Although the Auckland region is spread over more than 390 sq miles, many of its inner-city attractions are clustered near the waterfront and around the city’s oldest parks. Panoramic views of the city, harbor, and outer islands can be enjoyed from a number of extinct volcanic peaks, such as One Tree Hill, and from the observation decks and restaurants of Sky Tower, the city’s most distinctive landmark. Queen Street, long known as Auckland’s “golden mile”, is a major business, entertainment and shopping area, complemented by Ponsonby, Parnell, and Newmarket on the fringes of the city. Water is an important part of Auckland’s magic, and no visit is complete without a trip to Rangitoto or one of the other islands in the Hauraki Gulf.
POINTS OF INTEREST
AOTEA SQUARE AND AOTEA CENTRE AT THE EDGE
In the late 1980s, several New Zealand souvenir shops began stocking a postcard that was entirely black except for a small heading, “Night Life in New Zealand”. Things have since changed. It is a venue for dance, opera, classical music, theatre, and shows. It is also used for festivals, such as the Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit. Aotea Square, in front of the center, houses a popular market as well as outdoor festivals. The wooden waharoa (gateway) at its entrance was created by Maori artist Selwyn Muru. The square is flanked on one side by the Force Entertainment Centre, which includes a 460-seat Imax Cinema, a games center, cafés, and shops. The Auckland Town Hall is situated on the other side of the square. Collectively, the locations bordering Aotea Square – the Town Hall, Aotea Centre, and Force Entertainment Centre – are known as THE EDGE.
AUCKLAND ART GALLERY
Visitors interested in art should add the Auckland Art Gallery (Toi o Tamaki) to their itinerary. Designing the 1887 French Renaissance-style building must have been a challenge to the architectural firm of Grainger and D’Ebro, as it occupies a rising corner site. The gallery originally housed civic offices and the public library, but today it is solely a gallery, mainly devoted to showcasing the development of New Zealand art. The collection of around 12,500 works includes international as well as national works of art. The gallery also organizes exhibitions on a regular basis. The New Zealand collection contains works from many of the nation’s most prominent artists, including Frances Hodgkins, Colin McCahon, and Ralph Hotere. The Mackelvie Collection, named after a self-made man who lived in Auckland between 1865 and 1871, is mainly of non-New Zealand paintings, as is the Grey Collection. The New Gallery, almost next door to the Auckland Art Gallery, was a former telephone exchange. Refurbished by architect David Mitchell, it adds 30 percent more space to the existing gallery and focuses on contemporary art. Wedged between these two is the commercially-run Gow Langsford Gallery.
AUCKLAND DOMAIN AND WINTER GARDENS
Central Auckland has been built around a number of extinct volcanoes, including 14 volcanic cones, many of which are now parks. The oldest park is the Auckland Domain, situated within walking distance of both the city center and the Parnell area. Tuff rings created by volcanic activity thousands of years ago can still be seen in its contours. Land for the city’s park was set aside in 1840, in the early years of European settlement. In 1940, a carved Maori memorial palisade was installed around a totara tree on Pukekaroa knoll. This enclosure commemorates Maori leader Potatu Te Whero Whero, who made peace with the neighboring tribes on the site a hundred years earlier. Nearby is a sports field where the tuff rings form a natural amphitheater. The field is used for free outdoor concerts over the summer that attract large crowds.
The large, shady Auckland Domain is also a popular place with walkers and picnickers. Several of the large trees in the park were seedlings from a nursery set up in 1841 to grow and distribute European plants and trees. The formal gardens feature many sculptures. The best known are the three bronze sculptures in the free-form pond. The central, male figure represents Auckland and the two females represent wisdom and fertility of the soil. The Winter Gardens, a legacy from the Auckland Exhibition of 1913, consists of two glasshouses joined by a courtyard that contains a large water lily and lotus pool. The dome-roofed areas contain a wide variety of plants.
In recent years, a scoria quarry behind the Winter Gardens has been converted into a fernery. Ferns are a dominant feature of the New Zealand landscape and there are more than 100 varieties in the fernery. The gardens are a popular venue for weddings and other photography. The Domain’s best-known structure is the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Made of reinforced concrete and faced with Portland stone, the museum has bronze detailing. The façade contains plaques that list the battles of World War I, while at the rear of the building, added by RF and M K Draffin in 1960, there are lists of World War II battles.
AUCKLAND HARBOUR BRIDGE
In the late 19th century, ferries began taking passengers across the water from Auckland City to the north. In 1959, the Auckland Harbour Bridge was built and ten years later, the 141-ft high steel bridge was widened, increasing the number of lanes from four to eight. Peak hour traffic across the 3,350-ft bridge is slow. Concrete barriers marking the traffic lanes are shifted twice daily by a custom-built machine to accommodate the morning flow into the city and the late afternoon return to the northern suburbs. An electronic traffic light system at both ends of the bridge clearly indicates which lanes are accessible to traffic. Despite the traffic jams, the Harbour Bridge offers some of the best views in the city. The bridge does not only link two large areas of Auckland; State Highway 1 is also the main arterial route for northbound traffic. Southbound travelers driving across the bridge will notice a forest of masts on their left.
AUCKLAND TOWN HALL
The wedge-shaped Edwardian Town Hall, built in 1911, is Auckland’s prime historic building. It has been used extensively as an administrative and political center, as well as a cultural venue. During work to restore it to its original design, the building was gutted (non-original materials were removed) and strengthened structurally. The Concert Chamber, Council Chamber, and main street foyer were meticulously restored, a process that included using vintage glass to reconstruct windows that had disappeared over the years. The Great Hall, an excellent concert facility, is a replica of the Neues Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany, which was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II.
AUCKLAND WAR MEMORIAL MUSEUM
Built in 1929 to commemorate the end of World War I, in which 16,697 New Zealanders died, the museum has a Neo-Classical façade that evokes the Greek temples that many servicemen saw from the decks of warships in the Mediterranean. The design of the cenotaph in front of the museum is based on newsreel footage, shown at the beginning of movies in the 1920s, of the tomb of the unknown soldier in London. Besides providing visitors with an introduction to New Zealand’s history, people and landscape, the museum also contains a renowned collection of Maori treasures and Pacific artifacts and holds Maori cultural performances.
BRITOMART TRANSPORT CENTRE
The Britomart Transport Centre brings together Auckland’s train, bus, and ferry services in a single complex. The center was the focus of an urban renewal project completed in 2009, which included the redevelopment of surrounding streets, creating new public spaces, and a precinct of shops and restaurants.
This 1912 Edwardian baroque building is the focal point for commuter ferries. A ten-minute ferry ride to Devonport leaves here, as do boats to Waiheke Island. Designed by Alex Wiseman, the building is made of sandstone and brick, with a base of Coromandel granite. Not just a transport center, it is also home to Harbourside Restaurant, a popular seafood restaurant with stunning views of the harbor.
NEW ZEALAND NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM
Boats have played a pivotal role in New Zealand’s history, from those of the early Polynesian navigators who steered their canoes towards the country to the whalers who made Russell the center of the whaling industry in the 1840s, and the thousands of immigrants who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries. These aspects of the country’s maritime past are highlighted in the museum. In Maori, the museum is called Te Huiteananui-a-Tangaroa, “the legendary house belonging to Tangaroa”, god of the sea. Even those with a limited interest in boats will enjoy the innovative exhibition galleries. One room is fitted out as a ship’s interior, complete with a gently swaying floor and appropriate creaking noises. Several of the historic vessels berthed outside the museum take visitors for harbor trips.
OLD ARTS BUILDING AND CLOCK TOWER
Part of the university buildings, the Old Arts Building and Clock Tower face Albert Park, a summer gathering place for students. Designed by Chicago-trained architect R A Lippincott, it was completed in 1926. Lippincott’s brother-in-law, Walter Burley Griffin, was the designer of Canberra in Australia. The clock tower that crowns the building was inspired by the Tom Tower of Christ Church in Oxford, England, and has come to symbolize the university. The building’s octagonal interior is vaulted and galleried with a mosaic floor and piers. A major reconstruction was undertaken between 1985 and 1988, which won an Institute of Architects award. From the rear of the Old Arts Building, the Barracks Wall runs for 280 ft to the back of the Old Choral Hall. Built in 1847, it is the only remnant of the wall which enclosed an area, including Albert Park, where British troops were stationed until 1870. The basalt stone wall was quarried from the slope of Mount Eden, now known as Eden Garden.
The old Customhouse replaces a building that was burned down in the 1880s. Designed by Thomas Mahoney, the 1889 French Renaissance-style building is said to have been modeled on the present Selfridge’s department store in Oxford Street, London. It features intricate plasterwork and kauri joinery. The building used to house the Customs Department, Audit Inspector, Sheep Inspector, and Native Land Court. It is now home to the city’s largest duty-free shop.
OLD GOVERNMENT HOUSE
The classical Old Government House was the seat of government until 1865 when the capital was moved to Wellington. It was also the residence of New Zealand’s governor-general until 1969. Royalty used to stay here, and Queen Elizabeth II broadcast her Christmas speech from upstairs in 1953. It is now a part of the University of Auckland, housing the staff common room, council reception suite, and apartments for visiting academics. Located within walking distance of the central business district, Old Government House, designed by William Mason and completed in 1856, appears from a distance to be made of stone. Like its British prefabricated predecessor, however, it is built from wood. A big coral tree and a Norfolk pine at the southern edge of the lawn are said to have been planted by Sir George Grey during his second term as governor from 1861 to 1867.
Opened in August 1997, Auckland’s 1,076-ft Sky Tower, a splendid tourist, broadcasting, and telecommunications facility, has taken over from Sydney’s AMP Tower as the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere. Part of SKYCITY Auckland, the tower is visited by almost one million people a year. Its four observation levels offer 50-mile views while the tower’s Sky Jump and 360° Skywalk provide the ultimate in adrenaline adventure.
Lucky punters can win luxury cars at SKYCITY Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest casino. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the complex offers a wide variety of entertainment and leisure options. More than 1600 gaming machines feature all the latest stepper reel, video reel, poker, and keno games offering both cash and car prizes. The complex boasts 4 casinos and over 100 gaming tables with traditional games such as Caribbean stud poker, craps, blackjack, baccarat, roulette, and a money wheel. Chinese favorites include tai sai, played with three dice in a clear glass dome, and pai gow, played with 32 domino pieces. Entertainment at SKYCITY is not limited to gaming. The complex is best known for the Sky Tower, the country’s tallest structure. There are also two hotels, the four-star SKYCITY Hotel, with 306 rooms and 38 suites, and the newly completed five-star Grand Hotel. In addition, there are a number of bars, cafes, and restaurants as well as conference facilities, and a 700-seat theatre.
Largely a legacy from the 1999–2000 America’s Cup, the Viaduct Basin’s up-market apartments, shops, and restaurants overlook its mooring facilities. The basin is part of an extensive redevelopment of Auckland’s waterfront, following the trend in cities such as Sydney, London, and San Francisco. One of the best places to enjoy the precinct’s vibrant atmosphere is Kermadec, a fish restaurant with a strong Pacific theme. The Loaded Hog is another popular meeting place for locals and visitors.
This sparkling harbor, with the green volcanic cone of Rangitoto Island in the background, is one of Auckland’s most cherished sights. Not only does the harbor add to the city’s scenic beauty, but it also forms a natural barrier between the central business district and the populous North Shore. Ferries and cruise boats, as well as commercial ships, use the harbor daily.
Westhaven Marina reflects Aucklanders’ passion for yachting. Operating for more than 70 years, it is one of the largest marinas in the southern hemisphere, accommodating 1,950 vessels. Among the facilities are Pier Z (the home of several major charter boat companies), launching ramps for trailer craft, and a mast gantry. The premises of prominent yacht clubs are on the northern side of the marina.