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Auckland, New Zealand

It’s a city that stands on the edge of an island, boldly facing toward the South Pacific Ocean. Its geologically sublime location inspires love of the outdoors that prevails all year long. And yet, it delivers a big city experience, complete with diverse flavors and stories that date back a millennia. From beautiful walks in the park, to world-class surfing at nearby beaches, it’s easy to see why Auckland, New Zealand is a Place to Love.

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Places to Love - Phoenix - Samantha Brown

Exploring the City of Sails

Auckland is known as the city of sails. Did you know one in four Aucklanders owns a boat? As with most places centered around a body of water, you really need to get out on the Waitematā Harbour to truly experience the city. Not just for another perspective of the city, but to enjoy one of their favorite past times: sailing. I joined Peter Lester, one of the biggest names in the sport. He’s sailed in two America’s Cup tournaments, coached a team, and now serves as a commentator for the sport. We sailed the harbor with Explore Group on an impressive 50-foot monohull, with a crew of five. Peter showed me how to hoist the sail on these huge sailboats, and I think my arms are still sore many months later. Don’t let your favorite yacht rock hits confuse you—sailing is hard work!

If you go

Live out your America’s Cup dreams by sailing an actual yacht used in the competition. Learn more here.

Learn more

Lear more about Explore Group here.

Auckland, New Zealand - Places to Love - Samantha Brown

A Taste of Lebanon in New Zealand

Named after a thoroughfare in Beirut’s bustling center, Gemmayze Street celebrates Lebanese food shot through a Kiwi prism. Chef Samir Allen’s Lebanese ancestors arrived in New Zealand 130-years ago. Today, he draws inspiration from the culinary dishes and traditions of Lebanon, influenced by working in New Zealand’s kitchens. Get the most out of a meal here by ordering jeeb, meaning bring in Arabic. Dishes, selected by the kitchen, just arrive—no ordering required. Tables of seven or more must order the ‘jeeb’ set menu. Smaller groups may order a la carte if desired, but trust me—if you don’t do the jeeb, you are missing out!

If you go

For most people, hummus is a dip. Here (and in Lebanon), it’s a meal in and of itself. Enjoy with big piece of pita bread.

More Info

Gemmayze Street
15-16, St Kevins Arcade
183 Karangahape Rd,
Auckland, New Zealand 1010

Places to Love - Phoenix - Samantha Brown

A green space like no other

Less than a 15 minute walk from the city center, Auckland Domain is the perfect place for a hike, complete with views of Auckland. I had the great please of exploring the park with Paora Puru, a local Māori guide. Paora gives a tour unlike any other – one that’s good for history and your soul. Where I saw a park with beautiful trees and soccer fields, he sees the place where his ancestors once were, and where they continue to inhabit. The Maori people believe that the environment and their people are one in the same. One thing he said that really stuck with me: humans are sacred, and our environment is sacred. We as humans must humble ourselves to nature. If nature is unwell, humans cannot be well, either.

If you go

Auckland Domain is the remnant of the ancient volcano Pukekawa.


Learn about Auckland Domain here.

Places to Love - Phoenix - Samantha Brown

To your health

One of my most memorable experiences from Auckland? Enjoying kava and conversation at 4 Shells with owners Todd and Anau Henry. Kava is a drink prepared from the root of piper methysticum, commonly grown in the South Pacific. Kava has been consumed as a beverage for thousands of years, and it’s revered for its spiritual, cultural and healing values for many South Pacific communities. There are hundreds of different kava cultivars, each with a slightly different flavor and effect. The one I drank took immediate affect—my mouth, chest, then legs and feet felt tingly and relaxed. Many people report sleepiness after consuming. Maybe this is the jet-lag cure I’ve been looking for!


Growing up in Tonga, kava has always been a part of Anau’s life – a passion that was passed down from her father. Anau drinks kava in the most traditional way, chugging the entire bowl’s worth in one fell swoop.


Four Shells Kava Room & Shop
12/210 Victoria Street West,
CBD Auckland 1010
020 4184 2355

Auckland, New Zealand - Places to Love - Samantha Brown

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

This might surprise you, but I’ve always wanted to play rugby just to know what it feels like to be in a scrum. That’s when the teams huddle up with their heads down, attempting to gain possession of the ball. I tried this and much more on my outing with the semi-pro female rugby league team, the Warriors. Captain Georgia Hale and teammate Kathleen Wharton explained what makes rugby so fun to watch (hint: it’s very physical, and I had the bruises to prove it). I joined them for passing, tackling and kicking (and missing) drills. Even though this was the first time I’d played rugby, I felt like a part of the team right away. Well, a bench-warming part of the team anyhow.


Rugby is more popular than ever—especially for girls, who can play in leagues starting at the age of 4. Yep, you heard that right!


Learn more about the Warriors here.

Auckland, New Zealand - Places To Love - Samantha Brown

Ice Cream or Art?

Auckland’s hilly neighborhoods lead to main thoroughfares of local shops and restaurants, making is an idyllic place for an afternoon stroll… Especially one that ends at an ice cream parlor. Giapo isn’t your typical scoop shop. Here, nothing is as expected. Instead of posted flavors, or case where you can check out flavor offerings, a “host” invites you to their station. You’ll first learn about, then sample, ice cream creations. Chefs prepare your frozen treat, with a serious attention to detail. You may order a cone that looks like colossal chocolate squid, or a cone that comes with its own picture frame. It’s a dessert experience you will not soon forget.


Really, really love ice cream? Sign up for the Giapo Master Class. It’s an ideal experience for the family, a group of friends, or a corporate team from work. The hour-and-a-half class experience invites you to create your own ice cream by following a tried and tested recipe, using their state-of-the-art equipment.


Giapo Ice Cream
12 Gore St.
Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand - Places to Love - Samantha Brown

A beach like no other

Even though the natural surrounds of Auckland are quite lovely, I craved getting out of the city to experience the incredible coastline. Piha is just an hour away, but with the narrow and winding roads, it feels quite remote. Those who venture here are rewarded with a dramatic black-sand beach, bookended by rugged cliffs. It’s also a popular surfing location (fun fact: surfing came here in 1952 by way of some California surfers). Though the water’s strong current made me anxious, I couldn’t resist taking a surf lesson. I eventually stood up on my board and rode a wave to shore. Incredible.

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From beautiful walks in the park, to world-class surfing at nearby beaches, it’s easy to see why Auckland, New Zealand is a Place to Love.

If you go

Piha is still largely untainted by commercialism only having a shop, a takeaway bar and the famous Piha Café. No gasoline is sold at Piha, with the nearest station 30 kilometers away in Henderson. Plan ahead.


Want to take a surf lesson in Piha? Learn more here.

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