Auckland: The Kiwi sailors' launch party just goes on and on

For superb fish and chips, designer fashion and a spin on an America's Cup yacht, Bridget Stott picks Auckland

Still on a high from their America's Cup victory last year, Aucklanders are continuing to party hard - and that's easy in a town packed with great restaurants, bars and nightclubs. But Auckland is a great place for a hangover, as it epitomises New Zealand's newly fashionable clean and green lifestyle. Streets are litter-free and lush, tropical parks give way to the sparkling Waitemata and Manukau harbours and a clutch of city beaches. Less than half an hour's drive from the city centre, you'll find fantastic native bush, a wild, rugged coastline and some of the country's top vineyards. With some justification, Auckland is being billed as the new Sydney.

Still on a high from their America's Cup victory last year, Aucklanders are continuing to party hard - and that's easy in a town packed with great restaurants, bars and nightclubs. But Auckland is a great place for a hangover, as it epitomises New Zealand's newly fashionable clean and green lifestyle. Streets are litter-free and lush, tropical parks give way to the sparkling Waitemata and Manukau harbours and a clutch of city beaches. Less than half an hour's drive from the city centre, you'll find fantastic native bush, a wild, rugged coastline and some of the country's top vineyards. With some justification, Auckland is being billed as the new Sydney.

Why Go?

Auckland, with a population of just under a million, is the centre of the Kiwi and Polynesian universe. People often ignore the city in their rush to explore the breathtaking New Zealand wilderness, but Auckland has a buzz of its own, with enviable dance music, fashion and restaurant scenes and the largest Polynesian and Maori populations in the South Pacific. Its inhabitants own more boats per head than anyone else on the planet. It remains a small town, while maintaining a cultured and cosmopolitan flavour.

Why Now?

With the Kiwi dollar temptingly low and summer here lasting until late April, you can bask in the sunshine while living it up in a city that already offers good value for money. Throughout the summer Auckland Council stages a number of festivals and events, including weekly Music in the Park concerts in a huge centrally located park known as the Domain.

The Mission

The most exciting part of town these days is the America's Cup village. Take a water taxi from the quayside of Viaduct Basin to see it at its best. Built to service the America's Cup teams, their boats and the international yacht set, this thriving new quayside "village" is packed with lively restaurants, cafés and bars thronged with tourists, rugby types and yachties.

The harbour is a major draw; the Quay Street ferry terminal sells tickets for harbour cruises and island trips. You can hire a yacht for the day or join the crew of the NZL 40, the America's Cup yacht that took the Kiwis to victory in 1995.

Auckland's fashionable people wouldn't be seen dead in deck shoes. Instead, you will find them shopping at NZ designer stores, World, Streetlife and Karen Walker or wearing the Fifties retro street style known locally as "Kiwiana".

At night the action moves to Ponsonby. Nearby, the infamous Karangahape Road - aka "K" Road - offers a mix of designer shops, bars and nightclubs including the dance venue Calibre in St Kevin's Arcade, and the Moroccan-style Galatos on Galatos Street. Back in town, you can lounge around at Wyndham Street's Crow Bar or the Hobson Street Lounge, before dancing at the Grand Circle at St James's Theatre on Queen Street.

In the morning, come down with a visit to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World. A collection of underground sewage tanks has been transformed into an aquarium linked by tubular transparent walkways. Kelly Tarlton's also features an authentic reconstruction of Captain Scott's Antarctic base camp, complete with king penguins.

Another uniquely Auckland experience is the Saturday market at Newbury Street, Otara, from 6am to 12pm. This south Auckland suburb is home to a large Polynesian community and is the best place to pick up authentic Pacific island souvenirs, from hand-printed sarongs to woven flax bags.

Remember This

Auckland has a more awesome hinterland than just about any city. Waiheke, the most populous island, has several fine boutique vineyards including Mud Brick, Stoney Ridge and the Peninsula Estate. All are open for tastings and offer stunning lunches in very picturesque settings. Try a Sunday morning cruise on the Milk Run ferry from Sandspit to Kawau Island, or lunch at the Leigh Sawmill Café followed by snorkelling at the nearby Goat Island marine reserve.

Auckland has no shortage of spotlessly clean beaches, some just a few minutes' drive from the centre. The city beaches at Mission Bay and St Heliers have a brash and breezy, English resort feel, while the North Shore's long, sandy beaches at Cheltenham and Takapuna are more laid-back. It takes less than an hour to drive to Auckland's wild west coast, with Piha the most accessible of these black-sand surf beaches. If you pass the camping shop, pick up a bag of hot cinnamon doughnuts and "a flat white" (an espresso with hot milk).Other fantastic beaches along this coast include Muriwai with its gannet colony, Anawhata and Bethells.

Eating Out

Auckland excels at great value, easy-going cooking. Enthusiasts say it's as good as the Sydney food scene - and a lot more accessible for the budget traveller. For the best in contemporary and "fusion" cuisine and stylish surroundings, try Stella, Bolliwood, Otto Woo, Prego or SPQR on Ponsonby Road, Metropole or Cibo in Parnell, First Floor in Newmarket, Vinnies in Herne Bay and Café Rikka above Victoria Park Market.

On sunny weekends, le tout Auckland does brunch. The Cooker on Jervois Road, Dizengoff on Ponsonby Road, with its legendary mushrooms on toast (NZ$11.50/ £3.50) and Gloria on Anzac Avenue are best for breakfast. Even the fast food is worth a mention: award-winning Ponsonby Pies, Burger Fuel burgers, sushi from St Pierre in the Downtown Plaza, a shawarma pitta from Kebab Kid on Parnell Rise or classic Kiwi fish and chips.

Where To Stay

The newest place in town is Somerset Grand Metropolis just up from High Street. This chic, all-suite hotel has comfortable, corporate-style interiors and great views. A deluxe double room here costs NZ$249 (£75) a night, (tel: 00 64 9 300 8800). More stylish is the new Hilton Hotel: due to open in April, the building takes up the entire length of an old quay and, is built to resemble a luxury ocean liner.

Auckland is awash with grotty motels and motor inns, but also has a number of reasonably priced boutique b&bs - try the Ponsonby Bed & Breakfast from NZ$125 (£38) a night. City backpackers are very good value. Try the Brown Kiwi, at 7 Prosford Road, Ponsonby (tel: 00 64 9 378 0191) or Leadbetter Lodge, 17 St Georges Bay Road, Parnell (tel:00 64 9 358 0665).

Getting There

Air New Zealand (tel: 020-8600 7600) offers direct return flights from London via LA and Fiji, £865. Call TrailFinders on 020-7938 3939 for stopover deals: Korean Air, cheapest at £556, includes optional stopovers in Seoul and Fiji.

Further Information

For brochures call Tourism New Zealand (tel: 020-7930 1662; net: www.purenz.com).

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