Economy class is finally waking up to the joys of lying down.
Air New Zealand has recently announced an onslaught of slow clap-worthy upgrades to their in-flight experience for economy and business class alike. No stranger to the long haul—most of their flights last over 10 hours—Air New Zealand has an interest in enticing travelers across the hemisphere. That’s why the creative minds at Air New Zealand have spent the past five years researching, designing, and developing innovations to deliver a more enjoyable in-flight experience to all of their passengers.
Make Way for Space
Space is increasing in significant ways across every level of economy class. In Premium Economy, seats will be able to recline without leaning backward, so nobody is disturbed by anyone’s seat position. Economy Stretch is just that, giving the legs more room to do what they desperately want to do most on a long-haul flight. Even Basic Economy is loosening up a bit—the new seats are slimmer, giving more room back to passengers, and the TV screens are expanding to a 50% larger size. Economy Skycouch, a row of three seats that are designed to be shared, is already available on Air New Zealand flights and will be sticking around due to its success among families with small children.
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The Pleasure of Business
Air New Zealand’s business class experience will also be showing off some fresh new features. Business Premier Luxe is taking in-flight dining to a new level—travel companions will now be able to dine together at a table for two. For introverts, the new design features a door that can be closed for increased privacy. In Business Premier, seats will be separated by a screen that can be lowered when travel companions want to interact and then later, shut again when they’ve had quite enough of that.
Sleep Is Economical
In a refreshing departure from the jam-and-cram additional overcharge model that dominates the industry, Air New Zealand is dropping the mic on every other airline’s economy class experience. Economy passengers are finally getting access to the most coveted feature of business class—going horizontal.
Economy passengers are finally getting access to the most coveted feature of business class—going horizontal.
The finest upgrade to ever reach this far to the back of the plane is the Skynest, a stack of cozy sleep pods in a bunk bed configuration that are a delight to nestle into, with each bed providing enough space to log some significant snooze time. The details of exactly how the Skynest will work—pricing, rental duration, limitations, and booking options—have yet to be set. It is possible that a bed could be booked mid-flight, in which case it is easy to imagine delirious passengers eagerly swiping their credit cards for a chance at a few hours of shut-eye.
Although the Skynest and the accompanying upgrades are not set to launch until 2024, traveling to New Zealand is about to get easier for U.S. travelers. In September 2022, Air New Zealand is starting direct service between New York City and Auckland with a flight time of around 16 hours.
Okay, so you’ve arrived in Auckland, now what?
Touching Down in Auckland
Situated atop a vast volcanic field on an isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, Auckland is the first stop for international travelers who are drawn to New Zealand for its dramatic landscapes, wild terrains, and unique flora and fauna. Auckland, a fast-paced city inhabited by laid-back people, offers visitors the opportunity to sample the country’s culinary delights, dive into the culture, and get a little taste of the natural wonders awaiting them out in the bush.
Experience New Zealand at Its Most Urban
From scaling the lofty arches of a city bridge to tramping under the canopy of an old-growth forest, Auckland delivers an urban experience where nature is never far out of reach.
Right away, visitors will clock the Sky Tower, an observation tower similar to the Space Needle in Seattle, which helps imprint Auckland’s skyline into memory. The Orokei Waterfront is a 3.5-mile path overlooking the Waitematā Harbour and a great opportunity to orient yourself and stretch your legs after a long flight. Venture out to Mission Bay to lounge on the beach or dive into a maple walnut ice cream at Movenpick (a must-do in a country with twice as many dairy cows as people).
Take in a view of the city from the soft, grassy mounds of Mt. Eden or scale the Harbour Bridge on the Auckland Bridge Climb, a unique experience that feels akin to trespassing, but in the safest and most polite way possible. The tour takes climbers inside the nuts and bolts of the bridge, quite literally, and then up to the very top to take in sweeping views of the harbor and low-slung clouds gathering at the sides of shapely volcanoes.
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is an opportune place to familiarize one’s self with the creative output of the Kiwis. The museum’s permanent collection features a range of artistic expressions, from bold, colorful, contemporary feminist Pacific Islander art; captivating street photography documenting life in 1970s Auckland; and a reverent gallery of intimate portraits of Māori elders and community members.
This past June, the country gathered to celebrate Matariki, the Māori New Year celebration which takes place when the Matariki constellation reappears above the horizon. As of 2022, Matariki is now a national holiday in New Zealand, with events and festivities taking place throughout the city over a long holiday weekend.
Learning the specifics about the traditions and history of the Māori is a golden opportunity while in Auckland. The Auckland War Memorial Museum (a somewhat misleading name as the museum is not solely focused on war), displays artifacts that bring to life the fascinating history and mind-boggling navigational prowess of the ancient Polynesian peoples who, in wooden sailboats and using only the stars as their guide, managed to cross thousands of miles of ocean to land in New Zealand, or as they called it, Aotearoa. For visitors to this remote corner of the globe, the history of the Pacific Islands is a less familiar story, and therefore the museum is more interesting as a result.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
There are several neighborhoods in Auckland where visitors can hop off the tourist track and mix into everyday life. Day and night, Ponsonby is buzzing with people, shops, and eateries. Visit Ponsonby Central, a modern, lively food hall cooking up cuisines from all corners of the world. Later, sip your dream cocktail at Deadshot, a classic speakeasy where, in lieu of a drink menu, mustachioed bartenders create a drink specifically suited to your tastes.
Intersecting Ponsonby is the buzzing K Road (short for Karangahape Road). Where Ponsonby is trendy, K Road has a scruffier, more underground vibe. Smoke shops, tattoo parlors, and dusty clubs reside below dated second-floor facades, giving the street a gritty, time-worn appearance.
Britomart, a more recent development near the waterfront, is the business center of the city and where tourists flock to upmarket hotels, sophisticated restaurants, and tastefully curated shops featuring well-known and local boutique designer brands. Sunny, bohemian restaurant Amano serves tasty Italian-inspired seafood dishes and fresh bluff oysters, the half shells nestled into snowy pillows of salt. Adjacent to Britomart and occupying a corner of the waterfront is Viaduct Harbor, where a boardwalk of charming cafes, restaurants, and bars surround a picture-perfect marina.
The Capital of Cuisine
Auckland’s culinary scene has made a lot of strides in the past five years, and enjoying an inventive, delicious meal made with fresh local ingredients prepared by world-class chefs is one of the main appeals of spending time in Auckland.
New Zealand’s seafood game is predictably top-notch, offering a variety of caught-that-morning fish and shellfish, some of which are unheard of in other parts of the world. For casual waterfront seafood noshing, head to Shucker Brothers across from the ferry terminal or Oyster and Chop along Viaduct Harbor for a steaming bowl of juicy green-lipped mussels and crispy tempura oysters. For a more precious seafood experience, Kingi at Hotel Britomart makes a point to source only sustainable seafood, serving dry-aged kahawai and trevally tartare by candlelight in a rustic-yet-stylish dining room.
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Kiwis are enthusiastic about their specialty beers, as evidenced by the massive number of breweries churning out suds across the country. Head to Brothers Brewery where industrial-meets-living room—the brewing operation is in full view amongst a mix and match of cozy couches sprinkled around the grand, airy space. Try a tasting paddle and one of the smoked meats from their extensive BBQ smokehouse menu.
A convenient ferry network provides easy access to the farther reaches of Auckland and the coastal islands nearby. Waiheke Island is one of the most popular day trips from Auckland, and it is easy to see why—a short, 40-minute ferry ride whisks you away to a flourishing, idyllic island reminiscent of coastal northern California. From the hillsides, you can take in gorgeous ocean views or head down to sea level to visit long stretches of lovely beaches. EcoZip Adventures whisks more thrill-seeking types around on a series of zip lines that sail over the only remaining old-growth forest on the island. The post-zip return hike meanders through the very same forest, and the underside of the canopy turns out to be a better vantage point from which to appreciate this stunning landscape.
Wineries abound here (alongside distilleries and breweries), and while New Zealand’s white wines are their most popular export, the specialty on Waiheke is the red. In some cases, Waiheke is the only place where certain varietals are available at all. Wild Estate is known for its Syrahs, and you can sample a few glasses on the patio overlooking the vineyard or inside of the bright, fern-garnished dining room. For those looking to engage in a little friendly competition, head out into Wild Estate’s vineyard to shoot bows and arrows between rows of grapes, or try laser clay bird shooting to see how sharp your marksman skills are after a few glasses of wine. Day trippers who wish to enjoy the full scope of the island’s beverage selection can hire a taxi for the freedom to get a little sloshy.
Those looking for a shorter and more active day out can take the ferry to Rangitoto Island to summit a symmetric shield volcano. The hike takes around an hour and sets up prime views of Rangitoto’s crater and Auckland’s skyline.
Where to Stay
For a hotel with a central location and a serene, stylish atmosphere, check into Hotel Britomart for comfortable and functional rooms with an organic, contemporary aesthetic. Guests hoping to sleep a little better at night will be soothed by Hotel Britomart’s status as New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star hotel, which means that sustainable materials and practices were used in the construction of the hotel.
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An unusual feature here (in addition to the items found in the mini bar) is that every piece of decor in the room is also up for grabs. A price list is available for consideration, and any items taken from the room (vases, books, totes, etc.) are added to the bill upon checkout.
New Zealand has only recently opened to tourists in May 2022. There are some hoops to jump through to enter the country—visitors must complete a traveler declaration, apply for a visitor visa, and take a series of at-home covid tests on and after their arrival. Read more about New Zealand’s COVID requirements here.