FLYING into Auckland, the brilliant green ocean and rugged mountain peaks New Zealand is famous for dominate the landscape.
New Zealand’s North Island might be a quick 3.5-hour flight from Sydney, however I already feel a world away as I hit the tarmac on a mid-December day, with a cool breeze tempering the summer sun behind it.
Our first stop - and home for the next two days - is Accor Hotel’s hip lifestyle property, SO/ Auckland.
Stepping through the doors, the design of the hotel, formerly the old Reserve Bank of New Zealand, immediately echoes the building’s heritage and volcanic origin and it is easy to be swept away from the hustle of the city and into a world of luxury and comfort with renowned New Zealand designer Benny Castles’ eclectic and playful mix of design and luxury on display.
Later, relaxing in my room, I start to feel the ‘real world’ slip away.
From my open balcony, I sit and relax; drinking in the city view and watching the visiting cruise ships pull into dock.
Luxury is in the details and SO/ Auckland has this down to a fine art. There are rose petals for the deep bath [fun fact, every bath from every room boasts a view of the outside world], plush slippers waiting next to my bed, and knowledgeable and professional staff who are rightfully proud of their hotel and city.
Wanting to enjoy the best food and wine Auckland has to offer, we really don’t have to go far and take the lift up to the hotel’s 16th floor Hi-SO rooftop bar for cocktails at sunset.
Hotel bars can be notoriously bland affairs, however not so with the HI-So bar.
This is a destination bar in its own right and is quickly becoming an Auckland hot spot for locals and tourists alike.
The standout feature of the HI-SO bar is without a doubt the wide, spacious balcony, offering visitors uninterrupted views over Waitemata Harbour, and beyond to Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands.
As the sun set, and music drifted into the night, it was time to down cocktails and head down a floor to enjoy the Harbour Society restaurant with French chef Marc de Passorio, formerly of Michelin-starred L’Esprit de la Violette, at the helm.
Mixing the finest of local produce with Passorio’s French heritage cuisine, the menu was next level decadence; salmon mousse appetisers, king crab entrée, local roasted Venison mains and a Brownie/Parfait dessert that I still sit and dream about. Harbour Society, like the bar above, is a place for both locals and tourists to dine, and another reason why SO has become an integral part of the city’s social atmosphere.
There’s no shortage of cool spots for an after-dark tipple in Auckland but I definitely recommend swinging by this New York-inspired basement bar.
There are no signs so whilst it’s not easy to find, it’s totally worth the effort. Walk down a set of unassuming stairs, and you enter this intimate, speakeasy cocktail style bar and are promptly shown to a table. The Caretaker is table service only, and much to our amusement, there was no cocktail menu in sight. Instead, our waiter takes a minute to ask each of us at the table a few taste-inspired questions and within minutes we all had a unique cocktail tailored to our preference. The low lighting, intimate setting and professional service makes the Caretaker a top pick for after-dark drinks.
Bularangi Motorbikes New Zealand.
What better way to see the region and the picturesque countryside than on the back of a Harley Davidson?
The motorbike hire, motorbike rental and motorbike tour operation offers services throughout New Zealand with depots in Auckland, Coromandel, Christchurch and Queenstown.
We opt for a chauffeured passenger tour – perfect for those of us without a motorbike licence – and are met at the hotel and promptly suited up in leathers. Within minutes, we left the city limits and were on the open road.
We soon discover our tour guides are not only passionate locals but incredibly knowledgeable about Auckland and New Zealand in general.
The surrounding countryside really is one spectacular moment after another and I loved riding through Mission Bay with its waters of aquamarine, enjoying uninterrupted views of Auckland’s iconic Rangitoto Island and the rolling green hills and farmland. This was the perfect way to get out of the city and enjoy the incredible scenery.
If it’s good shopping you’re after, you won’t be disappointed in this hip neighbourhood.
Following a regeneration of the waterfront suburb, the Britomart district, a seamless blend of Auckland’s oldest buildings and newest architecture, is teeming with designer boutiques, bars, restaurants and office buildings.
At lunchtime each day, the outside spaces blossom with pop-up picnic tables and beanbags, perfect for weary shoppers to rest their tired feet.
Home to some of New Zealand’s finest home-grown success stories, you can browse the designer racks at Karen Walker or Zambesi, enjoy the eclectic energy and design that is WORLD (home of SO/ Auckland designer Benny Castles) or enjoy some of New Zealand’s finest seafood and local produce at Amano.