Indoor Auckland


David Whitley investigates warm winter activities in New Zealand’s biggest city 

Auckland is well known as an outdoorsy city, and you can still go sailing, visit the harbour islands and clamber up volcanic craters in winter if you wish. However, if you fear that the elements may get the better of you for such activities during the cooler months, then never fear – there’s plenty to do indoors.

Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World
While it’s never going to win any awards for snappy titles, this hugely popular attraction is a great place for a rainy day.
The Antarctic Encounter gives a glimpse of what it’s like where it’s properly cold – visitors can go inside a Snowcat and mosey around a life size replica of the Antarctic hut set up by South Pole explorer captain Robert Scott.
The highlight for those with easily melted hearts, however, is a colony of sub-Antarctic penguins, for which fresh snow is created every day.
On the slightly less icy side is Underwater World, which is a giant aquarium complex. Everyone has their own favourites, whether the sea horses, piranhas or crayfish, but it’s hard not to be mesmerised by the bronze whaler sharks and the huge stingray. The latter has a two meter wing span...
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The Sky Tower
You see that big thing jutting out of Auckland’s CBD? Yes, the pointy building that utterly dwarfs the rest of the skyline. Well, that’s the Sky Tower, and it’s higher than Sydney’s version (and indeed, the Eiffel Tower in Paris).
It’s also home to Sky City, a large entertainment and gambling complex. There are a few bars and restaurants on offer, but it’s the casinos that prove the major draw card for the punters.
If the weather’s holding up OK, there are also a couple of adventure activities on offer that involve the tower. The first is the Sky Walk – the opportunity to walk around the building on a narrow ledge with no railings or balcony at 192m high. Only a harness will save you if you stumble...
The second insane endeavour is jumping off the viewing platform attached to a wire and slowed down by a big fan. Scary stuff.
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Auckland Museum
Over half a million tourists visit New Zealand’s oldest (and Auckland’s biggest) museum every year. Parked on a hill in the Auckland Domain, the museum dates back to 1852, although it’s only been at the present site since 1929 when the building was created as a memorial to the city’s war dead.
Over a million objects are divided over three floors of permanent exhibitions. The first concentrates on the Maori and the people of the Pacific. A whole range of topics is covered, from traditional arts and music to ancient civilisations and boat-building.
The second floor is where the big beasties hang out – it’s the natural history segment. This is home to two Discovery Centres that are focused on child learning and the impressively interactive permanent exhibition on volcanoes.
Last but not least comes New Zealand War Stories. As is fitting for a building designed to honour the troops, this covers conflicts that have involved the New Zealand Military over the years from the Boer War to modern day conflicts via the two World Wars.
There’s an armoury full of weapons for the more bloodthirsty, and warplanes for those harbouring romantic visions of flying one.
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National Maritime Museum
Another excellent museum is the National Maritime Museum, and it’s only fitting that it should be hosted by the City of Sails. The museum explores the country’s history at sea, from Polynesian canoes and to modern commercial shipping.
On the way it explores seafaring industries that (thankfully) no longer exist, such as whaling and sealing, as well at looking at traditional maritime arts and crafts.
Naturally, boats and canoes are among the exhibits, while there’s a fascinating section on the coastguard service and lifeboat workers.
The National Maritime Museum can be found on Hobson Wharf, right on Viaduct Harbour.
More information: www.nzmaritime.or

Hanging out in Ponsonby
Ponsonby, to the west of the city centre, is generally regarded as the city’s coolest area to go for a few drinks in. This is where the café culture has seeped up from Melbourne, a lot of young people tend to live and many of the best bars are.
There are also a few good eateries too for those wanting to anchor the later alcohol content. Among the most popular are Logos, Estasi and Prego, but it’s really a case of taking your pick. The range of options runs from classy Italian to burger bar to stylish modern Asian.

Brewery tour
Of course the serious drinker may be more inclined to go straight to the source, and that’s where Lionzone comes in.
Now this claims to be not just an ordinary brewery tour, but let’s face it, most of them work along the same lines. Still, as brewery tours go, it’s fairly impressive, taking in the history of brewing, the ingredients and machines used to make the good stuff and all manner of high-tech wizardry.
Naturally, it also focuses on the Lion Brewery’s brands, including Lion Red and the altogether more palatable Steinlager.
And yes, there is some free sampling included.
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Stardome Observatory
In the One Tree Hill Domain, this is where you can go exploring further afield. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays it’s possible to go and have a look through the centre’s ginormous telescope, but it’s really the Planetarium show that captures the imagination. This features spectacular projections of the night sky (including 3,500 stars) in a 360 degree theatre.
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You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal




by David Whitley


Black sand beaches

David Whitley visits Piha and Karekare beaches in West Auckland, and finds himself reassessing what a great beach looks like 

If you ever need to reassess what makes a great beach, come to Piha. It doesn’t fit any of the usual clichés – it’s not particularly glamorous, plenty of seaweed gets washed up on it and the sand is anything but squeaky white.

But it depends on whether you like your beaches beautiful or magnificent. For me, a good beach is one that looks pretty – but a great beach is one that commands respect.

At Piha, the signs warn of strong currents, large waves and submerged rocks. It’s pretty clear that the Tasman Sea as it thumps into the shore isn’t to be messed with – although on a hot summer Sunday afternoon plenty of people are prepared to take on the challenge. A crew rows a boat into the waves, a cox on the rudder bellowing orders, while stand-up paddle boarders have made it out to the quieter swells.

On the southern side of the beach – it is divided by a stream and a large, climbable rock that is optimistically said to resemble a lion’s head – the surfers plunge into the waves, gluttons for frothy-but-forceful punishment.

The sense of awe is not just created by the sea, though. It’s the setting. Piha is reached via a winding road that cuts down through thickly forested hills west of Auckland. It provides a backdrop that you don’t associate with beaches – a green, ferny landscape rather than sandstone cliffs, seaside cafés or rolling dunes. A few holiday homes are dotted amongst the trees, but to call Piha anything more than a hamlet would be pushing it.

It’s a place that brings together the two colours that characterise New Zealand – the green of the hills, and the black of the volcanic sand.

It’s that black sand that adds to the moodiness and power of the place – particularly when you start walking along it. Amongst the dark grains are what look like glittering crystals – tiny diamonds twinkling in the sunlight. Perhaps this happens on normal beaches too, but it’s harder to detect because the white sand offers a lack of contrast. Either way, at Piha it makes you feel like a god striding across a universe of blazing stars.

Everything that Piha has, however, is magnified further along the coast at Karekare Beach. The road down is steeper, greener and narrower. The signs of human impact are harder to find – there’s not even a café, let alone a road running alongside the beach. The rocks guarding the beach are higher, more fearsome, more commanding. The dunes backing onto the forested hills are moodier. The stream flowing out to the sea has to be waded across to reach the sand. And that sand is black, twinkling and roasting hot on the feet.

At low tide, the beach seems to go on forever; an epic gateway to infinity. And the lifeguards survey the sea with a look of intensity – the currents out there are monsters, waiting to drag all but the strongest swimmers away.

Karekare is not a beach to enjoy; it’s a beach to be dominated by. You can go around the world and find beaches that are prettier, but you’ll struggle to find one anywhere near as powerful.


You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here