicately cantilevered over a shimmering lake.
What You Should Know Before You Go
Spring and fall are the best times to visit, when the temperatures are pleasant and sunny days are the norm. December, January and February are also ideal weather-wise, but as peak season, airfare and hotel rates are at their highest. Nonstop flights are available from Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and Honolulu and take less than 16 hours.
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