Auckland is an awesome city – not only are you never more than 20mins drive from a beach, it’s got a really unique landscape with 50 volcanoes, a gulf peppered with islands, great dining options, its own culture and some nice short hikes/day walks.
As a born and bred Aucklander, I get seriously offended when I hear travellers say ‘Oh just skip Auckland, it’s not worth hanging around‘. So many travellers only see downtown Auckland, so here’s a blog about what we locals do for fun around here. You’ll have a much better time if you try out some of these activities:
Get a 360° view of Auckland – the free way!
Sure, going up to the top of the SkyTower or taking a seaplane flight might give you a great 360 view of Auckland, but if you’re a local, you’re more likely to head the top of Mount Eden to soak in the cityscape. The best time to go is just as the sun is setting so you can watch the lights come on around the city. Mount Eden is technically a volcano and has a big, impressive crater. You can walk around the edge of the crater and see some of the best views of the city. Afterwards, walk back down to the quaint little Mount Eden village for a pint and pot of mussels at De Post, a delicious burger at Corner Burger or a hot chocolate and slice of cake at Frasers. You’ve earned it!
Getting there: Catch the 277 or 274 Bus from the City, it takes 23mins and costs $1.90 with a HOP* card.
Visit the historic settlement of Devonport
Take the ferry from the downtown ferry terminal over to Devonport. See NZ’s navy base from the water then explore the colonial-style village. If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, take a walk up Mount Victoria or North Head (two dormant volcanoes) to explore the old tunnels and see the old guns and bomb shelters that were built during World War II to protect Auckland Harbour. According to legend the tunnels at North Head are haunted! (Bring a torch if you have one.)
Getting there: Return ferry ticket costs $12.50 cash or $4.60 with a HOP* card
Ponsonby – The place to be seen
Ponsonby is a trendy ‘city-fringe’ suburb where the people are cool, the houses are mega-expensive, the shopping will leave you broke and you’ll have an awesome night out. Ponsonby Road is lined with upmarket cafes, shops, restaurants and bars. Splurge for lunch at SPQR and sit out on the sidewalk for some great people watching or head across the road to Mr Toms or Chapel Bar for an afternoon tipple in the sun. Inside Ponsonby Central you’ll find a collection of different restaurants to choose from, and tucked down the little alleyway opposite you’ll find the adorable Gypsy Caravan. If you’re on a backpacker’s budget, head to Freeman and Grey between 4-7pm for $4 pizzas (they’re decent too!). Go shopping in the boutique stores and see what bargains you can find. If you’re there for the evening and want to have a dance – Long Room, Little Easy and Ponsonby Social Club are local favourites.
Getting there: Walk, it’s only 2.6kms from downtown, although be prepared for a few hills.
Hike from Coast to Coast
Auckland is so skinny that you can actually walk from one side of New Zealand to the other! Start your walk from downtown Auckland and follow the Coast to Coast markers past key landmarks like the Auckland Domain, Mount Eden and One Tree Hill. It’s 16kms in total so you’ll need the whole day for this one – especially if you throw in a museum tour at the Auckland War Memorial museum (which I highly recommend!). The walk finishes at Beachcroft Avenue in Onehunga, a newly renovated beachfront area. View the Coast to Coast map
Getting there: Walk, then catch the train back into the city from the Onehunga train station ($3.30 with a HOP* card)
Walk/bike/skate along the pink road
This pink cycleway, built in the middle of Auckland’s central motorway junction, is a hit amongst tourists and locals alike. It’s the perfect place to take photos, go for a bike ride or just admire the cityscape – the path is lit up at night too! Make sure to check it out if you have a spare hour or so in the city centre.
Getting there: Walk from the CBD to the Nelson Street off-ramp (Upper Queen Street) or walk from K Road to Quay Street.
Visit Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island was named one of the world’s top regions to visit for 2016 in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel’ Guide, but we Aucklanders have been big fans of this gorgeous island since way back when. Waiheke has picturesque beaches, great vineyards, a cute little village, awesome fish n chips and, best of all, it’s only a 40min scenic ferry ride from Auckland city. Waiheke is a big island so if you’re just going for the day choose to visit either the Onetangi area (for which you’ll need to get a bus pass), or the Oneroa area (which you can explore on foot).
In Onetangi you’ll find Wild on Waiheke – they do a wine tasting or craft beer tasting set for $12. Next door, Stonyridge Vineyard is a great place to stop for wine tasting, a platter and a photo opportunity by the vines. Wander up the road about 100m to Dellows Distillery where they make their own spirits and liquors. Or for something more adventurous go ziplining with Eco Zip Adventures!
If you choose to explore on foot, head up the hill from the ferry terminal and turn left for the Oneroa village. There are lots of places to eat, some nice shops to peruse and an extraordinary concentration of real estate shops. Head back along the road you came in on and keep going straight (past the hill you walked up) towards Cable Bay, where you can do wine tasting at the cellar door and try one of their delicious pizzas sitting on bean bags out of the lawn, looking back over Auckland city. It will be tempting to stay here all day, but keep walking back up the road and you’ll find Mudbrick, a Mediterranean-style vineyard and one of New Zealand’s most sought after wedding venues. You can taste test their wines, and it’s also the best place on Waiheke to watch the sunset.
Getting there: Catch the ferry from Downtown Auckland ($38 Adult return, or $18 each way with a HOP card).
Immerse yourself in nature on Tiritiri Matangi Island
Tiritiri Matangi island is a 45-minute ferry ride away from downtown Auckland. Whether you want to relax on a beach, go on one of the many walks to the lighthouse or learn more about the wildlife, it’s a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The price may be a little off-putting but, believe us, it’s worth it! It’s a full day activity and you won’t need to spend any extra money on the island (just take a packed lunch in your bag). I’d recommend taking the guided nature walk around the island, eating your lunch at the top of the island by the lighthouse and then spending the rest of the afternoon swimming or sunbathing on the beach before hopping back on the ferry to the city.
Getting there: Catch the ferry from Downtown Auckland ($85 Adult return including guided walk around the island)
Explore Western Springs & Kingsland
This happens to be my local area, so I might be a bit biased when I say you can’t miss it! Catch the bus to Western Springs, a nice park with a lake in the middle of it for a morning walk. Next door you’ll find the Auckland Zoo and MOTAT (The Museum of Transport and Technology), if either of those options floats your boat! Walk up Western Springs Road and you’ll find Urbanaut Brewery where you can try the local craft beer or do a brewery tour. Next I recommend stopping in at Crave for lunch. Crave Cafe is a neighbourhood initiative where all the profit gets put back into the community, so it’s a great cause with delicious food to boot! After you’ve filled your belly, head up to Kingsland, a funky little precinct that’s also home to our most iconic sports venue: Eden Park, home of the mighty All Blacks. In the evenings the bars offer live music, comedy nights, live sports games and even salsa classes.
Getting there: Catch the 020 Bus to Western Springs, or if you want to skip straight to Crave & Urbanaut – take the train from Britomart to Morningside. Return to the city on the train from Kingsland train station.
Climb Auckland’s youngest volcano
Catch the morning ferry to Rangitoto, the one of the city’s most iconic volcanoes, rising up out of the Auckland harbour. Don’t follow the tourists up the regular track to the summit though – take the track to the left and go around the outside of the island, checking out the historical baches (little holiday houses), disused quarry site, loads of volcanic rock and a gorgeous little sandy beach before heading up the back of the volcano to the summit. Take a picnic lunch with you to have at the summit while you soak in the sense of achievement and the views. Head back down the regular track to the wharf, but don’t miss the detour to the lava caves! When you get to the lava caves you’ll see three together. Squeeze yourself through the entrance to the middle cave, which is actually quite big inside and you can adventure through it to come back out the track on the other side.
Getting there: Catch the ferry from downtown Auckland – it takes about 25min and costs $33 return.
Walk the coastal track between Takapuna and Milford
Catch the bus over the Harbour Bridge to Takapuna, the unofficial capital of Auckland’s North Shore. The shops and restaurants are clustered around long, white sand beach. Start your walk by heading left along the beach. The coastal track is about 3kms long with a great little bay in the middle where you can stop for a swim if you need to cool off. Return the same way you came and treat yourself to an ice cream at the Takapuna Beach Cafe.
Getting there: Catch a bus from downtown Auckland or from Devonport – costs $3.30 with a HOP* card.
Explore downtown Auckland
Head down to the Auckland Viaduct and walk around Wynyard Quarter, North Wharf and Silo Park. You’ll often stumble across events taking place, particularly on the weekends. On Friday nights in the summer Silo Park hosts a free outdoor cinema, with a night market and food trucks.
Getting there: Just a short walk away from Britomart.
Wander around the central city
Exploring on foot in the central city you’ll find the Auckland Art Gallery, some fancy shops around High Street, the Chancery and Vulcan Lane, an entertainment hub at SkyCity and great restaurants and bars around Federal Street and City Works Depot. I also really like Elliott Stables, a collection of great restaurants with one big communal dining area, so you can sit anywhere and eat and drink from everywhere. Further up Queen Street you’ll find the IMAX Cinemas, Metro Lanes bowling alley and Aotea Square, which often hosts free events.
*What is a HOP card?
An Auckland Transport HOP card is your ticket to getting around the city on buses, trains and ferries. It costs $10 to buy one (this is non-refundable), which sounds expensive, but it soon pays off because a cash fare one-way on the bus is around $7 and the same trip with a HOP card will cost you $1.90.
Long story short, don’t skip Auckland! Stay here and try out some of my suggestions above and I promise you that when you leave you’ll love this New Zealand city almost as much as I do.