The endless joy of 'jafa' city

'JAFA' CITY: A big weekend in the city should be enough to silence even the harshest critics.
'JAFA' CITY: A big weekend in the city should be enough to silence even the harshest critics.

Auckland cops plenty of grief.

Travel anywhere south of the Bombay Hills, and to say you reside in New Zealand's largest metropolis is akin to offending someone's mother. Try it some time. Be prepared for the relentless jibes, though.

Snobby, latte-sipping city slickers. "Jafa" - that's the common perception.

Even if you don't originate from the area, almost instantly you're tarred with the same brush.

Truth is most people form such cliched judgments on preconceived ideas. Most either haven't ventured to this thriving hub, or were too overwhelmed to break out of their conservative shells while doing so. I can empathise. At first, it's easy to get lost, or not know where to look.

The fast-paced, comparably expensive lifestyle, is not for everyone.

By world standards, though, Auckland is a small city exuding typical Kiwi charms.

If you harness any sort of enthusiasm for excitement, adventure and experiences, this is a great place to visit and, indeed, live.

Through pure population, Auckland offers more than anywhere else in the country. Sure Wellington boasts the World Of WearableArts; the annual sevens party; a beating heart to the city and snazzy style; Parliament's heavy-hitters; New Zealand's best cricket ground and small-scale one-off concerts.

But, let's be honest, its climate is horrid, especially in winter. Everyone craves sun. Not a bone-chilling southerly.

After growing up in Foxton - a small coastal town on the Horowhenua/Kapiti coast - having lived in Palmerston North, Wellington and Hamilton, before settling in the big smoke four years ago, and having frequently sampled the striking beauty of Queenstown and Wanaka, this objective observer is well placed to break down some barriers.

Most days Auckland is dynamic, vibrant and diverse. All at once. And that's not confined to weekends. Any night you can seek out music, fine food, sport and cultural events.

Take this recent weekend. But, remember, all in 72-odd eventful hours. Two small town bros let loose in the big city. And, boy, was it good times.

Pushing the boundaries doesn't get much more extreme than AJ Hackett's bungy. Off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, no less. On the way to the North Shore I can forever casually state, "I jumped off this bridge."

Priceless doesn't come close to describing the revealing post-jump photos. Seeing pure fear on a best mate's pale Maori face is something I will never let him forget. Never.

By chance we were both nervous first-time jumpers.

Unless you've walked up those stairs, stood on the platform while your toes dangle over the edge, waited for what seemed an age for two boats to pass under the bridge, with your heart wanting to leap out of your chest, you can't begin to appreciate those moments before entrusting your life to a rope. What an exhilarating feeling. Water never looked so scary.

Adrenaline is a powerful drug, one that filled every vein in our bodies.

One of many new-age eateries, the Food Truck Garage puts a different spin on grease, serving New Zealand's healthiest fast food, with no deep fryer in sight. Other than a beetroot overload, this popular spot, known to many through the television show, is as funky as it is tasty.

The Chinese Lantern Festival doesn't immediately strike you as

a boys' weekend event, but after a few quiet beers the sights, sounds and atmosphere are genuinely captivating. Situated at the inner-city Albert Park, one of many in the CBD, the festival allows you to sample authentic Chinese cuisine while surrounded by impressive hand-crafted illuminated decorations.

That's just day one. Time to recharge.

After the cannoning crew failed to turn up, we took a trip to Waiheke Island for wine tasting. Again, not something you expect two men to enjoy, but with an open mind and in blazing sun, how could one not soak up the experience?

From the outside it's easy to paint Auckland as merely a large city with major transport issues. That, however, completely discounts the exotic, often secluded, and surprisingly accessible destinations that seem miles from high-rise apartment blocks.

Golden sand beaches at Omaha, Tawharanui and Langs are simply glorious spots for getaways. Those are just a stone's throw north.

Out west, the more rustic coastline at Piha showcases contrasting scenery featuring giant cliff faces, picturesque walks and rugged surf.

Even in the thick of it you'll find Takapuna and Mission Bay offer peaceful escapes from everyday life.

A tad farther afield - just a 40-minute plane ride - there's Great Barrier Island, a largely untouched tranquil paradise where gravel roads, stunning coast and fishing form the relaxed modus operandi.

Likewise, Waiheke has a bit of everything - olive tasting, seafood delicacies and award-winning vineyards gaze back over the breath-taking Hauraki Gulf.

Over the years it's evolved from hippie hideaway to desirable community. World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry and Sir Peter Leitch - aka the Mad Butcher - are just two notable personalities who own properties there.

A large section of hardcore local residents, who remain devoted to recycling and clean-green ideals, ensure the Island's identity is firmly retained. They're only too happy to remind you of Waiheke's "2 degrees warmer" micro-climate.

On any weekend in Auckland you'll find endless music options. Festivals, big-name drawcard concerts, jazz, or acoustic live sessions. Take your pick.

For the first time in New Zealand we saw rap superstar Eminem engrossing a 60,000-strong sell-out crowd at Western Springs, a multi-purpose venue also used to stage the Big Day Out, ever-popular speedway racing and living and arts event, Pasifika.

Backed up by fellow hip-hop artist J Cole, even at 41 years old, Eminem did not disappoint. Witnessing thousands of lighters in the backdrop of darkness was special.

New laws making bars close no later than 4am has done nothing to curb Auckland's exuberant nightlife, either.

From Western Springs it can be difficult to flag a taxi. Fear not. The night is young. A short wander and you'll discover Ponsonby - a trendy, popular day and night spot littered with bars, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs. Any time your night can be tailored to suit the mood, or company.

From the low-key atmosphere of a social club to the outdoor area sprinkled with coloured lights at Golden Dawn, or the more upbeat vibes of Long Room and Freeman and Grey, Ponsonby Rd offers something for everyone.

There's even "late night diners" for an alternative to satisfy those standard fast food carvings.

If you're staying downtown - such as at the roomy CityLife apartments - it would be rude not to check out Britomart. This precinct, not far from the Viaduct, similarly pumps with variety. Shaky Isles soft tortillas are also a must for lunch.

After any exuberant Saturday night on the town, Sunday brunch is a given. Coffee and food - in that order - to kick start proceedings, please.

For such necessities look no further than Wynyard Quarter. Built on the waterfront in 2011 for the Rugby World Cup, thankfully this remains a flourishing area with an array of restaurants and bars.

Tucked in behind is Silo Park, where hundreds flock to view open-air movies on still, warm Friday nights and sample night markets.

While we soaked up the best of Auckland, the inaugural NRL Nines competition took centre stage at Eden Park. Sunday was our chance to witness its success first-hand.

Such a large-scale tournament was a massive coup for the city.

The Warriors are New Zealand's sole side in Australia's 16-team NRL league. Yet, somehow, the two-day event was staged here before 90,000 people without a hitch. And it'll be back for at least the next two years. Get your tickets now.

A constant buzz resonated around town. NRL memorabilia splashed the city with a coloured canvas. You couldn't find a Warriors singlet that wasn't size 3XL in any sports store, such was the event's popularity.

Eden Park was a mixture of costumes and hearty fans. Unlike the sevens in the capital, the action on the pitch was genuinely followed by those off it.

The Warriors' success - they were knocked out in the semifinals - kept locals entertained. And suspicions the rougher league crowd would get out of hand didn't eventuate. Alcohol was well monitored. As a result, few aggressive punters were ejected. It created a festive atmosphere, catering for every type of fan. I will certainly be back.

The party doesn't cease at the stadium but flows on to Kingsland, where you can recount the best dressed characters and your team's fortunes over a nice cold beverage. Trust me, after a day in the long hot summer sun, you'll need more than one. And on returning home friends will be jealous of your tan lines.

So, planning a lad's trip? You can't go wrong with Auckland.

Base it around the Nines extravaganza. Throw in a bungy, bridge climb, Waiheke Island, a Bularangi Harley tour of the city's sweeping sights, a superb selection of food and music, and you will be left wanting more.

I can promise you this place will leave a lasting impression.

You may never leave.

More thrills to come

Here's another excuse for a boys' weekend in the big city. Witness no-holds-barred sprint action and over 500km of motorsport racing at Pukekohe over Anzac weekend. The ITM 500 Auckland (V8 Supercars) will return to Pukekohe Park Raceway for four days of high-speed racing from Thursday, April 24, to Sunday, April 27.

Experience the exhilaration of being trackside for the new-look racing programme at New Zealand's largest annual sporting event. Enjoy the intensity generated by teams driving sprint circuits, with all the thrills of pitstops for compulsory tyre changes and fuel.

Support category action is on Thursday, before an afternoon start and the first 100km race on Anzac Day. There will be two further 100km races on Saturday and a 200km race on Sunday.

In the leadup to the event there are several activities to enjoy, including a CBD Pit Stop on Wednesday, April 23, in Aotea Square, featuring drivers and teams with driver signings, simulators, and entertainment.

Plus, on Anzac Day, the dawn service in Pukekohe will involve the race drivers.

On any weekend in Auckland you'll find endless music options. Festivals, big-name drawcard concerts, jazz, or acoustic live sessions. Take your pick.

Liam Napier's big weekend in Auckland was as a guest of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development.

Sunday Star Times