Twelve hours by air from Los Angeles—just three and a half from Sydney—New Zealand is becoming Hollywood Down Under’s second annex, after Sydney. But while some rings have worked tourism magic for the majestic scenery of the south island—where director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings and King Kong) is based—the capital city of Auckland in the North Island owes its transformation to a Cup. New Zealand might have lost the trophy in 2003, but the America’s Cup legacy lingers on via the city’s buzzing Viaduct Harbour, which was given a multimillion-dollar facelift to become the America’s Cup headquarters after New Zealand won the cup in 1995. Now home to the country’s biggest fashion event, October’s Air New Zealand Fashion Week, Viaduct Harbour boasts more than 20 restaurants and bars. The world’s biggest Polynesian city, one-quarter of whose one million residents boast either Maori or Pacific Island heritage, Auckland is also a “Pasifika” portal and provides a fascinating melting pot of Pacific/pakeha (Maori for “European”) culture.
Some of the best Kiwi fashion retail is located in the city’s boutique-and-cafe-peppered High Street and its cross streets, O’Connell Street and the charming, cobbled Vulcan Lane. You’ll find the flagship of New Zealand’s best-known fashion brand Karen Walker at 15 O’Connell Street; Kate Sylvester at 47 High Street; World Men at 57 High Street, and World’s women’s wear at World Deluxe, located inside a converted lyric theater at 1 Little High Street. Head to Untouched World (20 High Street) for superlative Kiwi knitwear; 31 Vulcan Lane for hot newcomer Mala Brajkovic; the distressed tailoring of Zambesi (at the corner of Vulcan Lane and O’Connell Street); the ace denim of Workshop (at the corner of Vulcan Lane and High Street), and Marilyn Sainty’s Scotties boutique (3 Lorne Street). For Maori bone or pounamu (greenstone) jewelry and Pasifika accessories/homewares, head to Pauanesia at 35 High Street and the Smith & Caughey department store (253-161 Queen Street) for bath and body products made from the aromatic Manuka honey, which hails from the indigenous Manuka tree. Back down at the Viaduct, you’ll find the upwardly mobile Kiwi queen of shabby chic, Trelise Cooper, at Princes Wharf (147 Quay Street).
An LVMH posse made the sleek new Hilton Auckland on Princes Wharf (147 Quay Street) its America’s Cup base during the 1999-2000 and 2002-2003 races. With breathtaking views across Waitemata Harbour, the hotel also boasts one of Auckland’s best restaurants in White. Downstairs at the Bellini bar, sip a cocktail made from Manuka honey vodka. Try the signature roast duckling with steamed bok choy and quince jus from Simon Wright’s The French Café (210 Symonds Street), or the crab-crusted hapuka with coconut broth on roast kumara at Dine by Peter Gordon (Level 3, Skycity Grand Hotel, 90 Federal Street). A plethora of charming bistros include Euro (Shed 22, Princes Wharf), Soul (The Viaduct), Rocco (23 Ponsonby Road), Prego (226 Ponsonby Road), the O’Connell Street Bistro (3 O’Connell Street), Chandelier (152 Ponsonby Road), with The Occidental a must for steaming bowls of green-lipped New Zealand mussels and Belgian beer at 6-8 Vulcan Lane. Hip little bars and cafes include Gin Room (Level 1, 12 Vulcan Lane), Crow Bar (26 Wyndham Street), the decadent Shanghai Lil’s (1 Anzac Avenue), the Gypsy Tearoom (455 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn) and, in the boho burb of Ponsonby, SPQR (150 Ponsonby Road), Orchid (152B Ponsonby Road) and Dizengoff (256 Ponsonby Road).
The streamlined architecture and views of the Hilton Auckland will appeal to urban style mavens. Although originally booked into the Ascott Metropolis five-star (1 Courthouse Lane) along with the rest of the cast and crew of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, British actress Tilda Swinton swiftly moved into the far more glamorous Mollies at 6 Tweed Street, St. Mary’s Bay, for the duration of the five-month filming. Voted best new small hotel in the world by Andrew Harper’s 2005 Hideaway Report, this luxury boutique hotel is operated by opera coach Frances Wilson and her husband, Stephen Fitzgerald, and boasts 12 magnificently appointed suites—most with their own grand piano—done in an eclectic decorating style that could best be described as Ming Dynasty meets Mozart. Somewhere in between the Hilton and Mollies are two architect-designed, chicly outfitted serviced apartment complexes: Latitude 37, on the Viaduct Harbour (corner of Pakenham Street East and Customs Street West), and on Beaumont Street, Quintessential New Zealand.