As the golden rays of summer start to ripen and become more slanted, it’s the optimum time to explore the sweep of Auckland’s watery delights. Chiefly propelled by the show-boating imperatives of the Rugby World Cup, the Queen City’s prime waterfront has never looked so good. Nor has it been so open and appealing to promenade. Viaduct Harbour, a prime spot for hospitality and residential living, is the enduring legacy from our nation’s America’s Cup exploits. But to the east and west of the Viaduct, the Britomart Precinct and the Wynyard Quarter are the sexy new siblings on the public block, adding verve and texture to the water’s edge. In the shadow of the graceful old Ferry Building, Britomart is the newest shopping district, with an excellent and eclectic array of designer boutiques, specialty stores, bars and cafes. Graze from seasonal goodies and artisan produce at the City Farmer’s’ Market, operating every Saturday morning. Survey the quirky visual works of art at the Britomart Project Space. Check out the spanking-new shopping gallery, Atrium at Takutai, and browse the fabulous home furnishings and gifts at the design store, Nood. Heading west through Viaduct harbour, the Voyager Maritime Museum remains one of Auckland’s premier visitor attractions. The Blue Water Black Magic tribute to Sir Peter Blake, is a stirring exhibition and you can top off your maritime history exploration with a 60 minute harbour sailing on the Waitemata. Tootle around the Viaduct’s broad promenade, bristling with yachts berthed in the harbour, navigating your way to the latest waterside urban space of Wynyard Quarter. If you have little ones in tow, they’ll love the new maritime-themed playspace. Jump aboard a Dockline Tram and take a ride around Wynyard Loop. These two heritage trams, dating back to the 1920s,have only recently returned to Auckland’s streets for the first time in half a century. For lip-smackingly scrumptious fish and chips, and a sublime selection of seafood fresh off the boat, pay a visit to the Auckland Fish Market. In a tip of the hat to Wynyard’s industrial heritage, the towering cement silos – previously derided as odious eyesores – have been retained at Silo Park and some of the tanks have been regenerated as art installations. Silo Park is an edgy precinct for open-air gigs, summertime movie screenings and the Friday night markets are particularly popular. Accentuating Auckland’s new-found love for its expansive waterfront playground, the Auckland Seafood Festival is looming on the horizon. Staged on Wynyard Quarter’s Halsey Wharf, during Auckland Anniversary Weekend, this extravagant seafood celebration comprises a stunning collection of Neptune’s harvest, craft beers and wines, celebrity chefs, master cooking classes and a spooling reel of live music and entertainment.
How sweet it is to awaken on the Viaduct, on a calm Auckland morning, with the harbour mirror-smooth and the opening brackets of sunrise painting the sky in apricot and nectarine hues. Commanding a unique maritime location on the Auckland waterfront, with panoramic views of the city skyline, the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour is the new girl in town, exuding a five-star luxury experience, at surprisingly affordable rates. The landmark Sofitel property, officially opened just six months ago, seamlessly blends in with its surrounds. Upon entering the lobby, it’s the drama of the gushing water-features – the perfect compliment to the City of Sails – that captivated my attention. The hotel houses 172 expertly crafted bedrooms and suites. They are light and airy, softly-toned and chic. Every room boasts a private balcony and floor-to ceiling windows, to help savour the soul-rinsing views, oversized bathrooms with rainshowers, personal espresso machines, all the expected mod-cons, plus Sofitel’s legendary “MyBed” , which is like sleeping on a cloud. Dine at the hotel’s Lava Restaurant, a magnificently designed space that celebrates the volcanic richness of Auckland, and features an innovative riot of gourmet New Zealand cuisine, with award-winning wines to match. In keeping with the celebratory atmosphere that the hotel exudes, and the French traditions of sabering a bottle of bubbly, pop in to the Sabrage Champagne Bar, where you can even try your hand at the Napoleonic custom of cracking open a bottle of Champagne. Joie de vivre.
WHERE TO STAY.
Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour welcomes non-residents to the Sabrage Bar and Lava Restaurant. A variety of hotel deals are available on-line, including romantic packages, and special deals where you can stay three nights and only pay for two. http://www.sofitel.com
( First published in Mike Yardley’s weekly travel page, syndicated through all APN regional newspapers. January, 2013.)