Kiwi Cool

Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Travel Writer

Just as it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere for the barfly, winter-jaded New Yorkers can take comfort in knowing that somewhere on this planet, it’s feeling like summer.

Down in the balmy Southern Hemisphere, February and March are lounge-by-the-pool months — and nowhere more so than in Auckland, New Zealand’s rising capital of cool. If you’ve been hankering for Oceania, are passing through the South Pacific, or simply have miles to burn, head for Auckland, where locals turn every summer day into an outdoor party.

Auckland has always been an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, but lately it’s also one of the buzziest world cities, regularly ranked atop those quality-of-life lists. Its 1.4 million inhabitants include plenty of young, international professionals — many of them Jewish — and every year, more visitors are drawn here by the hip, multicultural vibe. Auckland’s extroverted face is never more evident than during its Miami-style subtropical summer, when the festivals heat up, providing nonstop entertainment alongside the spectacular waterfront.

Perched at the northern tip of New Zealand’s island belt, the so-called “City of Sails” purports to have the most yachts of any harbor in the world — and to gaze out at the vast blue Pacific, dotted with endless white sails and bobbing powerboats, the moniker is well-deserved. One in three Kiwis lives in Auckland; of these, one third own a boat, the better to navigate this watery burg’s sprawling miles of sandy beaches, crystalline inlets and dozens of surrounding islands.

Filled with a young and open-minded populace, New Zealand has always had a multicultural bent, and Jews have thrived here over the decades. In fact, the 150-year-old Auckland Jewish Immigration organization has long promoted New Zealand as a destination for refuge-seeking Jews, providing newcomers with a warm welcome and practical assistance, all with the aim of fortifying a 3,000-strong community with strong local pride.

Observant Jewish life in Auckland is centered around a complex on Grey’s Avenue, home to the immigration office, the Orthodox Auckland Hebrew Congregation and the Grey’s Avenue Deli, Auckland’s only kosher café. Both the immigration office and the shul make a point of welcoming visitors: an airport greeting with car service, accommodations assistance and local Jewish contacts are all just an e-mail away for Jewish travelers. Reform Jews are served by the Beth Shalom Progressive Jewish Congregation, with traditional services and a similarly welcoming style.

With summer already in full swing, the Auckland Arts Festival is the city’s premier event showcasing arts and culture. More than 75 events feature artists from New Zealand and around the world: theater, classical music, modern dance, cabaret and folklore are highlights, with a particular emphasis on free, family-oriented events, many of them outdoors. A water puppet show from Vietnam, and operas and oratorios by Handel and Purcell performed by the Berlin Baroque Ensemble are just a few of the acts on view from March 2-20.

Through March, Auckland’s beloved parks come alive with the diverse sounds of Dixieland, mambo, jazz and other genres in a series titled, simply, Music in the Parks. Many of the concerts encourage dancing; some even feature lessons or demonstrations.

A 35-minute ferry ride from the city center, Waiheke Island plays host to Headland Sculpture on the Gulf, now through Feb. 20. The event, New Zealand’s major sculpture showcase, features works by leading Kiwi artists in a waterfront setting amid vineyards and romantic cafés.

Also during February, the shore will serve as the setting for two popular music festivals. The Kia Motors Devonport Wine, Food and Music Festival takes place from Feb. 19-20: most tickets sell out in advance for the wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and live bands, with proceeds going to charities. On the 26th, crowds gather at Mission Bay for the eponymous Jazz and Blues Street Festival, featuring more than 20 live groups.

Next up is the alternative Auckland Fringe Festival, an avant-garde event event that runs from Feb. 25-March 13 at venues across the city — including, according to advance press, a Jewish prayer hall (See website below for a full lineup). Billed as an “open platform” event, the Fringe Festival encourages artists of all genres —from improv theater to dance and visual arts — to take part.

While the sprawling waterfront plays a central role in Auckland life, it’s by no means the only attraction. The areas around Quay Street, a historic district with rowdy taverns, and Queen Street, a main thoroughfare filled with cafés and boutiques, are the subject of ongoing revitalization projects, as is a substantial part of the harbor. Auckland’s many pedestrian-friendly shopping districts, from the posh eateries of Ponsonby Road and the pretty Victorian shops of Parnell to the hippie-bohemian vibe along Karangahape Road, where live blues wafts from late-night bars, have undergone upscale transformations.

On a sunny weekend afternoon, it’s easy to see why so many hipsters, surfers and aesthetes have made Auckland into a South Pacific magnet for the cutting edge. Kayakers ply the inlets, rollerbladers whiz along the city’s dozens of miles of trails, and even car-bound travelers ditch the road for a bike rental, taking advantage of one of the world’s sunniest climates.

With some of the most beautiful beaches just a short jaunt from the city’s center, Auckland could easily sell its resort side — but as summer heats up with festivals, live music and boating events of all kinds, there are more and more reasons to stay in town. n

Auckland, New Zealand’s “City of Sails,” boasts one of the world’s most scenic harbors and a full schedule of cultural events.

Comments

Having emigrated to New Zealand myself I can say that I think it is the best country on earth :-)

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