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New Zealand’s North Island: Auckland and Waiheke Island

New Zealand’s North Island: Auckland and Waiheke Island

Renowned for their vistas and world-class LGBT-friendliness, Auckland, Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, and Waiheke Island charm visitors.


NZGMW/ (Auckland view); Julian Apse (kayaking); Courtesy of Hotel Debrett.

There’s a reason boat ownership here is (probably) the highest per capita in the world: Auckland is a water lover’s paradise. The city lies between two busy but picturesque harbors, Waitemata and Manukau. Home to stunning skylines and beautiful beaches, the city is a gorgeous destination, and an exceptionally LGBT-friendly one. Soak in the views from atop Auckland’s Sky Tower, the tallest freestanding structure below the equator, or from the summit of Mount Eden, the highest point in the city.

High Street
In the heart of the city, High Street and the Chancery shopping area are home to New Zealand (including Karen Walker) and international designer stores. Vulcan Lane, O’Connell, and Lorne streets are small but great for spotting street-wear trends from outdoor cafés and pub tables.

Ponsonby Road
Auckland’s hippest strip is packed with furniture, design, and fashion shopping, plus cafés and dining. Fussy fine dining isn’t a big thing in Auckland (plenty of great restaurants are B.Y.O.B.), so don’t let the absence of a white tablecloth put you off. 

Queen Street
Abutting High Street, this neighborhood runs along the eponymous main business thoroughfare; national bank, shopping, and restaurant chains are represented here, making it a popular shopping destination.

Courtesy of Auckland Seaplanes

The Big Foody Tour
Jump in your tour guide’s car and be whisked off to sample the grassy olive oils, pungent cheeses, fresh produce, and cured meats of the area’s gourmet markets; the coffees and baked goods on Ponsonby Road; and abundant fresh seafood and wine on offer in the scenic Viaduct area. (That’s also the location of the Auckland Seafood Market and Auckland Seafood School, where making your dinner under a chef’s guidance is a great alternative to table service, and you take the skills home with you: A highlight of the food tour was Miller’s Espresso Bar and Roastery (, pictured above), an unassuming hybrid space with cinderblock walls, a pair of small tables, a gorgeous vintage espresso machine — in operation — and a giant roaster in plain view at the rear of the shop. Don’t be surprised if you vow to give up your day job to become a roaster on the spot.

Browns Island Sunset Kayak Trip
Auckland Sea Kayaks offers all kinds of tours, including transport to the beaches. They provide all the necessary gear, instructions, and refreshments for an evening on the water with a guide. While no experience is necessary, kayaking is a rigorous workout, even in the relative calm of a sheltered bay. The tour from Mission Bay around the volcanic Browns Island was perfectly timed for a radiant sunset, made all the sweeter knowing we’d worked to see it.

Hotel DeBrett
This 25-room boutique hotel has a bold, chic design and is populated with eclectic furniture and art all hand-selected by Michelle Deery (co-owner with John Courtney). Nothing cookie-cutter here, just vivid color in common areas and spacious, serene guest rooms. Deery hosts guests for happy hour daily in the drawing room, where one can also find some old-school board games. It’s an excellent location in the heart of the city on High Street, surrounded by shopping, parks, galleries, and restaurants. Hip is the word, but without a hint of pretentiousness.

Auckland Seaplanes
Half Moon Bay is pretty from the surface of the water, but from a height the view of lush island green and ocean blue is spectacular. And wading barefoot onto the beach at Waiheke Island’s Oneroa Bay after deplaning from a just-landed seaplane is about as Fantasy Island awesome as an experience can get. Offering tours and charters, and easily accessible from Auckland city center in the harbor, Auckland Seaplanes is the coolest way to island-hop.

Waiheke Island

Courtesy of Julian Apse (Waiheke Nineyard); Naska Raspopina (Waiheke Asland View); Courtesy of The Oyster Inn.

A short ferryboat (or seaplane) ride from Auckland Harbor is an island oasis of calm. Many locals have vacation homes on the island of farmland, forest, and vineyards, and many others visit from far afield for the wine, solace, mountain biking, and beaches. It’s a must-visit for oenophiles; the island is renowned for its acclaimed artisanal wines.

Ananda Tours
Waiheke is the “island of wine,” but if you’ve never been, you can’t be faulted for not knowing where to start. Enter Ananda Tours, which can pick up your party for a trip along the wine trail to sample the award-winning fruits of the grapevines and olive trees. Gourmet food tours (think oysters, wild honey, herb-and-cheese boards) are available as well.

Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant
The sea and vineyard views at Mudbrick are impressive. Chief winemaker Patrick Newton is convivial and generous with his time, and the wines are excellent, particularly the stunner, a 2013 Velvet red.

Batch Winery
Named for the small batches it produces — hence the number on each label — the winery has a wonderful array of whites and “Fizz” sparkling wines (and, apropos of nothing, winemaker Daniel Struckman bears a striking resemblance to Avatar actor Sam Worthington).

The Oyster Inn
The cute and casual bistro with views of Oneroa Bay from the veranda is owned by a gay couple (Jonathan Rutherfurd Best and Andrew Glenn) and is a can’t-miss dining experience on the island. And it’s truly an inn, with several minimalist — but warmly appointed — rooms designed by Katie Lockhart, available for romantic long-weekend getaways. The raw food bar features local catches, including, as the name suggests, great oysters shucked to order. During an unannounced pop into the kitchen, head chef Anthony McNamara was making a Japanese-style fish print (rubbing a sack cloth with the back of a spoon over a fish painted with a washable black ink to make an image) with an old-timer fisherman who’d brought in a massive and beautiful specimen. 

EcoZip Adventures
Three zip lines, each over 200 meters, give awesome views of Waiheke. The 35-minute hike back is an educational walk though the 300-year-old forest.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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