Destination of the Week: Auckland

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For today’s Destination of the Week, we head to the other land down under – a magical island nation of hobbit hovels, snowcapped mountains, spectacular bays and some of the world’s most pristine landscapes, New Zealand, to visit the small but cosmopolitan city of Auckland.

Aerial shot of downtown Auckland.
An aerial shot of Auckland’s central business district.

WHAT TO DO

Although a lot of travelers tend to just fly through Auckland on their way to some of New Zealand’s adventure hotspots like Queenstown or the Bay of Islands, New Zealand’s largest city has plenty to offer travelers, whether you want to spend a few hours or a few days. With just over 1 million people, Auckland feels like both a big city and a small, friendly town where you’re likely to run into people you’ve already met after just a few days. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking for activities and excitement, though.

Viaduct Harbour.
Spend some time out on Viaduct Harbour.

Almost every tourist spends an hour or two out on the harbor on a jet boat with companies like Auckland Jet Boat Tours, which conveniently operates between the two waterfront shopping, entertainment and dining districts of Viaduct Harbour and the Wynyard Quarter, where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch at casual restaurants like Portside Bar and Brasserie  or a hearty meal of pub grub and draft beers at Jack Tar, or perhaps just a glass of New Zealand wine at The Conservatory. In the evening, you can take a gourmet seafood-focused cooking class at the Auckland Fish Markets just across the street. You can also take a more sedate cruise around Waitemata Harbour with 360 Discovery Cruise. You can spend another day taking the ferry to beautiful Waiheke Island where you can hang out on the beach after tasting wines from some of New Zealand’s most exciting up-and-coming wineries or enjoy a multi-course gourmet tasting lunch at one of them.

You can also head out of the city by car to the wide and wild beaches of Auckland’s Pacific coast including Piha, which can get a bit rough but has beautiful rock formations, or the calm white sand beaches of Tekapuna Beach on the North Shore, on your way back, stop through Kumeu for a tasting or two at the little wineries and breweries dotted about here and there in the area.

Nuffield Street Newmarket
Nuffield Street Newmarket.

For shopping there are tons of boutiques at Nuffield Street Newmarket as well as cute little shops and art galleries in the close-in suburb of Parnell. Another little neighborhood dating to the 19th century, Ponsonby is packed with cool one-off boutiques and some of the city’s most popular restaurants including SPQR, where Kiwis line up for tables to enjoy the wood-fired pizzas. For something a little trendier, try celebrity chef Al Brown’s latest restaurant, Depot, across the street from the SKYCITY Casino complex in the central business district where the gregarious chef serves up seasonal New Zealand produce and meats in imaginative presentations, all in a gastropub-like setting. At SKYCITY itself is dine by Peter Gordon, the hometown restaurant of Air New Zealand’s consulting chef – so you might get to try his food on your flight over as well.  Vinnies is another Auckland institution thanks to chef Geoff Scott’s simple but elegant menu. If you’re in town over the weekend, Saturday morning is a great time to stop by La Cigale French Markets in Parnell to graze through the fresh wares at one of the area’s best farmer’s market – and one that draws purveyors from all over the North Island, and then have a cafe au lait and croissant before perusing the shelves of gourmet wares inside the upscale market itself.

 Cathedral Cove
Head over to Cathedral Cove where you can go scuba diving or sea kayaking.

If you’ve got an extra day or two on your hands but don’t want to venture too far from the city, the lush, rainforest-covered Coromandel Peninsula is just a two-hour drive from Auckland, and has gorgeous white sand beaches as well as activities like sea kayaking and scuba diving in Cathedral Cove, yachts you can charter for cruises along the dramatic coastline, numerous paths and tracks to hike and bike on your own, and historical gold rush towns like Thames and Coromandel, whose streets are now lined with shops and artists’ studios.

Whether it’s a quick city visit or a few days to leisurely explore its various neighborhoods and surrounding areas, Auckland is a great destination to get your bearings and get to know New Zealand a little better.

YOUR EXPERIENCES
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand, a member of Star Alliance, has its hub at Auckland Airport.

Auckland Airport is the largest airport in New Zealand, serving around 15 million passengers a year. Air New Zealand, a member of Star Alliance, has its hub here and flies direct to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver on the West Coast as well as Honolulu.

The LAX flights are aboard the airline’s flaghip 777-300ER’s, which are outfitted with its newest classes of service including economy “SkyCouches,” “Space Pod” seats in Premium Economy, and the latest Business Premier product. To get here aboard Air New Zealand from North America using miles, you would need 80,000/135,000 United miles for economy or business respectively; or 80,000/110,000 US Airways miles for economy or business respectively – one of the best values in US Airways’ partner award chart.

If your miles are with one of the other alliances, the airport is also serviced by Cathay Pacific, LAN and Qantas in Oneworld; Korean Air and China Southern in SkyTeam; non-alliance airlines like Virgin Australia and Emirates, as well as other Star Alliance carriers like Singapore and Thai Airways if you’re coming from other regions. Hawaiian Airlines also offers non-stop service to Honolulu.

WHERE TO STAY

Hilton
The Hilton Auckland hotel features 165 modern guest rooms and suites.
The Hilton Auckland features 165 contemporary guest rooms and suites, many with great harbor views.

Hilton Auckland: Located five minutes from Auckland’s central business district and right along the waterfront, this Hilton has 165 guest rooms and suites. The rooms are decorated in a contemporary style and feature Hilton’s Serenity bed, plus modern amenities such as 32-inch flat screen TV’s and high-speed WiFi access. There is a fully equipped fitness center and an outdoor heating swimming pool. The hotel’s main restaurant is FISH, which has picture-perfect views of Auckland harbor, a great seafood menu, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rates in April begin at 259 NZD ($220 USD) per night or 50,000 points since this is a Hilton Category 7 property.

Priority Club

City view king guest room at the Crowne Plaza Auckland.
City view king guest room at the Crowne Plaza Auckland.

Crowne Plaza Auckland: This property is conveniently situated in the heart of the central business district and has 352 guest rooms. In addition to standard guest rooms, the hotel offers executive rooms. These rooms have access to the hotel’s executive club lounge, where complimentary continental breakfast, evening drinks and canapés and refreshments are provided throughout the day. Located on the 12th floor is the hotel’s fully equipped gym and sauna. Aria Restaurant and Bar is the hotel’s signature restaurant, and is known for its menu of New Zealand beef and lamb dishes. Rates in April begin at 229 NZD ($195 USD) or 25,000 Priority Club points per night.

There is also a Holiday Inn Auckland Airport. Rates in April begin at 144 NZD ($120 USD) or 20,000 Priority Club points per night.

Other

The Langham Auckland has 411 guest rooms, including 47 Langham Club rooms and 17 suites.
The Langham Auckland has 411 guest rooms, including 47 Langham Club rooms and 17 suites.

The Langham Auckland: The grande dame of Auckland’s luxury hotels, this five-star property is a bit out of the central business district about a mile up busy Queen Street from the waterfront. It has 411 guest rooms, including 47 Langham Club rooms and 17 suites. Guest rooms have 40-inch LCD televisions and ornate pink-marble and dark-wood bathrooms. The Langham Club provides guests with continental breakfast, evening drinks and canapés and complimentary WiFi. The property has a well-equipped fitness center, heated swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi and a deluxe Asian-inspired Chuan Spa. The main dining option is Eight, which offers eight different food stations such as an American style grille and a sushi station, and where breakfast that’s included in the room rate is served. Rates in April begin at 210 NZD ($180 USD) per night. Langham’s loyalty program is called 1865 and you can only enroll after your first stay. Benefits include complimentary internet, room upgrades, complimentary fruit and water in the room, personalized welcome amenities, and late check-out. If you are not a member, you can sign up during check-out.

Lobby area of the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour.
Lobby area of the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour.

Sofitel Auckland: This waterfront property features 172 guest rooms and 4 suites and overlooks Waitemata Harbor. Guest rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, 32-inch LCD TV’s, wireless internet access, private balconies, and marble bathrooms with both a rain shower and separate tub. The property also has an executive floor which provides access to their club lounge. Hotel dining includes the main restaurant, Lava Dining, as well as the waterside 21 Viaduct Cafe. Guests have use of the hotel’s gym, 20-meter swimming pool, steam room and sauna. The property plans to open a luxury day spa in first half of this year. This property opened in 2007 as The Westin Auckland, but was taken over by Sofitel in 2012. Rates in April begin at 275 NZD ($235 USD) per night.

Mollie's
Mollie’s Hotel features luxury boutique suites.

Mollie’s Hotel: This luxury boutique property is located in the St. Mary’s Bay neighborhood and has just seven deluxe guest suites. Guests have their choice of either a city or harbor view suite, though all  feature fine linens, private balconies, marble bathrooms, and are decorated with New Zealand art. Some even have private pianos in them. The hotel provides complimentary wireless internet access and parking. There is a fitness room, garden courtyard, terrace bar, and a spa on property. Suites in April begin at 650 NZD ($550 USD) per night.

Guest reception at SkyCity Grand Hotel.
Guest reception at SkyCity Grand Hotel.

SkyCity Grand Hotel: In the heart of the city, this massive hotel and entertainment complex has 312 guest rooms. The hotel is home to the East Day Spa, a gym, a 25-meter heated lap pool, sauna and a spa pool. The hotel’s restaurants include dine, an elegant restaurant offering an à la carte dining experience, and The Grill, a more causal dining option. This hotel is sold out through April but rates in May begin at 175 NZD ($150 USD) per night.

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