Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, and is a bustling, metropolitan centre. The city and its suburbs sprawl across a thousand square kilometres – but its one-and-a-half million inhabitants have a few secrets. They’re more than willing to share them, but most visitors seem content to visit the city centre sights and then move on.
Auckland’s CBD is on the southern side of the Waitemata harbour, and it’s connected to the northern suburbs – North Shore City – by the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which carries State Highway One. That State Highway continues all the way to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga in the far north – but you only have to travel a few hundred metres over the Harbour Bridge and there’s plenty to do and explore.
Devonport has a charming, village atmosphere, with artisan cafes (we recommend the Stone Oven bakery (stoneoven.co.nz) for fantastic breads and cakes), antique shops and art galleries. There is also a ferry connecting the township directly with the Auckland CBD, which leaves from the Devonport Pier.
The suburb is very green, with a large, waterfront park alongside the Pier. Further along the waterfront is Devonport’s Naval museum. A walk to the top of Mount Victoria gives stunning views of the Waitemata Harbour.
The summit also has a variety of wartime concrete bunkers and one of the world’s last remaining ‘disappearing’ guns, mounted on a special carriage which hid it from enemy view. The defences were built to protect against a suspected Russian invasion – which never happened.
Further up the coast is Takapuna Beach, with a magnificent stretch of golden sand, and an even more magnificent view of Auckland’s most recently formed volcano, Rangitoto. The beach is down a fairly steep slope from the Takapuna shopping centre, and although there is a car park, it is often full.
Rangitoto itself is a popular destination – it can be reached by ferry from Devonport Pier, and is a remarkable example of how nature can reclaim the bare volcanic soil following an eruption. You can climb to the top of the volcano, but be sure to take sunscreen, water and wear some sturdy shoes.
The beaches of North Shore City are part of its attraction – further up from Takapuna are Milford, Torbay, and Brown’s Bay, and many small coves. All are easy to reach and unique in their own way.
Long Bay is part of a regional park, and despite the building of some modern housing estates in recent years, offers some beautiful clifftop walks. If you walk north along the beach from the main car park, at the northern end of the beach you can wade across a shallow creek at low tide and follow the clifftop path past the charmingly named Granny’s Bay to Piripiri Point and the Okura river mouth. If the tide is high, there is a path at the back of the car park. It’s hard to believe you are still close to the centre of Auckland’s largest city on this path.
Travel further north to the Whangaparaoa peninsula, and you will find – according to locals – a beach for each month of the year, and one spare, just in case. The peninsula stretches back towards Rangitoto, and, although it appears quite suburban as you drive along the central main road, it offers a variety of different beaches on either side.
Red Beach takes its name from the pinkish colored sand. Stanmore Bay is long and mostly sandy, with cliffs at one end and a park at the other, with pohutakawa trees for shade all along. Matakatia Bay is shallow and gravelly, with an island just out to sea. The beaches in the Shakespear Regional Park at Te Haruhi, Okoromai and Army Bays are all different, set in parkland.
From Gulf Harbour, you can catch a ferry to the island at the end of the peninsula, Tiritiri Matangi, an open nature reserve, and is a paradise for birdwatchers keen to catch a glimpse of the elusive kiwi or takahe. The name means “tossed by the wind” in Maori. There are guided tours to help you make the most of a visit.
The northern end of the beach is slightly wilder than the south, and the long, straight swim is popular with athletes training for endurance events. There is a lookout on the main road out of the northern end of the town – well worth a stop.
Auckland is so much more than just a big city – and a couple of days spent in its northern reaches are well worth the time.