It didn’t bother me in the least that our first day in Auckland was enveloped in dark clouds and drenched in rain. In fact, that’s how I knew I was going to love the few days we had to spend there.Adam and I have experienced far more sunny days than rainy days during our travels, a fortune for which I am enormously grateful. When you travel the way we do—packing days full of activities in a quest to maximize each vacation day—there isn’t a lot of room for bad weather. Besides that, I am a terrible sport when it comes to rain: I hate sitting in wet clothes, and no matter how big an umbrella I carry the wind always seems to blow raindrops sideways when I’m outside. We have powered through a handful of memorably wet days: we spent close to an hour shivering beneath a doorway at London’s Palace of Westminster in 2013, we trekked across the slippery Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland in 2016, and we worried our taxi would wash off the street on a short drive from the airport to our hotel in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2015. Each time I fought my own memory to remember the great parts of our day above persistent thoughts of dreary weather and cold, damp clothing. We knew to expect some rain in Auckland—after all, New Zealand averages 185 rainy days a year. When Auckland didn’t welcome us with sunny, blue skies—and when I wasn’t bothered by it—I knew I was about to discover a new favorite city.
Auckland is New Zealand’s most populous city, and it provides an incredible introduction to the culture and spirit of whānau (the native Māori word for extended family) that is so much a part of every experience we had. Whether you have just a day or two to explore the city or you make it your home base for an extended period of time, Auckland is an unmissable city if your travels take you to New Zealand. Here are 10 of the places we highly recommend as you create your own itinerary!
One Tree HillDon’t worry, we’re not recommending a television break in the middle of your Auckland visit. When you think of One Tree Hill, many travelers (especially those from the USA) will think of the popular TV drama that ran for almost a decade before concluding in 2012. One Tree Hill takes on an entirely new meaning in Auckland, where it instead stands as an important memorial place for the Māori. Once more commonly known as Maungakiekie, several Māori tribes trace their ancestry to the area, which served as the largest and most important defensive location in the Auckland area. Located on a tall volcanic peak, native tribes were close to both of Auckland’s ports and benefited from easy access to seafood and the strategic ability to see as people approached their land.
Although One Tree Hill is, indeed, a hill, it does not have one tree—in fact, it does not have any trees at all. When the site was abandoned, a single native tree stood for just a few decades before it was cut down by a settler who did not understand its significance. Sir John Logan Campbell, a businessman recognized as the “Father of Auckland,” planted a grove of pine trees as a replacement for the single tree, of which only one tree survived—again creating a One Tree Hill. That tree was attacked twice; it survived the first attack but could not withstand the second, which was inflicted as part of a Māori protest. Today, instead of a tree, a memorial obelisk dedicated to the Māori people and funded by Campbell stands tall. In the coming years, the hill will welcome a brand-new tree; in 2015 the City of Auckland announced that a small grove of native trees would be planted, and the strongest tree will remain on the hill.
Visiting One Tree Hill and the surrounding Cornwall Park is a wonderful way to see Auckland. It is free to enter the park, and a fairly easy walk will take you to the summit for some terrific city views. Although it is somewhat accessible by public transportation, it is much easier to arrive by car since it is removed from the Central Business District.
Auckland Sky TowerYour trip to Auckland will be planned according to your personal vacation goals, and whether you are looking for total relaxation, the perfect vantage point for photos, or an unforgettable adrenaline rush, the Auckland Sky Tower should be on your list. Standing more than 1,000 feet tall, the Auckland Sky Tower has towered over the city since it opened in 1997. Most visitors will make one of the observation floors their destination; the observation deck on the 51st floor and the Sky Deck on the 60th floor offer unparalleled views of the city. Hungry travelers will find the Sky Café on the 50th floor and the revolving Orbit 360 restaurant on the 52nd floor to be worthy spots for a snack or a full meal. For thrill-seekers, the 53rd floor is the place to be. The SkyWalk offers visitors the chance to walk along the edge of the Sky Tower while connected to a safety harness, and for the truly daring the SkyJump experience will send base jumpers hurtling more than 600 feet down toward the ground. Located in the Central Business District (CBD), the Auckland Sky Tower is convenient to many other attractions, making it an easy addition to any itinerary.
More Information: SkyCityAuckland.co.nz/Sky-Tower
Mount EdenSuburban Auckland has a lot for visitors to discover, and the Mount Eden neighborhood quickly became one of our favorites. Mount Eden is a dormant volcano also known as Maungawhau, and it is the highest natural point in Auckland. We took a short train ride to Mount Eden and walked all the way to the top, a steep but otherwise not too taxing journey that seemed to be a popular route for a number of other tourists. The views from the top were certainly stunning; under clear skies we could see many of Auckland’s most famous landmarks. We were equally impressed by the huge, bowl-shaped crater that stands as proof of the region’s volcanic activity from many centuries ago. New Zealand’s geography is largely defined by the volcanoes that have shaped it over the centuries, and any visit to Auckland will be improved by the opportunity to see evidence of volcanoes at work with your own eyes.
Although Maungawhau is reason enough to head into the suburbs, my favorite part wasn’t the views or the geology lesson—it was Piggy Stardust. Local artist Paul Walsh has developed a name for himself by turning outdoor telecommunication enclosures into works of art. Piggy Stardust is an ode to Ziggy Stardust—David Bowie’s famous alter ego—and features a brown and white guinea pig rocking a pink and blue lightning bolt across his face. The guinea pig is a tribute to a kindergarten pet from a nearby school. Adam and I have shared our home with a number of guinea pigs over the years (they make absolutely wonderful pets!), and while we fully expected to discover guinea pig tributes in places like Cusco and Quito, we were delighted to run across one in Auckland. Just a month later we saw a similar artistic tribute to Ziggy Stardust in London, which nicely brought our tour of related street art to a close. If you are looking for fun, off-the-beaten-path spots to seek out in Auckland, find Piggy Stardust for a quick photo op. Walsh has painted a number of telecom enclosures throughout Auckland, so with an extra couple of days Piggy Stardust could set you off on a nice street art scavenger hunt.
Emily Place ReserveOne of our favorite Auckland locations is Emily Place, which is situated close to the University of Auckland. Famous for a collection of trees that twist and weave along a pedestrian pathway, you may find yourself ducking, swerving, or climbing to get around them. The park was the site of St. Paul’s Church, the first church to be built in Auckland in 1841, and while the church no longer exists there is a monument that commits its location to history. The monument is nice, but be sure to read it closely: it contains a surprising typo (and a correction!) engraved into the marble.
One of the busiest streets in Auckland is Queen Street, and it is a great place to spend a few hours or an entire afternoon if shopping and people watching are of interest. Punctuated by small parks, historic civic buildings, and great restaurants and shopping options, there is plenty to capture your interest. We spent quite a bit of time exploring Queen Street on our last day in Auckland, when we joined a terrific food tour for a walk through the area. In addition to uncovering some delicious snacks, we found there was a lot to like about the street. Queen Street regularly hosts parades and other gatherings (we hoped to see the annual Christmas parade during our trip, but it was delayed due to rainy conditions), so it’s worth checking local publications to see what events you may be able to enjoy. Also of note is that Queen Street is quite steep; starting from the harbor, it is a long, uphill walk to get to the other end. If walking up hills sounds like more than you want to tackle during your Auckland vacation, there is no shame in taking a bus or hailing a taxi to get you from place to place.
BritomartYou will find just about everything you need in Britomart, another Auckland waterfront neighborhood with exceptional dining, shopping, and access to the CBD and the harbour. Britomart sits on the Waitemata Harbour, which was first explored in the 1840s and survived multiple waves of success and decline over the years. Britomart takes its name from the first ship to survey the area, a nod to its location on the water. In the early 2000s, the neighborhood began to transform into a more modern, commercially-focused area that has attracted high-end restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and stores. Pedestrian streets and outdoor patios are lit by fairy lights that run through the neighborhood, and new construction sits alongside renovated historical buildings that give Britomart character and charm. Britomart is incredibly convenient to many of the highlights you will want to add to your Auckland itinerary, and it’s a great destination to seek out.
Recommended to us by a fantastic server during one of our meals in Auckland, the Viaduct Harbour is a wonderful neighborhood to explore. Originally developed to receive commercial ships, the Viaduct didn’t succeed in its intended use. As the size of ships increased, most vessels were too large to dock at the wharf. Larger wharves capable of accommodating ships rendered the viaduct unnecessary, and so the area was redeveloped to bring in bars and restaurants. You’ll find a pretty vibrant nightlight at the Viaduct, which is a short walk from the CBD and a convenient place to catch a ferry to one of the neighboring islands. It’s a nice, modern spot to walk around, and you’ll find dozens of choices for a round of drinks or a full meal.
Hit the Beach
New Zealand has thousands of miles of coastline, and Auckland is close to some truly wonderful beaches. If you are thinking about spending a day at the beach, you’ll have more than just a decision on which beach to visit: you’ll have to decide what kind of sand you want.Plenty of visitors love the white sand beaches that are so close to Auckland. Orewa is especially popular for gentle waves and plenty of soft sand, and with a nice town with lots of local eateries within close proximity it is a quick, fulfilling day trip. Similarly, Anchor Bay at the Tāwharanui Peninsula is a great destination for surfing, snorkeling, and swimming.
If you are looking for something a bit more dramatic, don’t miss the chance to add a black sand beach to your Auckland itinerary. Surrounded by rocky cliffs, the volcanic black sand is an amazing sight as it stretches along the coastline. We loved Karekare Beach, which is a short drive from Auckland. Made famous when it was featured in the Oscar-winning film The Piano, Karekare Beach is especially great for walking but can be a good swimming location when the waves are calm. The beach is also a short walk from the beautiful Karekare Waterfall, which has the tranquility that places like Niagara Falls, Cascada de Peguche in Ecuador, and Multnomah Falls in Oregon lack due to their popularity. When we trekked to the falls we were among just four other people, all joining us as part of a wine-focused day trip. Like the waterfall, the beach was sparsely populated, and we couldn’t believe we had the chance to have an incredible piece of nature all to ourselves.
Arataki Visitor CentreLess than an hour outside of Auckland is the Arataki Visitor Centre, an outstanding place to learn about New Zealand’s intricate connection to nature. There is a nice, free museum that displays Māori carvings and offers a few educational exhibits, but the real attraction is outside. The visitor center serves as the entrance to the Waitakere Range, where you can explore a coastal rainforest that features native flora and fauna lining boardwalks and pathways. With just a short time to visit you can experience the rainforest, which is just beyond the visitor center, but if you have more time the longer Hillary Trail offers a bushwalk-like experience along a six-mile-long path. Our visit happened to fall during a brief rainstorm, yet we found the walk around the visitor center’s perimeter to be worth dodging a few raindrops. It’s a worthy addition to an Auckland itinerary.
More Information: Facebook.com/AratakiVisitorCentre
Auckland War Memorial Museum
The Auckland War Memorial Museum is a great place to learn about New Zealand’s history. Long before European settlers arrived, the Māori people lived and ruled the land. The museum houses many of the artifacts, artwork, tools, and treasures that will help you to learn their significance and the richness of the country’s history as a whole. Many of the galleries include multimedia approaches to educating guests about New Zealand’s history; with a full afternoon you’ll find plenty of exhibits, videos, and activities to immerse yourself in culture and knowledge. The museum also has two Halls of Memory dedicated to New Zealanders who lost their lives as war. Make the most of your visit by experiencing a guided tour or a cultural performance, both of which can be added to the ticket price when you arrive.
More Information: AucklandMuseum.org
Take an Auckland Walking TourFree walking tours are one of our favorite ways to get to know a new city, and the tour we took in Auckland was an incredible experience. We met our guides Julie and Marty from Auckland Free Walking Tours, which provided our group with an in-depth three-hour tour of the city. We walked through beautiful Albert Park, through the University of Auckland, and past noteworthy locations like the Women’s Suffrage Memorial, the Ferry Building and the Auckland Clock Tower as we listened to stories that brought Auckland’s history to life. In addition to some light exercise and a lot of new information, we also heard tips from our guides about their favorite places for dinner, dessert, and drinks. We revisited a few spots so we could spend a bit more time exploring, and Adam and I both agreed we wouldn’t have used our time as productively as we did if we didn’t start our vacation with Auckland Free Walking Tours.
As with all free tours, the tour itself is completely free; if you have a great time, you are encouraged to leave a gratuity with your guide. We recommend tipping generously, as paid walking tours are often exceptionally expensive and every guide we have encountered has been passionate about his or her hometown and more than willing to answer questions and share local perspectives that you may not find so easily anywhere else.
Waiheke Island Wine TourWine in Auckland is easy to find, but instead of ordering a glass with dinner we recommend taking a quick ferry ride away from Auckland toward Waiheke Island. Known as the “wine island,” Waiheke Island is home to a growing number of picturesque wineries with beautiful tasting rooms and well-made wines. We took a bus tour that provided us with a ferry ticket, and we enjoyed the 35-minute ride from the Viaduct to the island. We visited three different wineries, each of which offered a guided tasting with a winery staff member. Both of us were impressed by the variety and quality of the wine we sampled, an impressive feat for us after an outstanding, full-day wine tour of nearby wineries the day before and an equally enjoyable tour of Hunter Valley wineries outside of Sydney, Australia just a few days before that. If you enjoy trying new wine, you will find plenty to love in New Zealand, but treat yourself to an afternoon exploring wine culture on Waiheke Island. It’s a unique, memorable way to learn, sip, and relax.
How to Get Around in Auckland
We found Auckland to be an easy city to navigate. Neither Adam nor I drive outside of the USA and Canada, so we rely heavily on places where we can walk or take public transportation. We booked tickets from the airport to our hotel using the Skybus, a convenient, economical shuttle that connects airport passengers with the CBD. Once we were in the city we walked almost everywhere, hoping on the Metro—the railway—just a few times to travel to Mount Eden and to escape the rain. If, like us, you don’t choose to rent a car, Auckland is a very accessible city to explore by foot and by public transit. If you do choose to rent a car—a great idea for many people, especially those planning to leave Auckland to explore more of the islands—remember that you’ll need to drive on the left side of the road instead of the right, and Auckland traffic can be a bit of a nightmare during peak commuting times.
More Information: AT.govt.nz
Where to Eat in AucklandIf you are wondering about Auckland’s food scene, we have you covered! Check out our article on our favorite places to eat in Auckland. From local flavors to delicacies from around the world, we share some of our favorite spots—and why you should consider starting your trip to Auckland with a food tour.
Where to Stay in Auckland
We stayed at the Grand Mercure Auckland Hotel our home base during our visit, and if you are looking for a conveniently-located place near many key sightseeing attractions it may be a great place for you to stay, too. The Mercure is within walking distance of many of our favorite places in Auckland, including our favorite restaurants, and it’s also close to the Britomart transit center for bus and train access! The Mercure offered well-sized, clean rooms with comfortable beds and free WiFi—we are planning to stay there again the next time our travels take us to Auckland.
More Information: Booking.com/Grand-Mercure-Auckland-Hotel
We found the best hotel rates on Booking.com; you may find a great deal for the Mercure or another property on Booking.com as well. Here are a few deals to consider.
Enjoy Auckland!When I think of Giant’s Causeway and Yogyakarta, to this day I remember the rain before I remember the destination itself. When I think of Auckland, I remember the rain as an afterthought, a side note—if I remember the rain at all. Instead, when I think of Auckland I think of the constant access to interesting sights, beautiful architecture, and fascinating people who made our journey halfway around the world so wonderful. Auckland is an excellent choice for a city break, and its close proximity to natural wonders makes it an ideal place to escape the city when you’re ready for fresh air and plenty of lush, green landscapes. If your travels will take you to Auckland, you’ll have plenty of great options to create lasting memories.
Still, don’t forget your umbrella.
Looking for more fun places to visit near Auckland? Here are a few more posts for inspiration!
* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we visited multiple locations on our own and as part of a tour with Auckland Free Walking Tours, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected these locations and companies based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.