Last Updated on August 9, 2018
New Zealand’s largest city has plenty to entertain visitors, whether you’re a nature-lover or cosmopolitan city-goer. With so much to see and do there, we’ve narrowed it down to 10 of the best to help you plan your trip.
The ‘City of Sails’ lies between two harbours and as such is blessed with incredible natural beauty and wonders to explore. From beautiful beaches, hidden wineries and wildlife reserves, to the glistening Hauraki Gulf, thermal springs, lush islands, and bohemian city suburbs, how will you choose what to do during your time in Auckland?
To help you plan your stay, we’ve narrowed down a list of 10 ‘must-do’s’ while you’re there.
1. Visit an island paradise
Hop on a ferry and in 35 minutes you’ll be in the paradise of Waiheke Island. A favourite Auckland day trip, Waiheke Island has a temperate microclimate and is home to some 30 wineries as well as picture-postcard white sand beaches, plentiful restaurants, boutique shops and pretty art galleries. Look back over the sparkling Hauraki Gulf and admire the city’s skyline as you sip on some fine local wines; wander through picturesque olive groves; stroll along cliff tops and discover hidden coves and beaches on some of the island’s lovely walking trails; visit the tasting rooms of the island’s boutique wineries; admire the beautiful art in the plentiful galleries and craft shops; laze on the pristine white sandy beaches at Onetangi, Palm Beach and Oneroa and take a dip in the tantalising waters there. It’ll be hard to leave this slice of paradise, but there’s so much more waiting for you to explore.
2. Go island hopping
If your trip to Waiheke Island has given you a taste for the island life, make the most of the string of islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Take a day trip to Goat Island to explore the pristine marine life there – as New Zealand’s first protected marine reserve, this is one of the country’s top dive and snorkelling spots. If you prefer to stay above water, you can still admire the colourful fish on a glass-bottomed boat or clear kayak (a ‘clearyak’).
For a dose of history, head to Rotoroa Island. Once a private rehabilitation centre and closed to the public for more than 100 years, the island was reopened to the public in 2005 and visitors can now explore the historic chapel and jailhouse as well as learn more about the history of the island at the exhibition centre and museum. Once you’ve had your fill of history, explore the natural wonders of the island – as a wildlife sanctuary, it has been populated with endangered species such as the iconic kiwi, which visitors can see in the wild and learn about the mission to save them.
Hike up a volcano on a visit to Rangitoto Island, the youngest and largest of Auckland’s volcanic cones and one of the most recognisable islands in the Gulf due to its symmetrical cone. Catch a ferry over from downtown Auckland and join the day-trippers on a hike on some of the island’s fantastic trails for incredible views back over the city. The Summit Track is a must – this two-hour return walking track will take you through lava fields and forests to the summit of the island for unbeatable views of the Gulf and city. If you don’t want to walk, you can take a 4WD road train tour to the top.
3. Stretch your legs on one of Auckland’s great walking tracks
There are so many walking tracks around Auckland that hikers could be entertained for weeks. The thousands of trails on offer range from easy, short walks to challenging, long trails, but what you’ll get from all of them is some serious nature exploration. From bush and waterfalls to coastline and parkland, you’ll be able to pick whatever suits you best.
The 77-kilometre Hillary Trail is an iconic tramping trail through the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. It’s easy to do shorter sections if you just want a taste of what’s on offer, or you can do the whole thing to satisfy your inner-explorer on a multi-day adventure. You’ll get a taste of ancient rainforest, black-sand beaches and coastal forest on this trail, which was inspired by New Zealand’s famous mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary, who prepared for his epic expeditions here.
Cross New Zealand’s narrowest neck of land on the Coast to Coast Walkway, which starts in Viaduct Harbour and heads west for 16 kilometres ending at Manukau Harbour. The walk is part of Te Araroa, a continuous 3,000 kilometres walking track, and you’ll pass over some of Auckland’s 48 volcanic cones, through parklands, urban landscapes and fertile gardens, with unforgettable views along the way.
4. Take in the view from the Sky Tower
Get a bird’s-eye view of the city from the observation deck of the Sky Tower, the city’s most iconic landmark and New Zealand’s tallest building, standing at 328-metres tall. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic 360-degree views for up to 80 kilometres in every direction from three viewing platforms. Adrenaline-seekers can walk the 192-metre-high SkyWalk platform or plummet at 85 kilometres an hour from the SkyJump platform for the ultimate rush.
5. Wander at the world’s largest collection of Māori artefacts
Auckland War Memorial Museum Tmaki Paenga Hira is one of the country’s most important museums, and is housed in what is considered one of New Zealand’s finest heritage buildings. The museum is important for the history it tells about New Zealand and its people, and is home to renowned Māori and Pacific collections. The significant collection of more than 1,000 Māori treasures (known as ‘taonga’) on display in the main Māori galleries include the full-size Hotunui meeting house and Te Toki ā Tāpiri war canoe, and the the earliest surviving Māori carving in the world, as well as many important artefacts that provide an incredible glimpse into Māori culture.
6. Get a taste of the night markets
What started in the eastern suburb of Pakuranga in 2010 has now become an Auckland institution across seven different locations in the city on different days of the week. The Auckland Night Markets are a great way to experience different foods while listening to some live music or watching street performers do their thing while you browse the 100+ stalls for some retail therapy and foodie delights. Best of all, the markets are free to explore.
7. Climb a volcano
Auckland has 48 volcanic cones dotted across its landscape, which not only make for a unique surrounding, but hold great cultural significance for the Auckland Māori. One Tree Hill is one of the largest volcanoes – walk to the summit to visit the monument and grave of Sir John Logan Campbell, the ‘founding father’ of Auckland city. One Tree Hill is in the heart of the serene Cornwall Park, an ideal spot for a picnic and a stroll. For the best views, climb or cycle to the summit of Mount Eden – this 196-metres high cone is the highest natural point in Auckland, making it the perfect spot for watching the sunrise or sunset.
8. Get your beach fix
With thousands of kilometres of coastline bordering New Zealand, you’re not short of beaches to choose from in Auckland. There are volcanic black-sand beaches along rugged coastline to the west, golden-sand beaches, calm waters and idyllic swimming spots just a stone’s throw from the city at beaches such as Takapuna Beach, Mission Bay and St Heliers (if you don’t want to venture too far), or head north out of the city and enjoy the clear waters and white-sand beaches of the Tāwharanui Peninsula or the Pakiri coastline.
9. Explore Bohemian suburbs
For hip bars, boutique shops and trendy restaurants, head to the neighbourhood of Ponsonby. Or for a foodie must-do, visit the suburb of Parnell for the renowned La Cigale French market, which has been voted Auckland’s top food market for the best part of the last decade and is full of French delicacies and French-inspired products that will make you feel as if you’ve been transported to the European country.
10. Sit back and enjoy the sails
This is the ‘City of Sails’ after all, so why not enjoy the view of the many boats out on Waitemata Harbour. Head to Wynyard Quarter where you can also see sculptures, little ones can enjoy the outdoor playgrounds, and adults can sip on cocktails as the sun sets. Or dine in style in Viaduct Harbour, the city’s vibrant waterfront.