Nature's favourite child

Blessed by geography and served well by development, Auckland offers a superb quality of life for residents and visitors alike

According to its Maori name, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland is a city of many lovers. In fact, the Maoris desired this place so much that they fought over it for centuries.

And there was good reason to. Have a look at Auckland on the map and it is easy to see that it is geographically blessed. Its two harbours frame a narrow isthmus punctuated by volcanic cones and surrounded by fertile farmland. From any of its numerous vantage points you'll be surprised how close the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean come to kissing and forming a new island. And within an hour's drive from the city's high-rise heart, there are dense tracts of rainforest, thermal springs, wineries and wildlife reserves. No wonder Auckland is regularly rated one of the world's top cities for quality of life and living.

Auckland hosts four matches during the World Cup. This includes the bigclash between tournament hosts Australia and New Zealand on February 28 and a semi-final on March 24. The matches will be played at Eden Park, 4km from the CBD.

What to pack: Make sure to bring good walking shoes, a light jacket, rain gear and sunscreen, as well as your scuba diving card (if you're certified). Auckland is close to some of the best diving in the world.

Where to stay

High-end: Refurbished to be hip, Hotel de Brett is a historic, family-friendly hotel with boutique touches. Great Ponsonby Arthotel may look small from the outside but opens out into an expansive space, and does great breakfasts. Classy, central and full of gadgets, Quadrant is an apartment-style complex. The units are small and the bathrooms tiny, but the location can't be beaten.

Mid-range: A lot of Waldorfs have opened in recent years, all of which are affordable, modern apartments in city-fringe locations. The Waldorf Celestion is stylish and boldly painted in a red, black and grey colour palette. A tower-block hotel offering numerous apartments - from studios to three-bedroom suites over dozens of floors - City Life has a heated lap pool, gym, valet parking and a babysitting service. The YMCA-runCity Lodge has very clean, if small, rooms.

Budget: Centrally located Attic Backpackers features contemporary and colourful decor, and is broken up into small and large dorms, female-only dorms, single and double en suite rooms. Most rooms at the Kiwi International Hotel have en suite bathrooms. Plus it's a pleasant 20-minute walk from the cricket stadium. Jucy Hotel has two wings, the main section with en suite rooms and the hostel wing with bunk beds and shared bathrooms.

A tram near the Auckland Zoo © Getty Images

Where to eat

High-end: The award-winning Grove offers romantic fine dining at its best. The menu encourages experimentation and the service is supremely good. Regional Chinese flavours combine with a funky retro Pacific ambience at Blue Breeze Inn. The menu standouts include steamed buns with Peking pork belly and pickled cucumber, and cumin-spiced lamb. At the warm and friendly Java Room, they serve an eclectic mix of Asian cuisines amid stunning skyline views.

Mid-range: With a vibrant atmosphere and an innovative design concept, Monsoon Poon offers choices from India, South China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. At Eight at the Langham there are eight open kitchens offering world food, including the freshest sushi and sashimi, seafood, tandoori and dim sum. Depot is TV chef Al Brown's first Auckland eatery, offering first-rate Kiwi comfort food in informal surroundings. Dishes are designed to be shared, and a pair of clever shuckers serves up the city's freshest clams and oysters.

Budget: Bolliwood is one of the most popular restaurants on Ponsonby Road, featuring a large screen playing Bollywood films to enhance the exotic Indian served here. There are five branches across Auckland. Portions are large at the modern, upmarket Ponsonby Road Bistro, with an Italian/French sensibility and first-rate service. Another food experience worth trying is at the city's bustling night markets, held at a variety of suburban locations from Thursday to Saturday, where around 80 ethnic food stalls offer cuisine from Argentina to Turkey.

Where to party

For rock, indie and alternative sounds from live bands and DJs, Ding Dong Lounge is the place to go. The admission charge here varies every week and it is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 8pm to 4am. Golden Dawn is a hip late-night drinking den that regularly hosts events, including DJs and live bands. There's also excellent food on offer. The Kings Arms Bar, with a sun-drenched beer garden smack bang in the centre of town, likes to call itself a bar, an authentic rock music venue, an affordable eatery and an unpretentious no-fuss pub experience. It is also Auckland's leading small venue for local and up-and-coming international bands.

The Sky Tower © AFP

Don't leave Auckland without

Doing the skywalk and the sky jump from the Sky Tower. It is a mind-blowing experience.

Walking around Auckland. For details and guides for free walks, visit Short Walks In Auckland.

Driving to Whangarei (160km north) and diving at the Poor Knights, one of the best diving sites in the world. A good diving operator is Dive! Tutukaka.

Travelling to Waitomo (192km south) for some blackwater rafting (navigating underground rivers in caves and narrow tunnels). This is not for the claustrophobic.

Trekking or hiking around the great lakes and hills of the North Island. For walks ranging from a few hours to a few days look up Walking Legends.

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