|As New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland wickedly
observed, Auckland has a weight problem. 'It is one of the biggest cities
in the world. Its swollen bulk hangs out over the constricting belt of its
isthmus and bulges further than the eye can see. Its head cannot locate
Two towering, powerful icons emerge from the sprawling mass: the volcanic cone of Rangitoto, and the futuristic Sky Tower. They may also define its soul; a city of tranquility and sophistication, that combines a stunning coastline, with cultural edge. The hecklers claim Auckland is bold, brash and full of excess. The critics may be right about the excess, but there's no stopping Auckland's growth, as it steadily consumes new ground. It already contains four cities (North Shore, Waitakere, Auckland and Manukau) straddling an isthmus of land at the narrowest part of New Zealand. A mere nine kilometres separates the Pacific Ocean on the east side from the Tasman Sea on the West. Aucklander's love of the water explains the moniker: 'City of Sails' - a reputation cemented during the flurry of activity on the Waitemata Harbour during the America's Cup 2000 regatta.
Over a quarter of the nation's 3.7 million inhabitants live in the Auckland region. Since the Maori alighted from their waka (canoes) to occupy the densely forested land, a steady stream of migrants has followed; Europeans, Asians, and Polynesians have all journeyed to Auckland. Now it is the largest Polynesian enclave in the world.
More than 50 volcanoes have erupted, permanently scarring Auckland's landscape. The last of them, the island of Rangitoto, burst forth from the sea a mere 600 years ago. Nowadays their fire is quelled, but something of their spirit lives in the buzz, aggression and vitality of the city.
Central Business District
Auckland's passion for uprooting its past (it was once dubbed the 'city of cranes') began with Pakeha (European) settlers removing entire volcanic cones to reclaim the waterfront. Now the waterfront is an essential playground for its citizens. The city council has recently spent NZ$42 million beautifying Viaduct Harbour, a perfect backdrop to the America's Cup 2000 regatta and home to other attractions, including the Maritime Museum, Waitemata Plaza, the Ferry Building, and a bevy of restaurants and nightspots.
On the inner city fringe lies the infamous Karangahape Road, although its garish sex parlours all but pale beside its exotic shops and restaurants. Also on the fringe is Grafton, location of Auckland Hospital and the ice-cream coloured Starship Children's Hospital and Auckland's major recreational park, the 74-hectare Auckland Domain, with its sports fields, The Wintergardens, duck ponds and Auckland Museum.
South of the Auckland Domain, you can fully appreciate Auckland's size from the summit of Mt Eden (Maungawhau). Descend to one of the trendy village cafes nestled at its base if you're in need of fortification. Another volcanic vantage point, offering views to both the Waitemata and Manukau harbours, is One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie). Stargazers will enjoy the Auckland Observatory and Star Dome Planetarium situated in surrounding Cornwall Park.
West of downtown, Ponsonby Road has been Auckland's enduring restaurant strip for the past 20 years. Competition is now fierce with new restaurants and bars offering waterfront views at the Viaduct Basin. However, the cosmopolitan set remain loyal to Ponsonby Road icons such as Prego, SPQR, Atomic Café and other institutions such as the Hero Parade, Auckland's own gay pride Mardi Gras - voted best annual event by Metro magazine.
The Eastern Bays
There are a number of established family wineries in West Auckland, notably Delegat's and Corbans, near Henderson; Matua Valley, House of Nobilo and Coopers Creek, near Kumeu. Several of the wineries have excellent restaurants; the Hunting Lodge at Matua Valley and Allely House at Selaks, both worth the drive just to enjoy their beautiful settings.
The North Shore
Beyond the confines of the city isthmus lie the 47 islands of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, including Rangitoto, Motutapu and Waiheke Island which attracts many visitors to its idyllic bays and beaches, galleries, vineyards and restaurants, and the annual Montana Waiheke Island of Jazz Festival.