day one, and we were sitting outside the Occidental pub in Vulcan Lane enjoying a pilsner.

The Occidental and its neighbour, The Queen's Ferry, had tempted us in after lunch at new waterfront bakery and restaurant Amano at Britomart and a trawl through High St's clothing, book and show stores.

The two pubs were the haunt of journalists, writers and other working class heroes for 100 years. Still soaked in a seedy, opinionated past, the smoke-infused wood and mirror panelled Occidental is now a Belgium beer and mussel house.

At 4pm on a Friday Vulcan Lane was as much meeting place as thoroughfare in a CBD finishing work for the weekend. It made for great people-watching.


At the next table, visitors from the UK told everyone they ran a B&B and were on a fact-finding mission Down Under.

Their biggest surprise, they said, was Auckland. They loved it.

Where were we all from? Freemans Bay, Whangarei, Glenfield, Sheffield, people piped up. Sounds like a poem, said the lady from Norfolk.

We were on a 48-hour blast in a corner of downtown Auckland, staying at the Adina Apartment Hotel, well-situated among the new buildings, parks, atriums, eateries and drinkeries near Vector Arena.

In the evening families, friends and lovers drifted in and out of the little green park across from the hotel. Toddlers threw bread to pigeons, elderly Asians exercised, young people lay in each other's arms on the grass in the last of the day's sun.

Nearby, busy arteries pumped traffic in and out of the city. Who'd have known?

Auckland felt clean, fresh and diverse, with Pacific charm and international flair.

With major roadworks and renos everywhere, detours, planks over torn up footpaths, buildings coming down, going up, like all big cities it's in constant transition.

Around most corners was a peep of the harbour, a tiny park, somewhere to sit, or an outrageous sight.

At night Queen St's foot traffic streamed past doleful buskers, a youthful school choir, joyful Hare Krishnas, an army of Christian bikies bearing staunch patch/crosses on their backs, their shiny machines taking up half a block of parking.

Some homeless people shuffled by, some beggars tried their luck, people dashed or dawdled, backpackers and well-heeled tourists gazed about, families filed along with skipping kids, cars choked the main drag.

We saw the fabulous Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the fabulous Civic Theatre, and stopped the cab on the way back to the hotel to down nightcaps at lively, soulful Orleans on Customs St.

Members of the chic set sidled past and ducked through a hole in a wall to an invitation-only, pop-up club across the way.

We breakfasted at 'The Fed', or Federal St Delicatessen, Al Brown's take on an old-school New York Jewish deli. Much as we wanted to, we couldn't linger among the jars, specialty meats, lox, bagels, sandwiches, steam kettles, fountain soda, etc. We had a boat to catch.

Maori were already living on the shores and hinterland of the Waitemata when Rangitoto, the youngest of Auckland's 48 volcanoes, erupted into its present shape, 550-600 years ago.

The distinctive landmark is a short ferry ride from downtown and on any trip about 100 passengers seem to simply vanish into the island's tracks and bays.

It takes less than 1 hours to walk the island's longest track through the unusual lava flow terrain, through New Zealand's largest pohutukawa forest to the 260 metre high summit and spectacular views.

At Auckland Art Gallery, The Maori Portraits - Lindauer's New Zealand exhibition book-ended well with our visit the day before to the inner city's oldest pubs.

In Gottfried Lindauer's time those establishments would have been full of colonial seamen, merchants and entrepreneurial Maori, some of his portrait subjects among them.

Later, we took in the city and harbour spread out below the Sky Tower, then dined just across the road at the gaggling Glass Goose Eatery whose blurb had rightly promised "a look up the Sky Tower's skirt" from its patio.

Like the nearby Fed deli, this is another hotspot in the concrete-jungle of the Federal precinct. (Quay, Britomart, Federal, Viaduct, Wynyard; it's become a city of 'precincts', each with its own thing going on.)

Back at our hotel, the narrow circular street in front was jam-packed with rickshaw bikes, taxis, buses, scooters and a friendly throng of pedestrians.

The Breakers had just walloped Adelaide at Vector.

In the morning, stepping out on a 15-minute walk to the Viaduct, we lurched around the corner from the hotel on to Quay St - into a sweating, groaning stream of bib-wearing runners and walkers being cheered on rowdily by people lining the street.

This, we discovered, was the Auckland Marathon. We slouched on past to our unhealthy breakfast.

Forty-eight hours after arriving, we headed back to Northland feeling like we'd had a real little holiday.

We decided we'd do it again some time, spend a weekend in the laid-back metropolis just a two-hour drive down the road.

- Lindy Laird travelled with the assistance of TFE hotels. Visit