Auckland doesn’t have an easy life. Overlooked as a destination by many tourists visiting New Zealand, Auckland is merely the place for sleeping off the jet lag before moving on to travelling the ‘real’ New Zealand.
If you give the city a chance, you will see that there are heaps of top things to do in Auckland that make it worth staying for a few nights to really discover the City of Sails (as Auckland is nicknamed), its suburbs, beaches and diverse islands. You could easily stay in Auckland for a week and still have not seen it all!
Top things to do in Auckland - Sightseeing
No city visit is complete without a good old sightseeing tour around the city centre and the closest suburbs. With a mostly compact centre, you can do a lot of Auckland sightseeing on foot. Other great options are seeing Auckland by bus or from the water.
See the city on a Hop-on / Hop-off Bus or by regular bus
No city visit is complete without a good old sightseeing tour around the city centre and the closest suburbs. The best way to get an overview of what the city has to offer, board the Auckland Hop-on / Hop-off bus. They come with audio comments and with a day-ticket you’re free to get out and go explore the area as you please.
Alternatively, use the regular bus. They are cheaper, but they won’t tell you much about where you are and what you see. The best buses to get around the city centre are Link Buses. They come in red, green and orange and drive different routes.
Go on an Auckland Harbour Cruise
Once you’ve seen enough of the city by bus, change over to further explore by water. On the Auckland Harbour Cruise, you’ll discover why Auckland is nicknamed the City of Sails. The Fullers takes 90 minutes and will give you a great overview of the Auckland Islands.
Take in the view from the Sky Tower (and maybe even dare to jump off it)
Looking over the city from the Sky Tower is a must when visiting Auckland! At 328 meters, Sky Tower Auckland is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
It’s just a tower with a great 360° view over Auckland, but there are just SO many possibilities to enjoy your stay! If you’re short on time you can just get admission to the tower. With more time and money, why not stay for dinner at Orbit, the 360° rotating restaurant? Or make your evening even more special at the Sugar Club.
If getting your adrenaline pumping is more your thing, you should give Auckland SkyWalk and SkyJump a go! For the SkyWalk, you walk around the Sky Tower on a pathway that is outside in the fresh air (fully secured, of course).
The Auckland SkyJump is a ‘controlled bungy’. You’re secured at three points. Once you got over your fear and leapt off the tower, it will safely bring you to the ground, without bouncing you back as a bungy cord would. Don’t be mistaken, though, it’s not any less scary than an ordinary bungy jump.
Technically, SkyWalk and SkyJump are two separate activities, but they make a really great combo you shouldn’t miss!
Go on a Free Walking Tour
Yes, there really is a free walking tour in Auckland! All you have to do is look for the guide with the blue umbrella before 10 am at the entrance to Queens Wharf Village (behind the red fence next to the ferry terminal).
The tours usually run from Thursday to Sunday and take about 2.5 - 3 hours. The route can vary slightly, but will always be in the city centre.
Although you don’t have to, guests are encouraged to tip the guide at the end of the walk. If you do so and how much is up to you. All the tips go into the collective to keep these tours running.
Need more inspiration? Click here to find even more top things to do in Auckland
Take the ferry to Devonport
It’s only a short 5 minutes ride with the ferry to Devonport from Auckland. It runs frequently throughout the week. Devonport is a charming Auckland suburb with great cafes and restaurants, walks, some military history and the best views over the Auckland skyline.
After disembarking the ferry, turn right and keep walking along the shore until you can’t go any further. There will be a walkway that leads up to the top of North Head. From there, you not only get great views over Auckland but you can also explore the remainders of the military tunnels and gun emplacement which was used multiple time over New Zealand’s history.
Tasting Auckland one restaurant at a time
One thing I can promise you about Auckland: You will never go hungry! You could eat three times per day in another Auckland restaurant for several weeks and still haven’t been to all of them! Eating and drinking is Auckland’s favourite hobby.
There’s an abundance of restaurants and bars along the water in Viaduct Harbour and Wynyard Quarter with flavours from all over the world.
Britomart behind Auckland’s main train station with the same name is a newer quarter and full of hip and sometimes hidden restaurants.
At the Chancery Square, you’ll find mainly Asian and Mediterranean cuisine.
In one of Auckland’s most charming suburb, Ponsonby, there are a lot of small cafes and fancy restaurants. Ponsonby Central is a cluster of eateries and has a European-looking food market for fresh produce.
If you’re after cheaper food from food trucks and stalls, the Auckland Night Markets are ideal for you. They are scattered all over Auckland throughout the week. In Auckland CBD, you can find a night market at the corner of Fort Street and Shortland Street, Saturday they move to the Wilson carpark on Elliott Street.
For your very-late-night burger cravings, head over to the White Lady on the corner of Fort Street and Commerce Street. They are a food truck run by the same family for over 60 years and pride themselves to have never missed a night in all the years. They are open every night from 7 pm to 4 am.
Islands in Hauraki Gulf
There are over 50 islands scattered in Hauraki Gulf. Many of them are tiny and can only be reached by a private boat. However, there are some major Auckland islands you can easily cruise to by ferry from Auckland. They are all operated by Fullers 360 and leave from Auckland Ferry Terminal.
I will focus on the three most popular Auckland islands. Although the islands are close to each other, they are very diverse in their landscape and what is being offered on the islands themselves:
The main reason why Waiheke Island is everybody’s favourite island (both locals and tourists) is easy: Wine!
There are over 25 boutique Waiheke Island wineries and most of them are connected by a regular bus system as well as a hop-on / hop-off bus and of course plenty of Waiheke wine tours.
There’s even a Waiheke wine trail that connects 6 of the wineries with a romantic walking path through the vineyards and olive groves.
Apart from wine, there are also plenty of white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Even the occasional Little Blue Penguin can be spotted swimming between the anchored boats.
Waiheke Island surely is one of the top things to do in Auckland and the best way to start your New Zealand holiday as it’s only a 30-minutes’ ferry trip from Auckland.
Where Waiheke looks lovely and green, the predominating colour on Rangitoto Island is black. The youngest of the over 50 volcanoes in Auckland is ‘only’ 600 years old. It’s very rugged and you can still see the lava flows from when it erupted.
There are several walks on Rangitoto, the most popular being the one going straight through the middle to the summit where you get a near 360° of Hauraki Gulf. Near the top are the Rangitoto lava caves, a system of tunnels created by flowing lava that now pretty much ask to be explored!
You can also get to Rangitoto Island by kayak! One of my bucket-list experiences still is the sunrise kayaking to Rangitoto. After climbing the summit for sunset, you’ll have a BBQ with a view before you descent and paddle back to the mainland in the dark.
Tiritiri Matangi Island
Yet another completely different landscape! Tiritiri Matangi Island is a bird sanctuary and a paradise for (aspiring) bird-watchers. It’s predator-free, which means that the birds grow up enemy-free and will later in their lives be released to other parks all over New Zealand. If you stay overnight, you might even be lucky enough to come across a kiwi bird!
You should definitely book yourself into the tours that are offered by volunteers. It will not only help seeing more of the native wildlife but also learn a lot about New Zealand native birds.
Beaches in Auckland
With Auckland being such a big city, people often forget that we also have beaches here! Ok, the best beaches in Auckland can be found a bit outside of the city centre, but we’re literally surrounded by them. Here’s where to find the Auckland beaches:
The Western Beaches are rough, wild, dramatic and just so beautiful! They are hidden behind the Waitakere Ranges and take a lot of the weather beating that’s coming from those Westerlies.
The most famous and most popular of the West Auckland beaches is Piha Beach. It even had its own TV reality show, Piha Rescue. Piha Beach has a few cafes, a Surf Club and a campsite. Swimmers and surfers alike love to play in the waves. Next year in March, Piha Beach will host the New Zealand part of the World Surf League series.
Karekare Beach is great for extensive beach walks. It’s extremely long and you could easily walk an hour or two in one direction. There are also some popular waterfalls in the area that can be reached by a short walk. If you don’t mind the chilly water you’re welcome to go for a swim.
Muriwai Beach is another long surf beach with campsite and green spaces with BBQ stations. It’s more famous for the Muriwai Gannet colony, though. From August to March every year, thousands of birds nest on the steep Muriwai Beach cliffs.
Another great surf beach is Bethells Beach (also known as Te Henga Beach), but personally, I love it for it’s Lake Wainamu and the big, seemingly misplaced sand dune. The lake is great for a swim and walking around and the sand dune can be surfed, if you dare.
Auckland City Beaches
We not only have the Western Beaches, there are also heaps of city beaches in Auckland! They might be less beautiful than the wild beaches of the west but are easy to reach and bring some holiday feelings to the big smoke.
While there are many city beaches all around Auckland, let’s focus on the two most popular ones:
Located on the North Shore, Takapuna Beach is a great place for swims, beach walks and brunches. The beach overlooks Rangitoto Island and the water is mostly calm. Takapuna is full of restaurants, bars, a big children’s playground between the beach and the restaurants. In summer, there’s a constant whiff of sunscreen in the air.
Mission Bay and Tamaki Drive
The times where the name-giving mission ran a school for Christian education has long gone. The old mission is now a stylish cafe, one of many. On Sundays, mainly Polynesian families gather on the lawn between the cafes and the beach for a feast from their impromptu kitchens they set up. Joggers, cyclists and walkers enjoy the ocean views on the walkway from the city centre to Mission Bay, Tamaki Drive.
Museums in Auckland
Museums are not only great Auckland indoor activities on a rainy day (and rainy days we have a few here in Auckland), they are also a great source to learn about New Zealand’s history and modern art.
War Memorial Museum Auckland
Learn all about New Zealand’s history. How the Maori discovered Aotearoa New Zealand, what went wrong while signing the treaty. Find out about New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna, the geothermal activities and volcanoes. In the Earthquake House, you not only experience an earthquake but also find out what would happen if Rangitoto erupted again. Watch the Maori cultural performance with dancing, singing and the world-famous haka!
The Maritime Museum Auckland is dedicated to the seafarers, their history, their ships and their equipment. You can learn everything maritime, from the Great Pacific Migration to the high tech equipment of modern America’s Cup race boats.
Auckland Art Gallery
Auckland Art Gallery is about bringing art to people of all kinds. Often, it shows international exhibitions at a high level, from light art and sculptures to paintings and other interesting artwork.
Zoos and Family Adventures
Pretty much all of the above is also suitable for children, but if you want to explore Auckland with kids you might be looking for these special experiences:
As a child, I loooved minigolf. Actually, I still do. There are great indoors and outdoors minigolf in Auckland. My favourite courses are the Safari and T-Rex mini-golf on Tamaki Drive as well as Treasure Island mini-golf near the airport. Both have two fantastic themed 18-hole courses that are great fun for young and old.
SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's
A great place for the kids to learn about marine life and how to keep the oceans plastic-free. The highlight is the huge shark tunnel. Hop on the people mover and just gaze at the sharks, rays and other fish around you as you’re being moved through the tunnel.
For a small surcharge, you get to go behind the scenes on a short tour, get to feed some fish and see the aquarium from a different angle.
To view small and big animals, there’s no better place than Auckland Zoo! It’s a beautiful place and they look very well after their animals. The newest addition to the zoo is Te Wao Nui, which is all about New Zealand native animals. But you can also stand eye to eye with lions, zebras, wallabies and many more animals.
Auckland Zoo also works hard on conservation, especially for New Zealand wildlife as the Kiwi. They offer behind-the-scenes tours where you can decide to become a zookeeper for a day or visit the Kiwi nursery.
Butterfly Creek & Rocket Ropes
Butterfly Creek and Rocket Ropes are two different things but are right next to each other. Rocket Ropes is a high-rope experience for kids of all age. For the littlest ones between 2 and 6 years, there is a rope course on floor level.
Kids from six and adults can take on the Croc Tower and overcome scary obstacles and ride ziplines in up to 6 meters’ height Surely not for the faint of heart.
Where Rocket Ropes keeps your adrenaline high, Butterfly Creek is a relaxing park for the whole family. As the name reveals, the main attraction is the butterfly house where thousands (if not more) butterflies fly around you and sometimes even land on you.
But there are also other animals to be visited. The otters are hilarious to watch. There’s also a nocturnal Kiwi House where they live in darkness (Kiwis are nocturnal creatures). There’s no guarantee you’ll see a Kiwi, though, but it’s fun trying to spot them anyway.
Rainbow’s End in Manukau is a great theme park for everyone. Although it’s New Zealand’s largest theme park, it won’t compare to your Disney Land or the parks on the Gold Coast. But with over 20 rides for, it’s certainly a fun day in Auckland with kids. And with the freefall-tower and rollercoaster, there’s also something for the adults.
Waiheke Island isn’t just for adults. Apart from safe and shallow swimming beaches, the best family activity on Waiheke Island is the zipline. Waiheke has a set of three ziplines that are operated by Ecozip Adventures. There is no age limit, but kids have to be at least 30kg to be able to ride.
After the exhilarating ride on the dual cable ziplines (which means you can race each other) you embark on a guided nature walk through the native forest, where you learn more about the trees and the creatures living in and underneath them.
As you can see, there are just so many top things to do in Auckland that it would be a pity to only use it as your gateway to New Zealand.
What are your favourite Auckland activities? Let me know in the comments below!