Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and is the main gateway for the rest of the world into New Zealand, or Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud in Maori), or affectionately known by many tourists as ‘Middle Earth’ following the Lord of the Rings movies.
A relatively big city in terms of population and its geographical spread, Auckland is never the reason why people visit New Zealand, it is simply the main port into the country. Some friends of mine have told me that Auckland left them very underwhelmed after their excitement and anticipation about visiting New Zealand. The main reason Auckland can disappoint is the terrible public transport and the extensive sprawl of the city, making it hard for visitors to get around. Despite these difficulties, there are still many worthwhile excursions in Auckland city itself or as a day trip to the nearby surrounds (particularly the ferry accessible islands from downtown – see below!)
I grew up in East Auckland, and I didn’t really venture into the city too much growing up – I went to school a 5 minute walk from my home, I played sports around my area and when we went on holiday we went on camper van style holidays all over New Zealand. I then moved to Dunedin to go to Otago University when I was 18 – starting my life time goal of living all over the world. Whenever I have returned to visit family, I have considered myself a tourist again in Auckland and I made the effort to do the fun things the city has to offer – below are some of my favourite things to do!
2-3 days in Auckland – what to do?
Mission Bay/St Heliers/Kohimarama, Auckland Domain, Kelly Tarltons (Museum NZ$25 for an international visitor, Kelly Tarltons NZ$29 if bought online here)
Walking along the Bays to the east of the CBD (Mission Bay, Kohimarama, St Heliers) is definitely worth a morning, particularly on a nice summer’s day. It is also worth visiting Auckland Domain – for the views across Auckland but also for the very good War Memorial Museum at the top of the hill. For families, Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World Aquarium is also a highlight – on the way to Mission Bay from downtown Auckland.
Downtown Auckland/Wynyard Quarter/Viaduct (Free to walk around)
The amount of construction and regeneration of the downtown area, even in the last three years since I have last been there, is incredible to see and Auckland is starting to make the most of its beautiful surrounds. The Viaduct was the hub of the America’s Cup when New Zealand successfully defended it in 2000 and lost it in 2003. As you can imagine, this area concentrates on Auckland’s moniker of the ‘City of Sails’. There is a Maritime Museum on the wharf and the KZ1 America’s Cup boat (the unsuccessful 1988 challenger boat). Additionally, walking along the Wynyard Quarter and having a beer on the pier and going to the Fish Market to get some fresh seafood is definitely recommended.
Rangitoto Island (Return ferry ~NZ$20)
Rangitoto is the most obvious of the many Volcanoes that have sprung up around the Auckland region, and makes for an impressive photo opportunity from one of the bays along Mission Bay/Kohimarama/St Heliers. It is also well worth a visit to climb and is not a terribly strenuous hike for those who aren’t super confident. One tip is to make sure to carry lots of water as there are no shops on the island – you can however buy food and drink on the ferry. Timetables located here.
Devonport (Return ferry from Britomart ~$NZ12)
Devonport is a lovely little community across the bridge from the Auckland CBD. Devonport can be accessed from a downtown ferry or by driving – or could be combined with a trip to Rangitoto as it has a direct ferry to the island. There is a great website with lots of ideas to do around Devonport here.
Waiheke Island (Return ferry ~NZ$20)
Waiheke Island, for me growing up in Auckland, was a hippy community pretty much separated from the rest of Auckland. I visited it once, to play football against their local team, in torrential rain where we won 7-0, a rare win for our side so very memorable! Now it’s the playground of the rich and famous, which Jeremy Clarkson famously did not like (his helicopter was sent to the mainland four times to pick up the important things such as cigarettes, tough life for some!). However despite this, it is still very accessible for the average person, and offers a light relief from the hustle and bustle of Auckland City. There are many excellent food options and wineries to discover and it is definitely worth a visit. The official Waiheke island website here has a good list of things to do while you are there.
Raglan/Piha/Waignaro Hot Springs – Free to visit (Surfing Lessons ~NZ$80/lesson, Hot Springs NZ$11)
Raglan and Piha are two awesome surf beaches on the West Coast. Piha is closer, about an hour drive from downtown Auckland depending on traffic, with Raglan about two hours away. Both have great surf companies if you want to learn to surf. One benefit of Raglan is you can stop off at Waignaro Hot Springs on the way down or back up if, as is often the case on the West Coast, you don’t get perfect weather. I grew up visiting Waignaro at least once every year or so, and it is well worth a visit – with two hydro slides, bumper boats and hot pools to relax those aching muscles after a hard day’s surfing in Raglan.
Hobbiton (Adult NZ$114 per person)
One of the most popular day trips out of Auckland for visitors is the actual Hobbiton movie set, based in Matamata. There are a number of tours from Auckland, available here. I haven’t done this myself, but my recent trip to NZ with my girlfriend and her family taught me that this must be booked! They all wanted to go and fortunately there was still space on their last day before flying out (the photo is theirs). They absolutely loved it, but have been fans since the original movies came out – my girlfriend’s brother said that New Zealand was the first country when he was growing up that he ever wanted to go to (from Sweden!). Reviews online are mixed – fans love it, others may find the whole thing drawn out (and expensive).
Getting to Auckland
Flights from London range massively depending on time – £600-£1500 return. The best tip is go in late March/early April – this is considered shoulder season but the weather remains very settled and the water is warm. There is considerable competition from airlines all over the world – making it the perfect time to visit New Zealand. Airlines from America, China and the Middle East are all significantly increasing capacity.