1. Satya Spice and Chai Shop
Sandringham village is famous for its excellent Indian eateries, but this stands out from the more traditional fare. I say ‘stands out’, but actually it’s hidden down an alley lit by fairy lights, and instantly transports you to somewhere far less suburban. Sitting on cushioned beer crates under a hessian ceiling, you can order from an impressive collection of craft beers, alongside cocktails, hookah and, of course, their seriously impressive chai.
Indian street food is their speciality, and I’m going to insist you try the crispy prawns and the ‘kurryaage’ chicken.
The music is great, and this is the kind of place you can spend a whole evening in, talking to friends and forgetting what time it is.
2. Gribblehirst Park
I walked past this park for years before finally exploring it, as I thought it was just a basic rugby ground. But I recently discovered there’s a lot more going on down Cabbage Tree Swamp Drive than expected. As well as the aforementioned rugby club – which I’m told is a fabulous party venue – Gribblehirst features an excellent playground and some ecological oddities.
After everyone’s had a go on the flying fox, you can learn about Auckland’s volcanic roots.
The park was created in 1928 on land formed by the lava flows from the Three Kings eruption 28,600 years ago. So its trees are typical of lava forest habitats and include tītoki, māhoe and karaka. But if geology isn’t your thing, you could just lounge around the rose garden and listen to the native birds.
3. Ralph’s Bar and Eatery
Who doesn’t love a diner? Ralph’s is full of personality and curly fries and is a perfect casual spot to meet friends after work, cure your hangover on a weekend morning, or even relax on your own with a beer and a burger and chat to the friendly staff. Ralph’s vegan options are even good enough to coax me away from their chilli-dog. Sometimes.
4. Capitol Cinema
On the edge of Sandringham, in amongst the beloved dumpling houses of Dominion Rd, is Auckland’s coolest little cinema. The Capitol’s old-school bar and lobby are cosy and wood-panelled, while the cinema itself is modern and spacious with lush purple drapes. The wine list is excellent and you’re allowed to take a bottle in with you. Plus they offer freshly baked treats along with quality ice cream. They rarely put a step wrong with their film selection and they’re champions of New Zealand-made. Tip: ideal spot for a second or third date.
5. Geeks On Sainsbury
This café qualifies as a real ‘local secret’, as it’s tucked into a corner of an unassuming row of shops just a stone’s throw from the hectic and unappealing St Lukes mall. Geeks is stylish enough for the cool kids but comfortable enough for all walks of life. There’s a lawn out front where kids can roam and big tables outside on the terrace. Water bowls are available so it’s a great place to meet cute dogs. The coffee is superb (using Red Rabbit beans), and the brunches are immense. Their mince on toast is a favourite, and for sweeter teeth the waffles are dreamy. Tip from a poor decision-maker: order one savoury and one sweet breakfast dish and share both with a friend!