Kiwi party capital: bar hopping in Auckland

Special New Zealand feature

William Mace offers an insider's guide on where to head for a top night on the town in Auckland.

Auckland sometimes struggles to live up to its billing as a progressive metropolis of the South Pacific. The traffic is lousy, local government is a mess and as the commercial hub of the Kiwi economy it's not exactly been humming throughout the recession on this side of the ditch.

But that doesn't seem to worry the region's residents; they've enjoyed one of the best summers in recent times, touring the coastlines by day and venturing into the city's stunning restaurants, bars and night-clubs by night.

Auckland finally has a world-class 12,000-capacity music venue, Vector Arena, and is slowly gearing up for an influx of tourists surrounding next year's Rugby World Cup. The city has always prepared itself well for major events with waterfront precincts built to host two America's Cup regattas standing the test of time.

To get a true Auckland experience it's necessary to head out of the CBD and into the city's suburbs, many of which reflect a mix of colonial architecture, indigenous revival and migrant culture.

Kingsland is a quintessential city-fringe suburb with ornate Edwardian facades housing cafes and restaurants which cross the city's cultural spectrum. Chinese, Indian, French and Thai eateries ooze personality and authentic cuisine only steps from the sports pubs and trendy bars that will soon feature in the plans of Rugby World Cup-goers.

The two main bars on this stretch - The Neighbourhood and The Kingslander – both have a view of the cup's centrepiece stadium at Eden Park and are big enough to entertain hundreds of frothy-mouthed footy fans come Spring next year.

Right now, they're content with catering to the fashion-conscious flatters and upwardly mobile homeowners who populate Kingsland's gentrified suburban slopes. Kingsland train station is a historical focal point for the community, but the area's residents are sceptical that it will cope with demand come cup-time. Regardless, it's a short taxi or bus ride to the similarly bustling nightlife of Ponsonby, Freeman's Bay, the Viaduct Harbour, the Britomart Quarter or the late night spots on Karangahape Road.

Ponsonby is renowned for its unparalleled restaurant and cafe culture which typically spreads patrons to its shadowy bars five nights a week. There are regularly new establishments to try here and a vibrant singles scene for those with imaginative pick up lines and a heavy wallet.

Catching some sun and a view of the city skyline from the Chapel Bar is a great starting point. Cross the iconic road, which has had its speed limit reduced recently to make it more pedestrian-friendly, to find The Ponsonby Social Club and the newest bar on the strip, The Longroom.

But drift down the hill from the old Ponsonby haunts and you'll stumble across some of Auckland's newer crop of inner city super bars.

Head towards the towering brick chimney of Victoria Park Market and you'll find La Zeppa; a spacious converted warehouse with stylish ironwork and a sweeping bar leading out to a terrace. The afterwork crowd revel here but the same Freeman's Bay neighbourhood is home to Sale St, a self-titled “mega venue” with a mid-bar micro-brewery and a constantly crowded outdoor area. There's still space for more than a few Kiwi-grade celebrity egos though.

It was the late '90s when Auckland's last bar bubble burst all over the waterfront precinct known as the Viaduct Harbour. The revitalisation of the area originally catered for the arrival of the America's Cup regatta in 2000 and in the 10 years since, locals have had a love-hate relationship with the bars there.

Despite the after-dark resemblance many may have to a vacuum-packed meat market, most of the establishments transition effortlessly between classy lunch venue, al fresco dinner spot and playpen of the young and tipsy. Picks here are Soul Bar or Kermadec for an iconic Auckland meal, Bungalow 8 for a cocktail and a chic house beat, or to escape the bustle survey nearby Princes Wharf.

It's a short walk along the waterfront to where a dozen bars have sprung up around the redeveloped Britomart train and transport terminal [easily reached from Kingsland or other outlying suburbs]. The deer-antler wall hangings, ornate mirror frames and elegantly prepared cocktails of Smith Bar ooze a post-modern vibe out onto the streets behind the station.

At the other end of the spectrum, Boogiewonderland captures a crowd from a parallel universe; one where it's forever Saturday night 1975 and dancefloor fever is being passed around quicker than swine flu.

However, if you have moved ahead with your musical tastes over the last 30 years, you should be able to satisfy your ears somewhere in this city.

Fu Bar is an Auckland institution, hosting drum 'n' bass, breaks, hip hop, dub step and a melange of other genres almost nightly in collaboration with sister venue Zen. Both are side-by-side on Albert Street, just a short walk off the beaten path from the waterfront or Queen Street. Most international DJs and producers, not to mention New Zealand's finest, spin their tunes here or a quick cab ride away at the top of town on K' Rd [short for Karangahape, but try saying that to the driver after a few 42 Below vodkas].

The clubs here all crank well into the small hours, as does the street itself. Renowned as the centre of Auckland's gay and lesbian scene, K' Rd's atmosphere is inclusive and electric even without the neon lights and pumping electronic music emanating from cavernous clubs.

You'll find electro-house and drum 'n' bass at Coherent and Ink, house, trance and techno at Bacio and Kiss Bar, and a variety of live music at the bigger venues of Galatos or The Studio, all within a close proximity to eachother. At the intersection of Queen Street and K' Rd is a small but worthy bar for those interested in a Kiwi take on anything from soul and funk to afro-beat – the Khuja Lounge.

For further information on Auckland's bars, clubs or restaurants visit or plug their names into Google for a closer look.

A catalogue of the city's musical happenings – from underground to internationals - can be found at

Check to see if there are any major international acts in town that you might want to cross off your list.

This series of articles has been sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.