Less than three hours flying from Sydney in one direction won’t get you to Perth, but it will get you to New Zealand. Auckland is so close to Australia that it feels like a domestic flight. Don’t tell them however it is surprising it isn’t just made to be another state of Australia!
Auckland is a beautiful escape from Sydney and offers access to some of the cleanest air, the best produce, great wine and genuinely nice people. After a recent holiday it is worth noting a few fantastic places to visit and things to do.
If you are planning on basing yourself in Auckland consider your options in and around the via duct harbour. This is the hub for bars and restaurants, the majority within walking distance and speaking of walking – the marina is one worth strolling down. Our tip is to stay at the Hilton especially now that renovations have been completed.
The Auckland via-duct area is jam packed with bars and restaurants and plenty are good. A short walk from there will land you at the base of the Auckland tower which also has some stunning restaurants. Our top dining options in Auckland include:
- The Grove: Get yourself here especially on a Monday night for a five course degustation of Chef’s suggestions for $65. An absolute delight. Let them take control of what you eat, we even let them control which wines we had with each course. Trusting them means you wont regret it.
- MASU by Nic Watt: This is a fantastic Japanese restaurant, great for groups but also with an excellent bar looking into the kitchen if you’re dining alone. It is a great spot to watch the craftwork preparing your meal.
- The Store: Breakfast at the hotel is always a good option but this cafe in the Britomart is worth a visit at least once. The big breakfast will mean you won’t need lunch. Great meals here.
Day Trips – Wine
For wine lovers you need to put aside two days. Before you even consider day trips here is one thing not to miss – Villa Maria is ten minutes from the airport. Upon landing in Auckland, you can be tasting local wines within an hour. Villa Maria is an absolutely beautiful place which instantly makes you forget where you left from. Wake up in Sydney, have lunch at Villa Maria. It is a must do, after landing or before departing.
Head to the ferry terminal from the Viaduct harbour to Waiheke Island. During the spring and summer time there is a Vineyard Hopper operating on Waiheke Island which will allow you a hop on/hop off wine tour for less than $30. If you are travelling to Waiheke Island out of that period then the local buses are good however you will need to commit to one vineyard, lunch (at another vineyard) and then one last vineyard before heading home. Our top picks to do just three stops on Waiheke Island include:
- Cable Bay: The wines here are amazing and a view to match. This modern vineyard is a fantastic first stop closest to the ferry terminal. The view to Auckland from here is mindblowing.
- Mudbrick Vineyard: You can walk here from Cable Bay. Our suggestion is to book a table as soon as you arrive and then begin your wine tasting inside. Once you finish your wine tasting, move to your table for lunch. Their platters are sensational and their Syrah is to die for. The gardens and views here will take your breath away.
- Stonyridge Vineyard: This place requires a bus or taxi ride to get to however it is also the home to one of the most expensive bottles of wine in all of New Zealand, worth a taste just to experience a $600 bottle of wine. The range of wines here is great and the casual vibe is a great way to unwind in the afternoon. On some days a DJ will be onsite playing chilled music and you’ll just melt.
A hire car goes a long way in Auckland, for this day out you will need one.
First stop is Matua Wines. This company is very well known, appears on shelves in Australia and has a fantastic place to visit around an hour from Auckland. The people who work there are delightful, the cheese platters are very generous and the wines are going to surprise you. The grounds surrounding the buildings where you taste are just beautiful. A very relaxing stop.
From Matua, get comfortable for a drive up to Matakana. A great little wine region where you’ll be able to visit a few wineries in quick succession and enjoy lunch in between. Ready?
- Ransom Wines: Interesting name, lovely venue, great wines and a chance to get close to the wine making process as well as deep into the vines. A good stop also for a snack or enjoying a glass among the rows and rows of Syrah growing nearby.
- Heron’s Flight: You’re in New Zealand, time to drink Italian wine…!? Heron’s Flight is a very interesting place to find fantastic Sangiovese and other Italian varietals. The team at Heron’s Flight love to welcome you in, enjoy their wines and be transported to Italy, three hours flight from Sydney.
- BrickBay: Lunch time. You could put this stop above Heron’s Flight if the crew is hungry so plan it how you like. BrickBay is the home of artistic sculptures, a beautiful lake, sensational food, great wine and the best coffee in New Zealand. That’s a lot of great things in one place. Take your time here, enjoy the surroundings and take a deep breath before heading back to Auckland.
Day Trips – Other
Set aside a whole day for this, it is a long drive from Auckland to Matamata before even beginning your tour. We did ours with a private tour company that picks you up from the hotel, completes the tour and takes you back.
If you choose to drive to Matamata and then do your tour, that is fine also. The tour itself is run separately to any tour company. The tours run often, they’re operated by lovers of Lord of the Rings, they’re very knowledgable and they’ll also make time for your photo opportunities.
We spent time for lunch by the Green Dragon Inn with an ale which had my hairy feet excited. Hobbiton is a great destination for lovers of Lord of the Rings AND those who are yet to even see the movies, it’s just a beautiful place. Get started here.
This French market runs on Saturday and Sunday mornings. You could slot this into the beginning of day 2 (wine) if you wanted or just make a solid morning of it.
It’s a short drive from Auckland and parking is easy. From the moment you enter the market you will feel like you’re in France. The food and flare is all French and of a stunning quality. Bring your cash as an ATM is hard to come by. Just be ready for a food coma after this, it’s a breakfast that will be felt past lunchtime. Check here before planning this visit.
There is more to the story in Auckland day trips than the above. If you’re keen for more natural wonders than we listed above then consider the a trip to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, the Geothermal areas in Whakarewarewa or Huka Falls. We didn’t get to it in this trip but will update the article next time we’re there.
Auckland is one of those places that on the surface seems like an odd choice over the South Island. It is what you do while you’re there that makes this trip worthwhile, finding the right places to visit will turn this trip into an unforgettable one. On multiple occasions you will pinch yourself knowing that you’re only 3 hours flight back to Sydney, especially when you’re drinking Italian wines or eating French cuisine. It is a place that produces sensational food and drinks while being extremely beautiful to look at. Auckland is a place for all the senses.
Let me finish this article with a disclaimer – all of the information presented above is entirely derived from experiences on a fully self-funded personal holiday. This is not a sponsored post in any way, shape or form.