Ah Auckland. The City of Sails and one of the world’s most exciting waterside cities is a great place to spend the day, a weekend or even a couple of weeks. With so much to see and do in and around this beautiful city, we thought we would make it easy for you and pull together our top 5 things to do in Auckland whether you’re here for a day or a month, there is something for everyone.
Top 5 things to do in Auckland
1. Auckland’s Volcanoes
Although Auckland is known as the City of Sails, it could also be known as the City of Volcanoes as everywhere you look there are volcanoes popping up all over the place. If you’re visiting for the day, you can take your pick of the best ones to go up. Our favourites are:
Mount Eden – grab a coffee in this classy suburb before heading up arguably Auckland’s most famous volcano. Offering 360 panoramic views of the city, this is a must for those looking for the postcard perfect picture of the city.
Rangitoto – looking out to sea from the water’s edge, the stunning island you see is Rangitoto Island which makes for a great trip out. Catch the ferry from the Viaduct and head across for a wander (or maybe a tramp!) up this dormant volcano. Like Mt Eden, Rangitoto offers superb views back towards the city and is a great day out.
Mount Victoria – this one will require another ferry trip from the viaduct across to Devonport but we think it is well worth it. Catch the 10 minute ferry ride across the harbour and head for an afternoon drink in this quaint little town before heading up Mt Victoria. More great view await you.
If you’re in Auckland for a longer stay, see how many of the volcanoes you can check off your list whilst you’re here – they all bring something different to the party but all have amazing views of the city and the Auckland region.
2. Auckland’s Bays
One of the most well-known activities for Aucklanders is the Round the Bays run, one of the largest of its kind in the world but it’s just as nice to walk, bike or drive around the bays. Taking you along the pohutukawa fringed beaches, this route takes you along the historic stretch of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour from the historic buildings of Quay Street all the way to the relaxing sandy beaches of Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers. Here are our top 3 things to do around the bays:
Mission Bay – relax on the beach before heading to the little town to grab an ice cream from Movenpick. You can also check out the historic Mission House.
Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World – Kelly Tarlton’s is an Auckland must and you may well see the ‘shark bus’ driving around the city. The aquarium itself is full of stingrays and sharks and you can also take a snowcat ride through an icy Antarctic landscape. It’s an awesome day out!
St Stephens Chapel
As you head across the bridge on Tamaki Drive and past the Parnell Baths salt water swimming pools, a short 5-10 minute walk half a kilometre up the hill will bring you to St Stephens Chapel. Built in 1897, this quaint wooden chapel was commissioned by Bishop Selwyn and features white painted board and batten exterior walls and a shingle roof. It’s picture perfect and there are some great view of the city from up the hill.
A trip around the bays is a great way to spend the day and there is definitely something for everyone. There is an awesome footpath which is great for walkers, runners and cyclists alike so if you have been sat on a plane or just fancy some exercise, this is a great place to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and breathe in some beautiful New Zealand air.
3. The Wild West Coast
Aucklanders are very lucky when it comes to beaches. You may decide to head to one of the tranquil beaches around the bays which look out east into the pacific or for the more adventurous, we highly recommend a trip out west to the wild beaches of Auckland’s West Coast. Black iron sand sweeps across this dramatic stretch of coastline and these wild surf beaches are unrivalled anywhere in New Zealand for their character and uniqueness.
The drive out west from downtown Auckland is a beauty in itself, passing through the beautiful Waitakere Ranges where a stop off is definitely the order of the day. Passing through Titirangi where you can grab a coffee, you can head to the Arataki visitors centre which offers up some superb views back towards the city and out towards the coast, looking out over seemingly endless miles of forest. The Waitakere Ranges have over 250km of walking tracks and the visitors centre will be more than happy to point you in the right direction depending on how far you want to go and how energetic you are feeling.
After a walk in the woods, you will be ready for a cool down and you can take you pick of beaches – our favourite three are:
Piha – notorious for its rips and undertow, Piha is perhaps the most famous of the West Coast beaches. A great place for surfers and beach lovers alike, this beach attracts big crowds during the summer and is a great place to spend the day. There are a number of walks that can be reached behind Piha beach including a walk to the 40m high Kitekite Falls where you can also go swimming.
Karekare Beach – With its towering volcanic spires and lava bluffs, Karekare is one of the most picturesque of Aucklands’ west coast beaches. There is a small 25 m high waterfall that can be reached on a short 5 minute track leading from Lone Kauri Road near the beach, but the best walk is probably along the coast to the south which leads along the route of an old tramway from Karekare to Whatipu Beach and the entrance to the Manukau Harbour.
Bethells Beach – Located at the mouth of the Waitakere River, Bethells Beach features the distinctive volcanic cliffs that are characteristic of this part of the coast as well as a massive sea cave that you can walk to at the southern end of the beach. Behind the sand dunes which have accumulated over thousands of years, there are freshwater lakes in the Te Henga Valley. Surfing is a popular activity on the beach along with parasailing and hang gliding.
If you are heading out West but don’t fancy the walks or the beaches, you can also head to Kumeu, one of Auckland’s famous wine growing regions where you can sample some of the local drops as well as enjoying the beautiful surrounds of the vineyards. If you fancy a bit of adventure, Woodhill Forest is a great place to go for the day and enjoy some downhill mountain biking and treetop adventures.
4. Waiheke Island
There is a definite theme developing to our Auckland top things to do! Another ferry ride awaits for this awesome day trip out and this one takes you a bit further afield out into the Hauraki Gulf. Situated about 18kms from Auckland, it will take you around 45-50 minutes on the ferry to get to Waiheke but you will soon understand why it’s on our list when you get there. Recently named fifth in Lonely Planet’s best regions to visit in 2016, Waiheke is popular with Kiwis and international visitors alike. Described by the Lonely Planet as ‘a utopia of secret coves, beautiful beaches, rolling vineyards, luxury lodges and bohemian sensibilities’ Waiheke Island should be a ‘must do’ on your list of activities for Auckland.
The one thing that keep Waiheke so special is the relative lack of development. People come to the island for the beaches and to take a step off the conveyor belt of live and slow it all down for a day (or more if you have the time!). On top of the pristine beaches you have the world class wine and food. The island supports the Totally Locally philosophy, with visitors encouraged to shop and buy local and many of the restaurants only using locally sourced produce instead of shipping from the mainland. This sense of community is what really stands Waiheke apart and makes it such an awesome place to visit.
Our top three things to do when you’re on the island?
There are a number of operators offering tours to take you around the multitude of vineyards located on the island. You can pretty much take your pick – wherever you go you will be guaranteed to sample some truly delicious wines.
Eco Zip Adventures – If you want to explore the native forest on the island, Eco Zip Adventures offer one of the most exciting ways to do it as you whizz down one of their three zip lines. There is also a vineyard on site as well as an awesome visitor centre.
Palm Beach – White sands and safe swimming make this one of Waiheke’s most popular beaches and it is a great place to spend a few hours. With a great picnic area and two BBQs, this is a great place to take some food and hang out with friends.
However you spend your day on Waiheke, you are sure to head back to the city relaxed and ready for your next adventure.
5. Auckland Central
We know that getting out and exploring is not for everyone. Some people love to soak up the city life and we definitely get that. Auckland is a modern, cosmopolitan city with everything you could possibly want in terms of shopping, eating and drinking. With many ‘communities’ dotted all around the city, from Parnell to Ponsonby, Mt Eden to Kingsland there is plenty to see and do and it is all within easy reach thanks to the great rail network in and around the city.
It’s so easy to spend the day down by the viaduct or exploring the Wynard Quarter but if you head to Britomart, the city’s transport hub located just behind the Viaduct there heaps of things to see and do within a 10 minute train ride away. Here are our top three:
Eden Park – for the sports lovers out there, a trip to Eden Park to see the home of the iconic All Blacks is a must. Eden Park is a pretty awesome stadium built for rugby that was redeveloped for the 2011 Rugby World Cup which was held in New Zealand. It also plays host to cricket too and if you can manage to catch a game of any sort, we highly recommend it as the atmosphere is great!
Ponsonby – Ponsonby is within walking distance of the city centre or you can always catch the bus but however you get here, it is worth the trip. With great places to eat and some lovely little corner cafes, Ponsonby really comes alive at night and is a great place to head for food and a few drinks.
Sky Tower – a trip to Auckland is not complete without a trip up the iconic Sky Tower. The 328m tower is the largest free standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere and includes three observation decks and a revolving restaurant at the top. For the brave and the crazy, you can also give the 192m controlled ‘sky jump’ a try.
We have only scratched the surface of things to do in and around Auckland but hopefully this gives you plenty of ideas for how to spend a few days in the City of Sails.
New Zealand Road trip itineraries from Auckland
If you’re starting or ending your New Zealand road trip in Auckland, make sure you check out our itineraries which will take you all around New Zealand whether you are here for a few days or a month: