Ponsonby street art © Chris Christian

Urban explorer: Ponsonby


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Wealthy, good-looking and oh-so-hip, if Ponsonby was a kid you went to school with, you’d probably hate them.

As is it, this vibrant inner-city suburb – with its oversupply of hot restaurants, cool bars and tempting boutiques – is one of Auckland’s most beloved.

Perched on a ridge above the city centre, Ponsonby’s leafy streets are lined with colonial villas, most of them gleaming under fresh coats of paint. It’s hard to imagine this was a working-class suburb in the 70s, populated by Pasifika migrants, hippies, and people generally described as ‘colourful’. Two decades of gentrification have transformed the suburb and now even the shabbiest homes sell for a cool million. Still, among the lawyers and media execs lucky enough to own real estate, students, musos and artists hang on to the last of the affordable rent.

The one thing almost all residents have in common? They couldn’t bear to live anywhere else. 

Dubbed “Auckland’s hippest strip”, Ponsonby Road is arguably the city’s most dangerous street for shopping, particularly if women’s clothing and shoes are your weakness. What gives it the edge over Britomart or Newmarket is the fact that among the usual suspects (Zambesi, Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester et al.) you’ll find a number of one-off boutiques. Widdess, Miss Crabb and Carlson are just three local favourites, but honestly, there’s enough to keep long-distance shoppers occupied all day. 

Black Slick Ballet Sash 💐💐💐 @larissadudman for @the_twenties_club 📸 @hsburg #misscrabb

A post shared by Miss Crabb (@miss_crabb) on Aug 11, 2017 at 12:48am PDT

Because trying on dresses is such hard work, the strip is packed with excellent places to stop and refuel. From raw vegan cheesecakes to media-lauded cheeseburgers, whatever your heart desires, Ponsonby provides. Foodie-favourites include the uber-hip Orphan’s Kitchen, where they do inventive things with foraged foods; Saan for Thai like you’ve never had it before, and Blue Breeze Inn – think Chinese dim sum meets Hawaiian tiki bar. For those who simply can’t decide, Ponsonby Central is a ditherers paradise. With over 30 restaurants, cafes and artisan food shops under one roof, you can wander around eyeballing other people’s plates until something jumps out. 

Test Kitchen Tuesday tonight all you little adventurous diners out there

A post shared by Orphans Kitchen (@orphanskitchen) on Oct 2, 2017 at 3:53pm PDT

As if it wasn’t spoiled enough, Ponsonby has another ace up its sleeve: beaches.

Technically they belong to neighbouring Herne Bay, but what're a few streets between friends? For a perfect summer evening, grab a fish ’n’ chip dinner at Fishsmith on Jervois Road, then take your pick of little bays lining the shore. Herne Bay has the most room to move and plenty of pōhutukawa shade, while Sentinel Beach has sun loungers and a rope swing for kids.  

A word to the wise: finding a park in Ponsonby can be rage-inducing, so you’d be smart to take public transport (such as the green Inner Link bus) or an Uber. If you’re staying downtown, Ponsonby Rd is only a 25-minute walk from the city centre. 

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