Want to find out what the best Auckland activities are so you can make the most of your stay there? Then read on for the best days out in Auckland!
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 thriving Asian communities. This cultural diversity has blessed the city with a fantastic, multi-cultural food scene.
It is consistently ranked as one of the top cities in the world to live in and if you take some time to really explore the area you will find out why. There are so many amazing Auckland activities that you won’t get bored, even if you live there.
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 fun things to do in Auckland 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.
It’s time for some Auckland fun!
Twenty of the Best Places to Visit in Auckland
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 Garden 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.
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 Cigale French market is held. Fresh produce, delicious food stalls and live music make this small market a convivial place for lunch.
A 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 ‘baches’ (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 (or a beer or cocktail at kitschy Tiny Triumphs) and then head east, for the short hike up 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
Exploring 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 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.
Hiking the Waitakeres is one of my absolute favorite days out in Auckland.
Large portions of the Waitakere Ranges are currently closed due to Kauri dieback disease. Check the status of trails here
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 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.
If you do decide to visit the Sky Tower, why not jump off it. Definitely one of the more adventurous things to do in Auckland.
And make sure to grab an award-winning ice cream creation from Giapo and take a break amongst the colourful flower beds of Albert Park.
Go in the evening for Cajun food and live music at Orleans – one of my favorite restaurants.
7) West Coast Beaches
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. Make sure you visit Eagle Bar, which is popular with locals and serves a killer cocktail, and Family Bar to dance the night away.
Ponsonby is a slightly classier affair and is known for its designer boutique shopping and café culture. Some of Auckland’s best restaurants are in Ponsonby, including Mekong Baby and the Blue Breeze Inn.
9) Waiheke Island
An Island Full of Vineyards and Beaches
Waiheke Island is a beautiful place where wineries and beaches abound, making it one of the best day trips from Auckland city.
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. The Margherita pizza at Cable Bay Winery is one of the best I have ever eaten, and I loved the cheese platter at Man O’War Vineyard.
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
Beaches and Hiking 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.
Make sure to visit the cute and sleepy seaside village of Waiwera while you are in the area too.
11) Whangaparaoa Peninsula
Small Communities, Golf and Quiet Beaches
A small peninsula that is 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 Shakespear Regional Park, and a world-class golf course.
Dolphins and Orcas can often be seen in the waters off the peninsula so bring your binoculars!
12) Mission Bay and Kelly Tarlton’s
Auckland’s Aquatic Attractions
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 or grab a beer at the De Fontein Belgian Beer Cafe that overlooks the beach.
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.
A 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.
The Auckland 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, 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 make 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
Exploring the Past
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, 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 in Auckland’s North
Where my own family lives and a district of North 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, and don’t miss a meal at The Matakana Market Kitchen – everything I have ever eaten here has been incredible.
19) Takapuna Beach and Long Bay Regional Park
Auckland’s Surfers Paradise and Beautiful Coastal Hiking
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 market and fantastic views of Rangitoto in the distance.
Before you relax on the beach, go for a hike in stunning Long Bay Regional Park where the coastal views can’t be beat.
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.
So, have I inspired you to go on some Auckland adventures? It really is a diverse city and well worth more than a hurried stop before your flight home.
If you liked this post, check out some more of my Auckland and North Island content:
- The Best Cheap Eats in Auckland (for Under NZD$15)
- Enjoying the Slower Pace of Life in North Auckland
- Hiking the Hillary Trail on Auckland’s Wild West Coast
- Waiheke Island: A Subtropical Island Paradise
- The Ultimate Northland Road Trip
- Hiking the Tongariro Northern Circuit: One of New Zealand’s Great Walks
- Glamping in the Remote Wairarapa
- Exploring Hobbiton: My Dad’s Home Town