Surrounded by surging surf beaches, rugged forests and the scattered islands of the Hauraki Gulf, Auckland’s extensive attractions do not usually stretch to include markets. But fuelled by entrepreneurial immigrants and New Zealand’s strong focus on artisanal food, wine and beer, the bustling local markets of the country’s biggest city are excellent shortcuts to understanding Auckland’s cultural mosaic. With well-established farmers’ markets complemented by newer specialist markets, Auckland emerges as New Zealand’s only truly international city.

Established favourites
In the inner suburb of Parnell, La Cigale opened in 1998 as Auckland’s first farmers market and now operates on Saturday and Sunday mornings from around 8:30 am. Started by a New Zealand family enamoured by Gallic culture, La Cigale’s original iteration was as a French-style farmers market, but today, freshly crafted Turkish dips, organic coffee from the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu and English-style sausages are sold adjacent to perfect pain aux raisin pastries, gossamer-light sweet crepes and savoury galettes (pancakes). Local New Zealand flavours include wild duck salami and freshly roasted macadamia nuts, and La Cigale’s French bistro evenings – held Wednesday to Friday – are a great way to meet the locals over a hearty bouillabaisse (Provençal-style fish stew) served on shared restaurant tables. 

Also on Saturday mornings, catch bus 487 or 497 from the Britomart Transport Centre to the Otara Flea Market. Auckland has the world's biggest Polynesian population, and the weekly Otara market is a showcase of the region’s Pacific Island communities. Samoan, Tongan, Niuean and Cook Island influences all mingle; ukuleles daubed with delicate airbrushing are sold beside fresh tropical juices and still-warm coconut and pineapple buns. Cheap fruit and vegetables, including breadfruit and taro, ensures it is a real locals’ market, and there is usually an eclectic soundtrack of Pacific reggae beats, Polynesian hip-hop and the occasional church group delivering heavenly harmonies during an impromptu live performance. Stallholders from China, Korea and Southeast Asia are also increasing in numbers, and it is projected that by 2051 more than 60% of Auckland’s population will be of Maori (indigenous New Zealand), Polynesian or Asian descent.

Free movies, food trucks and craft beer
Arrayed around two expansive harbours, Auckland is a city where proximity to both the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean inspires the locals’ dedication to swimming, sailing or spending lazy days on the beach. But until recently, the city’s waterfront location has not been reflected in its public spaces. Opened in 2011, the Wynyard Quarter  has rectified that situation with hip bars and restaurants – all with front row views of Auckland’s raffish fleet of fishing boats – and the excellent Silo Market on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. Here, Auckland’s nascent food truck scene gathers beneath abandoned grain silos – some of which are decorated with council-sponsored street art – and arts and crafts stalls punctuate the long promenade with views of Auckland’s iconic harbour bridge. Look for the funky scrap metal sculptures by Todd Harris, including kiwis (flightless New Zealand birds) and tuatara (native New Zealand reptiles). In the summer, free movies are projected onto one of the silos on Friday nights and a bar in a converted shipping container serves up Kiwi craft beer from microbreweries including Auckland-based Hallertau and Stoke Beer from the South Island city of Nelson.  

A short stroll from Wynyard Quarter through Auckland’s more established Viaduct Harbour – try not to drool at the super yachts from around the world – is the recent Britomart precinct, which commenced repurposing 19th-century heritage buildings in 2011. Chic retailers, bars and restaurants fill resurrected warehouses and laneways, and on Saturday mornings the City Farmers Market is an excellent option for foodies staying in the city centre. Around 25 stalls fill Britomart’s grassy Takutai Square, with standout operators such as homestyle baking from The Godmother and fresh juices from Urban Fuel. Stock up on picnic fixings of manuka wood-smoked New Zealand venison salami from Basecamp Salamis and organic camembert from The Cheese Barn, and catch a ferry from the nearby Fullers terminal to the art galleries and vineyards of Waiheke Island.

Worth a flavour-filled detour
Driven by immigration and intra-country migration, Auckland’s 2013 population of 1.5 million has increased by 26% since 2000 – and the tastiest way to explore the city’s cosmopolitan mix of cultures is at the night markets popping up in the suburbs. Year round from Thursday to Sunday, more than 80 international food stalls transform car parks and shopping centres around Auckland into bustling mini-versions of Bangkok or Budapest. Definitely arrive hungry and pack a culinary sense of curiosity to try dishes including langos (Hungarian-style pizza) and Laotian-influenced Isaan fermented sausage. Check the Auckland Night Market website for each night’s different locations.

For a more relaxed experience, get an early start and drive 100km north from Auckland to Matakana village’s Saturday morning farmers market. With more than 35 regular stallholders, the laidback riverside market is a great place to grab an alfresco breakfast. On offer are plump mussel fritters, whitebait fritters and smoked salmon, and tasty drinks from local artisans include craft cider from the Zeffer Brewing Co and small-batch slow-roasted coffee from Matakana Coffee Roasters. If you are visiting in summer, continue to the sweeping sandy arc of Pakiri Beach for swimming, surfing or horse riding.