Things to do in Auckland
In Auckland, New Zealand’s largest metropolis and City of Sails, you’ll find luxury yachting and a dazzling fusion of fashion, food and festivities. You could spend days here perusing boutiques on Ponsonby Road; taking day trips to nearby Rangitoto Island for 360-degree panoramas of the cityscape; or wining and dining on Waiheke Island, one of New Zealand’s best wine regions. After a dose of Auckland’s city charm, a quick whisk by car or helicopter can leave you feeling miles from anywhere, yet in the lap of luxury and surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Head out of town to discover a host of watery distractions; or keep the sea as the sparkling backdrop for something drier, but equally memorable.
Not far from Auckland, Northland is a region of bush, bays and beautiful islands, remote and unspoiled; yet some of the country’s most luxurious residences are tucked into its private valleys or draped over commanding headlands. Attentive hosts will give you tailored experiences of some of the best things to do in Auckland.
At Eagles Nest, high above Russell in the Bay of Islands, a lodge with five different accommodation options, will it be the personal chef, or the personal trainer you go for? Or maybe treat yourself to both…. Kauri Cliffs effortlessly lives up to its award-winning reputation, with wide views over the sea, surrounded by its own golf course and fringed by three private beaches, one of them of tiny pink shells.
For something even more personal, The Landing Residences are elegant private homes of the highest quality, all with sweeping views and the services of a private chef (thelandingresidences.com). Go further south to try Helena Bay: opening at the end of 2016, the villas here are designed to answer every need, practical and aesthetic — and sometimes unconscious: did you know you wanted your own Turkish Hamam?
If you can tear yourself away from the accommodation, that sparkling sea offers a swathe of diversions. Charter any of the elegantly stylish yachts available that will open up the Bay of Islands, whether it’s fishing, diving or dolphin-watching that appeals to you. If it’s marlin or kingfish you’re after, the expert fishing charters in the region will give you the best chance of bagging the catch of a lifetime. Prefer to just look? Go diving or snorkelling at the Poor Knights group of islands, where warm currents foster a marine reserve of abundant richness.
For the region’s most premium golfing experiences, explore the Kauri Cliffs par 72 golf course. Try not to lose your concentration because of its distinctive views or lose your ball over a spectacular cliff. Then relax tired muscles to the attentions of the masseuse at the lodge’s spa in the quiet centre of a totara forest. With luxurious places to rest your head, it’s the dream getaway. Then make the acquaintance of Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest: New Zealand’s biggest kauri tree, a massive presence in the Waipoua Forest with its network of inviting walking tracks. Or get above even the mighty kauri on a helicopter ride to Cape Reinga, the country’s northernmost point where a lighthouse gleams white in the sun and the spirits of departed Māori creep down the gnarled pohutukawa to return to their ancestral home of Hawaiki.
Ten minutes to paradise
A short 35-minute ferry from Auckland or a ten-minute helicopter ride delivers you to Waiheke Island, one of the world’s favourite islands. Private, sandy beaches lapped by turquoise water and fringed by bush brimming with native birds are just the start of the simple joys to discover here. World-class wines and olive oils, quirky sculpture, lively markets, friendly locals and a laid-back lifestyle are balanced by serious luxury at retreats and restaurants that have been delighting increasing numbers of international celebrities. Follow Lady Gaga to Fossil Cove Estate, or Michael Douglas to Stonyridge, or Taylor Swift to Mudbrick.
Historically a retreat for the alternative and artistic, Waiheke is rich in the creative arts. Discover jewellery, clothes, paintings and equally lovingly-created foods at the colourful Ostend Saturday market, a weekly must-do for islanders and visitors alike. Visit the Connells Bay Sculpture Park where, tucked away in a peaceful and picturesque bay, you’ll find large scale site-specific artworks by New Zealand sculptors, on a guided walk around the property.
Waiheke, the holiday equivalent of New York’s Hamptons, punches above its weight on the world wine scene, and its vineyards are the perfect place to taste award-winning wines as you enjoy a leisurely lunch in the sun, or dinner as the sky glows behind the lights of the distant city. Sit by the topiary garden at Mudbrick as bees buzz around the lavender and rosemary and the adobe walls of the barn house soak up the heat. Perhaps enjoy a crisp rosé in the cool restaurant at Cable Bay, or recline outside on the wide lawn with its distant views of Auckland‘s city skyline. For a different feel entirely, drive deep into the island’s Far End to visit Man O’ War, where in the Tasting Room close to a pebbled beach, you can dither between rich reds and clean whites.
There’s far too much to explore and enjoy on Waiheke in a single day, so stay over on one of the island’s distinctive properties. Continue the nautical theme at The Boatshed, in one of its wood and glass beach houses overlooking sheltered Little Oneroa Bay. Or go for the spectacular overview in one of the airy, contemporary suites at Marino Ridge, a personalised retreat high on a hilltop with sweeping panoramas of the island, sea and distant city. If you need more choice, Waiheke Unlimited can supply a long list of tempting residences, from boutique beach cottage to spacious light-filled villa, featuring infinity pools, private beaches, personal chefs and concierge services.
Visible from the city, but so very separate from it, is the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, fringed with flowering trees along its nibbled coast. Two-and-a-half hours by car or just 30 minutes by helicopter, this mountainous peninsula once buzzed with gold miners. Today the colours of its treasures are blue sea, white sand, green bush and the bright scarlet of the pohutukawa flowers. Take time to breathe it all in at the Bushland Park Lodge & Retreat, ideally with a glass of champagne in a double claw-footed bush bathtub lit by the Milky Way.
The North Island’s beating heart is Lake Taupo: created by the world’s greatest eruption, the lake is so big that it has tides; and it still takes the breath away today. Around an hour by helicopter from Auckland Airport, the scenic and active delights of the region are easily accessible, and some seriously luxurious lodges await the discerning traveller. For luxe golf enthusiasts, start at the newly-opened The Lodge at Kinloch, which is set within the grounds of the Kinloch Golf Club.
For those wanting to unwind, stay in the exclusive Huka Lodge, that has welcomed everyone including the Queen of England. Its manicured lawns beside the foaming Waikato River surround a stately country retreat in the classic tradition. Just outside town, Acacia Cliffs Lodge is a collection of glass and wood triangles with long views over the lake, where dining is a refined, intimate experience. South of Taupo, there’s hiking and trout-fishing on offer at River Birches Lodge, close to the famous Tongariro Crossing one-day walk. At Poronui Lodge you might find it’s the tall tales by the log fire you enjoy just as much as the fun fly-fishing that initiates them; while at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Lake Taupo Lodge, your hosts are waiting to customise your Taupo experience.
Tucked into a private valley of native forest near Rotorua, Treetops offers guests a relaxed retreat in stone, wood and leather with nature-based active options like hiking, horse-trekking, fishing and hunting. On the shore of Lake Rotorua, Peppers on the Point is a classic 1930s mansion where comfort is paramount and you can walk out onto the private jetty to be met by a ski plane for a flight over Mt Tarawera’s dramatic split summit. Solitaire Lodge has such perfect views and delicious cuisine that guests are reluctant to leave its warm embrace.
It’s worth forcing yourself out of the cocoon, however: world-class fly-fishing on clear tumbling streams is within easy reach, the rivers offer an adrenaline rush to white-water rafters, while the hills are made for mountain-biking. Rotorua is the national centre for Māori culture, from dance to food to carving; the heli-tour to the sulphurous, steaming, unpredictable active volcano that is White Island is one of the most unforgettable things to do in Auckland.
Further south is New Zealand‘s premier art deco destination. A devastating earthquake in 1931 meant a rebirth for Napier as an Art Deco delight. Clean lines, colour, cars and costumes are celebrated in a host of events at the annual Festival in February, but guided tours operate year-round. Nearby Hawke’s Bay is renowned also for its wine, and perusing the vineyards is a must — an off-road guided bike tour is a safe and popular option.
Cape Kidnappers offers a gannet colony for nature-lovers and a world-famous golf course on top of the cliffs.
The estate at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is perhaps the most luxurious farm you’re likely to encounter: elegant accommodation, fine dining, spa treatments, and more besides. The area is known for its fresh produce, so why not stay with a chef? At Breckenridge Lodge, Malcolm Redmond will dazzle guests with his culinary skills; or if wine is your passion, stay on a vineyard at Black Barn, with an amphitheatre that has hosted memorable musical events. Greenhill Lodge offers over 100 years of history in a homestead surrounded by lush, peaceful gardens.