I tend to gravitate towards Hipsters these days. And, similar to my visit to Melbourne, when I find them, I usually stay there.
Ponsonby has a past truly fitting for the interesting and quirky atmosphere it exudes today. It’s surrounding areas were once significant points for trading, fishing and camping for the Maori population but as years progressed, the neighborhood changed quite rapidly.
Home to the working and middle class, the area eventually become quite run down from The Great Depression until the 1980s. With its fair share of criminal activity, brothels and seedy bars, Ponsonby was a place that many tried to avoid.
However, through Irish drinking culture, student residential flats, artistic misfits and a prominent GLBT population, Ponsonby was slowly transformed into a hot spot of culture and trends.
From housing the country’s first mosque and some of Auckland’s oldest homes to being frequented by authors, poets, thespians and famous musicians such as Mick Jagger and Rob Stewart, the street is the result of all these artistic and cultural efforts.
Now, it’s a spot for vegan pizza, international food courts, galleries and craft coffee. With the guise of a residential neighborhood and the soul of a youthful entrepreneur, you’ll find that Ponsonby is where it’s happening in Auckland. If you want to dive right into the hipster scene, here’s how you do it…..
Where To Stay Around Ponsonby
• The Great Ponsonby Art Hotel
It’s less like a hotel and more like a Bed & Breakfast that matches the artistic spirit that Ponsonby exudes. Actually, I couldn’t imagine drinking Ethiopian coffee, browsing the boutiques and drinking craft brew without returning to a place equally as stimulating to rest my head at night. Waking up in a room surrounded by art and books was enough inspiration to get out of bed and explore the overwhelming amount of culture pouring out from the street.
The Atmosphere: It felt like home, mostly because, it really was one. The living room with all of its coffee table books, wine station and impressive CD collection was a meeting space for guests to mingle and the morning breakfast spread made me feel like I had just rolled out of my childhood bed, straight on over to mom’s cooking in the kitchen.
Just a walk to the front door transports you to a quirky museum of local art, changing as you reach the colorful courtyard that welcomes you back to the feeling of being at home. Not only is the décor stunning, but all of the art and many of the furnishings are made from local materials and represent New Zealand and Pacific Island culture.
The Breakfast: The breakfast comes along with the stay and besides being artfully presented on locally made tableware, the home-made dishes are themselves a work of art. You can literally watch the staff hard at work preparing Greek Omelets, Eggs Florentine, Smoked Salmon and Avocado on Toast (my favorite!) for the morning diners. There is also a continental buffet full of jams, toast, poached fruit (which they made themselves) and cereals.
The Location: The Ponsonby hotel is located on a residential street right off of the main strip. We had immediate access to all of the Ponsonby action but could just as easily get away from it in a place that felt like home.
The Staff: The staff is what really made the whole experience come together and their commitment to service couldn’t be ignored. We were greeted, welcomed into the lounge and had a staff member go over the map with us for 30 minutes! She answered all of our questions, pointing out where I could find the significant street art and get the street’s best coffee. The owners, Sally and Gerry were always wandering around, mingling with guests, giving them suggestions or sharing a bit about the area’s history.
Our Room: We stayed in the Courtyard Studio, previously a workshop in the 1930s, but converted into a suite right in the backyard of the hotel. It was perfect for digital nomads like us as it has a kitchen, living space and unlimited WIFI connection to get some work done.
Unlike sterile hotel rooms of my past, this one had shelves full of books, a fresh fruit bowl on the intricately designed table cloth and plenty of art pieces that made it unique from all of the other rooms. It was cozy, it was ours and just like the rest of the Great Ponsonby Art Hotel, it felt like home.
Where To Eat
• il Buco Pizza: Aside from some of the best pizza on the block, they also do vegan slices so both you and your meat eating partner can get your pizza fix.
• International Food Court: If you’ve been missing some of your favorite Asian dishes, this place will overwhelm you with choices to satisfy the cravings. Chinese dumplings, Malaysian Laksa soup, Thai curries, Vietnamese noodles and Balinese rice dishes are all on the menu here!
• Little Bird Café: Vegans rejoice because this place knows what’s up. Dairy free desserts and creative dishes that make eating plants way more interesting.
• Ramen Takara: Heaping, hot and full of flavor. If you ask the staff, they can even do a vegan bowl of Ramen!
Where To Drink
• The Conch: The DJ booth, eclectic wall décor and taps of locally made beer make the Conch a pretty sweet spot to have a pint.
• The Golden Dawn: Literally hidden away, you would easily pass this spot by if you weren’t looking for it. You can choose between the dark and dingy inside or the sunlit courtyard to try some local, craft beers.
• Revelry: It’s artsy, quite bohemian and serves some tasty cocktails.
• Grand Central: Daily live music and a bar that is open late makes a perfect combo for an interesting night out.
Where To Hang
• Western Park: A decent bit of shade, some walking trails and artistic re-creations of old Auckland buildings, sunk into the ground.
Where To Drink Coffee
• Allpress Café: It might be one of the simplest cafes around. Without the distraction of large menus and food, this place does some fantastic pour over brews.
• Dizengoff: They don’t mess around when it comes to coffee and are also able to pull off some delicious food too.
Auckland is quite spread out and each area has its own vibe. But, if you want to get straight into one of its quirkiest sects and into its spirit, head to Ponsonby road first. Be careful though, it might be hard to leave.
Does anyone have a favorite Ponsonby spot to add?
Note: Our stay at the Ponsonby Hotel was complementary. However, all opinions and full bellies are our own.