A diverse metropolis and the largest city in New Zealand (but not the capital!), Auckland is the gateway to New Zealand and likely to be your first stop in the country as it is the home of the main international airport. Some travellers, especially if they only have a few weeks in the country, choose to skip Auckland altogether in favour of exploring other areas of New Zealand. However, if you are planning to spend some time in the city, this Auckland travel guide will help you make the most of your stay there.
In many ways, Auckland is just another big expensive city with bland architecture and sprawling suburbs. Chances are, the highlights of your New Zealand adventure will be found elsewhere. Nevertheless, Auckland does have some beautiful scenery, excellent wine and a solid dining scene that are sure to keep you busy. So if you do want to discover what this city is about, read on.
Best Time To Go to Auckland
Summer in the Southern hemisphere is from December to February, so this time of the year offers great weather and plenty of sunshine. The downside is that this is also the high season, so be prepared for crowds of tourists, high rates and booked out activities. If you are planning to head to New Zealand in the summer, I highly recommend booking your accommodation, transport and activities as far in advance as possible to make sure you don’t miss out. If you have more flexibility, October – November and March-April are also great times to visit Auckland. There is still plenty of sunshine but the place feels a lot less crowded and the costs of travel are lower.
Getting Around Auckland
If you only have a couple of days and are staying in or around the central business district (CBD) area, the best ways of getting around the city are walking and public transport. The CBD is quite compact and most places of interest are easy to reach. There is a network of buses and ferries that is more than sufficient for travel around the central areas and popular islands. However, if you’re keen to explore more remote areas, a car is a must.
Where To Stay in Auckland
For a short stay, I would recommend staying in or around the CBD to make sure you don’t waste precious time on unnecessary travel from your accommodation to key attractions. Auckland offers something for every budget, from affordable hostels to luxurious hotels. This Auckland travel guide offers a couple of options for each category.
- SO/ Auckland – from $600 NZD (375 USD) per night
- Britomart Hotel – from $430 NZD (270 USD) per night
- Attic Backpackers ($76 NZD (48 USD) for a double room with shared facilities or $35 NZD (22 USD) for a bed in a 4-6 dorm)
- Verandahs Parkside Lodge ($70 NZD (44 USD) for a double or $30 NZD (19 USD) for a bed in a dorm)
Auckland Travel Guide: Top Things To See and Do
Compared to many other international cities, Auckland’s arts, culture and heritage offering is not going to blow your mind. However, the city does have some interesting spots that are worth a look for a good introduction to New Zealand’s culture and history. The aspect that Auckland undoubtedly excels at is stunning landscapes and outdoor activities. No matter where you are, you’re never too far from a beautiful beach, park or a hiking trail.
This Auckland travel guide will cover the places that I think are worth including in your itinerary.
Auckland’s Top Attractions
The Sky Tower is Auckland’s skyline icon and the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also a bit of a tourist trap. The reason why I think it’s still worth a visit because it will allow you to really appreciate the diverse and beautiful landscape of the wider Auckland region, from the islands of the Hauraki Gulf to numerous volcanic hills. If you’d like to spend more time enjoying the stunning views, there is a café and two restaurants at the top. I’d say booking a table in advance would be a good strategy as these places are really popular. Bungy jumping is available for those looking for that adrenaline rush. The cost of admission for adults is NZ$32 (20 USD). You can skip the ticket line by booking your entry tickets here.
Located in a lovely park, Auckland Museum is a must for those who would like to gain a deeper understanding of New Zealand history, culture and its people. The highlight of your visit will definitely be the museum’s unique Māori and Pacific collection containing fascinating artefacts from rare carvings to the last great Māori war canoe. It is important to note that this cultural landmark is also a war memorial for the Auckland region. International visitors are required to purchase General Admission tickets for adults are NZ$28 (18 USD) per person. You can book your tickets directly on the Auckland Museum website or, if you would like to have the option of free cancellation, on Get Your Guide.
Auckland Art Gallery is home to the largest permanent collection of New Zealand art and often hosts high calibre international exhibitions. It is located in a beautiful building that has received numerous architectural awards in its home country and beyond. You can join one of the free English language tours (run daily) that will provide you with a comprehensive introduction to the artistic treasures and history of the Gallery. Admission charges for international visitors have been suspended until further notice.
Auckland Travel Guide: Best Day Trips
No Auckland travel guide would be complete without mentioning a trip to this beautiful island. Just a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke island is blessed with idyllic landscapes, beautiful beaches, great food and excellent wine. Although some parts of Waiheke are quite high-end, it still retains its unpretentious, bohemian charm. From art galleries and numerous nature walks to winery tours and seafood sampling, there is really something to suit all tastes on Waiheke. If you’d like to experience the local wine scene, I’d recommend joining a small group tour like this afternoon wine tour with lunch to cover more ground in terms of wineries. There are quite a few on the island and they are spread out. Having access to transport is key to trying as many wines as possible.
You can easily spend more than a day on Waiheke, but if you only have 48 hours in Auckland, a day trip to this small but perfectly formed island is definitely a must.
If you’re after great hiking opportunities and spectacular 360-degree views, look no further than the iconic Rangitoto Island. Just a short ferry ride away from the city, its distinctive symmetrical cone is Auckland’s iconic natural landmark. It is actually the youngest and largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field. The most popular walking trail leading to the summit will take about an hour one way. You can also explore the coast of Rangitoto or walk to the adjoining Motutapu Island. Guided walks are available in case you’d like to learn more about the history and unique nature of this beautiful day trip destination. You can book your Rangitoto Island roundtrip ferry pass here.
Tiritiri Matangi Island
This one is my personal favourite. Tiritiri Matangi is another beautiful island (there are many!) in the Hauraki Gulf. It is a wildlife sanctuary for New Zealand’s native birds and one of the most successful conservation projects in the country. The island is home to many rare bird species and some of them can be found only in New Zealand. When you arrive on the island after a 75 minute ferry ride, you will be greeted by birdsong. Aside from wildlife, you can also check out various walking trails, pristine beaches and New Zealand’s oldest operating lighthouse. I highly recommend joining a guided walk with a local volunteer. It will give you an introduction to New Zealand’s natural world and help you find the best bird watching spots. Book your round-trip ferry tickets to this incredible island here.
Waitakere Ranges Regional Park
Another Auckland gem, the Waitakere Ranges are perfect for nature lovers. The area combines native rainforest, unique wildlife and rugged coastline featuring breath-taking black sand surf beaches. You might have seen one of those beaches, Karekare, in the 1993 film “The Piano”. One of the best ways to explore this area is on foot. The walking trails range from short scenic strolls to challenging hikes that require a good level of fitness, so there is something for everyone. Unfortunately, getting to the Waitakere Ranges can be a little challenging if you don’t have a car. Public transport connections to remote areas of Auckland are limited. There are some small-group tours like this Waitakere Ranges Wilderness Experience tour that can take you there. For maximum flexibility, I would suggest renting a car for the day.
Auckland Travel Guide: Top Dining Spots
Auckland boasts a diverse dining scene with Polynesian and Asian influences. There are options to suit any budget, from cheap Chinese and Korean eats to delicious cafes serving excellent coffee and brunch to high end establishments offering the best New Zealand produce. It’s impossible to cover all great eateries that can be found in the city. However, this Auckland travel guide should be a good start.
- The Sugar Club (includes free access to the Sky Tower observation deck) – located at the top of the Sky Tower, this is a chic restaurant that offers fine cuisine, creative cocktails and unparalleled views over the city.
- The Grove – an Auckland fine dining icon that offers modern New Zealand degustation dining.
- Soul Bar & Bistro – casual dining with brilliant waterside views.
- Depot– a casual dining spot serving the best New Zealand seafood and excellent wine.
- Giraffe – located on the Auckland waterfront, the eatery celebrates New Zealand through its innovative, seasonal menu.
- Amano – this restaurants serves delicious Italian fare made of quality local ingredients in a stunning setting.
- Burger Fuel – an iconic Kiwi burger joint that defines its food as ‘Fuel for the Human Engine’.
- Auckland Fish Market – the perfect destination for seafood lovers. The market is home to several eateries that offer their creative take the New Zealand staple.
- Giapo is home to innovative gelato creation that cross boundaries between food and art.
- Island Gelato – another local favourite that offers more than 70 flavours of delicious ice cream.
- Miann is a mecca for chocolate lovers. Discover their fine sweets, chocolates, patisseries and a scrumptious a-la carte menu.
I hope this travel guide to Auckland will help you to kick start your own travel plans. The locations and activities featured in this article are the ones that I think are unique to Auckland. There are, of course, many other cool things to see and do in the city, especially if you have a bit more time there.
Have you already been to Auckland? Feel free to share your personal highlights in the comments.
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