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Auckland, New Zealand: A Complete Guide

If you’re ready for breathtaking star gazing, countless beaches, nearly fifty volcanoes, incredible food, and rich culture then you’re ready for Auckland. This city deserves as much time as you can give it and will simply leave you wanting more! From lush forests and endless beaches to a lively foodie community and an active city life, Auckland has something for everyone.

That being said, there’s a lot to consider when planning your Auckland stay! Below are our tips to make your time in Auckland awesome.

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Where to stay in Auckland

Auckland has plenty of accommodation options, from hotels to bed and breakfast options. However, not all areas are equal when it comes to finding places to stay.

We stayed at the Grand Millennium Auckland, which I don’t actually recommend (full post on this coming soon). In fact, I don’t really recommend this part of the CBD at all if you’re travelling with a family (though this may differ for business travel). The reason for this is that, despite being in the CBD, there’s not actually a lot around that you’ll want to see and do (or eat). Instead, I recommend staying in the Viaduct/Wynyard Quarter, where there’s more happening (restaurants, proximity to groovy Ponsonby), the view is nicer, and it’s cleaner.

In the Viaduct, the Sofitel is gorgeous – luxurious and with a beautiful view. For something fun, the QT Auckland and Ohtel Auckland are both awesome. And finally, for a more budget-conscious (but still lovely) option, the Travelodge or Princes Wharf Boutique Apartments are great (this one has plenty of room for the family, too).

Best places to eat in Auckland

Auckland has a decent food scene, which we love. We obviously couldn’t try everything but here are some great options.

There are some great options in the Viaduct and Wynyard Quarter, including the Fish Markets (such as Lobster & Tap) – this is not your traditional fish market! We love Thai Street next door on Jellicoe Street for really good Thai food. In fact, we just love this strip in general, so if you’re heading out for a bite to eat and not sure what you feel like, head to Viaduct Harbour and you’ll find something great.

On the other side of the Viaduct is White and Wong’s, which is fantastic for modern Asian fusion. Just make sure you book, as it’s quite popular.

For something you can really get your teeth into, we loved Brothers Brewery in Mount Eden. We ate some amazing ribs and wings while drinking their delicious beers. For more local beers, we also recommend Urbanaut Brewery and Garage Project.

Food mecca is down Ponsonby Road in Ponsonby – again, there are so many restaurants along here it’s hard to pick. But this is another great option to have a stroll to see what you feel like.

On the corner of Wellesley Street and Nelson Street is a group of eateries that are really cool. Odette’s does a beautiful mediterranean brunch and Best Ugly Bagels do great… bagels. Food Truck Garage in this complex is cool too.

Over on the other side of the city is Mission Bay – we stopped for lunch here after visiting the aquarium. There are some cool little cafes here along Tamaki Drive such as Dos Amigos (great tacos!), Bodrum cafe (Turkish food), and Sal’s NY-style pizza.

Last but definitely not least, we loved having brunch up on the North Shore. We stopped in at Franc’s for an incredible breakfast and a cheeky Bloody Mary. The kids has a play on the awesome playground on the foreshore overlooking Rangitoto Island.

Things to do in Auckland

It can absolutely be overwhelming to decide what to do during your visit to Auckland, especially if this is your first time in New Zealand’s largest city. To help you plan your upcoming trip, we’ve put together some of the best things to do in Auckland. Whether you are looking to eat your way through the city, go on as many day trips as possible, or get out into nature during your trip, we have you covered.

Visit Maungawhau (Mount Eden)

One of forty-eight volcanoes in the city of Auckland, Maungawhau is absolutely worth a visit. If you want the full experience, book a guided tour and learn about the Mᾱori village that used to sit on top of the volcano itself in addition to the rest of the volcano’s history. Mount Eden is the highest natural point in all of Auckland and provides one of the best views over the city and the Waitematᾱ Harbour so be sure to bring your camera!

It is a fairly easy walk to the top of the volcano and is actually located in the center of the city, making a visit to Maungawhau a perfect afternoon excursion. You will be able to take your time walking up Mount Eden, as the winding trail is lined with award-winning gardens that take up the entire side of the mountain and are filled with waterfalls and beautiful plant collections.

Have dinner at a Night Market

One of the best ways to experience Auckland, especially if you want to try as much of the local cuisine as possible, is to make your way through one of the Night Markets that take place throughout the city.

While a Night Market may be fairly simple and self-explanatory, as it is the same as a local market and just takes place at night, it is a far cry from local markets you may be used to. Filled with food trucks, local artists, live music as well as drink stands, you will find no shortage of entertainment here. Make sure you check out the listing and schedule of all the Night Markets, as the location and stands change depending on the day of the week. You will be able to find a wide variety of local foods, as well as familiar western and international cuisines.

Pro Tip for all meat eaters: If you have the chance while visiting a Night Market make sure you try Hᾱngῑ. This local method of cooking creates some of the most flavorful and tender protein in New Zealand and is not commonly served in restaurants or found outside of New Zealand. Be sure to give it a try if you come across it while exploring one of the many Night Markets in Auckland!

Visit one of the many incredible beaches in Auckland

There are countless beaches in Auckland, making this city even more unique and exciting. While it may not be the best beaches for a casual swim, depending on the season of course, Auckland’s sandy shores are perfect for surfing, beach walks and incredible sunset views year-round.

As there are countless beaches to choose from, it can be hard to decide which is best for your trip. If you’re looking for the best beach within the city then check out Mission Bay and make sure to try the local fish and chips. If you’re looking for the best waves for surfing, then make your way to Piha Beach or Muriwai Beach, both on the western coast. Some of the best sunset views can be found at Onetangi, the longest beach on the island which is also one of Auckland’s beaches that is known for bodyboarding. These are just a few of the many incredible beaches throughout Auckland, but hopefully will help you get started on your New Zealand beach vacation.

Visit (or jump off!) the Sky Tower

One of the most recognizable pieces of architecture along the Auckland skyline is Sky Tower. This beautiful skyscraper is worth a visit and can be experienced in various ways.

Not only does Sky Tower have incredible panoramic views, it also has a revolving restaurant at its very top, a perfect spot for dinner at sunset. If you’re interested in an even more unique experience, sign up for sunrise yoga at the top of Sky Tower. You will be able to see the sunrise with the best view of Auckland all while getting your morning workout in. Ready for something even more memorable? You can bungee jump off Sky Tower. Take a look at all services available at Sky Tower so you can reserve your table, class or dive spot ahead of your trip!

Go Whale Watching in Hauraki Gulf

An incredible way to see Auckland is to go on a boat tour where you will also be able to experience whale watching in New Zealand. Your guide will take you through Hauraki Gulf in your search for whales, bottlenose dolphins and orcas on this half day tour. Whale watching tours such as these are sustainable services that support the protection of the wildlife you will be able to see during your tour and is also a great way to see the city, beaches and vineyards of Auckland!

While there are several companies that offer these services, I recommend using Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari. This local community has labeled their tours as “eco safaris,” putting the safety and sustainability of the marine wildlife first. They also claim to provide New Zealand’s most interactive whale and dolphin watching experience. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Visit Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium

Auckland boasts New Zealand’s best aquarium, and it’s a great day out for kids (especially when the weather turns horrible, as it did for us!).

Kelly Tarlton’s is just out of the CBD to the East, towards Mission Bay. There are some exhibits that actually use sea water straight out of the gulf, which was really cool to see. We loved the way the aquarium was integrated into the harbour itself.

The kids absolutely fell in love with the sea turtles, penguins, and giant rays in particular.

SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s is open from 9.30am to 5pm daily. Tickets start from $45NZD per adult and $32NZD per child. Make sure you check out the SEA LIFE website for current feeding and talk times.

Hike to a waterfall in Hunua Ranges

If you’re looking to experience all the nature Auckland has to offer, then you should set aside a day to hike through the Hunua Range. Located on the south eastern side of the Auckland region and covering over 400 square kilometers, the Hunua Range is home to ore than 450 species of native plants, is lined with swimming holes and has one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area.

There are two loops that will take you to a waterfall in the area: a twenty-minute loop for those of you who can only dedicate an afternoon, and a three-hour loop that will take you through the lush forest. Looking for more adventure? You can go mountain biking, fishing, and camping in the area as well. Just make sure you look at all requirements and guidelines before you do.

Wander through the Auckland Art Gallery

New Zealand’s largest art gallery is located in the center of Auckland and holds over seven centuries of art. Established back in 1888, the Auckland Art Gallery has the most expansive collection of national and international art in all of New Zealand, housing over 15,000 pieces of art. Here you will be able to explore the four floors of exhibitions while also experiencing one of Auckland’s prized pieces of architecture.

The Auckland Art Gallery constantly has visiting exhibitions, guest speakers, as well as additional events so make sure you look at the schedule so you can time your visit accordingly!

Take a ferry to Devonport

One of the best day trips from Auckland is the short ferry ride to Devonport. Though it is just ten minutes from Auckland, Devonport is worth a day of your trip as it has rich history, nature and food to experience. Known as “Auckland’s best seaside escape,” Devonport is one of those beautiful villages that you will never want to leave.

Devonport is nicknamed the “city of sails” and is home to the impressive Navy museum which showcases Devonport’s Mᾱori and maritime history. You can also walk through the gun emplacements and military tunnels which remain open to the public. Once you’ve had your fill on the history of New Zealand’s Navy, make your way to one of the local boutiques for some shopping, the chocolate factory for a sample of the local sweets, or some fine dining by the sea. Your options truly are endless so be sure to arrive to Devonport early in the day in order to get the full experience!

Experience Ponsonby Road

Whether you’re looking to shop, dine or experience Auckland’s nightlife, make sure you visit Ponsonby Road located in the western suburb of the city. This promenade is definitely the heart of Auckland’s shopping district, but also comes alive at night with some of the best restaurants, bars and clubs in the city.

While everything in Ponsonby revolves around eating, drinking and shopping, it is also home to one of the most beautiful parks in Auckland. Make sure you take a break from your shopping to wander through Western Park on the southern end of Ponsonby Road.

Go stargazing on Great Barrier Island

And finally, my all-time favorite thing to do in Auckland is to take a short ferry ride to Great Barrier Island, camp out on the beach, or book a room at one of the cozy stays on the island, and stargaze all night.

Auckland is arguably one of the best places in the world for stargazing, and though the nearby city does have some light pollution, the short ride to Great Barrier Island will make you feel like all the lights in the world have turned off. It is important to be aware that the entire island is off-grid and has a small and thriving self-sufficient community so you can be respectful and aware during your visit. You can either relax on the beach in the warmer months while watching for shooting stars, or make your way further inland and book a stay with one of the stargazing experiences on the island!  

I hope this has been helpful as you plan your upcoming trip to Auckland! Make sure to check out my recommendations on where to stay while visiting New Zealand as well as my Ultimate Guide to New Zealand’s North Island.

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Exploring Auckland, New Zealand #travel

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8 Comments

  1. Ah my home for part of the pandemic. A great place! I had planned to do the tower jump but then lockdown happened. Great post! Ponsonby road is wonderful.

  2. Thank you for this great guide to Auckland. We booked our stay at the Sofitel (as recommended) and loved it. We were going to skip Auckland all together as so many people suggested it was only worth going to the South of New Zealand, but after reading so many great suggestions we gave it a chance. So happy we did.

    1. I’m so glad to hear this Jenn!!! I think Auckland has a real special vibe, but yes it’s different to what people are expecting of NZ when they’re really thinking of the South Island. So glad to see you picked the Sofitel!

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