Auckland: exploring the heart of the city

Let’s start at Albert Park, which I thought was named after my father, Albert, until I was old enough to realise that it was named after Queen Victoria’s husband. It’s always beautifully groomed and blooming – even in the leafless winter something flowers brightly. All year round groups of people do tai chi in the park, children climb the big buttress roots of Morton Bay figs and, during the university seasons, it fills with students, courting, studying and sitting in the sun.

The back of Auckland Art Gallery opens to Albert Park. I admire the finely wood-worked figurative kauri forest supporting the canopy above the terrace and the vast floral chandler within. It’s an 1888 French Renaissance building, beautifully blended with a 21st century addition.

Queen Street is a long promenade of shops, as is High Street that runs parallel to it, but shopping is another story. At the bottom of Queen Street, at the harbour end, Britomart Train Station is where heritage-meets-post-modern architectural-joy. It’s worth spending some time here.

Stroll through the station’s glasshouse rear to Britomart, six hectares of urban-cool built around 18 heritage buildings and a few snazzy new ones. This area is edgy with fashion shops: Zambezi, World, Kate Sylvester, Karen Walker and more. There are bars, restaurants and cafes, lawns littered with beanbags on sunny days, and children playing in the fountains.

Next on my city walk is the Viaduct Basin, where harbour, wharves, boats and cafes and bars all mingle in a bright and shiny perfusion. There are usually a bunch of super-yachts tied-up – even more in the summer months – to be gawped at, to wonder how those really, really rich people live.

There is a pretty bridge across Viaduct Basin to Wynyard Quarter. This area was once home to a tank farm and fish factories, but is now undergoing transformation into an urban playground with three kilometres of harbour-front. The bars at North Wharf buzz on a sunny day or in the evenings.

Auckland 4 (2)

Another favourite Auckland haunt is Auckland Domain, with its stately museum, warm winter-garden, gorgeous greenery and interesting sculpture walk. It spreads over 75 hectares and, with all there is to do and see here, a visit can easily take much of a day.

The hilltop, neo-Greek-style, Auckland War Memorial Museum and Cenotaph was built in 1929. The view from the steps over the harbour and the city is sublime and, inside, the museum has the world’s best collection of Maori and Pacific art and artefacts.

The heart of the Auckland Domain, a wide expanse of grassy sports fields, was once the crater of one of Auckland’s many little volcanoes. It has been filled in but the tuff ring of the volcano provides perfect arena seating from which to watch games or, in the summer, the big, free, concerts that are often held here.

The Domain Wintergardens are an all-season delight. These two large Victorian glasshouses are always ablaze with fabulous floral displays. The heated tropical glasshouse is a steamy paradise of orchids, banana trees, mysterious lilies, dangling, fly-eating flowers and bright vines.

Just outside the Wintergarden, near the lakes and ice-cream kiosk, a tall shiny stainless steel sculpture supports a bunch of similarly shiny pick-up-sticks. It’s light and playful and this Millennium Tree is the work of Wellington’s Guy Ngan. It’s a gift to from the Chinese community and tells a story of love – love for this openhearted, multicultural city.

Check out the full article in issue #133 of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine (on sale now!). Subscribe here.

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