Kyle Mills' guide to Auckland

After 14 years playing international cricket for a living, one thing never changes for BLACKCAP Kyle Mills. “I love landing at Auckland International Airport. It gets me every single time.”

If the winds obey, you sweep in over the dramatic west coast. Your jaw drops at the sheer scale of Kaipara Harbour — a massive estuary north of Auckland. Then you see the raw beauty of the city’s western beaches. The endless sand of Muriwai. The singing surf at Piha. Dramatic cliffs of Karekare, a loved place with wild waves that New Zealand poet Allen Curnow alluded to as “an incorrigible music”.

Touching down, Mills can’t wait to stroll though the arrivals walkway — to the recorded sound of glassy-clear New Zealand birdsong and haunting Maori karakia (prayer songs), surrounded by floor-to-ceiling images of beautiful local beaches and rainforest. To visitors, it’s impressive. To New Zealanders, it brings goose bumps.

“It’s a sense of home for me,” says Mills, born in this city. “It’s special. I’m thinking that I can’t wait to dig my toes into the sand with the pohutukawa trees above me, to be on the eastern beaches near my house.”

Auckland from the water

Mills grew up paddling, playing and fishing around the shores and islands of the Waitemata Harbour. The best way to understand life as an Aucklander, he says, is to get in a boat. “Fish and swim in our amazing gulf, fire up the barbecue and enjoy your day’s catch!

“I can recommend fishing in the Motuihe channel (in the Hauraki Gulf between Motutapu and Motuihe islands), and swimming anywhere off the back of Waiheke or Motutapu. On a lovely summer’s day we’d jump off the boat and swim back into shore — I did a lot of that growing up, and it’s one thing I can’t wait to do more when I eventually have more time.”

Cricket World Cup 2015

But at 35, he’s still in demand bowling the white ball at the highest level of the game.

He has 236 One-Day International wickets. The only New Zealander with more is spinner Daniel Vettori. Mills deals out pace. His unmatched experience and accuracy — he can land the ball on a 10-cent coin — mean he’s a calm head when the tension is high, runs are tight and the captain needs a dependable go-to man.

The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup is special to him not only because it’s likely to be his last, but because, in all his career, this is the only one he will get to play on his native turf. That includes Eden Park, his home ground as one of the Auckland Aces’ most popular players.

Kyle's Auckland tips

As a lifelong Aucklander, he’s also the team’s go-to man when it comes to tips for unwinding between games. Where’s the best coffee? Try a café called La Vista, near his home in beachside  St Heliers Bay. Best sports bar to catch a game? “Northern Steamship if you’re in town, Clevedon Hotel for something rural.”

Dinner after a game? “Harbourside Ocean Bar Grill in the lovely old Ferry Building on Quay St — they do fantastic seafood.”

Best ice cream? “You’ve got to try Giapo! It’s in the Civic theatre building on Queen Street”

Tiny, historic Clevedon, on the country fringes of South Auckland, is where his brother lives. On Sunday mornings, it hosts a highly regarded Farmers’ Market — a smorgasbord of Kiwi life, complete with pony rides.

In the inner city you might bump into Mills at Wynyard Quarter, where a string of smart restaurants overlooks the Waitemata. It’s surrounded by innovative, open air play spaces and plazas designed for parents and children alike. It’s hard to tear him away from his beloved harbour.

“Oh, you’ve got to take the family to Waiheke Island, too!” he exclaims. “Catch a ferry, hire scooters for the day. Enjoy the beaches, cafés and vineyards — Cable Bay, Mudbrick. You just can’t beat Auckland on a gorgeous day out on the gulf.”