Devonport: New Zealand's escape from the big city


DEVONPORT, New Zealand -- Travelers who are disinclined to make city centers their base for sightseeing forays have an ideal alternative here to Auckland, New Zealand's largest metropolis.

Devonport, a hamlet of fewer than 17,000 people, offers a charming and convenient alternative that sits on a tiny peninsula at the opposite side of Haitemata Harbor from Auckland.

Devonport is so close that it offers a clear view of downtown Auckland; a half-hourly ferry ride (at about $4 roundtrip) takes only 12 minutes. But it is far enough away that, while founded in 1840, the same year as Auckland, it has stayed small, quaint and free of skyscrapers.

The area's tallest points are two hills that provided valuable vantage points for defense purposes during New Zealand's days as a British colony. Today, the hills are the best vantage points for viewing the Auckland skyline.

One of the hills is North Head, which boasts cannons left behind by the British Navy. It also bears the bank-and-ditch signs of a fortified Maori village.

The other is Mount Victoria, also the site of a Maori settlement. Here visitors can use a circular relief map designed to help them identify what they see on the Auckland-area horizons.

As for Devonport itself, the attractions are:

Devonport is known for its Victorian-era homes.• An extensive collection of 19th-century homes: the simple, wood-frame houses that accommodated the earliest settlers; a collection of well-preserved Victorian homes; and a number of small homes notable for the watchtowers that emerge from their roofs, designed so residents could get early notice of warnings coming from the hilltop lookouts.

• Arts and crafts outlets, antique shops, restaurants and cafes, and museums. Jackson's Muzeum, located in a former post office, is a facility loaded with thousands of oddities, mostly from the Victorian era.

• The 100-year-old Esplanade Hotel, located steps from the ferry terminal and refurbished for 21st-century travelers with an affinity for historical properties.

Rates at the 17-room property, valid through September, range from about $115 to $325 and pay 10% commission to agents.

Glyn Taylor, general manager, said the hotel also works with tour operators such as Abercrombie & Kent and Swain Australia.

Tourists who don't come here as part of a package, or business travelers with an afternoon to spare, have alternatives for getting to and around Devonport.

The Devonport Tour Co. operates hourly Explorer tours from 10 a.m. daily, departing from the Auckland ferry terminal. For about $12.50, the itinerary includes roundtrip ferry transportation and a one-hour coach tour of historic Devonport, including visits to the two volcanos. The tour is operated on a hop-on, hop-off basis, and visitors can take any return ferry to Auckland.

The Devonport Tour Co., which pays commissions, also operates an Explorer tour with buffet lunch and an evening tour that includes dinner.

Visitors also can book their Devonport tours at Auckland's ferry building or pick up the coach portion after disembarking from the ferry in Devonport.

Meanwhile, more-independent travelers can walk everywhere. The farthest point is North Head, about two-and-a-half miles way; Mount Victoria is about one-and-a-half miles distant. An information center next door to the Esplanade Hotel has walking tour maps.

The Esplanade offers a special rate (to nonguests as well as guests) with President Taxis, a local company that uses Mercedes vehicles for sightseeing excursions, at about $30 an hour. Bookings have to be made through the hotel and can be made on day of arrival.

For more information on Devonport Tour Co.'s Explorer Tours, call (011) 64-9 357-6366 or visit For details or reservations at the Esplanade Hotel, call (011) 64-9 445-1291 or visit

You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].

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