Auckland’s Queen Street probably isn’t what most people think of when they think of New Zealand, but is often travelers first impression of the country. Most of the best sights in Auckland need a car or public transport to visit, however there is a surprising amount of interesting things in CBD. This is a ~8km walk, with lots of stops, very doable in a day, in which I’ve noted good places to eat and drink as you wander around and explore the obvious and less obvious delights of New Zealand’s largest city.
Here’s a map of the route, there’s a more detailed one at the end of the post. Hopefully the directions below are clear!
Aotea Square, the main civic square is a good place to start, home to some of the best and worst architecture in the city. The Town Hall is a gem, as is in my opinion (but maybe not many others) the Civic Building, former home of Auckland Council. There’s often something happening in the square, from Diwali celebrations to ice skating rinks, giant inflatables to wooden polar bears. The shiny blue and yellow building is home to the only IMAX cinema in New Zealand, along with one of the worst food halls. The low slung white building, the Aotea Centre, is better on the inside than outside and home to concerts, shows and the Auckland Writers Festival.
Exit the square with the Town Hall on your right, and cross Queen Street to Rutland Street, which forks off to the left. Stop at the junction with Lorne St, one of many shared spaces in the CBD developed since 2011. They’re designed equally for pedestrians and cars, and while not used to their full potential, are still pleasant spaces to walk through. The white building is the Auckland City Library, usually full of students, who can be found outside of opening hours sat up against the building using the free wi-fi. Underneath the library is the Academy Cinema, one of the best, and cheapest, art house cinemas in Auckland. Opposite the library is the back of the St. James Theatre, built-in 1928, which will be spectacular when it reopens in a few years time.
Turn around and walk up the hill along Lorne Street, with the striking red brick ACG Senior College building to your left. Cross over Mayoral Drive and up Gov Fitzroy Place, heart of the AUT campus. Walk through the Sir Reeves Building on your left, admiring some great modern architecture, which should take you out into a car park and a pedestrian bridge over Wellesley Street.
Cross over the bridge, turn left, and walk down the hill to Auckland Art Gallery, a must visit. Enjoy the beautiful building (winner of the World Architecture Festival’s 2013 World Building of the Year award), the exhibitions which change often, and the rather good café. Also worth a quick look at the Suffrage Memorial steps opposite the main entrance.
Leaving Auckland Art Gallery head up the hill through Albert Park, one of the best in the city, toward the distinctive University Clock Tower. Wander along Princess Street, admiring the former homes of rich merchants backing onto the park.
For a short detour from the map turn right at the Princes St lights and head through the gate to enjoy the grounds and sight of Old Government House, dating from 1856. Walk through to the end and you should see the distinctive red brick Auckland High Court dating from 1868. Turn left and walk up Waterloo Quadrant back toward Princes Street, and the impressively ivy covered Northern Club on the corner.
Turn right and head down Princes Street, then left down the hill onto Shortland Street. Don’t go too far though, cross over and pay a quick visit to the distinctive Gus Fisher Gallery, formerly home to radio and TV broadcasting, now the University of Auckland’s art gallery.
Return back up the hill and left down through the very pleasant Emily Place, home to huge Pohutukawa trees, flush with red flowers around Christmas time. Look out for the monument on the former site of St Paul’s Church under the trees. See if you can spot the typo chiseled in stone.
Continue down the hill toward Beach Road, and cross over at the lights. If you want a snack at this point Shaky Isles at 22 Custom St is one of the better cafes in town. Walk down Britomart Place and turn left to walk through the huge Westpac / EY building. Toward the end by Britomart Square and up the stairs there is a particularly cheap and pretty good café in the Westpac building called The Bean Counter.
Britomart has changed hugely for the better over the past five years, and is now home to very some trendy shops, bars and restaurants (Ortolana is a good choice). Walk through the square to Britomart train station at the end, an impressive glass box attached to the former post office. Walk through to Queen Street and right to the Ferry Terminal building.
This is home to Valentino’s Gelato, one of the best traditional ice cream places in town, along with views of ferries heading out across the Waitemata to various harbours and islands.
For better views of the Waitemata Harbour head to the right of the Ferry Terminal along Queen’s Wharf to the end, past The Cloud, an underused white elephant from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and Shed 10, recently converted into a cruise ship terminal.
Return to the Ferry Terminal, turn right and head to the Viaduct Basin, developed for the 2000 America’s Cup. The main attraction there is the Maritime Museum, an underrated but worthwhile attraction, free for Aucklanders, but for visitors well worth the entrance fee for a comprehensive view of everything nautical, including Peter Blake’s famous red socks.
Head through the car park (a very kiwi thing to have on prime waterfront land) and across the bridge to Wynyard Quarter. A relatively recent development, opened for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, this is rapidly becoming one of the funkiest parts of the city, with bars and restaurants along North Wharf, the snazzy ASB building, lots of play areas for children, a bridge to nowhere other than great views, and a beautiful vista back towards the city.
On the corner of Silo Park and Daldy Street are the Auckland Fish Markets, the best place for fresh fish in town.
Walking down Daldy Street to Victoria Park you’ll see the scale of the developments taking place, which will transform the area over the next few years. Victoria Park is a popular sports park and a nice place for a stroll. Head across the park to Victoria Park Market, with its distinctive chimney if less distinctive shops, other than iVillage, one of the best Indian restaurants in town, though medium is somewhat hotter than the usually kiwi medium, you’ve been warned!
Head up Wellesley Street to City Works Depot on the right, a former Council depot for street cleaners, now home to funky offices and eating places including Odettes, Best Ugly bagels, and The Botantist.
Continue on Wellesley Street to St Matthew-in-the-City church, cross over the road and go down Federal Street, a less successful shared space, though home to lots of places to eat, including the US style diner Federal Delicatessen.
It’s hard to miss the Sky Tower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, and a constant presence on the Auckland skyline from anywhere in town. The views are great but it is pretty expensive, I prefer Mt. Eden, Mt. Hobson or Mt. Victoria. Volcanoes make for good, free viewing points, though they’re all too far away to walk to easily from the CBD.
Keep on Federal Street along to St Patricks Church, and turn right onto Swanson Street. If you’re hungry or want a great smoothie continue a bit further on Federal Street to Federal & Wolfe, one of the best cafes in the CBD. Otherwise stay on Swanson Street, cross Albert Street, and stay on Swanson Street down the hill to Queen Street. You’ll pass on your right Swason’s, home to the best sandwiches and salads in town.
Queen Street is a lot better than it used to be, and usually heaving with people, but remains unloved. Turn right and head up the hill back toward Aotea Square, past Whitcoull’s / Famers creepy Santa if it’s close to Christmas, Smith & Caugheys, Auckland’s department store, Giapo, the best ice cream in the country perhaps, and The Civic, less impressive from the outside, but incredible inside. If the front doors are open (only when events are on) definitely pop in and take a look around.
You’ll now be back at Aotea Square. if you have a spare half hour after this it’s worth a walk through Myers Park up to K Road and back. To get there walk through Aotea Square alongside the Town Hall, through the car park past my favourite theatres, The Basement and Q Theatre, and through the tunnel under Mayoral Drive.
Myers Park is one of the oldest in Auckland, home to huge palm trees, an historic Kindergarden, various statues, and a very funky playground. The steps at the top of the park will take you up into St. Kevin’s Arcade, and out onto K Road, a rather lively part of town.
For locals / previous visitors is there anything I’ve missed here? If anyone tries this route please let me know!