Katie Holland is the Rotorua Daily Post deputy editor

Travel: The big smoke, Auckland


Like many of us, I've done the journey north to Auckland many times.

But whether it was to visit relatives, go to a concert or take in an All Blacks test there was usually a purpose. Sure, I may have squeezed in a spot of big-city shopping but otherwise there was often just time for the obligatory comment on the traffic before it was time to turn around and head home.

The recently launched "No Passport Required" campaign is trying to change that by promoting Auckland as a holiday destination for Kiwis. And with the latest Lonely Planet guide book ranking Auckland Harbour/Hauraki Gulf and urban Auckland as the top two experiences in New Zealand (with Rotorua a close third), I decided it was time to see what I had been missing.

Our Auckland holiday began with check-in at the perfectly located Heritage Hotel, before we went to our first activity, which had given me butterflies all day - the Auckland Bridge Climb. Yep - walking under, up and over the harbour bridge. As we suited up and handed in all loose items I remembered I didn't like heights. Too late - off we went with guide Britt, who cheerily informed us that crossing the road to start was as dangerous as it would get.

To my relief, she was right. We walked 2km under the bridge, watched a bungy jump then climbed up through the traffic to the top of the arch while Britt told us about the bridge's history. Up at the very top between the two giant New Zealand flags, that's where I stood. Amazing 360-degree views are not scary in the slightest. Celebratory beers followed at the always-buzzing Viaduct, a perfect spot for people watching.

Dinner that evening was at one of Auckland's newest restaurants, Mexico, in the funky Britomart precinct. Popular with groups, it's lively and fun with well-priced Mexican street food and a lot of tequila to choose from. The decor was cool, the service was great and the sangria delicious.

Proving there's more to Auckland than hustle and bustle, Saturday started with a 40-minute drive north to the laidback Matakana Farmers Market. Tip number one: don't eat breakfast before you go. Whitebait fritters, mussels with bacon, fresh waffles, Vietnamese steamed buns, what I heard called "the best coffee I've ever had" - you'll want it all. It's an easy place to while away a morning. There's chilled live music (with dancing dads if you're lucky) and plenty of picnic tables to sit at to sample the local produce.

A short drive from Matakana village - past numerous wineries for those so inclined - is Brick Bay Sculpture Trail and winery. Wow. A 2km walk through native bush with more than 40 sculptures by New Zealand artists installed along the way.

Even my practically minded "Kiwi bloke", who initially scoffed they'd be lucky to get $100 scrap metal for one sculpture, was won over the by the end of the trail and declared it the highlight of his weekend. Next, we sampled some Brick Bay wine and found room for a shared platter in their Glass House by a lake.

Back to the city and Saturday night at Ebisu, which has fast become one of Auckland's favourite restaurants. Cool without being intimidating, it had a New York feel - exposed brick walls, booths and a DJ in the corner. The modern Japanese was delicious. Fresh, tasty sushi, melt-in-your-mouth soft-shell crab and surimi good enough to win over a raw fish sceptic were some of the highlights. They do a $20 lunch special,too.

After dinner, this small-town girl couldn't resist Sky City Casino. Some blackjack watching, $2 and 27 minutes later I quit while I was ahead with a purse full of $2 coins.

On Sunday, we took the 10-minute ferry ride to sleepy Devonport for high tea at the Peace and Plenty B&B.; Charismatic owner Judy put on a tea party for her grand-daughter's birthday three years ago. Now her high teas are in high demand.

There was tea, of course, and a glass of bubbles plus three-tier trays of homemade sandwiches, scones and petit fours.

Not as grand as the Ritz perhaps, but infinitely more charming - down to the hats Judy provided as we entered. Beautiful rooms as well for those looking for a more peaceful base.

And that was it, home time. We hit the Southern Motorway exhausted but with a new perspective on Auckland. Friendly people, incredible food, jammed with things to do.

I admit it, Auckland's actually a pretty great place for a holiday.

Katie Holland was a guest of the Auckland Tourist Board.

- Hamilton News

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