New Zealand, Auckland: Beach Diaries

Sit out the winter in the southern hemisphere. Snag a beach rental and settle in.

By Donna Peck

Hang-gliding in the land of the long cloud.

Hang-gliding in the land of the long cloud.

If you fantasize about a change of climate, Auckland’s sunlit summits, sporty lifestyle and golden sand may entice you to sit out the winter in the southern hemisphere. Such things occur. Film producers, winemakers and authors have wandered into Auckland’s suburbs and onto beaches of breathtaking beauty and discovered a bungalow for rent.

A cloak of darkness hid such temptations the evening I trudged up Queen Street from the train station, but the air was warm and sea-scented. Morning sunshine revealed miles of coastline, the ferry harbor, sailboat-filled marina and volcanic summits. The view was rife with invitations.

As the sun played hide-and-seek, I climbed Mount Eden, an extinct volcano once crowned by a majestic stronghold. Polynesians paddled into Haurai Gulf a thousand years ago and built villages, calling their new home Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. One Tree Hill remembers a totara tree that survived here for centuries.

Auckland at sunset.

Auckland at sunset.

I called the land of the long white cloud home while I completed a project which quite frankly I could have done anywhere. If you succumb to temptation (highly recommended), this starter list will help you settle in.

Out & about

The totara tree is gone but Maori culture is present everywhere from architectural details and ceramics to bone earrings and pendants. The shops on Queen Street stock Maori wood carvings, jade jewelry, sheepskin and leather goods. The Auckland Art Gallery hosts works by noteworthy Maori and Pacific Island artists.

Haka performances take place at the Auckland Museum.

Haka performances take place at the Auckland Museum.

The Auckland War Memorial Museum puts on Haka performances and houses a must-see Maori meetinghouse and war canoe once rowed by 100 warriors.

Sailing dominates the waterfront of New Zealand’s largest city. It wasn’t long before I signed up for a two-hour sailing, departing from Viaduct Harbour. In good weather, nothing tops the thrill of sailing on an America’s Cup yacht. Boarding a racing yacht puts you at the mercy of the passion that grips so many Aucklanders.

Sidewalk cafes invite newcomers to linger over a flat white (cappuccino) and take in the scene on the waterfront, Queen Street, Ponsonby and Parnell.

Parnell just east of downtown has sidewalk bistros in historic wood buildings with rose gardens that perfume the air. From menus posted outside, I surmised that seafood regarded as delicacies elsewhere is commonplace in Kiwi cuisine: Clevedon oysters green-lipped mussels, crayfish, abalone (paua), and Rotorua’s rainbow trout. The mecca for the famed green-lipped mussels, served grilled or in steaming pots is at the Occidental Belgian Beer Cafe off Queen Street. It is also the first place in the southern hemisphere to import Belgian beer.

Waihiki Island

Waihiki Island

Beer was in short supply, but New Zealand’s diverse climate produces an unending harvest of fresh fruit, vegetables and wine. Rural life blooms on Auckland’s neighboring islands in the summer. Waiheke is as close as a 35-minute ferry ride. The island bus services the 12-mile island, stopping at tranquil bays, farmers markets, artist studios, village restaurants and winery estates. I tasted island-grown wines at Mudbrick Vineyard and Stonyridge Vineyard where I had lunch on a terrace overlooking the olive orchard and vineyards.

Beyond Auckland

Nature’s treasures lie north of the city. The unspoiled wilderness of Tasman Sea and the Waitakere Ranges beckons at Auckland’s boundary. In the wild, damp, shadowy bush of nikau palms, rimu, mire and kakuri, song birds trill with astonishing musicality. I swam in deep pools of crystal-clear water when I toured the region with Bush and Beach.

Cruising in the Bay of Islands, you can drop anchor and dive in.

Cruising in the Bay of Islands, you can drop anchor and dive in.

The Bay of Islands—a subtropical archipelago of 150 islands—is the historical crossroads of European and Maori culture. At the end of a three-hour drive, my heart skipped a beat at the sight. Catamarans cruise out of Russell where I spent the weekend. The crystal-clear turquoise water made it easy to watch the whales, dolphins, marlins, and penguins.

Another high note was simply gazing out my living room window to the red flowering pohutukawa trees, golden sand and rippling sea. The view remains crystal-clear in memory because the country entered my consciousness. That’s the prize for settling in a while.

Photography courtesy of New Zealand Tourism. Haka performer by Donna Peck.


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