Poor old Auckland gets a bad rap.
Unfortunately this is mainly from New Zealanders who didn’t grow up here.
Or from people that haven’t spent much time in Auckland (or haven’t visited at all) that listen to New Zealanders who didn’t grow up here, and take their word for it.
It’s a shame really.
The Auckland region is surprising large and encompasses numerous beaches, mountain ranges, farmland, native bush, islands, volcanoes and two harbours. Almost 1.5 million people live in the ‘City of Sails’, which is just under a third of the population of New Zealand. The biggest population of Pacific Island peoples in the world live in Auckland, as well as a thriving Asian community. This cultural diversity has blessed the city with a fantastic, multi-cultural food scene.
It is consistently ranked as one of the top 20 best cities in the world to live in and if you take some time to really explore the area you will find out why.
I admit that Auckland isn’t my favourite city in the world (that would be Vancouver), but I still think there is so much on offer in New Zealand’s largest City and a lot of the best things to do are free or cheap.
So get away from dirty Queen Street and the over-rated Sky Tower and explore more of this surprising city, there is a lot more here than you think.
1) Mount Eden – A bustling suburb and Auckland’s highest volcano
Mount Eden is a leafy, inner city suburb with grand old houses and a vibrant town centre. Spend the day climbing Auckland’s highest volcano (also Mt Eden) for spectacular city and harbour views, visit the expansive grounds of the beautiful Eden Gardens to see plants both native and from around the world and browse art galleries and boutique shops in Mt Eden Village. Follow this with a bite to eat in one of the amazing Restaurants. If you are lucky enough to have scored tickets, head down to the iconic Eden Park to watch the world famous All Blacks, or Auckland’s Regional team, the Blues, in action.
2) Parnell – A village full of history
Parnell is Auckland’s oldest suburb and it’s history is best explored by visiting Parnell Village; a cluster of restored Victorian shops, boutiques and cafes. Wander the fragrant rose garden and walk down to the small harbour beach in Judge’s Bay or swim in the nearby Parnell Baths. If you feel like more of a wander, there is the Hobson Bay walkway that follows the shoreline from Point Park to Awatea Reserve. The best day to visit is Saturday when the La Cigalle French market is held. Fresh produce, delicious food stalls and live music make this small market a convivial place for lunch.
3) Rangitoto – Volcanic Island escape
A gradually sloping volcanic island, Rangitoto looks like a fried egg sitting on top of the choppy waters of the Hauraki Gulf. Catch the ferry over for the hike up to peer into the forested crater. Be sure to check out the kitschy 1920’s and 1930’s style historic ‘bachs’ (Kiwi beach houses) around from the wharf. The island is connected by causeway to the island Motutapu, so if you feel energetic you could explore two islands for the price of one.
4) Devonport, North Head and Cheltenham Beach – Victorian seaside splendour
Another short ferry hop from the Viaduct is lovely Devonport. Devonport is a small village suburb with a lovely waterside park, Victorian shops and fantastic Cafes and Restaurants. Grab brunch at one of the many trendy cafes on Victoria Road and then head east, for the short hike up the fortified North Head for gorgeous harbour views from the top. Walk down the other side to Cheltenham beach for a swim or a stroll to complete your day.
5) Hiking in the Waitakere Ranges – Sir Edmund Hillary’s own backyard
There are so many hiking trails to choose from in Auckland’s wilderness playground: The Waitakere Ranges. Hike a section of the newly opened Hillary Trail or do a short hike to one of the many waterfalls and swimming holes. You will be hiking through pristine Kiwi bush with spectacular views over the black sand shores of this wild coastline. Chances are you will have the trail to yourself.
6) Auckland CBD – Away from the Sky Tower and Queen Street
Once you step away from the eye sore that is Queen Street, you will find that there are actually some great spots to explore in the CBD. Browse the shops at Victoria Park Market, wander the vibrant Vulcan Lane and Britomart for al fresco dining and fabulous shopping, check out the interesting Maritime Museum at the Viaduct Marina and wander by the turquoise waters of the harbour amongst the Silos and green spaces of Wynyard Quarter. Take a break amongst the colourful flower beds of Albert Park
7) Rugged West Coast exploration – Black Sand and Emerald green wilderness
Go surfing at the volatile but stunning Piha beach, swim under the beautiful waterfall at peaceful KareKare, grab lunch in trendy Titirangi, walk along the black sands of Bethells Beach or check out the sea caves at deserted Whatipu. The options on Auckland’s West Coast are endless.
8) K Road and Ponsonby – Edgy versus Ostentatious
Karangahape (K) Road is Auckland’s gritty, beating heart. It was once a seedy red light district but is now the place to go for charity shopping, Auckland’s best coffee, ethnic food and great nightlife. The biggest concentration of Gay Bars in Auckland are along K Road and I highly recommend taking in a Drag Show – it’s a lot of fun. Ponsonby is a slightly classier affair and is known for its designer boutique shopping and café culture.
9) Waiheke Island – An island full of Vineyards and Beaches
Waiheke Island is a beautiful place where wineries and beaches abound. Take the scenic ferry ride over there for a wine and food tour of some of the island’s top wineries with gorgeous views along the way. Make sure to visit the gorgeous white sand Little Oneroa beach, walking distance from the Ferry Wharf, for a swim, before catching the ferry back to the City. If you have time to spend the night, I highly recommend it.
10) Orewa, Waiwera and Wenderholm – Pools and parks on the Hibiscus Coast
Thirty minutes drive north of the City is the sleepy beach town of Orewa. There are some great places for a lovely lunch and the long beach welcomes a wander. Another beautiful beach and some great hiking trails are just up the road at Wenderholm Regional Park. Finish the day off with a relaxing soak or Spa treatment at the Waiwera Thermal pools and Spa.
11) Whangaparaoa Peninsula – Small communities, golf and quiet beaches
A small peninsula, enough off the beaten track for it to be peaceful yet close enough to the city for an easy day trip. The Whangaparaoa Peninsula is known for its golden beaches, stunning Regional Park and world-class golf course. Dolphins and Orcas can often be seen in the waters off the peninsula.
12) Mission Bay and Kelly Tarltons – Aquatic Auckland
Mission Bay is just around the corner from the City centre and is a beautiful harbour beach with a large park perfect for sunbathing. Have lunch at one of the great Cafés overlooking the water. Just around the corner from Mission Bay, Kelly Tarlton’s Sealife Aquarium is an Auckland icon, where you can see Antarctic King and Gentoo penguins, dive with sharks or visit a replica of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic Base.
13) Puhoi – Historic Bohemian Village
Visit the tiny historic settlement of Puhoi, on the banks of the Puhoi River. Puhoi was settled in 1863 by immigrants from Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Spend your day sampling New Zealand’s best cheeses at the boutique Café and Cheese store, exploring the Bohemian Museum, enjoying a Devonshire tea at the Cottage Tearooms or kayaking through the mangroves of the Puhoi River.
14) The Domain and the Auckland War Memorial Museum – The City’s oldest park and a World class Museum
Auckland’s domain is a green oasis in the city. Encompassing 75 hectares, the domain is Auckland’s oldest City park and is made up of grassy pastures, winter gardens, duck ponds and sports fields. Auckland’s War Memorial Museum is also located in the domain and is a neo-classicist beauty in white, sitting majestically atop the remains of an extinct volcano. There are fantastic displays on Maori and Pacific Island culture as well as comprehensive displays on all of the major wars in the last 150 years, a recreated street from 1866 Auckland and a slightly unnerving Volcano installation. It is rated as one of the top Museums in the Southern Hemisphere and it is a must visit for me every time I am back in Auckland.
15) Cornwall Park – A Pastoral escape in the middle of the city
Auckland’s English founders must have been homesick when they created this beautiful Park. Cobbled together stone walls, gnarled English Oaks and plenty of sheep makes you feel like you could be somewhere in Cornwall rather than a suburb of New Zealand’s biggest city. The volcano in the middle of the park gives it a unique Kiwi twist. Take a picnic and spend a few hours getting lost.
16) Howick Village – Past and the Present
Visit the brilliant Howick Historic Village to step back in time. The period from 1840 – 1880 has been painstakingly recreated with thirty original colonial buildings set over 7 acres. If you visit on the third Sunday of the month, the whole Village is filled with activity, as costumed villagers go about their daily tasks. The modern day Howick Village is also worth a visit, for its specialist stores and dining options.
17) Maraetai and Clevedon – A little bit of beach and a little bit of country
The small town of Clevedon is surrounded by bucolic green fields and oozes country charm. If you are in town on a Sunday, pick up some fresh country produce and browse the arts and crafts at Clevedon Village Market and Clevedon Farmers Market, then tour the local wineries or hike to beautiful Hunua Falls in the nearby Hunua Ranges. The pretty, crushed shell beach of Maraetai is a great place to relax after a busy day. Sit on the beach with some Kiwi fish and chips while the sun goes down.
18) Matakana and Warkworth – Antiques, Markets and Beaches
Where my own family lives and a district of Northern Auckland that I am proud to have spent a lot of time in over the years. Warkworth is a historic village filled with antique stores and art galleries and it is surrounded by peaceful beaches. Matakana, even smaller than it’s big brother Warkworth, may have become trendy in the last few years with its famous farmers market, fancy theatre and specialty stores, but it retains a special small town charm. The best place to hang out is the fabulous Matakana Village pub where there is a massive outdoor area and live music throughout summer. If you love wine, drive the Matakana Wine Trail for tastings and incredible food at Award winning wineries.
19) Takapuna Beach – Auckland’s Surfers Paradise
Beautiful white sand beaches make the North Shore a popular commuters hub and a great place to visit. Takapuna is my favourite and is popular with surfers and backpackers alike. It is a vibrant small community with swanky cafes, a popular Sunday Farmers Market and fantastic views of Rangitoto in the distance.
20) Newmarket – Shopping and Dining at its best
Known as the fashion capital of New Zealand, Newmarket is to Auckland what Fifth Avenue is to New York (on a MUCH smaller scale). This is the place to visit for high street fashion and top designer stores. After a hard day of shopping, pamper yourself with a treatment at one of Newmarket’s stylish health spas then grab dinner and cocktails on Nuffield Street or Broadway to round off a decadent day.
I hope that I have inspired you to undertake even one of these days out the next time you are in Auckland. It really is a diverse city and well worth more than a hurried stop before your flight home.