Breathtaking nature co-exists with concrete jungle in Auckland
Auckland offers more than just city sights
Coming from Singapore, I used to think that all cities would be a mass of concrete, perhaps appealing or spectacular in parts, but concrete nonetheless.
It was not until I travelled to various metropolises in Europe and other parts of the world that I found this notion to be far from the truth.
Auckland is one of those cities you have to experience to love.
Ranked among the top 10 most liveable cities in the world, Auckland is a multi-cultural hub bustling with stellar events. There is always something happening here: From concerts and festivals to world-class sporting events like the upcoming ASB Classic 2018, a huge tennis tournament over two weeks next month.
Auckland is also the mecca for a sought-after wine and culinary experience. Its Metro magazine releases the highly-anticipated list of the city's best places to eat from the thousands of cafes and restaurants each year.
The first thing you will notice upon your arrival is the Sky Tower, the tallest building in New Zealand, with breathtaking 360-degree views.
You can attempt a SkyWalk or SkyJump from this iconic 328m structure, which looks even better at night as its lights glow from the base to the tip, like a beacon among the bright city lights.
But what excites me most is that nature is widely accessible and within easy reach from the city centre. There are many beautiful beaches and islands you could go to for a day trip or even just for a few hours.
For example, a mere 40-minute ferry ride from downtown will take you to Waiheke Island, where you can find award-winning vintages on picturesque cliff-top wineries or enjoy a meal with surreal countryside vistas as your backdrop.
On my trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand in September, I had the opportunity to explore the West Coast of the North Island, known for its wild and rugged beauty.
This is where the Tasman Sea lines the shore of the black-sand beaches.
There is just something about beaches that makes me feel good. Maybe it is the sound of the crashing surf that seem to be so tranquil for the soul, or the vast horizon that stretches beyond what the eye can see. Whatever it is, I wanted to experience it in Auckland.
Getting there is an adventure in itself.
Our guide from Bush and Beach Tour picked us up from our hotel in central Auckland. This award-winning eco-tour company specialises in small group tours for a personalised experience, which was perfect for us.
After a 40-minute drive, we arrived at the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, making a quick stop to have a mandatory picture taken at the giant picture frame.
The stop was not so quick after all as we each tried to capture the scenic shot behind the frame.
From there, we took time to walk through the lush rainforest and I instantly noticed how the air was extraordinarily crisp and fresh.
After about 10 minutes, we were pleasantly surprised to see a gem hidden among the native plants and trees.
The Fairy Falls is a small waterfall that forms a cosy little pool, big enough for a refreshing dip.
I was tempted to jump in but decided against it when I was reminded it was below 10 deg C that day.
A few minutes' walk later, we started to hear the roaring sound of gushing water and before long, the lush greenery opened up to the towering Karekare Falls.
We took our time to admire the view and did not leave until we had taken enough pictures.
We continued our walk towards Piha, the black sand surf beach which is not only a tourist attraction but also popular among the locals.
The walk to the beach presented another great reveal. Hidden beyond the lush vegetation, the narrow sandy pathway widened to a vast, black sand beach as the rugged cliffs came into view.
The soft, fine, dark sand - a mixture of volcanic sand and iron oxide - against the backdrop of endless strong waves makes the view exceptionally impressive.
On the far left, a majestic rock - the aptly-named Lion Rock - stands unwavering, undeterred by the roaring ocean.
We stood there in awe for a few seconds before deciding to capture some jump shots. You could say we left our hearts on the beach that day.