Four cheers for Auckland

By Alexia Santamaria

Alexia Santamaria waves her pompoms to remind us that the show never stops in the entertaining City of Sails.

City tourism leaders have long urged visitors to spend longer in Auckland before they head off to the traditional tourist fields of Rotorua, Bay of Islands or Queenstown. This summer they are encouraging Aucklanders to look at their town with new eyes so that they can act as champions and cheerleaders for some of the best things in our town - a vibrant city that doesn't sleep but with the best that nature can sling at us, side by side.

Here are my favourite ways of exploring our town that I love to share with visitors.

Culture

Auckland is not just about pretty views; there are always clever and creative happenings in visual and performing arts, too.

The Auckland Art Gallery has rightly scooped world architecture awards for its thrilling blend of the old 1888 building with swooping modern wood and glass that opens up views of Albert Park's grand old trees. It's worth a visit for the building and the permanent collections, but this weekend I'll wander round the Freedom Farmers exhibition where, fittingly, 20 New Zealand contemporary artists engage with ideas of utopia, sustainability and artistic freedom.

Our city needs that conversation.

Young and old visitors love to learn more about Auckland's most famous son, Sir Ed Hillary, at From the Summit at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Selling Dreams: 100 Years of Fashion Photography opens next week, a great chance to catch some of the V&A's collection. And any day now I'm waiting to head over to the Domain, where the Wintergardens' rare Amorphophallus titanum (corpse flower) is about to start its spectacular flowering.

In the evenings the amazing Black Grace perform Christmas Verses, a collection of short dance works with a good dose of summer frivolous humour. Or we'll head up to the top of town for more laughs from the Classic Christmas Comedy Showcase. Next week, there's Dust Palace's aerial circus/fantasy/cabaret - the sexiest take on the holidays you'll see.

The Edge at Aotea keeps the party going through the month with zany dancing, DJs, deckchairs and plenty of food. Then it's down to Gianpaolo's handmade gelato at Giapo next to the Civic - gotta stop there, really. Yes, the show really doesn't stop in this part of town.

Green

We love that far from being a concrete jungle, Auckland is full of greenery.

If we've been shopping in town (you have to, really) we'll grab a coffee and walk up past the Art Gallery into Albert Park for a charming old-fashioned dose of English flowers and fountains. We check out the pompous Victorian statues and the floral clock, and lounge on the lawns under the comforting solid oaks. Nothing like sitting on a park bench and watching all the city workers and tourists.

For bigger scale country-in-the-city rambling, we head to the tree-lined avenues and sprawling paddocks of Cornwall Park. I always make visitors climb to the top of One Tree Hill for 360-degree views of the city then head down to relax in the old-school tea shop. It's a kiddy paradise with a little train in the playground (adults will have much more defined biceps by the time they are done pushing it round), the Observatory and a cracking flying fox. As evening draws in, there are a few takeout food options close by on Manukau Rd, or there's nothing nicer than a dinner picnic (the supermarket is just across the road if you don't want greasies).

For family visits, we like to head west to the picturesque Western Springs. The kids love the stroll round the lake among the ducks, geese, pukekos and swans, with the inevitable stop at the excellent playground, then crossing the bridge to see who can spot the most eels in the water. We love hearing the very vocal gibbons from the zoo next door and see the Motat tram go past (you can even take a ride for $5 a family). If we're still there at 4pm, a 20-minute walk or five-minute bus ride up the road will take us to Pt Chevalier to relax at Ragu, the local, which does great drinks and shared plates.

Blue

I love to show off to out-of-towners how close the "treasure islands" of the Hauraki Gulf are to the CBD. From downtown, we'll take the 35-minute ferry to Waiheke Island and take the bus to Ostend Markets on Saturdays to check out the best of the island's artisan products. After the markets another bus takes us to beautiful Onetangi beach - stop at Wild on Waiheke on the way for craft beer tasting and fun activities to keep grownups and the kids happy.

Everyone's in favour of stopping in Oneroa for a poke around the artsy shops and galleries and a meal at the wonderful Oyster Inn (not just oysters but all kinds of exceptional cuisine). If we are in a grown-up mode, we'll hire a car or a join a tour of the vineyards and olive oil estates for sampling the product of the island's unique microclimate. We particularly love the Spanish-style food and boutique wines at Casita Miro in Onetangi.

For a more active option, we'll join a ferry outing to Rangitoto Island for the one-hour walk to the summit of the 600-year-old extinct volcanic cone. The views back to Auckland and the gulf are stunning and it has the largest forest of pohutukawa trees in the world. If we time it for a Saturday, we stop by Britomart Farmers' Market first to pick up some picnic supplies. After such vigour, we are fully justified rewarding ourselves with a drink or dinner at any of the lovely Britomart dining spaces.

If we're just after a quick boat trip, Devonport could not be more perfect. The 10-minute ferry ride to the heritage buildings and cosy vintage vibe of this lovely seaside suburb charm the out-of-towners every time. The little patches of beach are perfect for a paddle, and we always have to stop at the Devonport Stone Oven Bakery for home-made pies and rolls or a gelato from Piccolo Blu. If we're up to it, we'll hike to the top of Mt Victoria for more views of the city (after all, volcanoes are an Auckland specialty).

Food

If food is your thing, like it is mine, then there's no shortage of culinary itineraries to keep eating for the whole day - or week - in Auckland. I'll start early for breakfast at Al Brown's Federal Street Delicatessen (although I do find I want to come back to this quarter later for dinner at Depot or Masu, too).

Sometimes I'll make visitors work up an appetite by walking them to Ponsonby (or take the Link bus) for an almond croissant at Little Bread and Butter in the charming Ponsonby Central. We'll wander round the shops, then go back there for lunch as the selection is fantastic. Try the Momofuku-style pork buns at Blue Breeze Inn, the Uruguayan street food at Maldito Mendez, the Napoli-style pizza at Dante's or the Argentine Barbecue at El Sizzling Chorizo (don't miss the handmade Choripan sausage).

Finish the evening at North Wharf with pre-dinner cocktails and Southern bites at Miss Clawdy and then on to Baduzzi for wonderful Italian by way of east coast America from one of Auckland's top chefs.

- NZ Herald

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