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PORT OF THE MONTH:
AUCKLAND

New Zealand's "City of Sails" Is In Tune With The Sea

Whether sailing into or out of Auckland, it's quickly apparent why New Zealand's largest and most diverse metropolis is called the "City of Sails." With more than 125,000 boats of all shapes and sizes situated in the greater Auckland area, the city truly revolves around the water.

Two bustling harbors virtually surround the large isthmus that is Auckland proper, with the Tasman Sea close by on the west and the Pacific Ocean just to the east. That means visitors and the city's one-and-a-quarter-million residents are never far from the water, beaches, verdant volcanic-formed farmland (including world-class wineries), and a wide array of mild to wild outdoors activities for which New Zealand has become known--ranging from sailing on an authentic America's Cup yacht to bungee jumping off the city's famed Harbour Bridge.

As both a port of call and an embarkation/debarkation port that's popular for pre-or post-cruise stays, it's hard to top Auckland's offerings--and location. Cruise ships typically dock right downtown, within easy walking distance of many Auckland attractions, restaurants, and hotels--for those who have smartly chosen to spend more than the day.

Just up Federal Street from the various wharves (look for pretty St. Patrick's Cathedral to the right on the way), SKYCITY is the perfect place to get one's bearings--from high above Auckland. At more than 1,075 feet, SKYCITY's needle-like Sky Tower is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The lightning-fast, glass-fronted elevators whisk visitors to the Main Observation Level, where floor-to-ceiling glass windows and unique glass panels in the floor provide jaw-dropping views. One floor down, Sky Lounge offers a café and bar with a view. There's also dining high in the sky, thanks to The Observatory (specializing in seafood) and Orbit (Sky Tower's revolving restaurant).

About 120 feet further up Sky Tower, the Sky Deck (reached for a small additional fee) features two additional activities for adventurers. "SkyWalk" uses full body harnesses and overhead safety lines to allow visitors to walk around Sky Tower's pergola on a three-foot platform. And, for true adrenaline junkies, "SkyJump" is a cable-controlled base jump of about 630 feet.

Back on firmer footing, the SKYCITY complex also includes shopping, a casino, more dining, hotels, the Walk of Art, and the SKYCITY Theatre. Sky Tower is also stunning at night, thanks to colorful lighting.

Nearby, Aotea Square--considered the heart of Auckland--contains the Edwardian Auckland Town Hall, which opened in 1911 and now offers lots of performances--as does Aotea Centre just across the square and the Civic Theatre on Queen Street. Just a short walk from the square and on the way to the Auckland Art Gallery, Suffragette Square, whose colorful murals that memorialize the suffragettes who worked to make New Zealand the first self-governing nation in the world where women could vote (in 1893).

Situated at the edge of Albert Park, the stunning new location of the Auckland Art Gallery is hard to miss. The exterior is artful unto itself, but the large collection inside includes interesting native Maori subjects and works and more. Albert Park features a pretty Victorian-style formal garden that leads to the campus of Auckland University. The landmark University Clock Tower just across Kitchener Street makes for a pretty picture as do the Victorian houses along Kitchener and nearby Princes streets.

Diversions on the easy walk back to the harbor could include: shopping along Queen and High streets; sampling vintage British-style pubs on tiny Vulcan Lane; photographing the historic and always-bustling ferry building; and visiting the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum (appropriate for waterfront Auckland). This area is where the America's Cup yacht excursions depart for exhilarating outings on the harbour.

A pretty waterfront stroll around Viaduct Harbour--and around lots of boats--leads seafood lovers to the Auckland Fish Market. This is a great place to check out unique Pacific Ocean delicacies, as well as several seafood-focused eateries. It's also the location for the Auckland Seafood School (lots of great cooking classes) and the Big Picture Wine Experience (learn about New Zealand wine through a unique film, aromas, tastings, and more).

Further afield, but easily reached by taxi or bus, is the Auckland Museum. The temple-like structure's collection has a particularly strong New Zealand and South Pacific focus, including much from the country's unique Maori indigenous culture (like a huge war canoe and a traditional meeting house). A guided tour is highly recommended, as is a visit to the building's poignant War Memorial--featuring two halls of memory with the names of those killed in major conflicts. The cenotaph and consecrated grounds in front of the musuem also serve as touchstones of rememberance.

The museum is situated in pretty Auckland Domain, which is filled with sporting fields, sculptures, and gardens (including the Wintergarden), as well as Pukekaroa--what remains of the peak of one of Auckland's many volcanoes (Mount Eden and One Tree Hill are two other volcanic cones offering great views).

Along with the great downtown area, another advantage to Auckland as a port is its array of nearby attractions, including pristine beaches and islands, wineries and other agricultural offerings, and so much more. One of the easiest and most popular outings is to take the ferry right from the downtown landing out to Waiheke Island.

Little more than a half-hour away, but another world apart from downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island is a top daytrip due east of the city. Highlights here include: pretty beaches; kayaking; several wineries (like Cable Bay Vineyards); eclectic Wild on Waiheke (offering the Waiheke Island Brewery, Top Knot Vineyard, archery, clay shooting, picnicking, and more); Rangihoua Olive Estate; and Waiheke Island Historical Village.

To the west of Auckland await the rugged Waitakere Ranges and the stunning black sands of Karekere Beach (featured in the Oscar-winning film, The Piano) and Piha Beach. Travelers should start their tours at the info-packed Arataki Visitors Center (where hardy hikers can find the trailhead of the famed 40-mile Hillary Trail--named for New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame). Scenic drives along winding roads to the volcanic beaches of Piha and Karekare are well worth the time--as is the short walk to Karekare Waterfall.

Excursions north of Auckland are equally popular, with intersting stops that include: The Honey Centre near Warkworth (ask for a taste of famed Manuka honey); Morris & James Potter in Matakana (home to world-renowned original ceramics, with a large "seconds" area and popular cafe); and Parry Kauri Park (highlighting New Zealand's giant kauri trees). Several fascinating restaurants and wineries along the way--the Mahurangi River Winery features both world-class wines and food.

Back in downtown Auckland, those extending their cruise vacation will find a wide variety of accommodations, including the modern Hilton Auckland (situated right on the water at Princes Wharf); historic and stylish Heritage Auckland Hotel; SKYCITY Grand Hotel; The Langham Auckland (part of The Langham Hospitality Group's luxurious offerings worldwide); and boutique Hotel DeBrett.

Near these hotels--and never far from the water--is a great choice of restaurants featuring local seafood, tasty New Zealand lamb, and lots of Polynesian-style possibilities (since Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of anywhere in the world). Of course, the wine lists feature New Zealand sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and other varietals for which Aucklanders are rightfully proud. Visitors will find friendly locals are eager to toast them--and the City of Sails.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Ships That Call: Major cruise lines with vessels calling in Auckland include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Oceania, P&O, P&O Australia, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, and others.
Weather: Auckland enjoys a warm coastal climate without extremes of temperature. The mean daily temperature during January and February (high summer in New Zealand) is about 74; during July and August (winter) the mean daily maximum is about 57. The city is one of the sunniest spots in New Zealand, yet also has a high rainfall, which ensures the lushness of nearby rainforests.
Money Matters: The local currency is the New Zealand dollar (US$1=NZ$1.20 at presstime); ATM machines are easy to find, and major credit cards are widely accepted.
For More Information: Contact your travel agent or Tourism New Zealand (Cruise Travel Magazine), 501 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 300, Santa Monica, CA 90401; call Auckland Tourism at 888-581-1891; or log on to www.newzealand.com and www.aucklandnz.com