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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.