Written by Brian Johnston
Few cities have wild beauty on their doorstep, but Auckland’s magnificent harbour, volcanic landscapes, black-sand beaches, and steep rainforest ranges provide the perfect urban escape.
To appreciate Auckland’s harbour-side location, ride the ferry from the city-centre quays to the charming seaside suburb of Devonport on the North Shore to enjoy its boutique shops and galleries. The walk to North Head rewards you with splendid views along Cheltenham Beach and back towards the city’s skyscrapers across the harbour.
Auckland’s harbour is also showcased along meandering, waterfront Tamaki Drive, which heads around the eastern bays from the city centre to St. Heliers. It’s a long walk, so better to hire a bicycle. The cafés of Mission Bay will restore your energy, while Bastion Point has lovely views of the Hauraki Gulf islands.
Dolphin- and whale-spotting cruises in the Hauraki Gulf depart from the city centre; alternatively, you can charter a yacht and sail around some of the gulf’s 50-odd islands yourself. Public ferries run to Rangitoto Island Scenic Reserve, an old black-lava volcano with sweeping views of the city from its summit, and to Waiheke Island, where you will find overnight B&B accommodation, cafés, and craft stores. Waiheke’s Mediterranean-like microclimate encourages vines, olive trees, and sun-seeking Aucklanders at weekends.
For another great getaway, head along the west coast beyond Auckland, where rugged rainforest-draped bushland meets spectacular beaches, some made of black lava. Wild, wave-lashed Karekare Beach had a notable appearance in the movie The Piano; further south, Whatipu Beach is known for its huge sand dunes. The hinterland of forest and waterfalls makes for good hiking and mountain biking, while surfers should take advantage of the breaks along Piha Beach.
The great indoors
For your dose of culture, step back into Victorian middle-class life at Ewelme Cottage (pictured), or wander among the vintage cars and flying boats of the Museum of Transport and Technology. Seafaring history is showcased at the terrific National Maritime Museum, where experts still repair traditional wooden boats. Kids will appreciate Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium, with its sharks, stingrays, and New Zealand’s only Antarctic penguin colony.
Auckland, New Zealand
Distance: 14,518 km
Flight Time: 16 hours, 20 minutes
Frequency: Beginning February 5, 2017, Qatar Airways will operate a daily non-stop service from Doha