Daybreak in Tāmaki Makaurau, if you're lucky, there'll be a thick, low fog hanging over everything, only the Sky Tower poking through. The city as a surprise, waiting to be unpacked. Down at the long ribbon of the water's edge, fishing lines are being cast, chairs unfolded, Thermoses unscrewed. The first ferries are out and so are the runners, the cyclists, the dog walkers, all with that glint in their eye, the pleasure of that tingle on the skin, the knowledge that what they're doing has a kind of magic to it.
The seabirds watch and peck and wait.
The fog will clear. The day will be glorious. Even when it rains, the rain will stop before you know it. The city will offer itself, scrubbed but messy, a city of growth and change and all the opportunities and rewards that brings.
The moments of discovery. Art! Look up as you enter Britomart's Takutai Square from the city side and there's Maunga, an entire high wall covered in Grecian urns decorated with Māori motifs, the work of painter Shane Cotton.
Wander down to the end of Queens Wharf and you'll find a house: an ordinary-looking two-storey state house, although constructed to withstand the ravaging attentions of the salt air. Look inside, at the squiggly neon glowing on the walls, and there's James Cook, giant-sized, all silver, sitting in a pose of distraction, would you even say despair?
This is sculptor Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse, perhaps the city's greatest sly challenge to anyone who thought they'd already worked everything out in the world.
Downtown Auckland gathers itself ever more closely along the water's edge. To the west is Wynyard Quarter, a newly developed precinct of restaurants and cafes, playgrounds and entertainment spaces, with commercial and residential high-rise filling in behind and the streets conceived as green linear parks. There are allotment gardens for the local residents, the busyness of the local maritime history is evident everywhere, and it was home to the America's Cup competition too.
Wynyard is an Auckland showroom. A model for how beautiful and engaging public spaces can bring a city to life, a testament to what you can do when you deprioritise the motorcar.
Past Wynyard, a glorious boardwalk will take you past the largest marina in the Southern Hemisphere, all the way to the harbour bridge. You can walk all this, or to see more and get the best of it, hire an e-bike or an e-scooter and ride around.
For the shopping, there's Britomart, a curated set of upmarket fashion stores and restaurants set around Takutai Square, where jets of water gush straight from the pavement, a fountain of endless delight for children of all ages. Nearby there's the newly opened Commercial Bay, a complex of tower blocks bursting with more smart shops and eateries.
Also nearby are the backstreet twins, High St and O'Connell St, joined by Freyberg Square. The buildings feature the best of European loveliness, the planting is tropical, the shops tend to men's fashion but offer much more besides, and on High St there's the best bookshop in the world, or so the award they won in 2020 says: Unity Books.
Downtown Auckland was built around a valley where the Horotiu stream ran down to the sea. It's sealed deep beneath the asphalt now, but the sense of nature in the city is steadily being restored. In the new public plazas taking shape on and near the downtown waterfront, large pōhutukawa are being planted and will soon become the centrepiece attraction.
There are roadworks all over Auckland. Don't worry about it. The city is growing and changing and working out how to fulfil its dreams. That takes work, and work takes road cones. It's cool.
Jump on a bus. The new red e-buses run a frequent shuttle route joining Wynyard to downtown and Karangahape Rd, which runs along the ridge behind the city centre. Stuffed with boutique shops and every kind of hospitality outlet, K Rd has been through two years of roadworks and is now bursting back to life.
But the biggest attraction in Auckland, in every way, is the Sky Tower. It's worth the visit, for the views of sea and city stretching forever, for what you learn about the things that happen on downtown rooftops, for the chance, if it's your thing, to stand on a bit of floor tiled in glass and look down an awfully, awfully long way.
You can go outside and walk around. You can jump off. They tie you on so it's okay. You can eat at the revolving restaurant and if you do that in the evening you can watch the sun go down and the streaming ribbons of traffic. You go round twice and it's actually magnificent.
You'll find fabulous restaurants all over the city, of course. But if you'd rather end the day relaxing with your feet on the ground, maybe head east to the beaches of Ōkahu Bay or Mission Bay, or west to Pt Chevalier, where the beach faces the setting sun, with a hillside of pōhutukawa behind, and the locals are settling in for picnic dinner.
Picnic dinner is a thing you can do in Auckland for a surprisingly large part of the year. Afterwards, back on K Rd and in the Viaduct and on the famous Ponsonby Rd strip too, the nightlife begins.