A great itinerary for Auckland, New Zealand’s most cosmopolitan city

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Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand, is proof that it's possible to be cosmopolitan without losing your compassion

 

From right to left: the Americas, Europe and Africa, then Asia and Oceania. This is how most countries see the world map. Not New Zealand. There, the immense blue of the Pacific Ocean sits right in the middle, with the islands as protagonists in this nation of less than 5 million inhabitants. It's a different point of view. Though its architecture has European a air, its weather resembles that of California, and its landscapes look like something from Peru or Brazil, the unique mixture of Polynesian, Asian, and British culture shows the wealth that lies, defying the obvious – even on the map.

 

Though not the capital (the political center is Wellington), Auckland, on the North Island, is New Zealand's main city, and also the one that best embodies its complexity. Many travelers will pass it by, heading straight for Queenstown, the center for extreme sports on the South Island. It’s a shame. With nearly 1.5 million inhabitants, Auckland is pure charm, located on a strait that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Tasman Sea. It's closer to Latin America than you might imagine: “just” an 11-hour flight from Santiago (the equivalent of São Paulo to Paris, for example), proof that the Earth is indeed round.

 

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From its main landmark, the Sky Tower, a structure that appears to be from out of this world, you can see modern buildings as well as parks, nature reserves, islands formed by volcanoes, and lots of water. It is evident that the city is known as the sailing capital of the world as the sight of masts crossing the skies is an integral part of the scenery. From the port, it's possible to admire the arriving and departing vessels and also set foot on one that once participated in the America’s Cup (a kind of Formula 1 on water) – schedule your visit with the group Explore. It's also where you can catch one of the many ferries that sail to Devonport, an adorable suburb with little Victorian houses and the best view of the skyline – just a 12-minute trip.

 

The Oceania way

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It's lunchtime in Auckland. And, at the central square in the neighborhood of Britomart, the rush is only noticeable on the gigantic colorful pouffes placed on the grass, all of which are highly coveted. In a city of human dimensions and where breaks are valued (there are benches on every corner and in every square), nothing suggests hurry or overcrowding. The restaurants are full and lively, but never packed. Just like the international brand-name stores, like Tiffany's, and the national ones, like the fascinating World, which sells everything from clothes to cosmetics. Day and night, Britomart is the spot for Auckland's chic and sophisticated consumerism.

 

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Meanwhile, the hipsters head for the historic neighborhood of Ponsonby, filled with more alternative shops, food markets (try Ponsonby Central), and restaurants that value local ingredients. One of the best is Orphans Kitchen, run by chef Tom Hishon, a surfer who's big into foraging (the act of going into the region's forest and beaches to scavenge for spices and seasonings) and prefers little intervention in his raw materials. For drinks, be sure to stop by the Love Bucket, an upbeat bar where cocktails are served in barrels, as if they were draft beers, or Madame George, which also has quality dishes to go with the drinks.

 

Respect for the past

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One of the last portions of the globe to be inhabited by the human species, New Zealand was an isolated land that developed a biodiversity all of its own (fun facts: there are no venomous animals there, like snakes, there, and the bird that's emblematic of the country, the kiwi, has shrunken wings simply because it didn't have many predators before humans). It was only between 1250 and 1300 that the first people set foot there, navigators from Polynesia who were later christened the Maori. New Zealand, Easter Island, and Hawaii form the three points of the so-called Polynesian Triangle, which contains several islands.

 

When the Europeans arrived in the 17th century, a relationship of cooperation was established that culminated in the signing of a treaty of cohabitation between the British and the Maori in 1840. Though not always simple, the coexistence of the nation's two main ethnic groups is relatively peaceful, and Maori remains the official language, alongside English. One of the best places in Auckland to understand the local history is the War Memorial Museum, which has everything from ornaments and boats from the first conquerors to releated documents. Another essential stop for anyone who enjoys art and history is the Auckland Art Gallery, located in a building that reopened in 2011 as a good example of (beautiful!) contemporary New Zealand architecture. Inside are historic photos of great Maori leaders and contemporary works, completely surrounded by a garden.

 

Wild-life

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It only takes 40 minutes to get from downtown Auckland to the isolated Piha Beach on the Tasman Sea, famous for its black volcanic sands rich in iron (take a magnet there and see what happens) and for having served as a location in the movie The Piano (1993). The scene is heavenly, framed by gigantic Lion Rock and bucolic houses that are home to such restaurants as Piha Café, a great place for brunch (a favorite meal in New Zealand).

 

The road that leads there is equally adorable and it runs through Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, which has a marvelous view of the shore. On the way there, you'll come across the Karekare Falls, a terrain filled with some of the country's most beautiful plant species, including the gigantic silver fern, ancient trees known as kauris, and tons of birds on an unforgettable excursion reminiscent of Jurassic Park.

 

Gourmet island

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There's a ferry that leaves from Auckland's main port that will take you to Tuscany in 30 minutes flat. But on the real, Waiheke does look like something straight out of Italy – it's an island filled with vineyards, olive plantations, and honey producers (made from the nectar of the Manuka tree, which has anti-inflammatory properties, Manuka honey is a source of natural pride). One of the most charming wineries is Mudbrick, whose haute cuisine restaurant is located inside a historical house overlooking the ocean.

 

For those who prefer a more touristy activity, Stonyridge offers tours of its cellars and upbeat lunches set to electronic music. Another can't-miss excursion is a visit to the award-winning olive oil producer Rangihoua, where the olives in production are harvested. Before you leave, buy an artistic souvenir at the store owned by Timmy Smith, a local sculptor who creates poetic pieces adorned with beach sands of different tones from around New Zealand. It's one way to take a little piece of nostalgia with you.

 

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Tips from locals

Paola King-Borrero, visual artist

 

What makes Auckland so special?

The diversity. Here we live alongside Polynesians, Maoris, Latinos, Indians, Asians, and Europeans. Also, I love the quiet life.

 

Favorite restaurant?

Mezze Bar, which serves Turkish food with Spanish wines.

 

Best neighborhood?

Devonport, filled with interesting galleries and bars too.

 

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Tips from locals

Tom Hishon, chef at the restaurant Orphans Kitchen

 

What makes Auckland so special?

The proximity to the ocean and the possibility of finding incredible ingredients in the wild nature.

 

The best restaurant in town, aside from yours?

Pasture. Opened over a year ago, it serves light and creative cuisine.

 

The best beach?

Takapuna, where you can see the island and the volcano of Rangitoto. I go for a walk there every morning.

 

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Tips from locals

Bob Scott, sommelier

 

What makes Auckland so special?

It's a big city that's right near natural paradises like Waiheke. In 30 minutes, you're surrounded by nature.

 

A can't-miss activity in the city?

Having some of the good local wines and a lot of seafood. New Zealand is famous for its sauvignon blancs, but it also produces some incredible chardonnays and reds. 

 

A tiny New Zealander dictionary

Aotearoa: New Zealand, in Maori.

Haka: a traditional Maori dance. Kia Ora: “Hello,” in Maori.

Kiwi: name of the bird that's the country's national mascot, of the fruit (christened in honor of the bird, not the other way around), and the name by which New Zealanders are identified.

Maori people: Polynesians who were the first inhabitants of the region.

Pakeha: New Zealander of European origin.

 

LATAM has direct flights to Auckland from Santiago and Sydney.

 

Special thanks to: Tourism New Zealand

 

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On your way to this destination, you can try the new Economy Class menu that LATAM now serves on flights longer than seven hours. It features several options of international and vegetarian dishes, made with local ingredients, created to offer you a better experience. A new menu to make your senses fly high.