AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND: Things to see and do outside of town

Like any mid-sized city, Auckland has its share of things to see and do. But visitors to New Zealand’s largest city will find there is as much to do beyond the city’s boundaries as there is to do in town.

Auckland is called the City of Sails for the large number of sailing vessels that take to the multitude of harbors that abut the city. “Set amongst volcanic islands, it’s the perfect playground for yachties,” effused one website.

Mount Victoria "towering" over downtown Devonport 

In fact, of the top 10 things to do in Auckland listed on TripAdvisor, four involve getting away from Auckland, in many cases by boat. Ferries that depart Queens Wharf or Princes Wharf will take visitors just about anywhere they want to go. They run frequently and are reasonably priced. Tour buses, city buses and rental cars are among the options for land excursions.

On my first full day in the city, I took at short ride to Devonport, about 15 minutes across the bay. A quaint little seaside town, it had the usual retinue of boutiques, shops and stores but it also has Mount Victoria, an extinct volcano in the middle of town. Avid walkers can climb to the top in about 20 minutes (it is actually a walk along paved roads and not really a climb) or drive to the summit, which is 283 feet above sea level, for some great views of Auckland.

Seagull and city view from atop Mount Victoria

Mount Victoria was also the site of Fort Victoria. In 1885, fears that the young colony would be attacked by the Russian Pacific Fleet prompted the fortification of the mountain and the installation of four guns taken from H.M.S. Nelson. Today, a bunker and a decommissioned cannon still remain in place.

Having worked up an appetite climbing to the top, I decided to have lunch at a pub called The Patriot. Its selection of local beers and "pub grub" was impressive, but not nearly as impressive as its Wall of Fame (or shame, depending on your perspective) where it lists patrons who have downed between 100 and 5,000 pints of Guinness.

Wall of Fame at The Patriot Pub

New Zealand is, of course, known for its wines. At 37 degrees south latitude, it is approximately as far south of the equator as California’s Napa Valley is north. The Marlborough region on the south island is arguably the most famous, but wines are made most everywhere in New Zealand, predominated by two white varietals (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris) and the red Pinot Noir.

On my second day, I took a 40-minute ferry ride to Waiheke Island, home of at least a dozen and a half wineries.

As a traveler who prefers to explore on my own rather than being guided around by the hand, I was planning to take the local bus, which goes fairly close to about a third of the wineries. I figured three would be about my limit. But the good people of Waiheke Island, despite having the wherewithal to spend in excess of NZ$1,000,000 for waterfront homes, have not invested in a bus system that operates more than once an hour.

That means an independent traveler like myself, who took the ferry from the Auckland waterfront, would likely have to wait a while for the bus (I was told “Another 25 minutes” when I alighted from the ferry), then spend close to an hour at each winery. Not very workable.

Oneroa Bay, Waiheke Island

There are rental cars available, but the cost is approximately the same as that of taking an organized tour. As well, renting a car in New Zealand brings the challenge of driving on what is “the wrong side of the road” for North Americans and most Europeans, a challenge that could be exacerbated by tasting (perhaps too much) wine.

If choosing to rent a car (or even a scooter, for that matter), consider designating a non-drinking driver, as the potential of receiving a D.U.I. should not be ignored. The presumptive level of intoxication is expressed in New Zealand legislation as 50 mg of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, which translates to 0.05 percent blood alcohol level (BAL), which is considerably lower that the presumptive impairment levels of 0.08 percent BAL in U.S. states.

MY RECOMMENDATION: If you plan to go wine-tasting, book a tour. Certainly, they may be more expensive than doing it on your own but it will save you the hassle and potential exposure of venturing out independently.

Many other areas offer different attractions. A long-time and well-traveled friend had the following recommendations of things to see and do, which I was not able to fit in during my brief visit.

Rangitoto Island as seen from Mount Victoria

"Visit Rangitoto Island, attend and All-Blacks rugby match or a cricket match," he said. "If you can get out of Auckland, Rotorua (about 160 kilometers south of Auckland) has a host of Maori-related functions along with geothermal wonders. Visit the Glow Worm Caves and related spelunking at Waitomo (about 190 km south). A visit to Whakapapa (about 350 km south) puts you on the slopes of Mt Doom," he noted.

“About 45 kilometers north of Auckland is Puhoi (the pub and clientele are unique), Warkworth (about 60 km north) and Matakana (about 67 km north). I love the pub and Ascension Winery there,” he said.

If you are not game to rent a car and try driving on the left-hand side of the road, public transportation to most of these areas is available.

Auckland skyline as seen from the water

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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