This was my very first visit to Auckland, though not to New Zealand, and it just so happens to be my other halves hometown - so expectations were pretty high. After almost two years away from the Southern Hemisphere for both of us, this was a real home coming trip, focusing on catching up and celebrating family and friends.
Though it been much hyped up to me (90% of the humans I interact with are Auckland born & raised) the city fully delivered on all fronts, just as promised. As the surest way to my heart, brunch is basically an institution in this city, they live & breathe an active lifestyle, the scenery is epic and there is a laid-back relaxed atmosphere amongst the metropolitan city that is reflective of the ocean & islands you can view at any turn.
I'm pretty competitive by nature and honestly, I somewhat didn't want to love AKL, purely due to my Australian pride, but it now holds a special place in my heart.
For the first time, in a very long time, I felt like I could relax & unwind and I left NZ feeling re-connected, present and dosed up on good vibes.
P-Road is the sort of place you want to cruise up and down all day. It is the cool kids hangout, but for a reason, being packed with boutiques stocking young, fresh, independent labels, buzzing bar/cafes and a bourgeoning restaurant scene. There's a sense that this is the place to come to be seen amongst the local crowd, but hit it up for brunch, do a little shopping, smash an incredible feed and then spend the rest of the night clinking espresso martini glasses.
Shopping addicts check out: Commoners, Lonely, Superette, Karen Walker, Black Box Boutique, Workshop, Ruby.
This island is about food, wine and art and is a haven of bliss just 30 minutes away from AKL city. Touted as a bohemian, hippy village, this inhabited island sets the scene for some of the most incredible views, spaces to unwind and offers a real sense of 'island time'. Not only are you spoilt with some gorgeous stretches of coast-line but the locals are blessed with some top quality restaurants and incredible wineries that rival anything in the city itself. Possibly my favourite spot in Auckland, spending time here just seemed like the typical Kiwi summer holiday - lazy days on the beach, cruising vineyards, delicious food, amazing company and sunsets drifting off over the ocean's horizon. Absolute bliss.
The Bay of Islands
The road trip up to this jewel of a region is well worth the drive. Not only do you pass through some classic Kiwi scenes - mountains and sheep anyone? But once you arrive, you ditch the car, jump on a private boat and land in the middle of an absolute dream. Tiny islands- both settled and uninhabited- are dotted along the coastline just north of Russell (the first Capital of New Zealand) and set the scene for the perfect place to unwind, switch off and completely relax. The whole region elicits a complete sense of wellness, from early morning's meditating by the oceans edge, hiking in lush fern forests, some SUP-Yoga, or lazying about in the sun by the sea. Sunrise, sunset and everything in between is an absolute dream up in The Bay.
This recently opened cafe-cum-restaurant is a fitness foodies dream. It has a beautiful aesthetic, from the decor and interiors, to the styling of food on your plate, it's a bit of an Instagram heaven. Add that to the fact it is conveniently located across the road from one of the Les Mills gyms and you basically have the dream morning of training and brunch sorted. The most disappointing thing was I only got here once – I literally am still drooling over my Avo and I'll be making a beeline straight there the next time we return.
Dizzy is apparently a real establishment within the Ponsonby Road scene. As one of the only cafes open during the Christmas period, the place was always packed with locals as the quality and exceptional food experience remains the same across the years. Brunch was super generous in serving, packed with flavour and accommodated to fussy tastes and food intolerances. The chill vibe and tasty delights meant we even came back a second time.
A new-ish addition to the popular Ponsonby Road, SAAN dishes up sizzling GF Thai that doesn't lack on flavour. Spicy enough to fire up the tastebuds, whilst highlighting the quality of the produce they sourced. The interiors match the palette on offer, with clean crisp lines and secluded areas to settle into for the night. Take time to share some dishes over a few bottles of wine and you have the beginnings of a great Ponsonby night.
This beachside cafe serves up the good, homestyle, honest tucker that you would expect from the Kiwi's. Fresh, healthy and heaped dishes that aren't fancy, yet don't compromise on taste. Protein, salads, "healthy" burgers, vegan, vegetarian, GF and sweet treats are all on offer and as the surest way to judge any establishment, it is packed with locals - good signs.
Solar Cafe - Waiheke Island
Is it evident that I loved Waiheke yet? This cafe somewhat epitomises the hippy vibes of the island; laid back chilled out, garden seating, fresh and healthy is the order of the day. Nothing fancy or overdone, its simply a nice place to hang in the morning for a slow brunch - more than likely with a hangover.
Getting fancy for a quick minute. Mudbrick is in equal parts about the breath taking scenery as it is the incredible menu. Perched atop a hill, amidst rows of grapevines, the restaurant has sweeping views across Waiheke out to the expanse of blue ocean. Then unfolds an incredible menu which accommodates even the fussiest eaters - and trust me, I went into depths with FODMAP free options and nothing was too much to ask for from the team here. Beautiful fresh fish, delicately balanced flavours and a beautiful wine list – though to be fair, I made the most of the Aperol Spritz on the menu –makes this one of the most idyllic places to spend a long afternoon in the sunshine.
Auckland is one of those cities where its people seamlessly inhabit a healthy, active life that isn't posy or for the post workout selfie. Fitness is simply incorporated into their lives, whether that is an outdoors walk or hike, a sweat session in one of their epic gyms, the growing populrity of independent boutique mind-body studios or the fact they spend all day cruising around to brunch in their athlesiure gears. Being fit is simply what you do here, so don't be left out.
The institution within the Fitness industry that is Les Mills originated right here in Auckland and the popularity, loyalty and love of this gym is evident in it's hometown population. Far beyond what the rest of the world sees as franchised class formats, these are stand alone gyms that are completely decked out. I know I'm coming from space-restricted London, but I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped when I saw the expanse that just ONE of the gyms covered. The fitness studios can easily hold up to 100 people and the popular classes, such as Grit, really book out quickly, so you need to get in quick to get your sweat session in!
Waiheke Island Trail Runs
So obviously, I adored Waiheke even if we only had a few short days here. Mates tell me that there are some really amazing advanced running and hiking trails around the island that you can find, but for ease and a quick sweat I just set out for a quick road and trail run along the coast-line. There are ALOT of hills dotted around the place, making for some good intervals and the views are so just so stunning, that really being breathless isn't all that bad! Where possible you can also sneak down onto stretches of the beach and add in some sand running for an extra lower leg workout! It's a beautiful way to see more of the island and smash out some cardio at the same time.
New Zealand is known for it's epic scenery and seriously, it is one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever spent time in (which, as an Australian, really pains me to say). Each setting looks straight out of a post-card and you feel simultaneously connected to the Earth, Ocean and Air. It's pretty special.
The country is a real hikers dream and I can't comment on the many hundreds of trails that are dotted around the place, however we did manage to squeeze in one short hike around Piha and a longer one whilst up in the Bay Of Islands. The track from Piha to Muriwai is apparently spectacular, however unfortunately on the day we headed out to the West Coast, the long white cloud had settled in and we were surrounded by a complete fog. We settled for a walk around Piha Beach and Lion Rock which still was very picturesque.
Up in the Bay of Islands, we had a pretty special experience of heading by boat from our Island we were staying (Orokawa Bay) to neighbouring uninhabited Moturua Island. Here we went on a 1.5-2 hour hike filled with some winding trails, more hills than we expected and some beautiful stretches of coastline.
You really get a sense of the incredible native flora of the country, surrounded by ferns and lush forests before suddenly emerging into turquoise water filled bays. That is what I call real functional fitness to fill the memory bank up on!
Working out with a crew is always more motivating then drudging through a workout alone, especially if there's a few competitive personalities amongst the group. This Met-Con bootcamp will hit you from head to toe, pushing your aerobic capacity and utilising compound movements for total body strength.
Working with a 50:10 timing, move through all of the exercises back to back before resting for 1 minute. Aim for 3-4 rounds.
Jump Squats or Pulse Squats
Jumping Lunges or Bulgarian Lunges
Long Leg Toe Taps, V Sits or Slow Bicycle
So, that's the best from the first trip to AKL and all my recommendations if you are visiting soon. I have a sneaky suspicion this will be the first of many, many visits and honestly, I cannot wait to go back (don't tell Tim!).