Keeping it good in the hood in Auckland and Wellington

New Zealand isn’t just about glorious nature – four of the country’s trendiest neighbourhoods are up there with the hippest.

New Zealand isn’t just about glorious nature – four of the country’s trendiest neighbourhoods are up there with the hippest.

We look at four New Zealand suburbs – Auckland’s Ponsonby and Kingsland, Wellington’s Cuba Street and Lyall Bay – to discover what makes these precincts the epicentres of New Zealand hipsterism.

Ponsonby’s Inner-city Chic

Once decidedly working-class, Ponsonby’s rise as New Zealand’s most happening suburb has been dramatic, and comprehensive – you can spend from dawn until well after dusk among its cafes, boutiques, restaurants and bars.

Start with coffee and breakfast at Dizengoff, the uber-hip kosher cafe fuelling Ponsonby-goers for years. There’s shopping aplenty, from cool threads at Miss Crabb and the sensory delight of perfumes at CURIONOIR to the country’s hippest handbags at Deadly Ponies and all the options at Ponsonby Central markets.

You’ll need to re-energise – Il Buco is a hole in the wall selling excellent Roman style pizza by the slice and some of the best coffee in Ponsonby. Or try the Unbakery, with its seasonal range of (mostly) raw foods. Dinner is sorted: Ponsonby Road Bistro recently won Metro magazine’s Best City-Fringe Bistro, and SPQR has been the coolest spot to watch the passing parade for as long as anyone can remember, although Orphans Kitchen, with its emphasis on “purity, simplicity and sustainability”, is a worthy contender.

If you want to round out your day with a drink, Mea Culpa is Ponsonby’s best purveyor of cocktails, while Golden Dawn has a great wine lists, with DJs and bands keeping things happening until late.

Travel Tips

Ponsonby is a 30-minute stroll from the CBD, and half-an-hour from the airport. Nearby are the secluded little beaches of Herne Bay and the Auckland waterfront. See for more information.

Kingsland – Royally Hip

Kingsland packs an awful lot into a small space and, come the evenings, as commuters flood from trains and into its bars and restaurants, it turns from sleepy hub to cosmopolitan centre.

Coffee and toast from Drummer Boy, a tiny stand operating near the station, is a great start to the day, as is Atomic with its award-winning interior, which has been serving coffee and excellent food since 1995. Try the waffles at Mondays, a whole-food cafe and bar complete with an upstairs yoga studio. For something even more virtuous, the Tonic Room wellness store has all manner of goodies. Get a new look at King Fadez Barbers.

Dinner is covered: for one of the best burgers in town, try Grills and Shakes. Wash it down with an Oreo milkshake, or any of their other 68 flavours. Petra Shawarma offers excellent Lebanese cuisine and is one of the city’s best cheap eats, while Phil’s Kitchen, Venosa and Farang offer slightly pricier fare. For post-prandial drinks, The Kingslander and The Portland Public House have you covered, whether it’s somewhere to watch the rugby (the former), or to sup on a craft beer (the latter) while watching an acoustic set.

Travel Tips

Kingsland is one of Auckland’s best-served suburbs for public transport, with its station and plenty of buses rumbling down New North Road. The best time to check out this stylish part of town is when the All Blacks take the field at nearby Eden Park. See for details.

Capital of Cool – Cuba Street

Sitting on Wellington’s Cuba Street watching the fashionable walk past the buskers and boutiques gives you a sense how cool this precinct is. Look in any direction and you’ll see a cafe, whether it’s the institution that is Fidel’s Cafe, Best Ugly Bagels, which specialises in Montreal-style bagels, or single-origin coffee at Customs by Coffee Supreme. CNN has rated Wellington one of the world’s great coffee cities.

Nor will you want for food – try Matterhorn for excellent shared plates, Floriditas for smart and seasonal food, or Loretta for wood-fired pizza. San Fran is the post-dinner spot to check out the hottest new band. Laundry, under a sign promising 55-minute dry cleaning, is the spot for soul food and late-night beats, and Good Luck is all about the mellow atmosphere and excellent cocktails. If you prefer the daylight hours, Fix & Fogg make the best peanut butter in Aotearoa, Slow Boat Records is where you’ll spot hard-to-find Flying Nun vinyl, and Pegasus Books has that rare first edition. For something a bit different, check out vintage clothing shop Hunters and Collectors, Hamish McKay Gallery for new and established artists, and Bicycle Junction for all things cycling.  

Travel Tips

One of the joys of Wellington is how compact it is – Cuba Street is well within walking distance of Te Papa, the Wellington Cable Car and Oriental Bay. And it’s still only a 20-minute drive to the airport. See

On the Fringe - Lyall Bay

Wellington’s southern fringe is a series of bays, of which the biggest and best known is Lyall Bay – a popular surf beach, it’s now also one of the coolest places to sip, savour and wile away a sunny day. Start the day off right at Maranui Beach Café, get in early for a window seat and a gorgeous view over the water. The beachside café is part of a surf club and is adorned with kitsch local memorabilia. Nearby Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli is run by the same team and offers equally brilliant coffee as well as New Zealand-made jams and conserves to take home.

Lyall Bay's newest resident, The Botanist is proof that the coast is humming with excitement. Serving up some of the best in organic vegetarian and vegan fare, the Botanist’s sunny north-facing courtyard is a great spot for a coffee or a cold beer from one of six rotating craft beer taps.

The Spruce Goose arrived in Lyall Bay in 2013 and is the perfect spot to linger over a gourmet platter and New Zealand wine. Lounge around outside on a bean bag and breathe the bracing sea air.

Parrot Dog Brewery is one of Wellington’s best known craft breweries and Lyall Bay is their brewery home. Pop in and sample their wares at the cellar door before making the difficult decision of which one to take home. From an IPA to a red ale or a delightful pale ale, you may need to purchase a couple of each.

Travel Tips

Lyall Bay is 15 minutes’ drive from downtown Wellington, less than 10 minutes from the airport. The sandy beach is popular with surfers and windsurfers, and the bay is a great vantage point to watch planes come and go from the international airport.