Situated at the bottom end of central Auckland, just a couple of blocks from Queen Street, is the Viaduct Harbor, also called the Viaduct Basin. This is a great place to go for a meal or a drink, or even just a pleasant stroll. It has an atmosphere not unlike Darling Harbor in Sydney, Australia, with restaurants and bars overlooking an enclosed and sheltered area of the Auckland waterfront.
Until the late 1990s, this part of the Auckland waterfront was very run down. It consisted mainly of old sheds and a few fishing boats. Everything changed when New Zealand won the America's Cup yachting contest in 1995. A huge redevelopment took place in readiness for the 2000 defense of the Cup, where this part of the harbor became home for the various competing international yachting syndicates.
Today the Viaduct is a thriving area of apartments and offices as well as numerous restaurants and bars. A pedestrian only area, it provides a lovely setting for dining or a casual walk. Most of the restaurants have outdoor seating from which to enjoy the passing parade.
There are also a number of boats moored in the marina area of the harbor itself. Some of these are available for charter and sailing trips in the Hauraki Gulf.
At the southern entrance to the Viaduct Harbor is the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum. This provides a fascinating look at New Zealand's seafaring past, from the migration of the Maori to the present day. The museum also has a number of yachts providing sailing opportunities on the harbor.
Also at the southern entrance, and just opposite the Museum entrance is a massive 90 foot monohull yacht standing on display. Known as the Big Boat, or KZ 1, this yacht has an interesting history. In 1987 New Zealand mounted an unusual challenge for the America's Cup. Due to a legal technicality it was able to take on the Cup holder, the United States, in a direct match without other teams participating. New Zealand yacht designer Bruce Farr was engaged to create the design and what he came up with was one of the fastest single hull boats ever built. However, the US defenders, the San Diego Yacht Club, came up with a trick of their own. Although the Cup intended the races be between similar types of yachts, the Americans built a catamaran. Of course no monohull, no matter how fast, is a match for a catamaran and San Diego successfully retained the Cup.
Nevertheless the boat is a remarkable piece of design and engineering; the mast alone is more than 153 feet high, too high for the boat to pass under Auckland's harbor bridge! Upon returning to New Zealand, the boat's owner Sir Michael Fay donated the boat to the Maritime Museum and it now stands at the entrance to the Viaduct.
Facing the museum on the seaward side, and adjacent to the Viaduct is Princes Wharf. This has also seen some extensive redevelopment. There are some excellent restaurants and cafes here, along with apartments and offices. At the end of the wharf is also the Hilton Hotel, with a unique design resembling a ship. Cruise ships often berth alongside, with the windows of the ships only feet away from the windows of the hotel.
There is a limited amount of parking around the Viaduct area. If traveling by car the best option is to park in the Downtown car park and walk across the overpass to the museum end. A better option is probably simply to walk. From Queen Street, just walk past the ferry terminal on the harbor and you're virtually there.
However you get there, if you're in central Auckland take some time to visit the Viaduct Harbor. It's one of the highlights of the city.