Luxe Layovers: AKL
Remember the days when the thought of an airport layover brought shudders and a sense of dread? Today’s airports are breaking out of that mold — and breaking all the old rules — to offer bespoke services to modern travelers. From luxury lounges, modern spas and art museums, to wine bars, gourmet restaurants and markets filled with fresh produce, airports around the world are revolutionizing the travel experience. Discover a new place each month for your next luxe layover.
Auckland Airport, Auckland, New Zealand: AKL
Auckland Airport—AKL—is New Zealand’s largest airport, located about 20 km (12.5 miles) from Auckland on the North Island in the suburb of Mangere. The airport started out in 1928 as the Auckland Aero Club, on land rented from a local dairy farmer. At the time, the Mangere Aerodrome was known to offer great landing options and was a logical choice in 1960 when New Zealand needed a new airport.
Much of today’s airport land is reclaimed from the Manukau Harbor. Originally, one terminal and one runway became the Auckland Airport. The first flight took off in November 1965 and the airport officially opened in January 1966. An international terminal was added in 1977 and remodeled in 2006.
Today, the airport encompasses a little more than 3,700 acres, welcomes in 22 international airlines flying to 34 international destinations. With more than 120 international flights a day and more than 300 domestic flights welcoming 14.5 million people a year, it is easy to see why this is one of the busiest airports in Australasia. With more than 100 retail outlets covering more than 172,000 square feet, a selection of restaurants and an international terminal that never closes, it’s also easy to see why AKL was voted best airport in Australia Pacific for 2013.
The AKL Airport Layout
The Auckland Airport consists of a domestic terminal and an international terminal. When you arrive at AKL, you will need to show your passport, arrival card and any applicable visas (US visitors do not need a visa for travel to New Zealand). When you arrive in New Zealand, you must also have a return ticket and enough money to fund your visit. If you are transferring to another international flight — for example, if you are continuing to Australia — you will need to go back through security. Remember that you must comply with the liquids rule, so even if you buy something in the duty free shop when arriving, you will need to pack that in your checked baggage before going back through security for the second leg of your flight — unless it is less than 100 ml (about 3.4 ounces) and fits comfortably in a small transparent bag. If you are transferring to another international flight, get your luggage and clear customs, then go to the international transfer screening point adjacent to arrival Gate 2. After depositing your bags, you will go back through a security screening, then proceed to the transfer desk on the second level.
If you are not staying in Auckland but continuing on a domestic flight, you will need to clear customs in the international terminal and transfer to the domestic terminal. There is a free bus that runs between terminals every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily. Alternatively, it is a 10-minute walk between terminals and the way is clearly marked.
Be sure to allow three to four hours between flights if you are transferring from an international to a domestic flight or vice versa. If you are transferring to an Air New Zealand domestic flight upon your arrival at AKL and have more than 60 minutes after you clear customs and before your domestic departure, you can go to ANZ domestic transfer desk on the ground floor of the international terminal and they will be able to recheck your bags for you there. Keep in mind that, when traveling on a domestic flight in New Zealand, your checked bags must weigh less than 20 kg (44 pounds) and your carry-on bags, including backpacks and purses, must weigh less than 7 kg (15 pounds). They do weigh those carry on bags and you must comply with the weight restrictions.
The international terminal consists of a ground floor and a second level (known as the first floor), which is where you will find all of your departure gates, lounges, restaurants and shops. During your time in both the domestic and international terminals, you can get 30 minutes of free WiFi. Additional time is available at a charge. There are luggage trolleys located throughout the terminals that are available free of charge.
To create a better layover experience, you can hire the Auckland Airport concierge. The concierge will meet you when you get off the plane, escort you through passport control, baggage collection and customs. The concierge is available 24 hours a day and services are available in several languages. The standard service, available for $49 per person, includes assistance with baggage collection and border control and the concierge will escort you to your awaiting transportation. The premium service, available for $79 per person, includes the same services, but the concierge will help you with duty free shopping; you will get priority processing at passport control and they will coordinate your transfer to your next destination or the domestic terminal. If you have a larger group or want some other type of service, you can book a tailored concierge experience on the airport’s website.
Airport Clubs and Lounges
Although the airport is not as large as some, there are several lounges available to you during your layover at AKL. The newest is the independent Emperor Lounge, operated by the Auckland Airport. This lounge, located on the first floor after security, is open from 6 a.m. to very late. If you hold a card for Priority Pass, Dragon Pass, Airport Angel, Diners Club, Véloce Lounge, Malaysia Airlines or Hawaiian Airlines, this is your lounge. However, you can also use the Emperor Lounge for a fee, no matter which airline you are flying or which class of service you fly. If you book your stay online prior to your arrival, the cost is $49. If you book at the club, the cost is $55. The Emperor Lounge offers international hot and cold food, pastries, snacks, a bar, non-alcoholic drinks, showers with towels, free WiFi, work stations, reading material, televisions and a children’s play area.
In addition to the independent Emperor Lounge, there are VIP lounges for Emirates, Air New Zealand and Qantas. There is a Qantas International Business Lounge on the second level after security, open from 4:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. This lounge is open to Qantas, Emirates and Jetstar Airways passengers flying in International Business/First Class and to oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members and those flying first class on oneworld airlines. The Qantas lounge offers food, bar, barista service, tea, beverages, showers, toilets, free WiFi and reading materials.
There is also a Koru Lounge for Air New Zealand, also located on the second level after security and open from 4:30 a.m. until the last flight. The lounge is open to Koru members or those flying on codeshare with Singapore Airlines, those flying on Star Alliance or anyone who wants to purchase a day pass ($55 for four hours or $85 for a day). The lounge offers reading material, a barista from 5:30 to 11 a.m., a business desk, fax machine, photocopier, charging stations for electronics, toilets, showers, hairdryers and electronic games.
Restaurants & Bars
There are several restaurants and bars located in the international terminal that give you a great bite or a place to sit and relax before a flight. Some of the best, all after security, include:
- Blue Bar & Bistro: serves New Zealand wines, cocktails, beer. Open 4:30 a.m. to midnight and offers great views of the runway.
- Mac’s Down Under Bar & Café: serves traditional “bar food” from light snacks to pub meals, including New Zealand’s own beers, cider and ginger beer. Open 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
- Monteith’s Bar: Kiwi beers on tap, including Monteith’s, DB Export, Tui and a selection of international beers. The bar also serves coffee, drinks and light meals. Open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
- Shaky Isles: Café and bar for food and coffee lovers. Fun take on breakfast, brunch, pizza, pies, cakes, sandwiches, salads plus wines, champagne, spirits and beer. Open 4:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.
- Silk Road: Tastes of Southeast Asia with favorites including Crispy Pork Roast, Thai salads, fried rice and a selection of laksa noodle soups. Open 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
There are more than 100 shops located at the Auckland Airport. Although most of the shops are located in the international terminal after security, it is worth noting that 3 Wise Men, a New Zealand retailer selling beautifully crafted men’s shirts and accessories, is in the domestic terminal before security. It is open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and may be worth a quick look if you have extra time.
The other shops worth noting in the international terminal include:
- AroundNZ: New Zealand gifts and apparel, including wooden items, glass, ceramics, jewelry, skincare, sweets, apparel. There are two locations at AKL, one before security and one in the departures area. Around NZ is open 4 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.
- Artport: New Zealand art and culture retailer, selling Maori carvings, paintings, prints, sculptures, glass and homewares by New Zealand artists. This beautiful shop is open 4:30 a.m. until midnight.
- Benefit Cosmetics: cosmetics, skincare items and a “brow bar” where you can get your brows done between flights. Open from 4:30 a.m. until midnight daily.
- Comvita: New Zealand bee products for natural health and skincare. This shop is open 4:30 a.m. until midnight daily.
- Ecoya: New Zealand eco-luxury candles, home fragrance and hypoallergenic body care products. The shop is open 4:30 a.m. until midnight daily.
- Icebreaker: a New Zealand manufacturer of high quality outdoor and sport clothing created using New Zealand merino fibers. Open 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
- MAC Cosmetics: high end cosmetics are available daily from 4 am to midnight.
For Fun, Relaxation and Pampering
New Zealand has taken an opportunity to promote its local culture in the airport terminals. AKL is filled with art and decor that reflects the Maori culture and heritage. In addition to various works of art—the Lord of the Rings statues are especially popular—AKL also has a popular youth art program that highlights work of young artists throughout the terminal.
One of the most unique features at AKL is the Te Manukanuka o Hotrod Marae. this magnificently carved Maori community facility is the cultural heart of the international airport. It is open to visitors who want to learn about the Maori culture and features intricate carvings and woven panels. It is also routinely used as a gathering place for those arriving to grieve a lost family member. The Marae is a 5-minute drive from the terminals off tom Pearce Drive and is also accessible by taxi or bus.
The Auckland Airport Outdoor Gallery opened recently in the Esplanade located on George Bolt Memorial Drive, just a few minutes from the airport terminals. The Esplanade is a tree and wildflower-lined path around the airport that includes 11 different sculptures by New Zealand artists. The paths are also a great way to enjoy the native plants and the birds.
If you prefer to stay inside the terminal between flights, you can head to the Lookout Lounge Observation Area on the top floor of the international terminal. There, you will find a display about female aviation pioneer Jean Batten and her historic Percival Gull, along with great views of the planes on the airfield.
Rest Your Head
If you find yourself having an extended stay at AKL, there are two options for staying close by. While there are no beds inside the terminal, there are two nearby options. The closest is the Novotel Auckland Airport, a new 263-room hotel adjacent to the international terminal. There are rooms and suites as well as a restaurant, bar and gym. If you need to sleep during the day before an overnight flight, you can opt for day-use rooms available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In addition to the Novotel, there is also an ibis budget hotel located about a five-minute walk from the international terminal. This budget offering has 125 dorm-like rooms, which might be an alternative for longer layovers that don’t involve an overnight stay.
If you find yourself with a longer layover, you might want to take your luggage to a secure luggage storage so you don’t have to worry about your bags. There are several Smarte Carte counters, all available from 3:45 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. daily, that offer storage services. If you want to do some refreshing but don’t have time for a hotel stay, the international terminal does offer showers on the same level with the VIP lounges. Vending machines provide toiletries, towels and small sizes of travel products.
If you want more information about hotel bookings, transportation or activities in Auckland, be sure to stop by Tourism Auckland’s i-site visitor center, open 24 hours every day in the international terminal.
Auckland Airport has major plans for expanding its airport, which they estimate will see an additional 10 million passengers a year within a decade. As they begin expanding the airport, be sure to check online for updates before you travel. When you land at AKL, be sure to look for the blue-coated volunteers that greet each incoming international flight. They can answer questions for you and are quick to offer a welcome to the amazingly friendly land of the kiwis.