The solo artist and Crowded House frontman on food, music and the great outdoors in Auckland, New Zealand
The city has so much character. It’s a sprawling place that weaves around bridges and harbours, and there are lots of neighbourhoods, such as Britomart, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, where good things are happening. I love the Polynesian aspect to the city. There’s a strong Maori presence and tradition but there’s also been an influx of people from the islands, too.
Buy fish and chips and climb Mount Eden. Get your food at The Ancient Mariner and head up the nearby hill (Maungawhau in Maori). You get a great 360-degree view of the city and a volcanic crater to peer into. You can walk up or take a car … but don’t leave the handbrake off: I once saw a car roll into the crater.
One of the venues I’m fondest of is Powerstation (powerstation.net.nz). I played there before Christmas and it’s just one of those really good clubs – nothing when you first walk in, but with a room full of people it has a big vibe. For a more close-quarters gig, there’s the Kings Arms. It’s a good place to see up-and-coming bands, as is the Golden Dawn.
New Zealand cuisine is about influences and fusions. I also associate it with tasty, fresh local produce. SPQR is one of my favourite restaurants. It’s glitzy but also relaxed. My wife and I only ever go there early but it gets really wild late at night, so I’m told. There are places worth investigating in the Britomart district: at the Ortolana bistro they grow all the vegetables used in their dishes, and Café Hanoi round the corner does beautiful Vietnamese food.
For somewhere a little bohemian check out Ponsonby, one of the first of Auckland’s inner-city areas to become an arts district. It has lots of designers and decent restaurants, though it has become a lot more gentrified. Areas such as Grey Lynn or Kingsland are worth a look, and Karangahape Road (K Road, as it’s known) and Ponsonby Road are good places to see all sides of Auckland. Take St Kevin’s Arcade, on K Road: there’s a good cafe in there and a popular wine bar, plus some secondhand stores.
Dusk is a great time to see the city. Twilight in New Zealand is beautiful. We get a very intense light down here, but by the end of the day that intensity has lessened. The west coast is the place to catch the twilight. To see the sun go down there is magic. The evenings go on forever.
Pacific Island Cricket is a joy to watch. You’ll see it played in many of the city’s parks, and may even get invited to play. I’ve seen it myself in the Auckland Domain (in Grafton, just west of the centre). There may be as many as 50 people on the pitch, and they play with a huge triangular bat that looks like a club. It’s a real community game; not guys in white uniforms.
The west coast is an amazing place. In less than an hour’s drive you’ll find great beaches like Piha and Karekare where there’s black sand, rugged hills and big surf. To the north, Leigh is in the middle of a lovely area that includes Goat Island, a marine reserve where you can go snorkelling.
Swimming in the ocean is the best. You know you’re alive when you’re in that water on the west coast because it’s pretty wild. Make sure you swim between the flags: they can be dangerous beaches.
We sometimes head out late at night and do what we call bush bashes. You go up a riverside track at Piha and gradually work your way back down in the water. It’s best to put on a wetsuit and take a waterproof torch. You get to see eels, and the shallow riverbed is alive with glowworms, underfoot and along the banks. It’s like you’re walking in a celestial place. You have to ask a local where to get in and get out of the river, but it’s mindblowing.
If I could change one thing about Auckland I’d bring it a bit closer to the rest of the world. It’s a long way to fly – anywhere! – though I know the city wouldn’t be the way it is if it was closer.
• Neil Finn’s new album, Dizzy Heights, is out now on Lester Records/Kobalt. He is on tour from March with UK dates in April and May. More details at: neilfinn.com
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