Auckland is New Zealand's largest city, with a population of more than 1.5 million. It's also a sprawling city, encompassing the Waitakere Ranges in the west, the North Shore in the north, the Hunua Ranges in the east, and Manukau City/Manurewa in the south, as well as several islands in the Hauraki Gulf. In short, there's a lot to see and do here, whatever your tastes and interests.
With just 48 hours in the city, it makes sense to stick to the central city (the CBD) and places with a direct connection from there. It's easy to get around here without a car, either by walking or taking some easy bus rides, and there's a good concentration of accommodation, dining, and sights. Many travelers to New Zealand do like to rent a car, but this isn't such a great idea in Auckland as parking can be challenging, and traffic surprisingly bad.
With two days in Auckland, there's time to try a little bit of (almost) everything, from sweeping views to tasty food, chilled out parks and beautiful beaches, intriguing museums, and a hike up a volcano. Here's the ultimate itinerary for 48 hours in Auckland.
Day 1: Morning
10 a.m.: Start day one with a visit to the iconic Sky Tower. Wherever you're staying in the city, it'll be hard to miss, as it's the tallest building on the horizon, and just off central Queen Street. The 1,076-foot tall tower was constructed in the mid-late 1990s, and offers excellent views across Auckland and beyond. Visitors can take the super-fast elevator up to two 700-foot-plus viewing decks to get their bearings in Auckland. On a clear day, you'll be able to see about 50 miles.
There are glass sections of the floor so you can look directly down below (if you're not too afraid of heights!) and don't miss the chance to see people attached to bungee chords zooming past the window on the outside! There's even a clock on the wall counting down to when you can expect to see the next person whizzing past. Of course, you can be one of those people whizzing past, if you like. The SkyJump offers the chance to bungee jump off the Sky Tower (although you're suspended on wires, so you don't risk hitting the side of the building on the way down).
There's also a casino on the lower levels of the Sky Tower, as well as restaurants and accommodation, including a cafe at one of the viewing decks. But, we recommend walking a few minutes up Queen Street for lunch, instead.
12 p.m.: Head to the Elliott Stables for lunch, just a couple of blocks away from the Sky Tower. Inside the early 20th-century warehouse building is a vast array of dining options. This is food court eating at its best, as the atmosphere is more like a cozy city street than a cavernous hall. You can choose from fish and chips, burgers, sushi, dumplings, Sri Lankan curry, and much more from the outlets around the side, and then sit at a central table to eat. This is a great dining option if you're traveling with a group of people who all have different tastes or dietary needs. Everyone can get what they want. Be warned though: it gets noisy here when it's busy.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: After lunch, take a walk through central Auckland to the Auckland Domain. It's a bit uphill (this is a city of volcanoes, after all) and will take 30-40 minutes, so if the weather's bad or you're not so active, you can also take a taxi or a bus up to the Domain. But if you can, walking is a good idea as you'll get a good feel for the central city atmosphere.
The Auckland Domain is a large park just east of the center, located on an old volcano. In the summer there are often events and activities in the park, but at any time of year, it's a beautiful place to walk and relax. There's an outdoor sculpture trail, a native forest grove, and the Wintergardens greenhouses that house temperate and tropical plants.
3 p.m.: As well as these natural attractions, the Auckland Domain is home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. After spending some time in the park, head to the museum, in an early 20th-century neo-Greek building. This is a great place to get an overview of Auckland, and New Zealand, city, from prehistory to pre-colonial, colonial, 20th century, and modern times. There are permanent and temporary exhibits, many of which focus on New Zealand identity-making and Maori and Pasifika history. There's also a great hands-on section for kids.
Day 1: Evening
6 p.m.: The Auckland Museum and Domain are conveniently located beside Parnell, one of Auckland's most fashionable dining and shopping districts. If you're hungry after spending some time at the museum, you might want to go straight to dinner. Otherwise, find a bar for some pre-dinner drinks or head back to your hotel for a rest before taking a taxi up to Parnell later in the evening.
A range of dining options are available in Parnell, and many of the restaurants here are ranked some of the best in Auckland. The possibilities include French (Parnell is famous for its French Market at the weekend), Thai, burgers, steak, seafood, Italian, Nepali and Indian, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, Vietnamese, Malay... and much more! It's a good idea to reserve a table at popular restaurants in advance, especially if you're dining at the weekend.
If you want to continue having fun late into the night, there is no shortage of places to drink in Parnell. Find a good wine bar (which won't be hard) to try some famous New Zealand wines.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: Start day two by taking a ferry over to Rangitoto Island. This large, flattish volcano in the Hauraki Gulf can be seen from across Auckland and is 850 feet high and 3.5 miles wide. It's believed to have emerged from the sea around 600 years ago, making it Auckland's youngest volcano.
Ferries to Rangitoto depart from the Downtown Ferry Terminal every 75 minutes and take 25 minutes to reach Rangitoto. The first ferry of the day leaves Auckland at 9:15 a.m. during the week, and at 7:30 a.m. on the weekend.
Short and long walks can be done on Rangitoto Island, but for the sake of this 48-hour itinerary, we recommend taking a shorter walk to the summit and back, which takes about two hours return. Consider it a prelude to one of New Zealand's more challenging hikes, if you're staying longer in the country. It's an easy walk along boardwalks part of the way, passing through pohutukawa tree forest and lava fields. There are great views across the Hauraki Gulf and across to Auckland from the summit. Make sure to bring drinking water, hats, and sunscreen with you, as there are no facilities on the island, and much of the trail is exposed.
One important thing to keep in mind is that Rangitoto Island is pest free, meaning there are no predators or bugs that can affect the native flora and fauna. Check that your shoes are clean before heading to Rangitoto, so you don't inadvertently carry any seeds or other potentially problematic substances over with you.
Day 2: Afternoon
1:30 p.m.: Some ferries between Rangitoto and the CBD stop at the North Shore neighborhood of Devonport, and this is a great place to go for lunch. You'll have worked up an appetite after your volcano summit.
Devonport is a small historic settlement just north of central Auckland, but because it's separated from the CBD by Auckland Harbour, it has a smaller-town feel. There are lots of antiques and art shops on Victoria Road, and some World War II-era military relics at North Head. There are also many great places to grab lunch with a city view, including classic Kiwi fish and chips, which you could take away and eat on the beach.
3 p.m.: Speaking of beaches, if the weather's good, spend the afternoon relaxing, swimming, or walking on a beach (if it's mid-winter, you might want to opt for the antique shopping mentioned above!) While most of New Zealand's most spectacular beaches are further from Auckland, you can find some surprisingly good strips of sand within the city limits. Devonport has a couple of lovely beaches itself, Devonport Beach and Cheltenham Beach, with golden sands. Alternatively, you could catch the ferry back to the CBD and head to Mission Bay Beach. This is Auckland's most popular city beach, and is just a couple of miles east of the CBD, with great views of Rangitoto.
Day 2: Evening
7 p.m.: For your final evening in Auckland, dine at the Viaduct Harbour. Set right on the water, next to the ferry terminals, Viaduct Harbour's beautiful views include many of Auckland's famous yachts (Auckland's nickname is the City of Sails). When choosing where to eat, the seafood and nautical themes here are strong here. Seafood lovers shouldn't miss the chance to try some delicious New Zealand green shell mussels, which are much larger than their North American cousins, but you can't go wrong with any seafood in this part of town.
10 p.m.: The Viaduct Harbour itself is a hot nightlife spot, with some of the most exclusive bars in the city. Dr. Rudi's Rooftop Brewing Co. is relatively casual and offers craft beers, some brewed on-site, as well as great views. The Viaduct Harbour is also conveniently located just north-west of Queen Street, the CBD's main artery. Along Queen Street and on the streets leading off from it, you can find a vast range of pubs and clubs, including stylish Housebar at Hotel DeBrett, which serves classy cocktails in an Art Deco setting.