Auckland – Not Once, But Twice

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Random blooms along the sidewalks

The first time we went to Auckland, we stayed for a week. People were shocked when they heard how long we stayed, but we initially thought we needed time for the administrative stuff for our working holiday like setting up our IRD number and bank accounts. We quickly realised we didn’t necessary have to do it in Auckland – and it took all but half an hour to apply for our IRD number, and wait for it to be ready before we are able to apply for a bank account. So, technically any town with a post office would do.

But we had our accommodation booked and paid, and even though it was the worst Airbnb stay we’ve had yet (and may it stay that way), we stayed through the entire week.

Our game plan was to get a car from Auckland as our mode of transport for the entire trip, travelling down to South Island as well. Through a friend’s contact, we got ourselves a 1993 Mazda Lantis in a shade of turquoise green which reminded us of our school uniform. It did give us a few frights, but Ah Huat, as we endearingly call it now, has been serving us well.

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We headed back to Auckland for second visit a month later, this time I was really excited because D was flying in for a week. J and I planned our itinerary to land ourselves back in the bustling city, before us trio headed for our road trip to Coromandel Peninsular. This time we scored a really awesome Airbnb accommodation which was clean and comfortable, even for three of us.

Eating in Auckland

With Auckland being the city with the largest population, and probably also the most diverse, food options were plentiful and varied.

Our second time in Auckland, a friend brought us to Faro, a Korean BBQ restaurant. I’m not sure if it’s the drought of Asian food before, but it was seriously good – the side dishes, tender & well-marinated meat, and spicy tofu soup (which we tucked in and forgot about taking a photo)! It was fully packed, with it being a Saturday and Valentine’s Day, so thankfully we managed to secure a reservation for 4 pax.

IMG_2826Best part of any Korean BBQ meal – side dishes!

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Said friend was a foodie, and brought us for more Asian food the next day, Gogo Music Cafe, located at Dominion Road. Odd name, stranger decor, but delicious food – and that’s all that matters!

Highlight was the amazing lamb skewers which made the non-eaters a convert. They also had this huge chicken claypot which could be a meal on its own, but of course greedy us ordered it alongside other skewers and side dishes.

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Cafes were obviously a big part of our food adventures. Top favourite of the lot was Dear Jervois.

The decor was kept simple and minimalistic, just the way I like it. And the food? It was superb. The waffles with bacon and caramalised bananas drizzled with maple syrup… Made me go bananas. Never thought the combination of something sweet and savoury would work well together, but it did.

IMG_2849IMG_2858IMG_2856Portobello & Potato Hash StackIMG_2864Bacon & Caramelised Banana with Mascarpone Cream Cheese

Another favourite was The Dairy located at Ponsonby Central. The precinct itself is touted as one of the most happening neighbourhood in Auckland, and with it’s abundance of cafes and independent fashion label shops along the streets, we can see why.

It will be difficult to decide where to settle down after walking the streets of Ponsonby, but allow the Hot Apple Churros served with ice cream of your choice to convince you to rest your legs. You won’t regret it.

We tried the Peanut Butter & Chocolate Cookie as well – sinful, but really good!

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While in Ponsonby, be sure to look out for Lucky Taco. It’s a travelling food truck located at Flying Fish carpark and it doesn’t operate every day, so if they’re there when you are – try one of their tacos!

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And if you’re in Ponsonby and looking for some coffee, I recall entering caffeine heaven at Dizengoff. Very haphazard photos, I apologise, but I promise it tastes better than it looks.

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If you can’t tell already, Ponsonby was my kind of heaven. Now on to the rest.

One of the first cafes we tried in Auckland was Hinemoa Organic Cafe. As the name aptly suggests, you can be sure the ingredients used were top-notch. I had the omelette which was one of the more popular dishes, and you could really taste the freshness of the ingredients.

It’s not  located in the city centre though, so I wouldn’t recommend heading down here if you’re not in the neighbourhood. Though I’m not sure why you would be.. The only reason we were here was that our first accommodation was in the area.

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On to desserts – everyone and anyone ever making a trip to Auckland needs to try Giapo. There’s no way you will miss it along Queen Street with the queue. To think we almost walked past it, thinking it as another tourist trap. Prices were dear – as the locals would like to call it – but honestly if you were to ask me, it’s worth every dollar.

It’s really the whole experience. Servers would greet you in chirpy voices and introduce themselves to you. You would be offered tastings for any flavour you wanted to try (we ended up trying almost every flavour on the menu). Having the ice cream decorated in the most lavish manner in front of you.

Life changing ice cream, I would like to call it.

2015-01-16 20.35.292015-01-16 20.03.172015-01-16 20.09.002015-01-16 20.10.40A scoop of Giapo Buono

Ending this list would be Frasers. We popped by after dinner for desserts, and were amazed at its opening hours. Auckland is probably the only city in New Zealand where restaurants and cafes would open past midnight.

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Things to Do in Auckland

Heading up Mount Eden should definitely be on the list. Coupled with good weather, you’ll get some pretty amazing views of the city. It’s probably an easy trek of 15-20mins, but if you’re like us, we took a slightly detour midpoint where you’ll get some pretty slick views too.

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If you’re a (relatively) budget traveller like us, don’t let Wynyard Quarter intimidate you with its upscale restaurants and luxury apartments. Walking around was great fun too, you’ll get to see the skyline of the city at one end, and Harbour Bridge at the other. Adding to that – public art installations to enjoy, a multi-level steel structure where you could climb up if you wish, or a waterfront to just simply relax by.

We were also there on Valentine’s Day where there was a free movie screening with food stalls. And the Silo Market apparently takes place every weekend and is popular with the locals. So you know what they say – if the locals are there, you have to be too.

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We also spent some time in Auckland Art Museum. Not the usual suspect on my to-do list, but.. Well, it’s in the city and entrance is free. For those who better appreciate art, I’m sure this would be more their speed. We did spend some time playing with lego though.

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There’s quite a few weekend markets in Auckland, and we chose to head to Victoria Park Market. I really loved the building and its brick walls, but the market was really small and took us less than half an hour to walk through. Not that it stopped us from spending money, we walked out with a brand new bottle of Manuka Honey.

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Beaches in Auckland

We barely scratched the surface of this given there are quite a few options. One thing I really liked about Auckland is how you can drive for less than an hour and be somewhere completely different, away from the city-life.

We took an hour’s drive to Karekare Beach, slightly longer than what Google Maps predicted because of all the sharps turns and narrow bends. The walk in to the beach from the carpark wasn’t too bad, though longer than what we expected. After crossing a stream, you’ll be looking at a magnificent black sand beach. Enjoy.

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J & I did venture to other beaches around our Airbnb neigbourhood on our first visit to Auckland. On one of our lazier days, we came across Halls Beach in an article which claimed this beach was a hidden gem which most locals didn’t know about. Since it was a 10 min drive away, we thought to check it out, where the highlight was the view of the Harbour Bridge.

Honestly? It really wasn’t much of a beach. And the view was average at best.

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But a kind man we met along the streets pointed us another beach which was 10 min walk away. He said “the beach with the best view of the Harbour Bridge isn’t here, make your way to Little Shoal Bay instead.”

We followed his very precise directions, and when we reached, we couldn’t help but to agree with him.

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“Enjoy every moment of the journey, and appreciate where you are at this moment.”

It’s funny how we always think so critically about where we are, what we’re doing, what we’re eating – until we forget to appreciate and live in the moment.

When I was in Auckland, I lamented how boring the city seemed. But looking back, the city had a lot to offer, it was me looking on with tinted lens.

So here’s a promise I’m making to myself – Cherish it. Appreciate it. Experience it. 

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You’re pretty fine, Auckland. You had me not once, but twice.

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