Karen Walker on Auckland

When Kiwi fashion designer Karen Walker launched her eponymous line in 1989, her entire design budget came to $100. Today, the New Zealand native, who cites the quirky heroines of The Breakfast Club and Annie Hall as muses, has earned a worldwide following with her whimsical separates and accessories that epitomize the young, fresh styles of celebrities like Sienna Miller and Cate Blanchett. Named by art publishers Phaidon and Taschen as one of the most influential names in fashion, Walker now oversees a brand carried in over 250 stores worldwide, including her flagship boutiques in Auckland. Here, she shares some of her favorite places in New Zealand’s capital city.

Favorite Hotels The Hilton has the top location in Auckland. Make sure you get a room on the waterside for the best views you’ll possibly ever have in a hotel. Lunch on the terrace at their restaurant (White) or cocktails at their Bellini Bar is also a great way to spend a few hours. The Westin, Auckland’s newest hotel, is also very chic and elegant. For a luxury experience, Mollies is a good spot – great meals and very intimate and boutique.

Favorite Restaurants Dine is perfect for a special occasion. Save it for a Saturday night and do the full degustation menu. Kura is great for a quick and casual sushi dinner. It is wonderful in the winter by the open fire but just as good in summer with the sunset streaming in. Widely considered Auckland’s best restaurant year after year, the French Café never lets you down. It is high end, chic and always memorable.

Favorite Cafes A favorite with Aucklanders for brunch through to late night drinks, S.P.Q.R. is perhaps best for long lunches on the sidewalk watching the passersby. On the other extreme from SPQR, Bethells Beach Café is tucked into the sand dunes in my favorite of Auckland’s many wild west coast beaches: Bethell’s Te Henga. About 45 minutes west of the central city, it’s run out of an old caravan and serves the best coffee, home made carrot cake and fabulous burgers you’ll ever taste, made even better by the location. Only open in summer, and apart from the height of the season, it’s weekends only.

What to See on a First Visit My favorite weekend escape, Bethells Te Henga is a 45-minute drive west of the city on the rugged west coast. Whether you’re after some surf, a horseback ride, a llama trek, a long walk or just sitting and gazing at the astounding view (best at sunset), this will blow you away. Stay at the Bethells Beach Cottages (Bethells Beach; 64-9-810-9581; for some homegrown comfort and the most incredible view you’ll ever see. Book ahead, though, as there are only two of them and they’re popular! Great anytime of year.

A 45-minute ferry ride from down town Auckland, Waiheke Island is a little piece of paradise. Accommodations include something for every budget, whether it’s a small holiday cottage or a twelve-bedroom house with private beach, tennis court, pool and chopper pad. Try to stay on the northern coast and get a car so you can explore all the wonderful vineyards. Stonyridge (Waiheke Island; 64-9-372-8822; is my favorite. Avoid peak time in January and instead go in February when it’s hot and everyone else is back at work. 

What to Discover on a 15th Visit If you like your antique shops cluttered, dusty and full of surprises, Drummond’s Antiques is your place, full to the ceiling of treasures and surprises. 

Best Spa Lucy and the Powder Room gives great facials, manicures and everything else a girl needs. They even do girls’ parties so you and your closest buddies can enjoy manis/pedis and cocktails all at the same time.

Favorite Gallery Michael Lett (478 Karangahape Road; 64-9-303-4211; represents some of New Zealand’s strongest and most talented artists, my favorite being Michael Parekowhai. Sue Crockford (Endeans Building, 2 Queen Street; 64-9-309-5127; represents some of the country’s most established names – John Reynolds, Julian Dashper and Gretchen Albrecht to name just a few. It’s hard to walk in without finding something you want. The New Gallery (Wellesley & Lorne Streets; 64-9-379-1349;, one of Auckland’s public art galleries, also has a wonderful collection and is always worth a visit.

Best Shopping Neighborhoods In Auckland’s central city the High Street District has wonderful cafes, fashion, art and book stores. Put aside a couple of hours. Ponsonby is best for it’s food and coffee, and Ponsonby Road’s long trek features some real gems, best among them Wunderkammer (76A Ponsonby Road; 64-9-360-4090) for men’s wear and little treasures. Amongst the $2 shops, transvestite hookers and Middle Eastern cafes on Karangahape Road, you’ll find a couple of excellent vintage shops. My picks are This Is Not A Love Shop (290 Karangahape Road; 64-9-377-1350) and Fast and Loose (St Kevin’s Arcade; 64-9-309-9063). 

Favorite Shops Go to Wunderkammer in Ponsonby Road for great menswear and a sensational shopping experience.

Favorite Outdoor Activity I go to Bethell’s Beach Te Henga to blow the cobwebs away. I also like cycling from the city along Tamaki Drive to get a great view of the harbor. There are plenty of beaches and cafes along the way to refresh.

Favorite Beach For a serious walk, I recommend Bethell’s Beach Te Henga or any other west coast beach (Piha, Kare Kare and Muriwai are all good). For a summertime swim, anything on Waiheke is great, although I especially love Palm Beach. For something closer to the city, the north shore beaches are all just ten minutes from the city and are great, my favorite being a little gem called Minnehaha, which is hidden away between the better known and bigger Takapuna and Milford beaches. A walk from Minnehaha along the rocks back to Takapuna beach and then dinner in Takapuna is a nice way to end a day at the beach.

Favorite Daytrip Also on Auckland’s north shore is Cheltenham Beach in Devonport. Take the five-minute ferry ride from downtown, stop in Devonport for coffee and then walk the five minutes to Cheltenham beach for a day of swimming and sunbathing.

Favorite Secret Weapons For an emergency haircut, go to Stephen Marr in Ponsonby. For an emergency yoga class, schedule time with Marise at Simply Yoga in Grey Lynn. For organic food supplies, shop at Harvest Wholefoods in Grey Lynn.

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